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on Wed, 23 Jan 2019
It’s been more than 20 years since the release of Norman Cook’s global breakthrough album - You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby - yet the 55-year-old remains very much a current and prominent member of the world music scene.
Praised by critics for its sound and style, the album - which features two of the most popular Fatboy Slim songs, Praise You and Right Here, Right Now - brought international attention to Norman, earning him a Brit Award in 1999, and was later certified four times platinum.
This year sees the global superstar heading out on tour for the umpteenth time - but on this occasion he’ll be creating something ‘unusual and completely different’. Expect a big production, a revolving stage, rave ushers and a live smiley face experience. No seat in the house will be far away from the stage.
“I’ve played different shows at festivals, on beaches and in big venues,” says Norman, “but I've always shied away from arenas, even though I’ve always thought it’s something you should do in your lifetime. Arenas can be quite impersonal places; it’s quite hard to get atmosphere going, and they can be quite cavernous and daunting for DJs. I had a one-off show last year at O2 in London, and we worked out that if we did it in the round, all of a sudden, rather than feeling like an arena, it felt like a big nightclub. For some reason, it worked. It takes away all the impersonality and you forget you’re in an arena; it’s just me in the middle of people having a load of rave-up nonsense which totally works. So we thought we’d roll it out around the country. It’s a chance to do the show I’ve always wanted to do in terms of size and production.”
Norman first came to musical prominence in the mid-1980s during his time with indie rock band The Housemartins. After three top-10 albums and six top-20 singles, the band decided to go their separate ways.
“I might consider playing in a band again, but probably not The Housemartins. I’m still mates with them, but we did vow never to reform. We still get together every now and again to confirm our vows. To be honest, I'm more likely to be playing in a band at a mate’s wedding than I am to be inflicting it on the rest of you. Over the years I've realised that I'm a much better DJ than I am a bass player.”
After The Housemartins split, Cook formed the electronic band Beats International in his home town of Brighton, producing number-one single Dub Be Good To Me.
Fatboy Slim followed shortly afterwards, in 1996.
Since then, Norman has become one of the global DJ scene’s most treasured and important figures. His infamous Big Beach Boutique gig in 2002 saw a staggering 250,000 fans flock to Brighton beach and he’s worked with musical greats aplenty, including David Byrne and Iggy Pop.
Norman recently became the first DJ to perform at the top of Brighton’s i360 tower. So how was that experience, and are there any other particular locations in which he’d like to perform?
“Well, that was definitely top of my bucket list. It’s just up the road from me. I'm very Brighton-centric, and there was nobody else who was going to do that. We’ve been trying for three years to make that happen, so to finally do it was quite emotional. It was such a beautiful sunset, almost like the gods were approving of what we were doing. It was nice because it put Brighton on the map too. Still on my bucket list? Obviously outer space would be good. I thought I’d got a gig there actually. Richard Branson phoned me up and offered me the job of being the first DJ to play in space, but it turned out it was Beardyman doing an impersonation.”
As well as his upcoming tour, Norman reveals that he’s currently working on the music for a film that Julien Temple is making about Ibiza.
“It’s called Ibiza: The Silent Movie, but rather than getting Paul Oakenfold, Pete Tong and me to bang on about Ibiza, it’s about the history of the island before we invaded it. It starts with the Venetians and the Romans, the Nazis and all the different people who’ve visited it over the years. It’s a lighthearted documentary, but it’s silent, there’s no vox pops and there’s no commentary. The music and the visuals tell the story. Julien has got quite an individual style, the way he makes documentaries; they’re not traditional. It’s been a pleasure to work with him - he’s been one of my favourites for many years. It’s really nice to flex different muscles but still be working within the parameters of the Ibiza soundtrack, which has been the soundtrack of my life for the last 25 years.
“The intention is to premiere it at Glastonbury this year, but if I'm not there presenting the film, I'll be there anyway - you know me. Isn’t it amazing how we all miss Glastonbury during the fallow year? I was thinking it may be nice to have a year off, but I've really missed it. It seems like it’s been three years! It’s good, though, because we’re all really chomping at the bit to get back there now. You’ll be seeing me in all the familiar places over the summer - lots of Ibiza action and lots of festival action. I’m really, really enjoying DJing - it’s a wonderful job!”
If you’ve ever been to a Fatboy Slim gig or watched one on YouTube, you’ll absolutely know that he 100 percent means what he says about loving his trade - his enthusiasm for DJing couldn’t be more apparent than during his gigs.
“Is it weird to say that I actually enjoy it more now? Obviously, as I get older, there’s some kind of clock running that says some day I'll have to stop doing it, so I'm savouring it more. Now I'm DJing sober, I'm remembering more. It might’ve been better back then, but as far as I remember, it’s better now. It’s the most wonderful job in the world, and it ticks all the boxes for me. I love music, I love performing and I love just travelling around the world, making friends, telling stories and sharing music.”
Having achieved so much in his life, what are Norman’s highlights?
“The gig on Brighton beach, definitely! Having number ones - that feels like the pinnacle because you know you’re doing it right. I’m very proud of my children, of course. I look back on those things and think, ‘Yeah, that was a good idea; that was worth doing.”
Fatboy Slim plays Arena Birmingham on Friday 22 February.
Interview by Lauren Foster