Phill Savidge – ‘Lunch with the Wild Frontiers’

❉ Britpop PR legend talks to Andy Murray about his extraordinary memoirs.

“Lunch With The Wild Frontiers is my valiant attempt to make people laugh and think at the same time and to portray an irreverence and love for many of the people I have loved and encountered at various stages of my life. I’m ever-hopeful that those who read the book will be entertained by my unique experience of working with a lot of characters that they are probably fans of and would like to get know better.”

Accounts differ as to who first coined the term ‘Britpop’. If you were to try to define it, though, rather than select one song, album or band, you could simply point to the story of PR firm Savage & Best. From a tatty office in Camden, Phill Savidge and Jon Best handled most of the scene’s prime movers and masterminded era-making campaigns and scams.

Now Phill Savidge has written Lunch with The Wild Frontiers, a distinctive, rollicking, hugely evocative memoir of those people, places and times. Neither too rose-tinted nor overtly cynical, the book covers Savidge’s experiences overseeing Roy Orbison’s final interviews, helping Dave Stewart to set up a private artists’ enclave, getting Brett Anderson to photo shoots and going to major football matches with Keith Allen, Damien Hurst and Michael Barrymore. Here he tells We Are Cults Andy Murray all about it.

Phill Savidge © Joanna Johnston.

Over the years you must have written endless amounts of copy selling other people’s wares, but now the floor’s all yours. Why should people read this book?

Lunch With The Wild Frontiers is my valiant attempt to make people laugh and think at the same time and to portray an irreverence and love for many of the people I have loved and encountered at various stages of my life. I’m ever-hopeful that those who read the book will be entertained by my unique experience of working with a lot of characters that they are probably fans of and would like to get know better. It’s also a not-so veiled attempt to write the truth about my life in music and a way of smuggling my thoughts and sentences past a publisher and into the public domain by simply shrouding them behind the cloak of celebrity. So be very prepared so you don’t get fooled again.

What made you decide to write the book at this particular time?

I know everyone expects me to say It is 25 years since Damon Albarn went to the shops or something. But the truth of the matter is that I have run every day for as long as I can remember and a couple of years ago, when I tore the ligaments in my left knee, I could hardly walk, let alone run, so I decided to write some stories about my life in the music business. (And by the way, I hate that last word). I have written biographies of bands, countless press releases and sleeve notes for albums in the past and have attempted to write a novel at several points in my life, but all my friends have always said I should write my stories down cos I keep telling them as a means of entertaining them. So I did, and people seem to like them.

Were there any particular models that you had in mind –  memoirs or otherwise – while you were writing it?

I knew that the book had to have an arc and needed to document my journey to Britpop and the journey down afterwards, but I had nothing as a template really, other than I wanted the book to be as honest and truthful as possible. Even though it is a series of recorded interviews, I do love the book Please Kill Me which documents the New York punk scene in the 70s and that’s actually why I included a cast of characters at the end of my book, just like that one, so that readers – and particularly American readers – would be able to cross reference anyone they are unfamiliar with.

I’ve also always admired David Sedaris’s short stories which seem so effortless and a snapshot of his life, so I wrote the book as a collection of stories that you could dip into if you felt that way inclined. Though I strongly advise you not to do that.

‘Please Kill Me’ was a model for Phill’s book.

The book covers some extraordinary situations. Did they feel extraordinary at the time or did it all start to become business as usual?

They absolutely did not feel extraordinary at the time, just another day at the office – ha ha! Though in retrospect perhaps the time me and Keith Allen stayed at the Ritz in Paris courtesy of Al Fayed and the story of what we got up to there is quite extraordinary. I think I did have a double take on my life during that weekend. And maybe the Ibiza story as it is so ludicrous and a scene I felt both a part of and excluded from. And then there’s the Michael Barrymore story, which I am still scared of…

Is it fair to assume there must have been many, many stories you just couldn’t include because they’d involve familiar faces getting up to all sorts?

Yes, it is. There are some stories that I don’t feel comfortable putting down on paper as they are too intimate and sensitive and I would never like to compromise any of the people I have worked with in the past. I made sure that the most compromising stories were essentially about me and were self deprecatory as no one wants to hear about how fucking great you are.

If ‘Lunch with the Wild Frontiers’, were a novel there’d probably be a (clunky and cringe-worthy) point towards the end when the protagonist decided this lifestyle was no longer for him. There is no big moment of revelation or change here, though. Is it fair to assume that your life just never reached that moment?

I refuse to say that taking drugs is bad and leaving your youth behind should leave you full or remorse, you should just tell it the way it is and not judge. You’ll notice that I use a Withnail and I quote towards the end of the book: ‘They’re selling hippie wigs in Woolworths, man. The greatest decade in the history of mankind is over’. Without giving too much away, I was trying to say that they may as well have been selling Jarvis dolls In Tesco. I also wanted to suggest that PR is dead, because of the internet and the fact that everything is market researched to death before you even get to see or hear it.

But it’s true that there is no big life revelation. Maybe that will turn up in the next book.

You’re still in PR now. Exactly how different is it from the ‘90s version you’ve conjured up in the book?

It is so utterly different that you would never even identify them as the same profession. You can’t make stuff up any more due to the internet, so if you go to a radio station or magazine with a new band, they’re likely to check the band’s Insta and Facebook to see if they are the right demographic for their audience. You see, you have already got me stranded in corporate-speak hell. And then there’s the bands themselves, who I really feel for cos they can’t even turn up to a record company meeting slightly drunk in case the A&R person thinks they are not taking their career seriously enough.

Correspondingly, this means that you have to turn up to the meeting with a spreadsheet of your projected sales figures in various territories before you know who you really are. Please leave room for self-doubt and the confusion of youth and stop putting everyone in your stupid little boxes.

Have you developed a taste for prose now? Do you think you might have a novel in you?

Yes, I think I have a novel in me, but I am also writing a sequel to this tentatively titled Dinner With The Wild Frontiers and featuring stories about a post internet/marketing world where bands who used to be famous want me to resurrect their careers – with hilarious consequences etc. I still have a fair few stories from the Britpop era that I want to include, so it’s really a question of structure and giving the book a real reason to exist other than vanity.

Do you  – or, can you – still listen to any of the music from that Britpop era?

I still listen to Suede and Pulp records but I’m very specific these days – Pulp’s This Is Hardcore or Suede’s Dog Man Star or later songs like The Chemistry Between Us which, lyrically I still think is incredibly clever. And Ultrasound singles are still out of this (Floodlit) world. How did they do that?


❉ ‘Lunch with the Wild Frontiers: A History of Britpop and Excess in 13½ Chapters’ by Phill Savidge is available now from Jawbone Press. RRP £14.95. ISBN 9781911036494.

 Andy Murray is Film Editor for Northern Soul and a regular contributor to We Are Cult. He’s also the author of the Nigel Kneale biography Into the Unknown and co-author (with Dr Mark Aldridge) of the Russell T Davies biography T is for Television

He’s not the tennis guy, obviously. But he did once receive a publicity photograph of him to sign by mistake.

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