ANY conversation with Wreckless Eric is likely to take you to places you’d not expect.

With most artists with a new album out - which has been acclaimed by the critics as one of his best yet - and a full UK tour you’d pretty much know what to expect. But then Wreckless Eric has made a career out of not being most artists.

From his early days on the Stiff label which saw him release his best known song - Whole Wide World - Eric has always been a maverick and at 69 he thankfully is showing no signs of conforming.

Bury Times: Wreckless Eric                                                                                                                                                                                                                        (Pictures: Robert Eke)

On a What’s App call to his home in New York, we’re supposed to be talking about his forthcoming tour dates which includes a show at Barnoldswick Music and Arts Centre and a second North West date at Gulliver’s in Manchester.

But the conversation somehow manages to cover topics ranging from airline passengers, his love of sound effects and the decision he and his wife - singer and author Amy Rigby - have taken to leave America and return to the UK to live in Norfolk.

But first, for those too young to know or those unaware of Wreckless Eric, a little history. And it is here that I feel I should declare something of an interest at this point. I got to see him at university in 1980 on a tour supporting Squeeze and immediately went out and bought his album Big Smash - an album he signed a few years ago at a previous date in Barnoldswick.

“I must have been in a good mood that night,” he quipped.

Eric was one of the main names of the Stiff label alongside the likes of Ian Dury and Elvis Costello. But playing the game and chasing stardom was not for him and he’s effectively been ploughing his own furrow ever since, earning a reputation as a great, if underestimated, songwriter.

Bury Times: Wreckless Eric (Picture: Robert Eke)

His latest album Leisureland may well change that and it’s clearly something he’s very proud of.

“Some people have suggested that it’s a concept album,” he said, “and there was a point when I did contemplate that. There is this town Standing Water and all the problems it has but as I was putting it together I realised making into a concept album was really hard work and I’d really said everything I wanted to say in a few songs.

“But I have to say that it is an album that is surprisingly full of songs that sort of go together and they all came together quite easily.”

At its heart Leisureland has a faded seaside town whose better days have long gone and with its clever wordplay is full of classic Wreckless Eric material.

“I think my three previous albums AmERICa, Construction Time and Demolition and Transcience were very American albums,” he said, “whereas this has a much more British feel to it. I knew I wanted to write about England. I made that decision quite consciously.”

This change in direction has in part been influenced, you suspect, by Eric’s growing dissatisfaction with life on the other side of the Atlantic.

“We have lived in US for 11 years but we’re on the verge of moving back to the UK now,” he said. “We’ve had a great time living in America and we’re glad to have had that experience but it’s frightening the way it has gone.

“Now you have got people talking about arming school teachers. Thinking of the teachers I had, they used to smack you around head. Can you imagine if you’d given them a gun!

“Then there are the shootings, the erosion of women’s rights and religious freedoms. It’s more than disturbing, it’s a horror show. They might end up with a president who is running things from jail.

“No, it’s time to come home.”

Bury Times: Wreckless Eric (Picture: Robert Eke)

Eric is a regular traveller to these shores and with the release of Leisureland he’s likely to be racking up the frequent flier points.

“It is getting a bit hectic,” he said. “One week I had a show in New York then flew to London the next day to record the Jools Holland show - broadcast last Friday - and then I flew straight back to do another show in the Catskills,” he said. “Someone asked if I’d had a good week. I didn’t quite know how to answer that.”

In support of the new album Eric admits that he now has “a wall of dates” lined up in the UK and Europe.

“We’re just infiltrating December now,” he laughed.

“I like travelling but I have to say I think I’ve turned into the curmudgeon on the plane tut tutting at my fellow passengers.

“If I’m honest you shouldn’t be able to take a bag on to the plane without first having proved you can lift it over your head unaided to a specified height. That would be wonderful to watch at the check in.

“I used to think flying was a thrill and people used to get togged up. Now you have all these middle aged men dressed as though they are 10-year-olds going to summer camp. See I told you I was becoming a curmudgeon.”

Returning to the subject of the new album, one of the features on it are the cries of gulls which can be heard on a couple of the tracks.

“I had this sound effects record which I fell in love with,” he said. “When I was writing the album I though ‘sod the doomy chords, I’ll do it with a sound effect’. So on the album there are the cries of gulls, waves breaking and even overheard conversations from the M&S foodhall.”

And somehow it all works.

“Now I’m playing it live I’ll do it completely differently,” he said. “I did play a few of the songs earlier this year in some shows and I quickly realised that it was very evident I didn’t quite know how they went. They are quite challenging.”

This leads Eric on to his thoughts about live albums, which he’s clearly not a fan of.

“If I did what I do live on an album it would be deadly,” he said. “The two things are completely different and that’s why a lot of live albums don’t work.

“You’re a step removed and effectively listening to someone else’s listening experience.”

Wreckless Eric, Barnoldswick Music and Arts Centre, Sunday, November 5. Details from www.barnoldswickmusicand Also at Gulliver’s, Manchester on Thursday, November 2. Details from