Words & Photographs by Darren Warner
excerpts from Demons And Cocktail by kind permission of Stuart Cable
Interview from Issue 7 of PLUGGED IN magazine
I shook his hand. The Jaggerman then stopped in his tracks and the pleasantness suddenly left his face. ‘Who’s eating that?’ He pointed to the half-eaten plate of shepherd’s pie on the table, which was littered with cigarette butts and cans of beer.
I put my hand up like a schoolkid in a class asking to go to the toilet.
He chuckled and made a face, rolling his eyes to the ceiling. ‘Do you know the rules?’
‘What rules?’ I replied.
‘There are only two things you don’t do when you tour with us’. He seemed to take pleasure in what he was about to say. Again, everyone stared at me and then back towards Mick. ‘One’ — he held his finger up — ‘you don’t play on the snooker table unless you’ve been asked…and, secondly, you never, ever, take the shepherd’s pie unless Keith’s broken the crust first’.
Kelly and John, our manager, shot dagger eyes at me.
I didn’t f***ing know there were two things we weren’t supposed to do when you tour with the Rolling Stones, and if I did I wouldn’t think that eating f***ing shepherd’s pie would be top of the list.’
The afternoon is hot and the sweat trickles down my back as I drive though the busy streets of Trecynon on the outskirts of Aberdare searching for a place to park. I need something cold to drink and a quiet room to remove me from the stress of my daily routine. Luckily for me my destination was The Welsh Harp for a meeting with local hero and legendary rock drummer Stuart Cable, a perfect retreat away from the traffic. I was early but this meant that I could watch Stuart’s entrance — which was like a whirlwind of bustling energy, saying quick hellos to the regulars that all know him personally, then shouting “alright Da” across the pub with a wave of acknowledgment before coming down to rest in the seat opposite, leaving a wake of conversation and laughter behind him. Yes, Stuart Cable had arrived.
He looks fit and well drinking orange juice, making me conscious of my obvious paunch which I try to disguise behind my pint of Guinness that was now slowly warming due to the heat of the day. We start making small talk about PLUGGED IN and this latest issue.
“Manics, brilliant. Future Of The Left, excellent.” Both said in his strong Dylan-Thomas-esque barotone Welsh accent.
Stuart has been an avid reader and supporter of PLUGGED IN, along with his band mates in Killing For Company, and presented Gail and myself with the Red Dragon Welsh Award for Community Music last year. And likewise we have followed the growth of his exceptional new band — which we will come to later. But firstly we needed to talk about his book.
It’s been six years since Stuart parted ways with the other members of the Stereophonics, his childhood friends Kelly Jones and Richard Jones. Around the time varying versions of the events that lead to his expulsion from the band circulated around the press with people speculating on the reasons why and who to blame. Now with the release of his book Demons And Cocktails, My Life With Stereophonics we get a true picture of the circumstances leading up to his departure and the reasons for it. But it’s also about the birth of a band and its hard climb to the top.
So is the book a way of answering those questions that you’re always asked, laying the ghosts to rest?
“It wasn’t that I felt I was laying any ghost to rest but a way of letting the people who cared about me and the band know how the sacking came about. Also how the situation was handled by Kelly who wanted to paint a picture that made himself look better through the whole ordeal when really he was the root of the problem. Even now Stereophonics is about Kelly Jones, not the other members of the band. Towards the end of making the last record that I played on, You Gotta Go There To Come Back, Kelly wanted to do everything. Write the songs, produce, even do the album cover. I started to think that there was no point in me being there really. One of the things I liked doing was the interviews, being vocal, the public face of the Stereophonics. That’s what I believed a group was all about, taking different skills into the different areas. Kelly was a great song writer but rubbish at interviews. But he never wanted to be left out, always the frontman and with You’ve Gotta Go There… nobody wanted to speak to Richard or myself. Everyone perceived the album as Kelly Jones and the Stereophonics and although he said that he didn’t see it that way, that was the way in transpired. Every interview on the record’s promotional tour both me and Richard were ignored.”
Within the book Stuart talks about the little upsets that became big upsets that leads to his final departure but as he explains although Demons And Cocktails is a vehicle to explain why his sacking happened it was never the sole reason for writing it.
“It came about by accident really. I got to know this guy called Anthony Bunko who produced a local rag mag which was on sale in this pub. After a party at the pub we got talking about the Stereophonics and he said I must have had some mad times, so I told him the Keith Richards shepherd’s pie story. He asked if I’d ever thought of writing a book, so I told him I had considered it but never found anyone to ghostwrite it with me. You see I wanted it to read like I was speaking, rather than use big words with over 15 letters that everyone who knows me knew I couldn’t spell, let alone tell you what they meant. After sending off some test chapters to John Blake publishing, Bunko spent eight months getting inside my head. Although a major part of the book is the downside of the Stereophonics I wanted it to show the happy side of being in a band, getting that elusive record deal and living the rock ’n’ roll dream. I was never going to waste my time writing a book that just wanted to slag Kelly off. There was more to my life and I wanted to tell the truth of what happened.”
And this is what comes over in the book. Stuart, despite the way he felt treated, never talks about Kelly other than on equal terms. In fact the respect he still holds for him as a song writer quite often comes through.
He sat in front of the piano and started playing. I didn’t realise he could actually play the thing… ‘Stu, I’ve written this thing. Have a listen’. He then played “I Stopped To Fill My Car Up”.
When it finished he nervously asked me what I thought.
I think I said, ‘F***king hell, Kel! We’ve got to record that on the album tomorrow. It’s brilliant.’
Though Stuart knew that his time was nearly up with Stereophonics the ending was sudden and so badly handled that it drove a rift between Kelly and himself that still taints their lives today. He received a call from Kelly when he simply said, “Hiya. That’s it, butt. It’s all over: you’re out.” He knew it was coming but the two agreed to keep it quiet until they could talk together about putting out a statement. That never happened though, and after an embarrassing phonecall from Owen Money on BBC Radio Wales, who told Stuart he had a press release in front of him announcing his departure, Stuart freaked.
“He has said sorry, though he knew what would happen when the press release hit the wire.”
After his dismissal, Stuart didn’t see Kelly for over two years until they finally met at a Tragically Hip concert in London.
“I’m a straight talker. I said to him that I couldn’t believe that after all the years we had been together that he could scrape me off his shoe like a piece of sh*t. Though I also pointed out that it’ll hurt him more than it’ll hurt me. I was his best friend. Kelly had got quite tearful and kept saying he was sorry but by that time I couldn’t give a f**k. And with my hand on my heart I can honestly tell you that I didn’t care about being in that band anymore. I’d had the best part of three years of him saying this is how it is and this is how it isn’t. The unfortunate thing about the band was that Kelly became to big for his boots and didn’t realise that it takes certain personalities to come together from nothing to make a product that is saleable and admired. Once you take an element away what do you have left?”
So did you write this book for Kelly Jones?
“Not at all. The main reason was to tell people about the rock ’n’ roll life and where I came from. My father died when I was 10 and my brother was 17, and for years we didn’t see eye to eye. But now I’m older and wiser I understand the pressure he was under. All of a sudden my father passed away and he became a substitute head of the house with this young retrobate to look after. My mother worked most nights at the Working Men’s Club so he had to babysit me when he should have been out drinking with his mates and shagging girls. The book lets people know that you can be successful despite all the bad stuff that happens in your life. If you believe in your ability you can rise to any level. Also understanding my brother’s plight has drawn us back together and I’m pleased to say we are great mates now.”
Do you not feel, though, by writing this book you’ve opened up your life to scrutiny, both the positive and negative aspects? Do you not feel vulnerable?
“I don’t think I feel vulnerable, well not until you asked that question! To be honest, it was something I sat down and said to Bunko. If we’re doing this book, it’s got to be warts and all, we’re not going to hold stuff back.”
Including the painful but funny story of Stuart’s perianal abscess: ‘Bloody Hell! Have you seen it?’ he muttered, rather shocked.
‘No, I can’t see it’. I answered him back sarcastically.
He told me there appeared to be a big, swollen bag of pus protruding from my rectum.
“Also the drug element. I can’t hide it from people, my son included. Yes I had a cocaine problem around the time I left the band. There I was living in Cardiff with nothing to do and a truck load of money so I partied, losing days and even weeks. But I did wake up one morning and told myself this has got to change. Two things helped me at that time. One: I moved back to Aberdare; while the other was getting a job on Kerrang Radio in Birmingham. Travelling to the Midlands twice a week meant I had to get myself together, get up in the morning and get to work.”
Though Stuart has survived his drug addiction and didn’t end up in rehab like many rock stars do, there is one addiction that came out in his book that he may relapse back into. During his time with Stereophonics he freely admits he was addicted to… the shopping channel.
So what was the last thing you bought?
“A bread knife. It was amazing, you could cut anything with it. This guy starts cutting some bread, then he pulls out this bloody hammer and cuts that in half before going back to slicing a tomato.”
Staying on the TV theme then, will we ever see the return of Cable TV and its follow up Cable Connects?
“Unfortunately not, though I’d love to do it again. The show was very successful considering it had a limited audience on 2W.”
In its time Cable TV featured a wide variety of exceptional guests like Sir Tom Jones, Status Quo and live performances from Damien Rice and even Kelly and Richard playing an acoustic set. Cable Connects had Stuart driving around in a New York Cab visiting people at home, including the actor Neil Morrissey — who owns Browns Inn in Laugharne, the infamous watering hole of the great poet Dlyan Thomas — and Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins.
“That programme with Katherine had over 275,000 viewers. Still the then head of programming pulled the plug on any further series saying that there was no longevity in it. He believed there weren’t enough stars in Wales to continue.”
What a shame, as Stuart has a very natural style of presenting.
“I was there to have a laugh with my guests, not to use them as a reason for a joke. Many of the guests emailed afterwards to say what a wonderful time they’d had and that they’d love to come back on again.”
So with your natural TV persona why don’t you milk your celebrity rock star status and appear on programmes like I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here?
“My agent brought it up recently and going into the jungle is something I may consider next year or the year after if they want me. But you know what I’d love to go on is Celebrity Masterchef or Hell’s Kitchen. I have a passion for cooking and the way I see it is that I’ll be learning something from one of the best, Marco Pierre White.”
PLUGGED IN recently interviewed the Stone Gods for this Issue, and they mentioned that you played with them for a short while. What other band would you like to play with if you had the chance? (At this point I quickly interjected that AC/DC were out of the equation — it is a very well know fact that they are Stuart’s favourite band.)
“My word what a great question. I’d have to say the Kings Of Leon. I’ve been listening to Only By The Night recently and love the vibe they’ve got going on, a sort of 70s style with a modern edge. Nathan Followill’s drum patterns are very similar to the way I play in a strange way, very simple but they do a lot for the song. I’ve always been a big fan of that way of playing. The Stone Gods was the best week I’ve had in a long time, so much fun. It came about when Emma Scott, a fellow Kerrang Radio DJ rang me up one evening and said, ‘How long would it take a drummer to learn 13 songs?’ So I asked, ‘For what?’ And she answered, ‘A gig.’
Well she puts on these gigs in the Birmingham Barfly and the to-be-headliners had just lost their drummer. So she sent me their album which I lived with for a week to get the feel of the music before agreeing to the task. Then I spent the next 10 days rehearsing by myself and making notes, before the guys came down five days prior to the gig to work on the songs at my house. Now I’ve played in front of 100,000 people at Glastonbury, as well as many other stadium events, I’ve been on Jay Leno’s show, Later with Jools Holland and Top Of The Pops, but I’ve never been so nervous in my life as I was in front of 200 people at the Barfly! I’m confident playing stuff that’s in my head but to go on stage with reams of A4 covered in notes was a totally different experience. Saying that the gig was a blinder. What a band.”
With your own band Killing For Company you’ve gone back to having to lug your own gear around and set up your own drum kit. What’s it like to start from this level again?
“It gives you a true sense of reality. When Stereophonics were on tour, with each day being a different venue, I would turn up around 4pm, sit down at the drum kit, sound check for an hour, go get some dinner, have a go on the Playstation on the tour bus, go on stage, play, come off and then get drunk. The next day may be a different venue but the set up was exactly the same. I wouldn’t entertain going back to carrying my drums unless I believed in the band. And I believe in Killing For Company. The guys are great and Greg (vocals) is a star in the making. Andy is phenomenal on the guitar, Rich a prolific song writer, while Steve plays great bass melodies and helps harmonise with Greg. Their voices work so well together.”
So where does Killing For Company stand just at present?
“We’ve recently signed and are heading into the studio in Newcastle to start working on the album in July. We have about 18 songs to chose from and have some really big big numbers among them. I love that stadium rock thing.”
And that sums Stuart up. His passion for big epic music alongside his passion for life. A Valleys boy who loves to rock. Whatever he turns his hand to he attacks it with the full force of his friendly nature. This is what took him around the world from his Cwmaman home. This is why you can call him a legend.
Demons And Cocktails, My Life With Stereophonics is published by John Blake, £17.99 — check it out at Amazon
To download the complete magazine visit www.pluggedinmagazine.co.uk