Bernard Butler: snooker rocks
Rock star Bernard Butler was once the subject of the extraordinary headline in the New Musical Express: ‘I’ll quit music to play snooker’.
The former Suede guitarist and one half of McAlmont & Butler may be a huge fan of the game but his chances of joining Ronnie O’Sullivan and Stephen Hendry on the professional circuit are, by his own admission, pretty slim.
“I do play snooker a lot in dodgy clubs around London,” he said. “But I’m useless, I spend most of the time chatting to my mates and drinking. I’m not revealing what my highest break is but it’s only just into double figures! The story in the NME came about when some journalists were hassling me about what I was doing. The World Championship was on at the time so I said flippantly that I was going to become a professional snooker player. Their faces dropped. I couldn’t believe it when they turned it into a lead story. A lot of people still think I was serious, it shows how gullible the music industry is.”
Butler rose to fame in the early 1990s with Suede, the band who have since been credited as inventing Britpop. Described on the cover of Melody Maker as ‘the best new band in Britain’ before they had even released a single, their eponymous first album in 1993 became the fasting selling debut since that of Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Their 1994 follow-up Dog Man Star received even more critical acclaim.
A fantastically gifted and innovative guitarist, Butler co-wrote Suede’s music with singer Brett Anderson. He went on to team up with David McAlmont (who, incidentally, shares a birthday with Jimmy White) and the duo enjoyed top ten hits with the singles Yes and You Do. Butler later went solo for the albums People Move On and Friends And Lovers and is now working with McAlmont again. He is also producing records for The Libertines and The Veils.
Despite his hectic workload, Butler retains the passion for snooker which he developed in his youth. “I started watching with my dad as a kid,” he said. “He bought me a four foot long table and I loved it – I used to sneak out of bed at night and play. I used to like the rebels, the rock and roll players like Alex Higgins, Bill Werbeniuk and Kirk Stevens.
“I went off snooker for a while but I’ve got hooked again in the last five years; I think the game has had a revival recently. There are some great characters around. I love Ronnie O’Sullivan, he’s a real eccentric. I met him at a TV studio recently and I found him charming and fascinating, he’s got a heart of gold. Quinten Hann is another favourite. I loved it when he smashed the balls up from the break-off at the Crucible a couple of years ago.
“I watched Matthew Stevens win the UK final against Stephen Hendry recently and I had tears in my eyes at the end. Snooker is so fraught and tense and it becomes very emotional – I think it’s the intensity that draws me to it.”
Butler lives with his wife and two children in London and experienced live snooker for the first time at last year’s Masters. He visited Wembley to see Hendry’s semi-final win over Ken Doherty. “I loved the atmosphere at Wembley, the fans were really in touch with the game,” he said. “There are periods where the whole arena goes quiet and you realise it’s because everyone is trying to work out the scores. You don’t have the commentator to tell you how many points are on the table.
“I resent the fact that football is so expensive and it’s so difficult to get tickets. So my kids are going to have to be snooker fans instead!”