Chris Wolstenholme - A Millers 'MUSE'ings - pt2

Last updated : 04 January 2010 By Bigrich.....

Didn't you actually break your wrist once whilst playing football against the Cooper Temple Clause?

Yeah, it was a f****** nightmare. Though it was a really good tour that one. It was The Cure's tour but they'd made a bit of a Festival of it (Ed - The Cure's Curiosa Festival Tour in 2004). We played on the second stage which was basically a small stage in the car park outside the Arena in the USA. So at the end of the night most of the bands/support bands used to get together and have a game of football.

We were really close with the Copper Temple Clause because we'd played gigs with them before in the past. You'd usually have enough for 7 or 8 a side, it was great. There was this one night when it got particularly aggressive and we were playing on a concrete gravel car park. Me and their guitarist went for a 50:50 ball and my feet went from under me on the gravel. Your reaction is usually to put your arms out, so I went down and I landed on my wrist.

I didn't really think I'd done anything - everyone came running over to check but I told 'em I was alright. I got up and carried on, played another 45 minutes and had a great game!! It wasn't until I'd got back to the Tour Bus that I got a beer out of the fridge, they have twist tops in the US and I tried to twist the top off but I had no strength in my wrist - it really hurt. But it still wasn't agony; I thought it was a bit of a sprain and that hopefully I'd be alright the day after. I went to bed on the Tour Bus as we travelled from Detroit to Chicago but woke up at 4am in f****** agony. I looked at my wrist and it was going blue. Everyone else was in bed and I was rummaging up and down the bus trying to find pain killers in someone's bag. Matt popped his head out from his bunk and asked what was wrong. So I told him that I thought I'd hurt my wrist pretty badly…..he just shook his head and closed his curtain, muttering 'for f*ck's sake'.

I woke up the next morning and I was just in agony. I couldn't move it at all, I'd got it wrapped in ice and basically I needed to get it to hospital as quickly as possible, BUT two of the tyres on the trailer that carried our gear had blown and we had to wait at the side of a motorway for four hours. So by the time I got to Chicago it was about 16 hours since I'd done it. Went to the hospital, still not thinking that I'd broken it….cos I'd never broken a bone in my body before!! He did an X-ray, the doctor thought that there was a little break, and his colleague confirmed it. He told me that it was the scafoid, the worst bone you could break, there are only 4 bones like that in your body, and the difficulty is something to do with the break cutting off the blood supply, thus stopping it from healing quickly. Everyone was saying that I was gonna be out for a long time, and that the rehab was slow. So that was that, the rest of that tour was cancelled, but the problem was that we were supposed to be headling the V Festival the following week. We got home, got a cast on and got Morgan Nicholls who plays keyboards with us now, to fill in. We knew him from a band he was in years ago. He did two shows, and the V Festivals - I played keyboards…….so depressing!
Actually Moz wrote something to me last night…. 'Chris was on stage playing a bontempi organ and doing backing vocals. His face was a picture. A bit like The Millers winning 3-0 in the FA Cup Final with 2 minutes to go, and then the other team scored 4.'
It was really that bad….we had a tour in Australia following on from 'V' and everyone was saying that I had to come and that we needed to show unity.

Weren't the lads pissed off with you?
They weren't pissed off. I kept saying sorry, but everyone kept saying that you can't go through life wrapping yourself in cotton wool. It wasn't like I was f****** bass-jumping or anything like that. Morgan came in; we didn't have much time to rehearse, only having 4 rehearsals before the shows. As a consequence they weren't great. But once the cast was on it stopped hurting cos it obviously couldn't move, it was just around my thumb so I could still move my fingers. We did a couple of festivals and I decided to do 4 songs, 4 of the easier songs and Morgan did the rest, but it unsettled the set a bit….it was weird, me coming off and then going back on. So Matt called up said, 'Look, I don't want to upset you but if you're gonna play you should play it all, if you can't play it all you should leave it to Morgan cos it's really unsettling, and it just doesn't look very good, y'know?'.

So I said to myself that I can't do a tour of Australia and watch someone else do what I'm supposed to be doing, it would be too depressing. So I went home, got all the albums out and I just played through every song. It wasn't too bad, so I phoned up and asked our Manager to phone the doctor to tell him that I was gonna play and to ask him if there would be a problem. The doctor said that it was fine and that if started to hurt to stop straight away, but that if it's not hurting it can't move
because it's in a cast.

How the hell do you stop 'straight away' in the middle of a gig??
Exactly, but it was a risk I was willing to take.

Did you ever have a fashionable Cortisone injection?
No I didn't no, I went on stage and it was alright. I mean I could play, I just had to put my bass right up here and look like one of those funk guys y'know. The worst thing about the cast was the smell though. I was going on stage sweating every night, but I couldn't wash my hand, wrist and arm. So when I used to get in a car, I had to hang my wrist out of the window. 'What's that smell?' they used to ask……. 'That'll be my arm!' I used to reply…. When I had the cast off, there was so much sweat under there that my arm was covered in this f****** yellow gunk and it was literally 5 days of scrubbing it and it still stank!!!

DB: All footy fans talk about the up front partnership for England, Rooney seems always to have said that Emile Heskey is his favourite support act in an England shirt so far. Given that you've been touring for quite a few years now, which if any has been your own favourite support act, and why?
CW: We had a band called The Exits who played with us in America, who were really really good. We did quite a few tours with them but unfortunately they split up, they didn't go on to do anything else but that tends to be the case with most of the bands.

SE: Do you mix with the support bands?
CW: Yeah, we haven't done so much on this tour because we're busy getting the production stuff ready, but in the early days it was a lot easier because you'd share dressing rooms and travel together a lot of the time, but they were really good, they kind of had a bit of a Police vibe about them, they were a 3 piece band - I really liked them.
Cooper Temple Clause were great guys to tour with and …

SE: I got their first album, and then they just seemed to fade away…

CW: Yeah, it was a bit of a shame, when we were touring in America, when I broke my wrist, I was chatting to the guys, and they were one of those, they got signed, and as happens with a lot of bands, the people that signed them got sacked, so the record company's stuck with a band they don't really like, and they don't feel attached to the band because they're not the people that brought them in. They were saying that at the end of that tour they were all going to go home and look for jobs because they weren't making enough money to survive just from touring, a real shame because I thought they were a great band. I mean, there's been a lot of really good bands that have played with us, the Exit were great, and Coldplay supported us back in the day, y'know, and then went on to be the hugest band in the world…

DB: Doesn't that sound great? Who've we seen supporting you - the Mercury award winners this last time around, Elbow?
CW: Elbow. Great band. Yeah, we toured with them a lot in the early days and then we did a few things with them last time around, I think

SE: That was one of my favourite gigs at Nottingham in 2003 on the Absolution tour. My knees still worked then, so …
CW: Yeah. Soulwax. I think Soulwax might actually be my favourite that have played with us overall. There's a really good scene in Belgium, and when we were growing up, there were bands like Deus, y'know, and there just seemed to be this really creative rock vibe in Belgium, so we ended up getting Soulwax to support us. They were friends with Deus, and obviously there was this hot vibe going on in Belgium. They were f****** brilliant, that was a really really good tour, and they were all small venues, when we were touring the first album - maybe nearly the second album - they were really good, that was a great tour.

DB: Well that's interesting, because on the other side of that equation, players and managers often justify their transfers by saying they want to test themselves against the best and see what they can learn. So, I reckon U2 are just about still the daddies of the business and so touring with them this year must have been 'interesting'! What, if anything, do you think you guys might have learned from them, if your support guys learned from you?
CW: The one thing that always amazes me with U2 is that they're the only band that I've ever seen that have aged well, y'know? There are bands that have been great in their day; bands like the Quo, and various others, bands that were great in their day but that I don't think have aged well. Actually I don't want to say that about Quo because I actually really like them …

SE: I was just about to say, I have heard rumours that they're your favourite band.

CW: Well they're not my favourite, but I was really into them as a kid, but I think they take way more stick than they deserve really. I think they were/are a good feel-good band and a great live band. But you know there were others, but I think there are a lot of bands from the 70s and 80s that still drag it out, and what they do seems really irrelevant to what's going on now. And I think U2 are the only band that… they come out and, they're in the forties I guess, and

SE: well we went to see Echo & The Bunnymen the other week and McCulloch's 50! I mean, this year's just been old bands getting back out there, and some of them are brilliant, but you call tell they're getting on a bit, I mean, they virtually had to carry Jon King (Gang of Four) off the stage because he was totally knackered.
CW: yeah, I think it'd be great to learn that from them (U2), y'know, always reinvent yourself and keep making music that's still relevant regardless of what age you are.

Because we saw U2 gigs where there were people who were clearly into them 30 years ago and really young people as well - I think that's a really hard thing to do because it's very easy to get caught up in the music you're brought up with and be constantly influenced by that. Even bands that I was really into at college ten years ago sound really f****** old now, really irrelevant and really in that decade still. I think U2 have done really well in getting out of that and each album they've done is relevant to the period its released in.

DB: Yes, I go back as far as the War tour, and Steve as far as the one before that, the 'Boy' tour, and I've seen them a few times since than, it's all new stuff and it's always still great.
SE : They were the finest live band I'd seen - not wanting to blow smoke up your arse - until I saw you guys and there's something about you guys that takes it a notch higher.

I started in 1978, ten years before you were born, y'know, but watching you guys is incredible. Part of it is the music but the other part of it is the show. I mean, I never thought I'd like an 'Arena' band, a band that does Wembley…
CW: Yeah, you have to raise your game when you play bigger places because obviously not everyone can see you

SE: Yeah, we could barely see you because we were on the half-way line at Wembley, and the sound was strange too, because it kept wafting.

CW: Yeah, they've got really low noise limits where as soon as you get below that volume the sound gets blown around really easily

DB : Well that's actually something I wanted to talk about, so following on directly from that, I know that this fella's been spotted in the prawn sandwich boxes at Premiership grounds in the past, but I reckon he still prefers the Tivoli. Whether that's anything to do with just the pies, or the place, or the atmosphere, I don't entirely know, but in terms of the venues that you guys play, I think its been an awful long way from where we first saw you, which was Leicester De Montfort Hall, in 2001, to being the first honest band to play Wembley, and I wondered if any of the three of you, or you personally, whether you miss occasionally playing those little 'sweat-dripping-off-the-walls' venues ?
CW: Oh yeah, all the time. It was really nice, before we started with this tour we did a few smaller gigs, little promotional things, one in Berlin, one in Paris in this place that doesn't normally do gigs, a really old-school theatre and they don't normally do concerts there…

SE: How did they publicise that? As Muse?
CW: Yeah, it was just like a little radio gig, going out on the day - it was just for radio competition winners and it was great. It was really nice to be back in that environment, because you can see everybody - you can make eye contact with everyone in the venue, and you can really see what the music's doing to people, whereas in a place like this (Birmingham NIA), visually its more impressive because there's nothing like seeing 10,000 people jumping up and down, but everybody kind of becomes one, y'know? Apart from the front row you can't really communicate with anyone outside of that but at the same time as well, there are certain songs that just work well in really big places. We tried to play United States of Eurasia in these really small places, and it doesn't work.

SE: Blackout, at Wembley, worked ever so well because you managed to get the trapeze artists out, and that's one of my favourite songs of all time. Suddenly there's these trapeze artists floating about above our heads and you think 'what the f*ck is going on?!'
DB: Well again, that's another point I wanted to come onto, because if you think back to that Wembley gig, some of your stage shows these days are starting to rival the opening ceremony for the Olympics, although thank God you haven't hired Boris Johnson as your MC just yet. What I'm interested to know is, what is your level of involvement in putting those shows together? I know you'll be putting all the music together and everything else, but in terms of the actual stage show, how it starts off and what kind of involvement do you have in that?

CW: It's pretty big. I mean, towards the end of the album making process, we'll start talking about the kind of thing we want to do. Obviously we have a lot of people around us, people that have worked with us a long time, like our lighting guy who'll have a lot of ideas, and we'll generally come up with some sort of an idea, or a theme, or something, and then with this tour, we actually outsourced to a lady called Es Devlin. She's done Take That, she's done Mica, and she's also done a lot of opera and stuff - we thought it'd be good to go with something that was a little more set-based on this tour, so we wanted to go with someone with experience, but obviously the initial concept and
the inspiration came from us. She'd come up with an idea, the initial idea we'd just rubbish purely because it would have cost way too much and we'd end up losing money on the tour. Then obviously we worked together to come up with something which kept the concept there, but didn't cost as much.

DB: Otherwise you end up being the Cooper Temple Clause!
CW: Yeah! So obviously there's a lot of ideas we have that get shot down because of health and safety and red tape. There was a lot of stuff we wanted to do at Wembley that we just weren't allowed to do, I mean we wanted to do a f****** huge chopper flyover with a massive balloon drop, and they wouldn't let us do it…

SE: You like balloons, don't you?! I thought that was brilliant when we went to De Montfort Hall, the red and white bits of paper in the balloons.
CW: Yeah, well we were thinking about the balloons. We've done it so much now; can we keep getting away with it? You can't think of anything else to replace that, y'know? An interaction with the crowd, something that looks that great and its just like, there is nothing else you can do.

DB: Or nothing else that isn't going to get red-taped out of the final version.
CW: Yeah, exactly, so we're pretty heavily involved in that before the tour. We have production rehearsals and then we sit down and we go through every song, and lots of different videos, plus we'll give a lot of video directors a bit of a brief as to what kind of video content we want. When it all comes in some of it's not very good, but some of it's good and obviously makes it into the show.

Then Tom, our friend who does the camera stuff, we work really closely with him and make sure he's getting all the right shots, so we go through it song-by-song, work on the video; then we go through it song-by-song again, working on the lighting cues, and all that, so we're all pretty in synch -
I think you have to be if you wanna get the show right and the way that you want it to be. You can't really trust anyone else to do it because if it's not what you want.....?

Yet at the same time you do have to trust some other people because you can't do everything yourself - there are some things that we obviously don't see because we see things from the perspective of the stage. There are some things that we think might be great but other people reckon that they just don't work'. It's all about getting everyone involved, brainstorming, getting their ideas out, and working together until you've got something that everybody's happy with.

DB: OK, so what you're saying is that you'll build a stage show around what will be the set list?
CW: Kind of, yeah. I mean we try and be a little bit flexible with the set list, but it has actually become a bit of a problem now, because the way the set list is structured at the minute, with the production and everything, it does have to be a bit consistent every night. We've got these lifts that move up and down, and the problem is that 20 years ago people didn't know any different, because people from Birmingham would go to the gig in Birmingham, and that's all they would see. Thirty gigs later you'll be in Stockholm or something, and that'll be the first time people have seen that show.

Nowadays, as soon as you've done the first show, the whole f****** lot's online and people are
expecting to see something different every night. We're assuming that the people we are playing to are seeing this for the first time - if you spoiled it by going on YouTube, that's not our fault!

SE: Well exactly, that's what I did the other day; I thought 'I wonder what Sheffield looked like'. So I've seen the opening. I've seen Uprising, but I've not told my mate here. It'll probably still blow the shit out of me, y'know. How far are you going to be able to take this? You can't take it all the way to Brazil, can you?

CW: Well, I mean usually when you go to South America or Asia or places like that, you kind of have to cut down a little bit, because obviously the cost of shipping everything is just horrendous.

SE: So next week in Paris for example…
CW: Oh yeah, for the whole of the European tour. The plan is to take a slightly scaled-down version of it over to America to tour it there, but the thing is to make it work moneywise, the stage costs so much to build that you have to get your use out of it, and to then rebuild that in South America for five gigs would just mean we'd come out of it probably millions of pounds in debt - it just doesn't work. So you have to think about it sensibly, and obviously going over to South America, I don't think people expect you to put on that kind of show. The show is always good, and I always say that the production side of things, the video, the cameras, all the lights, should really be secondary to
the music. At the end of the day people come to hear the music and watch you play live, and if you can't pull that off without all of that, then you shouldn't really be in a band. You need to be able to pull it off when you're stripped to the bare bones.

SE: At the end of the day, your bass line on Hysteria is one of the dirtiest bass lines I've ever heard, so the music works. I mean, I nearly crashed my car when I heard Unnatural Selection. You suddenly get quite excited and I'm banging away at the steering wheel, every time. My mate here was the same with City of Delusion, he nearly lost the steering. So it's your fault if the insurance company gets in touch with you in due course!! But that's the point, the music carries it over. I mean, I'm impressed by lighting but if your music wasn't very good, or didn't attract me, then it wouldn't work. It just adds to it. The kind of music you play compliments the light side of the show, but would still work without the 'add ons'.