Comes with a Smile # interviews
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John Wesley Harding
 by LD Beghtol / pictures by Paul Heartfield

John Wesley Harding by Paul HeartfieldLate of Hastings, East Sussex, UK and most recently of Seattle, Washington, USA, this year's model of the musical wonder sometimes known as Wes Stace is a boy on the go. Currently he and his band The Radical Gentlemen are roaming the earth, bringing his brand of tuneful ballads and sexy, literate pop to the grateful masses on both sides of the Atlantic. Harding's most recent, and perhaps best album, The Confessions of St. Ace, is a masterpiece of witty wordplay, gorgeous melodies and his own fine singing, set beautifully within bright, uncluttered arrangements that will most likely sound as fresh in a decade's time as they do just now. In short, it's a classic - from the post-Bat Cave anthem "Goth Girl" to the demonic whimsy of "Bad Dream Baby" to the sweet and tender hooliganism of "Too Much Into Nothing." But that's all in a day's work for an ex-Cambridge man and Arsenal fan.

Recently I interviewed the peripatetic troubadour (via the internet), and have faithfully rendered his words below for the enlightenment of you, the gentle reader.

In the words of the immortal Caucus: "Faber est suae quisque fortunae."

Who's the smartest person you know? The most talented? The most attractive?
The smartest person I know is Shelley Jackson ( ). Certainly, I am in love with her, but this in no way sways my judgment on this matter. (And anyway, I don't think anyone should be in love with anyone they don't consider the smartest person they know, not to mention the most talented and most attractive.) However, amongst very wonderful people I know and in these various categories - but I'm not saying which - I would include Scott MacCaughey (musician), David Lewis (professor, musician), Christopher Ricks (professor), Nigel Hinton (writer), Amanda Posey (film producer), Kurt Bloch (musician). I have purposefully avoided all members of my band and heavier name-drops.

Oscar Wilde once said that only shallow people do not judge by appearances - do you agree or disagree?
I agree that he said it. If the question is "Do I think people should judge other people by appearances?" then I would say there are certain aspects of a person's appearance (a mullet, a satin jacket with a radio station logo on the back &c &c) that do suggest that further communication will not be necessary - unless the keen semiologist can detect that there is any irony in the wearing of the sign, But it's tough with a mullet, for example. On that level, I suppose I agree. Stating the obvious, however: Even Oscar Wilde didn't believe it; he just said it.

Your favourite word?
Too many to mention, but I like "dewlaps," "jonquil," "kettle" and "countermand" and pretty much any word I have to look up - except scientific ones.

Swear word?
My favourite swear word is "knickers" or sometimes "bollocks." However I am best known for "fuck my dog" and, subsequently, "suck my cock," which I said as a swearphrase once and by mistake: It just came out.

Do you have a favorite deadly sin? If so, how often do you commit it (or think about committing it)?
I think I might be slightly gluttonous (I like a good meal, and then I like dessert as well, and I commit that about every night), I am exceeding lustful but I'm not sure that's too much of a sin unless you covet your neighbour's ass or whatever. I'm not very avaricious and sloth doesn't really come into it - though sometimes when I'm not on tour I would rather sit on the sofa than move. I am not at all wrathful, only slightly envious and not very proud either. Who made those up anyway? And who says envy is a bad thing? How about taking pleasure in other people's failure? Why isn't that a deadly sin?

What's your best party trick?
My best party trick involves a pack of cards. It would be tough to explain but basically I take a bunch of cards, you pick one, give it back to me; I baffle you completely and then get the card you picked. It sounds totally standard and tedious but it's great. Another one - even more impressive, according to my traveling companions - is when I give someone a pack of cards and s/he sorts them out without looking at the faces of the cards, perfectly, into red and black with no help from me at all (as it were.) My other party trick is an impression of a horse galloping which I perfected aged five and can still manage when really desperate to entertain a small child. Oh and my impression of an owl requires some steps, an oversize jumper and some drink.

Finish this sentence, please: "The best part of being a rock star is..."
Sorry, but the answer is not glamorous. But then I might not be the right rock star, as it were, to ask. To me, the best thing about being a rock star is not having a job that I never really wanted to have. Also, importantly, getting free stuff. Perhaps my answer should actually be: The ability to do good for people 'round the world at events like LIVE AID.

Are you ticklish?

What were you wearing 10 years ago? 20 years ago?
Ten years ago, I was wearing more casual clothes than I wear now - still smart and still roughly the same but less flamboyant. Twenty years ago I looked slightly like a member of Killing Joke: black baggy trousers, with pockets, shaved sides of the head, black sleeveless T-shirts, a very messy green overcoat - and if you think that, at the time, I was in a host of Shakespeare plays, that's peculiar. Actually, maybe this was more like 17 years ago; 20 years ago I was wearing a school uniform which consisted of a black undertaker's outfit and a wing collar.

Stephin Merritt has called for a full-scale return to sartorial splendor among the "new pop" protagonists - will you participate? If so, what will you wear?
I certainly agree, as anyone who has seen me this year will testify. Sartorial splendour is in the eye of the beholder, and one man's three-piece suit and pipe, is another man's Vivienne Westwood faux-bondage suit (I'm the latter) - but I'm there! My best shirt, a black and white monochrome disco cowboy design, was recently described in The Guardian as "gaudy." Can a black and white shirt be gaudy? By the way, in the photo of me, which is somewhere on this page, I think my shadow looks more like me that I do, which is interesting. Nice jacket, however, bought in Amarillo, Texas in 1991 for $9.99. Before "No Depression," I hasten to add.

Why do people live in Seattle?
The question is not why they live there, but why they leave. Seattle is a great place.

"When I'm alone, my absolute favorite thing to do is..."
At home, write a song or cook a meal for returning partner. On a plane, read a book. Anywhere, read The Observer on Sunday. In a hotel room, fiddle about on the internet. Out in the real world, go to a second-hand bookstore I've never been to before.

What's your libation of choice?
Morning: coffee. Lunchtime: sparkling water. Nighttime: Pernod, Anchorsteam beer, single malt whiskies.

When was the last time you vomited - and why?
Dresden two years ago. I don't want to think about it.

If you were, in fact, going to be martyred, how would you choose to go?
Something swift, not involving dogs, arrows or pain. Or, come to think of it, death.

What was your first aesthetic experience? Have your ever tried to repeat that in your life? Was it good for you?
It was playing some song on the piano - a pop song from sheet music, maybe ELO or Billy Joel? Either way, I was about six or seven. And I got to this certain chord, and I played it - probably something major and diminished, the kind of chord that impresses a small child - and I entirely teared up. Ever since then, if a little piece of composition goes very well for me, particularly at the piano, it literally brings tears to my eyes.

"Most people think I'm __________ , but I'm really not."
Arrogant. People mistake a mixture of confidence, insecurity and a sense of humour for arrogance. Having said that, another answer would be "Too talkative" and in this matter, though I hope to be entertaining, I am guilty as charged.

Name the books you're currently reading - and where you're reading them.
Vertigo by WG Sebald, Number9dream by David Mitchell, Frequent Hearses by Edmund Crispin and Filmi Filmi Inspector Ghote by HRF Keating. I am also reading The Modern Antiquarian by Julian Cope. They all serve different purposes - bed, train, plane - due to their various sizes.

What instruments do you wish you played?
I wish I played some mediaevally instruments - the sackbut, the shawm, the hammer dulcimer, the viol - just so I could whip them out to great applause in the acoustic portion of my Wembley Arena show.

Hobnobs or Walker's Shortbread?
If it's English and described as a biscuit, then I'm in.

If given the opportunity to joins the Masons, would you?
Sorry, I can not answer this question for fear of breaking my vows to the Line and Rule, or the Foursquare Architect. Or whatever it is.

CWAS #8 - Summer 2001