Jesus, Elvis, and Me
One afternoon in July 2011, after marking the first anniversary of the death of a beloved friend with a heavy drinking session, I returned home and thought it would be a good idea to fill a pan with oil and make some chips. I turned the stove on then went to smoke a cigarette and have another drink in the living room. The next thing I remember, I was being carried out of the smoke-filled flat and down the stairs by two firefighters.
I was lucky to escape with my life.
I will never forget two pictures that hung from the walls of the various places I lived as a child. The first, a Sacred Heart of Jesus - you know the ones - with a red lightbulb on a little ledge just beneath the picture of Our Lord baring His burning heart for all to see. The second was a huge, framed photo of Elvis circa 1974, resplendent in a white rhinestone-encrusted jumpsuit slashed to the midriff, guitar slung about his hips, jet-black hair, bronze skin, a little overweight but not yet the bloated grotesque he would soon become. In our home, Jesus was God but Elvis wasn’t far behind.
Aged five, I was beginning to show a little artistic flair so my teacher asked me to depict The Sorrowful Mysteries of The Rosary, to be displayed in the church during Easter week. I took to the task with relish. I particularly enjoyed drawing The Scourging at The Pillar and The Crucifixion; the blood, the whip, the nails, the crown of thorns and the foreboding black sky over Golgotha. The suffering of Jesus really inspired me. I was working from my imagination and what I’d seen in the epic TV series Jesus Of Nazareth starring Robert Powell.
One Sunday afternoon when I was around seven, while visiting my grandparents in Brixton, a pivotal moment occurred. The Elvis Presley film Loving You was on the BBC and I was glued to the screen. Grandma said: “Okay, let’s turn Elvis off, it’s time for church.” I cried: “No, Grandma! Please, can we watch the end before we go?” A heated to and fro went on until finally Grandma asked: “Who do you prefer? Jesus or Elvis?” I knew this was an impossible question. I barely whispered in the faintest voice: “Elvis…” Despite my protestations, off to church we went.
As a teenager I began singing in the church choir, encouraged and inspired by the parish priest who was a fine tenor in the tradition of John McCormack and Josef Locke. I met Mother Teresa and sang for her when she visited; she gave me a Missionaries of Charity medal (she was handing them out like lollipops). I wore it around my neck for a year or so. The first time I went down on a girl the medal kept getting in the way. Maybe it was God’s way of letting me know I shouldn’t have been practising cunnilingus outside of Holy wedlock. I had failed miserably in my quest to be Christ-like, so I thought I’d have a crack at being Elvis for a while; naturally this didn’t work out too well either.
To use the English vernacular, I’ve pissed away two or three careers. A toxic brew of personalities and our preferred recreational drugs put paid to my first band of any merit - 90s cult rockers Dream City Film Club. We released two albums and a handful of EPs on the Beggars Banquet label. Then, after recording our second Peel session and a mini album at the legendary Rockfield Studios in Wales, and tearing down the M1 on our return from a gig at Hebden Bridge Trades Club, the group imploded in a hail of fists and forked tongues. The label kept faith with me and released three critically well-received solo albums, all of which sold poorly. I was finally dropped in 2002, briefly reappearing again in 2007, releasing two albums on the Glitterhouse label.
In 2009 I returned to London after a disastrous European tour to promote With These Hands – The Rise & Fall of Francis Delaney: a sprawling, flawed concept album about a boxer who throws a fight and sinks into alcoholism. It was the second tough tour in as many years. Poor attendances, personality clashes within the band The Hired Mourners, and my own boozy descent had made what was already a very challenging endeavour much more difficult. Battered and bruised, I sank deeper and depression set in. Two years later things came to a head when, as I mentioned, after a heavy drinking session I returned home and thought it would be a good idea to fill a pan with oil and make some chips. The incident gave me the much-needed impetus to take charge of my life.
Since then I have gotten sober, married and become a father. I have continued making music as part of the rock band Miraculous Mule, also as one half of psychedelic electronic duo United Sounds of Joy. I’ve just released my first solo album in over a decade. Despite the dark days we’re living through, life is good.