Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Saint Etienne
In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell and Pete Wiggs take the test
1In 1994, Kylie Minogue covered Saint Etienne’s ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’ as the B-side to which single?
Both look blank and laugh.
Sarah: “I do know this.”
Pete: “Quick, get on the internet! (Laughs) And this is going to be one of the easy questions! I remember recording it with her but what the hell’s it called? Strike one! The only Kylie song that’s coming in my head is ‘Justify My Love’ – hang on, that’s Madonna! (Laughs)”
Sarah: “Has the title….got a number in it?”
WRONG. It’s ‘Confide in Me‘. You recorded numerous (unreleased) tracks with her. What was it like?
Pete: “Because she’s such a superstar, we were slightly in awe of her and didn’t have much to say to each other. I just remember me and Bob [Stanley, third Saint Etienne member] giggling nervously in the corner.”
Sarah: “She was worried about doing the spoken-word bit and asked me to do it for her. I told her it was her record and she should really do it.”
Pete: “(Joking) She just didn’t want to speak our rubbish lyrics!”
2Saint Etienne were among a myriad of acts who submitted theme songs for the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. Name any three artists who also had their tunes rejected in favour of Sheryl Crow.
Pete: “Pulp did one. Point one!”
Sarah: “The Cardigans? Marc Almond?”
CORRECT. Among others, you could also have had: Duran Duran and Swan Lee.
Sarah: “We were duped because we thought we were one of a select few, but it turned out everyone and their dog was asked!”
Pete: “We didn’t have a vast budget at our disposal to record string arrangements, but I’m pleased with the song.”
Sarah: “Growing up, my dad was first assistant director on a few Bond films, like Live and Let Die, so I used to go over and hang around the set at Pinewood Studios.”
Your father worked with the likes of Stanley Kubrick. Did any big names come pop round your house then?
Sarah: “Malcolm McDowell used to come round all the time. I quite fancied him when I was a teenager! Warren Clarke was good friends with my dad and Roger Moore came to the house.”
3Sarah was (allegedly) the first choice to record vocals for which 2000 chart-topper?
Pete: “‘Murder on the Dancefloor’? No? Oh damn!”
Sarah: “No, it was ‘Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love’) by Spiller.”
CORRECT. Which ended up being recorded by Sophie Ellis-Bextor.
Pete: “Sorry – a better record (Laughs)”
Sarah: “You’d have to ask the management if that’s true. Personally, I had no idea at the time. Apparently, it happened, but I’m not 100 per cent sure!”
Pete: “We were asked to do the theme music for Cold Feet, the ITV series, but the email didn’t get forwarded to us, so they just thought we’d ignored them. It could have been a big break.”
4Saint Etienne soundtracked the killing of which character in The Sopranos?
Pete: “I know the song playing in the background is ‘Wood Cabin’, so I should get a bonus half-point for that! (Laughs)”
Sarah: “Is it Christopher’s girlfriend? No? I rewatched it during lockdown! My kids will kill me! Cut to me messaging the boys in bed (Laughs).”
Pete: “I can’t even remember any of their names. Fat Teddy? (Laughs).”
WRONG. ‘Wood Cabin’ soundtracks Jimmy Altieri getting whacked in a hotel room. ‘Wood Cabin’ contains the lyrics ‘Never write a love song / Never write a trip out / Never write a ballad’ – which are paraphrased from a Manic Street Preachers interview. Ever receive any feedback from them?
Pete: “I think they were worried we were taking the piss out of them! (Laughs) We knew them from the early days – before our debut ‘Foxbase Alpha’ came out [in 1991] – when me and Bob shared a flat in Tufnell Park. We once saw them play upstairs in a pub and they needed somewhere to stay, so we offered to let them crash at ours. But they stayed in their van outside, saying: ‘We don’t want to mess the house up!’. They were very polite and only came in to use the toilet. (Laughs) It was bizarre. I felt embarrassed because I was wearing a suit coming back from work like ‘The Man’. We did a Heavenly [Recordings] night in Paris once with Flowered Up and the Manics and travelled over together and again, they were the ones tidying all the rubbish on the bus!”
Is that the same bus that the tabloids mistakenly thought Liam Gallagher had surfed atop?
Pete: “That was around ’96, when we were on a bus with Oasis and [hip-hop group] Fun-Da-Mental – who were neither fun nor mental! The Sun thought Liam Gallagher had been surfing on top of the bus, but it was us! (Laughs) They even did an artist’s impression of Liam on top of the bus which I used on the invitations to my 30th birthday party.”
Sarah: “ Fun-Da-Mental said they didn’t want to share the bus with us because we were childish, so we ended up with The Prodigy who were lovely.”
5Which three bands did Sarah review when she appeared on The Big Breakfast in 1994? Clue: you’ve covered one of them and they’re anti-vaxxers.
Sarah: “Right Said Fred! (Laughs) I saw that about the vaccines and was quite surprised.”
Pete: “At least I’m let off the hook here!”
Sarah: “Ace of Base? Pulp?”
WRONG. You cast your critical gaze over Right Said Fred, The Beautiful South, and Chaka Demus & Pliers. (Sarah leaves the room)
Pete: “Oh, she’s gone off in a huff!”
Sarah: “(Calling off-camera) I’m turning down the heating!”
You covered Right Said Fred’s ‘I’m Too Sexy’ for 1992’s bizarre ‘The Fred Ep’…
Pete: “It seemed weird at the time too. It did alright in the charts and so we had to do Top of the Pops for the video, but I had to drive so I couldn’t drink. Everyone else – like Flowered Up [who also feature alongside The Rockingbirds] – were legless. And I had to do my vocal bit and it’s a song that would have benefited from a drink! (Laughs)”
Any memorable reaction to any of your covers or has anybody name-checked in your songs – like The KLF or Bruce Forsyth – got a kick out of it?
Pete: “I think Bruce said he didn’t like the song! [‘You’re In A Bad Way’]. When we covered ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’, we asked permission from Neil Young. We asked ‘What does he think of the song?’ and the answer was: ‘He’s heard it’. (Laughs) So at least we’ve done something Neil Young’s heard – even if that probably means he thinks it’s a pile of shit! (Laughs)”
6Saint Etienne covered ‘La, la, la’ – originally by Spain’s 1968 Eurovision winner Massiel – for 1998’s A Song for Eurotrash. Which two presenters introduced your rendition?
Pete: “Anton Du Carnes and….Dana International? Lulu? (Laughs)”
WRONG. It was Anton and Katie Boyle, the broadcaster known for hosting the Eurovision Song Contest in the UK. Did you ever consider entering Eurovision?
Sarah: “We went to Sweden and did some writing with a Swedish act, and they submitted a song of ours – so our entry was for Sweden, not Britain I’m afraid! And it wasn’t performed by us. It got to a certain point in the selection process but didn’t make it to the competition. I can’t remember the act’s name, but they’d had about eight Swedish Number One’s…”
Pete: “Until they started working with us! (Laughs)”
7Saint Etienne duet with Tim Burgess on 1993’s festive ‘I Was Born on Christmas Day’ single. But what day was Tim born on?
Pete: “Ooh, I know what day Bob was born on – which is Christmas Day. We’ve got a 1 in 364 chance to guess ‘cause it’s not going to be Christmas Day, otherwise we’d have known that.”
Sarah: “Let’s try and guess what star sign he might be. Is he a Pisces? (Laughs)”
Pete: “May 12?”
WRONG. But close! It’s 30 May 1967. We’d have also accepted ‘Tuesday’.
Sarah: “(Laughs) Is he a Gemini? I met Tim in a bar in Manchester and we got really drunk and hung out for a few days. Afterwards, I said to Pete and Bob: ‘Shall we get him to duet on something?’ That’s when we came up with the Christmas single.”
Pete: “I remember his [The Charlatans] bandmates thinking it was mental and urging him not to do it. The wedding-themed video was brilliant fun. We went to the registry office and afterwards had a party as the director carried on filming while everybody got realistically drunk! (Laughs)”
Sarah: “I later ended up getting married for real and having my reception in the same places, so it was very meta!”
8Which Pulp song’s video does the woman on the cover of Saint Etienne’s ‘Foxbase Alpha’ appear in?
Pete: “Damn! Well it’s Celina [Nash] so….’Babies’?”
Pete: “Phew! It was a brilliant period going to see Pulp before they became famous. Their gigs were like nothing else. It was an exciting time because people who would have been into indie music were suddenly starting to get into dance. Even when ‘Foxbase Alpha’ came out, we didn’t make any money for a while so you’d go to launch parties and hope it was free drinks.”
Did you ever steal anything from other artists when you were broke?
Sarah: “No, but it happened to us a lot. Jamiroquai stole our melodica. Allegedly! (Laughs)”
9Which two acts did Saint Etienne perform between at 1994’s Glastonbury festival?
Sarah: “Not a clue! We were freaked out because we’d lost our bass player after he’d been partying all night with two Swedish fans. It was down to the wire, but we eventually got hold of him. As he rolled down the car window to apologise, our manager slapped him across the face (Laughs). We got there half an hour before we were due on stage, so we didn’t have time to pay attention to anything going on.”
Pete: “Who were we the filling in the sandwich of? (Laughs)”
WRONG. You played between World Party and Blind Melon. Any other memorable gigs?
Pete: “We played a charity event at Chessington World of Adventures, and were blown offstage by the support act who were literally a bunch of clowns. There were screams of delight as they played electric guitars and drove cars. We missed our cue, and Sarah was stuck onstage awkwardly with the presenter Judith Chalmers who didn’t know who we were. People left in droves and the backing track started without us, and me and Bob ran onstage with our keyboards with the plugs waving in the breeze. It was for charity, but we raised precisely no money (Laughs). It was so excruciating that afterwards, one of the circus clowns came up to me and patted me on the back and said ‘(Consolingly) Never mind mate’.”
10What’s the name of the unreleased Saint Etienne duet with actor Parker Posey?
Pete: “Secret Love?”
Sarah: “Well done Pete!”
Pete: “She was over here filming The Misadventures of Margaret [which Saint Etienne soundtracked] and we had a couple of hours in the studio with her. We had the backing track ready and she came in and was just how you’d expect her to be and really flamboyant.”
Sarah: “I remember being in the vocal booth with her and she was sitting crossed-legged on the floor in a yoga pose.”
Pete: “Have we not released it? We should dig it out. We’ve dug out everything else! (Laughs)”
Tell us about Saint Etienne’s new album ‘I’ve Been Trying To Tell You’…
Pete: “Strangely, memory’s a big influence on it! (Laughs) It’s about looking back at what people see as a golden age – a lot of music today references the late ‘90s. When we started, we looked back to the ‘60s, and it’s a similar time gap and we thought it would be interesting to look back and think: were things as great as you remember them being or not? We’re trying to represent the process of fishing through your memory, and wanted to create something new sounding but that uses elements of those tracks from the past.”
The verdict: 4/10
Pete: “That’s better than I thought we’d do!”
– Saint Etienne release their new album ‘I’ve Been Trying To Tell You’ on Heavenly Recordings on September 10. ‘The Films of Saint Etienne’ screen at BFI Southbank from 3 to 5 September, with selected titles, including ‘I’ve Been Trying to Tell You’, available on BFI Player. The band’s UK tour kicks off on November 18.