Badly Drawn Boy’s debut album The Hour Of Bewilderbeast was released in 2000. To mark the anniversary, the Bolton-raised songwriter, known to friends as Damon Gough, is touring the UK, playing the record in its entirety (it’ll also be re-released come autumn), and for him, the last 15 years feels like a lifetime.
“People I knew back then who were 15 are now grown-ups with babies of their own,” he says.
“It feels like another world, although the standard reaction when I say it was all 15 years ago is to say ‘Ooh, it doesn’t feel that long ago’. I think it feels like longer,” adds Gough, who’s eldest child - daughter Edie - was born just after Bewilderbeast came out and duly won that year’s Mercury Music Prize.
He’s now 45, although he says he doesn’t feel it - and he certainly doesn’t look it, his defacto uniform of shoulder-length hair, beard and bobble hat still in place, although he admits to a few greys.
“I feel all right,” he says, cheerily. “It could always be worse.”
After Bewilderbeast was released and the £20,000 Mercury Prize cheque was cashed Gough became a star.
Two years after his debut came his soundtrack for About A Boy, and second album Have You Fed The Fish?
He became famous for his slightly shambolic gigs and beautiful lyrics.
Fourth album One Plus One Is One came two years later, then Born In The UK, and on and on, until it looked like Gough had settled into the habit of releasing an album every two years, living up to his reputation as a prolific writer. 2012 saw him release another soundtrack, for Robert De Niro film Being Flynn, but then it all started to go wrong, with reports of increasingly erratic behaviour and sweary outbursts. He was going through a hard time.
“I split up with my missus three years ago,” he says, the pain still evident in his voice. “We were together for 16 years and have two kids. I didn’t really want to talk about it at the time, out of respect to her and our relationship, but now three years have gone, I feel like it’s probably OK to talk about what’s been going on. That’s also why I’ve not been playing or doing anything, because I’ve been putting my life back together.”
He and his former partner Clare still care about each other and love each other very much, but they’ve had to move on.
“It’s really knocked me back,” he adds.
There’s a bitter irony to Gough talking like this while gearing up to perform Bewilderbeast. The album, while sprawling in its sounds, is largely lyrically centred on his attempts to woo Clare. “I fell for her, and now we’re not together and I’m touring it.”
The silver lining is that the heartache has spurred him on and given him the kickstart he needs to start making music again. He says he’s been in the studio, and has more than an album’s worth of material ready to record after a long period of not wanting to bother.
“The idea of putting myself back in the frame with some gigs and a re-release of the first album is a good incentive to crack on,” he says
It’s highly unlikely any new record will feature songs about the breakdown of his relationship, however; he says he finds the idea impossible to stomach, and could never write something as confessional as, say, Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, which documented his split from then-wife Sara.
“Losing a relationship is one of the hardest things you can go through, but everyone needs to move on. For me, especially as I write personally, it’s very difficult, and for a while, I just didn’t know what to write. The climate as it is, with more and more reality TV, everybody giving everything of themselves, that’s what’s expected, but I won’t be down about it.”
He says he’s now a stronger writer for taking his break, and has built up the idea bank.
“Every time I sit at the piano or pick up a guitar, something happens,” he enthuses, going on to describe three or four songs as “the very best things he’s written”, which, even if not true, at least shows his positive thinking and unwillingness to dwell on the past.“I’ve taken a step away,” Gough says, finally. “And I am more than ready to come back.”
Badly Drawn Boy begins a UK tour on July 16. For information, visit www.badlydrawnboy.co.uk