We never wrote a love song in the Kaiser Chiefs. At the time of I Predict a Riot, I was inspired by tracks like Sharp Darts by the Streets, songs that were gritty and real. The inspiration for the verses came from me DJing at the Cockpit in Leeds, and at the end of the night we’d drive home past this club called the Majestyk. There was always a big snarl-up there, loads of people in the road, police everywhere.
I remember seeing one guy punch someone from behind. It was horrible. He was puffing his chest out, and a policeman instantly handcuffed him. There’d be girls with no shoes on, so there’s that line: “If it wasn’t for chip fat they’d be frozen.” I don’t think Leeds nightlife is like that any more, although to be honest I haven’t been out in the city centre at two in the morning for about 10 years.
The song title and chorus came from a club night that me and Ricky [Wilson, singer] used to run. One night, this band called Black Wire were playing, and it was getting really hectic. The band were taking their clothes off and the crowd were hanging from the ceiling pipes. I said to the club owner: “I predict a riot.” Then I thought: “I’d better write that down.” The morning after, I remember being in my pyjamas, sat at the piano in my mum and dad’s house, hammering it out. I knew that if we could just get that lyric into the chorus, it would make people take notice.
When Ricky and I wrote lyrics, we were always trying to make each other laugh. The line “Not very pretty I tell thee” came from the Craig David character in Bo’ Selecta! John Smeaton was a lighthouse designer, and a Leodensian means someone from Leeds.
We literally all cried when the song got to number 22. [It reached number nine on rerelease nine months later.] We’d been going seven years, we’d made an album that never came out, we’d done the toilet circuit, been dropped, started again. I remember seeing it on an advert for Byker Grove. Chris Moyles did a cover version – I Predict a Diet – but I didn’t know Westlife had covered it until you told me.
My favourite thing in the world is to start a new song. Every time, you think: “This is going to be the big one.” It rarely is, but anything can happen – like with I Predict a Riot. Every band has a best song – and that was ours.
We’d already written loads of songs for our debut album, Employment, and we’d released Oh My God with the label and website Drowned in Sound, and its editor Sean Adams told us: “You need another song as good as that, or better”. The verse for I Predict a Riot had already been brought into rehearsals and gone round and round until we were sick of it.
I remember being frustrated, but after that Black Wire gig, we played it through with that new chorus. We recorded it, and I said to Nick: “That’s it. That’s totally brilliant.”
I was obsessed with the Clash at the time and wanted to emulate what their bass player, Paul Simonon, was doing. There’s a darkness to the song. It’s in C minor. We were trying to do this spooky singalong. One article I read said the lyric was us looking down on people, sneering at them. But I never thought that. The lyrics were just observations.
We did the section where the vocals build up because, when we started out, our sets only lasted 25 minutes so we knew that’s how long we had to get people’s attention. So we’d try every trick. It’s like a modern take or a darker version of Twist And Shout. We did that same trick on about five songs on Employment. In the end, we had to stop because we’d done it so much.
When you look on Spotify’s streaming numbers, Ruby is our biggest song. But I Predict a Riot has the best reaction live, all around the world. We played it at a festival in Poland for hundreds of thousands of people, and it felt apocalyptic, like something was going to go wrong. Everyone was going crazy. I remember thinking that there wasn’t enough security, and if people had wanted to revolt, it was all over.
But even at the worst gigs, it’s good to have it in your setlist. We’ve played a few black-tie events and it can be a bit stiff. But then you play I Predict a Riot and you’ve got guys with ties on their heads. That’s the time I’m most thankful for the song.