We’ll never see somebody like my friend Bowie again says Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ Huey Morgan, playing Norwich’s UEA LCR, February 13

The Fun Lovin' Criminals play Norwich's UEA LCR on February 13. Photo: Tom Barnes

The Fun Lovin' Criminals play Norwich's UEA LCR on February 13. Photo: Tom Barnes - Credit: Archant

They say “never meet your heroes”, but Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ Huey Morgan was proud to call him friend. He tells entertainment writer Wayne Savage why the music world will never see his like again and why music needs to take more risks.

The many faces of David Bowie, whom Huey Morgan was proud to call friend. Graphic: Annette Hudson.

The many faces of David Bowie, whom Huey Morgan was proud to call friend. Graphic: Annette Hudson. - Credit: Archant

“A friend of mine died today,” sighs Morgan when I call. That friend was David Bowie, whose death after a secret 18-month battle with cancer shocked the world. They say “never meet your heroes”, but the Fun Lovin’ Criminals frontman feels privileged to have known him.

“That guy was amazing; he was frankly one of the nicest people I met. He’d been sick for a while (but) he didn’t want people feeling sorry for him, which was understandable.”

A massive influence on Morgan growing up, they’d been friends for years.

“We over-use words like ‘legend’ and ‘icon’ but not in his case. We’re never going to see a guy like that again. There are no heroes (like Bowie these days) man because it’s not a hero-driven society; it’s a consumer society. The consumers dictate what’s important and nothing really carries weight. It (music) is not a main dish anymore; it’s a side salad and you can do anything while listening to music except pay attention to it, because, if you do, you find it lacking.

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“When David Bowie came out with a record and it was something we’d never heard of, it was one of his reinventions; we’d listen and if we didn’t get it on the first listen we wouldn’t blame him, we’d blame ourselves, and try to get what he was going for. Now, if we don’t get something on the first listen, as a society we just go on to the next (thing).” Morgan questions who will pick up Bowie’s baton in an industry wary of taking risks. It’s something he discussed in length in his recent book, Huey Morgan’s Rebel Heroes: The Renegades of Music and Why We Still Need Them. “That spirit of rebellion is pretty much not there anymore. I’m pretty sure it’ll come again, but this ebb we’re in is pretty deep; it’s a chasm that hopefully we’ll get out of ? but it will have to be because people want something different.”

It’s hard to imagine any record company giving a band the amount of control Fun Lovin’ Criminals had with debut album Come Find Yourself, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Morgan says the label knew they were breaking new ground. “Absolutely not. We were given 100% creative control, which was pretty impressive, considering nobody knew what was going to happen at the end of it. I think that goes with the climate of the music business at the time. They were trying to do new things and they were encouraging new artists to do those things they felt were important. So I’ve got to give them credit for that. They were kind of leaving it to us in a lot of ways to finish the record and complete the thought. There was stuff that was being produced in the world around that time that was not genre specific, but there wasn’t anything that really had that much record company support behind it. Now you wouldn’t get anybody in a record company (do that) because they don’t sell records anymore; there’s not money in it. Look at the UK chart... There’s no commerce and, when there is, they want a sure thing; they don’t want to experiment and try new things. That’s not the climate and, if you look at the artists that are coming out nowadays, nothing’s really new. It’s all being produced (and) written by the same 10 guys ? they’re just putting a new face on the milk carton.”

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When it was produced, Come Find Yourself ? re-released on February 19 as a three-CD expanded edition and deluxe edition box set featuring rarities, live recordings, alternate mixes and more ? there were no other records crossing so many genres: from hip hop, rock and blues to jazz, funk and soul. “We spent 100 weeks in the UK charts because of that. I think we influenced a whole generation of musicians to not look at what tribe they were coming from and just concentrate on what music they felt,” says Morgan. “That’s a really important legacy to have.”

Looking back, it was blindly inspired by the way he, Brian Leiser and Steve Borgovini grew up. Morgan’s quick to point out that when they were making the record they weren’t really thinking they were doing anything different ? they were just doing what they felt.

Fun Lovin' Criminals' debut album Come Find Yourself

Fun Lovin' Criminals' debut album Come Find Yourself - Credit: Archant

“We were lucky enough to be able to produce that debut record on a major label. That doesn’t happen much, or at all, now,” he laughs. “But it didn’t happen much back then and I guess we were encouraged at that point to do something that was really important... We weren’t really thinking about it at the time; we were just trying to track everything before the record company changed its mind.”

Morgan thinks we’ve been dumbing down the music we listen to; digesting it differently. The native New Yorker remembers spending two weeks’ allowance on a single album, listening to it over and over until he “made an emotional connection with somebody creating art”.

“That’s pretty deep and something I’ll live with for the rest of my life.”

Society, the way we enjoy ourselves, has shifted. Nowadays, we don’t expect music to enrich our lives.

“When we find somebody who’s very talented, it’s an anomaly ? like Adele. She’s not Janis Joplin but she’s really good and when we find someone really good we go ‘holy s***, this is amazing. How come the rest of the music isn’t like that?’

“Then we have to chastise ourselves because we, as the consumers, have made it that the anomalies are the good ones. The status quo is all the s*** we gotta listen to. I think there’s a lot of great music being made, but we don’t hear a lot of it; it’s not on the radio because it’s not something that can sell a product or airtime.”

He remembers how everything changed when he figured out how to work his mother’s record player when he was seven or eight, putting on Ray Charles’ What I Say. He thinks a lot of kids nowadays are missing that emotional investment.

“It does pay you back... Nowadays everything’s swipe left, you know? It’s a generational thing. When us ‘old guys’ talk to the young kids about stuff, they just look at us like ‘what are you old people talking about?’ When I was young, I found people that were listening to classical music were talking mean about rock and roll like that and I’d go ‘what are you f****** talking about?’ The way we’ve evolved as society, with our technology, it just doesn’t leave a lot of room for people to sit down for 45 minutes to an hour (to) listen to two sides of a record and try to connect emotionally. It’s unfortunate.”

Huey Morgan, Brian Leiser and Frank Benbini of Fun Lovin' Criminals. Photo: Tom Barnes

Huey Morgan, Brian Leiser and Frank Benbini of Fun Lovin' Criminals. Photo: Tom Barnes - Credit: Archant

Music is everything to the ex-teenage tearaway who picked the US marine corps over jail.

“If I wasn’t a musician or didn’t aspire to be a guitar player, spend time honing a craft, learning some wood and some metal, I probably would have been on a street, doing some nefarious s***, and I probably would have been killed. That’s really honest.

“I found a lot of comfort in music. One of the great things about when I was serving as a marine, I saw a lot of other people’s perspective of how they viewed it and they opened me up to a lot of types of music, because of the way it affected people I cared about. I find solace in music, it saved my life.”

Humbled by people’s continued affection for Come Find Yourself, he’s looking forward to playing it in full live, including a stop at Norwich’s UEA LCR on Saturday, February 13.

“We always do a hell of a live show, so we’re not going to stop now man.”

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