Simple Kid: New kid on the block

He has been a Marc Bolan clone and now has a computer-generated double. But Simple Kid is one of a kind, decides Anna Chapman
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The Independent Culture

Simple Kid is an expert at playing little boy lost. "I'll phone you because I probably won't be able to find the pub," he calls after his manager when directed to a boozer round the corner from the Soho offices of his website HQ. Returning from a trip to Spain, the young Irishman entertains us by describing how he spent half an hour in the corridor of his Barcelona hotel struggling with keys.

He's hopelessly swamped by a huge parka, long blond hair straggling beneath the hood and his customary cap. "I have very bad hair days," he offers. "Also, if the gig's really bad you can do this" - and he pulls the peak over his surprisingly pale blue eyes. Like his debut album, Simple Kid 1, Ciaran McFeely is immediately likeable and determined not to intimidate with all the brainy stuff brimming below the surface.

McFeely penned SK1 in his bedroom. It was easy, he says. "You sit down in the afternoon, write a song, then record it on the eight-track." In Cork, aged nine, he was given a drum kit for Christmas and "ruined the neighbourhood". His older brother and mentor taught him guitar. "When you can play guitar, you can play bass. Then I learnt keyboards. After that you can play anything, really."

McFeely says: "I'm not a singer, I'm a guy who's bluffing," to justify the vocal samples on SK1. In fact, they add an experimental dimension often absent from the average singer/ songwriter album. McFeely has been writing every day since he was 15. Of his earliest efforts he says: "Some of the melodies weren't bad but the lyrics were meaningless dross. Now my melodies are crap, but my lyrics have got much better."

His songs certainly bubble with characters. "Supertramps or Superstars" introduces us to "Penelope Prozac, Seventies throwback and king of the Camden queens/ She'll always remind you she shagged The Ramones in her teens."

McFeely is obsessed with the weirdness of ordinary people. "The album is about working nine to five and how it's a bit shit." It's the antithesis of celebrity culture. "Celebrities used to be admired for their talent. But everyone's forgotten that and now it's celebrity for no reason. There's nothing worse." He hates the epidemic so much he offers to strangle anyone he sees buying Heat magazine. A track on the album goes: "I tried not to laugh when Diana was halved because it don't make no difference to me." That might offend some people, but he responds: "That outpouring when she died shocked me. When Mother Teresa died, she got page four in the tabloids."

This month sees the re-release of "Truck On", the track that kicked off his solo success when released on the indie label Fierce Panda in summer 2002. He wrote it in a fit of insomnia. "I was gnashing my teeth waiting for someone to wake up and I had this feeling of having to get through it. It's about when you're not feeling your best and you keep going in the hope that something will happen to make it better."

There are a lot of chemical references on the album, including a song simply called "Drugs". But the track isn't the rock'n'roll lifestyle, as you might expect. "Bank managers and accountants probably do more drugs than bands these days. People who work nine to five, put their heads down from Monday to Friday, then get blasted all weekend."

His fondness for talking about social issues mid-gig has led to comparisons with Arlo Guthrie. "I used to do a lot of spoken-word stuff in songs. I love Arlo when he was a playful hippie. He didn't give a shit." Johnny Cash is similarly influential. "When I was younger I thought country was old-man music, but the first time I heard Cash I thought he was totally amazing." Now McFeely is fretting; he's started to admire Kris Kristofferson. "I thought he's not someone you should listen to, and now I'm thinking he's really got it going on. Country is a bad road to go down."

McFeely changed his mind about more than just country when he temporarily moved to America after the break-up of his first band, the Young Offenders, formed from old schoolfriends living in post-Britpop Camden, north London. McFeely was lead singer and a Marc Bolan clone. By the time he was 18, they had signed to Sony. "Everyone was wearing leather jackets and make-up: we thought we were the guys."

When ego clashes split the Young Offenders, McFeely headed for the US with an American girlfriend. They split up after three days and he found himself alone and on the road. "California is one of the easiest places in the world to be homeless," he says. "Actually, it was grand." Also, McFeely underwent a "personality transplant" when he realised there were people who had little interest in Camden squabbles. "I got into the idea of writing more honest songs."

We have a Californian tramp to thank for the name Simple Kid. "He was a philosophy professor who had this frenetic mind. I kept talking to him, but he kept putting me down because his mind was so sharp. After that he started calling me 'the simple kid'."

Free from what he describes as the "alpha male tension" of being in a band, McFeely has the luxury of doing it all his own way, getting together a group of musicians when he plays live. This means he can hold gigs in the craziest places. Last July, Simple Kid was the first non-magic act to appear at The Magic Circle in London.

Playing Jools Holland and support slots with The Thrills and Travis left McFeely hungry for more live shows. One day in the pub, he devised the idea of Simple Club. The idea is to have various themes, selected at ran- dom, over three nights. So far these have included Sample Kid (McFeely and his laptop doing remixes of his own songs); Skiffle Kid (McFeely in a Stetson, backed by an accordion and banjo); Simple Kid Brother (with his big brother) and Karaoke Kid. "I'm totally at home if everyone says, 'It was a bit shit but at least he tried,'" he says.

McFeely has invited some unexpected talents to join him on stage. These range from Siobhan Fahey to champion spoon players and a man who entertains the crowds with his saw on Sunday nights at the Colony Rooms in Soho. One character guaranteed to turn up at the Simple Club nights is the computer-animated Simple Kid from McFeely's website. Programmed to ape McFeely's responses, the creature has been a hit with young girls who like to divulge their intimate secrets. "While I'm playing, you can type into a laptop, 'Do you think Simple Kid is shit?' and the projection will say, 'Yes, he's pretty crap, isn't he?'" Hopefully, we won't be so dumb.

'Truck On' is out on 19 January on 2M Recordings; Simple Club is at the 12 Bar, London WC2, 20-22 January