Wreckless Eric interviewed. Britains biggest underground household name

The Wreckess Eric interview

Alas Smith & Jones/ The Look of Love screengrab -Dan O’Farrell

I’m Britains biggest underground Household name – I’m actually more famous now than when I was famous.

To a lot of people ‘Wreckless Eric’ is known only for ‘Whole Wide World’ – his 1977 hit on UK independent label Stiff Records. The label which was also home to Ian Dury, Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. 

Eric is seen as a bit of a New Wave also-ran, the runt of the Pub Rock litter, when in fact he has always been, and still is a quite brilliant, idiosyncratic English songwriter, the equal of his contemporaries, says Ged Babey.  As Eric releases his 19th album Leisureland on Tapete Records and tours the UK in the Autumn it was time for LTW’s least competent interviewer to talk to Mr Goulden. 

When I look back at old 1977 photos of Wreckless Eric in his garish suit and a tight tartan jacket I always think of him as a kind of Punk & New Wave Norman Wisdom. Only pissed. And a bit more nasal.

I didn’t particularly like his Stiff-era stuff at the time and (re)discovered him via a Jonathan Ross radio show appearance on 20 April 2002 when he played the song ‘Joe Meek‘. The interview was hilarious and he reminded me of Peter Cook, or at least a Pete ‘n’ Dud character.

I’ve loved Eric’s music and song-writing ever since and because of the ‘comedy element’ to his persona I want to paint him here as a UK equivalent to a Neil Young or a Lou Reed type figure; serious, a poet and wordsmith, because basically, that’s what I think he really is: A heroic underground artist who doesn’t get the credit he deserves.  I had some great working titles:

England’s Greatest Living Songwriter Who Most People Have Never Heard Of…

The Dysfunctional Success and Happily Under The Radar career of… 

The inspirational cynicism and home-made psychedelia of Wreckless Eric and the enduring influence of Joe Meek and the Velvet Underground on his ouevre.

An interview was suggested, with Eric offering to drive down to me from Cromer as he prefers face-to-face to online type-talk… I was flattered and couldn’t refuse. But I wanted to avoid a career-spanning, chronological, blow by blow interview as his autobiography, a Dysfunctional Success  (hopefully soon to be republished) tells his story brilliantly and his blog is always entertaining and keeps us abreast of his comings and goings and doings. Plus, a lot of his songs are autobiographical.

I have reviewed his releases and met Eric on a few occasions and strangely I am one of his favourite journalists (partly because I apparently called him ‘a cunt’.)

Your actual words were “I’ll never forgive you you cunt, you made me like a Tom Petty song”

An in-person interview was sure to go awry due to my amateurishness so I took Over-Cautious Dan (O’Farrell) with me to help record events. The interview tape though was practically inaudible and voice-notes has vanished from my Ipod, to miraculously reappear the day after. A few hours in the company of Eric (and Amy)  was a total joy though, full of laughter and Eric seems happier than he has ever been, but still with a curmudgeonly edge and a wicked sense of humour.

The first thing he says to me when we meet is:

Do you know (music critic – name redacted)? He didn’t even listen to the whole fucking album. His review in (glossy music magazine) calls one of my songs High Seas ‘vaudevillian’. I can’t imagine how anyone who’d actually listened to the song could call it ‘vaudevillian’ What an absolute… I am so disappointed in him. I don’t mind whether he likes the album or not but I don’t appreciate lazy journalism.

This is the artist who used to ‘review’ his reviews – posting them up online, annotated, in red ink, pointing out the reviewers errors and inaccuracies and mocking them mercilessly.

I really like your story about your friend ‘Rat’. That is the whole name thing in a nutshell.

He says to me, as we sat in the sun outside a Southsea pub. It is here, related when I reviewed Eric’s 2019 album Transience.

I’ve got this name and it doesn’t fit / I don’t know what I can do about it, Eric, now more avuncular than reckless, sings on the opening track.

It is a source of annoyance that he can’t trade under his birth name, but he understands why.  It’s not like he is Jilted John and a one hit wonder…..

I’m Britain’s biggest underground Household name – I’m actually more famous now than when I was famous. 

Yesterdays Guardian interview revealed Whole Wide World has had 16.3 million streams on Spotify following being played at the Superbowl.  Modest Eric forgot to mention this statistic to me at the time.

Substitute Eric has been asked to replace Chris Difford from Squeeze at the Clerkenwell Festival at the end of August – an all day free, family event, complete with dog show and face-painting for the kids.

I wonder how his cynical, downbeat songs will go down.

‘The person who booked me sent an email that said “as you only have a 45 minute set we ask that you include your most well-known known songs”’

He is laughing, fully aware that I am going to say: So, a 45 minute version of Whole Wide World?

Norman Greenbaum of, you know, Spirit In The Sky fame DID actually do that. A whole set of Sprit In The Sky extended, tortuously over 30 minutes and then goes off and comes back on, for an encore of…. Spirit In The Sky. 

I could do Take The Cash – it was in an episode of Top Boy.

Anyway, I wrote back to them and told them I’m not a nostalgia act.  I’ve been working on the set list and want to do my song Creepy People (in the Middle of the Night)…

He recites the lyrics – which include a fair few obscenities artfully positioned…

I point out that it’s a family festival and Erics wife Amy tells him too that he can’t sing that in front of children.  He is sniggering like a naughty schoolboy.  Later on, he is the proud grandfather showing me videos of his grandkids on his phone.

It wasn’t a great idea to meet  Teetotal Eric sat outside a pub with a pint of lager on the go.  He gave up drinking long ago having spent his Stiff years in an alcoholic haze. I recently watched the Stiff Tour footage on YouTube – it captures the young Eric charismatic and gloriously pissed onstage and off.

As we were deciding where to go, a mate of mine from work happened to be passing and unceremoniously sat himself down with us. It looked like he’d been awake for at least 24 hours and was very much in his ‘Jim from Taxi’ mode.

I introduced them and tell Jim I was interviewing Eric and a bizarre exchange ensued.

Jim, to Eric: Oh yeah, you’re from Liverpool. 

Eric:  I’ve played Liverpool, but tend to try and get out again as quickly as possible.

‘Jim’: Nah, nah, you had a club in Liverpool.  Everyone played there back in punk days.

Eric:  Did I?

Jim:  yeah, yeah, Erics club, Liverpool, ’77….

Bit of a surreal mix-up. Liverpools Erics was not owned by or named after Eric and luckily Yazoo’s Upstairs At… never made the mix. He wasn’t in ‘The Plank’ either.  Maybe you had to be there.

It was a bit of a dump as I remember. Those legendary venues usually were: the Hope & Anchor, Erics, CBGB’s. Sticky floors, overflowing toilets… The Hope & Anchor was reopened as a theme pub by a chain. There were all  these lacquered wooden plaque things sticking out of the wall with the names of the famous artists who had played there. One of them said ‘Ian Drury’. 

Thankfully someone took a chisel to it to correct the spelling of Erics friends surname.

Talking about ‘house shows’ which he and Amy play occasionally, mainly in the USA. One such house was owned by an American in New Jersey who had turned his living room into a large ‘gig space’ complete with PA.

Those people had it down – they turned their living room into a venue in a matter of minutes – they even took out the windows and patio doors and sat people on the front porch.

One of Eric’s UK tour dates is in Twyford near Winchester at the home of Americana promoter and writer Oliver Gray. He has a purpose-built chalet in his garden for acoustic gigs with many an Americana artist playing to an audience of 24 people.  Eric had previously called the local Railway Inn back-room ‘a Scout Hut with lights’ so I unkindly and jokingly referred to it as a step-up,  ‘Oliver’s garden shed’.

Oliver told me you called it his shed – he wasn’t very happy about that. I told him it was because you couldn’t pronounce chalet. I suggested you probably thought it was something Irish people use to hit each other over the head with.

It’s just the diametrical opposite to the legendary venues of old, I explained. I like to drink and smoke and heckle and these are all strictly forbidden. (I have promised Oliver I will behave).

My wingman (local legend and songwriter Dan O’Farrell) happened to take a photo of us – capturing me looking sheepish and Eric appearing to tell me to ‘grow the fuck up’.


I told Eric that his gig at the 12 Bar in Soho when he released Bungalow Hi was one of the most incredible I’d seen. The pain, bitterness and depth of those songs was like witnessing ‘an artist on the verge of a nervous breakdown’ and his performance was visceral and affecting.  The songs ‘Same’, ‘Local’,  ’33’s and 45’s’ being the autobiographical centrepieces about his childhood, small-town suffocation and a relationship break up respectively.

That bit in the middle of Same when the music stops and I say – ‘I know exactly where I come from / But i lied about where I’ve been…’ does tend to silence the room and create a tension. But there’s no other way to perform those songs.   

I can’t play 33’s and 45’s any more as it takes it out of me too much.  

The album AmERICa from 2015 is arguably Eric at his best, the album a cohesive whole, mainly on the subject of the USA. ‘Where ‘Gun Control’ means both hands on the rifle’ and ‘White Bread built this Land of Milk & Money’. It has the lot: social commentary, observational vignettes and two of his very best songs -The Space Age and Days Of My Life – full of inspirational cynicism.

So this is the Space Age.  Isn’t it crap. It’s not at all how we expected way back when modern was already old-fashioned… 

Eric is of course very proud of his latest work and keen to talk about that.

Leisureland seems very much located in England when the last three albums were very much about you and America, was that a conscious decision?

I wanted to make a much more English album. The last three: amERICa, Construction Time & Demolition and Transience take most of their inspiration from life in the United States though Construction Time & Demolition opens with Gateway To Europe which is about Hull in Yorkshire and being in a band there before I signed to Stiff Records. I think that Gateway To Europe is one of my good songs but I don’t know if anyone noticed it.

I’ve been compiling a mental list of my Top Ten Favourite Eric Songs – but it acts as a great Beginners Guide to your Songwriting : Radium Girls and Standing Water from the new album, are there for starters. The Final Taxi / Young, Upwardly Mobile… and Stupid / Joe Meek /Continuity Girl / Same / 33’s & 45’s / Local / Days of My Life / The Space Age / Boy Band / Several Shades of Green / Father To The Man...

Any I’ve missed that you’d recommend? Are you proud of your body of work overall?

I never like all that best/second best stuff…  it looks like your saying my early work is the best. I don’t think it is.  I remember when amERICa came out – you didn’t like it as much as Bungalow Hi. I certainly wouldn’t want your list to stand as a Beginners Guide to my songwriting. I find that idea is a little highhanded, even a bit pompous – I mean, who are you to say? Who should we appoint as the arbiters of taste. Do we need arbiters of taste?

Of course we do. You can’t trust the public to make up their own minds.  They made Elvis Costello famous and not you.  They need guidance and lists…

I remember a night at the Railway Club in Winchester sometime in the early 2000s. I was playing a song called Just For You. A group of people were talking – they wouldn’t shut up. Just For You is a quiet song. A voice in the crowd shouted ‘If you don’t shut the fuck up I’ll come over there and shut you the fuck up’. There was a commotion, I carried on quietly playing the chords underneath a lot of banging, crashing and shouting. Calm descended and a voice (yours) announced ‘I got rid of them Eric, you can carry on now!’ I notice that song isn’t on your list. I have a lot of songs. You could put them in categories – fast, slow, funny, sad, heavy… It’s a sad thing to take what someone gives you and reduce it to a glib best of list.

I’m after a job at your label compiling your Greatest Hits and Nearest Misses album… and I want Joe Public to know there’s more to you than just Whole Wide Fucking World! 

(Once he stops laughing…)

Of course I’m proud of my body of work. I can’t relate to some of it because I’m not the person I was when I wrote some of the songs. I wish a lot of the recordings were different – sometimes I knew how they should be but the production was out of my hands.

Sometimes the production was in my hands and I fucked it up, sold it short. I always did the best I could but I’d probably approach things differently now. Hindsight, as they say, is a wonderful thing.

Tell me about Father To The Man (from Transience 2019 – a particularly touching song about his father).

My dad got very ill a couple of years after I was born. It turned out he had a chest disease called Sarcoidosis. They didn’t know what it was, they thought it was tuberculosis or Hodgkin’s disease – they thought he was going to die. Eventually he was diagnosed with sarcoidosis which they zapped with massive doses of steroids. The dose was so high that he ended up a lifelong steroid addict. They used to try to get him off the drugs, prednisone and codeine, but it wasn’t possible. I remember when I was a kid he’d periodically go into hospital and get very ill as they tried to ween him off the drugs. The steroids made him moody, disengaged, bad-tempered, disagreeable… I grew up thinking all dads were like that. Steroids eventually killed him – they slowly destroyed his body. He died when he was seventy-one. When I think of him now it’s easier to see the kind, caring family man hidden behind the steroid monster.

The Velvet Underground seem to be an enduring influence on your songs and music …. Or do I only notice that because they are one on my favourite bands ?

I became aware of the Velvet Underground in 1968. I went to Art College in 1972. British art schools were rife with Velvet Underground fandom. By that time Lou Reed had made his first solo album. His second, Transformer, came out shortly after I started there, and Walk On The Wild Side was suddenly a hit, which I found quite bizarre. I listened to the Velvet’s 1969 album incessantly for a while and then I lost my copy of it in a 33s & 45s incident. Years later I found another copy – it was a fairly hard to come by record before the internet – when I put it on I was amazed by how much I’d assimilated from it. Apart from that art college was all about Bo Diddley and the Monkees.

Eric can talk for England.  He spoke of his love of the Kinks drum-sound, the Yardbirds, Cream and early Eric Clapton, the influence of Radio London,  John Peel, how Mitch from the Jimi Hendrix Experience was actually a better drummer than Ginger Baker from Cream, how early Pink Floyd were phenomenal and then some how…

Kris Kristofferson is great live, we saw him.  He just doesn’t give a shit.  It’s hit after hit but he’ll fluff things up and just start another song, he looks immaculate in a nice suit and you’ll look down and he’s wearing flip-flops. 

and then…

Chas and Dave were brilliant live. Just swinging. Did you ever see them?  They were phenomenal. Did you know Chas Hodges played on a load of Joe Meek records? 

They are also sampled on Eminem’s My Name Is… Dan, a mine of trivia to equal Eric, informs us.  Amy tells him about seeing Run DMC’s early shows and he’s enthralled (He did write a song called Early 80’s Hip-Hop 50’s Rock’n’Roll after all).

A visit to Dress Code, Southsea’s leading subcultural emporium, to see if they had any of Erics records in their secondhand vinyl was interesting as they were playing a really decent punk comp over the sound system and Personality Crisis and Keys To My Heart had Eric noticeably enthused.

I love this and the 101-ers were great! 

The new, not at all vaudevillian album, Lesiureland. reviewed here,  is party thematic – with the imagined young band from the quiet town of Standing Water made of of John, Paul George and Alan featuring in three songs.  There are three instrumentals which capture the sleepy vibe of the seaside town, but there is also a quite brilliant song retelling a horrendous story from 1920’s American history..

Its called Radium Girls (Dial-painters) and about the women painting fluorescent watch-faces and dials for aircraft using phosphor paint that they ingested due to being told to ‘lick the brush to get a fine, fine point on the brush’. They died of radiation poisoning when the cause of death recorded by doctors was syphilis.  There have been documentaries and a Netflix drama covering the story.  Somehow to encapsulate it all in a two minute forty ‘pop song’ is an incredible achievement. The words being mainly the instructions and persuasion given to the victims.  It’s a song that sends a shiver down your spine.

It’s a long way from Whole Wide World and proves beyond all reasonable doubt that Wreckless Eric is a songwriter still at the top of his game.

Eric Goulden is not really a UK Neil Young or a Lou Reed type figure; but he is serious artist relatively happy under the radar of superficial success. He’s also a very funny and likeable man with a persona which seems to be based on a Peter Cook and Dudley Moore character made flesh. The wind changed in 1978 and he stayed like it ever since.

Walking past a second-hand clothing emporium with Eric I noticed some ‘cool hats’ for sale.

There you go Eric, I said,  get yourself a nice homburg. All rock stars of your vintage love a hat.

What, and look like Elvis Costello.  No it’s OK, I don’t need a hat, I already have a personality… 


Leisureland is available here

Tour Dates

Aug 25 @ Rough Trade West Instore in London
Oct 14 @ Lv21 in Gravesend ​
Oct 26 @ The Prince Albert in Brighton
Oct 27 @ The Lexington in London ​
Oct 28 @ The Moon in Cardiff ​
Oct 29 @ The Bush Inn in Morwenstow Cornwall
Oct 30 @ Hen & Chicken Bristol
Nov 02 @ Gullivers in Manchester
Nov 02 @ Wrecking Ball in Hull
Nov 13 @ Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh
Nov 14 @ Rum Shack in Glasgow
Nov 17 @ Brudenell Social Club in Leeds
Nov 18 @ Guildhall in Gloucester

Erics website

Erics YouTube Channel


All words Ged Babey.

All quotes in italics. Photos and invaluable assistance; Dan O’Farrell.

Apologies to Oliver Gray



Ivan O’ Pinion Oh what a chore! An interview that’s more about the journalist than the artist!  Does he think he is Lester Bangs or Nick Kent.  C’mon LTW.  This kinda crap is so dated and tedious! 


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