[interview] With all the “Love And Poison” of London: Suede biographer David Barnett

Ten years ago UK writer David Barnett published Love And Poison, the official biography of iconic British rock band SUEDE. The book received rave reviews from critics and fans alike but, sadly, it eventually went out of print, leaving Suede fans to scour the internet for affordable copies. A decade later, Suede are back on top with the release of their sixth studio album Bloodsports, so with the demand rekindled and a new chapter of the Suede story begging to be documented, it’s only natural for a new “revised, updated edition” of Love And Poison to hit the presses.

Barnett graciously agreed to an email interview with Vanyaland to tell us what we can expect from the new printing.

Kayley Kravitz: The original version of Love and Poison was published in 2003. What inspired you to re-publish and update it 10 years later?

David Barnett: Although the book sold very well on release, it became increasingly hard to get hold of, to the extent that in recent years hardly a week went by without some Suede fan getting in touch asking how they could get hold of a copy. All I could say was “Keep badgering the publishers to do a reprint or an E-book edition.” It seemed crazy that they were unwilling to make it available when there was such an obvious demand for it.

I’d just about given up when out of the blue there were suddenly plans for a new edition to coincide with the new Suede album. I can’t remember the exact chain of events, but I know Suede’s new management (Quietus Management) was instrumental in pushing for the new edition. Didz Hammond in particular was very involved and met with the publishers on my behalf. At one point the original idea for the new material was that he and I were simply going to spend an evening in a pub quizzing each other about our respective adventures with Suede with a tape recorder running and then transcribe the results. I thought this could have proved highly entertaining. The publishers thought otherwise.

KK: What new information can we expect? Any new interviews?

DB: The bulk of the book is exactly the same as the original. I felt it was important to leave the text intact, warts and all. I don’t really think it’s fair to try to rewrite history.

The new content comes in the form of extensive footnotes. These range from trainspotter type factoids (e.g. how many times did Morrissey cover “My Insatiable One?”) to more whimsical reminiscing (such as the time I thought I was going to spend Christmas in jail after being hauled over by customs at the end of the Head Music tour). My thinking was that, while I was no longer necessarily an expert on what Suede had been up to over the last 10 years, I was still the person who knew more about the writing of the book and the person who had written it than anyone else. I’d wanted to include footnotes in the original but ran out of time. I love books that use them to good effect, such as the graphic novel From Hell and Stewart Lee’s stand-up book. I was also hugely inspired by [Vladimir] Nabakov’s Pale Fire, which uses footnotes in a delightfully mischievous way and which I read for the first time last year. Bizarrely it turned out that the cover illustration [of the Penguin Modern Classics edition] was done by Richard Oakes’ old bandmate Peter James Field, who now produces the artwork for Artmagic, so that seemed like a good omen.

KK: I heard that there are also going to be some fan contributions in this new edition. What made you decide to do this? Was there any apprehension?

DB: Fans are a hugely important part of the Suede story. I’m one, you’re one, and I imagine most people reading this are fans, too. I remember at one point there were so many Suede fanzines (cut and paste fan magazines) that there was actually a fanzine purely about the fanzines, called Donna’s Directory — pop eating itself right there. I think it’s also fair to say that there are few bigger fans of Suede than Brett Anderson. They are the quintessential fan’s band. It was essential therefore that there were plenty of fan contributions to the original book. I thought it was even more important to hear their voice this time round since most were probably a lot closer to the unfolding narrative than I was. I also liked the idea of inviting people who were quite harsh critics of my gallant efforts to get involved and deconstruct the book from the inside. I felt that Suede weren’t an ordinary band and deserved something different from the usual kind of “and then they got back together again” update that people might expect but doesn’t actually tell you anything you don’t already know. What started off as a few cheery asides ended up as almost an entire parallel history of the band and the book of the band — almost like a director’s commentary on a DVD. Brett made some kind comments about the footnotes when I spoke to him briefly a few weeks ago, so I think the experiment has worked quite well.

KK: On behalf of my fellow American Suede fans, will the book be available in the US?

DB: The boring but honest answer is: I have no idea. My gut feeling is that I doubt whether there will be a domestic US release. Having said that, in this day and age it’s not very hard to get hold of book from anywhere is it?

KK How did you land the role of official Suede biographer?

DB: I think the band were just becoming a bit desperate. I worked for Suede’s then management company, Interceptor, at the time and the idea of an official account had been floating around for years. We had approached various people including, if memory serves, Jon Savage and Johnny Rogan, who were all either unavailable or uninterested. At one point Simon Price and myself were going to do it between us -– he’s a very good, experienced rock writer. But just as we’d started doing some of the original groundwork he was whisked off to be the editor of some now defunct music rag, so there was just me left. I think the band appreciated that, for all my inexperience and naivety, I probably knew more about the actual history of Suede and its members at that point than just about anybody else, simply because I’d lived and breathed them for about a decade, either as a mad fan or as an employee who witnessed all the madness first hand.

KK: How does your experience now as a musician enable you to better serve as Suede’s biographer?

DB: It definitely made a massive difference when it came to writing the footnotes, which are obviously hugely influenced by the benefits and disadvantages of hindsight. It gave me a whole new perspective and made me understand a lot better how much pressure the band must have been under. I actually felt quite guilty about how harsh I’d been about them at some points the first time around, because I realized I’d behaved very similarly myself when my turn came around. Having said that, it’s probably fair to say that that lack of reverence is what made the book so successful in the first place. Again, that’s why I didn’t want to mess with the original text. There’s no way I could have got away with half the content if I’d had to do it again from scratch.

KK: Tell me about your recent tour in Germany. Do you have other tours planned in the near future? Will you be doing a promo tour for the book?

DB: I was playing guitar in a band called Keith Top of the Pops & His Minor UK Indie Celebrity All-Star Backing Band, which, as the name suggests, features lots of minor indie legends (including Fruitbat out of Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, who makes a cameo appearance in the new edition of the book). We were supporting Art Brut who I think are one of the best live bands around at the moment. It was undoubtedly the most fun I’ve ever had on tour, simply because there was so little pressure and it was such a lovely bunch of people. We’re doing the Scala in London later this month, which I’m looking forward to very much. I can’t imagine that there will be anything as grand as a promo tour for the book but I’m definitely open to offers.

The updated edition of Love And Poison is available now. You can catch David playing with Keith Top of the Pops & His Minor UK Indie Celebrity All-Star Backing Band at the London Scala on May 29. Follow him @SuaveDavid.

And don’t forget -– if you ever find yourself in San Francisco, be sure to hit up the monthly Suede/Britpop night of the same name.