He’s been out of the limelight for eight years ­- now Breightmet-born Damon Gough is back with a new album reflecting on a turbulent decade, writes JAMIE BOWMAN

IT’S February 2016 and Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy, is headlining the annual Prestwich Beer Festival.

The ales are going down and the crowd is warming up nicely. But there’s one problem - the main act has just given up alcohol.

“I forgot to mention I’d given up the booze to a few people and the first gig back I’m booked to play a beer festival,” laughs Damon. “That’s the kind of thing that happens to me.

“It was a real challenge as it was a room full of people getting gloriously drunk and me headlining having to watch others perform before me struggling with a boozy crowd.

“I was waiting around for four hours with no dressing room. But then I went on stage and everyone stopped and listened and it was one of the most magic gigs I’ve done. They were there to see me and it was a humbling moment.”

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Growing up in Breightmet, Damon cut an unforgettable figure when he emerged on the music scene at the end of the 90s. Never seen without his bobble hat, his startlingly original mix of folk, pop, hip hop and funk seemed to catch the country’s mood and his classic debut album The Hour Of Bewilderbeast won the 2000 Mercury Music Prize, propelling him to stardom.

Hollywood called when he recorded the hit soundtrack to Hugh Grant’s About A Boy and six more solo albums followed before he released 2012’s soundtrack to Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore’s film flop, Being Flynn.

Now after an eight-year absence he’s back with the release of new album Banana Skin Shoes, which sees him reflect on a difficult period in his life during which he’s dealt with everything from break-ups to giving up drinking.

“I gave up the booze in 2015 and that was a fresh start for me,” says Damon, 50. “I felt like I needed to knuckle down and do something, but the idea of being creative while not having a drink was a new thing. I just didn’t know if I could do it.

“When you reach a point when you’ve got to give up boozing it is such a big event. Any drug you are reliant on you feel that it’s part of who you are and part of the creative process.

“One of the hurdles you’ve got to jump when you give something up is you have to get over the assumption that it will have a negative effect on you and you’re not going to be as good or your mind is not going to be as lucid and creative.

“Luckily for me I found immediately that when I tried to write, the ideas were still there.”

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Badly Drawn Boy gigs were always unpredictable and Damon became infamous for on-stage outbursts and meltdowns. Something had to give.

“It’s the kind of job you can get away with drinking a lot,” he says. “You can get away with drinking in the studio when you’re recording and having a drink on stage. It’s one of the few professions you can get away with having a drink while you're doing it.

“Doing gigs without a drink is probably one of the hardest things to get your head around. You’d soundcheck in the afternoon and then start drinking and then you’d have a few more for Dutch courage and then if the gig goes well you’d get smashed. But even if it went terribly you’d get smashed and it became a never-ending cycle.

“There’s still all these worries - how do you drive four or five hours to a festival in the south of England and have to hang around and talk to people and then go on stage, perform, come off stage and drive back without having a drink? But I’ve done it now and I’ve found it is doable.”

Always one to wear his heart on his sleeve, Damon’s first studio album in a decade is a truly personal and heartfelt collection of songs and he doesn’t shy away from discussing the reasons behind its long gestation.

“My 30s were so busy I thought I’d take my 40s off,” he laughs. “It’s frustrating that I’ve been away for so long because in some ways it hasn’t felt that long for me. I’ve had a few scenarios which have dictated how things have gone, and the break-up from my ex Claire, who is the mother of my two teenagers, in 2012, was the catalyst for my absence for a while.

“I met my wife, Leanne, a few months after the break-up. I wasn’t really looking for a relationship but Leanne came along and I was boozing. I carried on boozing for a few years and was drowning my sorrows really.

“In those three years I wasn’t capable of making a record. I wanted to give myself the breathing space of taking a few years off and someone said to me, ‘why don’t you just chill out for a bit?’ It never occurred to me I could take time off as I always felt pressure about making a new record.

“I’ve not stopped thinking about making a record for seven years - every day I was thinking of a new song and I’m always thinking of new ideas.”

It’s 20 years now since The Hour Of Bewilderbeast was released and it remains Damon’s definitive work. Does this frustrate him since it was his first record?

“When you make a debut album that so many people like you can only be grateful,” he says. “It’s 20 years old now and so it’s cropping up a bit again. Virgin Radio just had it at number eight in their all-time 100 greatest British albums which I was astonished at.

“The top ten was all Oasis and Pink Floyd and then me. I think the highest Beatles album was number ten and I was number eight.”

Damon even admits he’s tried to capture the spirit of his debut on the new album which saw him remembering how and why he used to write songs.

“This album came together in the studio and the songs were constructed using beats,” he explains. “I used to write things on a four-track and a sampler and this new album felt a bit like a rebirth.

"1994 was a big year for me: there were people like Beck and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Beastie Boys who all had great albums out that year.

"I wanted to go back to my beginings as a bedroom artist using drum machines and samples. The Beastie Boys Book was such a touchstone for me - I would look at these pictures of them in some club in the 80s and imagine what weird song they were listening to. There was that mish-mash of songs in those days with the way punk became new wave and then hip hop. I'd like to think the songs I've made were songs that they would have been into when they were starting out."

Like all of us, Damon is doing his best to deal with lockdown and the current worries over coronavirus which has caused gigs and festival appearances to be cancelled.

“I’ve not lived in Bolton for a while but my mum and dad are still there and my brother and one of my sisters. I’m hoping I can pop home and see them when this situation is over," he adds.

“Promoting a record at a time when people are suffering can feel trivial but those of us who can keep the wheels of industry turning owe it to ourselves and others to make music.

“The break-up, giving up the booze and other issues I’ve had have all contributed to what this album has turned into and the title is about me making fun of my own failings in a positive way rather than dwelling on it and feeling sorry for myself. I’m trying to take ownership about a lot of it being my own fault.”