Today, in tribute, my amp is on 11. Thirty years ago today a film came out that changed the world as we know it, introducing us to 18-inch Stonehenges and love pumps: ‘This Is Spinal Tap’. And so, in humble tribute to the world’s loudest band, here is the unexpurgated version of my interview with them from 2007. “Such a fine line between stupid and, uh…” “clever.” “Yeah, and clever.”
SPINAL TAP by Sylvie Simmons
The plane dips through the smog, lands with a thump and taxis past the advertised arrival gate to stop at (I’m not making this up) gate 66, terminal 6. It’s clear the gods are smiling on this reunion of the Mother of all Heavy Metal bands, David St Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls: Spinal Tap.
We’ve arranged to meet in L.A, the very epicentre of metal in the eighties, when the movie “This Is Spinal Tap” appeared. Marti DiBergi’s fly-on-the-wall account of the English band’s American tour showed their triumphs (not many) and their tragedies (lots, including spontaneously combusting drummers, the 18-inch, instead of 18-foot, stage-set replica of Stonehenge, and security issues arising from wearing a cucumber in your pants). It also introduced us to songs that have since become classics -‘Sex Farm'; ‘Big Bottom'; the tender ballad ‘Lick My Love Pump’ – which made the Tap a household name and the movie one of the most popular ever.
But time moves on. These days, as Di Bergi’s new short film shows, Tufnel works on a miniature horse farm, St Hubbins mans a colonic irrigation clinic, from where he runs a hip hop agency, and Smalls is in rehab, trying to kick a serious internet addiction. It took one of the world’s biggest benefit concerts, Live Earth, a charity set up to help combat global warming, to tempt the band out of retirement and onto the Wembley stage.
“We heard the word ‘benefit’ and we thought that meant benefit us”, says Smalls, looking much as he did in the eighties with his oversized sideburns and questionable waistcoat. Adds St Hubbins, who still has long hair and his own teeth’ “We didn’t read the small print.” Tufnel, sitting on his own at the far end of the coffee table, shakes his mop-head mournfully, “Maybe we’ll pass a hat,” he says. Nigel is a firm believer in global warming; to prove it, he’s removed his shirt. But is the band just jumping on the environmental bandwagon or are they really green? That’s what I’m here to find out.
Sylvie: As the loudest band in the world, famed for turning your amps up to 11, are you going to play unplugged to cut electricity use?
Tufnel: Oh, we’ve done that!
Smalls: We do the world’s loudest acoustic set.
St Hubbins: To be fair we stand right next to people, as close as possible and just play literally in their faces.
Tufnel: We were hoping to go solar, but there might some difficulty if it’s at night.
St Hubbins: I was just planning on stealing the power from some other group – just leach onto the Chili Peppers or something and drain them.
Sylvie: I could introduce you to several girls I know who’ve done that.
St Hubbins: Yeah.
Sylvie: Leather and spandex, the official clothes of heavy metal, are going to be hard to wear if the world gets any warmer. Any plans to change your look?
St Hubbins: That was always Derek’s thing, the leather.
Smalls: I just like the feel.
Tufnel: It’s a sexual thing for him. He went through a whole thing with his rubber period.
St Hubbins: We actually had to do a – what do they call those? – an intervention with Derek about the leather and the rubber. We said cut it in half.
Tufnel: And then we got that late-night phone call saying, ‘Just bring salad tongs.’ We’re not going to tell you the details, it would be embarrassing for Derek.
St Hubbins: But he would wear latex if we’d let him.
Smalls: It has been done.
Sylvie: Talking of which, are the Tap aware that, for the truly environmentally-aware, they now make vegan condoms?
St Hubbins: Really?
Tufnel: Yes they do.
Smalls: But they’re meat-flavoured
Tufnel: There’s a low sodium version as well which I would recommend.
St Hubbins: They don’t use the lambskin version any more, do they?
Smalls: They use the lamb. It’s more like haggis now.
Sylvie: There’s also hemp underwear and solar-powered toys. Have you used any of these in your pursuit of environmental soundness?
Smalls: It was Sheryl Crow who really set the bar for me with that ‘one piece of toilet paper’ thing. Use one slice [per visit], she said
St Hubbins : One pane?
Smalls: One pane of toilet paper. ‘What does she eat?
Tufnel: Maybe she’s got a really tiny bum.
Smalls: And really small bowels. Petite.
St Hubbins: The petite bowels of Sheryl Crow.
Smalls: No disrespect. To me ‘you’ve got petite bowels’ is a compliment.
St Hubbins: To you anything’s a compliment. ‘You’ve got petite bowels’ – that’s a marriage proposal for you.
Smalls: It’s a nice thing,.
St Hubbins: Grande bowels, not so flattering.
Smalls: Not nearly so flattering. And wasn’t that a Sidney Bechet record, ‘Ma Petite Bowel’?
Tufnel: At this point we would like to put in a plug for Weetabix, which I really like.
Sylvie: Weetabix are like little haystacks. You can feed your miniature horses on them.
St Hubbins: That’s true.
Sylvie: The Tap are better known for big bottoms, and as your album “Break Like The Wind” affirms, they emit damaging methane gas.
St Hubbins: It’s only one bottom; singlar. But you know what, thousands and thousands of years in the future we won’t have that problem, if we get through this current crisis, because we’ll all be brains floating around in jars and doing things by technokinesis. And the brain, for all its other defects, cannot fart. But if you’re hinting that, perhaps there’s a way of harnessing each individual’s methane emissions to power the planet?
Smalls: Right on, sister, right on!
St Hubbins: Maybe you should suggest the idea to George Bush.
Sylvie: Have you, like Willie Nelson, converted your tour bus to bio-diesel?
Tufnel: Bio-diesel has its own problems. Because you need to destroy forests to grow the food that you need for bio-diesel.
St Hubbins: What’s this? Farmer Nigel now?
Smalls: We don’t actually have a bus.
St Hubbins: Actually we have one vehicle that runs on wine. It’s called Vin Diesel.
Sylvie: As to farming, will Derek switch to organic cucumbers to stuff down his pants?
St Hubbins : They were courgettes!
Sylvie: That was a bit big for a courgette, if you don’t mind me saying.
Smalls: I don’t mind at all. I take pride in the size of my courgette. If you think about it, a cucumber is wrong for the desired effect. The skin’s a bit warty.
Tufnel: You want smoothness –
Smalls: Not too hard. Yes, I’ll use organic if I can find them.
Tufnel: There are fields of these courgettes in Derbyshire; they have mandrills pissing on them.
St Hubbins: How does it taste?
Tufnel: Like you’d expect. Like piss.
Smalls: Bittersweet, some strawberry notes?
Tufnel: No, more kiwi.
St Hubbins: And just a hint of flannel.
Sylvie: Combustible drummers: you’ve had two of them, I believe.
Tufnel: There’s more than that really. We can’t count them.
Sylvie: How many trees must you plant to offset the carbon footprint made by your exploding drummers?
Tufnel: Interesting question. There’s a scale, actually. I think it’s three trees per drummer. But it depends on whether you’re doing a Norwegian scale, then it’s six trees,
St Hubbins : Or a pentatonic scale if it’s a Chinese drummer.
Smalls: And it depends on the trees.
St Hubbins: If we could harness the demise of our percussionists, the explosive power could probably light Brixton for months. We’re joking of course, but Stumpy Joe’s family is still in shock.
Sylvie: Understandable. But he left his mark.
Smalls: A small, wet mark.
Tufnel: I’d call it a stain.
Sylvie: Let’s move onto recycling. What does the Tap recycle?
Smalls: Our music is recycled. Our new song is basically one we wrote 30 years ago.
St Hubbins: Different key.
Tufnel: No, it’s the same key; I take my acoustic guitar capos to the landfill.
Sylvie: This new song is the single your recorded for Live Earth?
St Hubbins: Yes, ‘Warmer Than Hell’. Not ‘Hotter Than Hell’ because then it would be about global hotting, not warming.
Smalls: Or global hopping, which is what we’ll all be doing pretty soon, if we don’t stop global warming: hopping from one globe to another. Hello Mars! Hello Mars!
Sylvie: How might you go about adapting some of your old songs to have a green message?
Smalls: Sex Farm speaks for itself: organic. And Stinking Up The Great Outdoors, you could say ‘with a compost heap.’
Sylvie: Spinal Tap were criticised in the past for sexist songs. Now you’re green, will you also embrace the New Man ethos?
St Hubbins: Who’s this man ‘Ethos’?
Smalls: He’s the ‘new man’
Tufnel : I don’t think so.
Smalls: We’re too old. We’re set in our ways.
St Hubbin : We’re the old boy network we can’t get into.
Sylvie: Any future plans for Spinal Tap?
Smalls: Theoretically we’ll be eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And Medicare. The same day. And we’re having a picnic at my place.
Nigel: A Hibachi.
Sylvie: A final question.
St Hubbins, Smalls and Tufnel [in unison]: Oh, good!
Sylvie: Rock bands are always being asked the question, what was their Spinal Tap moment. What was Spinal Tap’s most Spinal Tap moment?
St Hubbins: Hmm, it might have been the time in Boston when it rained on the stage. It was a little club, the Channel. It’s no longer there; it washed away.
Smalls: It happens to everyone, not just us.
Tufnel: It happened to YoYo Ma last year; he showed up at a gig and the flashpots caught his cello on fire.
[copyright Sylvie Simmons 2007]