Billy Duffy, guitarist with The Cult chats with Kevin Cooper about working with Morrissey, his Gretsch signature black falcon guitar, their latest album Hidden City, and their forthcoming UK tour.

William ‘Billy’ Duffy is an English guitarist and songwriter, best known as the guitarist in The Cult. He grew up in Manchester, where he began playing guitar at the age of fourteen. Duffy got his start playing in different punk line-ups in the late 1970s, including Studio Sweethearts with former members of Slaughter & The Dogs and Eater. But these earlier years were more notable for him introducing Johnny Marr to Morrissey who were later to become The Smiths.

Following the break-up of Studio Sweethearts, Duffy moved to London, where he settled as guitarist for the moodier and artier Theatre of Hate. He eventually met Ian Astbury (the frontman for gothic rock band Southern Death Cult) who was impressed with Duffy’s playing and abandoned Southern Death Cult to start a new band with him. Together, they exploited the Southern Death Cult’s success by calling themselves Death Cult. Despite some initial fanfare and a couple of singles, the band chose to shed the name in 1984 in favour of the shortened The Cult, as less artistically limiting.

Now touring the UK, he took the time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper, and this is what he had to say.


Hi Billy how are you today?

I am very well I mustn’t grumble sir. Anyway how are you Kevin?

I’m very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

You are very welcome. I actually do enjoy doing the local press stuff when I am back in the UK. I am one of those few weird guys who actually enjoys it (laughter). I have to be honest and say that although I haven’t been back to the UK for a while now, whenever I am there I always make sure that I read the local papers. I think that they are great (laughter).

So just how is life treating Billy Duffy at this moment in time?

I have no complaints really. I will be fifty-five in May, which is no secret as I can’t really hide that although they did get my age wrong once in a Virgin record book; wrong as in older which was a bit of a nightmare (laughter). They had me down as being sixty-one. But in answer to your question I am alight, I am in good health in a period of time where people are going down like flies especially in my business. But as you will know Kevin you get to a certain age and you start going to more funerals; funerals and christenings really (laughter). It is what it is. But I am good man, I am blessed in that I have nothing medically wrong with me so I am winning really.

Before we go on, I have to ask you something from a personal point of view. I should be shooting you here in Nottingham but I have been informed that you not allowing photographers into the pit when you play here at Rock City on Monday 29th February. Is that true?

Yes that’s right but it is all down to the singer mate, it’s an Ian thing (laughter). I will be honest with you and I will tell you the truth, I actually do support Ian in this. Once you let images out that are not under your control in a world of the internet and digital media, they are out there. You can’t put the genie back into the bottle. So it is really a question of trying to hold on to as much of your own image as is humanly possible. Please don’t take this personally Kevin as I am speaking in general terms; we just want to try and control the situation and as we are both fifty odd we really do want to be seen in the best possible light.

So if we let any Tom, Dick or Harry who has got a digital camera into the pit to take a thousand phots, I think that you know where I am going with this. I don’t even think that I need to finish do I. So the end result of all of that is a draconian policy because draconian policies are the only ones that work. I could say to Ian that the guy down in Nottingham is pretty cool and I know that he wouldn’t create an ugly picture of us, because I have spoken to him and he is a nice guy. We are doing hundreds of gigs and we just don’t have the time to veto everyone, and that’s why you are not being allowed into the pit at Rock City Kevin.

I am not saying that you have ever done it but there have been times where I have seen photographers who deliberately go out of their way to get the ugliest picture possible just so they can say that they have it. There is a hell of a lot of that going on so, in essence, that is where that came from.

Ok. You have recently played two dates in Los Angeles ahead of the start of your forthcoming tour. How were they?

They were good. They were actually to celebrate the release of the new album. We played The Grammy Museum at the Clive Davis Theatre which was great because it was a sit-down session with questions and answers. When you are asked by the Grammy people if you would perform then we jumped at the chance especially when you consider that a band like The Cult have not quite had the pats on the back from such organisations as perhaps other bands have had in their careers over the years. Merely by being The Cult has put us at a disadvantage for touchy-feely awards. We have never really had any of that so once in a while it is a bit of fun to get some recognition from a mainstream organisation.

To be frank we have always been an outsider band, other than one album back in 2001, we have always been signed to Independent labels so therefore we have always been an Indie band. We are a Beggars Banquet group; out of a record shop that used to be based in Fulham. We are outsiders so to do that gig was for us was a bit of recognition. Finally someone out there in the mainstream of the business has acknowledged that we exist. What can I say, it was nice. Then the next night at the Tower Theatre was absolutely bonkers (laughter).

Downtown Los Angeles has been regenerated pretty much like downtown everywhere has been nowadays. And that theatre was the first in Los Angeles to have air conditioning and talking movies. They have now turned it into a smallish venue and it is fantastic for a rock gig. It was fun, a good night out to celebrate the release of the album, whatever that means these days (laughter).

Looking ahead to the tour, does touring still excite you?

Let me give you an old rock and roll cliché Kevin, the gigs I do for free, the other twenty-two hours that I am not out there on the stage, that’s what I like to get paid for. That’s the best quote that I can give you to sum that up. Without wanting to sound too middle-aged I do think that I give a bit more back now. I have always tried very hard on stage; I don’t think anybody could ever accuse me of just standing there on stage looking at my feet, but I think that in this day and age I really do appreciate the audiences, together with all of the people who come out to see us, and I feel that there is more of a giving back now from the band.

And certainly for me as a performer I really do get a buzz off of that. I certainly do enjoy touring but for very different reasons than I did when I was a young man. In the old days it was like let’s get this gig out of the way and then we can see where the party is. I think that is very natural when you are in your twenties and thirties; that is the natural order of things. I would just go along with the flow of things but now after we have put on a high energy rock show it takes a whole different discipline. When we were a premier league band for several years we put on a lot of stadium and arena shows and we found that the bigger the places that you play the more time that you get to rest.

What I will say is that you need to save your energy. That is the one thing that you will learn off the old guys, the guys who have gone before you such as the eminent Geezer Butler, the Black Sabbath dude (laughter). He is always saying to me, “mate, if you can get some sleep then get some sleep”. That was Geezer’s advice to me. I can remember watching Aerosmith back in 1989 when they were probably all around their fifties; all of them eating well and working out in the gym as Americans tend to do, which even British bands are starting to do now by the look of them. Now that I am in my fifties I am still playing football, I go to the gym, and I am touch wood relative healthy so by the investment that you make you reap the rewards. People who don’t tend to have shorter lifespans.

Would you agree that the events of 9/11 changed the way that bands tour forever, especially over there in the States?

Yes I would Kevin, I would totally agree with that. That is very true. We had our album Beyond Good And Evil out three months before 9/11 and we were at that time on tour with Aerosmith in America. As it happens I was at Ground Zero ten days after it happened. I was in New York the day that a tail fell off another plane and the plane crashed. The whole place was in mass panic because they believed that it was another attack. It was a plane going down just after take-off at JFK Airport. Obviously it was a tragedy but not terrorism. So I have to say that yes the events of 9/11 certainly did change everything.

By Christmas we found ourselves out of a record deal, because Warner Brothers had basically got rid of forty acts including Rod Stewart, Sinead O’Connor and a bunch of others and we were just one of them that were thrown out because everything just shifted. There were no bands out on the road. We were one of the few bands that were touring along with Aerosmith and it was very weird man, weird times. It seems very draconian but to be honest I don’t think things are that much different to when I was travelling in the early eighties when you would be watching the El Al fights taking off from London to fly to Tel Aviv. The passengers then were having to check in at least three hours prior to take-off. It’s a weird life man not just for bands but for anyone who travels for work; there are eminent dangers involved.

As we have mentioned you are going to be playing here in Nottingham at Rock City. From a bands point of view is it as good as people say it is?

Rock City has for some reason gained a legendary status. They do shoehorn a lot of people in there and that tends to make it very vibey. My recollections of the place have always been positive. I personally have never had a bad experience there so without thinking too deeply about it, they have always let a lot of people in and it looks great. It’s always a very energetic show for us and they are usually pretty well attended so that’s cool. What I will say is that when you are in the cosseted world of the musician it is a different experience for us than it is for the crowd.

It is comfortable Kevin; downstairs has been done out like a rental flat (laughter) but as musicians none of that matters. If the crowds are there and the gig is good that is what matters to the band, you put up with the rest of the crap. That stuff only bugs you if the gigs aren’t well attended or you don’t have a good night and that’s when all of the trivia gets on your nerves. I think that most of the musicians who have played there love it because it does attract a good solid crowd and for that it does have a great reputation.

Swiftly moving on. The new album Hidden City I have been playing it to death and I think that it is fantastic.

Well thanks Kevin I’m glad that you like it. Whilst not wanting to sound in anyway boastful because I’m not that type of guy, but it does seem to have gotten quite a positive response in terms of the media. Whether that means that it will sell any copies is a debatable point, but certainly in terms of that hurdle even the haters are having to begrudgingly say that for a band of our age and our history it is a pretty solid effort. They can clearly see that some care went into it together with some effort on our part.

Are you personally pleased with it?

I am pleased if people are pleased. If the fans like it then I am happy. For me once it’s done it’s done, and there is nothing more that I can do to affect the outcome. It has been two years of hard work on and off in order to put it all together. Once I start playing it live then it becomes real for me and they become real organic songs because the way that you make records these days is just so bitty. It is almost as if you are working on a jigsaw puzzle with all of the bits, and it’s like I am finally seeing the complete picture of the jigsaw puzzle even though I kind of know what the picture is going to look like.

Making an album is like playing with a jigsaw set with about ten of the pieces missing (laughter). And if you get really lucky then you do find the missing pieces. If you don’t then it looks like it looks and that is what you are left with. You just have to come to live with it. But whilst I am happy with it I am happier for Ian really. I think that he has finally got something out there and under his belt that he feels really good about. He is happy and proud of what he has done with this album and I feel good for him more than anything else.

A lot of your fans are saying that it your best album ever. Would you go along with that?

That’s heady praise but I do think that the album is quite complete. I think that with The Cult, if you look at our heyday which I consider to be the three albums; Love, Electric, and Sonic Temple they are the albums which really made the band. Not one of those three albums I think truly represents all facets of the band. You would have to say that there is that part of The Cult on Love, then there is the electric cartoony rock side on Electric, followed by the pompous slightly grandiose but they can pull it off Sonic Temple arena side. We are all of those things. I personally love The Cult album from 1994 which was much more intimate and deconstructed which was our post-grunge record. We felt that we needed to deconstruct the band and start again.

That album is also very autobiographical from Ian’s point of view. He dealt with a lot of childhood issues lyrically.   So in that sense I think that the new album encapsulates a fair bit of the spread of what we have done over the past thirty years. I don’t know whether it is definitive but I do think that it is a good record. If you ask Cult fans a lot of them will say that they lost interest in the band after the Love album. Some of them will say that after we changed our name from The Death Cult we were rubbish, claiming that we had sold out (laughter). We get a lot of that. However in the sane world of balanced opinion I am proud of the album because I think that we have managed to come back and do something that is credible and has some integrity.

We are always trying new things and we are not scared to fall flat on our faces. When me and Ian first got together back in 1983 we liked each other as people; we got on really well. But at the end of the day we just wanted to be two guys in a rock band just writing songs together. And to be honest nothing has fundamentally changed. Things can get in the way but if you wipe all of that aside you get back to it. It is just two guys getting together trying to bring into their writing the sort of music which they are getting off on. We do our best not to try and make the records not sound like the time that they are in. Situationally our albums fit; Electric made perfect sense when it came out in the late eighties at the same time that Guns ‘N’ Roses started playing football stadiums all around the world. We were most definitely ahead of the curve on that one.

We had our moments I think, and our albums reflect the times in which they were made in. But we also like to think that the songs have endured so that they can still be played now. The album in general is of its time and reflects the time that it was made in and everything that was going on around it but if you make good enough songs they will always transcend that.

I personally think that Hidden City feels a lot heavier, more raw and real. Would you go along with that and just how much of that would you put down to producer Robert Jens ‘Bob’ Rock?

Yes I would have to agree with you and say that it does Kevin. It is a difficult thing not to over polish and over produce stuff. We have been on quite an incredible journey with producer Robert Jens ‘Bob’ Rock. People will say what a great job ‘Bob’ Rock has done with Metallica, well hang on, we worked with ‘Bob’ Rock way before he had even thought about working with Metallica (laughter). We have had a relationship with Bob as an external member of the band since back in 1987 when I first met him. I actually jammed with his band over in Vancouver. Me and Bob’s guitar roadie were drinking buddies and that’s how I met Bob.

Ok so he has produced Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe, Metallica and he has been involved with some of the really big rock records. But that was not the reason why we asked him if he would like to produce The Cult. He was just a bloke who wanted to jam in a Canadian band. Since I met him back in 1987 he has become a life-long friend who has helped us over the years. With the latest album Bob wanted to be involved from day one; he was involved from the very first day of song writing and he did, where necessary steer the ship to what you hear on the album.

Some thirty-two years on, are you surprised that you are still making great albums with The Cult?

When me and Ian got together I have to say that it did feel really solid. There never was a moment’s doubt. There are some photographs of me and Ian standing in London on a street in Kensington near to where I was working at the time. And those first photographs were of me and him just being mates in London with a vision of having a band. Just writing songs and being a rock band; not getting embroiled in little pigeon holes of Gothic, post-punk or whatever. It was a very pragmatic thing, we just wanted to fight for our space and not be told what we had to do.

The history of The Cult in terms of me and Ian is that there is a lot of punk rock in our DNA but there is also a hell of a lot of rock. So it is a blending of both. Ian lived in North America for a number of years together with the southern part of Ontario, Canada so he had a North American upbringing. So when punk happened here in England Ian came back to the UK. I grew up in Manchester during the punk era so it is heavily in our DNA. But I have to say that it got very boring being told what we could and couldn’t do musically by eight journalists who all drank in two pubs in London (laughter). That was the dynamic back then.

One of the things about us doing Sanctuary and the Love album being called Love was us saying to those people ‘screw you’. It was our fingers-up moment to what we felt was a totalitarian, Jack Boot of like what’s cool and what’s hip. The whole Southern Death Cult thing was a provincial story, whenever people saw us perform they would say “hey up, its Adam and the Ants from Bradford and the singer dresses like a red Indian. He’s mental” (laughter). That was Southern Death Cult. I was in a band with a lot of Londoners and when I first saw Ian at Keele University they were opening for us. I was the token Northerner in the Theatre Of Hate. There is always a bit of that provincial outsider element to it. That is also in our DNA too which is not quite of the mainstream.

I think that all of that stuff contributes to our longevity. I can remember having a conversation the first time that The Cult went over to America with Jeff Ayeroff who was involved in a lot of good music, and who later went on to be co-founder of the Virgin America record label. Jeff said to me and Ian that we were at that stage where we really need to be making some serious decisions regarding our future. Did we want to go straight up like a rocket but burn out at an early stage and crash back down to earth, that being the end of the band or did we really want to do this for thirty odd years, making music and having this as our lives. Jeff told us that the decisions that we would make back then would affect today.

I’m not sure if we have made all of the right decisions but suffice it to say that guy back then bought it to my attention and I respected him for doing so.

You originally struggled to get a record deal over in America. Is it true that Seymour Stein flew over to the UK from New York personally to sign you?

Yes Kevin that’s absolutely correct. That was a total shock to us because we got signed to Sire Records by, as you correctly say, Seymour Stein who personally flew over to England in order to sign us after he had heard us performing She Sells Sanctuary which was in the UK charts, but at that time we still didn’t have an American record deal. We were in the studio recording the Love album, Sanctuary was out and in the charts in the summer of ’85, Live Aid was happening and we didn’t have a record deal in America because nobody would sign us because nobody was convinced that we were going to make it. However Seymour Stein jumped on a plane and flew over from New York. He came to see us at the recording studio where we had dinner and sat and talked about music for over five hours. He was such a genius about who made the tea during the sessions for the B-side of Del Shannon’s third single.

What I am trying to get at Kevin is that we went with Beggars Banquet Records because of Martin Mills and his staff and we went to some extent with Cooking Vinyl now because of Martin Goldschmidt and his staff there. The Cult operate better when we are dealing with people rather than institutions. We ended up on Warner Brothers over in America because Seymour Stein had originally signed us to Sire who also had The Smiths, Talking Heads and The Ramones. Ian also has the same views on this. He signed to Beggars Banquet when he could have easily got triple the money if he had signed to CBS here in London who I think The Clash were with at the time. Those were decisions which Ian made with the guys in Southern Death Cult before I met him.

So those big decisions which you make then lead us maybe to today. Not taking the seven pieces of silver upfront and maybe thinking about the long game. Ultimately all that I ever wanted to do was to be the guitarist in a rock band (laughter). So be careful what you wish for kids. I read that in Ian Hunter’s book Diary of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star (laughter). I never wanted to be the singer, I always wanted to be the guitar player. Slightly less well known but with exactly the same pulling power to get some pretty girls and have a good time. Playing the guitar is a trade, you learn a craft. You actually do master a skill. You don’t outpour your innermost feelings of your guts, you have an instrument, and you are not the instrument like the lead singer.

On the subject of playing the guitar being a craft, would you agree that you are now playing better than ever?

Yes Kevin I think I am actually. I think that I am a late bloomer with the guitar (laughter). I think that over the last several years I have gotten to a different level of competency. I think that I have finally raised the bar. I think that I probably had a flurry due to the absolute bee sting of touring during the Sonic Temple and Ceremony eras in the late 80’s and early 90’s. We were just out on the road so much that you couldn’t help but improve your game. However I always felt that at times I had gotten too slick and it was lacking in soul and because of that I have always felt that the song writing on Ceremony suffered and as a result it was more a question of technique rather than content. But that is just an opinion.

Because I have played with a lot of different people over the last ten years, relaxed, had some fun whilst learning a lot of different music I would say yes, I have raised the bar and I think that my standards are pretty good for me at this moment in time. I am definitely not underachieving at the moment.

In 2013 how did you feel when you were approached by Gretsch about them producing the Gretsch G7593T Billy Duffy ‘Black’ Falcon?

I have to say Kevin that it felt great. Once again it was very organic as there is a young kid who works for Fender called Michael and he once came along to the studio and lent me a Gretsch because I need a certain type of Gretsch for a song. When he came down to the studio he saw that I had a couple of Falcons and right at that very minute he said that he thought that we should do a signature Falcon like the 70’s one that I was using at that time. There were a lot of them about at that time but none particularly like my 70’s one. And that was the kernel of the idea, just two blokes sat on a sofa in a recording studio. This young kid who had the original idea and he just pursued it and pursued it, and we made it happen. We did the white one and that stills sells; it is a popular guitar.

I made it so that it has just got my name on a plate which you can unscrew and take off simply because my ego is not that. I think that it is a great guitar and I put a lot of effort into making it as good as it can be. But I don’t want somebody not to buy it just because it has got Billy Duffy scrawled all over it (laughter). I just feel that from an engineering blue collar point of view I made a good guitar. And yes as you say Kevin this year we are doing a limited edition of the black ones just to vibe it up a little bit because there aren’t that many Black Falcons around. There has certainly never been one with the particular peculiarities of mine which is a 70’s model. There are differences between my one and a 50’s or 60’s Falcon. They tend to be more down the Brian Setzer rockabilly route whilst I am the guy who somehow stupidly tries to play some rock on a Gretsch with a wah-wah pedal and overdrives (laughter).

All that I can say is that it is probably like trying to drive a Range Rover around a race track when you should really be in a sports car (laughter). I am giving it a go Kevin if you know what I mean (laughter). That’s what I think the Falcon is like, I put my money where my mouth is and I play them live. I don’t just use them in videos like a lot of people do. I play them for real and I clank it and it is loud. I try to be Malcolm Young and play like Angus Young (laughter).

The Cult split between 1995 and 1999. Looking back was it the right time, was it the right thing to do?

Yes I think so. It was Ian who kind of blinked first but I was also tired of it at that time. It had been twelve years straight with very little time off for me and him trying to put a band together with some lofty ideas since we had first thought about it in 1983. So when it finally came we had been through Grunge and the whole thing and we recorded that final album The Cult and we were halfway through the tour and I think that Ian just snapped. I think that he had got a lot of personal stuff going on at that time. I don’t necessarily think that it was the band as much as it was his personal stuff. It was a good break and it gave me a great opportunity to move back to the UK. To put it simply I just went back and did all of the family stuff that I had never done in the 80’s because I was always out on the road finding my way in show business (laughter).

You mentioned song writing a little earlier. Is that something which comes naturally to you or have you grown into the role?

I have grown into it as I was terrified before The Cult. Obviously I have co-written everything with Ian in The Cult since day one but Ian has always supported me. I was unemployed at the time as I had been booted out of Theatre Of Hate and I was just doing absolutely nothing in London, panicking a bit thinking that was good being on Top Of The Pops a year ago and here I am on the dole again, erm interesting (laughter). So Ian came down to London and sort of saved my bacon. He had the confidence in me to give me an opportunity. He said you are the guitar player, you had better come up with something (laughter).

I had really only ever written songs once before which was way back with Morrissey in Manchester when we wrote a few songs together. We were both very young and I was in the band The Nosebleeds with him for about ten minutes. Neither of us knew what we were doing (laughter). After that I was always joining other people’s bands, I was always good enough to get into a band, I looked good enough and I was personable enough to get hired but it was always an ongoing entity. I always thought that perhaps I might write a little bit here and there but it was primarily another person’s vision that I was trying to fit in to. So it wasn’t until I sat down with The Cult that writing became my full participation. It’s a challenge but it is something that I know that once the floodgates open lyrics just flow out so I am happy to let that happen.

You have mentioned Morrissey and it was you that introduced Johnny Marr to him. Could Billy Duffy have ever been a member of The Smiths?

Well if I had it simply wouldn’t have been The Smiths would it Kevin. It would just have been something else. The Nosebleeds in 1978 was at a point when we were both really adolescent. We were at that age when all that we really wanted to do was to be our heroes, who at the time were all of the bands from New York. The Sex Pistols had just split up, Sid and Nancy were still alive. Whenever I am talking about that period now I have to contextualise it but it was very rock and roll together with punk. I always wanted to be Johnnie Thunders whilst Morrissey wanted to be David Johansen mixed with a bit of Patti Smith (laughter). So that is where we were at and together we wrote a bunch of daft songs.

The reason why I left Manchester was because I had been offered a job with a wage. At that time I was still living at home with my mum and dad. I didn’t leave Manchester because I didn’t like working with Morrissey as some people have reported, it’s just that I had no money, I was signing on and living on a council estate in South Manchester with zero money and living with my parents as a troubled teen. Then I got offered a record deal and the chance to move to London to be a member of a band that were already established. That’s why I could never have been a member of The Smiths because I took the opportunity to jump ship and run away with the circus as it were.

Earlier you mentioned that, well how shall I put this, you had been asked to leave Theatre Of Hate. How are things now between you and Kirk Brandon; is everything good?

We are absolutely fine, absolutely. I have recently had Kirk Brandon have a nap on my living room sofa (laughter). In the not too distant past Kirk came around to my house for a quick snooze when he was doing a gig in Los Angeles and he didn’t have a hotel room as he was leaving that night. Theatre Of Hate opened for The Cult; we had them on tour with us as out special guests. Kirk was under a lot of pressure back then but now we are all good and golden. I wish only goodness for Theatre Of Hate and Kirk. I am still a massive fan of their work. I love the early stuff that Kirk did; I thought that it was great. He is a really talented geezer. Kirk Brandon is the closest thing to a white blues man that you will ever find. He is the Rain Man of punk rock Blues.

When I parted company with the band Kirk was under so much pressure to keep Theatre Of Hate’s success going. There was a hangover from the punk days and the management associated with the band were quite hostile. What I will say Kevin is that it wasn’t the most nurturing environment.   The whole thing was run on fear, backstabbing and weirdness all of which is completely unnecessary but that was what was going on at that time. Guys were going willy nilly, the drummer got fired, the bass player was asked to leave, I went and soon after that he changed the name of the band.

I really loved the very first thing that Kirk did as Spear Of Destiny with just Kirk on guitar and Lascelles James on the saxophone. They did a really good session on Radio 1; I absolutely loved it. It had that fragility about it, I loved it. Kirk’s vision for Spear Of Destiny was to try and make it a UK version of Bruce Springsteen, a full sounding band with keyboards and quite possibly a brass section. Totally the opposite of what I was into with The Cult; we saw ourselves as more of a minimalistic band. I just wanted one guitar, bass and drums. But on a vision note that is where me and Kirk parted company.

So in answer to the question we are all good and I would pay to see Theatre Of Hate any day of the week. I really do love that stuff.

Could you have any more fun than you already have when you get to play with Sammy Hagar?

Yes Kevin totally. That is simply a guilty pleasure of mine (laughter). You have got to remember that I am laughing because as a fourteen year old I was listening to the Montrose album simply because I was a bit precocious (laughter). I was always on the lookout for the more obscure bands that I could like. Obviously at that time everybody else was into Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath; everybody at school were totally into that. I didn’t like that because everybody else liked it so I would go digging around for truffles trying to kind obscure bands to own and initially got into Be Bop Deluxe because somebody somewhere knew Bill Nelson because he was a teacher at a college in Huddersfield and they knew him (laughter).

We claimed Be Bop Deluxe as our band; everyone in South Manchester loved Be Bop Deluxe. And it was the same for me with the first Montrose album. Ronnie Montrose basically wrote the book. I was lucky in the fact that I actually got to meet Ronnie Montrose and Sammy Hagar and we played a couple of Montrose tunes together. As a guitar player Ronnie pioneered a certain efficiency of playing with one guitar whilst it is just so much fun for me to play with Sammy. That’s me having a laugh, me wearing my knotted handkerchief on my head while wearing daft shorts (laughter). Not that I would ever wear shorts on stage. Mentally I am in that zone where I want to learn the songs and make them good. But by the same token I am doing them totally for laughs.

You mentioned Top Of The Pops earlier, what was your first appearance like?

To be honest with you I was terrified (laughter). I never liked being on the side of the stage where they stood me, just because I was the new guy. At that stage I hadn’t yet gone on to the blonde haired look because there were two blondes in the band already. I still had jet black hair. Whenever you were asked to perform on Top Of The Pops it meant that you had to get to the studios very early in the morning, but the thing was that there was absolutely nothing to do all day. It was no fun whatsoever so everyone made their way to the canteen (laughter). You felt like a caged animal all of the day who kept being bossed around. When we finally walked onto the stage to do our bit there were literally forty people being shepherded around together with lots of cameras.

My abiding recollection is that they had monitors of all the cameras above the audience so every time I looked up I could see myself. I tried not to look as I thought that it wouldn’t look cool with my head keep moving up and down like one of those bobble-headed dogs in the back of a car. However I kept looking at the screens because it was the first time that I had seen myself on the TV (laughter). It was 1982 and Top Of The Pops was a big deal back then. There were still only a couple of things on the TV where you could see music, Top Of The Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test with Whispering Bob (Harris) so appearing on Top Of The Pops was most certainly a monumental milestone. It was crazy to do that.

It was a funny business but what I do remember is that it was all mimed, with the exception of the vocals. I will tell you a funny little story Kevin which will show you just how naive Theatre Of Hate were. Whenever you appear on Top Of The Pops you are supposed to re-record the song that you are going to perform because the Musicians Union mandates that the bands must go into the studio and re-record their songs. The thing is that they only give you four hours in which to do that. So what all the bands did was go into the studio, they get the Musicians Union rep down, they take him to the pub, they get him pissed, and while he is in the pub they switch the tapes to the original single that has been mixed without a vocal because all the bands would always mix one version without a vocal. That was great but I found that out afterwards (laughter).

When we were on Theatre Of Hate re-cut Westworld in four hours so the version of me on Top Of The Pops I am actually miming to me playing it for real, not the Westworld version which was actually Kirk on guitar (laughter). I am miming but I am miming to myself which I had recorded the night before.

Who has inspired you along the way?

That’s a great question and I will have to think about that for a minute. Wow that is a really good question. I don’t have an answer for that Kevin. You have gobsmacked me there a little bit. My brain has literally gone into overdrive. I am thinking of about a million permutations of what that might mean and the consequences of the answer (laughter). I will tell you this, what I try to do is to go back to the feelings that I had as a kid when I was learning the guitar. What inspired me and what has made me obsessive is that particular kind of music and then the feeling of me being able to participate in something like punk rock and being part of that, that era is what I go back to. That is my Holy Grail where if I need to go back, then that is where I go back to.

So if pushed I would have to say that period and those artists who I have always put up on a pedestal. It is all about just what they meant to me. They helped me to escape a fairy mundane life in Manchester. For me it was all about escapism. I have fortunate to meet almost all of the people who were my heroes and the vast majority of the time they have not disappointed me, they have been very cool. They are not regular people but they are regular people if you know what I mean.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I remember feeling quite proud when we got a platinum album. We were playing a gig in Philadelphia at The Spectrum which is historically a famous venue in America. It was on the day that we received confirmation that the band had gone platinum and there we were playing an arena where lots of my heroes had previously played. It wasn’t as though I was patting myself on the back for being wonderful, it just felt like it had been a long journey from our very first gig which we did in the UK at the Swansea Circles Club to headlining American arena tours. It was quite a journey Kevin. So I remember that moment of satisfaction but it wasn’t like I felt entitled by it.

Also I think getting She Sells Sanctuary to be a hit together with the making of the Love album. That summer of ’85 was a really brilliant time for us because circumstances and the starts just aligned primarily because the producer of Kid Jensen’s morning show on Radio 1 decided to take a gamble on She Sells Sanctuary for us and that changed my life. That period in time for us as pretty halcyon. Making that album and being in the band during that whole summer was rather like the spring time for The Cult. That period felt really good.

Do you still get the time to watch Manchester City play?

I do but I am beginning to think that I might just be a Jonah because I am very superstitious. My time back in England in the 90’s coincided with the ultimate bottoming out of Manchester City and I am proud to say that I was at the York City game when we lost 2-1 because my mate was from York. At that point Manchester City were at their lowest ebb both mathematically and historically ever. So I was there and I was also there when they won the Premiership in 2012. Funnily enough I was there with Johnny Marr and his family. I have witnessed both ends of that spectrum (laughter). So I have seen a lot of lows and a few highs with City.

I could go to the cup final against Liverpool but I don’t want to go because I don’t want to curse them so I think that I will stay away. I went to the one against Wigan and we lost which was a total nightmare. If you play your nightmare scenario of what would happen, it just happened that day and I was traumatised. I don’t really care for the new Wembley either I think that the old Wembley was far better. So I go when I can but I sometimes think that I will fall on the sword and not go. I would rather have the team win and me not be there.

What was the first single that you bought?

That was Coz I Luv You by Slade.

Absolutely brilliant. I have to say that Slade are my favourite band of all times.

I was in the fan club too Kevin so there you go, we have that in common.

Who did you first see playing live in concert?

Again that would have been Slade but on the bill was, Suzi Quatro, Thin Lizzy as the original three piece and then Slade topping the bill at The Free Trade Hall in Manchester. It would have been ’72 or ’73 I was eleven years old and my dad took me as a birthday present. I’m sure that you will agree Kevin that it wasn’t too bad a way to start. It could have been (David) Bowie on the Ziggy Stardust tour or Alice Cooper on his School’s Out tour however I will take what I got. After seeing that gig I became a massive Thin Lizzy fan.

Billy thanks for taking the time to speak to me.

Nice one and I will see you in Nottingham kid. A quick question for you Kevin, whatever happened to the Retford Porterhouse?

As far as I know it closed in 2001.

If you made it from the hotel across the market square without getting your face punched in by a miner you were winning (laughter). See you in Nottingham.