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Baker's Dozen

Death Before Silence: Ed Harcourt's Favourite Albums
Wyndham Wallace , March 4th, 2013 06:44

Singer, songwriter, pianist and all-round bon viveur Ed Harcourt talks to Wyndham Wallace about his favourite records


Tom Waits - Small Change
I was introduced to Tom Waits by a friend late one night, and Closing Time was the first record that he played, and I loved it. It affected me so much because I was just starting to write songs on the piano. They were all fairly melancholic anyway, and it just resonated immediately. This would have been 1996? So I went through everything from Closing Time up ‘til Mule Variations, or Bone Machine, or Black Rider, I can’t remember. I did it chronologically, and I even started reading the liner notes and the lyrics before I listened to it. It was a golden moment when I was 18, 19, when I was so obsessed with music but I wasn’t really into creating it yet.

Small Change is a record I probably put on, like, once a week. I have it on vinyl, and I’ve got my daughter really into it. It’s that moment in his career when he’d done Closing Time and Heart of Saturday Night and Nighthawks. He was vying with Bruce Springsteen, and Bruce Springsteen made Born To Run and went stratospheric, and he made Nighthawks At The Diner, which is a live album and just went and did the opposite. And so he came back, and his voice sounds beaten and broken, and there’s this beautiful, bruised beauty to the album. And there’s not one dull moment on that record. I love it so much. I’m pretty obsessed with it, to be honest. And you can’t emulate it either. I’ve heard people do Tom Waits impressions and it’s just really grating. Horrible. If you’re trying to sing like him you come across as an idiot.

I used to play piano in this bar, The Phoenix Bar, 1998, and I got sacked after two weeks for passing out in the toilets. As you do. A lot of the students from St Martins would come in and be like, “Do you know any Tom Waits?” and I knew all the songs because I’d just been singing them and learning them on the piano. So I would just sit there and play stuff from Small Change. Not in his voice. Just in my own voice. So yeah, kind of like a shit version, basically.

I met him, actually, a few years ago. That was one of the most nerve-wracking moments ever. I told him that my daughter had been born to one of his songs. And he said, “Well, I guess something’s got to be playing when you’re born.” And there was this weird pause, and then he went, “When my wife was pregnant I took her to see Eraserhead”. You know when they say ‘Never meet your idols’? It was like the complete opposite. It was like, “That’s it. I can die now.”