If you've never seen In Bed With Chris Needham, I feel both sorry and jealous of you. The former because it is unquestionably the greatest TV programme ever, and the latter because one day you will see it with fresh eyes. It's the kind of programme that makes you want to club yourself into amnesia so you can see it for the first time again and again.
The plot; Chris Needham, a 17 year-old Thrash Metal fan from Loughbrough who has been absolutely lacerated by the puberty stick, is about to play his first gig with his band, Manslaughter. The problem is, they’re complete rammell. Between their first painful attempts to stand musically upright and their debut gig, Chris takes the time to defend Metal and Youth, unleashes torrents of adolescent venom upon the Green movement, 'old bastards', vegetarians, ‘Chart Music’, organised religion, teachers, and Neighbours, conducts a relationship with his girlfriend in excruciatingly painful silence, gets hassled by Mr Taggart and His Amazing Shirt, and goes fishing.
By the end, when a bare-chested Chris performs I Don't Want To Save The World on a video that resembles something one could imitate in the Trocadero for a tenner, you realise that you have just witnessed the definitive statement on how rubbish it is to be an English teenager.
In an age where 'Cult TV' is shorthand for 'Not Good Enough For Proper Telly', In Bed With Chris Needham is the realest of deals. Only screened twice on BBC2 (and the last time was 16 years ago), never put out on video or DVD, its legacy has been kept alive on third-generation VHS copies and the internet, circulated by an ever-growing band of obsessives who wonder what happened to their wispy-'tached Metal Overlord, who would occasionally pop up on where-are-they-now slots on clip shows and the internet, only to disappear again.
Well, wonder no more. One e-mail on the off-chance and a couple of phone calls later, I was on my way to Loughborough in pursuit of the full story of Chris Needham. I got that. And I got more. So all you fogies out there - all you old bastards - should learn something from this, and if you don’t want to know, just turn the internet over now...
So, let’s go back to 1991: Communism was falling, Nelson Mandela was out of prison…
…Wind Of Change was playing on Radio One non-stop…
…and you did a video diary. How did it all begin?
The idea was all mine, really. I’d watched the first series of Video Diaries - the one that really grabbed me was the Italia ’90 one, where an England fan took along a camera. A week later they published an advert in the TV Times, which wasn’t really done then. It said the BBC Community Programmes department were looking for people to film a video diary for a second series. And I thought; “I could do that”. So I got all my song lyrics, poems, stories – all the things you do when you’re a teenager – put them in an envelope, and attached a note that said “If you want a no-bullshit TV programme about the life of a teenage Heavy Metal fan, give me the camera and I will give you the programme”. So I sent that off, thinking nothing more would happen.
About 3 weeks later, I got a letter from Steve Pope at the BBC saying “We’re interested in your ideas – if you want to film a video diary, please get in touch and we’ll chat”. I thought it was a wind-up at first - I knew what kind of devious bastards my mates were…
Your application must have really stood out.
Well, this is the weird thing. Apparently 600 people applied for that series of Video Diaries, which is nothing compared to what Big Brother gets, but back then it was huge. And we were in the top seven. At the same time as that happened, various teenagers had applied, so they decided to turn it into Teenage Video Diaries.
So how long did it take to make In Bed With Chris Needham?
We started at the end of October ’91, and finished on the second week in February ’92. Three and a half months. And we filmed everything. Steve came up from London with the camera, showed us how to work it, gave us a contact number and a load of tapes, and said “Go and film, and let’s see what happens”. I’ve got 53 hours of videotape at home. And if you think that’s bad, we were the second shortest. There was a Jewish lad in the series, and his took 120 hours. Ours seemed to develop organically – I asked Steve how he managed to plan it out, and he said he had to fill a book with timecoded details of every tape, and he underlined every major plot development. He was the storyteller, and I provided the raw material.
What was going through your mind when you started filming?
When I initially got that letter, the first thought was; “I’m going to be on the telly”. The strange thing was, cameras had only just come out then. I’d had a go on one at school, and that, but people were still reticent around them. I often think that if I’d made it today, the attitude off people would be a lot different. That’s what makes it a bit more natural.
How easy was it to rope other people into the video diary?
It was easy to get me friends in, eventually. They didn’t believe it was actually happening at first. We were all mental anyway – we used to record our own comedy shows on audiotape when we were kids, and we were into the Goons and Victor Lewis-Smith.
So what did you expect from the diary?
No expectations whatsoever. I was 17 years old, for fuck’s sake!
What was the state of play with Manslaughter before filming started?
Manslaughter didn’t even exist, as such. It was just an idea. Kev (Waine) was the first guy I’d seen up-close playing a guitar well. Y’know, properly. I’d had a guitar for two years, and I never had a lesson in my life – I used to sit in my bedroom for hours on end every night like a typical teenage Metal freak, playing along to records. And I was useless. I was rubbish. And then I met Kev down the park when I was 16, we shared a love of Iron Maiden, Metallica and Slayer, and he took guitar lessons. So every Saturday, after he had his lesson, he’d come over and show me what his guitar teacher had taught him. So I was getting everything second-hand. When the chance to do the video diary came along, I told the BBC that I was putting a band together. Which was a complete lie – all I knew was Kev. And they said “Hm, that sounds interesting”. Boy, did that turn out to be the understatement of the year. And so began one of the finest, craziest, maddest, saddest, baddest periods of my life.
So without the video diary, there wouldn’t have been a Manslaughter?
Well, Martin Piggins – my bass player who became my drummer - asked me that the other day. And I said possibly not. And then he said “Would you have ended up in a band?” and I said yes. I would have done it regardless sooner or later when I was a teenager, with or without a video camera.
So what level of editorial control did you really have?
Total control. But we didn’t know. The only thing I insisted on going in was a bit of that Obesity Challenge thing. That was it. As far as we were concerned, that was the best bit of the whole programme. The only bit I demanded they take out was when I was so upset at one point that I smashed the camera off the tripod and broke it. I’d had a really bad day with my girlfriend, and I was trying to use the camera as a sounding board, and it just wasn’t working, and I jumped off the chair and whacked it across the room.
How did you explain that to the BBC?
I said to Steve; “I’ve broke your camera”, and he said “What? Why?” and I explained to him, and said I was very sorry and if he wanted me to stop videoing, I’ll stop videoing now. And he went “That’s not a problem”. Steve ended up being my confidante, my psychoanalyst, my valet, my money-lender, and even played in our band at one point.
Why don’t we see your Mam and Dad?
Because I gave in to their wishes. They didn’t want to be on it. My Mum didn’t mind, but my Dad really didn’t want to be on it. I was actually talking to my Dad about it the other day, and he said “It looks like you’ve got no parents, and we don’t love you”, and I said “Look Dad, you didn’t want to be on it”. The only sequence of them I got was when we were walking home from Loughborough through the car park, and we spot me Dad’s Escort, and while I’m talking to camera he comes into view with my little brother on his shoulders, and he says; “Switch that fookin’ thing off right nah!”
What were your Mam and Dad doing at the time?
Me Mum was working as a cleaner, and Dad was a long-distance lorry driver.
Out of the 51 hours and ten minutes of film that didn’t make it, what bits do you wish were in the final programme?
More of the funny stuff, if you want the truth. I’ve only recently realised how clever and funny the editing was. I saw the scene the other day when I was genuinely pissed off, fed up with the band, I’d had a bad day at college, I’d had a row with my girlfriend, and I came in and said “It doesn’t seem to me like this band is coming together, which is going to make for one crap video diary. And you must be sitting there thinking, well, why doesn’t he get off his arse and do summat about it.” And it cuts straight to me going fishing! It’s like, I’ve got a problem with me band, so what do I do? Go fishing!
Like Roger Daltrey…
Or Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden! Big fisherman!
You get the feeling that the BBC staff really enjoyed putting it together…
They really invested the time into it. Me and Steve stayed friends for a long time afterwards. The last time I spoke to him was just before my 21st birthday, which was four years after. The really Rock n’ Roll bit of the diary was when Manslaughter were coming down for editing, and stopping in hotels. And we’re thinking; we’re on tour. We’re on The Road. (rubs hands together) What vice shall we choose tonight? And there’s me with me Megadeth t-shirt on and me jeans ripped to shit, walking into these plush fucking bars with businessmen and upmarket pros everywhere, sticking out a spare prick at a wedding. And then, we discovered the mini-bar. And emptied it. Me and Greg. £150, when £150 was a lot of money. And we were told by the BBC that next time, they’d put a limit on it. I was 17 and Greg was 16, remember. We didn’t know any better. We just thought, ah, they can afford it.
I can’t imagine today’s BBC being as lavish with their Reality talent.
Bob Long, who was the head Producer - some of us actually stayed on his houseboat on the Thames afterwards, because he knew we liked fishing. He paid for everything for us that weekend – he got the beer in, we fished off his boat trying for pike, and he paid for our train tickets. And he didn’t have to do that. The programme was done. And then, when they upgraded all their equipment, they actually gave us a video camera. Bob Long rang me up and said, do you want one? I was like, yeah! Two grand, state-of-the-art camera!
So did you get paid for it?
Yes, I did. £500 for the first screening, and £500 for the repeat, when it was on that Def 2 thing.
Did you see it before it was screened on TV?
The only thing I really saw was the Manslaughter concert in full. And that was stunning. That was fantastic. I’m sitting there watching us play, and I’m thinking, God, we’re good. We. Are. Good. God, was I naïve!
So you really believed in Manslaughter?
The whole point is, when we get older, you forget what it’s like to have that fire coursing through your veins when you were 17. Y’know, you were playing in bands. You believed with your whole heart that you gonna be in one of the greatest Rock bands in the world. There was nothing to stop you, there was no limit to your imagination, and the world was in front of you. And I was fortunate enough – or unfortunate enough, depending on your point of view – to present myself to the world at a time when I truly believed that I was good enough to be a world-class Rock star, and that was gonna be my life. College doesn’t matter. Girls are gonna be easy and cheap, because I’ll be a Rock star, money’ll come rolling in, and…it’s just an inevitability. And you forget that feeling when you’re older.
Was the gig in the college hall really your debut?
Yes, it was. But what you didn’t see was that there was a full revue on that we didn’t know about. We were promised two hours rehearsal before the gig, but the school thought it was a good idea to entertain the fucking Third Year, and they wheel a fucking grand piano out. And I’m thinking, fucking hell - we’re not doing Bohemian Rhapsody, are we? We were supposed to have two hours! Nobody else! In the end, we did four songs with four different drummers – we started with We Will Rock You with Andrew – and he couldn’t get the beat right on even that – Sweet Child O’ Mine, and an AC/DC trilogy - Night Prowler, Highway To Hell, and You Shook Me All Night Long.
Were there any manufactured elements to the documentary?
No, it was all real. The only manufactured element, if you can call it that, was Steve giving me a target for the day’s filming. The scene where I interview those girls on the bench? Steve was with me on that day, and he suggested I pretend I was doing a survey. Other times we’d talk on the phone, and he’d say “We’ve got this tape, thank you very much – now can you do this?” But all the stuff with the band was real. It would have happened if there was a camera there or not. There were no scripts, no bollocks, no playing up to the camera other than the usual stuff that teenage kids did. When I was chatting to the camera, I was chatting to Greg, my best mate. It was real Reality TV.
But did you ever worry during the filming that the BBC were steering you into being something you weren’t?
No, I didn’t give it a second thought. The excitement of the whole thing just carried me along.
So what bits would you have taken out, given the benefit of hindsight?
I wish I could have taken out the stuff that was really hurting me at the time. The bits where I was really upset, when I was in bed being a ‘moral preacher’. I still get people flaming me online about it, and they don’t know what they’re talking about. That was real. That wasn’t an affectation. I was hurting. I had a lot of problems inside of me, and they lasted a long time after the video diary, I can tell you. The video diary didn’t start them, and it didn’t finish ‘em. I was using that camera on my own as a confidant. I shouldn’t have done it, and some bits were too personal. I can look at it now, and say “You were really hurting there, Chris”.
So where were you that night when it was finally broadcast?
At home, with all my family, all the band, our other mates…standing room only. We got a load of cans in, all the girls made food, and we sat and watched it. Everything else I could watch, apart from the scene with Jane, because we’d just split up and it was still raw. I wanted her back. Typical teenage pining. Everyone else in the band had a girlfriend, and I didn’t, and then the caption ‘Jane: Girlfriend’ came up with me and her on the bed, and I walked out the room. I sat on the stairs with a can of Heineken when it was 3% alcohol, and then I came back in.
That’s funny, because in the diary, the two of you don’t seem that massively into each other.
It hurt me more than I ever knew. We all have that girl who we think is The One. I was in love. We went out for six and a half months, and when you’re 17, that’s as permanent as it gets. I thought she was The One, and now I know she wasn’t The One, and I’m glad she wasn’t The One, but at the time I was fucked. I was like the Metal version of Rob in High Fidelity – I lost the plot, the picture, the lights, the exit signs, the popcorn, everything.
Do you think the diary had something to do with the break-up?
She didn’t want to get on camera and I had to twist her arm. I was fortunate to get her on camera when I did. I’d already spoken about her, and the BBC asked for footage, so I had to. She really didn’t like it. And yeah, I do regret it a bit. It didn’t seem fair on her. Anyway, when it was done, my Mum gave me a hug and a kiss, and so did my Dad, and they said they were proud of me. My mates all thought it was hysterical, especially the Maiden Minute (the fast cuts of Chris and mates pissing about). It took them about 44 hours to do 60 seconds of TV, and the editing was so crack on. It’s brilliant!
After the diary was screened, what reaction did you get from people in Loughborough ?
Well, the people round Loughborough knew me anyway, so there was no comeback from them. It was at home where people gave me grief, because I’ve never actually lived in Loughborough – I’ve always lived in Sileby, which is a village seven miles away. I got a lot of shit from the trendies – I ended up having a fight with a couple of blokes who were taking the piss, but it was small-town jealousy. I’d done summat that was way beyond anything that they could ever do. I still see one bloke in the pub who’s a right pisshead, and he always says; “You were that bloke who wor off The Word, want yer?” like Terry the Geezer off that Streets track.
Tell us about the Lawnmower Deth gig at the Marquee, after the show…
Well, I was working a summer job at a local warehouse, and had had an accident when I fractured me wrist after three tons of steel trolleys shifted in a van. How I didn’t lose this hand, I’ll never know. So I come out of A&E with me hand in a sling and me Mum going bananas, and I get a phone call from someone saying they were Pete from Nottingham. Pete Lee, of Lawnmower Deth. He said, “Hello Chris, you might not know me, but you might know my stage name, which is Qualcast Mutilator”. I went “I KNOW YOU! Is this a wind-up? Is that you, Gav?” Then he said that they’d watched the video diary and loved it, and wondered if Manslaughter would support them in London. I ended up meeting him, and sent me a pre-copy of Return Of The Metal Bozo Clowns, which is a great album. Egg Sandwich. Fuckin’ brilliant. Then he phoned up and said “The venue’s been changed. We’re doing the Marquee”. And I thought “Fucking hell. We’re doing the Marquee. We’re doing the Marquee, we’re doing the fucking Marquee. The Marquee Club, London. Manslaughter!” I couldn’t put the two things together!
When we did the soundcheck, we were planning to play four of our own songs – Only Wanna Rock, I Don’t Want To Save The World, Youth Dying, and a song called Manslaughter – which was our Iron Maiden by Iron Maiden – and it was just horrible. And Martin said “No way are we playing that”. So when push comes to shove, what do we end up playing? Highway To Hell. In front of 600 Thrashers! I mean, the big brass bollocks we had to do that! Come ON!
I’ll always remember going on stage, because the hamster wheel in my brain was going; I’m onstage at the Marquee! I’m onstage at the Marquee! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! And then I just gulped, and the fear was gone. It was like coming home, as The Scorpions famously quoted. I knew there were gonna be people there who didn’t like me, but I didn’t care. We were there for comedy value, let’s face it, but then again so were the headliners, but they could play. And by that time, so could we. And by the end, I was looking at the wings and I saw all of Lawnmower Deth going (headbangs). Whether they were tekkin’ the piss or not, I don’t care. This was my stage. I own this stage. No fucker follows me. I was throwing the mike about, I’m hanging off the speaker stack…that was the fire. Once you’re up there, the world goes away. That’s my playroom.
So what happened to Manslaughter?
We actually filmed our second gig on college equipment, as a right to reply, and it was a massacre. We were shit-hot. And we sent the master to the BBC, but we never got it back. And I wish we still had it, because it was the first time we played original material. And we were getting good. We’d done the local tour circuit, and people would turn up who’d seen the diary, expecting a freakshow. Which was understandable. But we’d done our own songs, Martin had become a really good drummer, Gavin was already good anyway, Kev had got himself a BC Rich guitar and was learning to play, and I was just me. But I just had an artistic temperament at the time, and I was a nutter. If one little thing went wrong at a gig, I would just focus on that and not the plaudits.
I’ll give you one example of my Axl Rose syndrome; New Years Eve 1993, we were all in the pub celebrating in our usual inimitable Metal style, and I was pissed as a parrot. And I kicked off at my poor guitarist Mr Waine, and to quote/unquote; “If the first song You Shook Me All Night Long didn’t ‘feel right’, I was going to walk offstage”. He had to deal with me in my full-on, pissed-up, complete arrogant, pretentious frontman mode – “I’m fed up with this, I’m fed up with that, and where’s my fucking blue M&Ms and reh reh reh”. Next morning he comes up and says “I was that close to punching you out, you fucking wanker, and the next time you do it I will”. Did the documentary have something to do with that arrogance? I think it did.
By the end, I saw that there was a serpent in my Metal Garden of Eden, in the shape of Paul Frost (‘Greb’, original Manslaughter vocalist, he of the pierced nipples and rottweiler called Pagan). He ended up playing with Kev and Martin in a band called Epitaph. They wanted to play heavier music, and got fed up of playing AC/DC covers. And I wonder now, why wasn’t I able to meet them halfway?
After Manslaughter, I did a solo album, because I wanted to indulge my Dylan fantasies. I saved up eighty-odd quid, went round to Beatroute – Loughborough’s cheapest demo studio! – and cut some songs that were a bit Dylanesque. I was trying to do my Bringing It All Back Home; half electric, half acoustic. Actually, I was getting the demons of Jane out my system. When you hear writers saying “I wrote my way sane”, I can understand that. After I recorded these eight tracks, it dawned on me that five of them were about what I had with her. I could have called it The Jane Album.
By the time the documentary was coming out, of course, all those people on your bedroom wall were being swept away by Grunge…
I always think that was kind of funny. The best bands that came out of that were Alice In Chains, who were just Black Sabbath. And Black Sabbath are Heavy Metal. They invented Heavy Metal, even through they’re embarrassed to say so. And Soundgarden, who I loved. But I was thinking, what’s Grunge about this? And people started saying that Black Sabbath were Grunge! No they weren’t! The beginning, ending and be-all of Heavy Metal is the first track, side one, Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath – It’s got the down-key, the rain, the funeral toll, the time change, the vocalist wailing away in that Warlock style, the guitar solo – that is Heavy Metal! And everything else that came after was just an interpretation. And then Judas Priest came along and turned it from being ploddy to being fast.
Nirvana? They were just a perfectly pleasant band to me. They were nothing special to me. I couldn’t believe they were being feted as the saviours of Rock n’ Roll. Smells Like Teen Spirit is a universal track, and Territorial Pissings is my favourite Nirvana track. I could see why the Kids were fed up of the Motley Crues and the Ratts and the Poisons of the world, but I couldn’t see why Maiden and Priest had to suffer for just sticking to their guns. What stuck in my craw and does to this day was how the rock media turned. They were dissing all the bands that enabled them to earn their money and their bread! You’ve been feting these bands for donkey’s years! You wouldn’t be in existence if it wasn’t for these bands, and suddenly they’re all shit? You two-faced motherfuckers! So I stopped buying Kerrang. There also used to be this magazine called Raw. They hated me. They did a review of the Marquee gig, and they called me a bastard. Total character assassination. But they tried to cross over and become a Britpop magazine, and it lasted four issues before it disappeared up its own arse. Who’s here still beating ‘em fucking raw? Who’s here still fucking winning, fighting for Metal? Never surrendered!
But the thing is, every once in a while Rock music needs an enema to clear the shit. By the end even I was getting fed up of all the Hair Metal shit. They were just Pop songs with guitars, but that’s all Nirvana were doing. And let’s be honest, there was a lot of shit. Pearl Jam were fucking rubbish. The best thing that Grunge did was that it forced Heavy Metal underground again. It needed that purge in itself to find out who the real deal was.
So what do you think about Motörhead and Maiden t-shirts in Top Shop?
Don’t get me started on that. Part of me thinks it’s great, if the people wearing them actually check it out. But I know they won’t, because to them it’s like a fashion accessory. And I feel like grabbing hold of them and going “HOW MANY FUCKING MOTORHEAD ALBUMS DO YOU OWN? NAME ME ONE SONG OTHER THAN ACE OF SPADES BY MOTORHEAD! NAME ME FIVE IRON MAIDEN ALBUMS! NOWWWWW!” I know it’s their registered trademark and they’re getting paid, but as a Metal fan who loves Maiden and Motorhead who saw them recently – I’m not one of those old bastards who go “Oh yeah, I saw them on the Number Of The Beast tour”, I still go out and see these bands because I love them – it pisses me off.
The East Midlands is a proper Metal heartland, isn’t it?
The whole Midlands is, especially the West. Half of Led Zeppelin came from there, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest…it relates to heavy industry. We’re never happy where we are and the grass is always greener, but I like to think that I live in an area of the world that’s not 30 miles away from the birthplace of one of the greatest musical styles ever. We invented it. Don’t let the Yanks tell you any different. Heavy Metal was invented by the British, specifically the English Midlands British. I know I get all holy about it, and I’m not exactly a Little Englander, but I will argue vehemently with any American who says, no, we did it first with Blue Cheer and Iron Butterfly. Fuck Blue Cheer and Iron Butterfly!
Did you ever feel that you’d ever leave the East Midlands?
I dunno. I still might leave tomorrow. But when you get older, your mind gets set, doesn’t it? And life throws things at you. I’m with a girl who I met three years ago, and we’re as semi-permanent as it gets. Those things tend to tie you down.
But you were a very articulate lad back then. Did you not think about going to Uni?
Well, I spent nine months at Loughborough College doing a City & Guilds in Radio Media. Problem was, my course was null and void by the time I’d finished it. I was trained in Uher reel-to-reel machines, but by the time I finished the course they were being phased out! So I trained in a course that was obsolete already!
One of your most famous quotes in the documentary was when you said that Youth was a damned culture. So what do you think about the youth of today?
They’re enjoying themselves, having a good time...that’s all that matters, isn’t it?
You don’t think they’re a bit more dangerous than our generation?
I think they’re more of a danger to themselves more than anyone else, with their own apathy. I’m not bigging up myself, but it strikes me that the more intelligent kids – the artistic, articulate ones – tend to be into Rock music, or become Goths, or whatever else. They seem to be into the dark side, or whatever it is, I guess. And the ignorant, vacuous, violent ones tend to come from the mainstream. It’s still a damned culture, but they’re damning themselves. Yes, all they want to do is get their ends away, taking as many drugs as you can and have a good time, which is what I did and is what Rock n’ Roll is about, but it’s the unfocused hatred that gets me. You go into Nottingham city centre on a Friday night, and it’s like the Last Days of fucking Rome!
We prefer the term ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’.
It is! You’re right! I was reading this article in the paper about teenage girls drinking 1200% more than the previous generation, and I’m thinking; is this the only way they can express their complete lack of respect for the world they live in? To get blind drunk? And this has been going on for ages. And that girl who was stamped to death by those trendies in Rochdale because she was a Goth? Is this the way it’s going? Remember when you were that age and you’d always know one or two people who were out-and-out nutters who’d kick off over nothing? It seems like entire city centres have been taken over by those people! And you get these eight or nine year-olds on bikes taking the piss out of you in the street. What’s that all about? Sorry to sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but where are their parents? When I was that age I had a Swallows and Amazons childhood. I’d used to play in the brook with my mates, not bothering anyone, and then I’d get called in for me tea. There’s kids running around now with fags in their pockets. They’ve probably got knives in their pockets, for fuck’s sake. We were brought up to respect people. To treat people as you’d want to be treated. Were we wrong?Was is us who were wrong? Should we have acted like them?
When I was growing up, I always had that teenage rebellion, lack-of-respect thing, but it was a healthy one. Me parents telling me to turn the music down? Fuck off! WHAM! Piss off! “Fookin’ switch your guitar off!” FUCK OFF! BRANNNGGG! That’s healthy teenage rebellion! I didn’t turn round to me parents and fucking threaten them with a knife! Is it their escape from the shittiness of this country? Is it they’re just thinking they’ll make hay while the sun shines, because they don’t want to live anymore? Is it their suicide pact? Personally, I hope they call kill each other one by one. Or, as Terry Pratchett suggested, they should empty Birmingham, get in all the Chav idiots and the wannabe Gangsta motherfuckers and all the fucking idiots from fucking 12 to fucking 18, barricade it up, like Escape From New York, occasionally throw in a scrap of food and a bottle of alcopops, and let’s leave ‘em to do what they do best and let ‘em live off each other.
Very important question now – was the mystery of the missing condoms ever resolved?
No! Never! I honestly didn’t know where they’d gone! That was an absolute gem for the editors, because even though I thought it was funny at the time, I was still thinking “I’m in deep shit here!” There are bits in the diary that I can see why people found funny, and that was one of them.
You spoke of a dream of seeing a fairly big gravestone with your name and ‘June 1992’ written on it. How did you feel when that month actually arrived?
Very apprehensive. But I look back now and see that it actually related to the time of the video diary screening, in the same month. A part of my life had been done, and I was moving on to something else, and I was worried what people would think, especially my family. Even though it was on BBC2. But 2.2 million people watched it, and I was really shocked by that. And there’s a part of me that cannot believe that so many people still have it on video and online 16 years later.
Have you ever worn a suit? (Chris famously said one only wears a suit for two reasons, getting married and dying, which were the same thing)
I had one in 1994. I only wore it once, for a job interview. And I still had my hair this big! I’ve dressed smart since every now and then for various family occasions when you have to make an effort, but I’ve never worn a suit since. I’ve always said that if I ever got married – which I’m never going to do, by the way – it’d be denim, leather and a t-shirt, and I’d have an iPod or an old Walkman, headphones in, and I’d make sure I had some decent tunes on while I was standing at the altar.
When did you lose that outstanding mullet?
I actually had to cut it two summers ago, because I still go fishing and I got bitten to shit by fucking midges, the little cunts. They’re like flying teeth round here! I ended up with a really bad heat-rash and me head was like the surface of the moon – bleeding, scratching, itching…it was awful. I dunno if it had something to do with me being diabetic, because I was diagnosed with that four years ago. I’m only type two, fortunately, so I’ve never had a problem with it. I was also going grey by the time I was 24 an’all, which is well sad!
OK, the Where Are They Now bit. Martin Piggins…
He’s studying to be a tree surgeon, and just about to pass his test. He’ll be licensed to legally operate a chainsaw! My drummer! He got disenchanted with it when Grunge came along, and became a Drum and Bass DJ – all these tunes that sounded like kicking a drum machine around a studio, which I loved to listen to because it’s the funniest music I’ve ever heard! Then I got him into Dylan, who is one of my icons along with Hendrix, and then I got him into Led Zep II, and he came back.
Saw him the other week. He’s still playing in bands, and done loads of temporary jobs. He’s the one out of all of us who really wanted Manslaughter to work out. Gav Skinner to me is a lovely guy in small doses, but he never really felt part of the crew because he came in later on, and we all knew each other – but he’s the one I’m closest to now. I really wanted the band to work out just for him, because he was the best member of Manslaughter. He was my Jimmy Page and I was his Robert Plant.
But wasn’t he a bit of Stone Roses lad with his paisley shirt and curtain haircut?
I know! That was weird! But you looked at his record collection and it was 90% Deep Purple family tree! Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Dio and various offshoots – and all vinyl!
He’s good, actually. He’s a lorry driver now. He’s the same old Greg. We’re all still fishing friends, we still go drinking – even though he’s given up the booze.
Dunno. The last time I saw him was Donington 1996.
I’ve not heard anything from him for the past 18 months, but we was working in as a hospital engineer, repairing stuff. But he could be doing anything now. Except drumming, ha ha!
He got completely disenchanted with Metal and became a fully-on Es-and-whizz clubber. But he needed it. They all needed to purge their lives post-Manslaughter, and they needed to get away from me. I look back on it now with an adult’s eye, and I don’t blame them, because they needed that change. But I didn’t. We were all still friends, but we didn’t run so tightly anymore because we all had to grow as people. But if you told me while we were making the diary that my axeman would be up on a podium with his shirt off a few years later, I wouldn’t have believed you!
He always seemed to be the softy-spoken Marillion fan.
He was actually the softly-spoken Deicide fan. But he cut his hair, got a job as a welder, passed all his exams and became a proper grafter. And then Chris comes back into his life and says ‘you’ve got to listen to this band’, and he dusted off his old records and came back to Metal. And my brother became his drummer…
Ah yes, Jon Needham, Britain’s Youngest Thrash Metal Fan…
…who is now 24, and one of Britain’s best undiscovered Thrash Metal drummers. Him and Kev formed a band, and used to follow them round as their Road Crew Chief and No.1 fan. They had a guitarist called Mike Ranzetta who reminded me of myself at that age, except he was a lot more talented! He could do all the Zac Wilde widdly-widdly fretwork, and he ended up in a band called – have you ever heard of a band called Gutworm?
Well they’re a proper label and everything band now. But my brother ended up contracting cancer when he was 9, and he had to go in for a six and a half hour operation where they removed a gland and muscle tissue from his neck and put 140 stitches in his head. He was in hospital for a month. He was the youngest person ever have that cancer, and there isn’t a day that goes by when try not to think about the alternative. It was the most humbling, upsetting experience of my life. Me and my Mum and Dad used to do shifts at the hospital. And two days after the operation – two days! – he was on a morphine drip, nine drains in him, 150 stiches, big line of staples up his neck, and he’s sitting up in bed with me playing Sonic The Hedgehog! Two days! Even the doctors couldn’t believe it! He’s now in a band called Fall of Jupiter. and working for a recycling company - which is hateful seeing as I fucking hate the fucking Green movement…
Ah, yes. You kicked off about that in the diary (Chris famously said that he’d sooner see the world burn and ‘all you Greens burn with it’ than be preached to about Global Warming)…
Well, I saw a comment on YouTube the other day that said “God, if he didn’t like the Green movement then, he must be apoplectic now.” YES I AM, ACTUALLY! IT’S ALL BULLSHIT! These people can’t understand about the dynamics of the world we live in. This planet has been here for four billion years. Full stop. The atmosphere that we’re breathing today, that’s enabled us to come out on this lovely sunny day, would have been poison to previous Earth-dwelling lifeforms. Right? We’re getting all this Save This, Save That, Save The Other bollocks. No! Save ourselves first. The planet will take care of itself. It’s been here a long, long time, yeah? It’s a big machine, it does what it does, and it’ll outlast us. The world’ll still be turning when you’re gone – Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath – and what we’ve done is squandered our resources. Why do you think we fight these wars in the Middle East? Tell us the truth, Mr Bush! Tell us the truth, Mr Brown! We’re fighting these wars because you need oil to run your cars! You need oil to fire up your power stations! You need oil to run your Capitalist system! I’m not a Communist or anything else, but that’s what the boys and girls are dying for in the Middle East – so that we can maintain our lifestyle. Why are we spending so much money on fighting wars with each other like ants over the last of the picnic? Why don’t they invest the money in finding new energy sources, or if they can’t do that, spend the money on space programmes that will get us off this fucking rock. Simple as that. ‘Cos if it’s going to be as bad as the doom-mongers are making out, we need to be somewhere else so we can breathe.
The Green movement seems to be as omnipresent now as it was then, if not more so…
…and it’s just “Oh, is this gonna make me look cool in front of girls who like fluffy bunny rabbits? It will? I’ll pretend I’m a caring guy, then.” Fuck you! I eat meat, I smoke like a train, I drink fucking beer, and I fuck like a jackhammer! So…deal with it, alright? As for politicians jumping on the Green bandwagon…to me, that’s as bad as kissing babies. “I am a caring guy and I do appreciate what’s going on” No, you’re doing it to make you look good with the voters, because suddenly it’s a big thing! And the twats who are of voting age go “Oh, they’re good people, aren’t they?” Wankers! I like to think I was part of the backlash against the Green movement before there even was one.
You mentioned in the video diary that you’d come up with solutions to the global warming crisis, but you weren’t prepared to divulge them. What were they?
Well, we all know that ozone is a pollutant on this planet, right? And rivers produce it as a by-product. Having sat by numerous rivers for too many years, I can tell the smell of it coming off a weir pool. And there’s great amounts of it on this planet. All you’d need to sort out the ozone layer is a chemical reaction, right? My idea was a simple one; you can load a big fuck-off rocket with ozone – which’d also get rid of the nuclear weapons – shoot it up there and use it to hold the ozone layer together. In the same way that you can seed clouds. It’s a layman’s theory, and I know it sounds shit, even when I’m saying it now. But it’d work. Ozone-seeding. Whether it’d work or not would be up to the people in white coats. And I don’t mean the mental people.
So what happened to Jane?
She’s had a tough life. She moved back to the village very recently, with her new husband. I went out with her with my girlfriend in the pub, when I was doing karaoke.
What’s your karaoke song?
Anything Metal. The other week I did Two Minutes To Midnight by Maiden, Poison by Alice Cooper – which is my girlfriend’s nickname – someone asked me to duet on Here I Go Again by Whitesnake, and Life On Mars by Bowie. I’m the only guy who’s ever – ever – done Master Of Puppets by Metallica on karaoke. All eight minutes and thirty-eight seconds of it. COME ON!
We have a pub in Notts that does live Rock karaoke…
Oh, I would love to do that. That would be so good.
Music still seems to play a huge part in your life.
Music is always on at our house, whether it’s my brother’s girlfriend listening to Leftfield, my Mum listening to Elvis, my Dad listening to Dylan, or me with Priest on or my girlfriend with her Metallica DVD. Music has always been there for me. My first conscious decision with music was when I heard Back In Black by AC/DC, and I was sold. AC/DC always were, are, and will be the greatest Rock n’ Roll band in the world. Nobody’ll beat ‘em. Fuck your Stones, fuck your Beatles, fuck all your White Stripes and all your new fuckin’ bollocks. AC/DC are your greatest Rock n’ Roll band ever, Bon Scott first and then Brian.
Best Metal band in the world…you flip your coin between Slayer or Judas Priest. And then chuck in Iron Maiden, and everything else follows. Oh, and can I say one thing to your readers? Never take speed at a Slayer concert. I saw them in Wolverhampton, and my heart didn’t slow back to normal when the bus pulled in at Leicester…
I can still grab onto that fire if I want to. I know it sounds like a holy quest of Metal and a lost cause, but it’s not. It’s bigger than that. Without music in your life, life becomes dull. Whatever kind of music. For me it’s Metal and Rock. For you, it could be something else. But it’s bigger than a just a job, or just a relationship. It’s something that’s uniquely yours. And it means you’re not dead yet.
I’m 34 this year, and when you get to that age, it’s difficult to grasp onto that feeling. Not impossible for me, because I still believe in Metal and Rock music as much as I ever did. I’m not a nutter about it any more – I’m dangerous enough, but I’m not nutty about it. I know its place in my life, I can still write and play whenever I want to, but I’m not dangerously nutty about it.
What’s the most Rock n’ Roll thing you’ve ever done?
I’ve done loads of Rock n’ Roll things. I think the best was in bed with two girls and a bottle of Jack Daniels, playing AC/DC. I actually appeared onstage with Iron Maiden – Fear Of The Dark tour – when I did a week’s work experience at the BBC. I managed to get two backstage passes, because they’d seen the programme and loved it. Interviewed Nicko McBrain on camera. Great bunch of lads, but for those of you who know your Maiden lore, that was the point when Bruce Dickinson was leaving, and there was some not too good vibes backstage. When the gig started, I was told I could film the first three songs, and then be ready for a surprise. And I knew they were going to play Heaven Can Wait – the song where they let people onstage to sing along with Maiden. And there’s me, standing next to Steve Harris, in front of 17,000 Metalheads at the NEC! That was a teenage Metal fan’s dream come true.
What do you regret most about doing the diary?
There is a part of me that feels sometimes that justice wasn’t done, in a commercial sense. Reality TV exists now whether you like it or you don’t and it’s all over the papers and you can watch it 24-7 if you’re that sad, and someone’s making a packet out of it, but when they use clips of the diary on other shows, they’re always short enough so they don’t have to pay me. And I’ve still got my integrity when they want to use clips. I was approached by Room 101 when they had Michael Parkinson on and he wanted to put being a teenager in there, and they wanted to use the clip of me being pissed off about the band and have me in the audience and the green room afterwards. And I said no, because there was enough of that teenage lad inside me to think no – they’re not laughing with me, they’re laughing at me. And I’m not having that. To be in that studio and see Parky and Paul Merton making jokes about me? Fuck that.
You have to admit that it’s a hilarious programme, though…
Well, I can accept people laughing at me if they don’t know me – if people think I’m a twat, then they think I’m a twat. I don’t care. I’m still here, I’m still living my life, I couldn’t give a fuck what you think. If you met me in real life you’d find I’m a completely different person to the one you think I am. Yes, I’ve got traits in me from that 17 year-old, of course I have – I still look like him, even though I’m bigger.
So if you could go back in time to that 17 year-old lad, what would you tell him?
Don’t worry. You’re going to get better on guitar. It will get better. And I’d like to think if I could go back and he could see me now, he’d be proud of me. Because I couldn’t play guitar, and I didn’t know how to sing, and now I do, simply because I’ve done it. I’ve grafted at it and shed blood, sweat and tears over it. I’ve got no natural talent, I’ve had to learn by doing it. If I could back to him sweating over that axe in the bedroom, I’d tell him, lighten up, man, because you’re still gonna be rocking at my age. You are gonna rock, and you are gonna live.
Your famous quote is “We were all teenagers once. Some of us always will be”. How much of you is still that teenager?
I’d say about 70% of me. There’s two teenagers inside me – the hardcore dangerous Metal fan, and the emotional dreamer who still wants to be that guy in a Rock band. And I know it’s never gonna happen now. I’ve passed my prime. Whenever the karaoke’s on, I put on a show. I hate people who just stand there and stare at the screen while they’re singing, looking like rabbits in headlights. When I do it, people come up to me and say “How can you do that without looking at the lyrics?” Because I live and breathe these songs. They dominate the part of my mind that should have concentrated on being a chartered accountant, and an upstanding member of society, and the part of my mind that’s the reason for me ending up a dole-wallah now and a warehouse op then. And you know what? I wouldn’t trade it for all the fucking world.
So how is Chris Needham nowadays?
Very fine, mate. Very fine.
You seem to be happier than I expected you to be.
Yeah, I am. It’s about knowing how things are and they way things have been, and I know how lucky I’ve been to have a loving family around me and my brother still here. The only person in the diary who isn’t here anymore is my Nan, Betty, who died in 2002. The first time I ever experienced proper grief in my life, because she lived three doors away from me all my life. She was like my other Mum. For 18 months after, I really did lose the plot. What got me back on the horse was CJB Inc, with my Dad and brother, doing a festival, and knowing I could go back on stage again. It was a big test for me being an adult. I suppose the next one would be having kids.
And is that going to happen?
Never. I’m proud to say that I’m never having children, As Ronnie James Dio famously said, I am the last in the line. I’m not bringing a child into this fucking mess. I’m too responsible. My girlfriend’s already had two kids, and I get on well with them. They like me and I like them. Before I came out my girlfriend said “Are you not going to have a shave, then?” and I said “Fuck off am I gonna have a shave. It’s Rock! It looks like I’ve been on the road for two days!”
So what do you want people to know about Chris Needham, 2008?
That I’m still Metal as fuck. And you can put that I did give the Metal Salute when I said that. I’m still Metal as FUCK and I make no apologies for it AT ALL. Because fucking no matter what comes, what goes, Metal’s always been here and it’s always gonna be here, and it not about trends or nothing else, it’s about just fucking Heavy fucking Metal. And by the way; when it came to Reality TV and Metal Frontman - Ozzy? You’re weren’t here first. But I’ll trade off Paranoid for you, alright?