Interview by Alasdair Fotheringham
Music to me is not just something you listen to. I’ve always been gripped by it. A song will always take me back to where I was when I heard it for the first time.
The first song that ever really stopped me in my tracks was when I was 11, in my first year at secondary school in 1991. I came back home from school and saw The Stone Roses doing Don’t Stop on the television. That stuck in my memory and I started getting into them just as they were coming into their best period, which was lucky.
My second big track comes from when I was round at my Nan’s watching Top of the Pops 2, where they showed old songs from the 1980’s and before. The Smiths came on and I wasn’t taken by the music, more by this image of [Smiths guitarist] Johnny Marr, standing there playing the guitar. He just looked so cool, playing a big red semi-acoustic Gibson ES-335 with a Bigsby [vibrato device for guitar – Ed.] on it. Funny the kind of things you remember as a kid. I think the video I saw must have been from about 1986 because the track was This Charming Man.
Track number three comes thanks to watching The Word on a Friday night in 1994. Mark Lamarr introduced this band called Oasis and they played Supersonic. It was their first TV appearance and instantly I was drawn to them. The next day at school everyone was talking about how they’d seen this group Oasis on the telly. Then their album Definitely Maybe came out in 1994 and that was it. I was hooked.
Round about the same time a band that had been around for ages and ages called Ocean Colour Scene did their song Riverboat Song as the opening title sequence for TFI Friday, which was presented by Chris Evans. That’s my fourth track because I really massively got into Ocean Colour Scene, probably more so than Oasis. Ocean Colour Scene had one of their early albums out at the time, which had songs like Better Day and The Day we caught the Train on it. That was 1994 or 1995 and I remember as a 14-15 year old I would only listen to them and Oasis.
Then in 1995, driving to the velodrome one day in Manchester for the Junior Track Nationals, the track Changing Man from Paul Weller’s new album Stanley Road came up. And that’s track number five. Again, I just loved the guitar in it. I ended up buying Stanley Road straight after the Track Nationals.
It was great because at the same time Oasis brought out their second album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? which had classic songs like Wonderwall on it. Suddenly I started chasing music of all kinds. I ended up subsequently buying recent Weller albums, stuff like Heavy Soul, which came out in 1997, Paul Weller and Heliocentric. Both Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene touted Paul Weller as inspirations for their music. But Stanley Road was the first time Weller really came to my attention. I loved the whole album.
So I got into Weller’s recent stuff, but then when I was 18 I got more and more interested in The Jam. From there I started listening to Rod Stewart and Small Faces. Then there was The Kinks, although lyrically and musically, The Kinks and Small Faces were all a bit beyond me at that age.
As an 18-year-old what I liked most was guitar solos and particular drum beats. But I hadn’t forgotten Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene, either. Track number six would have to be Wonderwall, because even if it’s not one of my favourite tracks of all time, it’s a track which I really associate with my childhood – I can remember how mad all the teenagers of the time were about it.
Wonderwall is one song I kind of associate with being 16. When you’re 16 to be honest you don’t really give a s**t about anything – and Oasis captured that, the whole mood of the time in Great Britain after Thatcher.
I really liked their later stuff, too. In the late 1990s, Oasis got out another album and Ocean Colour Scene did the sound track to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, so they had a revival, too. In fact there was a whole Britpop thing going on in the late 1990s, with Blur, and The Bluetones. It was all great.
Tracks number seven and eight come from when I started getting into the older stuff. The Jam have two songs I really like: In the City and The Butterfly Collector.
The Butterfly Collector is one that stands out from when I was 18. I did my first Six Days at Ghent and another in Germany and I remember seeing all these groupies hanging around. My Dad [Gary Wiggins, former track rider, now deceased] was around that scene in the Sixties, and the song really struck a chord.
Track number nine would have to be by Small Faces, a song called Happy Days-Toytown. It’s from an album called Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake – a really odd title.
Track number ten is Heatwave by The Who. It’s a favourite, as opposed to something that has meaning or relevance to anywhere I was at the time.
Everyone thinks Paul Weller is a real inspiration for me, but he’s not so much of one as John Entwistle, the bass player with The Who. Entwhistle never got the recognition he deserved. He wasn’t a bass player, he was a bass guitarist. He took it to another level.
The Who did their version of Heatwave, which was first done by Martha and the Vandellas, and The Jam did it too, later on. The first time The Who played it was at the Marquee Club in London and it was phenomenal, I just love it – the way they hold it all together.
So there you go. Somebody once asked me if I had to give up music or my bike, which would it be? It would have to be music because cycling’s given me everything. I have responsibilities to cycling. It gives me a living. I think as a child I always wanted to be a cyclist. I’d never give that up – it’s my ultimate passion. But at the same time I’ve always been gripped by music.
LIGHTS, MUSIC, ACTION
I’m not really into the big stadium gigs, I just think there are far too many people. The smaller clubs like The 100 Club in London – you go into a place like that, and it’s like the walls are stained with the history of the place.
My favourite bands are probably The Jam, Oasis, Ocean Colour Scene, The Who and Small Faces. One of my favourite albums is Quadrophenia by The Who. It’s phenomenal – particularly if you listen to it non-stop right the way through. Tommy is brilliant, too.
As for new bands, I like The Moons. They’re a real good little Mod-ish group. Another one’s The Rifles. At the moment there’s so much good music out there that’s British, and I like that.
TOP 5 GUITARISTS
Pete Townsend from The Who
Steve Cradock who was with Ocean Colour Scene
Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd
Johnny Marr from The Smiths – I’ve seen him do stuff on the guitar that nobody else could do
Jimi Hendrix. Again some of the stuff, the chords, Hendrix did I’ve never seen replicated.
As for Paul Weller, I love the guy as a musician, I’m really taken by his music, but it’s a mistake to say, as some people have, that I idolise him.
The reason I grew my hair long for London [and the Tour 2007 start] wasn’t so much because of Weller, but because of John Entwistle from The Who and his sideburns. He’s not exactly my inspiration, but a bit like Keith Moon and Hendrix, people become a bit mythical if they die young.
I met Paul Weller last year. [Designer] Paul Smith did a book in conjunction with Weller called A Thousand Things and I went down there and had lunch with Paul [Smith] and Paul Weller was there in his shop and we were introduced.
He was just as nervous and aloof with me as I was with him. He knew who I was but it was all a bit odd. He was in a rush to get off so we didn’t really chew the fat.
I’ve got a mate in Brighton who’s massively into the music scene and goes to every Weller gig and he’s big mates with him and through him I keep getting invited to gigs. I was even supposed to go backstage at Brixton [Academy, concert venue in London] but I never have the time.
GETTING READY FOR ACTION
I’ll listen to many different kinds of music when I’m warming up for an event. At the 2008 Olympics, I mainly listened to a compilation of The Jam and also some stuff by The Who. The last song I listened to before going onto the track for the pursuits was The Jam’s David Watts. It was written by Ray Davies of The Kinks, although I don’t think they ever performed it. I don’t know why I chose it – it just got my mood.
For the Madison I listened to Happy Jack by The Who. Recently when I was in Qatar I was getting into the Kaiser Chiefs’ new album. So it really depends on the moment.
ME? IN A BAND?
There’s been lots of talk about me forming a band, and the truth is I would like to do it. But time-wise, I can’t. I’ve got enough to do. Maybe when I stop cycling I’d like to be in a group. At the moment it’s just something I do in my spare time.
I’ve never tried playing the bass. Never felt tempted. I would want to be as good as John Entwistle was. I’d want to be the best there ever was. But I’ve got too much respect for it, so I leave it alone.
As for playing guitar, I didn’t really think about it at the time I started and I just play it for myself.
Guitar playing’s funny, people ask me how good I am at it, and I say ‘I’m all right, I just play a few songs.’ Then I’ll watch other people and you think, ‘God Almighty, maybe I’m not so good.’
The same goes for cycling – how good can people be at that? As good as Eddy Merckx? You never really know.
I’ve learned to read music, but at the start I didn’t want to, I just learnt chords and that developed. It’s like learning a language – you learn to swear first and then as you get to grips with it you start looking at the writing. That’s what happened with me and speaking French.
With a guitar you learn the chords, then how to tune it, then how to read sheet music. Then you take it from there.
I’ve probably got about 12 or 13 guitars at the moment, but I haven’t got enough space for them, so a few of them are out on permanent loan.
I just spend ridiculous amounts of money on guitars, it’s the one real indulgence I have – that and clothes. I really got into vintage guitars, and to be honest right now it’s probably safer than keeping your money in a bank. They never decrease in value.
If there was a fire in my house and I could only save one, I know exactly which one it would be. I’ve got a Gibson ES-335 in ebony black with a Bigsby which is 20 years old and in mint condition. I kind of love that guitar. Those 335 Gibsons are my favourites – mine’s my pride and joy.
I occasionally buy guitar magazines but I’m always searching the net, too. There’s a couple of really good websites for rare guitars – www.vintageandrareguitars.com in London is a favourite.
I always take my guitar away with me when I can, but they’re not easy to carry around. I’m looking at getting one of those travel guitars which fit in your suitcase.
I took a cheap one to the Tour of the Med. and left it in the [Garmin team] truck for the whole of the year.
Practicing is difficult during stage races, because you’re always tired and there are other complications. I also find that when I’m at home I stand up to play and it puts a strain on one side of my back and I get a tight shoulder from playing a lot. So whenever I go to races, before I get on my time trial bike, I always have to get a physio to sort out the side of my back and shoulder.
To avoid this problem at races I’ll play the guitar lying on my back on the bed and just do some chord sequences. It’s like when you’re riding your bike for an hour, just ticking over – you don’t think about it. The same goes when I’m at home. I’ll be watching telly or talking to my wife and I’ll play my guitar without thinking about it, just twanging away on the chords.
Half the time, too, when I’m not doing anything I’ll be playing my guitar in my head without really thinking about it.
I do try not to listen too much to music when I’m riding in a race itself – I never do really. Music isn’t a means of getting hyped up. It’s a way of disconnecting from where I am. I’m not one for getting too psyched up. It never works for me.
People ask if all my guitar playing drives the guy who’s sharing the room with me at races up the wall. But that doesn’t happen. Cav used to love it; he would sit there singing as I played.
Some of the guys have even been inspired by it to play the guitar themselves. Paul Manning’s bought a guitar pack and reads all the lessons and stuff, Ed Clancy’s bought one too, and they play them with all the time.
Geraint [Thomas]’s quite impressed by it all, too. He will sit there and say ‘that chord’s good. Do that again’. But he’s never got to the point where he’ll play it for himself.
This article first appeared in Cycle Sport May 2009
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