Neil McCormick is one of the UK’s best known music critics. He has a weekly column in the Daily Telegraph, he is a regular guest on BBC Breakfast Television and an occasional expert on music industry matters for BBC News. He is also a sought after pundit on radio, contributing to shows on BBC Radio 3, 4, 5 Live, Scotland, Wales and The World Service. He was formerly Editor At Large at GQ and has contributed to many other publications including Marie Claire, Q Magazine, Hot Press, the Observer, the Sunday Times and the Irish Independent.
In another life he was allegedly the first person to leave rock band U2. Neil was born in England in 1961 (you do the maths), raised in Scotland and Ireland and has lived in London since 1983 (people frequently listen to his confused accent and hazard a guess that he is American). He was a school mate of the members of U2 in Dublin, and mis-spent his youth as singer in a succession of bands, notably Frankie Corpse & The Undertakers (1978), The Modulators (1978-79) Yeah!Yeah! (1980-83) and Shook Up! (1984-89). Critics loved them. Record companies didn’t. Neil gave up on the music business several years after it gave up on him and went on to carve a successful career in journalism.
Neil has continued to make music on the sidelines under the alias The Ghost Who Walks. Mel Gibson, Sting, Bono, Robyn Hitchcock, 1 Giant Leap and Sir Elton John have all declared themselves fans. He is the author of I Was Bono's Doppelganger.
Bono's doppelgänger, Neil McCormick, treats us to 20 intimate questions about his life and surprisingly, in his answers he refers four times to his son, twice to his other half and only once to Bono...
Who or what always puts a smile on your face?
My son, Finn. He is nine months old and loves to laugh, throwing his head back with delight to show the world his single tooth. I defy anyone not to join in.
What are you reading at the moment?
About twenty different things at once, as usual. Tottering next to my bedside are: Joseph Campbell’s Creative Mythology, volume four of his history of mythology (which is always there, a book I dip into regularly for inspiration); James Joyce’s Ulysses (which has been there for over a year. I keep meaning to read it but something else always gets in the way), Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude which my stepsons (who know my fascination with comics) gave me for my birthday and which I am looking forward to, although first I decided to read another comic book related novel, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (which I have started and am enjoying immensely), Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea (he said some very nice things about my book. I had only read one of his novels before, Inishowen, and so I thought I should investigate him further. I’ve started that as well and now I am torn between two worlds), Birth and Beyond by Dr Yehudi Gordon and Parenting: 10 Basics of Conscious Childraising by Karuna Fedorschak (because I promised myself I would read some books about child development, rather than just wading in and trying to do everything on instinct ). Oh, and Paul McKenna’s Change Your Life In Seven Days. It’s been there for about two months. I never made it past day three but I live in hope.
Which author do you most admire?
William Shakespeare, simply for the level of sustained creativity that seems more than human.
What’s your earliest memory?
In my book I say that in common with many children of the late twentieth century, my earliest memories are of television. But I may have fudged a little bit. I have a memory of being in an empty house with bare walls and a garden that consisted entirely of dirt and my parents, rather terrifyingly, telling me this was where we were going to live. In retrospect, I realise this must have been the first sight of the bungalow to which we moved in Scotland when I was two years old, so that is definitely a very early memory. But then again, it may have been seeing Bill and Ben The Flowerpot Men on Watch With Mother.
What is your greatest fear?
I used to fear the oblivion of death with an intensity that kept me awake at night but through reading, meditating and just living, I came to terms with it. Now, I suppose, my greatest fear would be something terrible happening to my child. But I try not to hold onto fear. Life is a kind of illusion. You just have to accept it at face value and have some fun with it.
How would you like to be remembered?
It doesn’t really matter to me. Everything is temporary.
Have you ever done something you’ve really regretted?
When I think of some of the self destructive ways I have behaved it makes me shudder but I don’t really have any regrets. Everything I have done has brought me to the place I am now.
How do you spoil yourself?
Books, music, films, magazines. I am a fairly self indulgent person. I remember my dad agonising over whether to buy an album he really liked and the thirteen year old me thinking “what is the point of working if you can’t buy the things you want?” So I have always put luxuries before necessities, which has caused me a few financial problems in my time.
What’s your favourite word/book?
There are far too many words to choose one. And (as I always say) there are too many books, period. And my editor would probably say there are too many words in my book.
Who do you turn to in a crisis?
The inner voice you find in silence. Some call it God. Some call it your subconscious. But everybody calls it in times of trouble.
What makes you angry?
I can rant about many petty things but I try not to take day to day life too seriously. My adopted position can be summed up by the first line on the first Elvis Costello album: 'I used to be disgusted but now I try to be amused.' But I maintain a constant sense of detached despair about the political abuses that contribute to so much suffering in the world. We can be a pretty vile species, mankind.
Have you ever had any other jobs apart from writing?
I ran a public tennis court and delivered newspapers when I was at school. I became art director of Hot Press magazine while I was still a teenager. I have been an illustrator, cartoonist, designer and labourer, all to support my life as a struggling rock star. It was only when I surrendered to my instinct to write that I finally started to make a decent living.
Are you in love?
To quote Van Morrison: her name is G … L … O … R … I … aye aye aye aye! That would be Gloria Else, my better half, who saved me from myself.
What’s your worst vice?
I have a full set of vices but Gloria keeps them in check.
What are you proudest of?
My baby boy. I can’t believe we made him. Artistically, I would have to say the songs I have written. I’ve got a new one called Daddy’s Getting Old. When I play it to Finn, he claps. That’s my boy!
Where do you write?
I can write anywhere. I am a professional, after all. I once filed a Pavarotti review from the lobby of the Albert Hall ten minutes after the show ended. But I wrote ‘I Was Bono’s Doppelganger’ in seven insane weeks in an office above an off license in Belsize Village. We were supposed to drive to France to stay in a friend’s chateau but the day before we were due to depart, some bastard stole my car. So Gloria flew off to see a friend in Spain and I stayed home without telling anybody. I pretended I was in France, just so no one would be tempted to disturb me.
Where’s your favourite city?
London has got everything a human being could ever need. And a little more besides.
When was the last time you cried?
When my son woke me up by poking me in the eye.
One wish; what would it be?
Peace in our time. And a good night’s sleep.
Did you enjoy school?
In Mount Temple Comprehensive, I met Bono, discovered rock and roll, formed a band, kissed a girl. The only thing I didn’t enjoy was the actual school work.