In 1987 we would spend more time in RAK Recording Studios, a converted Victorian schoolhouse and church hall in St. John’s Wood. In those days there were three recording rooms. One had a ‘state of the art’ SSL desk, which we had previously used to good effect. This time though, we would be in the other main room, which had a ‘vintage’ Neve desk and had a somewhat more dated feel. I can only assume this was our producers choice, as the SSL, with ‘flying faders’, automated as if by magic, was a relatively new and highly prized piece of kit. All the songs we were to record, save for the odd cover, were written by our singer. He certainly had a talent for this and although at times a more democratic approach would have been of welcome benefit, his driving force and strong overall rudder, it has to be said, kept us on an ever-ascending trajectory.
American singers have always had an easy relationship with the songwriter. Back in the 80’s their music culture was much more uncluttered than ours. The singer sang, and the writer delivered the tune. The big stars saw the importance of a strong song and were only too happy to perform it and stay away from the writing credit. With big sales figures and healthy radio play, there was food for all. A good example of this is the Supreme’s ‘stand out’ front woman and by this time, hugely successful solo artist, Diana Ross.
She had a new album in the making by the name of ‘Red Hot Rhythm And Blues’ and her eyes were on one of our very own singer’s compositions. With the absence of email and the fact that the song in question was still on the ‘2 inch’ multi track at RAK, she would have to physically show up at the studio to hear our version of the song, to assess if it was indeed suitable for her. Surely not? Diana Ross must have better things to do.
She didn’t; and it was arranged that at 2.30 PM that day she would be paying us a visit.
All the studios at RAK have windows, which is in fact quite unusual and indeed very refreshing to be able to see London go past, minding it’s own business, as opposed to some of the underground bunkers we had previously recorded in, offering no natural light whatsoever. I had parked myself next to a window at the back of the control room so as I could keep a watchful eye out for the big arrival. I wasn’t convinced she would actually show up and was more than a little nervous at the prospect of meeting her. But sure enough, at the allotted time, and not a minute later, while our engineer hastily lined up the song on the ‘vintage’ Neve desk, a large black Jaguar slowly rolled up in front of my chosen window. The driver, suited and with cap, dived out from the car to assist with the opening of her door. And there she was, dressed in what looked like a classic ‘Chanel’ black suit and manicured to within an inch of her life. This was a woman, who took the art of being a woman, very seriously. To an extent, we were all in awe of her. She was and still is a legend in the world of American black music, and so it seemed ridiculous to me that she was about to enter our scruffy studio control room.
By now, the studio had filled with extra people, not just the six of us and a producer and engineer; no, several other people had found reasons to join us. Who could blame them? As the door opened the first thing I notice was the amount of long black shiny hair she had, and how her eyes sparkled as she took in the gaping crowd. Our producer, also American, greeted her with the ease and assurance of a man who had much celebrity experience under the belt, and I fully expected her to kiss our singer, which she did, on the cheek. But, quite unexpectedly, she then worked her way round the room, giving every single person who had gathered, a peck on the cheek.
“How lovely to meet you” she said, numerous times, as she completed the line up. She was so gracious, and needlessly generous in the midst of strangers, she would surely never see again. The tune was then played, which seemed to entertain her, and then as quickly as she arrived, Miss Ross (allegedly this is how she insisted on being addressed, by her band) had left the building. Once folded back into the Jaguar by the suit and cap, she was gone.
The song in question was recorded and included on her next album, a delightfully simple transaction I thought, between singer and songwriter.
It would be a while before I would have the courage to write my own songs and even longer before other artists would want to sing them, but in time I would discover that I had ideas of my own, that needed little more than some self-confidence to bring them to life.
It has always seemed strange to me that the artist is so hugely celebrated in our country, and the very person who writes the material, almost ignored. Celebrity is king and with shows like the ‘Brits’ and the ‘Mobo’s’, successful performers are showered with high profile accolade. It is indeed rare to find any song in the top 40 that hasn’t been written by two or more writers, and commonplace for the singer not to be included in the writing credits.
There is though, one ceremony that celebrates the writer. It is not televised and we have always been led to believe that any major exposure would tarnish its honourable status and reputation. I wonder, however, if this might be more to do with our lack of interest in who pens the song.
In 1997 my manager called me to say I had been nominated for an ‘Ivor Novello’ Award. Named after the Welsh composer and singer, this trophy is without doubt the ‘Holy Grail’ for any aspiring songwriter. Held at Grosvenor House on Park Lane this yearly event aims to celebrate British songwriters and the success’s they have had in the current year. Our category was ‘Best Dance Music’ and the other two nominees were Dario and 187 Lockdown. Oblivious to the odds of winning, although I realise now that my manager’s insistence I attended, was something of clue, I was instead captivated by the vast ballroom the event was held in. There must have been hundreds of tables all set out with silver service. How the kitchens would cope serving at least a thousand people all at the same time concerned me greatly. But they did. A three-course meal and unlimited booze made me feel like a winner, and we hadn’t got down to the real business yet. With minutes to go before the results I just had enough time to go for a much-needed leak. Not one to survey the competition when daggers are drawn, it was nevertheless a surreal moment for me, as I stood there, with Feargal Sharkey on one side and Rolf Harris on the other. A star-studded room, it certainly was. Elton John and Bernie Taupin were nominated for their tribute to Princess Diana (although I don’t remember seeing Bernie and secretly suspect he doesn’t actually exist) and the great ‘Radiohead’ were nominated twice for Paranoid Android and Karma Police, amongst many other luminaries of the time.
And then it came to our category. I had been telling friends, and the handful of journalists that cared, that “just to be nominated” was enough, but it was a lie. I knew that to win would propel me forward in my career, and could potentially make a huge difference to my life. All of a sudden, there was a lot at stake. Full of food and wine and a heartbeat in danger of breaking out of my ribs, I was, at some point in the proceedings, (and in a fug of adrenalin-fuelled fear) made aware that my table was standing, indeed the whole room was standing and our tune could clearly be heard coming out of the PA. Did I hear my name come from the lips of Paul Gambaccini? We had won.
I say we, because this tune was a co-write. My writing partner and uber-talented musician and programmer was sitting with his Publisher at another table, far away from me. As we independently made our way to the stage to receive our prizes, only the closest to us would know that we were in no way on speaking terms. Looking back our differences should have been resolved. If there had been therapy sessions available for two dysfunctional ego-heads, then we should have attended, but there was no such thing, and we parted company, never to work together again; very regrettable.
I would reflect on this that very same evening, on the beautiful Greek Island of Crete. The ‘Ivors’ are always held in the afternoon, followed by a ‘free for all’ in the nearby ‘Audley’ pub. My wife and I attended for a drink or two before making for Gatwick Airport, where we would fly out for a pre-arranged holiday.
The ‘Ivor Novello’ Award itself, is cast out of bronze and is extremely heavy. I certainly wasn’t going to leave it anywhere and so decided to take it with me to the airport. A sign of the times, that once x-rayed, this potentially lethal weapon, was permitted to fly with me. Post 9-11, I would have surely lost it forever, discarded along with the nail scissors and tweezers.