“YES,” SAID Graham Gouldman without any hesitation, “we are deadly serious to break over here.”
He was straining to talk over the noise from the 707’s jet engines. “We’ve managed to sell out most of the gigs on this tour and although they were only in halls that hold three or four thousand, that’s good for us on what is our third tour.
“There are a lot of people on the road in America right now – the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan and big names like that. Strangely enough, people would rather see Bob Dylan than us, but we’ve done O.K. We might even break even financially on this tour, which would be a change. We’ve lost money on the last two.”
The 707 was taking Gouldman and the rest of 10cc – Lol Creme, Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley and extra drummer Paul Burgess – on the first leg of their journey to England following seven weeks’ touring in the US, a tour that would have run uninterrupted but for the fact that halfway through Stewart came down with a throat infection.
Several thousand feet above New England, Creme is reading Mad magazine while Godley and Stewart play backgammon, a game that is rapidly becoming the essential time-killer for bands on planes. This plane, a shuttle, takes the band from Boston to New York’s La Guardia Airport, where they will speed off to Kennedy and take the night flight direct to Manchester.
There’s a feeling of relief about 10cc today, partly because the lengthy tour is over, but more because they won’t ever play the same set that they played last night and every other night for the past year again. On returning to England they’ll rehearse a new act based around their upcoming album How Dare You, which will form the basis of the music they will play on the Spring British tour.
Gouldman sighs with relief that it’s over – not because the band dislike playing live but because the strain has gone. As far as the public is concerned, 10cc’s year ended in Boston Orpheum as the band glided through the closing chorus of ‘Rubber Bullets’ while the fans danced in the aisies.
Before the show started, the band seemed down, and tired out. The previous night they’d played two shows in Philadelphia, finally ending the second around 4 a.m. It was no fun.
They didn’t sleep much and they arrived in Boston late. They had to go directly to the theatre for a sound check, without checking into the hotel, and before the show no-one seemed exactly anxious to stagger down the two flights of iron steps from the dressing room to the stage and begin again. Desperate jokes about cutting the set down to two numbers were exchanged through wry smiles, while down below the sturdy Streetwalkers were warming up the crowd.
It’s not until you actually watch 10cc in concert that you realise just how much talent is available within the four – or five, if you count Burgess – members of the band. Each musician seems able to play anything, with the result that both Creme and Stewart exchange roles on guitars or keyboards, Godley steps forward from the drums to sing solo and all manner of interesting combinations are utilised.
In concert, they produce an enormous variety of music, from the complex ‘Une Nuit A Paris’ to rock with the relatively simple ‘Wall Street Shuffle’ or ‘Donna’ to the haunting melody of ‘I’m Not In Love’, the group’s only substantial American hit. Then, of course, there’s the perennial ‘Bullets’, with its Beach Boys harmonies and driving chorus line. The fact that all members of the band possess strong voices completes their versatility.
At the hotel after the gig, there was cause for celebration and a suite on the 18th floor – well away from anyone’s room – was booked for the purpose. The Streetwalkers showed up along with the locals but it wasn’t until 10cc’s road crew, who stayed behind to dismantle equipment, arrived that the party livened up.
Whipped cream has many culinary uses but these were far from the minds of 10cc as they prepared plates of it while waiting for the crew. Suffice to say that the evening ended fairly abruptly following a 15-minute running battle between the two rooms, during which no-one escaped the attentions of the more belligerent members of the party.
The next day, on the flight to New York, Gouldman said: “The next time we come in we’ll do bigger gigs. We’ve learned a lot of lessons from this tour. One is that it is imperative to do a tour when you have an album out, which we hadn’t this time. Soundtrack is pretty well dead now, although it did come back on the chart somewhere near the two hundred mark.
“It’s very unlikely that we’ll be over here when the new album comes out either, as we’ve got a British and European tour, so we’ll probably plan the next American tour to coincide with when the album after that comes out.
“But we can see it picking up. It’s amazing how we get people coming backstage who know the whole history of the band for the last ten years. They’re really into that kind of thing here although some of what they know are things we’d rather not talk about too much…too old for us now.”
Both coasts are big areas for 10cc, but in the centre of the country, in smaller markets, Gouldman admits things didn’t go quite so well. He’s also open about the harsh financial facts of touring the US with a large crew and heavy lighting rig when the rewards barely pay for the outlay.
“At the moment we’re just breaking even,” he said. “But we’re not in it for money, we’re in it for investment. We like to give the best show possible, but obviously there has to be a limit, otherwise we could go out and spend millions on lights.
“It would be nice, of course, to be able to make money on the road somewhere along the line, but at the moment it’s very expensive. But we’re doing it in the hope of being able to play gigs one day in six or eight thousand seaters or play a few shows in one town at a four thousand seater, and then it becomes economically viable.”
The band’s new album was recorded before the US tour and it’ll be released in England on January 9. “It’s as different as any album by the same band can be, and I think it’s a progression from the last one,” said Gouldman.
“I think there’s been a progression on every album and I think we’ve done it again. It’s a strange mixture of songs. There’s one about divorce, a song about schizophrenia, a song about wanting to rule the world, the inevitable money song, an instrumental. In January we’ll be rehearsing the new material so we can go on the road with it in February.
“We’re looking forward to it because at this stage everybody is getting really p – off with the set in its form as it is now. A lot of songs were heard live for the last time last night. ‘Donna’s’ going, I think, which is a shame but you have to draw the line somewhere. That number is really good in England and if people are screaming out for it then we’ll probably do it, but we’ll do it for the people and not for us.
“We’re going to attempt to do the whole of the new album, although it probably won’t work out that way and we’ll end up doing four or five from it. We’ll know in the rehearsal stage whether it’s going to work or not. We used to get loads of requests for ‘The Dean And I’ which we tried live but we just couldn’t get it together properly on stage even though we tried. The same with ‘Hotel’, which we tried with just acoustics or just with a piano but it didn’t work. Some numbers are destined never to be done live. They’re purely for records.”
Creme echoed Gouldman’s determination to break America and, like his colleagues, was practical about the problems they faced. “We like it here and want to make it,” he said as we hovered over the New York skyline on the way to La Guardia. “We’re in the business of communications and we want to communicate in as many places as possible. America offers that chance.
“This is our first headline tour, so that must mean something. We can headline and sell out in most places in the small halls, so we’re not being daft like some bands who come over for the first time and headline in front of no audience and blow loads of money. To me, that’s silly. It’s kidding yourselves and we’d rather not come here at all if that was the case with us.
“We just scraped through this time financially, probably because we had a hit with ‘I’m Not In Love’ and because there’s a certain cult following for us. We’ve been fortunate to get good houses who’ve enjoyed the show and it’s a good starting point. Hopefully, they’ll go home and tell their friends and the next time we can play bigger halls.”
10cc have changed their record company in the US and this, says Creme, has helped them enormously. Previously they were with London Records and now they’re with Mercury. Creme feels strongly that, with better promotion, ‘Wall Street Shuffle’, with its American connotations, ought to have been a big hit, and says the same for ‘Rubber Bullets’. “They were gifts,” he said with no trace of conceit.
It was during the recording of The Original Soundtrack that the band decided on a change. “We’d given them Sheet Music and they’d done nothing with it so we thought we couldn’t waste another album with London. The worst thing was that so much hard work had gone into the records which were proven hits in Europe but in America…nothing. It was painful to think about another album being wasted again so we decided to get out of it, regardless of contracts or anything.”
With Phonogram, Mercury in the US, Creme feels that they are being much better supported, even though they won’t be back in the States until almost a year from now. “I mean…my baby started walking the other day and I haven’t seen it yet. I missed it,” said Creme.
“That’s the biggest drag…being away,” sighed Gouldman. “The bigger you get, the bigger the pressure is. It’s getting over the hump of it. The whole year is planned for us now, all mapped out for us in advance, but you’ve got to fit time in at home, though. Otherwise…there’s no point if you can’t enjoy what little success you have with your family. That’s the only reason you’re working – the only reason anybody works, I suppose,” said Creme.
“I think on this tour we might just break even but on other tours we’ve certainly lost money.
“Next tour we might make some.” He brightened up, smiling. “I wouldn’t bank on it, not with us. Custard pies cost a fortune. We had to sell the pad to buy the booze, you know.”
Serious again. “We thought, though, that our music was aimed very much towards Americana and it would be great to bring it here for that reason. We thought they’d understand it here and I think they are beginning to now. I think we’re a little bit difficult to understand for Americans,” he continued, buckling his seat belt as the plane prepared to land. “They know that we’re into the studio as an art form and trying to bring that to them live. That I think sums us up as best as I can say.”
And with that, the under carriage descended, the plane grounded, Stewart and Godley packed up the Backgammon and Gouldman gazed absently out of the window. Another ten hours to wait for Manchester and home.
© Chris Charlesworth, Melody Maker, 27 December 1975