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Home > Culture and Society

TFT Meets... Ricardo Autobahn

22 March 2006

Here at TFT, we're not above low culture. Nor do we shy from the tricksier sort of culture that is almost anti-culture, or possibly un-culture. Erutluc, if you will. The Eurovision Song Contest is the ultimate in erutluc. It's an anomaly. A bit like Guantanamo Bay, but with less torture, unless you consider (insert name of woeful British entry, woeful Greek entry, or woeful Terry Wogan here). You have to admire it just as a thing, and if you happen to snag your eyes and ears on it at any stage, you'll find yourself there until the bitter end. Carping about the Hasselhoffian awfulness of the entries; shouting about the Machievellian mendacity of the international judges; swearing about the French. It's as British an annual pastime as tying a hanky on your head and failing to erect a deckchair, and swearing.

This year you may or may not be glued to the screen, cackling at the subtitles to the Russian entry (you must and shall enable subtitles), but one John Matthews, aka Ricardo Autobahn, is now contracted to participate. He's the shadowy figure behind Britain's Eurovision entry 'Teenage Life', co-written by Daz Sampson who will be grunting his way to glory or ignominy on May 20th. 'Teenage Life' has a gentle, simple, poignant melody, a prettily aggrieved choir of children a la 'Another Brick in the Wall', and in the grand Eurovision tradition is bastard annoying in its tenacious catchiness. It's almost cruel. Sampson has had success before in the form of Uniting Nations' hit 'Out of Touch', and before that Bus Stop's 'Kung Fu Fighting'. But it's Matthews who has had the most experience in aural torture, submitting the world via a gleeful John Peel to 'Cognoscenti vs Intelligentsia' (better known as 'The Hamster Dance', better known still as 'that fucking chipmunk thing') in his role in situationist pop band The Cuban Boys. TFT congratulated him on his most recent success, and demanded to know who he thinks he is with his teenagers and hamsters and a man named after some washing powder.


- Congratulations on being the British entry. Are you chuffed, then?

Thank you. Yes, yes I am. It's the biggest thing we've ever done, and it all came a bit out of the blue so we're a bit winded. We tried to enter in 2003 with a more typical bom-diddy-bom Europop Stomper, but didn't make it through. We were, however, overcharged on our entrance fee so Daz got a refund and a nice letter, which will be on eBay very soon along with any other D.A.Z. craporabilia I can find lying around.

- What was the night ('Making Your Mind Up') like?

It was all you'd expect from a glitzy BBC event and more. Plenty of champagne and all sorts of minor celebs wandering the corridors. Whilst the schoolgirls were standing in a corridor watching the results come through on a monitor, screaming in delight, Gary Lineker walked past looking puzzled.

- What did you think of the other entries? (Bearing in mind that if you are tactful and self-effacing we'll see right through it. No, but seriously.)

I said beforehand that the songs this year were actually 'quite good', compared to last year when they all, without exception, sounded like plastic mannequin versions of pop songs. Kym's song and the City Chix song were good - but too similar and split the votes. Goran's song was competent but tedious (I had this theory that his song was earmarked for Chico, but Chico pulled out), Four Story sent everybody in the building to sleep and Antony Costa's song was alright but he was cocky and that showed... Daz took great pleasure in winning over him.

Most of them were absolutely delightful people and very gracious in defeat, and none of them did *anything* to make me want to slag them off. Costa, we didn't see much of him. A brief glimpse of a face like thunder and he was off.

- How many times a day do you hear the words 'Floyd' and 'Pink'? Or indeed 'Dirty' and 'Harry'?

I have been delighted to read all the messageboards where people have been saying what they think the song sounds like (i.e. rips off). There was actually an extra passage in an early version of the song which went something like 'your education is our frustration' which was so much like 'The Wall' we had to get the editing scissors out.

- What's happening with, or has happened to, The Cuban Boys?

The Cuban Boys dissolved slowly and naturally when we weren't needed any more. There was no big decision to stop. And there was no big decision to start again, but we recorded a sample-crazed tribute to John Peel last year. It just seemed the thing to do, so we did. We've been *very* slowly working on some new songs - we've developed a dreamy subconcious working method where we don't realise we're making an album until one of us compiles a CDR and we go 'crikey! It's a collection of songs'.

- Did you have trouble with EMI?

Disappointingly we have no reason to complain - they released the Hamsterdance and got it up in the charts, they threw a huge amount of money at a video for a follow up single which never came out, they released our album purely as a favour to our then-manager (one Mr Jonathan King) so we could get our publishing advance, and they released us from our contract without a fuss so we could do a deal with BMG. BMG promised us the world and reneged on the deal four days later, leaving us paddling in mid-air.

Jonathan King looked after the Cuban Boys for a couple of years, until his untimely incarceration. We always considered him a stand-up geezer, and he was actually a very supportive, honest and intelligent spanner in the music industry works for loads of people, not just us - and not the wacky-goggled TV personality the public knew and hated.

- Should we ask you to apologise for 'The Hamster Dance' or do you take the line that it was mostly beyond your control as humble musicians?

I will never apologise for the Hamsterdance! And I will never get my comeuppance!

- Did you find people didn't get it? How satirical were you, anyway?

We had this rough idea early on in 1998/1999 that any Cuban Boys album would be a conthept album dealing with 'pop throughout the 20th century'. We'd sample all sorts of things, and you'd make your way chronologically, starting with music hall, going through wartime singalongs, the beat boom, disco, etc. The closing song would therefore be the 'Last Number 1 Of The Millennium' - a fake record containing the hamsters relentlessly going round and round and round for a quarter of an hour. The fact it all sort of became reality - in the sense it only got to number four, and that it got sensibly edited to three minutes in a conventional pop song arrangement - was quite surprising to us.

- And do you think it's a bad time for satire in general, what with most of the news (and much music) satirising itself?

I've lost track of everything. I can't tell what I'm allowed to like or allowed to approve of any more. I mean, 'The Day Today' was twelve long years ago, and even now I can't watch the ITV News without crying with laughter. And it's difficult to poke fun at anything any more because everybody's so clued up. Bush and Blair are just funny anyway in the raw, without any commentary explaining *why* they're funny. Of course, it's the fault of reality TV - all the walls are down and the mysteries of life are popping one by one. How can you satirise the music industry any more when Cowell is showing you all the workings, and saying 'it's all a big scam' in big friendly dayglo letters? And you can't even poke fun at talking heads poking fun at nostalgia any more, cos everybody *knows* they just watch the clips and then read a script. Even my grey-haired old mother knows that.

- Apparently you've watched every Eurovision since the 80s. Does it mean a lot to you?

It's Event Television and since the Brits and the British Comedy Awards went horribly awry it's one of very few Events left unscathed. Me and my sister used to write down pages of notes so we could remember which act was which come the end of the show. We stopped doing this when every entry said something like 'big hair, stupid dress'.

- Why do people still watch it? What's so compelling about it?

It's a glorious celebration of Europe and its wide range of cultures, music, religions and fashions. It's a way of bringing the peoples of Europe together through the beauty of song and saying 'hey, you know what, underneath we're all the same. Let's get along, brother. I like your noseflute solo'.

- It's the outrageous xenophobia and blatant politicking, isn't it.


- Which would perturb you more - being considered cool and representative of what makes Britain great by Tony Blair, or being considered too naff to be of concern to Tony Blair?

That's a very interesting question. I think honestly, despite myself, if Mr Tony Blair were to say in one of his press brunches 'Hey, that Daz Sampson record really speaks to me, and I support him all the way' I'd feel a slight swelling of pride. Outwardly I'd rant and rave of course about the State Of The Nation or something, but that would be only to make myself look hip. I don't think Tony Blair cares about cool musicians any more. He just looks cross all the time. Even when he's answering the simplest of questions he has an air of 'are you being deliberately stupid?' about him.

- How are you preparing for the contest? Are you practising your gracious defeat smile in the mirror, just in case? Are you horribly nervous or pleasantly nervous?

No real preparation for me other than deciding whether to go casual, smart-casual or sports-casual, and if I can get away with wearing a promotional T-shirt for one of my other bands. I don't think Daz - or myself - will ever take defeat graciously. There will be carnage if we don't win, and neither of us will be shy of saying so.

- What plans do you have for the future?

The long-term plan has always been to have one huge international hit single so I never have to work again. I've spent the past six years trying to do this, working harder than anybody else so I can avoid having to work for a living.

Listen to 'Teenage Life'.
Listen to 'Maniac in a Saab'.
Listen to some singing hamsters.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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