From bondage to polo – it’s been a long journey for The Tubes lead singer Fee Waybill

The Tubes. Picture: Janice Kang
The Tubes. Picture: Janice Kang
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Fee Waybill, legendary frontman of outrageous rock band The Tubes, spoke to Terry Caster in the run up to their show at the Brudenell in Leeds on August 11.

The band are half way through a European tour that takes in festivals and gigs across July and August, celebrating 40 years since their first album.

How’s life on the road at the moment?

We’re on our way to the UK, and going to try to get over the channel. It sounds crazy. We’re gonna take one of the hovercrafts. We’ve just played the 10th anniversary of the Rock of Ages festival in Germany, playing to 20-30,000 people on our 40th anniversary.

You headlined Knebworth instead of Frank Zappa in 1978 – how did that come about?

We loved Zappa – he was great. A couple of times we were recording at the same studio as him. He’d bring these gigantic ten gallon of urns of coffee and record all night long. He was due to headline that night, but he didn’t want to follow The Tubes on stage – not with the dancing girls and the big show – the whole nine yards. We were huge fans of Zappa and Mothers of Invention, that really intricate blast out stuff, like Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band too. We actually had a memorial concert for Don – Captain Beefheart – when he passed away. We did a Beefheart song on one of our albums – ‘My Head Is My Only House’ and Captain Beefheart also played saxophone on ‘Cathy’s Clone’.

What do reckon to the current music scene?

It pretty much sucks – I’m not a big fan of rap music and the pop music doesn’t have a whole load of theatrics going on. I’m sure there’s some interesting indie stuff going on, but I just don’t get to hear it. But I’ll tell you one exception – the Foo Fighters. I’m a real fan of Dave Grohl and I sang on his last album on a track called ‘Miss the Misery’. When he broke his leg at that festival in Sweden I got in touch with him, and he texted me once he got out of the hospital. He broke his right tibula, and I broke my right tibula at a show in Leicester in 1978...

That will have been the De Monfort Hall gig?

Yeah – that’s right! Well when I broke my leg I was off for something like six months. We had to cancel shows and rearrange them for later in the year. Dave Grohl was back in something like six weeks – I don’t know how he does it! And they’ve built him this kind of throne so he can play guitar and sing and sit there with his leg all trussed up. Incredible. And the way he can go from that really loud growl to quieter stuff is really something else.

Anyone else you like?

Not really. I guess Rihanna has a great voice. It’s always the voices that are important. It was like that with the Beatles. I was doing some musical theatre and stuff and then the Beatles came along and I knew I wanted to do rock and roll – that was going to be it for me. I got to know Ringo a bit, he’s a really nice guy. I do a lot of work with Richard Marx and met him through Richard.

Are you looking forward to being back in the UK - you haven’t toured here in a while?

Well we have played a few times, but usually just a couple of shows, so we did London and Edinburgh a couple of years ago, but haven’t done this long a tour in a while. We’re more of a weekend band now, playing a few gigs at a time rather than touring. But we’ve been to Leeds plenty of times, I think 2004 was last time. My dad’s side of the family is British, from Brighton so I love to come here. Then there’s the Italian side of the family too...

You once did battle for Cher’s soul with Dolly Parton? Can you remember who won and how that came about?

(Laughs) Oh wow, that! Cher used to have a TV show and she invited us on it. We had this weird thing where we were meant to see if her soul would go to the dark side – us, or Dolly’s side! I think she ended up with the angels. I saw her not long ago – she’s a real sweetie, I love her. She asked to play the female role in a few of the songs, like Mondo Bondage. It was pretty weird, but how could we refuse? It was her show. And wow – Cher wanting to do that! She still looks amazing too, she’s a real star.

Have you ever considered going down the cosmetic surgery route?

Ha! No, I have not. No. There’s this thing called ‘freeze the fat’, do you know about that? It’s some new process where they clamp some great ice machine to your love handles, your muffin tops, and freeze the fat off. They reckon it kills the fat cells and they pass out of the body or something. I’m not convinced.

I like to look after myself and I’m still pretty fit. I work out three times a week. I ride my horses, I play polo. I love it.

How did that come about?

I grew up with horses in Arizona, and about 15 years ago my brother who stayed living there introduced me to polo and I really enjoy it. I’ve got about seven horses – mainly ex-race horses – and play at a recreational level.

The Tubes are well known for their humour and satire. How did that start?

Well I love Monty Python. I’ve watched every one of their shows and they produced the best satirical stuff ever, really dry. I played King Arthur in that Python play Spamalot recently. There’s this thing called summer stock theatre and I’ve played Frank-N-Furter in the Rocky Horror Show hundreds of times, but I was this year I was thrilled to do Python instead. And I met Eric Idle shortly after which was incredible. He lives next door to a friend of mine in LA and introduced us. I was made up.

Parody, sarcasm, satire - we loved it from the very beginning and we use it in the songs and characters we do.

What can we expect from the show at the Brudenell?

We’ll be emphasising stuff from the first album, because it is the 40th anniversary. But we’re not just playing through the album from start to finish. We’ll be playing the old favourites – you’ll see Bondage and Quay Lude and Mr Hate will be there. I’ve still got the boots, they’re right here! Those 18 inch silver ones... It’ll be great to be there.

And you want to get some fish and chips I believe? Do you know Leeds has some of the best and it’s where Harry Ramsden’s started out?

Oh wow. Yeah, I haven’t had fish and chips for ages. I missed out on the last visit to the UK, but that will be great. We’ll have to search out that place...

The Tubes play Leeds Brudenell Club on August 11. Tickets are available from Seetickets or the Brudenell hotline on 0113 275 2411.

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