Is Darren Spooner, the mysterious singer in sleazy Doncaster club act Relaxed Muscle actually Jarvis Cocker in disguise? (Hint: yes)
"Met before? I dunno. Have you ever been to Doncaster?" There's something naggingly familiar about Darren Spooner - the middle-aged, karate-obsessed ex-club singer and frontman with Relaxed Muscle. Though he insists on being interviewed on the phone and uses a Dalek-style voice changer, there's something in his throwaway tone and lazy wit that makes us think of pointy fingers, corduroy and groaning. Perhaps NME stumbled into one of the northern working men's club gigs he played during his 20 years with his former band Heavy Cochrane, catching his famed rendition of 'Great Balls Of Fire' and golden oldies like 'The Old Rugged Cross' before the bingo. Or maybe there's something in the grimy electro brilliance of Relaxed Muscle's debut single 'The Heavy EP' - imagine Jarvis Cocker and an extremely evil and unwashed northern DJ pissing about in a burning synth shop - that's tugging on our memory plonker. Time to peel back the mask on 'The Sound Of Young Doncaster'...
NME: How did Relaxed Muscle come to be?
Darren: "It started when I met Jason (Buckle, Relaxed Muscle's electronic impresario) really. It was an unfortunate period of my life, things kind of got a bit out of control, like. I stopped working with Heavy Cochrane, I began drinking quite heavily, I was working doing long-distance lorry driving. As a result of that my marriage broke up and then the drinking really got hold and I was low, ended up being a bit stupid. As I had no work any more I started nicking things and I wasn't very good at it and got caught. I was ordered to do some community service. My self-respect was low, but that was how I met Jason. He was on a Restart scheme and we were working in one of the parks in Doncaster, re-bedding the flowerbeds. He said he was into music and I said I'd been involved in it, so he says, 'Why don't you come round to my house and we'll have a go at doing something?'"
How were the early gigs?
Darren: "We did some stuff up north. I used some of my contacts from the club days and got us on, but that didn't really work out because we decided to just blast out whatever came out of us. It was scary, what we'd come with. Well, pardon me language, I thought, 'Fuckin' 'ell!' I'd had years of playing other people's songs while people are eating a pie 'n' pea supper or whatever, I thought we'd play our own material and tell it like it is and see what happens. And what happened was we basically got blacklisted by the entertainment secretaries of the local club scene. They said we weren't suitable."
Your single sounds uncannily like a major pop star having a mid-life crisis and buying lots of young people's bleepy electronic boxes. How have you managed that?
Darren: "Oh, that side of it, that's Jason's area. I was surprised when Jason took me round to his house. I thought he was taking the piss because there weren't any actual instruments there, just computers. But he played me these bits of music he'd done and went, 'Do you think you could do anything over the top of that?' and I went, 'Well, I'll give it a go.'"
Thumping death disco track 'The Heavy' concerns a boozy night out on t'town, while 'Rod Of Iron' contains the line "I rule my woman with a rod of iron". Is that a strong whiff of Eau De Caveman we can smell?
Darren: "People have said to me, 'That's a bit un-PC', but I don't care. The rod of iron isn't beating your wife, I was trying to be a bit blue. The rod of iron is referring to... well, y'know... to... to your penis really."
There've been rumours of a shadowy backroom Svengali behind Relaxed Muscle.
Darren: "I wish there were. It'd be handy if there were someone there handing out lots of cash. But to be honest I prefer doing it that way, doing it yourself, even if you have to cut corners, nobody can try and stick their oar in and make you do it their way. And that's very important for both me and Jason, especially for me, after doing the clubs for so long and having to do stuff that people like, it's nice to be able to please yourself."
Monkeys: good or bad?
Darren: "Good, generally speaking, except for those howler monkeys that you get in Costa Rica, they can be quite vicious."
Michael Jackson: visionary or menace?Darren: "Oh, he's crackers."
Wardrobes: hang your clothes in or hide in and watch girls?
Darren: "Hang your clothes in. What kind of pervert would sit in a wardrobe and watch girls?"
Gorillaz: art or arse?
Darren: "I only heard one song by them and I thought it were terrible."
So you're definitely not a fan of pop stars hiding behind cartoonish personas in order to rejuvenate their flagging careers?
Darren: "No, it's a bit stupid, in't it?"
Do you see yourselves, in ten years' time, headlining Glastonbury?
Darren: "Jason's told me about this 'Glastonbury'. I would say that this band isn't really about that. We don't see ourselves becoming global superstars. If I were to be driving round here in a stretch limo, people'd kick me head in and nick the wheels off the car. A bit of extra beer money would help, though."
Pop stardom's over-rated anyway, apparently.
Darren: "They all seem a bit simple to me. When you see them on telly they never have much to say."