Steve Coogan as Tommy Saxondale: interview

Ex-roadie Tommy Saxondale keeps his temper in check as he tells Time Out about mud-wrestling Spice Girls, the danger of raves and why there’s ‘more to the Dutch than sick porn’

  • Steve Coogan: interview | Alan Partridge on London

    More than just amp-lugging gorillas, there’s much to be gleaned from listening to the stories told by those undersung heroes of rock ’n’ roll: the road crew. It’s said that Noel Gallagher earned his anecdotal chops while he was on load out duty for the Inspiral Carpets; Lemmy studied roadies’ ability to operate under the influence; and Kurt Cobain perfected his screams when lifting heavy stuff for the The Melvins.

    With this in mind, then, Tommy Saxondale – a roadie turned licensed pest controller – is due some respect. He’s seen things that would make GG Allin’s hair go white, and he’s unravelled the mysteries of life with such rock titans as ELO and Curved Air. Given these experiences, his superior taste in music and a vast knowledge of ’70s prog rock and Rush albums (those released between 1976 and 1982 in particular), we thought it pertinent – while he was in TO to deal with a particularly truculent wasp – to ask Tommy to impart some of his musical wisdom and alert our younger readers to some new influences along the way.

    With Stevenage’s contribution to music limited to Fields Of Nephilim, you come into town for all of your rock thrills. For a place that’s so important to both you and prog, are there any songs about the capital you hold dear?

    ‘ “Baker Street Muse” by the mighty Tull. There’s a real rich timbre to Ian Anderson’s voice that I feel he lost when he started combing the oatmeal out of his beard. “The Camera Eye” by Rush, too. It’s a major sonic exploration of the cultural differences between Manhattan and London. I did a US haul with those dudes and I said, “You got a rep for being a bit wordy, guys. Maybe you should rename it ‘The Jap’s Eye’ for a giggle.” They looked a bit irritated, which is fair enough. I did say it most nights.’

    Your colleague at Stealth Pest Control is a young, indie-looking fellow named Raymond. Just how do Foals compare to the mind-bending prog power of Focus?

    ‘It’s for the kids, so leave them to enjoy it. Rule of thumb, if you can remember Live Aid you shouldn’t be swaying along to an indie band in a club full of teenagers. Or wearing trousers with pockets on the legs. Get yourself a pair of Dunlop Green Flash, a denim bomber and a bit of dignity. And stop making programmes for BBC3.’

    You still favour gigs by the old guard, then?

    ‘I caught Spock’s Beard at the Astoria. As this is Time Out I’m guessing you think that means I contracted a fungal disease in a nightclub. Not so. Google them. I didst also witness the plank-spanking visionary that is Jan Akkerman at the Half Moon Putney. Say what you like about the Dutch, but Akkerman’s fretwork reminds us there is so much more to these guys than sick porn and hippies. Transcendent stuff.’

    We are almost certain that we saw you on the telly, down the front at Led Zeppelin’s reunion gig last year. Was it you?

    ‘I got so into it I dropped my kecks and did a moony during “Kashmir”, for old time’s sake. Totally forgot I’d been wearing an abdominal truss since my hernia blew. Caused a bit of a reaction in the front row. Mainly nausea. You can’t go back. An old mate called me in to help out on the Spice Girls reunion. I heard there used to be a lot of tension between those chicks. I said, “Girls, I’ve done the whole anger management bit and you’ve got to process all that aggro in a productive way. I’ll get a paddling pool and some mud. You can duke it out in your scanties, quick hose down then all pals again. We’ll keep it civilised – Hoboken County Fair rules apply.” Talk about ingratitude. I don’t know why I bother. Quite a mouth on that redhead when she gets her dander up.’

    You’ve said you like the way ‘Eno can paint a picture with music’. What do you think of the modern electronica scene that he helped pioneer?

    ‘Like hard house? Rolf Harris gets Parkinson’s then gets his Stylophone out. I try to keep an open mind. Myself and my girlfriend Magz went to a rave in Kent. I’ve got to say, I was amazed to see Magz during a psy-Goa mix – just sat back on the grass, arms outstretched, eyes rolling like she was in a deep shamanistic trance. She’d actually taken a tumble and brought down an electric fence. Didn’t break the circuit, though. Poor chick was gurning away for 20 minutes before I realised she was asking for a hand up. I went to another club and the headliner was called Dark E. I’m all for reclaiming insults but I’m from the generation that fought ignorance and that was just offensive. I was like Jesus in the temple overturning the moneylenders’ tables. Turns out he’s a white guy from Belgium. I felt a bit self-conscious then.’

    Understanding the pressures of both the rock game and the pest-control business, how should London’s festival promoters deal with potential vibe-dampening pigeon infestations?

    ‘Your standard lead alloy hollow-point air pellet. Route one. I got a call from Foxtons – those dudes with the cracking little Minis you see. They were wanting a major cull. I said I could take down the bulk of them with my Walther PPK CO2 pistol, but if they were inside a Mini in heavy traffic, I couldn’t guarantee a clean shot. I didn’t get the job; didn’t care. But he said all pest controllers do that gag – that’s what stung. Problem in London is you get a hard time from protesters whenever you try to get shot of pigeons. I was proofing a building in Holborn and a bunch of them turned up. I told them this building was used by a group combating global warming and if it wasn’t cleaned up it was going to be taken over by a pro-blood sports group. They all started arguing among themselves, then one of them tried to strangle another one with his Palestinian-style headscarf. It was actually the office of Mothercare.’'Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters', Hammersmith Apollo, November 10-15. Coogan also stars in ‘Hamlet 2’, due to be released in early 2009.

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Steve Coogan: interview | Alan Partridge on London