Growing Up In Haywards Heath By Brett Anderson, Part I

A singer-songwriter with impeccable credentials, Brett Anderson remains one of music's heavyweight performers. Having spearheaded the 1990's indie scene with Suede's blueprint for Britpop and re-established one of the world's greatest song-writing partnerships with The Tears, he returns to the fore as an accomplished and independent new artist. On March 26 Brett Anderson will unveil his self-titled album via Drowned In Sound in the UK.

Before his several sold out dates take place across the pond, Brett sat down and wrote us an exclusive feature that talks about growing up in Haywards Heath, and the effect his family had on his art. This is a two-part piece, with an exclusive interview to follow.


I was born just after the Summer of Love of 1967 in the upstairs bedroom of a tiny council house in Haywards Heath; a grey little train stop of a town between London and Brighton. To most people the 60's meant free love and mini - skirts but to my parents it was all rented furniture, Lino and pregnancy tests. My mum was a dressmaker and part time artist and my dad was a postman at the time but managed to drift from job to dead end job until he eventually settled as a cab driver.

It was a strange upbringing and one that didn't fit in with the usual class stereotypes (though whose really does?). We were an abjectly poor family but we lived in a safe and leafy part of England. Most of my friends' dads worked in insurance or something but mine was a swimming-pool attendant one week and a window cleaner the next. There was never any money around so it was the kind of house where if you wanted something you made it yourself. Our mum sewed all our clothes, made the curtains and blinds and painted the paintings on the walls and our dad busied himself making all the furniture. He even made himself a pair of speakers out of which blasted a constant rumble of Gustav Mahler and Hector Berlioz. We lived in a council estate by a rubbish dump so I spent most of my child-hood picking through other people's discarded stuff, climbing on their broken 'fridges and playing with their smashed TVs. there was always an obsolete household appliance to fuel our children's games. Someone even once dumped a knackered rowing boat, which my little friends and me spent most of the summer in pretending we were pirates.

My dad was a child of the Empire, born in the early 40's to a military family and very proud to be an English Royalist. As my granddad was stationed in India, my dad grew up in a very old-school colonial environment. He always wore a suit and tie, saluted the TV at the end of the night when they used to play the national anthem and even fixed a flagpole to our tiny council house so he could run- up the Union Jack. I even used to think that he secretly arranged my conception so that i was born on Horatio Nelson's birthday, one of his elite group of heroes which also included Winston Churchill and the romantic composer Franz Liszt. Every couple of years he would drive his ancient, tatty Morris Traveller (look it up on Google) to Hungary and bring back a bag of soil from Liszt's birthplace. Liszt was his religion. Once when on jury service he refused the bible and insisted on swearing his oath on a biography of his hero.

My mum was from a rural Sussex family and had more happily embraced the zeitgeist of the 60's. She learnt to paint and draw at an art college in Brighton and had much less conservative tastes than my dad. While he was downstairs engrossed in his Wagner Operas, she was upstairs painting or sewing and listening to the Rolling Stones on her tinny little plastic cassette player or wandering through the gentle Sussex countryside, documenting it's simple beauty with her brush.

I guess my path in life as an artist was very much a result of the synthesis of these two personalities and the unique world they created for me and my sister Blandine (named after Franz Liszt's daughter of course). It's easy to see myself as a blend between my father's obsessive love of music and my mother's creativity. But looking back there were other aspects of my childhood that I have learned to treasure. I am especially proud of the way we were never taught to worship money. Value was defined through art and beauty and even though life was a struggle for my family it was always something other than money that was the goal. In this crushingly greedy and materialistic society, I am honored to have been raised in this eccentric but precious way. My only regret is that I never managed to tell either of my parents that while they were still alive.

Well, I can't really think of a neat way to end this. I did enjoy writing it though. My dad died recently and it set me off on a huge emotional journey. After sorting through his meager possessions in the little house where we were raised and spending hours poring over old photo albums I had a period of intense reflection about life and death, my childhood and my place in the world. Years of being in a successful band keeps you in a state of emotional immaturity, your development on pause, and it is only recently that I have taken control of my life and felt the need to confront and ask questions of my self and my past, where I have come from and ultimately where I am going.

Brett Anderson, London, Feb 2007

Brett Anderson

Growing Up In Haywards Heath By Brett Anderson, Part I