This interview was first published in The Ibizan Issue 741, 3rd July 2014, It has not previously been published online.
- Words Nick Gibbs, Performance Photos Skimal, Archive Photo Colin Butts
The teeming Ibiza Rocks crowd let out an almighty cheer to Lily Allen’s opening announcement as she comes on stage to begin her first Ibiza gig. Coincidentally, one of the two Plastik owners was standing a few metres away from me with a wry smile on his face. I sidle over, surprised that someone who’s usually so PR savvy (two years ago he got a story in the Mail on Sunday that David Cameron had been partying in Plastik) had never shared this. ‘What’s that all about?”
As a result, I’m now sitting with Plastik co-owner Colin Butts at Cebo, me with my morning after coffee, tee-total Colin with, well just a coffee. Dictaphone in hand I’m intrigued to know more. First of all, why is such an obvious PR opportunity something he’d never shared?
CB: “I’ve a lot of time for Lily and it always seemed a bit naff to try and capitalize on her working at Plastik, especially as she only did so for a week or two anyway.”
It turns out there’s a lot more to the story than Lily just randomly being in Ibiza and applying for a job like most workers. Novelist and scriptwriter Colin’s first novel was the infamous bestseller about holiday reps in Ibiza, Is Harry on the Boat? and it was via this that he first met the young Lily Allen.
CB: “Is Harry on the Boat? had been out for a couple of years and I’d just been punting around a film script. I got a call from my publisher saying they had interest from a company called Ruby Films and that Sky wanted to make it into a film and TV series. It wasn’t until later I discovered it was the 15 year-old daughter of Ruby Film’s boss Alison Owen who had read it, loved it and told her mum she should option it. That 15 year-old was Lily so in a way, the very reason I’m sitting here now and living in Ibiza is partly due to her.”
The film was made in 2000 and it was then that Colin first met her.
CB: “I’ve kept a diary for nearly 20 years now and my diary entry for that day, October 18th 2000, reads, ‘…met Keith Allen’s daughter Lily who really is the most precocious girl, in a nice, 15 going on 25 way, that I’ve ever encountered.’ She just had something about her, mature way beyond her years. I’m sure a lot of that was to do with having a dad with maturity way below his years!”
Colin told me more about her time here during that first meet. Lily was in Ibiza for a good part of the filming, which took place in October 2000. Any fans of the film (which gave Danny Dyer his first lead role) can spot her in different scenes, the clearest being dancing with Will Mellor when his character has taken his first pill. Colin got to know here reasonably well during filming.
CB: “The season was longer then so clubs and bars were still open in October. She was out partying most nights with the cast and crew, who all loved her – everyone forgot she was 15. She was very streetwise. Very self-assured with the same dry, doesn’t suffer fools, takes-no-prisoners attitude and sense of humour she has now.”
They kept in touch and Lily came back over in 2001 with her sister Sarah. Colin saw Lily a few times but on August 1st, received a call from a sobbing and distressed Lily who was stranded on the other side of the island.
CB: “She didn’t have any money, said she couldn’t get in touch with her mum or dad and had lost her sister who was off partying. I went and picked her up and on the way back she confided in me that she really wanted to stay in Ibiza for the summer but had no money, no job and nowhere to stay. I made a few phone calls but rather than just give her a bit of cash I asked her if she fancied doing some vocals for a track we were doing— I remembered her saying something about being a singer/songwriter.”
At the time, Colin was a reasonably successful music producer and had a full recording studio set up in the not yet completed apartment attached to the villa he was renting.
CB: “This was before you could do everything on a laptop. It was a 56 channel mixing desk, loads of outboard stuff, big Genelec speakers. I used to record a lot with Alex Ellenger (now Eden resident and co-owner of Viva). There was a track out at the time by Members of Mayday that Judge Jules played the previous Sunday. We were having a laugh with him, saying it was exactly the same melody as Echo Beach by Martha & the Muffins so Alex and I had half a day in the studio putting the Echo Beach guitar over the top and doing a bit of a mash up to prove it. We never intended putting vocals on top, it was more a way of letting Lily have some money and feeling like she’d earned it, rather than just giving her a handout.”
As a result, the 16 year-old Lily found herself in a not entirely clean, half-finished toilet, which doubled-up as a seldom used vocal booth.
CB: “Lily was a bit nervous – although to be fair, that might just have been the smell. I seem to remember she changed the lyrics a bit as well. After we finished I don’t think she was entirely happy with what she’d done cos she was saying she had a sore throat. She was also mumbling something about having a record company interested in her songs and that she was probably gonna get a deal soon. I’m pretty sure I put my arm around her shoulder in a patronising, heard-it-all-before-of-course-you-will kind of way. I might have even patted her on the head and gone ‘there-there’ as I gave her the money,” laughs Colin. “Little did I know…”
Colin had a long chat to her after and she convinced him she wanted to stay in Ibiza and get a job.
CB: “It says in my diary that I found her somewhere to live, although I can’t remember where but I spent a couple of hours with her sorting things out. At the time Plastik was more of a record shop but was still selling club tickets so she got a job doing that. However, she only did it for a week or so – she was enjoying partying too much and I think it’s already fairly well-documented how she supported herself for the last few weeks she was here.”
And what about the track? Any chance of it ever coming to light?
CB: “Alex has still got it on his computer somewhere but no, that will never see the light of day. To be honest, the recording quality wasn’t that great as it was the first time we’d used the vocal booth…well, toilet. She said before last night’s gig she remembered doing it though, even the name of the track. So if ever she does a cover of Echo Beach, you’ll know why.”
Cool story Colin, thanks for sharing.
What Came Next
Lily Allen’s early releases were songs with a thick Cockney accent against retro production styles. Her music was used as part of an exhibition at the British Library tracing the history of Cockney English.
Her songs featured ska influences, particularly on her on second single, “LDN”.
Lily has said she cringes now when listening to tracks from the first album “Alright, Still”, as it reminds her that she was a “sort of over-excitable teenager who desperately wanted attention” when she wrote it.
Wanting to move on from the retro sound that many other artists had adapted since her debut, Allen ventured in a new direction sonically and lyrically in her second studio album, “It’s Not Me, It’s You”.
The first single from the album, “The Fear” is an electro-pop track denouncing consumerism. Her new music direction and willingness to write lyrics that tackled less-common subjects were lauded by critics, and the rest, as they say, is history.