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Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell: ‘Homelessness is like this collective blind spot’

Johnny Borrell explains how his past struggles with addiction compelled Razorlight to lend their support to The Big Issue

Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell is candid about his encounters with street life as a young man.

“My personal experience with homelessness was very real in terms of knowing a lot of people that were on the streets,” he says, speaking over the phone after parking his bike by the riverside near his home in the Basque Country. “When I was a teenager – it’s been well publicised – I was a heroin addict.

“Anyone who knows about scoring heroin, you’re going to end up interacting a lot with people who are down and out, who are on the fringes of society within the city. That was when I first encountered The Big Issue as something that existed to try and help those communities of people out.”

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He’s no stranger to supporting The Big Issue, having busked in support of the social enterprise in 2011. Now Borrell and Razorlight are back, playing a special one off show with Muse on May 10 to raise money and awareness around the issue of homelessness.

“When you get to know a lot of people through using heroin, you get to hear the stories people had and the shit they’ve been through, and everyone who’s a junkie as a teenager has been through some shit as a kid, otherwise they’d be playing football in the park with their mates. But The Big Issue made that real to everyone, and any organisation that’s doing work like that will have my support.

“Homelessness is a particularly weird thing for people, because it’s like there’s this sort of collective blind spot to it. But it’s just there every day.”

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Razorlight busked for The Big Issue back in 2011

Borrell came up with Razorlight in the mid-to-late 2000s, at a time when the UK was saturated with talented and popular rock bands following in the footsteps of the ’90s Britpop boom. Predating the more diverse ecosystem of acts working today, Razorlight and the other bands in their orbit became influential across the spectrum of culture, from the sounds they produced to the clothes they wore and the aesthetic they represented – one that is becoming fashionable again today.

Borrell says earmarking this show in support of The Big Issue as their return to the bigtime was a no-brainer. “When Andy (Burrows, Razorlight drummer) asked if we should do this show for the magazine, I was like ‘Let me thi… yes, of course, let’s do it’.”

It’s been a long road back to the newly reunited classic line-up of the band. “We spent the last two years getting the band back together,” says Borrell. “We’ve got new material on the way, and we’re ready to go.”

The show will be the second in two days for Muse, who will play the preceding night to raise money for War Child, to help those affected by the war in Ukraine and other conflict zones, and for Médecins Sans Frontières for its ongoing work in Ukraine and the world’s greatest crises.

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Borrell is adamant that anyone in the limelight should try to use their position to affect positive change. In Razorlight’s heyday, Borrell was no stranger to expressing opinions, something he says he took “miles of shit” for in the press, “I’ve always stood up for what I believe in,” he says.

“I was always really shocked when I would hang out with other bands and people in the public eye who were trying to not really say anything in case it upset someone or might alienate some of their fanbase. There are people who are going through a lot of shit in the world, and it’s great to be in a rock’n’roll band
and living all that, but it’s important to give something back.”

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