After frantically trying to grab Mike Wilton for a quick chat after his acoustic set, we head for the venue door and have a chat by the side of the road. It’s gone 11pm and no cars are around. The last few gig-goers are finishing their pints and smoking their last cigarette of the night. Mike turns to me awaiting my first question as he looks hurried and wanting to embark on his journey home. Some excited fans come over and thank him for his performance and he engages with them like their old friends. He stands casually with his back to the wall as I reflect upon the acoustic set he just performed.
Tell me about your song Denmark Street.
There’s a great venue in Denmark Street called the 12 Bar Club which we’ve played quite a lot. That little street was once very, very important. Before the guitar shops and before the music shops down there, it was a place for music publishers. So, if you had a song that you thought was a hit single, then you’d take it to the music publisher in Denmark Street – called Tin Pan Alley then. From that it just turned into a big guitar place. You’d always think if you go to Denmark Street there might be someone famous up there. It had quite a cool little vibe about it. It had all gone when I went up there the last time and I thought what a sad thing. So, I wrote about it and I wrote about my experience with it, and the end is kind of saying well look, if you don’t make the most of these things that are on your doorstep, they’re going to go. You’re never going to be able to replace them. That’s why I wrote it really.
That’s a good idea to write a song about that. I think it’s really important especially for musicians who are quite new or trying to establish themselves. I think it’s good for that because it gives them an idea of what was, and how it’s changed. I think if you’re going to do something you have to understand the history of what you’re doing.
I class myself very lucky to be of that last generation before buying guitars on the internet.
You’ve got to feel it haven’t you…
I never buy a guitar on the internet and whenever I do have the money to go and buy a guitar, which is not very often, I spend 3 or 4 hours in the shop just going, ‘I’ll try that, I’ll try that.’ Then I come away with something I didn’t think I was going to get, but I know it’s going to work. Number one, I need a guitar that I can play every night. I don’t have it to put on the wall. I’ve written a few personal songs, I don’t like to open up my heart too much, but that one is from experience. There’s other songs with The Standard Lamps which are about real things, but a lot of it is made up – it’s just imaginary stuff.
You say you don’t like writing songs. What part of it do you enjoy?
There’s a lot of writers that can write straight away. I’m not writing for anyone else, so when I get up and sing, I’ve got to make it as truthful as possible otherwise why am I doing it? It takes me a long time sitting down going, ‘What would I find interesting? What would I want to hear if I was sitting in the audience?’ It can take a long time doing it. The bit I enjoy the most is probably, once the foundations have been set recording wise, then being able to play with it. I like the production side of it and I enjoy playing live as well. I like playing with bands.
You’re quite varied as well aren’t you, because you’ve got The Standard Lamps, you’ve got your solo stuff, but you also play with Mark Morriss as well which is quite nice.
Mark is a good friend. We have this kind of friendship which is nice really because I met him totally randomly and he was just a very, very nice person and kind of said, “Oh we’ll do this again.” He actually followed that up and he really looked after The Standard Lamps. Without Mark, yeah okay, we did The Who and we had a manager and all that kind of stuff, and that was an amazing experience, but without Mark I think we wouldn’t have as many fans. When I did a Pledge for my solo stuff it was quite staggering the amount of people who did Pledge for it who I knew from meeting at Bluetones shows, so yeah it’s very important.
Video by Chris Smith.
You talk about the shows you did with The Who – what are the differences between doing a gig like that and a gig like you’ve done tonight? Is there one that you prefer?
I think any performer wants to play to a lot of people. When you’re playing with people like The Who it’s almost a bit too dream like. It’s something I’ve dreamt about from a very young age and when it actually happens, you can’t really take it in too much. To be honest with you, there’s not a huge amount of difference in playing an arena and playing tonight. You’ve still got to get up and do the job. When you’re a support band in an arena you’re playing to half an arena because there are empty seats – it doesn’t really feel that daunting. When we played those shows with The Who, we had a massive stage to play on, but we kept very tight, we didn’t go, ‘It’s huge, so we’re gonna take up the whole stage.’ We were actually playing the same kind of distance away from each other that we normally would if we were playing the Tunbridge Wells Forum. When we played the Tunbridge Wells Forum if it’s a sell-out, those people playing underneath you is the same feeling as playing a big arena. I feel like one day I’m going to turn around and go, ‘Fuck that happened.’ If you let it get to your head too much then you can screw yourself up and a lot of people do. A lot of people play those big shows and think they’re huge and they act differently. For me, I always go back to work the next day. I kind of like the struggle, because I find the struggle inspires me the most. As much as I say I don’t like song writing, I actually do like the struggle because once you’ve come out with something which you think is really great, it’s so worth it. For me as a lead singer, I have to put my heart into it and I like to think people who come to the shows, whether it’s an acoustic show or an arena show, think that guys not fake, you know, that guy’s real.
When you were supporting The Who, did you chat to any of them?
Yeah I did. I mostly spoke to Pete Townshend. Well, out of Roger and Pete, it was more Pete Townshend. I spent a lot of time with Simon Townshend because I’ve got to know him quite well over the years through our manager, Lisa. He’s a really nice person and he’s been really supportive. Zak Starkey, Ringo’s son, was very nice too. They’re just a very nice group of people who support each other. Everybody’s there because they all really want to be there. You had to pick your moments to chat to Pete Townshend and to Roger, but as long as it was said, “Okay you can go and see him now.” I met Martin Freeman once. I was lucky because I got him at a good moment, but you know, that morning at breakfast someone came and put a camera in his face. You have to respect these people. He’s just a very talented person who’s done some incredibly important stuff. Sometimes I think you’ve just got to admire from afar.
Did you find you learnt anything from them?
Pete Townshend was just saying keep doing it. I was lucky enough to see The Rolling Stones about three weeks ago at Twickenham. Charlie Watts is 77, the people they were influenced from the most were the blues guys who played right through their lives. I don’t think I could ever do what they do at their age, but that’s the inspiration right there.
What have you got planned in your future?
I’m just going to keep doing it. Whether it’s with The Standard Lamps, or something different, or taking a break and doing my own thing.
Feature Image: Photo by Chris Pope. Taken from Mike Wilton Facebook.