You are listening to "I write the songs" here on BBC Radio Wales, with me, Alan Thompson. And I'm delighted to say my special guest on the programme today, having a chat about his lengthy career and playing some live music, we've popped up to London today to Maida Vale Studios here in London to meet the one and only Mr Eric Stewart. Eric, welcome to the programme.
Thank you very much and good day, Alan.
Good day to you as well. Thank you very much for joining me today on "I write the songs"
We've had some great songwriters over the recent months on the programme, and I'm really pleased that you can do the programme today for us. Before we look at the career and hear some of the great songs that you've written over er, over the years and also look at the new album, which is "Do Not Bend". Talking about song writing, as I say, you've written some great songs over the years, what's your first song-writing memory?
Oh God, you've got to go back to the 60's when I was with a band called Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders.
I remember them well.
I was the lead guitarist with Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders until Wayne left for a solo career and I took over as lead vocal. And, um, we wrote a song which was highly based on a Beatles track, I should say nicked from a Beatles track, called Long Time Coming. [sings 'It's been a loh oh ong time coming, but now I know I got it made'] Very, very Beatle-y. It was on the B-side of 'Game Of Love' right which was a number one, so suddenly we were hit writers.
Okay, the new album, just come out, Do Not Bend er, let's have a bit of music. Is there any particular song on the album that is your, your favourite, 'cause it's, it's a varied mixture?
I'd, to play the songs from the, from the Do Not Bend album at the moment is nigh on impossible, because I can give you the background to some of the track, but not play the song the whole way through. The way, the way I record nowadays, I will write as I record. So I'll sit there, and just get a riff, you know, of [plays keyboard riff] and that turns into a song. I can play that bit, that's quite easy, but there's stuff I've, I've put in there on some of these songs, I don't even know what I've played, and to be honest with you I can't, I can't write music at all, Alan, along with Paul McCartney and a few other
... illustrious writers, we can't, the dots are gobbledegook to us, they're Russian or Dutch or something.
You play it by ear?
I play by ear. So I play on the piano, I mean, I know what the basic chords are physically but when I sit down to write, I just, I just fly by the seat of my pants and, and write something physically which is now of course stored in your computer...
...using the software stored in the computer, so it's, it's locked in there so I'll, then I'll go onto another instrument, if I'm just doing a backing track. And forget about what I played as long as what I'm adding onto it fits with it, I don't really need to know what the chords were.
Have you always written the same way, because you mention there that you're sitting at the piano and you find your riff and sort of build a song around that. I mean, have you always written in the same kind of, same procedure?
No, no, never. That's just one way. I had that riff, that was the first riff for the song on the album called Fred and Dis-Audrey. Er, it's a story about a painter friend of mine who was always trying to explain painting to me. I'd love to paint and he'd love to play piano. So I said 'okay if you can teach me to paint like you, we'll, we'll do a deal. So I sat down, I had this riff and then the words and the melody formed. The words happened after the riff. I had a good feel going which is something I experimented with, which I think may be interesting, is if you've got a history of songs that you really love, not just your own songs, stuff you've written yourself but say your great songs, great blues songs, great soul songs, great ballads, there'll be a feel on those songs that is particularly good. If you can somehow emulate that feel, and we call these things on, on MIDI programmes grooves now, you use a MIDI groove and you, say you wanted a song - that little riff there actually came from the feel on Wilson Pickett's Midnight Hour...
Could you show us?
... going [plays riff and sings "Gonna wait 'til the midnight hour 'til my love come tumbling down"]. Course I'm not doing it like that, but what I'm doing is the FEEL of it, sure, yes the feel, the lovely drum feel on it so a good way to do it is to take a couple of bars of your favourite song, put it in your computer as a rhythm, just as a rhythm and then write your song on top of that rhythm. Just do a loop of the rhythm. There are tons of drum loops available on CD's, but they're not always great grooves, but if you've got a song you really love and you'd love to write a song like that, use the song itself, it's rhythm. And just put them in your computer and, and once you've got that in mind, if you want to produce an Elvis Presley rock 'n' roll track, something like that, use a couple of bars for your feel. There's something that's, I think you've only been able to do since the computer sequencing programmes have got so sophisticated and it's a great luxury to do that.
It's interesting, it's the feel of songs.
To feel the song, yeah.
Have you ever sat down and tried, you mentioned the Beatles song that you tried to sort of, um, to copy if you like, to re-write when you were in the Mindbenders? I spent years trying to rewrite 10cc songs but they're far too complicated, too many chords...
Too many chords.
...yeah, I mean, have you ever tried to sort of rewrite other songs? I think Tom Robinson told me in an earlier "I write the songs" that he thought it was quite a good way of finding new songs was to liber, deliberately try and sort of rewrite a well known song and it would take you in a different direction.
Yeah, it's a very good idea. You mean, a song from somebody else?
Yeah, from somebody else, and try and write, you know, whatever...
Yeah, I saw a wonderful thing when I was working in Stockholm with, er, Agnetha from Abba.
I was producing her album, um, Eyes Of A Woman, and while I was in there in one studio, the rest of the Abba team, Bjorn and Benny, were writing, um, Chess, the musical with Tim Rice doing the lyrics. And I noticed they had every possible album of every show from 'South Pacific' to 'Mame', God knows what, everything in there and they were listening to the tracks and seeing which track they felt was the best at this point in the show, and why, trying to evaluate why. And then the other trick was to use a set of lyrics that had already been written for another song. But you don't play that song - what you do, you sit down there, say I'm doing a, say I'm doing a song like 'Yesterday' - 'yesterday, love was such an easy game to play' but you want to do a rock 'n' roll song, but you use those words to, to scan the songs instead and so you might be doing [plays upbeat riff on keyboard - sings 'Yesterday' lyrics] and you use those words as your vehicle, to get a melody and a chord sequence sorted out. That was a very crude, crude version, I'm embarrassed to say, sorry, Paul. But, um, you know what I mean, once you've got the vehicle for the words, somebody else's words, then you get your melody, your melody arrives, your chord sequence arrives, then you change the words to what you want to say, your words. That's another little trick I'd noticed people using.
You, you play everything on the album really, er, there's a couple of er, sort of backing vocalists but basically it's Eric Stewart. You play everything and you've written everything. With the song-writing process, I'm curious because you've written with so many people over the years, obviously Graham Gouldman and the, the other members from 10cc, plus Paul McCartney and other people. What's the difference in writing on your own to writing with other people, I mean I guess difference one is there's no-one to bounce off.
Yeah you've got to be schizophrenic. I mean, you find yourself talking to yourself saying "Do you think that's good - well, no, that's not good enough, go back and do it again!" No, but seriously, I'd, I love, I love working with other people, that's, that's the main way to bounce. But I wanted to experiment, to see how far I could get just sitting there on my own, with the wonderful instruments that are available now, and using phenomenal samples you can get, oh, good brass and good strings and things like that. So I can physically play the piano, so I could play anything that would be sampled from a keyboard. The only thing I got stuck on was the girl backing vocals, even tried it in a dress, just didn't sound right...
Wouldn't have suited you, Eric
...didn't suit me, not at all. So I, I used Sam Brown, who's a great singer...
Joe Brown's daughter, yeah, she had a couple of hits in the '80's and '90's, yes
...and a couple of friends of hers who are, they do lots of stuff. They do lots of the Jools Holland show and his albums, very, very professional. I had a ball working with them and I brought them into Dave Gilmour's studio. David Gilmour's studio, he's got this wonderful houseboat on the Thames, it's a converted houseboat that's now a studio. It's a beautiful thing that used to belong to Fred Karno, um, the circus guy and it's a studio on the Thames. So you're sat in the Thames watching the boats and the ducks and the geese go by and you're recording in this wonderful environment. So I went there and recorded the girls, and I also wanted to see what my tracks were sounding like in someone else's studio. As you said, you do get a bit too close to it if you're sat there on your own trying to argue with yourself. But I'm pleased with the way it worked. I might not do it that way next time but I'm pleased it's been a faster way for me to work in that I've not had to ask somebody for their opinion or their OK for something. I can just say to myself "is that good enough, Eric? Yeah or no" and keep trying 'til I'm happy with it.
We've got a couple of instruments around. We've got a nice grand piano...
There's a grand piano
We've got a Fender Rhodes, you also, you've bought your, your '57 Strat' with you.
I have my '57 Strat', yes.
Yes, you've got all angles covered. You mentioned Dave Gilmour then. I'm curious actually, while this springs to mind. Art For Art's Sake. I always thought there was a kind of, a sort of a Pink Floyd 'Wish You Were Here' vibe to that. Was that, is that, er, intentional?
Not consciously, no, not consciously
You kind of influence each other, don't you, your sort of guitarists, um
Guitarists do, I mean, they do, they do listen to each other. I, I, I love Dave's guitar playing, especially The Wall, that blew me away. Um, I always envied Pink Floyd because they didn't need a hit single. 10cc, we, we did lots of hit singles but you know, we had to struggle to get the albums, the albums up the charts, especially in America, something we never actually achieved. We never got a number one album, but we had two number one singles there, but Floyd could release an album and it'd go straight to number one, no singles, no hassles with trying to write 3-minute-pastice, to advertise the album. I really envy that.
Can you remember a lot of those 10cc guitar solos? Because I thought there was some good stuff on there, I mean, could you, could you maybe pick up the guitar and kind of, er, I think my, I mentioned Art For Art's Sake, which was that cut, that, that sort of riff at the start of that, er, song was, was very meaty. You've got your '57 Strat with you. It's a bit scratched, Eric, but it's seen many a gig. [Eric plays Art For Art's Sake]
The song came about from, um, Graham Gouldman's father, Hymie. Right. He used to say, ooh we were talking about doing songs which would mean something to the public, mean something for posterity, for history, he used to say "Boys, art for art's sake. Money for God's sake, okay!"
And it made a song.
It made a song, yeah. I mean a lot of songs developed from a title like that. Somebody gives that title to me, art for art's sake, money for God's sake, it conjures up a million things as to why.
Are you always on the lookout for songs? If someone says a phrase do you "ding"?
Yeah, as a, as a song-writer, your brain is always open to that somehow and somebody will just, they'll say, like, um, for instance, a 10cc track Life Is A Minestrone
Oh yeah, yeah
We'd finished in the studio, Strawberry Studios, we'd finished recording and Lol was staying with me at the time, Lol Creme, and we were driving home and listening to BBC radio and this guy says "mmmrrhhr mmhmrmr strone" and Lol says "Did that guy say life is a minestrone?" I said I don't know but what a great song, what a great idea for a song, what a great title. Life is a minestrone, isn't it. It's a mixture of everything we pile in there and of course once we sat down to start writing Life Is A Minestrone, well, what's death? Death's got to be a cold lasagne, you know, 3 days old, stuck in the fridge, you don't want to eat it, and once you get on, on a roll like that about food and, and feeling, we had it written in a day.
Because that was, that was unusual, actually, that was a Creme Stewart song wasn't it?
A Creme Stewart song yeah.
You sort of crossed over because 10cc, basically often, more often than not were Godley & Creme, and you and Graham. You occasionally crossed over. Was that just because of that car journey when you happened to hear that guy say that?
It was, yeah. Or more often than not, if one of us had an idea, you, we took it in the studio before we started to record, and this was as we were setting up to record a whole album. You take it in the studio and say look, um, for instance, I had this song I wanted to write called I'm Not In Love. And I took it into the studio, I said I've got this idea about a song. It's a love song but it's called I'm Not In Love, yeah. Who fancies going with me on that one? And Godley and Creme looked at me rather strange and said "Not another love song, no" and Graham Gouldman said "Yeah, yeah, oh yeah, I'll have a crack at it with you". So we, we sat down and started to write it and that's, that's the democratic way 10cc used to write. So occasionally, er, the partnership of Graham and myself or Godley and Creme didn't quite like the idea of what their partner wanted to do, so Lol would then write with me. Or if, if, if Kevin wanted to write something with Graham, Lol would say well, have you got any ideas or he'd say I've got this idea for this, why don't you and me just get rid of, waste the time, let's just sit in the studio and have a little mess around.
So it's a lot of messing around and a lot of mixing. As I said earlier, there's meaty guitar solos in all those 10cc tracks, er, the solo on Rubber Bullets is a personal favourite of mine, it's a fantastic solo. That's, er...
That's, that's a double track solo on that. It's, it's very, very high [plays guitar solo from Rubber Bullets], of course, going through a Marshall stack er, then I slowed the tape to half speed - seven and a half - and recorded it, you know, going [plays singles picked notes slowly] and when you speed it back up you've got an octave up, but there's a screaming fuzz on the top of it, that's an octave higher than it was recorded. So er, it's a very unusual sound done in that way, just an experiment. Because 10cc, we love to experiment, we used to love to waste time. And having the beauty of having our own studio, we didn't have a clock in there so we weren't restricted.
Yeah, when you and Graham were working together, how did the two sort of factions move on? Why, was it more comfortable writing with Graham than it was with, with Kevin and Lol?
It was, at the time, and Godley & Creme had been writing together, oh, working with each other on graphics even from art school. And they certainly had this incredible bond between them. Umm, it was psychic. They knew what each other was thinking, and they could write very quickly. And they did come up with these wonderful, wacky ideas. Wonderful, wacky ideas. Rubber Bullets. Oh God, I mean, we're in the BBC at the moment, but the BBC banned it because they thought it was about Northern Ireland...
...and the rubber bullets there, but of course it wasn't. It was about, well, like the Attica State prison riot, where the policemen and the padre was there, like one of those old early Cagney films, based on that sort of ethic.
The middle section in that, I mean, as we mentioned earlier, 10cc songs are really complex songs, there's a lot of stuff going on there, ummm, and you were kind of, you engineered the sort of, 10cc albums. For example, Rubber Bullets, how complicated was that to put together and can you sort of demonstrate the sort of chord sequence in the middle maybe?
It's incredibly complicated because we were working on 8-tracks at the time, and going back a bit further, people were working on stereo. But when, once people had started to do this manufactured, layered system of recording, you needed more tracks. NEED MORE TRACKS!!! Umm, Rubber Bullets started as a pure twelve bar, um, [strums guitar, starts singing falsetto] I'm sorry, I can't get as high as Lol [continues singing normally] So the verse was quite a simple...
really simple, yeah!
...chuggy, rough Chuck Berry type of thing, but having this quirky duo in the band as well, Kevin suddenly says "Well, I think you should go somewhere else in the middle" [sings 'Sergeant Baker started talking with his bullhorn in his hand, bullhorn in his hand'] Where are we going with this? For a fact, the beat stops, someone's dancing to it, they're gonna suddenly [stomps foot] stand there and say "What are you doing? Where are we going next? Do we wait?" And we, we had this big discussion, what were we gonna do with this? But we agreed. Even though we'd cut the rhythm out, the actual speed of it was continuous. Someone very clever might continue dancing [both laugh out loud]. And it worked though, it worked beautifully, we er, went and got a number One with it. We got our first sniff at the American charts with it, got us in the top 20's so we thought we were away there.
Great song, really, really thats a classic song there.
An interesting track.
Er, Wall Street Shuffle was, was, was one of your biggies, you and Graham, you played er, you played Cardiff Castle of course, didn't you? A lot of our listeners will remember 1975, July the 12th, I think, 1975, you played Cardiff Castle. I remember leaning out of my bedroom window as a 12 year old. I lived about 5 miles away from Cardiff, er, Cardiff Castle and I still hear it today, in the distance, because you must have been a loud band. I could hear [cups hands over mouth and 'does' the guitar intro'] you must have been so loud. Um, that's a great song.
It's a very interesting track Alan. We were crossing Wall Street in New York in a stretch limousine, celebrating the fact that we'd got in the charts with Rubber Bullets, and we'd gone across the big financial district of America there, and just as we were going across the street, Lol said "Wall Street! The Wall Street Shuffle! And I said "Do the Wall Street Shuffle", the melody, I had the melody in my head. But it was Lol, Lol's words. Wall Street Shuffle. And by that time I'd started writing more so I was getting a little bit more competent in what I was doing in, in the writing partnerships. And those things stay with you, as I was saying earlier on, if someone says a nice line to you or you hear something on radio, there's a part of your brain suddenly locks it in if it's good, and you'll never forget it. Until you get into the studio and start to write. And we got to the studio to, to start writing our second album, Sheet Music, and I said to Lol "Remember that idea, Lol, Wall Street Shuffle?" He said "Yeah, yeah, its a great idea, great title, but I don't think I really, I don't feel right like writing. I don't think I have anything to put in that in terms of words". So I said well, you know, anybody else want to write? Is anybody gonna go for this? and Graham says "Yeah, yeah, okay, yeah, let's try and write it". So I had the riff already [plays keyboards - sings "Do the Wall Street Shuffle"]. From there, it just developed on and on and on and on and on, and at the time there was this big run on the pound, there's some guy in America, Getty, Rothschild, all these names were coming up, they were manipulating the market, the pound was down, getting hammered. So you've automatically got a whole book of lyrics to, to put into your song there, with what's going on in the world. So a very easy song to write, but some complex, you know [keyboards] weird, weird chords to put in there, but quite grabbing within the context of the rhythm which was this gorgeous slap rhythm, and I remember the kit in the studio, the kit belonged to Gerry Conway, and at the time we were recording Sheet Music, Paul McCartney was in the studio, all the way through the night, recording um, Mike McGear's album, his brother, yeah? The drummer was Gerry Conway and had this lovely little Gretch kit, all loose skins. I used his drum set-up and miked it with this repeat echo, it's got this gorgeous flapping echo drums sound. Once we had that and the electric piano down, it sounded like a hit already.
Yeah, very clever lyrics on that as well "You need a yen..."
As I said, the lyrics were just pulled out of the air at that time, a lot of interesting financial meanings...
And you mentioned um, McCartney, um, a very Beatle-y middle eight ["sings" Oh Howard Hughes did your money make you better?]
Very, very Beatle-y. Oh, we were very Beatles influenced.
You were very Beatles influenced...
Well, they broke all the boundaries for everybody, you see. We followed them up a few avenues and then we broke off at a tangent with our own ideas again which, er, you know, I can, we'll talk about Paul. And Paul said to me many times "You know, I see where you got that idea from, you nicked that didn't you, from one of my tracks". So yeah I did, but didn't I make it good? We didn't, we didn't rubbish it, did we? We improved it.
Yeah, I know it's been a long time but how much of Wall Street Shuffle could you, could you remember for us now? It's such a classic song.
Well, well, the big, the big dah-dah-dah-dah... [starts playing and singing Wall Street Shuffle, but part-way through forgets the words. Halfway into it, he stops...]
We got the gist, oh yeah, great stuff.
Dow Jones ain't got time for the bums, they wind up on Skid Row, with holes in their pockets. They plead with you "Buddy can you spare a dime?" but you ain't got the time...
To do it now. And records like that back in those days could be hit singles as well. Yeah they'd be the most obscure songs and they'd be hits.
Well, they're stories aren't they? They're stories that people seem to latch onto although the rhythm of the choruses ands so on is quite catchy and melodic, so people will lock into that, but for them to lock into a lyric as complex as that, and remember the words, that's quite unusual.
You've put some massive production numbers together in 10cc.
Yeah we certainly did.
Um, I mean, I've got the Greatest Hits here, and if you look at the actual greatest hits, you, you had a lot of hits and er, I mean you studio engineered all the, the records er, and you were a very autonomous band actually, 10cc, you were sort of very self-sufficient.
Incestuous is the word, that's a, that's a polite way of putting it. Um, I'm Mandy Fly Me is a phenomenal piece of production. How long did it take to write that song and piece that song together?
The idea came from, American Airlines used to have this beautiful poster that they displayed of this gorgeous stewardess inviting you onto the plane. Now her name wasn't Mandy actually, it was something like, er, oh gosh knows, "I'm Cindy", a very American name. "I'm Cindy, fly me" which was a quite sexual connotation as well, but I remember seeing in Manchester this beautiful poster and just below it was this tramp, I mean a serious tramp, quite a raggedy guy, looking up at this girl, and I thought God, do you know, there's a song there. Look at that guy looking up at Cindy-fly-me and I know he's never gonna get on an aeroplane, I don't think, except in his dreams. So I brought it back, the idea back to the studio, where we were writing for the How Dare You album, and put it to the guys "Anybody interested in this I'm Mandy Fly Me". I'd switched it to Mandy. And Graham said "yeah, that sounds like a good idea. I've got some ideas, I've got some chords. Let's slot those things in, try it, mess it around". We wrote it, and we didn't like it. We, we scrapped it.
Why didn't you like it?
It just wasn't going anywhere. But, enter from stage left, ha ha, the "wicked villain" Kevin Godley, twiddling his moustache, says "I know what's wrong with it. Let's sit down again." He said "I think it just gets too bland, it just goes on, on one plane, your verses and your middles and your der-der-der, they're all going on the one plane. What it needs is someone to go 'Bash' on the side of your head". So we changed the rhythm completely, and we put two whacking great guitar solo's in there, in the middle of this quiet, soft, floaty song. Once we'd got that idea in, it, it just gelled into something else. Again, impossible to dance to, as a lot of 10cc tracks were, but once Kevin had put that in, he became the third writer in the song so we were quite democratic in that way. We could all suggest what we didn't like or did like. Well, Kevin wasn't actually subtle, he'd just turn around and say "Eric, that's crap!" What? What? I've spent two weeks writing this! Crap? Can you be a little bit more descriptive, you don't like it? He says "It's just crap, it's not going anywhere". So we re-wrote it, and Mandy became this lovely interesting song with the whacking guitar solo's in it.
Tricky, tricky chords to put to the song? Can you...
Quite, quite tricky.
Because as I say, it's a very complex song though I wonder if you can er... Yeah. After you pieced it all together in the studio and Kevin Godley told you what you'd done initially was crap!
We had this lovely [plays high-noted guitar riff, and tries singing the first four lines] etc, etc I'm not doing that very well, and it goes all the way through these middles and then flips into [strums chords] aah, 10cc chord, vocals there. Um, complex to record.
And even worse I guess to do it live. How did you do these songs live?
Um, you can, you can get around it. What you have to do is ditch a lot of the stuff that is not that important in the song. In the recording and in the mixing and your stereo picture, it's very important for me to, to get this balance and have all the elephants, the elements all coming through and jumping up to surprise people. Main thing we were doing was surprising ourselves in the studio and that's the joy of us doing it er, but on stage you have to take away the stuff that's maybe not as meaningful as the good basic rhythm, the electric piano, the two choppy guitars just flipping on first and third, and second and fourth beats in the song er, and somehow the audience fill in the gaps, they do it. I do it, when, when I go to watch somebody, and if I go and watch Brian Wilson or the Beach Boys or somebody like that, I'm not gonna hear what was on the record, although they did get pretty close, I must say, but there are bits missing that you compensate for in your head. You know the song, you love the record, it's your favourite track or whatever, so that's the way round it on stage.
Yeah and we mentioned previously that you had Strawberry Studios, so you were a very kind of autonomous band, and you used every instrument under the sun. You used to list them on the albums as well. You mentioned the How Dare You album which I'm Mandy Fly Me came off. I remember, and I'm not sure if it was you or Lol actually played the zip on one of the tracks, which I presume was just one of you doing up your fly.
Was it you?
It wasn't me doing it, it was Kevin Godley.
It was Kevin Godley?
Kevin Godley, who else?
He thought I know what we need here is...
...somebody doing up their zip. I can't remember what song it was on.
It was. I think it was Iceberg, it was a pretty heavy song that. One of the songs that almost split the group. You know, you'd get these sort of "Kevin, we can't sing that on the album, really, I, I, I know it sounds good" it's like when we did that song called er, Worst Band In The World. It's one thing to know it but another to admit we're the worst band in the world and we don't give a. You miss the word out, but the Beeb banned it.
Yeah, we didn't get plays and er, so we had to put another version out saying we're the worst band in the world but we don't give up.
Yeah, did you worry about the lyrics on, talking of lyrics, on, on Dreadlock Holiday?
Did you, because some people kind of misunder, perhaps misunderstood those er, did you find that when you brought the record out, even though it was a massive hit?
I think you're right, because it was a hit because the, the choruses and things were very, very hooky, especially the "I don't like cricket" section and all that. And the story behind the song is lovely um, I got the idea for the song for two, two reasons. I was in Barbados at the time, and I'm watching this white guy walking down the street behind this, this group of black guys. And they've got a lovely rhythm. Christ, you know, when they walk and they move, it's musical [clicks fingers]. It's this gorgeous rhythm when they're walking and I saw this white guy behind them trying to emulate their stuff. "I was walking down the street concentrating on trucking right". Of course he was looking a complete idiot, but anyway it really interested me and I wrote the idea down as soon as I got back to the hotel. I scribbled the first verse down. Great, I had the idea, and the guy was on holiday, we're in a place where dreadlocks were quite current at the time, the er, the Ethiopian Haile Sellassie and guys, and Bob Marley's a big hero there in the Caribbean of course. I brought it back and I mentioned it to, to the guys and Graham Gouldman said "funny", he said "I was in Jamai" - he went to Jamaica, I was in Barbados, he said "I was talking to er, a Jamaican about cricket the other day, when I was there and I said to the guy, well I suppose you like cricket, don't you? He said Like it? Like it? I love it! I love it!" I said what a great idea for a lyric - I don't like cricket, I love it. Course you do, it's your, everything you know. So that section is there. We've got the first verse, we've got that section. We mentioned this to a deejay up in Newcastle and he said "Very strange you should say that. I was on holiday in the Caribbean", this is absolutely true, Alan, I assure you, "I was on holiday in the Caribbean, I'm walking down the street, there are two guys leaning against the wall on my right, two black guys and a black guy leaning on the lamp-post, and just as I walk in-between them, the guys say Hey man, don't you walk through my words!" Like, don't you walk through my conversation, it's rude.
I said that's brilliant [claps hands once], brilliant, can we have it? Yeah course, we used those words. Don't you walk through my words, you got to show some respect, don't you walk through my words cos you ain't heard me out yet. And other little things that happened to me on the same holiday. I was sat on a life-raft in the middle of the ocean there with Justin Hayward, who's the singer with the Moody Blues, and we were doing this parachute sailing, where a boat drags you off the raft and you go flying around with a parachute on, and a life-belt of course. I left Justin on the raft and I went up on the parasail, towed around Barbados getting blown about, then they bring you down and drop you theoretically on the raft again. I got down on the raft, I said "Okay Justin, are you getting on the raft as well?" He said "no, man, we got to get off this raft quickly!" He said "I'm really scared" I said "What happened?" He said "I'll tell you when we get back". We got the hotel to pick us up. So we got the hotel boat to come out. Drove us back. I said "What happened?" He says "Well as soon as you went up there, this guy said to me er, I like your silver chain." He'd got a silver chain on. "He said I'll give you a dollar for it." He was a Jamaican. "I'll give you a dollar" and Justin said "No, no, no, no, this is very special to me, this was a present from my mother". He said "Listen man, if this was Jamaica, I'd cut your fucking hand off" and he said "Really?" He said "Yeah and I like your watch too, and I'll give you a dollar for your watch". So Justin was freaked out, and we got back to the hotel, he said "What is this? I've never experienced this in the Caribbean before" So we mentioned it to the hotel, he said "Ooh we get some of these guys come I from Kingston, Jamaica, the gang guys, the druggies, and we've got to, we've got to collar them. So they sent the police off to get this guy. That became part of the song as well. He looked down at my silver chain, he said I'll give you one dollar. And then the other thing that happens on the island, people always coming up to you saying "Have you got everything you need?" And they're selling ganja. It's always a pretty girl. "You got everything you need?" So, third verse was there, lying down at the swimming pool, someone comes up...
And you put it to music, obviously, and it was a huge hit, I mean, but how did the chords come about? Was it fairly, fairly straightforward? Because it's one of the, I guess, one of the more sort of simple 10cc songs actually looking at it...
Um [Eric sings about a half of Dreadlock Holiday accompanying himself on the keyboards] that's the whole song. You've got the chorus, the verse and the reprise in there and it just goes around that and then jumps up er, a semi-tone for the third verse.
Very rhythmic and one of those things that sort of sticks in people's minds, you know, the lyric again is quite complex
Yeah, and a huge hit and a number one for you.
Number one world-wide except America.
Absolutely. Godley and Creme. They as you say, left the band er, you were hugely successful and they left to sort of um, develop the Gismo. Was that the reason they split? Did you fall out with them at the time or were you sorry to see them go?
I was sorry to see them go. But we, we certainly did fall out at the time - a, I thought they were crazy.
They were just walking away from something so... big and successful. We'd had great success around the world and I thought we were just breaking in a very, very big way. The collective dynamite of those four people, four people who could all write, who could all sing a hit song. In one band. I don't think that's ever been heard of before, well, the Beatles were of course on another planet anyway. But, four guys who could write like that and do it all in-house, our own studio.
Was that, was that a problem in a way, was it er, those four creative minds? Did that sort of cause tension?
I think it does eventually, Alan. I think um, I think it becomes claustrophobic, in the fact that you're trying to perfect things and you're looking at each other and eventually you maybe say this, this, this relationship is a little too tight for me now, and er, I need to break away. And that's what in retrospect, I found out long after because I still speak to Godley and Creme who, Lol is my brother-in-law, so I've got to see him, but for quite a while we didn't talk. I just said you're out of your minds for leaving this band. We were on such a winning curve, Graham Gouldman and I had to decide are we going to be 5cc, are we gonna scrap the name completely. Well, we thought we, no, we'd better carry on because we, this is 10cc, we, we are 10cc, this band. Two of our members are leaving us and that's not our problem, but we've got to carry it on.
And you carried on very successfully, which is unusual, often when, when major figures from a band leave, and that band carries on, the band doesn't do as well. But you'd continued to have huge success and the Deceptive Bends album came out with songs like, one and another of my favourites, The Things We Do For Love.
Now, could you show us a little bit of The Things We Do For Love on the old er, we've got a Steinway here, in our studio. Another big hit single for you.
We have a Steinway, yeah.
How did that this come about then, Eric?
This, this song um I wrote with, with er, Graham Gouldman and originally it was a very bluesy song, like [plays and sings The Things We Do For Love first verse in the blues style] very, very bluesy version of it and we actually played that to Kev and Lol, Godley and Creme, and Kevin said um, "It's interesting but I think you should speed it up a bit and make it a bit more er, beefy". Ummm, and then they left the band. So we never got it in the studio to try it with them, but er, Graham Gouldman and I did and [Eric plays the Steinway, singing most but not all the lyrics. Eventually with a croaky voice, he stops singing]. Sorry about that, it's many years since I sang that song.
Oh, a fantastic song. A compromise would surely help the situation [both quote the next line "agree to disagree but disagree to part]
And it's, oh it's biographical, a lot of songs are biographical, you know, and um, I remember walking through the rain and the snow when I lived in Manchester and we didn't have a telephone. I had to go and find a phone box to ring the girl who was about to become my wife, and the, the phones were down, and it was snowing, and these, these vivid pictures are there. If you put them in a song, a lot of people identify with a similar situation.
And when you play the song, does it all come back to you, those, like a sense of smell or, remind you where you were when you hear it?
Yeah, I remember exactly what was going on all ringing up and eventually getting through to her father, saying you know, ahh, "Could you tell Gloria that I'm not back, I can't make it tomorrow night, I've got a gig in Peterborough". And he was a typical Yorkshire man, he says "Right, I'll tell her, yer not gonna be here tomorrow, yer don't want to see her. Right!" Put the phone down. I said "What? Oh hold it, hold it!" So, ooh you made me love you, you've got a way. It's, it's a love song.
The Things We Do For Love, exactly. What we do for love.
Was it a relief when the hits kept on going with the new 10cc?
I mean, the first one was Good Morning Judge.
Was that song written out of just a basic sort of guitar riff?
Yeah, out of a riff. I had this riff [plays Good Morning Judge guitar riff and sings. He gets so far and ends] bah ba bah bah be dah bah ba bah. Have to do it on the slide, I can't play it
Yeah, great. Real, that rocks.
Yeah, good fun song to...
But again complicated - I didn't do it, he wasn't there, all that sort of...
Oh yeah well [strums guitar, and sings "he didn't do it, he wasn't there, I didn't want it , I wouldn't dare" and carries on with the "car" verse] something like that.
Brilliant, fantastic song. Okay, we are heading towards the end of the programme. 10cc had er, had hits for years on end as we, as we discovered then a couple of, the hits kind of died off a bit Eric, and..
I mean, before, we talked about the band splitting, was that a big anticlimax after you'd had so much success and then the hits stopped, stopped coming? Was that, was that a pain for you? Obviously it was.
It's, there was a sort of defining point in time which would be after 1979,and two thing happened. I had a ridiculous car crash in January 79, we were just about to go to Japan and we'd just had Good Morning Judge, The Things We Do For Love er, Bloody Tourists was a number one album, Dreadlock Holiday was number one, and I get, we were flying. I had this accident and it flattened me completely. I damaged my left ear, I damaged my eye very badly. I couldn't go near music. I couldn't go near anything loud and I love music and motor-racing. I had to stay away from both things for a long time, for about six months. And the momentum of this big machine that we'd had rolling slowed and slowed and slowed. And on the music scene, the punk thing had come in, in a big way. The Sex Pistols, Clash, lots of things like that. So by the time I was sort of fit again to play, I think we'd, we'd just, we missed the bus. It'd gone. And whatever we did after that, we got a few tickles here and there and we could continue touring for ever on the strength of the past hits, but it wasn't, didn't feel right, didn't feel right again, we just didn't have that public with us.
And are they finished, dead and buried now, 10cc? Will they ever get back together?
I don't, I don't think 10cc as it ever existed will get back together I mean, the, the strong 10cc was the four piece because of this wonderful ability to go in sixteen thousand different directions musically, lyrically...
Well we've left your, I guess your most famous song to last. We're going to finish the programme now. We haven't mentioned I'm Not In Love, we haven't looked at it. So er, would you say that was your, your, your most famous song? I mean, is it, is it one of your favourites?
It is the most famous song, I, I wouldn't say it's one of my favourites, it wasn't actually the biggest selling song either, believe me. The Things We Do For Love was the biggest seller.
It is, yeah, especially in America.
Because I'm Not In Love is considered now, I think it's fair to say, is a bit of a standard really, isn't it?
Yes, a classic.
I think it made number ten or eleven in the top twenty of all time this, this year. It was number one of all time for ten years, something like that. The idea for the song comes around from my, my wife saying to me er, "why don't you say I love you more often?" So I said well, if I keep saying it it's going to lose it's credibility. If I say it to you every day "hello darling, I love you" it's not gonna mean much, is it? But it really got me to thinking now how can I say the same words without saying I love you? And I thought well, I say I'm not in love but here are all the reasons why I am. And once you've got that idea locked in your mind, the song came around very, very quickly. All these little [twiddly guitar section], it's quite Bossa Nova-ry. [continues singing and playing] and I took it into the studio and I said I've got this idea, guys, it's called I'm Not In Love. I thought it's very 10cc that. It's a love song called I'm Not In Love, you know, does anybody wanna finish it with me? So Graham Gouldman said "Yeah, I've got some ideas for some opening chords um, which are on the electric piano [plays opening notes] there so I put that as, and, and switched my guitar thing across. Sorry, at this point in time we were still playing it as this little Bossa Nova, Brazil '66, and we took it in to play to Kev and Lol. Ha ha ha!
And what did Godley say? This is crap!
Godley said "It's crap". He says "Come on guys, this is so sickly, it's painful" I, I might add, at this point in time, he's since apologised for saying that. He said "because I wished I'd written the bloody thing!"
I bet, yeah. [laughter]
But he said, ha, no, I don't see it. So we said okay. We'd actually recorded it Bossa Nova version, laid it down. No way. We scrapped it. It went in the bin. We were on the um, Original Soundtrack album so we got locked into One Night In Paris, this big epic thing we were doing, which was originally going to be one side of the album. However, people were walking round the studio er, the engineers, the girl in the office, would be going around going I'm not in love...
...and I looked at Graham, and I said that song's a hit, you know. I don't know what's going on here but I think we got to try it again. And blow me down, Kevin came up with the idea. He said "Well..."
After saying he didn't like it?
After saying he didn't like it, he said "Let's do something very different. Now let's do a whole track and the whole backing track is voices".
Right. Which hadn't been done before.
Not that I know of, except for acapella, going back to old religious monks singing in churches, but we needed something to keep a rhythm so Kevin said "well, I'll play a bass drum sound on a Moog, just going 'dum duhdum dum duhdum dum duhdum'. You couldn't actually hear a note actually as you can on this Rhodes, so it was just a boof baboof boof baboof and a little rhythm guitar. Um, Graham played the rhythm guitar and I sat down on the Fender Rhodes and tried to figure the chords on the Rhodes.
[Plays Rhodes] then we had to figure how to do a backing using purely voices. And it took us 3 weeks of recording single chants of everybody in the studio, including Godley, Creme and Gouldman, with me engineering. Them in the studio just going aaahhhh aaaahhh (up a note!). then me linking them all together, taking sixteen tracks of these aaahhh's then mixing them down to one track. So eventually we had a chromatic scale of 13 notes [plays 13 ascending notes on Rhodes] of aaahhh's on this tape plus one little stereo backing track with a bass drum on it and a rhythm guitar for timing. Then I had to mix those sixteen tracks across to a stereo pair, to give us the whole vocal backing before the lead vocal was put on. So we, we'd run out of tracks. A way we developed to do it, we, we made some tape loops in the studio um, which were about 16 feet long so you wouldn't have a loop going ah ah ah ah. This loop would have a little blip where the tape join was about every sixteen feet, then I put them on the control desk and put a piece of gaffer tape just underneath the faders so that all the notes, even though it was a chromatic scale and quite dischordant if you listen to them solo, it was just sizzling underneath the backing bass drum and rhythm. And then four of us got on the control desk as the song was played and started pushing the faders up and down as the chords were changing. And we had every note written on the faders on the desk so "ah oh ah oh" with this "haaaaaaahhhhhhhh" always there sustaining in the background. I put the lead vocal on it and we came in and we said God we got something here but I don't know what we're gonna do, what are we gonna do with it? And at that point in time we were still on Jon, on Jonathan King's label, but struggling. We were, we were absolutely skint, the lot of us, we were really struggling seriously, and Philips Phonogram wanted to do a deal with us. They wanted to buy Jonathan King's contract. I gave, I rang them. I said come and have a listen to what we've done, come and have a listen to this track. And they came up and they freaked, and they said "This is a masterpiece. What, how much money, what do you want? What sort of a contract do you want? We, we'll do anything, we'll sign it". On the strength of that one song, we did a 5 year deal with them for 5 albums and they paid us a serious amount of money. So it sort of, it really saved our bacon. However... when we came to decide to release it, we, we didn't have the guts. Because it was six and a half minutes long, a ballad. 10cc up to that point were quite a quirky band, so we released um, Life Is A Minestrone, which was a hit. And great! And then I started getting these telegrams, before we used to get emails we used to get telegrams from people. And I got a lovely telegram from Roy Wood, he said "You've got to release that song. It's a effing number one um, thank God you guys are around. British music is saved". I've still got the telegram at home, it's so sweet. So we went with it and Philips Phonogram released it, Polygram, of course it was a number one.
It was a number one.
Absolutely, and a revolutionary track really, and it's taken ages to put together. Now of course, you could do that vocal sound on a, on a computer.
On a computer. It's a doddle, yeah, it's a doddle.
Well, listen um, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you today er, as you can tell, I'm a, I'm a huge fan of yours. I think you've done some fantastic stuff over the years.
Thank you, Alan.
Thank you, thank you very much for joining me on "I Write The Songs"
It's been good talking to you.
It's really nice to meet you, Eric, and er, could we go out with, with a bit of I'm Not In Love?
I'm Not In Love? Yeah. [starts playing on the Fender Rhodes Eric adds " haaaaaaahhhhhhhh"] silver voices. I'm not in love so don't forget it. It's just a silly phase I'm going through. And just because I call you up, don't get me wrong, don't think you've got it made. I'm not in love, no, no, it's because. I like to see you but then again that doesn't mean you mean that much to me. So if I call you, don't make a fuss. Don't tell your friends about the two of us. I'm not in love, no, no, it's because. Piano. Ha ha ha haaaaah-ah Little bass solo here and then the secretary Cathy Gill comes in and says Be quiet, big boys don't cry, big boys don't cry, big boys don't cry. I keep your picture upon the wall, it hides a nasty stain that's lying there. But don't you ask me to give it back. I know you know it doesn't mean that much to me. I'm not in love, no, no, it's because. Ooh you wait a long time for me, ooh ooh you wait a long time, ooh you wait a long time for me, ooh ooh you wait a long time. I'm not in love so don't forget it. It's just a silly phase I'm going through. And just because I call you up, don't get me wrong, don't think you've got it made. Ooh ooh. I'm not in love, I'm not in love. Ha ha ooh, forgot the other 256 voices woohooohooooh something like that?