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Some Velvet Mourning
He is the downbeat songwriter who has transcended his origins in Velvet Underground to become a fascinating artist in his own right. John Cale talks about his surprisingly melodic new project and his surprise presence on the Queen’s honours list.
Paul Nolan, 23 May 2012
Unusually for a man who once hacked the head off a dead chicken whilst wearing a hockey mask – it was to show ’70s punks who was still boss when it came to shlock-horror nihilism – Cale was awarded an OBE in 2010. Did he angst about whether or not to accept it?
“They ask you whether you’d be interested in having it,” says Cale. “I didn’t want to turn it down, because if I thought about what my mother would say, she’d be very proud. So all of that stuff comes down on your head immediately. Prince Charles presents it to you. I doubt he was aware of my work! I think he was interested in making me aware that the Prince’s Trust was still active in booking concerts. Something sets the Prince’s Trust aside, because they always did concerts, and I sang at one of them.”
I conclude by asking Cale about The Velvet Underground’s reunion in 1993, which saw them support U2 at a number of shows.
“That was outrageous,” he recalls. “I remember some of those concerts, they were total chaos. I guess everyone stood still for U2, but when we got out there, you’re watching punch-ups in the audience. And then you have ambulances creeping their way out to pick up the bodies, and backing out again – it was hilarious.
“Some of the shows were very good, I think the problem was mainly within the band, in that Lou really didn’t want us around, it was pretty obvious. He really regretted saying ‘yes’ to it. We were given star treatment by everybody, and it was very well done, but the attitude that Lou displayed towards everybody else...”
Do the band now get offers to reunite and perform, say, The Velvet Underground & Nico in its entirety?
“I don’t pay attention to it,” shrugs Cale. “But I don’t think the possibility is there anymore.”