I’ve known Mr. Grant Sharkey for about ten years. His Southampton-based band Toupé were regular visitors to venues in coastal neighbours Bournemouth, and over the six or so years I was involved in promoting music I booked them as often as I could, being as they were one of the most spontaneously vivacious bands you’re ever likely to see. Toupé were a three-piece, featuring a twin-bass bombardment from Grant and Karl Evans, their on stage banter being almost as much of the appeal as the music itself. Karl didn’t care about Toupé (big lie) so a few years ago he buggered off to live in Australia, returning only very occasionally to tease Grant and Jay (drummer of rather high repute) into thinking he may come back for good. He’s still in Oz. Bastard.
So, how best to describe Grant Sharkey? First up, Grant is a seriously funny fucker. He’s a singer, songwriter and all types of bass player; he’s a stand-up comedian, a novelist, host, compere and should be famous. He’s an activist. He writes and about stuff that’s important to him, and he uses his mouth and multitude of talents to tell the world what’s on his mind. He writes to MPs and rock stars. He protests at X-Factor auditions. He’s not afraid of upsetting people; he likes to provoke debate and cogitation but probably more than anything he loves making people laugh.
Some time before May last year Grant decided to undertake a musical mission – to release an album every six months for the next 20 years. Why? In his own words, from his website:
“The mission started in a traffic jam in London. Traffic jams always make me a little more philosophical than usual, I was dehydrated, I was being sold something everywhere I looked by companies that didn’t give a shit about the fact I needed a drink of water, my fellow drivers could barely find the courage to look at me and recognise our reality.
In my delirium, I ended up asking myself FOUR QUESTIONS:
1. Is the world I live in working?
I answered, NO.
2. How old will I be in the year 2033?
I answered, 55. Still viable.
3. Is life in 2033 going to be better than it is in 2013 for the regular people in the world?
I answered, No…I don’t think so.
4. Would you like to be stuck in a traffic jam with a teenager in 2033?
I initially answered, NO WAY! But then I realised this was a trick question. I should be answering, YES! Because I’d like to think I’d be able to make a difference with songs and philosophy and jokes to make a better society for them to grow up in.
So, I set myself the mission. 1 man. 20 years. 40 albums. This is about all I could do that I’d be good at to help stop people being treated like shit for the sake of a profit or a click or a like or a prayer. There’s a lot of white noise…I’m hoping to put a filter on it.
THEY WON’T BE: patronising, manipulative, dishonest or SQUAZZ*.”
This first of the 40 came out on 6th May 2013, titled, um, 1/40. The second on 5th November was named 2/40 Binge Thinker, now, as planned the 3rd in the fortyrilogy has been released – 3/40 Free Nuggets. For more on Grant’s mission and other schnizzle, take a look at his website.
I felt a desire to probe a touch deeper. I know Grant likes a probe, so I mailed him a bunch of questions, about his mission, his love affair with music, his new album and his poor, broken wrists…
Q. Good day Grant, how’s you and how’s your wrists?
A. I am well, my wrists are not. But I’m getting an operation in a couple of months. Then I’ll be unstoppable!
Q. 3/40: Free Nuggets has just been released – the 3rd of 40 releases planned twice annually for 20 years. Are your wrists gonna hold out?
A. They’ll be fine. It’s my mind I’m worried about. I have to release, promote and put an album to bed pretty much the same month as I have to start writing the next one. It’s a lot of fun…at the moment. By 27/40 I may be struggling – then it’s time to outsource my art like Damian Hirst does.
Q. To me the album is a romantic and nostalgic 45-minute adventure into friendship, music and um, life – it’s having fun with important stuff. It’s got shit to say. What is it to you?
A. It’s a reaction to what it feels like to have a creative life and these amazing experiences with strangers and friends, then come home to a load of people you love watching TV and having a very unrealistic outlook of the whole world. I believe, though I can’t be sure, this is what it feels like for so many musicians.
Q. You’re having a laugh aren’t you?
Q. But a lot of this shit is important. Using humour to get your message across – did this start when you were born on a park bench, aged 15?
A. Never a truer word said in jest. For many years growing up I was thrown lots of artists who had the ability to rage at the absurdity of the world we’ve created and then make us laugh at it. It started early on with Betamax tapes of The Kenny Everett Show and Not The Nine O’Clock News. The closest thing kids have today is Russell Howard’s Good News and Mock The Week, both of which seem a little tame in comparison, like CBeebies Satire.
Q. You’ve been trying to understand the human condition. Made any progress?
A. I’ve spent a lot of time realising we’re not all the same – but it’s all about how we treat other people in the end. I’ve come the realisation that everyone in the world has had a night where they’ve cried endless, feeling like all hope is lost. Whether it’s a relationship, a job, an ambition or money – everyone has had that night where they’ve been confused and desperate and so, so sad. Usually they fall asleep and feel better in the morning – so I treat everyone who isn’t going through that like this is might not be their best day, but it’s definitely not their worst and we’re all stronger as a result. That’s why I find watching TV or fear peddling political parties so weird, they choose to spend their days when they’re not sad being so ineffectual against the future.
Q. You fell in love with music. How’s that relationship going?
A. Strong as ever. We’re coming up to our 20th anniversary soon. I still find it immensely attractive.
Q. Because you love music so much you’ve been to the X Factor. How did that go – were you successful?
A. I only went to the audition queue in the bottom of a shopping centre. I queued up for an hour, got in the middle and then sang ‘Feed The Kids’ at the top of my voice. Amazingly, hardly anyone knew what to do when music actually came in to the room. So I was stood there shouting “I’M NOT A COG IN THE MACHINE, I’M THE GREASE!” at a load of people looking at their phones to avoid eye contact. It was fun. I hope they all do well in whatever they do next.
Q. X Factor is the worst fucking thing to ever happen to popular music. Music is amazing. Will popular music recover? Do you see a way out?
A. Music talks to our souls. Sadly, the people who want control of our souls know that and have invested a lot of money in making sure we give up our souls without ever using our brains. The best thing to do is support the little acts still working the motorways, befriending them and supporting what they have to say. Music will survive. Pop music can be ignored.
Q. The world is a bit fucked up, but it’s also amazing. How do you manage to let the first part of that sentence not contaminate the second? Does news, life and the most evil religion, Money, ever get you down? Serious face.
A. It gets me down for a minute. Then I rationalise my role in it and then I get back to work. This whole life thing isn’t that complicated – what messes it all up is a degradation of community. If we were all sharing meals, living with each other more, things would cost less and life would mean more. Instead, we’ve created a world where we make our own private boxes around our TV sets and retain control of the remote. Our ancestors would’ve realised early on that this is unworkable in the long run.
Q. You like to play house shows. You like pineapple and cheese. Is there a better way for you to spend an evening?
A. I love the intimacy of house shows, I like meeting people’s friends and families. I also love cheese and pineapple more than life itself… besides a well made falafel. Is there a better way to spend an evening? NO WAY!
Q. The Government has just announced it’s investing £550,000 of public money in the ‘Music Export Growth Scheme’, administered by UK Trade & Investment and the BPI. Metronomy and Band of Skulls are two of fourteen bands benefitting. I could think of better ways to “support UK music exports” but half a mill won’t pay for someone to kill Cowell. But then it’s better than wasting our money on Trident. What do you think?
A. The government spending money on music is not a bad thing – I know the Band of Skulls guys and they’ve worked so hard for so many years before this injection. They’ll do the right thing with it. I’d rather the money was invested in to music venues rather than bands, but then that’s what mobile phone companies are for.
I dunno. The whole things looks like a huge minefield of corporate traps to me. I’d rather play in people’s houses.
Q. Let’s dance
A. I’m dancing!
Q. Is the bass dude a relation?
A. That’s my Uncle Phinneas. He used to sit me on his double bass when I was a baby and play the E string until I went to sleep. I’m lying, of course, that guy is the father of all double bass players but we don’t like to talk about it.
Q. Festie season is upon us. Do you miss Karl, Jay and Toupé or are you too busy making videos in onesies to get all sentimental?
A. I miss them enormously! There should be some Toupé in the latter half of the year – keep ‘em peeled. I developed a fearlessness on stage with those guys. I can’t wait.
Q. You’re a busy man. I’m gonna let you go. Thanks for your words and music.
A. Thanks for asking me so many questions with such painful wrists!
*SQUAZZ – a generic term for almost anything, but mainly as a noun, it’s negative.
Grant Sharkey links (for you to use):