Flying Solo: How Doves' Jimi Goodwin spread his wings

After two decades of success with Doves, Jimi Goodwin is going it alone

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The Independent Culture

Jimi Goodwin gazes about as if he has landed on Mars: “I live in a village nearby, but I don’t come here,” he explains as we get our bearings outside Macclesfield train station, the mainline halt closest to his east Cheshire home.

We’re here to discuss the Doves singer and bassist’s new solo album Odludek. After two decades with the Mancunian trio, from their dancefloor years as Sub Sub onwards (and no, they have not split up), Goodwin has made his first record entirely on his own terms – so why not meet on his turf? Except that for this devoted, 43-year-old family man, the local town centre is territory just as uncharted as Manchester’s trendiest bars.

At least Macclesfield feels tame enough on a Friday afternoon, and out of the handful of pubs in the immediate vicinity, the first we explore has the hushed atmosphere of a library. Doves called time in 2010 after the release of a best-of compilation, explaining that they needed to break off for a couple of years and pursue other collaborations. That period has since doubled and the first fruit of the group’s hiatus is Odludek, a playfully eclectic set that reveals much about the avuncular figure that sang many of Doves’ most memorable tunes.

That title is a pointer, a Polish word that means hermit or recluse, that Goodwin pronounces phonetically. Pint in hand, he admits he has forgotten how he first came across “odludek”, storing it in his notebook as a possible title and handy pseudonym for an artist learning to work by instinct. “I like the mystery of it. Whatever this record was going to be, it was nice to have something to frame it. In my head, it’s not ‘Jimi Goodwin’, it’s ‘Odludek’, wherever that takes me, because I’ve never played with a persona before.” He does admit that the word reflects the loner side to his personality.

“Most of the time I’m comfortable with my own company and I’ve been that way since I was a kid. I’d happily go a week not speaking to anyone – not that that happens, because I’ve got family. It’s the only way I can focus, because I’m very susceptible to chaos – snatches of people’s conversation or the radio.” Not surprisingly, Goodwin enjoys the countryside on his doorstep, though he has not found the time to appreciate the outdoors in the past year. “I don’t go walking every day, but either because I’m in the studio or at home, I’m missing that connection with nature. I need to get out there.”

Odludek’s title also reflects how Goodwin has created much of the album himself, demoing songs at home and playing much of the instrumentation himself at a studio in the Forest of Dean. Above all, it has been a process of self-discovery for an artist used to working in a tight-knit group, realising the time was right to try something different, but unsure whether he was even capable of making a solo record. “I had a couple of months of finally taking stock for the first time in a decade or so, on turning 40: ‘Where next; do I even like music any more; am I good at it; have I got anything else to say?’ I had a bit of a mini meltdown. But that was healthy, questioning what I do.”

Goodwin soon began writing again, at first with no fixed outlet in mind – an early flight of fancy was the idea to work with rappers – but gradually gained confidence. “The more I wrote and recorded, the more controlling and covetous I became.” Among the most personal numbers on the album is “Panic Tree”, ironically one of two that he co-wrote with his close friend, Elbow’s frontman Guy Garvey. Goodwin is currently touring his album as support for Elbow on their arena tour, clearly confident that his songs are ready for a larger stage. Despite bonding over weekends away, their long-promised collaboration was a long time coming and Garvey’s opening verse surprised his mate.

The song touches on Goodwin’s relationship with his deceased father, who suffered from bipolar disorder. He introduced Jimi to music at an early age, taking him to see The Clash aged nine. But things were never completely rosy. “Guy doesn’t come from a conventional family – I mean, who does? – and I never knew where I was with my dad. I found that really touching, that [Guy] had grasped that from our conversations.”

Now Goodwin is a stepfather to two girls, struggling himself to make sense of the world, something alluded to in the manic “Man vs Dingo”, which starts with a tinny Pearl & Dean-style jingle before morphing into a stream-of-consciousness rail against a bewildering array of dark forces, including the BBC. The touchpaper for its composition was something Goodwin saw on television, when the broadcaster and campaigner Darcus Howe was interviewed in the aftermath of the 2011 riots without being asked about their underlying causes.

“They’re asking: ‘You’ve got experience of rioting, haven’t you?’; just taking the government line. I’ve always had a thing about manners, politeness and lying, but I’m getting more vexed by the world. It’s an absurdist rant against rolling news, sponsored lies. Who to trust? I am a come-as-you-are person, I don’t like to see the bad in people and never used to question people’s interpretations. I find it draining.”

Goodwin uses the same word to describe his time in Doves, though for different reasons. There, the issue was weighing up the input of three writers. “They became our songs in the end, but sometimes it was like pulling teeth.” However, he talks warmly about the group and remains on good terms with his erstwhile bandmates, twin brothers Jez and Andy Williams, who he says are also making music. “They’ve been collaborating with different people themselves; they’ll have a few surprises up their sleeves. But why say we’re splitting up? We’re talking about old friends that need to breathe for a bit.”

‘Odludek’ is out now on Heavenly. Jimi Goodwin tours with Elbow until Wednesday