Derek Smalls sits somewhere between ‘has been’ and ‘legend’ in the great pantheon of rock’n’roll. Rising to fame as the luxuriantly moustached bassist with British heavy metal icons Spinal Tap, Smalls was notably the lukewarm water between the fire and ice of frontman David St Hubbins and guitarist Nigel Tufnel. Now well into his 70s, and still as facially hirsute as ever, he’s finally releasing his debut solo album, the epic Smalls Change (Meditations On Ageing). “It’s Meditations Upon Ageing,” he corrects. “There’s a crucial difference.”
You’ve left it a bit late in the day to release your first solo album, haven’t you?
That’s very kind of you to say. But I was kind of busy with Spinal Tap for a long time. And then Spinal Tap reunions. But it doesn’t look like there’ll be another. So here we are. With a little bit of help from the British Fund for Ageing Rockers, who gave me a grant.
The album features members of Steely Dan, Foo Fighters, Chili Peppers and more. Did anyone refuse to get involved?
Yes, but legally I can’t say who. It was a Janine-type situation, that’s as much as I can say. Otherwise they’ll sue my arse off. Do you think about death a lot? At my age you can’t help it. Two or three times a day, usually. Once at the start and once at the end. And sometimes once in between if things are working properly.
Are you religious?
Yes. I believe in a higher power. What does God look like? Not an old guy with a robe and a beard. God looks like Phil from Def Leppard.
Is there anything good about getting old?
Oh, it’s all good. It means you’re not dead. I don’t think there’s anything good about being dead, though.
What were you like at school?
Short. Young-looking. No facial hair. Exactly what you’d expect a schoolboy to look like.
When did the moustache come along?
When I joined Skaface, a white reggae band. They all had facial hair. They’d bully anyone who didn’t have it. I was forced to grow it. Literally.
What are the best and worst drugs you’ve taken?
[Reels off unpronounceable name that ends in ‘oxotine’] It makes you giddy, and then it makes you depressed. So you take another one. That’s the best and the worst. One after the other. Confusing.
What was the lowest point of your career?
Leaving Lambsblood, the Christian metal band I was in. They became absolutely huge after I went. I don’t think the two things are related.
Where do you stand on reality TV?
Well, I was actually involved in a Dutch reality TV show, RokStarz, before they turned into Tomorrow’s Hip Hop Hero. Then they told me my services were no longer required. Was I surprised? Yes. I might have been Tomorrow’s Hip Hop Hero myself.
What was your biggest waste of money?
My Lamborghini. My ex-wife got it in the divorce. I’d only had it a few days. That and the macramé website my girlfriend set up. It was ahead of its time. Or behind the curve. Or both.
You’re on a life raft with Nigel Tufnel and David St Hubbins but there’s only room for two of you. Who do you throw into the sea so that you survive?
Everyone asks me this and I always give them the same answer. I merge them both until they’re a single, higher form of consciousness. Then I throw them both in.
When did you last speak to the other Spinal Tap guys?
I speak to Nigel every few months. I don’t think he’s interested in playing the guitar at maximum volume through an amplifier any more. He’s breeding miniature farm animals these days, but I think he’s hit a wall with that – he’s having trouble milking the goats. I get cryptic emails from David occasionally. I think it’s Janine who is writing them.
Where do you stand politically?
I try to avoid having that stuff in my life. I don’t even know who’s in at the moment, if it’s the Tories or… the other lot. If the Tories were to make it mandatory to have six strings on your bass, then I might vote for them.
What is your greatest regret?
Definitely the Lamborghini. What is the secret of your success? Persistence. Who would have thought the son of Donald ‘Duff’ Smalls, a telephone handset sanitiser, would have become a rock star? I certainly didn’t.
What will be written on your tombstone?