Mickey Jupp; the best British rocker of all times

Written by: Jip Golsteijn for “De Telegraaf” Saturday 7th of June 1980.
This article has been translated from Dutch to English by: Ron Bijnen, Holland.

Mickey Jupp, the best British rocker of all times

On stage, he can look very wild, but now – in reality – Mickey Jupp is “every inch a gentleman”.
This way, in a three-piece suit and juggling with an umbrella, he could disappear easily in the
crowd, that, shortly after eleven at night, with a stiff upper lip, but nevertheless insistently,
tries to get “one more” beer from the friendly but determined owner of the local country club.
Nothing shows that Jupp dreaded this interview as he dreads all interviews, and that manager
Keith Reid had trouble persuading him to see this seemingly very interested foreigner.

Two years ago I had not heard of Mickey Jupp at all. Then he came – for me as unexpected as
for almost the whole Free West – almost appearing out of thin air with a brilliant album on
Stiff Records: Juppanese.
Next, in retrospective effect, I dug up Jupp’s career and chanced upon three LP’s, made between
1969 and 1972 plus a collection of that material which appeared on Stiff in 1977 as “The Mickey Jupp Legend”.

To say that Jupp, whom John Lennon considered to be the best British rocker of all times,
has done well since then, is to say too much. “Juppanese” got nothing but praise, and its successor
“Long Distance Romancer” (a bit over-) produced by Lol Creme and Kevin Godley, was also fantastic,
but both albums disappeared without having any impact in the UK.

Everyone who’s seen and heard Mickey Jupp in his top form, which he shows – almost on purpose – only
now and then, knows that Lennon is right. Mickey Jupp is the best British rocker of all times.
This weekend he is in The Netherlands.

“Is it true” I want to know “that Jupp can hardly cooperate with other musicians because it’s impossible
for him to pay compliments?” The singer looks at me in bewilderment.
“Who says that?” He lights a cigarette laboriously and gives me a desperate look.
“What a question!” He drains his beer can in a draught and stares a couple of minutes, smoking silently,
out of the window of the office that the record company people have vacated for us.
“I treat people like I want to be treated myself” he says finally. “For me a pat on the shoulder is enough
but most musicians seem to want more”. And after another long silence:
“It’s true I can’t give them that much more”.

Hours later we say goodbye. The singer has to wait till his train ticket, which isn’t valid at certain afternoon
hours, brings him back to Southend, the town where he was born and which he never left.
“But it was a good question” he says. By then I’ve forgotten which one.

By way of exception I felt as fit as a fiddle. Stiff Records was behind me and my best friend, Gary Brooker,
was to produce my album. For a couple of days we were working at “Juppanese” in perfect harmony
when Dave Robinson, Stiff’s director, came to listen. Normally I don’t like foreign ears to hear unfinished
products but in this case I could hardly refuse. Dave thought what he heard was “not cooking”.

A few days later I was summoned – so to speak – to London. Dave said he wanted to start all over again with a
different band and a different producer. I refused. Everything was going fine, wasn’t it? But then Dave said he
wanted to ask Rockpile which meant Nick Lowe would become my producer. I seized the opportunity with both
hands, without thinking any further. Dave Edmunds is even older than me. I was sure he’d understand what I wanted
with “Juppanese”. I didn’t think of Gary at that moment. That was unforgivable. After all ...

Best friend
I had put myself in a traumatic situation. Gary is my best friend. And also my publisher.
My manager Keith Reid and he wrote all the legendary material for Procol Harum. And Keith did also agree
with Robinson’s demands. I got the task to explain to Gary why he was dumped. And, to make everything
even more tragic, things didn’t work out between Rockpile and me. After three weeks the bomb exploded.
They were sick and tired of me. I had no other option than asking Gary to finish the album.
At first he didn’t want to, he was hurt. But eventually he agreed, out of friendship for me.

The first day of the renewed cooperation in the studio I was very nervous. I’d planned a sort of festive
reunion and rehearsed a mea culpa, but when Gary walked into the studio I just said “Hi Gary, how’s things?”
And he said “how are you?” The following days we pretended nothing had happened which made the
atmosphere even more tense. In the end I told him that it was all my fault.
I should have told Robinson: “Fuck off”. If he wouldn’t have come out with Rockpile it wouldn’t
haven happened. I like the side that Gary produced better anyway. Only recently I can listen to
Nick’s production and think:
“Well, he knows his job too!” All in all Juppanese isn’t my favourite album.

In the final stage Gary and I were almost at each other’s throats about “Partir c’est mourir un peu”.
That song is about a French girl I once knew. I loved her but I was not the only one.
She went back to France. I wrote five songs inspired by her. In the studio I sang the wonderful “Partir”.
I was touched. I was very content with myself. I was sitting there with tearful eyes, being very happily
unhappy when Gary said: “Can’t you put a bit more feeling into it?” I almost killed him.
But of course he was right. I didn’t want to exaggerate it and thus “Partir c’est mourir un peu”
became just flat and shallow.

Me difficult? Mmm ... I do know why some people ... eh ... most people think so. I’m old-fashioned.
If a musician doesn’t know which sound fits to my music I can’t explain it to him. Then I snap at so
much foolishness. Very unreasonable but still ... Besides, I don’t know anything about the technical
side of the recording process. So I can’t explain what I mean. All those buttons and switches and
wires for me don’t have to do anything with music.
At home, with my own equipment I get often better results than in a completely equipped super-modern
million-track studio. I made singles with producers I didn’t know and with musicians radiating they were
only hired for the job. In a situation like that I get full of hatred. Mainly self-hatred. I don’t like my own voice.
Not when it sings and not when it talks. Particularly not when it talks.
When I hear my own voice in a radio-interview I want the earth to open up and swallow me.
I cannot communicate. I can’t explain anything. That’s why musicians become gloomy and sometimes resentful.
And on top of it I blame them for the situation. In my despair. Moreover my sense of humour is rather black.
I’m not difficult. I’m peculiar. I know that all too well. On the rebound I act as normal as possible in a
working situation. Then I really look crazy.

I didn’t know anyone of Rockpile. Well, I met Nick once. I think he came to compliment me.
After “Juppanese” I didn’t think he was very good as a producer but, as I said, I’m changing my
mind more and more. I admire his work with Edmunds and Costello. His own albums he handles with less care.
I bought “Labour of Lust” because it has one of my songs on it: “Switchboard Susan”. I didn’t like it one bit.
Nick’s doing very well in the States. Maybe he’s tuning his work to America. Slick.
I couldn’t do that. I make albums that I like myself. If my neighbours like them I’m satisfied.
If the whole street likes them I’m beaming. But that’s about it.

No fame
What the whole town thinks of them doesn’t interest me., let alone London. Let alone America.
People say to me: go to America. There you’ll make it. There they know what an old rocker is.
There they recognize a great artist.
But I don’t want to. I’m sixteen years in this profession now and only recently I went to Germany
for the first time. Civilized country. That was not so bad. The U.S. are uncivilized. Why should I go there?
I don’t want fame and I don’t want fortune. But if I go ... I’m sure that I’d hate myself because I didn’t
go sooner. Probably when I’d see Bobby Bland playing in a small club in New Orleans.

I used to be self-confident. I was a good singer. Still I’m not too bad but ...
Lately I’m thinking too much on stage. For example in the middle of a song I think:
what if I were there in the crowd, would I still like it? And then I break it off in utter panic.
Once I was sure there were only two singers better than me:
Paul McCartney, and Paul Rodgers of The Free.
But they’ve slumped down too. McCartney could sing anything. Anything! From “I’m down” to “Michelle”.
Nowadays you couldn’t bear to hear him anymore. Frankie Miller was also good. But not anymore.
He’s drowned his talent.

Tin Pan Alley has a bad name but it must have been very stimulating for songwriters.
Nowadays everybody can wait for divine inspiration like for the cheque from the dole.
But in the fifties and sixties, when songwriters held permanent appointments at publishers’
offices and did office hours, they kept working. At Motown’s twelve people were composing
in a room every day. Someone invented this or that, someone else picked it up and a third one
finished it. Then Holland, Dozier and Holland put up the “finishing touch” to it and there you are!
Another Number One for The Supremes. In the Brill Building Carole King and Gerry Goffin did everything
for Uncle Donny (Don Kirshner, the big man among publishers who enabled 19-year-old songwriters
in New York to work at would turn out to be classic teenage love songs, note by Jip Golsteijn).
Uncle Donny was only twenty-six or -seven himself by then. I don’t know any people who are angry with him.
He must have been pretty honest for such a big businessman. If something like Tin Pan Alley would still exist I’d
seriously try to obtain my place there. Office hours! It’s good for discipline.

I must force myself to sit at the piano or pick up a guitar. Tape recorder on and sweat.
That’s the thing. You can’t go on at sheer inspiration. Sometimes I write a song within five minutes.
Once I was to tour with Elvis Costello. I didn’t like it. I was irritated. I couldn’t sleep.
Mere minutes after I finally fell asleep I woke up at the middle of the night. I was semi-unconscious.
I wrote the words which came to me on a notepad to remember them.
Next day I found the words of “Old Rock ‘n’ Roller. Didn’t need any adjustment.

“Pilot” is my favourite song. Once when I was totally fed up again with this business I didn’t play
anywhere but in a small club in the town where I’m from, Southend. Every night I had to sing “Pilot” four or five times.
Once it was recorded I couldn’t listen to it anymore. I hated “Pilot”. When Gary put it on his first solo album he
asked me to do the backing voice. I almost threw him out, the fate of all my benefactors.
Now I wouldn’t mind to sing “Pilot” again. It is not a song you do just on call. An emotional love song.
I only write them like this or it’s complete nonsense. Which can be fun as well.

I don’t write anything normal. I’m so critical about my writing that the mere fact that I finish a
song means that it’s good. Next I want to perform that song perfectly, which is often the main problem
in the studio, without telling it in so many words or even be able to tell it, but what someone else does
with it I don’t care. By now my songs have been recorded by Nick Lowe, Gary Brooker, Dave Edmunds
and Elkie Brooks. They wrote an extra verse to have a share in the profits.
At once I didn’t like them as much as before but on the other hand I’m in the possession
of a collector’s item: a song with Leiber/ Stoller/ Jupp behind it! I’m flattered when I’m covered but I
can’t get myself to have a real interest in someone else’s version. In Southend there’s a disco club called Zero Six.
Every Monday night they put The Village People, Donna Summer and The Bee Gees in the chest and then there’s
a so-called Musicians’ Workshop. A completely unknown amateur band played one of my songs.
That can keep me astonished for a day.

I’m not productive at all. For instance I write five songs in a month and then nothing in half a year.
Actually writing songs is a hobby. If I would run out of work tomorrow because really nobody would
want to work with me, even then I’d write songs like someone else makes model planes.

Once I panicked. Keith and Gary established their publishing company and I was the first songwriter
with a permanent appointment. instead of the usual compliments I got money now.
For something I’d do anyhow. The responsibility was pressing on me. Suddenly I started to believe
that I wasn’t in one of my usual dry periods but that the well went dry for good.
Thank goodness the panic lasted only three days.
Then I got to work as usual.

Turning point
As a child I was not very much interested in music. Didn’t want to take piano lessons, never nagged about a guitar.
Didn’t put my head in the radio to catch Radio Luxemburg. Until I chanced upon “Poison Ivy” by The Coasters.
There lightning stroke. That was the turning point of my life. I bought everything in retrospective effect.
And discovered Leiber and Stoller. There was one record shop in Southend selling “new music”.
I was such a good customer that I was allowed to browse behind the counter. I studied titles.
Checked the case with London-American repertoire scrupulously. That’s the way I became a songwriter.

Musically spoken I never learned anything new after that time. What I did learn in this apprentice
period was a great respect for the classics. Of course I sing classics on stage but I wouldn’t think of
putting one on an album. It’s done already.
And done perfectly, otherwise it wouldn’t have been a classic. Simple as that.

I thought all those English musicians covering classics in the sixties embarrassing. I couldn’t even stand
The Beatles and The Stones at first because of that. Only later on when they did their own thing I became
fascinated. But not as fascinated as by Bobby Bland or Arthur Crudup. And still, if the set requires a slow
song, I’d rather sing “St James Infirmary” than “Pilot” or “Barbara” though the audience begs often for
those two songs of mine.

I may be peculiar, but I never occupied myself with drugs or religion. I’m pretty proud of that for it seems
to be the big solution for maladjusted rockers. Neither am I self-destructive like everybody says.
I only don’t care that much what will happen to me.

Jip Golsteijn for “De Telegraaf” Saturday 7th of June 1980

Thanks to Ron Bijnen for providing the article both as a scan and the translation.