Changes: Norman Cook
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Annie [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to Changes. It is Annie Macmanus here. How are you? Welcome to the final episode of series eight of Changes. I can't believe we're at series eight, that's remarkable to me. We have a man on the show who I think is hopefully going to give you a very entertaining and interesting and warm exit to this series. He has witnessed a lot of change in an outstanding career in which he has soundtracked so many of our lives. This week's guest is Norman Cook, a.k.a Fatboy Slim. Cue Music *singing* right about now, the funk soul brother, right about now! *Laughs* so many songs I could do. So Norman Cook started his musical career as part of the band The House Martins, but it was his work as a DJ and producer that saw him achieve stratospheric success. In 1996, he released his debut album, followed by You've Come a Long Way Baby in 1998, which went to number one. Featured the tracks Praise You, Right Here Right Now, and Rockefeller Skank. He has won nine MTV Video Music Awards, two Brit Awards and a Grammy. And this year, a brand new documentary called Right Here Right Now was released on Sky, recounting the biggest outdoor party to have ever taken place in the UK, of which Fatboy Slim was at the helm. It was his Big Beach Boutique II, and it took place 20 years ago on Brighton Beach. 60,000 people were expected to attend, 250,000 showed up. The A23 was backed up past Gatwick about 25 miles away. People abandoned their cars. Police fled. And amazingly, though, against all odds, it wasn't a disaster and it went down in history as a legendary party. It could never happen now. In our chat, Norman talks about that day and what it meant to have his family there, including his dad who had always previously disapproved slightly of his career.
Norman [00:02:01] He didn't come to many of my shows but I really wanted him to come to that one *laughs* because I knew it was going to be big. But I wasn't going to then turn around and go, 'yeah, see, you see. This is what you told me not to do. Look at this!'.
Annie [00:02:12] Personally, Norman was previously married to radio DJ Zoe Ball, who he has two children with. And he has also recently celebrated being 14 years sober, a change which we discuss. No small feat for a touring DJ. I absolutely loved having him on Changes, it was such a treat. Let's do it. Norman Cook... Norman Cook! Hello, welcome to Changes!
Norman [00:02:41] Well, thanks for having me, Annie. How are you doing?
Annie [00:02:44] I'm really good. It's an absolute pleasure to have some time to speak with you. So thank you so much for being here.
Norman [00:02:49] Thanks for having me.
Annie [00:02:50] Talk me through, Norman, the change that happens from when you are Norman Cook side of stage, to when you're Fatboy Slim behind the decks. That change, physical and mental. What goes on?
Norman [00:03:02] That transformation is fairly simple. It involves about three Red Bulls *Annie laughs*, putting on a Hawaiian shirt, removing my shoes and being slapped really hard around the face by my tour manager, Al.
Annie [00:03:17] What's the significance of the slap?
Norman [00:03:18] The significance of the slap is it replaces the kind of cheeky vodka and orange that used to- or something else which would get me going on the stage fighting. It just brings out all my adrenaline, that is, you know, when I go on stage, I'm in a fighting mood. Yeah, just to perk me up and then the rest of it is basically, especially the bare feet bit, that demarcates that I'm not a responsible father, 59 year old man anymore. I'm this sort of cartoon character version of myself that- and then I can go on stage and be free and sort of indulge the Fatboy side of my character.
Annie [00:03:57] And once you have those physical kind of things happen, this Fatboy character, does anything else happen in terms of your state of mind?
Norman [00:04:05] Norman is a responsible, loving, caring adult. Fatboy Slim is a kind of hedonistic idiot *Annie laughs*. Sworn to fun, loyal to none. And he has no responsibilities apart from not damaging himself or anybody else. But beyond that, pretty much anything goes. So it just yeah, it just frees me from responsibility, which allows me A to perform without any nerves, any stage fright or any worry about what I'm doing might be ridiculous for a man of my age. For those 2 hours on stage, I'm trying to engender this feeling of escapism and euphoria. And so I think about nothing else for those 2 hours. It's like, how to make people happier, higher, feel more free and yeah.
Annie [00:04:56] How does it feel when you when you step off stage?
Norman [00:04:59] It's quite easy because doing that for 2 hours at my age is quite exhausting. So by the time I get back to the dressing room, I'm back to being Norman and I'm like 'ahhh' *Annie laughs*, God that hurt. And then, you know, some of the stupid things I've done on stage now start hurting *laughs*.
Annie [00:05:14] *Laughing* like what?
Norman [00:05:15] Well, I do climb around a bit and run around a bit. And at the time that doesn't, you know, take any effect. But it's only when you come off stage you ache or you feel the bruises of the stupid things you did.
Annie [00:05:31] Mmm. You mentioned this idea of kind of escapism and euphoria and making sure that those people who are with you are feeling that. The documentary that just came out, the very excellent documentary that just came out about you and your history and the big Brighton gig, at the start of that you say, 'my love of music is heightened by sharing it with other people', and you talk about that as a kind of epiphany when you realised that yes, you love music, but when you share it that kind of feeling goes somewhere else. Can you tell me when or where in your life it was when you realised that? When you realised that that was heightened?
Norman [00:06:04] Probably as soon as I started buying records. I always loved music, but since I started buying records, you can ask my brother and sister, it's like I could only enjoy them by playing them to other people and going, have you heard this? It's really good.
Annie [00:06:15] Yeah.
Norman [00:06:16] And I tried playing it to my parents, but they didn't really like the records I was buying. So I would just bother my brother and sister, just incessantly playing them every new record that I bought. And so yeah, I suppose looking back at it I should have realised then. But you know, again it's that shared listening experience, you know, during lockdown when everyone was doing their Friday night kitchen parties, they were really trying to recreate that atmosphere, you know, by having loud music, flashing disco lights, possibly, and alcohol. But it's not the same when you're not in a room full of like minded people, you know, something happens. And so it's yeah, I'm just a more exaggerated version of that. For me, it's like a tree falling in the forest and no one hearing it. For me, if a really good record isn't shared then it isn't enjoyed.
Annie [00:07:08] Where do you come in the chronology of your brother and sister?
Norman [00:07:11] I'm the youngest.
Annie [00:07:12] You're the youngest, okay. What was family life like growing up? What were your parents like?
Norman [00:07:17] It's lovely. Yeah, it was very happy. Full of music. Uh, yeah, I mean, my mum was a bit of a hippy and really sort of encouraged me on music. My dad really hated the music business, and pop music was to him- you know, the idea that I wanted to do that for a living was slightly below being a prostitute, I think, in his levels of disgust. And, um, so those two things kind of spurred me on I think, you know, the positive and the negative encouragement. Yeah, music was a very constant. We used to, I think the first time I discovered the real power of music was when we'd be on a long car journey. Now you know what they were like before people had mobile phones. A long car journey with a family of five in a little Ford Zodiac could be very techy and anxiousy.
Annie [00:08:05] Where would you be going?
Norman [00:08:07] We would be going to either Cornwall camping or Brittany camping.
Annie [00:08:13] Nice.
Norman [00:08:13] And they were the longest journeys in the world, but the only time they were ever fun was when we were all singing. You know, a song would come on the radio, we'd all start singing, and then everybody in my family could sing quite well so we'd take harmonies. And then this thing would happen where we're all singing in harmony and all of a sudden, the rows and the fighting had stopped. But also there was this really powerful noise that was just bigger and just filled the car up with this warmth of music. And that stuck with me and whenever I'm making a record or playing with a band or something- when you're in a band and you're rehearsing and it sounds really rubbish when you start, and then there's a point where you hit it and suddenly you're all locked in and playing together, and this just power engulfs you. And yeah, that goes back to the long car journeys.
Annie [00:08:56] And who was the person in your family, do you think, that influenced you the most with regards to the music that you loved?
Norman [00:09:02] Oh my mum was a singer. My mum was definitely the singer.
Annie [00:09:04] Was she?
Norman [00:09:05] Yeah, yeah. So many of my memories go back to my mum, hearing my mum singing doing the washing up on a Sunday morning, being woken by her singing.
Annie [00:09:15] Ahh, what a beautiful memory!
Norman [00:09:15] And knowing that she was happy. My mum is someone who would wear her emotions on her sleeve, and you knew she was happy if she was singing. And I suppose that struck a chord.
Annie [00:09:27] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, so what was Norman like as a child?
Norman [00:09:32] I was a bit naughty, bit of a show off. I was the youngest, so I kind of felt that to be heard or be recognised or understood in the family, I kind of needed to show off. So yeah, I was always the sort of the joker, I was always slightly rebellious.
Annie [00:09:50] Do you think you got away with stuff more than your brother and sister did?
Norman [00:09:54] Oh yeah. Yeah, I definitely did. And I definitely played on that. I was definitely my mum's favourite and erm, all the things that come with being the youngest, I think that kind of er- But always, you know, I always got everybody else's hand-me-downs *Annie laughs*, I always got the roughest bike, you know, that my brother and my sister had had and the clothes that, you know, that had been worn by the two of them before. So yeah, you kind of get this feeling like that you need to fight for your position in the pecking order of the family, and mine was by showing off and entertaining people and playing them my records.
Annie [00:10:28] Yeah *laughs*. Forcing them to listen to your music. Yes, I love it. Okay, so your sister, is it true?You can confirm or deny this, that it was her that kind of led you to living in Brighton?
Norman [00:10:41] Yeah, yeah. She was two years older than me, so two years- she came down to Brighton to go to college when I was 16 and she was 18. And I grew up in a place called Reigate, which is really quite a dull place for a teenager. And all we wanted to do is get out of Reigate. And my sister would let me come down and stay with her and her mates, and she had a student house where there were no rules and there was drinking involved and fun. And so I would come down and visit her a lot at weekends and her friends kind of accepted me. But I just found myself in this city, you know, after growing up in a suburban town where absolutely nothing happened, I was in this big city where there was nightclubs and people dressed as, you know, like dressed flamboyantly. And for me it was like, ohhh this is it. And for where I lived, we were kind of halfway- it was like Croydon was our nearest sort of place where something was happening. So you either went up to Croydon or you went down to Brighton. And so I just fell in love with Brighton. So all the while that I was doing my A-levels, I was, you know- and they're going, where do you want to go college? I'd just be like, I want to go to Brighton. Don't care what course. I'll do any course but I just want to be in Brighton. And that was 40 years ago and I'm still here.
Annie [00:11:56] Tell me about then, the biggest change of your childhood. Can you remember what you said for this?
Norman [00:12:01] Yes. It was punk rock.
Annie [00:12:02] How did that hit ya?
Norman [00:12:03] It just hit me literally. I was 14, and my brother came home with the first Damned record, which is one of the first ever punk rock records. And he came and he said, have you heard of this thing called punk rock? I was like, no. And he just played me Neat Neat Neat by The Damned. And by the time the record had finished, I'd bought the record off him. And my life had just changed because punk rock for a 14 year old who was looking for rebellion, loved music, but wasn't particularly a great musician. Just looking for my identity in life, you know, I had all these sort of urges but I didn't really know who I was, and punk would just define me. I still to this day retain a huge kind of punk ethic about how I live my life, because a lot of people just thought, you know, what punk became was, you know, people with Mohicans spitting on each other and wearing leather jackets with studs on. But it was about way more than that. It was about this freedom and individuality, but also belonging to a tribe that was outside the norm and didn't behave by their rules *Short musical interlude*.
Annie [00:13:21] You cite the biggest change of your adulthood is- and this is something I'm really interested in, is you realising that you were a DJ and not a musician. Can you tell me where you were in life when that realisation came to be? What was your situation?
Norman [00:13:36] I was on tour with Freak Power.
Annie [00:13:39] Okay, so they were a band that you had after The House Martins. I saw you in Dublin, I'll never forget it.
Norman [00:13:44] Ahh right! Well, I was touring with Freak Power round Europe, but it just wasn't really me and we weren't doing that well. And we'd had one hit which had kind of brought us some shows and some longevity, but we weren't really doing that well. And at the same time, all these funny little records that I'd been putting out under pseudonyms for a laugh were doing much better than Freak Power Records. And every time I DJ'd, more people would come and see me DJ'ing than would come to see this band. And it was like, I'm doing something that I'm not very good at, I'm not particularly enjoying and-
Annie [00:14:17] It's really hard work.
Norman [00:14:19] Yeah, really hard work and not making any money.
Annie [00:14:21] Were you in your twenties then?
Norman [00:14:23] I would have been, yeah, late twenties. And by now I'd been in Beach International, Freak Power, House Martins, but all the while trying to be a songwriter, writing real songs with lyrics. Doing okay here and there, but never feeling that it was really me and never feeling that I was particularly that good at it. And then the thing that I'd been doing quietly as a hobby my whole life, suddenly became more important to a lot of people than bands. And also all the people that I'd been DJ'ing with at weekends were suddenly pop stars, you know, or DJ superstars. And basically, more people wanted to see me DJ than didn't hear me play guitar badly. And then everyday getting phone calls about, oh, you know, the dub cats records just got in the top 20, the pizza man records gone, you know, and all these other things going on. Them being really jealous of me, and me thinking well what am I doing with you? *Annie laughs* I really shouldn't be here. Yeah, so just getting back to what I'd always done which was DJ'ing, and realising that it's far more me. And since then I've just found the music business very effortless. Now I just kind of- it comes really naturally. Because I'm not trying to be a songwriter and trying to be something that I'm not or trying to play music- you know, because in The House Martins I didn't really like the music, so finally it was just, I can just be me and I don't have to pretend to be anyone else. I don't have to reinvent myself. I don't have to persuade other people why I want to make this record. I've been more successful and more happy since.
Annie [00:16:08] That must have felt so liberating at the time. Was there a gig or a moment where you were like, ahh, I've made the right decision. Or like, this was the right move?
Norman [00:16:16] Yeah, there was a gig at Stammer park in Brighton, which was like a big festival, and we had a Big Beat Boutique tent and I headlined that and that was the first- we've been doing the boutique, you know, every Friday, and there'd be like 300 people there going nuts. But we had this tent suddenly with 2000 people going nuts. And I just realised the power of what we were doing is like, it was like playing in a punk band. Energy coming off the crowd and the sense of rebellion and freedom and lunacy and sense of humour just was so powerful. And I remember my manager going, there's something in this isn't there?
Annie [00:16:59] *Laughing* He's seeing pound signs!
Norman [00:17:00] Well yeah, that's it. Because we knew what had been going on in the boutique and at the --- social, you know, and what was going on with the --- but yeah, that was kind of- realised my part in it was doing these DJ sets which try to cause as much mayhem as possible *both laugh.
Annie [00:17:19] So that first album, '96, Better Living Through Chemistry, and then your next album, You've Come a Long Way Baby, it's folklore now. It's musical folklore, even that name. What are your memories, Norman, of that time, of that album and the kind of peak success that came with that? And how is your memory? I'm so sorry to interrupt.
Norman [00:17:40] Well, you're about to find out that there's gaping holes *Annie laughs*. Mainly because of my sort of partying lifestyle in those days. It was just a whirlwind. In the midst of going from being a sort of, a respected DJ, to being a superstar DJ, and going from somebody who put out records and every now and then had a hit, going to knocking Robbie Williams off the number one spot in the album charts was like, oh my God, this is like, proper. And at the same time, I met Zoe. So then we became a celebrity couple. So my whole life just became this crazy dream, which was hilarious and great fun. And I do wish I could remember more of it because I'm sure I had way more fun than I remember. But it was just yeah, for about three years it was just a whirlwind where- to someone who started as a punk rocker, finding out that in your career, the more rules you break, the better things go, is kind of like a carte blanche, it's like, what really? So if I make really stupid videos that break the rules, they make me more popular, right? And if I don't take my DJing seriously and try and engender, you know, riots and mayhem, that's allowed. And if I make records that break all musical rules by nicking bits of other records and making a collage, that's okay is it? it's like yeah more, more of the same please. So, yeah, it was a fabulous time. It was like riding the crest of a wave. Every now and then it was a little bit bumpy on the top, but it really felt like we were on the crest of this wave and you were propelled by what else was going on. Again, it was quite effortless. It wasn't like we'd had a big plan and strategy of how to make things happen. It was like we found ourselves on the top of the wave and all we had to do is try and stay on top of it.
Annie [00:19:31] Stay on, yeah. With the release of this Right Here Right Now documentary that came out recently, I wonder in in the making of that, in the watching back of that, is there anything that you kind of remembered or learned about that mad time that you had forgotten?
Norman [00:19:48] Mmm, good question. I remember just thinking, oh, don't be a knob. Please. Please. Younger self.
Annie [00:19:54] Like, talking to yourself?!
Norman [00:19:55] Yeah. Yeah. Well, I was willing the younger self that I was watching on the rushes not to be a knob.
Annie [00:20:03] Yeah, yeah, don't embarass me young Norman!
Norman [00:20:04] Because I couldn't remember- because that whole day is a bit of a blur because it was just, there was just so much going on and it was having meetings with the police and my whole family there and my mum and dad were there and, and lots of other people. So it was a crazy day so I didn't remember much, but I was just having- oh please don't be a big headed knob.
Annie [00:20:24] And? Did you impress yourself?
Norman [00:20:26] Yeah, I didn't impress myself but I didn't disgust myself.
Annie [00:20:29] Okay, great. Great. Thats a win.
Norman [00:20:31] One of the things that I had to try and keep a lid on during that crazy time that you were talking about was keeping a lid on your ego, because at the same time, while you've got licence to break rules and everything, you've also- people, you know, there's a lot of people with their tongues up your arse who will let you get away with murder. And when you are that successful, it's quite easy to become a bit of a knob. But I think Zoe was really good for me for that because she knew the fame game and she would- we would sort of check each other if I, if I wasn't respectful to people she'd go, oi come on, that's not how we behave, you know.
Annie [00:21:09] Yeah.
Norman [00:21:09] Go back and thank them for that.
Annie [00:21:11] Yeah.
Norman [00:21:12] And so- because both of us were going through this weird, like, oh my God *laughs* that sort of fuck me I'm famous moment. And I think we were quite good at trying to keep each other's feet on the ground because it's hard. It's hard. When everyone's saying, here have this, take this, drink this, you're brilliant, it's probably hard to keep some kind of lid and go, actually no, I am actually really a human being. I'm not a superstar.
Annie [00:21:39] Incredibly hard. And also, what a blessing looking back that there was two of you, that you had each other to kind of keep each other on the ground.
Norman [00:21:46] Yeah. Yeah. I think we probably saved each other quite a lot of erm-
Annie [00:21:49] Yeah.
Norman [00:21:50] Bother.
Annie [00:21:52] What did your Dad think of that day?
Norman [00:21:56] *Laughs* I never really pressured him because that was my almighty fuck you. You know, this is what you didn't want me to do that you said would come to nothing. And he didn't come to many of my shows but I really wanted him to come to that one, because I knew it was going to be big. But I wasn't going to then turn around and go, 'yeah, see? You see? This is what you told me not to do. Look at this'. So I tried not to rub it in. But the fact that he turned up and, you know.
Annie [00:22:21] Witnessed it.
Norman [00:22:22] Witnessed it and said well done, you know? I don't think we've ever- Bless him. He's lost most of his faculties now, so he doesn't actually know who I am. But we never had that conversation when I did say, you know, 'you know you were wrong, don't you?' *laughs*.
Annie [00:22:36] Yeah, yeah, yeah *laughs*.
Norman [00:22:38] Or when he volunteered. So yeah, we never quite resolved it. Again, you know, that's not, you know, it'd be really easy to go, yeah, fuck you, I'm famous!
Annie [00:22:48] See dad!!
Norman [00:22:52] Yeah, see? See all those people? That's for me that is *Annie laughs*. I'm not that guy, hopefully.
Annie [00:22:57] No, but you're not that guy. That's the thing. Like looking at your career and the absolute remarkable longevity of it. Like, the fact of the matter is that you were that big then, but you are still such a globally huge DJ, playing to huge audiences, arena tours, still doing that. And no one does that! Like it's so rare to see a DJ still- doing that at all, let alone still doing it after this long. I'm going to ask you an impossible question and I apologise in advance. Why, Norman? Why do you think you're still doing it and still able to do it? And why do you think the audiences are still so thirsty for the Fatboy Slim experience?
Norman [00:23:34] Am I allowed to say, I have no idea?
Annie [00:23:37] Course you are. Say whatever you want.
Norman [00:23:38] I mean, I know why I'd still do it.
Annie [00:23:40] Why?
Norman [00:23:41] Because I love it. And it makes me who I am. Like a record isn't good until I've shared it with somebody else. I'm not fully me until I've got an audience and I'm showing off to them. It kind of defines part of me. And I realised that during lockdown, when I couldn't do it for a year. It was like mmmm, this is interesting.
Annie [00:24:03] God. That must have been some serious looking in the mirror there.
Norman [00:24:05] Well, it wasn't. It was just like, okay, I can deal with having a limb missing. I can learn to use the other hand. But there is part of me missing. Without an audience, I'm kind of not quite me. So erm-
Annie [00:24:19] But you went and worked in your coffee shop then, didn't you?
Norman [00:24:22] Yeah, but in a way that was kind of- In a way that was just so I had someone to show off to *both laugh*.
Annie [00:24:26] Yeah, okay. They were still weirdly an audience but they're just waiting for coffee!
Norman [00:24:30] I tell everyone that I did it for my mental health because I needed to get out of the house and, you know, this is the last bit of community and interaction with other human beings that was left to me but, I think it was just so I had an audience to, you know, *Annie laughs* to mess about to while I was serving them coffee. But it's yeah, so from my point of view, I just love doing it and you know what it's like, it's the best job in the world just to swan around playing your favourite records to people. It's a great job. So I love doing it and I put a lot into it. I'm baffled by the fact that I'm still getting away wih it. A series of lucky accidents.
Annie [00:25:08] No Norman, you can't!! You can't. No, I'm sorry!
Norman [00:25:11] Maybe not pissing anyone off along the way.
Annie [00:25:14] Good, that's good.
Norman [00:25:15] I've kind of tried to, yeah not burn any bridges with that whole thing about the people you meet on the way down.
Annie [00:25:22] Yeah. Yeah.
Norman [00:25:23] So I think within the industry, I think a lot of people kind of, like me and-
Annie [00:25:29] Have good feelings. Yeah.
Norman [00:25:30] Yeah, and so I still get the breaks, but I don't know, I suppose- I mean, the thing is, an athlete has a very definite shelf life of when they can physically do what their sport is. A boy band, you're only as good as your looks, so at some point when the girls stop fancying you- But DJs is like kind of, we were never supposed to be oil paintings. We're allowed to grow old and bald and grey and you know, that doesn't seem to matter. Physically it's not so demanding, probably as being, you know, a drummer or- and so we're this first wave of big name DJs and no one quite knows what the-
Annie [00:26:11] I think it's fascinating.
Norman [00:26:12] You know, what our sell by date is.
Annie [00:26:14] Did you have a sell by date when you were younger? Like I always said, I'm not going to be DJ when I'm 40.
Norman [00:26:18] Oh, yeah. There are tons of things I didn't think I'd be doing when I was 30. And and every year, I mean, every year I always work too hard and all my mates go, why are you doing this? I'm like, well, this is probably last year that I'll be getting offers like this. And then they point out, I've been saying this for like 10 years *laughing*. I'm like, this is my testimonial year, you know, there's so much good stuff I've got yo take it.
Annie [00:26:39] Yeah, yeah.
Norman [00:26:39] Yeah. I don't know. I mean, I think there's a timeless need for young people to go out and dance and celebrate and escape and get high and get laid. If there's like a new set of freshers, if you will, every year, and as long as you are working hard enough to latch on to them, I think that's one of the secrets, is that I play to- I tend to play to younger people so I've got a new input every year.
Annie [00:27:09] And do you notice that? Do you notice the younger people coming through as fans then and showing up at the other gigs?
Norman [00:27:15] Yeah. Well, the thing you don't know is, is that the people in the front row changing because they always look exactly the same. They're always like-
Annie [00:27:23] It's the old adage isn't it?
Norman [00:27:25] Between 18 to 20. They never, they never change literally for 40 years they look exactly the same.
Annie [00:27:30] And you get older, the DJ gets older.
Norman [00:27:32] I get older, they suspend their disbelief about how old I am, thankfully. If people have their first loved up clubbing experience and euphoria and I'm the person there, then they're gonna probably remember me forever because of that.
Annie [00:27:47] Oh, completely. Yeah. You want to be the DJ that people take their first E to.
Norman [00:27:52] Yeah, I wasn't going to say that but that was kind of what I was getting at.
Annie [00:27:54] *Laughs* Yeah, and think about the amount of people who've had their first snog and you know all of their firsts with you playing the records. Like soundtracking these huge moments in people's lives, these milestone moments, it's kind of amazing, isn't it.
Norman [00:28:08] When we were making the the Big Beach documentary, it was delicious finding people who'd met at the gig.
Annie [00:28:15] Oh, beautiful.
Norman [00:28:16] And then gone on to have children, thinking those children wouldn't have existed had they not come to that show.
Annie [00:28:20] I knowww.
Norman [00:28:22] And then people, I love it- every now and then we do wedding proposals live on stage, and I love things like that. I love being a part of people's lives because music has been such a part of my life and, you know, I get off on being part of people's experience in life and helping them along the way, especially if it is in terms of fun or misbehaviour.
[00:28:44] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:28:53] Let's talk about the big change that I'm always so impressed with, with regards to you, which is going sober. And you know, you mentioned at the start being in your bare feet. I remember playing a show with you, being on after you, I think, and seeing your tour manager clear the drinks away and being like, okay, wow, I'd never seen that before. I'd never seen someone come in and be like, intentionally move all the alcohol out of a booth. And then you come in and I saw the transformation take place. It was kind of amazing to watch. How did you go about the Herculean task of becoming a sober DJ?
Norman [00:29:29] Well, it wasn't by having the drinks cleared out of the DJ booth or my mini bar emptied in a hotel. That was them trying to protect me. That doesn't happen anymore. We're not, you know, I'm not kind of holier than thou about there musn't be alcohol around. Obviously, it's everywhere. No, I tried many ways to stop when I kind of knew I was heading for disaster if I didn't. So, no, I went to rehab.
Annie [00:29:52] When did you know that you were heading for disaster?
Norman [00:29:54] I just. I just knew I was done.
Annie [00:29:56] Okay.
Norman [00:29:57] I was done. I wasn't enjoying it. I could feel my body falling to bits. I could feel my relationships with my family falling to bits and I could just see trouble around the corner. Those around me probably argue that trouble had already arrived *laughs*. And I, you know, should have seen it coming. But things were becoming untenable and I was coming- I wasn't functioning as a human being, as a husband, as a father. And yeah, it had to stop.
Annie [00:30:30] And how long had it been going on at this point?
Norman [00:30:32] Well, since I was 14.
Annie [00:30:34] So what, 20 years?
Norman [00:30:35] I mean, yeah, I was always, always been a drinker but it just became a problem. Yeah. I dunno. Again, you know, other people would argue when it would have been a good time for me to stop, but I got there eventually. That's the main thing.
Annie [00:30:48] So how was rehab?
Norman [00:30:50] Rehab. I didn't go to a posh one.
Annie [00:30:52] Right.
Norman [00:30:53] I went to boot camp and had to stay in a shed student house with some crackheads and it was quite an eye opener and it was really hard work. But it worked. I did the 28 day course and that was 14 years ago and I've not picked up since. So it worked. But they just had to persuade me that , you know, you've got to stop doing this or else, you know, really bad things will happen to you. And I believe that.
Annie [00:31:16] Yeah. And Norman, I've seen it happen so many times, and I found it hard myself. The transition to going back to work, which is the work as as we all know, which is just, you know, steeped in hedonism where people are trying to shove things up your nose and you know, everywhere you go, promoters, they want you to be on a level with the audience. How did you go about doing that in a sober way?
Norman [00:31:44] Well, like you noticed initially, those around me really tried to protect me and made a big point of like, don't offer him that. Don't give him that. Don't have that lying around.
Annie [00:31:56] Yeah.
Norman [00:31:56] But after a while, I mean, I was way more well, I was way more worried about whether I could still DJ sober. But the first time I DJ'd sober, I was absolutely petrified, literally. All those things they said about, you know, like your knees turning to jelly. I actually felt like that. And I was so stiff I couldn't dance or move. Like my hips were just, like, paralysed with fear. Yeah, I suppose all the sort of stage fright that I hadn't had for 30 years all came at once and it's like, what actually are you doing here?
Annie [00:32:27] God!
Norman [00:32:27] And do they like it and why are you going to play that record next? I mean, why?
Annie [00:32:32] *Laughs* I mean, I'm laughing!
Norman [00:32:33] And what is that record? It's just a load of squelching noises. Why are they going to like that? *Annie bursts out laughing* And all these things went through my head.
Annie [00:32:41] I'm laughing because I know this so well! I know these voices. I'm so familiar with these voices and these questions. It's triggering.
Norman [00:32:48] *Laughs* but when it really comes down to it, it's like, what the hell are you doing? You're a middle aged man and you're just playing a load of loud squelching noises to a load of drunk people. And then you're waving your arms around and they're waving their arms around *Annie laughs* I mean what is this. So it took a really, really beautiful Japanese audience to get me over that.
Annie [00:33:07] Oh, wow.
Norman [00:33:08] About the fifth or sixth gig I played sober was this festival in Japan and Japanese are just the most beautiful audience. And they were just so in tune with it. It was like seeing them all have so much fun. I was like, that's what it is. You don't think about it. It's just a feeling. It's not anything palpable, it is just a load of squelching noises and flashing lights. But it does that to people and it makes them really happy. And seeing such a communion of such joy made me think, well, don't think, don't overthink it. But it still took me a few months to switch off that other voice. That other voice, you know, the responsible voice is the one that you normally drink to get rid of because you wanna be free. I had to learn to not take that voice on stage with me and just tell hi to shutup. I used to just go, shutup! I'm working, they're loving it. Shut up. Don't think about it.
Annie [00:34:00] I still need to get better at that. And how did you feel like physically in terms of being so exposed? Again, because for me, drinking was a way to feel looser and to not worry about all eyes on me. But I still find it very difficult, like people staring and like being the centre of attention, like the being the performer. I mean, I feel like you are a natural performer and you, you do that now naturally but was there a transition there where you were like, oh God- you just felt exposed in that way?
Norman [00:34:29] No, I think because even while I was having the conversation with my other self, I was still playing records and still doing what I've been doing for 40 years. So I think-
Annie [00:34:44] It's kind of muscle memory, isn't it?
Norman [00:34:45] Yeah. That side of it was doing muscle memory because, while I was having this thing, I was still carrying on you know *Annie laughs*. It's not like I've stopped in the middle and I'm going, hmmm. Ummm, and so, yeah, I think it's instinctive enough for me when I'm in a DJ booth playing records I kind of know what I'm doing. I know where I am. If you take me round out of the DJ booth and make me do a speech, say, make me present a Brit award, I shit my pants.
Annie [00:35:16] Right.
Norman [00:35:16] I like, I can't. It's like I forget how to speak. Yeah, I'm fine DJing, but doing something that's outside my comfort zone and I haven't got the muscle memory to do, yeah, it's not something I do often, but I'm not- I completely fall to bits. Get the worst stage fright ever if I'm not DJing.
Annie [00:35:35] And how many years sober are you now?
Norman [00:35:43] *Deliberating with himself* Thursday, I'll be 14 years.
Annie [00:35:46] Wow. Congratulations. How do you be a dad when you have a kid, or two kids who might want to drink? And how do you deal with that? Because this is ahead of me now.
Norman [00:35:58] I mean, the thing is, you know, I had to get sober, but I don't want to be a poster boy for sobriety. And I don't want to be preachy about it. Part of the fellowship is that you help fellow people who are struggling, but you never want to talk someone out of drinking who's having a good time. You know, that's not what it's about. And it's not how I feel, you know? I mean, I wish I could drink responsibly and I wouldn't ever preach. I mean, I can't because my kids know my history, so I can't be preachy with that and they're like, what, because you didn't?! *Both laugh* You know, so.
Annie [00:36:35] Right. Yeah.
Norman [00:36:36] No, I'm fine with it. I mean, my son is quite the bon viveur, shall we say. And I've got no issues with it. You know, I worry the same as any parent would. I don't worry any more or worse, I don't think, because of my history. And I'm definitely not preachy about it. Yeah. I think everything in whatever your moderation is, sadly, I cocked that one up and yeah, so that's a regret. But no, I love seeing him have fun.
Annie [00:37:06] Mm. Do you think that there might be an element of you, like being addicted to work? Is that fair?
Norman [00:37:15] Could be, yeah. I mean, when I first got sober I took up running. I ran a marathon.
Annie [00:37:21] Yeah.
Norman [00:37:22] Since I've run like, sort of two half marathons a year.
Annie [00:37:26] Amazing.
Norman [00:37:27] Until recently when I've done a bit of an injury, but then people going, oh yeah, you're just swapping one addiction for another, aren't you? I'm like, possibly but *laughs* running is a much better addiction to have than alcohol and drugs.
Annie [00:37:43] It's a pretty healthy addiction!
Norman [00:37:45] I think probably most people, most of my friends if you ask them and said, is Norman a workaholic? They'd probably go, yeah. Functioning, functioning borderline workaholic. Which but again, you know it's better to be addicted to that than the other stuff.
[00:38:01] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:38:10] Norman, can I ask you about trends and being in and out of fashion? How do you feel about kind of, being in fashion and not. Like it feels to me like you're completely in your own lane. You are kind of beyond any sort of categorisation when it comes to what's hot or not or fashionable or not. You are Fatboy Slim. And that is it.
Norman [00:38:31] I'm like a clock that's broken *Annie laughs*. I'm on time twice a day. So basically, no, I just stick with what I know and do. Again, I mean, you that's you know, before I kind of had that revelation, I was always, you know, I wanted to be on top of every new musical trend and, you know, and now it's just like, you know what? If I just do what I do, then eventually it'll come back in fashion *Annie laughs*. And then, you know, if you think about the Hawaiian shirt. I mean, I rocked that the Hawaiian shirt for 10, 15 years, and everybody laughed at me and now it's come into fashion, I'm taking all the credit for it because I was there.
Annie [00:39:07] Good man.
Norman [00:39:08] But I will be still be wearing it when he goes back out of fashion *both laugh*. And then I'll just wait until it comes round again in another 15 years. That's kind of my approach these days. Yeah. I mean, I don't think there's anything less dignified than an ageing celebrity trying to be hip the whole time. You know, if I just keep on doing what I do, every now and then, you know, people, it will be fashion. But in the meantime, it's not kind of hideously out of fashion. So, you know, and we're lucky because dance music, though the sounds may change and the tempos may change and the snare drum might change, the basic what we do is kind of quite timeless. So you can just, there's always going to be people wanting to go out.
Annie [00:39:52] Norman, what- this last change question now, the change that you'd still like to see or still like to make moving forwards?
Norman [00:39:58] Right well this is a contentious one. Since I wrote it down, I was thinking, christ my management are gonna tell me off for this. Retirement.
Annie [00:40:05] Mm hmm.
Norman [00:40:06] A few years ago, I had a little wobble. A mental wobble. And as part of it I was like, well, you know, should you be doing this? You know, are you too old to be doing this? Should you be doing it? Are you enjoying it? And I thought about maybe stopping, and then I thought, okay, what do you do? And it's like, well, you retire basically. It's too late in life to start another career. I could probably afford to retire. So it's like retirement. What does that look like? And I just stared into this abyss of golf and lunches and just thought, oh God, that's actually more scary than the mental problems I'm going through now. I can't do that. So I started again, and I felt happier having had that little kind of mental stock check. I felt happier thinking, actually no, you know, this is part of what you need to be doing and not questioning it because this is part of what makes you who you are and keeps your stability and your happiness. Then obviously, along came the pandemic which snatched away everything. And I was faced with that same, potentially that same abyss of what do I do when I can't do my job? But because it was forced on me, I kind of had to sort of accept it. And I actually quite enjoyed it. It was lovely, I had both my kids with me and it was a lovely summer. I spent a summer not doing festivals. I live on the beach and I was just mucking around with my kids and thinking, yeahhh, actually. And so I kind of, I wouldn't say I enjoyed the idea of retirement. I'm now at one that one day I will have to retire. And it doesn't scare me anymore. I'm not looking to an abyss of golf. I know I can find things to do and occupy myself and it'll be fun and relaxing. That said, *Annie laughs* that does not mean I'm in any way ready for it yet.
Annie [00:42:06] I could just hear Gary, your manager's voice just like STOP!!
Norman [00:42:09] You said the R word again! I turned 60 this year, so you do have to have some kind of realism that one day I either physically won't be able to do the travelling and the late nights or, people won't want me anymore. You know, I'm at one with that now. If you told me five years ago that, you know, you're gonna be too old, people won't wanna come see you anymore, I'd be like, 'ohhh no!!'.
Annie [00:42:33] Yeah but Norman, I don't think people are going to want to stop coming to see you anymore.
Norman [00:42:39] I mean, I fully intend to do it until I drop.
Annie [00:42:40] This is the thing. So, you know, you're talking about, you know, this idea of when we're younger, looking ahead and thinking, oh, I definitely won't be doing it then. But you and your peers are the people who I look to to see, well, they're still doing it. You know, Pete's still out there. Oakey's still out there. Norman's still out there. Carl is still out there. David Rodigan is still out there. All these brilliant older... all men but you know, that's fine. Still going out, still DJ'ing. So there doesn't have to be an end to this!
Norman [00:43:09] Coming back to, what is the shelf life of DJ? What is our sell by date? Out of my peers, out of my age group, there's only two people really who've stopped.
Annie [00:43:20] Who's that?
Norman [00:43:20] One was Frankie Knuckles.
Annie [00:43:22] Right. And he stopped because he passed.
Norman [00:43:23] And the other was Danny Tenaglia, who tried it, went completely nuts and came back six months later because he just couldn't do it *laughing*. They're the kind of examples of, you know, the get out options of DJing. It's death or premature retirement and then you have to come back with ---.
Annie [00:43:43] Yeah.
Norman [00:43:43] Couldn't hack it. But you know, I mean I yeah, if people will still have me I'll carry on doing this literally until I drop. That's my mission statement.
Annie [00:43:51] I love it.
Norman [00:43:52] But only if you'll have me, I don't want to outstay my welcome.
Annie [00:43:54] No I don't think-
Norman [00:43:55] Do tell me if you've had enough. I can take it.
Annie [00:43:58] No one will. Am I right in saying both of your kids are avid DJs? They're into it.
Norman [00:44:02] Yeah. Yeah. Bizarre thing, though, my son all the way through, he always loved music. So occasionally I'd say to him, like, do you fancy being a DJ? And he's like, I kind of thought about it but I would always be in your shadow. I would always be your son. So you kind of killed DJing for me, and Mum's killed radio and TV. So I want to be an actor. So we shipped him off to Bristol University to study drama and about two weeks later he rung me and went dad, I've started DJing *Annie laughs*. I'm like, oh, brilliant! Now, all those years that he lived under my roof, I could have helped you and nurtured you, but maybe that's it. Maybe he had to not be under my roof before he could do it. So no, my son is now a full time DJ.
Annie [00:44:45] Amazing.
Norman [00:44:45] And very good. And he's great. And he is hilarious to watch because he's kind of taken my exuberant approach, like, and then run with it.
Annie [00:44:54] Really!
Norman [00:44:54] He makes me look quite like-.
Annie [00:44:56] Subdued.
Norman [00:44:57] Subdued on stage. Yeah. And it's great because he's got his own little thing and then my daughter, yeah, I mean, my daughter, I don't think it's a given. She did that err, we did a stream together during lockdown which kind of captured people's hearts because she was so cute, but I'm not sure she's fully kind of-
Annie [00:45:20] Yeah. Into it. Last question, have you ever cried whilst DJing?
Norman [00:45:25] Yes, frequently.
Annie [00:45:27] Really?
Norman [00:45:28] More frequently as I get older, actually, yeah, but only since I've been sober.
Annie [00:45:32] Really?
Norman [00:45:33] I think the emotions become- yeah, when you're drunk you just go, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Annie [00:45:36] Yeah, yeah.
Norman [00:45:38] But the emotions of it become stronger now. I mean, about the time when Zoe and I were splitting up, obviously I was going through difficult times and I had this realisation one night that I've spent all my life trying to make a night out where you can forget your worries and I'm actually doing it to myself now. Because just for 2 hours I was like, you know what? I haven't felt that cloud over me for the last 2 hours whilst I've been doing this. And then realised that I was doing the therapy on myself. But yeah no, I cried on Brighton Beach at the end of that because- this last years one, not the 20 years ago one. If it's been a really, really beautiful crowd- when we, when I did Minehead last year and I cried at the end of the main show because it was just, it was just so beautiful. I cry over films more than I used to. I cry over songs more than I used to when I was younger. I don't know if it's part of getting old, you get more, your emotions come out more.
Annie [00:46:34] Yeah. Yeah. Well, listen, Norman, I'm so grateful to you for this conversation. Please keep DJing. Please keep sharing the love. We're very lucky to have you. And I'm so happy that you did this. Thank you so much.
Norman [00:46:48] Thank you. Well can I say the same back to you? Because I know, I know you've branched out, I know you've made a big change.
Annie [00:46:55] Yeah.
Norman [00:46:55] But please carry on DJing. Please carry on doing that live thing.
Annie [00:46:59] Yeah. I will Norm, I will.
Norman [00:47:00] God bless you for it Annie Mac.
Annie [00:47:02] Thank you, Norman... Thank you so much to Norman Cook. I just loved chatting to him. He's got a lovely voice as well Norman, don't you think? Just listening back to that conversation, I thought his tone is very kind of warm and soothing in the way he talks. Unlike my laughing, which was very prolific during that episode and also very breathy *imitates breathy laugh*. Sorry about that if it did your head in. If all that chat about Fatboy Slim has made you really keen to go out and dance and just see one of his shows, he is on tour this week. He's heading to Australia in April. He'll be back in the UK in May. And do check out the Right Here Right Now documentary on Sky of course as well. Thank you for listening to Changes. Let us know your thoughts on this Norman episode. Please don't forget, rate, review, even subscribe to us so you get all the episodes first. And also it really helps us to be seen. So if you like the app, please do share it on socials. Let everyone know in your friends and family network and I will be eternally grateful. We are releasing episodes every Monday and we're back next week with a Changes Revisited episode looking at some Changes highlights. Changes is produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. See ya!