Lightning Seeds frontman Ian Broudie has talked songwriting, AI and his changing relationship with his biggest hit Three Lions in an extensive new interview with Music Week.
The Liverpudlian singer has put together a 20-track greatest hits album, Tomorrow’s Here Today: 35 Years of Lightning Seeds, which is out October 4 next year, and has announced a UK tour with the band for November/December 2024. Tickets for the 19-date 35th anniversary tour go on sale this Friday, November 24.
Broudie, 65, was a member of '70s Liverpool punk band Big In Japan and went on to produce LPs for acts such as Echo & The Bunnymen and The Fall before launching the Lightning Seeds, originally as a solo project, in 1989. Scoring their first Top 20 hit single with Pure later that year, the group have gone on to sell eight million albums.
"I've always thought there was a random quality to my life," said Broudie, who recently released his autobiography. "I was producing when I was 18 and then I was suddenly an artist when I was 31, which is definitely the wrong way around. And I've always been a little bit on my own road alongside the motorway in a way."
Lightning Seeds' biggest records have included 1994's Jollification (548,524 sales), 1996's Dizzy Heights (272,178 sales) and 1997 compilation Like You Do - The Best Of (744,690 sales), according to the Official Charts Company. Last year's BMG-released See You In The Stars (6,597 sales) - their first album since 2009 - reached No.16.
But the band remain best known, of course, for their classic Euro 96 England football team anthem Three Lions with David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, which in 2018 became the first song in history to have four separate stints as UK No.1.
Pure was the miracle that enabled me to become a recording artist
Here, Music Week settles down with Broudie for a wide-ranging chat about three-and-a-half decades of the Lightning Seeds...
How does it feel to think the Lightning Seeds have been going for 35 years?
"Tiring! No, I'm joking. It's mad really. It's kind of gone in a flash, but it's taken ages, depending on how you look at it. And it's nice to feel like I'm in a great moment 35 years on: I love playing gigs, I've got a load of new songs and I can't wait to record. When I first got to go in a studio and record with Big In Japan and then the Bunnymen, I felt like I'd probably only get to do it a few times in my life. I would never have predicted this, so that puts it all in perspective. Pure was the miracle that enabled me to become a recording artist, the song that I'd never finished. I didn't really have a label, didn't really have a band, didn't have anything, but somehow it changed my life."
Talk us through how Pure took off...
"It was the first time I tried to sing and write completely on my own. And when I put the vocal down, I thought, 'There's too many words in this, I've done it wrong.' So I thought I'd scrap it, but the engineer put it down on to tape. And then I sent a cassette of three songs to [music industry executive] Dick Leahy, who's sadly now passed, and I didn't realise Pure was on there. He loved that one and said, 'Let's have a couple of hundred pressed up and we'll see if I get someone to take it to radio.' It was around for a while, and gradually people discovered it - it got a play on John Peel and it was kicking about on local radio.
"The key moment was when I got told that Steve Wright was going to play it on BBC Radio 1, which was a really big deal. He had the biggest show on Radio 1 at the time and that was the moment that it broke. Well, it didn't actually, because he took it off halfway through. At the time, I thought he'd taken it off because of all my old fears - there were too many words, it wasn't of a high enough standard to be on Radio 1. And then he said, 'What is this? This is fantastic! I'm going to play it again from the beginning.' And he played it twice, which was unheard of, and I think that made Radio 1 think, 'Ooh, this is good. We've got to put it on a playlist.' Of course, we probably then ran out of records because we only had a few hundred pressed up, so it never charted very high, but it changed my life. It validated me going from being a producer to a songwriter."
How would you compare the satisfaction you get from producing to songwriting?
"Well, I never had any ambition to be a producer. I still don't. From time to time, when needs must, I've produced and of course I really enjoyed it while I was doing it. I felt like whatever I did, I would be devoted to those songs and to that artist for that time. But it wasn't ever what I wanted to do, so obviously it was far more fulfilling for me when Pure starts getting played all over the world. Although, I have to say, the Bunnymen was the first thing I ever produced, and because we were all pals, there was no division between us, so it felt like I was in the band for that period. I felt like there was a lot of me in [singles] The Back Of Love and The Cutter, so it was a big thrill for me when they were hits."
Has the prospect of selling your catalogue ever been on the agenda?
"No, not really. It's not something I'm keen on doing. I mean, never say never, but songs are quite personal to me and I just don't fancy it. It depends where you are in your life as well - I get the feeling those big American guys often do it for inheritance and tax reasons. I suppose if I feel like I'm going to die, I might reconsider..."
When you look back at all the hits you've written down the years, is there a common thread?
"I don't think anyone can sit down to write a hit really. I just think, at certain points, the wind is in your sails. For them to be hit records, you're at the mercy of the music business really - what mood the guy picking the playlist is in, whether the record company fancy working it - so you can't bother about that. You just have to try and write great tunes. Two of the songs that have had great longevity for me - The Life Of Riley and Sense - were never chart hits. But 30 to 35 years later, I start the first chords and everyone knows those songs so well in countries around the world."
The Life Of Riley's longevity was famously boosted by Match Of The Day using it to soundtrack Goal Of The Month in the '90s, how did that come to pass?
"They just put it on there and I'm glad they did, but I didn't have anything to do with it. Someone phoned me and said, 'You're on Goal Of The Month' and it just suited it very well. That's what you associate it with if you're of a certain age, but it's a song about my son Riley - waiting for him to be born and worrying about being a dad - so it couldn't have been further away from football really."
Riley has since grown up to be both your manager and guitarist, of course...
"I started putting my energies back into the Lightning Seeds after I'd lost concentration on it and let it, in football parlance, slide down the divisions. And Riley took over a lot of it because he's so bright and so good at it. He just became the manager in a way and then we made it official, and it's been a brilliant thing. I think a lot of people shudder when they hear your son's managing you, but that's not the situation. He's driven the band back up the divisions to a degree with our late, departed [booking agent] Steve Strange. Between Riley and Steve, they got it all going again and it feels like we're in a great moment at the minute."
How do you reflect on the Britpop era, even if you didn't necessarily feel part of the scene yourself?
"None of the records sounded like Britpop, but I kind of was in Britpop in a funny way. I think it was a good moment for music here. Is it fair to say it was the last little [period of time] before technology affected it so much? Although I embraced the technology, I think it was a real turning of the page and I see [Britpop] as the last little bit of that. People started holding up their phones at gigs, started streaming music and stopped buying records just after. There was a massive change in the way people made and consumed music."
Speaking of technology, what are your thoughts on making music with AI?
"If you're asking would I press a button, get a song, and put it out? No. But I think there are tools, like with that Beatles single [Now And Then] where they've used AI to separate the vocal from the rest of the demo so they can work on it. So when you're making records, there are lots of the small jobs that can probably be made easier by AI. I haven't used it particularly myself, but I think it's different using things as a tool to telling it to do the whole thing.
"With technology at the moment, you can buy certain programmes, press a few buttons and make quite a good record - even if you don't have any real musical aptitude. But I find it's a real drawback when you've got an idea [for a song], because you're trying to fit that stuff into it and the two things just don't go together. So if you're a songwriter, it's harder to use that sort of technology."
You released an album under your own name in 2004 [Tales Told], how was that experience?
"It was good. I think I would have followed that path if life hadn't kind of waylaid me. If you've read my book you'll know that, as the album came out, I had a lot of bereavements and general turmoil that stopped me in my tracks for a few years. In another world, I'd have probably toured it and done another one and maybe set off on a different path, but I kind of like it as a standalone moment to be honest. At the minute I just feel I'm exactly where I'm meant to be."
Finally, we note you've placed Three Lions as the last song on your forthcoming greatest hits album. Was that a conscious decision? Where does that song fit in the Lightning Seeds canon?
"It was probably a conscious decision. Actually, it was kind of an unconscious, conscious decision. If we play it at gigs, we always play it last. Sometimes it's been hard to come to terms with that song because [Skinner and Baddiel] sing on the record and it's got a life of its own, so it was like, 'Should I play it live?' But when it came back in 2018, with all the memes and everything, I think it became everybody's record. It changed my relationship with it and now, I'm much more at ease with it and feel lucky, it's been a great thing for me. It's almost like we could be playing [The Pogues'] Dirty Old Town at the end of the gig for a big singalong. But we play Three Lions and it feels a bit separate [from the Lightning Seeds], but part of it at the same time."