Sunday, 23 December 2012

Meeting Your Heroes: Liam Byrne Interview 1991

Just a short article about Liam from '91. 

Meeting Your Heroes by Catriona Slade, The Sunday Mailograph. 1991.

I fell in love for the first time in 1976. I was fifteen and my birthday present had been two tickets to rock concert - my first.

My best friend Melinda and I spent the week leading up to the gig in a state of constant anticipatory frenzy and got a lunchtime detention for it from Mrs Cooper the French teacher.
On that never-to-be-forgotten Tuesday night, we dressed up in our coolest clothes: Me in denim flares and a Rolling Stones t-shirt stolen from my brother Geoff and Melinda in a new white broderie anglais dress. We put our make up on in the ladies toilets at the station before getting the train to Edinburgh.
The band playing that night was Shadowlands, a group Geoff had raved about since 1972.
At two minutes past seven, we were sat quietly in our assigned seats - Row G Seats 6 & 7. At four minutes past, the band came on and all hell broke loose. The mostly male audience rushed the stage and if we wanted to see anything, Lindy and I had no choice but to fight our way to the front. At seventeen minutes past seven, I fell in love. I checked my watch so that I would remember. I’d used my petite frame and shy smile to push past a group of boys and found myself crushed against the front of the stage. 
Guitarist JD Twain was stood off to the left, bassist Pete Lazini nearby. Sam Mascha was all but hidden behind his drum kit and Rosalie Cochran was tucked almost off stage while she played the xylophone part of a new song called ‘Fast Flowing River.’ It had only been released a short time before but we all knew all the words.
Front and centre, Liam Byrne stood at the microphone, blasting us all apart with his voice. At the end of the song he looked down and I caught his eye. He smiled, I fell in love.
I spent the next few years following the band in the music press, buying their records and attending their shows whenever they came to Scotland. I once even managed to persuade my parents that I would be fine going to a gig at the infamous Glasgow Apollo!
No boy at school or university compared to gorgeous, intense Liam Byrne and his voice. When Rosalie left the band and a schism opened between fans, I stuck by Liam’s side. I grew up and fell in love for real, but a little piece of my heart remained wholly Liam's.
Fifteen years later, I am at a small but exclusive London hotel to interview him. He has become an odd figure in recent years, mostly reclusive when not on stage. He rarely grants interviews but his solo record does have to be promoted somehow.
He is not as beautiful as he once was, though he looks trim and still has plenty of his long, luscious dark hair. His demeanour is one of reluctant dislocation, and in the first few minutes he hardly meets my gaze.
I am deeply disappointed. He is no longer the towering figure of my youth. His past alcohol problems are a forbidden topic, but I can’t help seeing the damage done on his face.
We sit on the hotel terrace in the sunshine drinking tea and it is not at all what one expects: rock stars are like vampires and very rarely seen in the daylight.
Liam’s hair is a little grey and he is unshaven: his nascent beard is salt and peppery.
I ask him first about his life off stage, trying to find a way of asking while staying within the parameters set down by his management. I end up asking about hobbies.
‘I don’t have hobbies.’ His voice is soft, like summer rain. ‘I haven’t got the time.’
‘Surely you have a lot of free time when you’re not on tour?’
‘Not really. At home I’m writing or rehearsing.’
Five more minutes of semi-casual conversation leaves me in little doubt that Liam has no life outside of music. He reads, he goes to the movies and he’s travelled the world over, but it all comes back to the music.
I wonder, but dare not ask, about his private life: he has never been pictured with women (or men), and almost all the legends for his band belong to lothario JD Twain. Has Liam lived an ascetic life or is he very discreet? No journalist has ever been inside his house in Highgate, although he’s on the road so often he’s hardly there in any case. As he describes how he feels onstage - ‘Alive at last’ - I am struck by what a pathetic figure he is.
‘If you only feel alive for two and a half hours a day, what about the other twenty one and a half?’ I asked.
He shrugs tired shoulders and closes his hollow eyes. ‘They’re better odds than a lot of people get.’
This is not the Liam Byrne I feel in love with. My heart is broken a little. When I get home, I hug my husband extra-tight and let go my old crush.
Yet later, as I write this article, I feel guilty. I have demanded he remain young, perfect and heroic. He is only human, after all. Perhaps he should have lived fast and died young to preserve his legend. Which is a terrible thought. The things we do to our heroes.

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