With England in the grip of World Cup fever, songs like ‘Three Lions’, ‘Vindaloo’ and ‘World In Motion’ can be heard far and wide, whether it’s on the radio, through social media or via shirtless, drunken fans basking in the glory of it all.
Whatever the scenario might be, loaded thought it was high time we got the final word on England and the whole fan phenomenon from the Godfather of great football songs, Keith Allen.
The writer of both ‘Vindaloo’ and ‘World In Motion’, Allen also had a hand in Black Grape’s criminally underrated ‘England’s Irie’. He’s also bloody hilarious, so when we came along to speak to him at the launch of the William Hill Arms Pub last month, we knew it would be a treat.
loaded: First off, why were you called Fat Les?
Keith: I can’t tell you. We’ve often said the name comes from the fat sound of a Gibson Les Paul and also Les Ferdinand, who was a bit overweight – but it’s not.
loaded: What made you want to write ‘Vindaloo’ in the first place?
Keith: To be brutally honest with you – and I’ve changed my opinion on this in the years since – we just thought ‘Three Lions’ was crap and we could do better. But we wanted to do it unofficially, which is what we did. It was all done in a week. Mostly on beer. We were all pissed.
loaded: ‘Vindaloo’ was pretty much the last decent football song we’ve had, wasn’t it?
Keith: I think so. For a long, long time, England hasn’t really had songs at World Cups. At the last World Cup, England didn’t have an official song. You had a few members of Take That singing on something, but it wasn’t the official song. It was just a tune used by the BBC. That’s all it was. There haven’t been that many official songs since 1998.
loaded: Why do you think there haven’t been any more good ones? (ignoring Embrace’s 2006 effort)
Keith: I think it’s because the people at the FA, in times of austerity, couldn’t see the benefit of spending money on a song. And also, nowadays, you don’t make much money from singles, so nobody wants to write them anyway. You might have a one-off song on Spotify that gets played a million times, but you’ll only get about £10. So there’s no point. Whereas when I wrote songs like ‘Vindaloo’ or ‘World In Motion’ you made money out of sales and publishing.
loaded: Is it still something that makes you money today?
Keith: God, yeah. Are you serious? (laughs) It comes out every two years! In fact, Guy Pratt, who plays piano on it and who also plays bass with Pink Floyd, will tell you that he’s earned more money out of ‘Vindaloo’ than he ever has with Pink Floyd.
loaded: How do you even start writing a football song?
Keith: Get pissed. Maybe have a few drugs too. Well, that worked the two times I did it. Those have been the two elements present when I’ve been there. And also not caring. You mustn’t care. If you sit there and think ‘I want to make a really rousing song to get England at it’ you’d be fucked, to be honest with you. I couldn’t do that.
loaded: Is that why it’s better to get inebriated? Lose some of those inhibitions?
Keith: Well, we didn’t have any anyway. ‘Vindaloo’ was an unofficial tune. We were just pissed together at the Groucho Club in London when Alex James came up with the rhythm. We went to Guy’s, who had a little studio in his basement, to record it. We were pissed when we got there and even more pissed when we left. We got the track down and then sent a demo to Telstar. They listened to it, loved it and agreed to pay for the music video. The rest is history, as they say.
loaded: How did you experience with ‘Vindaloo’ differ to ‘World In Motion’?
Keith: ‘World In Motion’ was slightly different because of the climate of the time and the fact it was New Order. ‘World In Motion’ was never a terrace song whereas we wrote ‘Vindaloo’ wanting people to sing it. ‘World In Motion’ was a New Order track that we knew nobody was going to sing on the terraces. It was just more a great in-joke that you had a band like New Order doing a football song.
It was David Bloomfield, at the FA, who was a New Order fan and approached New Order’s manager Tony Wilson about getting the band on board for a World Cup song. They all just thought it would be hilarious. The rest of the FA didn’t really know much about it. It just came from nowhere.
But it was a New Order tune and took off because of the clubbing culture of the time and ecstasy. What made it so iconic to football fans was the John Barnes rap. If you took that out, it would have probably ended up as just another New Order album track.
loaded: Do you have a favourite of the two songs?
Keith: No, not at all, because they are so different. You can’t really compare them. It makes me smile because I know I will walk past pubs during tournaments and will hear people singing ‘Vindaloo’.
loaded: Would you ever consider doing another football song?
Keith: No. How could you follow-up those two songs? You can’t.
loaded: Do you think that the whole golden era of football songs is over?
Keith: I think it’s become a bit old-fashioned in that, back then, you had this singular focus, which was TV with the BBC, ITV and stuff like Top of the Pops. Now everything is so fractured that someone like Stormzy could come out with a tune, sell 50,000 copies on download but you might go through a whole tournament without hearing it. Things have changed. But that’s great for me because it means they keep singing ‘Vindaloo’ or ‘World In Motion’.
loaded: Do you think part of the reason those songs are popular is that they remind them of a time when England was good? Like in 1990? That was a good team…
Keith: No, it wasn’t actually. I know because in 1990 I was out there. I spent a lot of time with the team and I can tell you now that the players were really fucked off with [Bobby] Robson. They went into the Belgium game and they played the way they wanted to play, not the way he wanted them to play.
And, you know, John Barnes was injured for a lot of it and we had this terrible draw with Ireland early on. But we kind of grew into it. If it was a great team, they would have done something after 1990. But they didn’t. It was just in that tournament. There was something about that tournament.
loaded: Do you think the team was better in ’98?
Keith: Yes, I do. I also think Glenn Hoddle was a better manager. They were potentially a very good England side that could have gone on for more tournaments.
loaded: Do you think the current England team are good?
Keith: I don’t know. What I do know is that there are a lot of fans out there, a new generation, who won’t have their World Cups ruined by the tabloid media. And that’s not because the tabloid media are treating the England team well, it’s because they have realised people are fed up and have just said ‘fuck off, this is all shit and we don’t like it anymore’ and that’s opened up a gate. At least that pressure has been taken off them.
You have to remember in 1990 that most of the players out there in Italy didn’t know what was going on in England. All these huge parties and people raving. Because it had never happened before.
loaded: If you could take anyone from the ’98 team and put them in the team now, who would it be?
Keith: Sol Campbell. He was solid at the back and he scored that goal that was disallowed – the fucking c**ts – and only because I trust him implicitly. He was always very calm at the back and that could help this team.
loaded: Do England need a bit of luck?
Keith: Yeah, but we have had some lucky breaks in the past. We’re just shit at penalties.
Fat Les frontman Keith Allen was speaking at the William Hill Arms, the pub which will offer fans the ultimate England watching experience including expert analysis, plus free food and drink. William Hill has over 200 markets available on every World Cup match #ThisIsMore
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.