We meet in a pub in Brentford, but Nick's not drinking, which is a bit of a shock.
"I knocked it on the head just before Christmas," he says by way of explanation. "It hadn't got to the point where I couldn't answer the phone or pay the milk bill, or anything like that. But it was getting in the way. I just wasn't getting anything done. I don't really feel like I've thrown away my crutches, praise God I'm cured and all that. I could happily start drinking again at the drop of a hat. But I needed to get out of that good old Basher routine, because I just wasn't doing anything. I realised I was blowing it, really.
"We were meeting at the studio and it was like a gentlemen's drinking club down there. Terrific fun, of course. But the records just sounded like a lot of people getting pissed. Great for us, but not the kind of thing to inflict on anybody else."
I'm here to interview Nick for a column in what used to be Melody Maker called Shrink Rap — "the column that straps today's pop wallahs to a couch and puts them under scrutiny by the MM quack". Basically, it's a word-association thing, I explain to Nick.
"Sort of call-and-response?" he muses.
"Let's give it a go then," he says.
"Bob Dylan," I say, because Nick's got a gig coming up supporting Bob.
"I've never actually been a big fan of old Bob," he admits, looking a bit rueful and lighting a fag. "I've tried on numerous occasions, but to be honest I never had the faintest idea what he was on about. As far as I'm concerned, he's just a job on my date sheet at the moment."
"1977," is what I have written in my notebook as the next topic of conversation.
"Oh, the rise of punk rock!" Nick says, getting into this. "I was involved in all that by dint of association, really. It was great fun, 1977.1 must admit, however, that I didn't see it as any kind of watershed event. I remember doing the Damned album. I only did that because I was told to really. I thought they were absolute rubbish. I wasn't a big crusader for that kind of music at all. thought it was nonsense, like most people of my age. What I did like about punk was the fact that it got up so many people's noses. People got really uptight and annoyed about it. I lost quite a lot of friends because! was recording The Damned and I was hanging around with all these ruffians?'
"Bang it down and tart it up:'
"Ah, the original production philosophy. I still think like that, although that attitude made more sense then than it does now. Most of the records we did then, like the first Damned album and 'New Rose', they were just joyful rackets. But I still find them more appealing than most of the records that get played at the moment.
"There's definitely been a reversion to cloyingly craftsmanlike productions. They don't have guitars and drums in the studio these days. It's all Fairlights and plugs and wires. I don't have a clue what's going on there. It just so happens that the kind of records I do sound better if they're a bit rough around the edges. But there is a fine line between that roughness and being too bloody untogether to do it properly. I've certainly done that in the past, been too bloody lazy to do it right, to tell the guitarist to play in tune. So it's been a bit of a convenient excuse, that phrase?'
At the time, Nick is married to Carlene Carter, so I ask him about her father, Johnny Cash, and her mother, June Carter.
"The in-laws," Nick laughs. "Mr and Mrs Man In Black. I haven't heard from him for a while. He was very ill recently and had a large portion of his anatomy removed, apparently, and he's been in a bad way. I remember the first time he came over to stay with me and Carlene. The Man In Black in Shepherd's Bush! He was completely unfazed by it all. It was me that was getting all weird about it. The other day we had June Carter over. She had this turban thing on, with the massive kind of Sultan's Eye Of the Devil on the old forehead. The Eye Of Zoltan, or something. Anyway, she's wearing this, and these huge diamond earrings and an expensive French silk blouse, and when I got home, I find her with her sleeves rolled up to the elbows, scrubbing the damned walls.
"They're fabulous people, though, the Cashes. They tolerate me even though I am a bloody foreigner. I suppose it's because I'm not on the ear-hole all the time, you know, phoning up old Cash and asking to borrow the car and all that."
Next: our old friend, Elvis Costello.
"I hardly ever see him these days," Nick says. "He's always working — never stops, that bloke. Last time I saw him was when he produced a track on my new album. I wrote this song for Paul Carrack,'LAFS Means Love At First Sight', a sort of soul ballad. I can write songs for that kind of voice that Paul has, but I can't sing them myself. Anyway, it sounded great when Paul did it, like Memphis-period Al Green. Elvis heard it and though I should do it. It's really quite a wet item. Not me at all.
"But Elvis said, 'Let me produce it, I'll put the kitchen sink on it and let's see what happens.' I thought he'd forget all about it, but he didn't. So I gave in. And we did it, and it was a very funny reversal, him producing me. He runs a pretty tight ship, old Elvis. You have to turn up bang on time, no messing about and sing it until it's right, all that stuff. No 'That'll do us... 'That'll do..' doesn't occur with EC. It isn't in his vocabulary. So I sang it until I was practically purple. Very hard work indeed."
Not long before we meet, the much-loved British comedian Tommy Cooper had died on stage during a performance at the London Palladium, so I bring the subject up.
"Well, I mean," Nick says, chuckling at the memory of the great Cooper, one of the funniest men ever to walk God's earth. "What a terrific way to go. I mean, the guy's got to die at some point, therefore you can only rejoice for him. He was a great comedian and what a cracking way for him to go. Same with Eric Morecambe. He almost died on the planks as well. You couldn't ask for anything better. And what a terrific end to your act — `...and then I balance this huge ball on my nose and I do some conjuring tricks and a spot of mind-reading and at the end I die.' I'm sure that's how they would have wanted it.
"How do I see myself going? I hope it would be do something dangerous, something vaguely foolhardy. It would be awful just to electrocute yourself with a hair-dryer or something like that. That would be the worst. Damned embarrassing?'