‘We are singing about life, the great game of poesy. We are speaking of the truth from and at our eyes… the mode of nomadic life from the Tamashek people we love.’
– Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Tinariwen
Jon Wilks Posts
My interview with Tim Robbins was always going to be a peculiar one. The actor-turned singer was in Japan for a week of concerts at the Blue Note Tokyo, supporting his 2010 album Tim Robbins & The Rogues Gallery Band, but I was warned beforehand not to mention any of his movies – a tough ask considering that the Oscar winner has been part of the Hollywood furniture for more than two decades – and it was politely suggested that he’d only want to talk about his music. No Susan Sarandon, then. I duly set about studying the man’s only album, and the music that might have inspired it.
I needn’t have been so meticulous. Tim Robbins is a walking encyclopaedia of musical minutiae (seriously, next time you find yourself in a lift with him, ask him about punk, folk, lo-fi…you get the impression he commits it all to memory like words from a script). And so I sat with him for 30 learned minutes, bouncing between family memories (his father was an admired folk singer) and his experiences of fame (‘It’s all in your head’), hearing about how he won’t be ‘going Indonesian’ on his next album, and the Robbins secret to ‘living free’. A wide-ranging interview, then, to say the least, and possibly his first since 1994 (I’m kinda proud to say) not to use the word ‘Shawkshank’…
The closing ceremony of the Middle East Film Festival is a glam affair, starry as the desert sky. But as the cameras flash across the red carpet, capturing Orlando Bloom and Eva Mendes in the way in which they’ve become accustomed, one figure stands aside, happy to go unnoticed. His name is Joe Odagiri, and in his native Japan, he can’t step out of the front door without being splashed across the tabloids.
‘It’s amazing, isn’t it,’ says the actor, watching his current co-star Maggie Q lap up the photographers’ attention. ‘They’re pretty bad in Japan, the paparazzi – I guess they’re the same everywhere. But all this,’ he says, gesturing to the scene around him, unused to observing it from the sidelines, ‘It’s really amazing.’ He goes on to explain that his time at the festival has largely been his own, again something of a reprieve for someone in the Japanese limelight where celebrities are expected to have several strings to their bow. Since arriving in Abu Dhabi, he’s only had one interview request – with yours truly.
Everyone knows Booker T Jones, though not everyone realises it. Despite being one of the most influential musicians of the last half century, he is best known as a session man and songwriter, plying his trade in the background, producing tunes that have been in the foreground more times than you could ever recall.
I interviewed Graham Coxon, a huge hero of mine, for Time Out in 2009. At the time, Graham was promoting The Spinning Top, an album that owed a lot to late 1960s folk troubadours such as Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. I remember it as a tough interview. I rarely get starstruck. Maybe chatting with the man I’d seen so many times in concert through me a bit. If he’s ever up for a repeat performance, I’d be game!
When I first arrived in the UAE, I met up with a family friend who’d spent more years in the Middle East than in his native Ireland. Keen to impart some of his local knowledge, we arranged a trip to Dubai’s Global Village where he agreed to verse me in haggling culture. ‘The golden rule,’ he explained, ‘is never to show any interest.’
‘So, I’m to fain lack of interest in something I’ve got my heart set on?’
‘Right,’ he grinned. ‘They can’t stand it.’
Clearly, the world of bartering is a confusing place, not dissimilar to that of relationships. But the idea that there might be a ‘golden rule’ was intriguing. It suggested that there might be a science to getting the perfect price. With this in mind, I took a few half-baked theories to the streets of Abu Dhabi.
Good old Wilfred Thesiger. The explorer’s five years in the heat of the UAE desert have inspired countless expats to dip their toes in the shallows of the Rub’ Al Khali, and his books and artefacts have become a small tourist industry in their own right. You can head out to the museum in Al Ain to gaze upon the man’s engraved rifle, or you can flit down to Liwa and have a go at desert camping, trying to imagine what it was like to be the UAE’s first expat explorer. You’re never going to get close, of course.
This was one of the first interviews I did working for Time Out. Jeremy Lawrence, the editor of Time Out Dubai at the time, popped his head up over the computer screen and asked nonchalantly if I fancied interviewing Bob Geldof in, oooh, an hour? Cue 50 minutes of frenzied research on African policy, all of which led to nothing at all when it turned out he just fancied talking about his time as a music journalist.
I remember him being a bit curmudgeonly, but generally fairly gentle with me, perhaps sensing how green I was. I also recall that he left the conversation mid-sentence, pretty much hanging up the phone without even rounding off what he was saying. He was talking about Bono’s music taste at the time, though, so I didn’t feel I missed out on much.
The snake hips have gone, but the charm is all intact. ‘Just call me Tom,’ he laughs down the phone as I fumble with his title. This, after all, is the original Mr Jones: celebrated lothario, knight of the realm, Hollywood Walk of Famer… He’s clocked up more Vegas appearances than Sinatra, talked fitness tips with Elvis and been the target of untold items of flying underwear. Why, then, does it feel like I’m chatting with some jovial old timer in a pub at the back end of Cardiff?