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Mark Ellen's Top Five... rock interviews

Frankie Goes To Hollywood were savagely witty, but I owe it all to Pete Wylie

Published on April 28th 2014.

Mark Ellen's Top Five... rock interviews

AWARD-winning music writer and broadcaster Mark Ellen says he was born at the wrong time. Five years older and he would have seen The Beatles and The Byrds; five years younger and he'd have been plunged into punk rock. Instead he spent his teenage years sitting at the feet of bands like Hookfoot, Wishbone Ash and Brewers Droop.  Oh well. 

Mark survived to forge a career writing for Record Mirror and New Musical Express. He edited Smash Hits, Q and Select, joined the Old Grey Whistle Test, and was one of the TV presenters of Live Aid in 1985. 

Mark Ellen Presents Live AidMark Ellen presents Live AidIn other words, he's been around the rock n roll block a few times. 

Now a familiar voice on BBC Radios 2, 4 and 6Music, Mark Ellen has a book out in which he shares stories of a “glorious industry now in spiralling decline” and personal recollections of the famous and infamous pop personalities who shaped it. 

Ahead of a special Liverpool Q&A at Leaf with his old NME mucker Paul Du Noyer next week, Mark Ellen exclusively reveals his top five music interviews for Liverpool Confidential. 

Rat Scabies 

The Damned had a fearsome reputation for persecuting journalists (they’d recently poured lighter-fuel over my NME colleague Paul Du Noyer and set the long-suffering reporter on fire).

They were also famed for their colourful set-pieces which gave rock hacks something to write about. I was admitted to a palatial split-level suite in Marble Arch to find The Damned’s drummer in bed with a girl beneath a bastardised version of the Woodstock poster, its famous guitar-neck broken, its white dove replaced by a dead bat on a piece of string beneath the legend ‘Three Years Of Chaos, Anarchy And Destruction’.

Rat and friend were stark naked, him in a John Lennon wig, hers Yoko Ono. He said they were ‘having a bed-in’ to discover the meaning of life – which, he reckoned, was ‘cheap publicity and wrecking things. But move too fast and you’re in the past,’ he added darkly, draining a bottle of Scotch.


2) MEATLOAF in 1981
I arrived at the portly troubadour’s New England home to find him in good spirits. But I’d been warned not to mention money as he’d ‘go mental’: he was in a tangled lawsuit with Jim Steinman over his modest slice of their $64-million-grossing Bat Out Of Hell album. But I couldn’t help it. Big, *huge* mistake. The conversation was so heated he had to go upstairs for a shower. At which point someone rolled up with a writ demanding ownership of his house and his wife Leslie – yes, Leslie Loaf - relayed the bad news to the bathroom. As my book recalls, ‘there was an almighty roar, a great soulful human wail, followed by the sound of a well-built man in his underpants taking the stairs five at a time’. On his way to find a baseball bat.


3) PETE WYLIE in 1982
I’d been invited to ‘try out’ for Radio One and told my producer I’d like to interview the singer of the fast-rising Wah! Heat. I’d met Pete Wylie before and knew you only had to light his blue touchpaper and he’d deliver a deathless stream of deliberation until physically hauled from the room. I said he was ‘very shy’ but his new single The Story Of The Blues had what Radio One called ‘a chart-bound sound’ – part of which was true. Trembling with nerves, I opened the mike and Wylie – bless him - talked dazzlingly for fifteen minutes with me chipping in twice to say ‘Amazing! Pete Wylie, everyone!’

The producer was thrilled – ‘you really got him going!’ – and I was hired as Radio One’s roving reporter. Which got me the job presenting Whistle Test and, later, Live Aid. So, yes, I owe Pete Wylie a pint.


I flew out to the San Remo Song Festival with Frankie Goes To Hollywood who were at the top of their curve and being nudged into ever more creative overdrive by the soul-shrivelling tedium of the promotional circus. They were savagely witty and entertaining. Lennon would have been proud of them. Holly Johnson said he’d ‘bought a church and was starting a new religion’, and had a pet tiger called Tessa ‘but I don’t let her in the living-room’. Mark O’Toole said Frankie’s album was ‘just covers of some songs by Gerry And The Pacemakers’ and that Two Tribes was ‘based on Ped’s experience in the Vietnam War’. Paul Rutherford said Trevor Horn was ‘someone we met in an Amsterdam sauna’. Nasher shouted ‘Viva Il Papa’ a lot and complained there was ‘not enough blood in my alcohol stream’. They mimed The Power Of Love before a TV audience of 40 million with no drummer and Mark and Nash playing the wrong instruments.


5) RIHANNA in 2012
I spent seven days on Rihanna’s private Boeing 777 when she played seven shows in seven countries on seven nights. Many profoundly ludicrous things occurred, not least the moment when the booze-filled sleep-deprived press corps staged a mid-air riot about the lack of access. To give us a headline, a selfless Australian DJ ducked into a toilet, reappeared stark naked and streaked round the cabin pursued by camera crews, flashing iPhones and girls marvelling at the magnificence of his all-over tan. One of the chants was ‘We’ve Got Weed!’ - a cunning ruse to tempt the dope-friendly diva down from the sharp end.

*These and other stories appear in Mark Ellen’s warm and eventful memoir ‘Rock Stars Stole My Life!’ - published in hardback, eBook and audio formats by Hodder on May 8. Mark will be talking with Paul Du Noyer at Leaf Café on Bold Street on 7th May – tickets available from Waterstones Liverpool One or by calling 0151 709 9820.

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