Interview with Simon Mason part five – ‘you can’t sing to save your life but your lyrics are good’.

In this edition we go on to talk about Simon’s early days in London which includes the worrying revelation that he may have once been put in charge of lethal weapons or even worse, he could’ve tread the boards, darling.

We discover ‘Kilburn Killer’, how to avoid writing and how writing a will is best done when not ‘off your cake’ on heroin.

The music references continue to flow through our conversation too – we just can’t help ourselves. Peter Tosh, Ben Folds and Billy Bragg all turn up here and we even get a ‘Glastonbury’ tease.

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MJ: So at this point there’s no thoughts like ‘I absolutely must get a job’ or ‘my Mum wants me to go to University’?

SM: I did two college courses, I flunked them both. I did a retake of my O-Levels but I wasn’t interested, I went to the local college I tried to do Theatre Studies, but I just wasn’t that interested. I didn’t know what I wanted, I just knew that I had to get out of that small town and that London was where I wanted to go. My Mum had remarried and he was a really decent man but at the time I couldn’t see it, partly because he was a headmaster (laughs). I got some girl pregnant and her old man came round and tried to batter him. He said to me “You need some discipline, you need to join the army.”

And I was like “OK, if it gets me out of here”.

So I took the selection test and I was due to go to Sutton Coldfield for whatever it is the army does there and I stayed up all night doing speed and necking Stella. And my mate who was with me said “What the fuck are you doing?”

I said “I’m going to drive a tank!”

“They won’t let you drive a tank. You’ll be cannon fodder mate, you’ll be the guy getting shot in Belfast!”

MJ: So you were one step behind Billy Bragg? They let him drive a tank.

SM: Yeah well I had a moment of clarity thanks to some really strong amphetamines from the Hell’s Angels. When you’ve been awake for three days, there’s finally no bullshit left. Everything is what it is, it’s very fucking clear.

MJ: Do you know the Ben Folds song ‘Army’? The first line is ‘Well, I thought about the army. Dad said son you’re fucking high’. Great song.

SM: So I went to London. Where I move straight in with students who have spent three years growing weed. They come home one day with six bin liners full of ‘Kilburn Killer’. And between them they’ve got the best record collection you’ve ever seen in your life. It’s full of stuff I’d never heard before: The Only Ones, The Grateful Dead, Peter Tosh etc. So I spent the whole of that first summer in Kilburn with a mountain of weed, that record collection and all those books about rites of passage and the doors of perception, Kerouac and all that stuff, just thinking ‘this is great, this is me’.

MJ: So quite an amazing time, because the doors are open now. Yet most people in that situation will have gone on to make it without having had the struggles you’ve had. And again you’ve got the music underpinning everything.

SM: And then I go to Glastonbury…

MJ: …but if you put all that together, those are the building blocks of a really sound creative life. That’s one of things that I am fascinated by.

You’ve come round the long way. I don’t know if you feel like this but you have a lot of ammunition now – whether it’s in your soul or just simple things to write about. Is that how you see it?

SM: Absolutely. This is a huge ‘if’ but if there had been someone back then who had said ‘Simon, you can write’. I just needed a steadying hand. If there was any continuity in my life, who knows? But that wasn’t how it was meant to be.

I’m not a victim and please God nothing like that happens to my daughter. But it has created this thing within me. The hardest thing about writing now is not ironing the clothes for two days or doing the washing up. It’s the avoidance.

MJ: You’ve talked about writing songs throughout everything. Do you think that something was clawing at your brain saying ‘stop doing those crazy things because you’ve got something there’? And therefore is writing cathartic for you now?

SM: Yes that makes sense. Had I managed to have any success in my previous incarnation as a wannabe rock star, I’d be dead. Because I could have afforded more drugs and I would have been surrounded by sycophants. So thank God that didn’t happen.

As the fog cleared in recovery, I found I remembered things. Why Would I remember walking past your brother’s room in 1980? But I do. Why would I remember the cassette you gave me or watching (a mutual friend) rewinding a cassette with an HB pencil? I remember stuff like that, the devil is in the detail.

So writing the book was actually an exercise in learning how to write. I had this huge document, accumulated over years. I’d write, save it, relapse, sell the computer for drugs. But I kept hold of it. Through being homeless on the streets of London. Through countless stints in rehab, awful times in crack houses. Throughout all that I had this bag and I would have diaries and other scraps in there.

MJ: And was that because at the time that was intrinsically important to you just to do it or because you hoped there might come a time you could do something with it?

SM: Well, I’m self-obsessed, I write about myself all the time. (Laughs). A bit of both I suppose.

This is so sad and morbid but I remember in 1999 writing this long, awful will. I was out of my cake on heroin and I thought ‘I want people to know what it’s like being me’. One treatment centre I was in was very big on that. They told me ‘you’ve got something here and it’s important’. When I started being in bands in the late eighties people told me ‘you’re really good at writing lyrics. You can’t sing to save your life but your lyrics are good’. So I thought I had something.

MJ: So was it something you held on to? The scraps of paper stuffed in a rucksack became the book?

SM: Yeah because I’m not that well-read – far from it. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I started and finished a book. One of the consequences of spending so long out of your tree is that your levels of concentration get shot to pieces. If I get ten minutes into a film I’ve done well and it’s the same with books. Stick me on a desert island and I’ll tidy it up before I read a book.

I can only give anything three and a half minutes. It’s all about singles, for me.

MJ: Sadly you can’t read Ramones songs.

SM: You can in one way.

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Interview with Simon Mason part four – “my skin that was once too thin was suddenly bulletproof”.

In this fourth part of the interview we start talking about Simon’s introduction to drugs but end up talking about music again. No surprise there. There’s some kind of theme developing.

We get there in the end though, via Linton Kwesi Johnson tapes, strolls on Weston Super Mare beach and the eternal curse of damaged souls that is cheap cider.

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MJ: There’s another stand-out moment in the book where you’re on Weston Super Mare beach and you try your first ever drugs.

Do you think your education started there? After all, up to that moment school had just been hurtful, you’d not actually been learning anything, at least not from the teachers.

SM: Yeah, that’s not an education, it’s just survival. Just survive, survive, survive. I started boozing at school and smoking. You’d go down to the shop in the village, we were 13 and they’d sell us a bottle of cider and 20 fags. You’d go down the woods and drink it and you’re in that gang. It’s just more of that stuff.

And I started getting a bit angry. I was never a difficult pupil, but there was just this stand-off. Once they got rid of the priest who abused me they kind of thought ‘we’ll leave him alone’. I went back for the fourth year and there was a new head. I was drinking, I was smoking but they couldn’t throw me out. If they throw me out they think I’m going to say something. So they didn’t. But I had the chemistry teacher going “You’re worthless, you’re going to end up dead or in jail, we can’t wait to get rid of you”. And I think “Oh, thanks”.

So what have I got? I’ve got The Jam at Stafford Bingley Hall and at Birmingham somewhere. Then we got a new teacher who was cool as fuck. The one bright spark. He came into English one day with a ghetto blaster and said “Right, for English today we’re going to do Linton Kwesi Johnson”. Which was great.

So I’m starting to see the world in a totally different way. But interestingly I wasn’t into any druggie bands, I was into angry bands.

MJ: But they were doing a different thing, they were helping you get by, they weren’t educating you.

SM: They weren’t going to let me down though. You could trust them. You could trust Weller to write a great single every three months!

MJ: They were dragging you through that time. I’m putting words in your mouth here. I don’t really know. It’s your book, it’s your life. But the real education starts with the music and the drugs, I think.

SM: Oh yes. Listen, the six sides of Sandinista will always be more interesting than the three sides of an isosceles triangle! And side six isn’t that great…

MJ: …well it is side six, they’d done all the hard work by then.

SM: So I’m there, I’m signed up. And then as I say in the book and in the show, and as I told Johnny Marr when I met him: “Your first album saved my life”. The first Smiths album came out just then and it was huge for me. So I sent him a copy of the book, with a note saying that. That album just reminded me that sometimes life could still be beautiful. And I’m not overstating that.

MJ: And was there anybody you were sharing that with or were you in a bubble?

SM: There wasn’t really anyone else. They put me in a room with another kid for the last couple of years. And the room was divided in half poster-wise. My side was The Jam, The Smiths, The Who and his was Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and all that but it was fine. Because that’s how it was back then – the tribe thing again – he’d sit with his Walkman headphones on listening to Led Zeppelin or whatever.

I didn’t listen to Led Zeppelin ‘til I was 21 because Paul Weller said in an interview once that it was music for students. So I never listened to them.

MJ: Ha, so you didn’t know everything?

SM: (Laughing) No, no.

The last thing said to me at school was that ‘you’re a worthless piece of shit’ line. Then five minutes later, my Mum was there to pick me up but of course I didn’t tell her that. I never told her what had gone on, I never told her anything. She was just thinking she was going to get an envelope through the door with eight O-Level passes in a few months and life would just go on.

MJ: You’ve left school now but you’d already tried hash on Weston Super Mare beach, so your real education, the education for what you end up becoming for the next 15 years, has started.

Are you in that immediate post-school period fucked up? Or are you back on an even keel? The abuse has gone away, you’re out of that terrible place, what was going through your head then, that summer?

SM: Look at it like this, you finish primary school with your mates then you’re ripped away from them and put into another environment for five years. You finish at that school and you all promise you’ll stay in touch and you don’t see them for another thirty years, right? Or until Facebook arrives. So point is, you’ve got to make more mates. Back in your home town. Your old primary school mates think you’re posh because you went to boarding school and you’re not but they’re not interested.

So you gravitate towards whoever will have you and it just happens to be the bloke on the beach with the hash. And you start smoking puff and drinking lots of cheap cider and all that unease in yourself – the result of everything that’s happened – is just gone in a cloud of smoke. You’re alright, you’re in, you feel great, you think ‘this works’.

I was getting high for different reasons to most people, I think. Maybe not. Talk to a recovering alcoholic they’ll tell you: ‘before drinking I was this jangly, bag of nerves that felt like an outsider and you have a drink and ping! – the lights have gone on’. I felt like that: my skin that was once too thin was suddenly bulletproof.

MJ: The light’s gone on then but where do you see yourself going? Are you not interested in anything else?

SM: The only thing I’m interested in that point is getting in a girl’s knickers. Sad but true. That’s the reality. I’m in Weston Super Mare. I’ve said a lot of bad things about the place but there are far worse places to grow up. But when you’re 16 like I was and damaged and angry there had to be something else.

In a small town everything is mapped out for you, so this time there was no light bulb moment but I knew deep down there was nothing for me there.

I’ve started to move in other circles, druggie ones. They’re going have you heard ‘Another girl, another planet’ by The Only Ones? Have you heard the Velvet Underground? Pretty soon I had caught up and now we’re talking bands that are celebrating drug use and I want a bit of it.

Interview with Simon Mason part three – ‘I certainly wasn’t lucky’

In this third part of my interview with Simon Mason, we talk about how interesting and life affirming it actually was to be part of a tribe. We were mods, OK kiddie mods, borrowing each others two tone shoes and wearing our Grandad’s trilby hats (or maybe that was just me) but we felt we belonged.

Simon is still a pretty decent modernist. While I still retain some of the sensibilities and will always love scooters and Fred Perry, I am a bit lapsed.

We then visit the darkness of his abuse and how it came about.

We start though, with the famous cassette which I gave him and which led him to be a mod. Though interestingly it wasn’t all mod music, The Ruts were on there and The Buzzcocks.

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MJ: You got the magic cassette?

SM: The cassette! That cassette you gave me. Do you know what? It’s amazing what you remember, why some things are seared into your memory and some things aren’t. I remember walking past your brother’s room and he’s listening to a cassette player – probably The Jam and he’s got that week’s Smash Hits and he’s learning the lyrics to the song.

MJ: That’s what we used to do at home. We had competitions to remember the words, me and our John. 

SM: That memory is so strong.

Where I am right then, I need something, I need to belong. And that’s what I got. Safety in numbers, right? We’re a tribe. We had the whole mod revival thing. You had mods, skinheads, rude boys, rockers, rockabillies, various kids trying stuff out, all crammed together.

MJ: It’s interesting that the tribe thing is dead now. There are very few kids doing that. Everything is so amorphous now and I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing for kids in our society.

SM: No, it’s not. It’s rubbish. It makes me sad. When we live in an age where people think a pair of tracksuit bottoms and Reebok Classics are it. As far as I’m concerned, if you can’t even be fucked to get dressed properly, what else are you going to give a fuck about?

MJ: Yeah but that’s it. There’s a slavish devotion to brands now. They’d rather be head to toe in Super Dry. We would look for parkas but it didn’t matter what was on the label. It was the look – get the look right. We weren’t slaves to a brand. It was the opposite.

So you’re starting to equip yourself with the things that you need to get through. You’ve got clothes you’re interested in, you’ve got the music, so you can always take that with you. And then you get abused. At school.

I know you allude to this in the book, but do you think you were just unlucky? Or vulnerable and unlucky?

SM: I certainly wasn’t lucky was I? (Laughs).

MJ: Ha, I mean do you think it could have been somebody else?

SM: It wasn’t just me.

MJ: Well absolutely. In terms of cards being dealt, I think the headmaster I had was totally different, very good in fact. I know that in my bubble, life was different. OK, I got six of the best in the first week and was told not to turn around while it happened. Make of that what you will. For me it was just the pain of that itself, little tiny bits of abuse, I suppose, but not seen as abuse then of course.

So I wasn’t trying to be flippant when I said were you unlucky, just comparing our experiences.

SM: No, of course not. From what I know of people like that and it’s not something I’ve studied, a predatory paedophile is not a snatcher. Not someone who’s going to snatch someone as they walk down a road. It’s kind of thought out. Which makes it even more evil and more despicable.

The sexual abuse really started after my Grandfather died. He’d come to live with us in Weston Super Mare when my Dad was still alive. So I had Mum, Sister, Grandad at home and then Grandad died 18 months after my father. So I’m the only male left in the family.

And that grooming process begins. I’ve spoken a bit about it. It starts with ‘oh come to the office, here have a cigarette’ you know, ‘have a whisky – you can trust me, you’re special’ all that stuff. I don’t think sophisticated is the word but it’s a tried and tested modus operandi for people like that – they pull you in.

You’re looking for a living, breathing role model. It’s all very well having Paul Weller plastered all over your wall but you’re not going to meet him are you? Not yet!

MJ: Little did you know.

SM: You want someone. Someone to say ‘do you know what mate, it’s going to be alright’. Especially when you’ve tried really hard. I’d been in the gymnasium all the time. I wanted to be in the cricket team. I wanted to be in the rugby team. And I was. Simply because when you’re there 24 hours a day, you’ve got more time to practice. I tried really hard.

And then that stuff started happening. And I think the single most devastating aspect of all that was that it just robs you of your ability to trust people.

Interview with Simon Mason part two – ‘Blowing it, big time’

In the first part of my interview with Simon Mason author of Too High, Too Far, Too Soon, we explored the search for the nadir of his fortunes, his rock bottom. In this second excerpt we explore that a bit further and go on to talk about a devastating blow which triggered the chain of events that would lead to that moment.

  

Simon Mason Interview Part 2 – Blow it and keep on blowing it.

MJ: So rock bottom isn’t this terrible moment where that’s it and then the sun suddenly shines and it’s all OK. It’s a plateau. Rock bottom and ‘the turning point’ are not the same thing.

SM: No, and there’s an expression that friends of mine use: ‘every rock bottom’s got a trap door’ and I believe that to be true, because things can always get worse. You reach the ultimate rock bottom when you’re dead and for a lot of people by that stage it’s a fucking relief to die. In the same way a lot of people I know would see going to jail as an occupational hazard because it’s better than the life you have on the street.

I think, for me at that point I thought ‘I don’t care, I don’t care’. I didn’t have a kid at that point, everything I’d done I’d fucked up. I’ve been afforded some amazing opportunities in life; I’ve had Noel Gallagher sitting next to me going “Those lyrics are great, you should be in a band”. I’ve had Paul Weller ringing me up, and all this stuff, that if you told a 12 year old me was going to happen I would have said “that won’t happen to me!” And I’d blown it. Blown it spectacularly and I kept on blowing it. And I thought I didn’t care whether I lived or died. Until I actually got to that point where I physically was going to die – me not someone else. And I think it was the kind of spiritual bankruptcy of the thing that did it.

I had this strange, subconscious thing, where I’d always go and seek out someone that in my deluded mind was more fucked up than me. So I’d come out of rehab and start using again and the missus would fuck off – quite rightly so. I’d be scoring on estates in Hackney. I’d have a suit on in a crack house. Thinking ‘I’ve got a suit still! – I’ve got somewhere to live!’ But in Spain, I very quickly sought out the guy that every warned me about: ‘don’t go near him, he’s a fucking lunatic’. And of course he became my best mate straight away. And just before the incident in the bush he said to me “You’re really fucked up”. And then I became that guy.

MJ: You took the mantle.

Yeah, and about a year ago someone sent me a piece in the Mail on Sunday about a British tourist who had been battered, decapitated and wrapped up in an old carpet in Mumbai. And guess who it was?

So I’m in that situation in Spain and I realise I don’t want to die.

MJ: So to go back even further. We were at school together and we had some good times. One thing that I wanted to ask here was prompted by something you wrote recently on your own blog, about being told your Dad had died and returning to school to be greeted by a crack round the head from a prefect. So I wondered, were you suffering at school before your Dad died? What happened after that key, blistering moment where you got smacked round the head? What I mean is before your Dad died was it ‘this isn’t that great but I’m alright’ and then the dam burst?

This is going to sound like I’m right up myself, but I re-read the piece yesterday and it’s a lot cleverer than I thought.

MJ: But that’s OK. That’s writing, you’re being a writer.

It’s a lot smarter because I wrote about straightening my back, stiffening my lip, doing that British ‘don’t show them your emotions’ thing. Whereas as a middle-aged man I know now that what I needed was to just let it happen, to collapse and cry. To grieve like my sister and my Mum we’re doing back home together. But I march back into the school – I’m only 11 so I don’t want to afford myself too much intellectual sophistication here – but I think just as a human being you kind of just want someone to give you a hug and tell you ‘it will be OK’ and I didn’t get that.

A few hours later my roommate comes in and says “I’m really sorry about your Dad” and that’s it. Done. I’d like to think that when things like that happen to kids in boarding school these days they are afforded some space. Whereas for me it didn’t happen. You were in that environment, you know that you had to come up with something quick. You had to be funny or good at rugby or something. Because if you’re not…

MJ: …and this kind of my point, because by the time you were in Spain, you were equipped with something. That ability to go to the worst person. Which is a double-edged sword, there is something good about a person who can do that but it is also a path to more suffering. And being in your suit in a crack den too, you always had something to cling to. Did you have that before it started to go wrong?

SM: No. No – because I didn’t need it, because at age 11 my life was Idyllic. I had a Mum and a Dad. My Dad was a hero, he was a pilot in the war. That was the most rock n’ roll thing you could do in 1940! And a few generations back my ancestry is Jewish. So you had this Jewish kid dropping bombs on the Nazis, that’s cool, right?

MJ: Fighting Fascism? That’s living the dream.

SM: And then I got sent away to this school and I know that my Dad didn’t really want me to go. But my Mum wanted me to and he’d do anything to please her. She knew this other family from Weston Super Mare who sent their kid there. My Dad, like many NCOs after the war became a Freemason. Make what you want of that, I don’t give a fuck, but he did. So we were comfortable. My Mum is from Coventry, so she knew about the school. All my mates were going to the local comprehensive, that’s what I wanted to do, go to the school round the corner with my mates. But I did the exam and I’m plucked out of that world and sent to Coventry, so to speak. I remember thinking ‘What is this place?’ the building was the biggest thing I’d seen in my life. It was terrifying.

And you’re flung together, you’ve got some kid from Mauritius and some army brat, whose family are stationed in Germany and some rich kid. A real disparate bunch of 11 year olds. And the first thing you’re told by the Dean is “There are two rules here, don’t get caught and don’t get caught”. And this priest is having a fag in the dorm in front of us. Different times, right? And you’re left to find your way. And if you don’t subscribe to the school motto ‘Christus Regent’ (Christ reigns), which I didn’t, what are you going to do?

MJ: It’s interesting because I saw it all as a big adventure. But there are similarities. I went in the second year. I had to walk into a common room, where everyone had their backs to me, lads who’d had a whole year to get to know each other and I had to try and break into that group. And maybe it started there but throughout my whole life, I’ve felt a bit of an outsider, a bit on the periphery. But I don’t know what it was in me that made me find adventure in that. I was lucky, maybe it was the way I’d been brought up or the books I’d read to that point. Ha, I was 12!

But again, you know, my Dad died. I’d had that first half term where I’d been crying on the phone ‘Mum I’m homesick’ and then it started looking like it could be OK. We were out in the woods or out at night playing with our torches. It was alright. And then it wasn’t and nothing mattered any more.

I didn’t have books or music or the stuff you had at that point. The music my Dad liked was Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, swing really. It was OK but it didn’t speak to me. My Mum bless her, was straight down the line, a working class girl from Coventry just trying to better herself. So I didn’t have any of that stuff. And then I had that cassette that you gave me…

Interview with Simon Mason part one – There but for the grace of a god I don’t believe in.

On the face of it Simon Mason and I are very similar. We went to the same school, the cheapest Catholic boarding school in the country. A facsimile of an American private school, it was an ersatz Dead Poets Society kind of place. Basketball was popular, as was corporal punishment. We both had dads in the R.A.F. We both loved The Jam and both support Liverpool.

But after school our paths wildly diverged. Simon definitely took the one less travelled. While I’ve spent my life on the periphery, eking out good, sensible careers (then abandoning them), Simon became the go-to drug dealer for the Britpop bands, then a heroin addict and now a successful writer and performer.

I was lucky. Simon was not. He was a few years younger than me at school and being a bit of a loner, at the behest of my younger brother, he used to come to my room to listen to 7 inch records (remember them?) of bands like The Jam, The Beatles and The Clash. That’s why he still has Moddish tendencies. And why he supports Liverpool. But they were halcyon days. Hating heavy metal (except Paranoid by Black Sabbath, we loved that for some reason) and talking about winning the European Cup (remember that?) over and over again.

They were halcyon days because when I left the next year everything changed. Simon’s war hero, Wellington bomber pilot, Dad died and his world fell apart. He was groomed by a priest at school and abused. A rotten, evil man who also instigated the expulsion of my brother weeks before his O-Levels.

Because of Simon’s excellent memoir Too High, Too Far, Too Soon, the rest is now history. And what a history. Simon is clean and has also turned the book into a hugely successful one-man show. He told me recently, when we got back in touch, that I was his hero at school and that one of things that has made him get his life together was his love of music, which he (kindly) attributes to me.

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Well one of my heroes is a man who was abused at my school, who was in the eye of the Britpop storm, who got hooked on heroin, got himself clean and is now a loving father, writer, performer and musician. Heroes don’t come more inspiring than that.

I interviewed him recently about where he feels he is now on the ever-eventful roller coaster of his life. Part one is here:

Simon Mason Interview Part 1 – Rocking rock bottom.

MJ: Starting at the bottom, was there a rock bottom or was it a series of rock bottoms? Or is that too pure? Did you have a rock bottom?

SM: You think I’d have an answer to that straight away. You’d think that If I was able to detach myself from me and step back and put it on a TV screen, play the movie I’d be able to think ‘that must be it’. In that respect, for the last four or five months of my active drug addiction, I was living in Spain, in what was once a really nice Spanish village called Orgiva in the middle of fucking nowhere. A guy (Chris Stewart) wrote a book called Driving Over Lemons set in Orgiva about him restoring a farmhouse and his idyllic life. ‘Course as a result of that a load of tree huggers turned up over the years and with them came sound systems. Guys thinking ‘Why are we getting harassed by the police in England when we can just move to this place in Spain where it’s much warmer?’ So it became this juxtaposition of an earnest, really well-intentioned, yoga-practising, lovely lifestyle and drug dustbins, which were parked up in this dry river bed. I’d been out there before.

MJ: Had you been out there to share those experiences? Or to sell drugs? Or for lack of anything else to do?

SM: I went because I had made a friend during one of my many stints in rehab. He’d got his shit together and fallen in love with this girl – an amazing, amazing woman. They’d bought this piece of land with a battered old cow shed that they were restoring. So it was one of my little bolt-holes, a place I could go to in the sun, get away from Hackney, thinking ‘yeah maybe I’ll sort myself out while I’m here’. So I’d been before. I knew deep down I wasn’t going to get clean. I think I thought I was just going to drink myself to death on cheap Spanish brandy.

It had become so, so awful living in Hackney. I was IV-ing, injecting heroin and crack into my neck. I was going to die. I thought I’d ticked off every box, all the things I’d said to myself ‘I’d never do that for drugs’. By the time I got to Spain again there were no more boxes left to tick.

MJ: You’d broken every rule you’d set for yourself?

SM: Yeah. I’d done domestic burglaries, snatched bags. I have to say as a disclaimer I was completely psychotic (laughs). The guy I bought my drugs off (in Spain) sold a ‘pre-mix’ version. You give him your €15 and you get this little baggie and it was a mixture of crack and heroin, the percentages of which you never knew. So it was either heart attack or OD from heroin and I was injecting that into my hands, my feet, my neck, all day, every day.

MJ: So you mentioned dying, was it a case of by this stage you that you thought ‘I am going to die so I don’t care’ or was it just ‘I don’t care’?

SM: It was actually ‘I’m gonna die and I don’t want to’. It’s not gonna be my mate, not some acquaintance from Stoke Newington, not some bloke I was in rehab with 20 years ago, it’s gonna be me. Me. And I know that. I know that because I’m in a bush, I’ve got my trousers round my ankles, I’ve had a shit and it’s just blood and yellow stuff and that’s not very healthy. On a physical and mental level, that’s rock bottom. But there’s a spiritual aspect here too. If you were to look at me in that bush in Spain, six stone, covered in abscesses, you’d think ‘that guy’s fucked’.

MJ: Yeah so that’s the Hollywood version, that’s the top of the story arc, but does that mean that really, for you, that was rock bottom?

SM: I’d been there before. I’d been like that on and off for years. My problem was I’d get plucked out of that for rehab and gratefully receive the kind of care you’d get for three or six months. I’d get restored and then I’d just go and do it again.