5 minutes alone: Billy Duffy

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As The Cult return with 10th album, Hidden City, Billy Duffy talks bad gear, tight trousers and why Manchester produces the best players…

I got my first real six-string…

"My first guitar was a black Les Paul Custom copy made by a Japanese firm called Columbus. It had a bolt-on neck - that's how bad it was - and it cost £35 in 1974. I was obsessed with music, and a couple of kids at school had a band, so I talked my dad into buying me that guitar.

"I had it all in place: a little practice amp, curly guitar cable, plectrum, tuning fork - because there weren't electronic tuners yet. I had everything plugged in, and it was like, 'Now what?' I actually had to play something. That was the hard part. I was shit. I was terrible. But I was a quick learner."

Got to admit, it's getting better…

"I've never thought I was great at the guitar. You'll never read an interview where I'm talking about how great I am. I thought I was a two-trick pony - but they were good tricks.

"For my ability level, I think I'm in a good zone at the moment. It's a blessing at my age, to have all my hair and still fit in the same pants I wore in the early 90s, just about. And playing-wise, I'm more in command of it. There's been times when it was in control of me, and I just kinda held on, like a mad sleigh ride. Now I'm fully aware of what I can do."

You're the one that I want…

I thought I was a two-trick pony - but they were good tricks

"I played my Gretsch White Falcon on Hidden City. Why don't more people play them? They're hard guitars. They feed back like crazy. The neck is big. You have to know what you're doing. It's a bit like, y'know, why don't they drive trucks round race tracks? Generally, it's a guitar built for comfort, not for speed.

"I got into the Gretsches when punk was done. Because punk was all about Les Pauls, and I realised, 'Well, you're not gonna outdo Steve Jones.' My first White Falcon was a double-cutaway stereo, and it sounded like arse but it played nicely. I got rid of that, and managed to get a single-cut 1975 Baldwin-era Falcon: that was the one on She Sells Sanctuary."

When will I see you again…

"Johnny Marr has an early 60s black Strat that I sold him - and I regret getting rid of that. I used it on the '94/'95 tour, on the song Edie. It's the only time I've ever used a Strat on tour, and it sounded unbelievably good. I've never been a Strat guy, but that guitar, still to this day.

"There's a '59 Les Paul that I sold to Bob Rock for 10 grand because I could never get it in tune. It's now worth about two hundred times that. Obviously, on a financial basis, I regret selling that."

We built this city…

There's a '59 Les Paul that I sold to Bob Rock for 10 grand because I could never get it in tune

"Oasis were playing in Leeds and I was sitting backstage: it was me, John Squire, Johnny Marr, Noel Gallagher and the guy from The Happy Mondays. I remember looking round and thinking it was quite a lot of Mancunian guitar players. There's something in the water in Manchester. Maybe it's just getting rained on every day. And there's a big Irish influence. Duffy, Marr, Gallagher: we're all descended from Irish immigrants.

"Mancunian is a melting pot of various things. There's a big Irish part and a big Jewish part to my family. It's all in there somewhere. I mean, I love Dave Gilmour, but you've got that whole different school of guitar players who are Southern and university-educated. You reflect your environment as you're growing up. Do I still live up north? Oh, fuck, no. I moved to America. Just for the weather."

The Cult's new album, Hidden City, is out now on Cooking Vinyl.

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