Ian Broudie: Finally able to live The Life of Riley

Ian Broudie talks Three Lions, dismisses his recent albums, and admits despite the happy hits he's an old grump after all.

Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds. Kieran Frost / Getty Images
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A schism appears to exist at the heart of The Lightning Seeds, a disconnect between joyous 1990s pop hits such as Pure, Perfect, Marvellous and Lucky You and the dour-faced man who wrote them. Ian Broudie is often photographed in moody black and white, wearing sunglasses and looking absently off into the distance.

“I’ve always written by melody, and I think the melodies are very uplifting – but I don’t think any of them are happy tunes,” says Broudie. “I wish they were.”

Take the opening line of Marvellous, he says: "You hope to fit, but you're fit to drop / So open up the window and jump into the blue". Pure, he adds, is about a loss of innocence.

“I love the fact that everyone feels they’re uplifting – that’s what you want, you don’t want to be miserable,” adds the songwriter. “If anything, you’d have to say they’re bittersweet.”

Surely the most bittersweet of his 14 UK chart hits is Three Lions – the tune Broudie wrote with comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner to accompany the England football team's Euro '96 bid, which has been sung loud and proud on the terraces ever since, swiftly adopted into the national consciousness.

“It’s horrible supporting England, really,” says Broudie. “The fans aren’t very nice sometimes, there’s a load of right-wing stuff going on, the players are pretty [rubbish] a lot of the time, and just when you think it might be OK, they never are.

“It was tricky to write a song like that without being triumphant – it was like ‘what is the reality?’ – which is a lot of the time believing when you shouldn’t believe.

“It’s a very emotional record that sidesteps all that horrible stuff, and goes right to the heart of when you’re just a kid supporting a football team.”

More emotional still might be The Life of Riley – another football tune, albeit unintended, which was the backing music the BBC's Match of the Day's Goal of the Month competition for many years. It was originally written about Broudie's firstborn son. Twenty-six years later, Riley Broudie now plays second guitar in The Lightning Seeds – and so is in the strange situation of performing a song his father wrote about him before he was born.

“We don’t dwell on that,” says Broudie. “That was written when I was waiting for him to be born, wondering what’s going to happen, if he’s going to be OK, if I’m going to be a good dad – it’s quite emotional really, and it’s a fabulous thing for me to be able to do gigs with him.”

The Lightning Seeds was always a one-man show, with Broudie playing every note on every album, and only putting together a touring band following the stratospheric success of third album Jollification in 1994, which reportedly shifted about 900,000 copies.

Broudie was never to hit such peaks again – and from the sounds of it, following 1999's Tilt, he did not even try.

“I haven’t really written or recorded an album in earnest since ’98, ’99, really,” he says.

What about the Seeds' only release of the past 18 years, 2009's Four Winds?

“I didn’t really want that one to come out, but it did,” he says. “I never really toured it, I don’t play it live at all – it’s a lost moment in a way.”

Broudie is equally unenthusiastic about his only solo album, dismissing 2004's Tales Told as "quite unambitious".

To write off his entire oeuvre of the past two decades is an oblique and brave move – most veteran acts feel it necessary to insist their new material is up to the standard of early highs.

Broudie’s frankness can be seen as a symptom of his slow role-reversal.

Where he spent the mid-1990s as an uncomfortable frontman who sold hundreds of thousands of records, today he is embracing the live stage with a fervour, without the added pressure of writing any new music.

“I was always the underdog,” he says. “The Lightning Seeds was something that really took me out of my comfort zone, just because it was successful – it almost forced me to get out and do gigs.

“So actually these are the glory years – I love playing live, love the people in my band, and feel in control of my own destiny.”

• The Lightning Seeds will perform at Dubai Tennis Stadium, with The Farm and Toploader, on Friday; doors open at 6pm. Tickets from Dh175, www.theirishvillage.com