10cc: Have You Seen A More Boring Picture Of A More Bored Looking Bunch Of Creeps?

WOW, HEAVY STUFF, MAN. BUT LOL CREME, THE SMALL ONE, SAID IT. NICK KENT, ON THE OTHER HAND, IS NEITHER BORED NOR BORING — IN FACT HE’S PRETTY SENSATIONAL — AND RATES 10cc ONE OF THE MOST EXCITING BRITISH ROCK PROSPECTS OF THE ’70s.

GO ON THEN, you tell me a good way to start off an article based on a band as thoroughly normal as 10cc! I mean, this just isn’t my forte but then I realised that as soon as I’d got off the train at Stockport, one of those typically sleepy little towns snuggled within the contours of the England’s kidney-pie hinterlands and attempted to survey the local colour as far as the eye could see.

The verdict (overweight railway guards and hen-pecked businessmen waiting for taxis) hardly set the sort of scenario that would inspire a typically scintillating first paragraph.

My fears were more or less compounded when I was transported to Strawberry Studios by Rick Dickson, part-owner of the studios and one of those archetypal purveyors of bluff Northern bonhomie who takes no small measure of pride in the fact that he produces the Syd Lawrence Orchestra.

“Now the first thing I want to clear up, before you meet the boys, like,” stated our Rick, having glossed over the initial pleasantries, “is that Strawberry Studios is not used solely by 10cc or anything — it’s a thriving independent concern and we’re open to anyone who wants to record here. Y’see, all the stuff in the papers linking the boys with the studio has been bad for business, ‘cos folk think that it’s their private studio, like, and…well I just want to set the record straight. Rates are £25 an hour most days and £30 on special occasions…”

Thank you, Rick, and goodnight.

Actually Dickson’s outburst mystified me a little, if only because not a week before the music press had all carried photos of no less a luminary than Paul McCartney — the little lady in tow — right there at the desk of Stawberry with 10cc’s Lol Creme, and of course, Paul’s brother and professional ‘likely lad’ Mike McGear, on whose behalf the whole shebang was being instigated.

Everyone was grinning with obligatory cheery aplomb, and as you enter the building you can instantly see why McCartney, currently rock music’s favourite home-body, would fall in love with the place.

Everything is comfortable and laid out as nice as pie; why, they even have a pub around the corner which serves the best steak and kidney pie in the area. And then there are the lads who comprise 10cc themselves — about as friendly a bunch as you’d care to find yourself spending several hours inside a recording studio with.

Nothing ostentatious here, 10cc possess simply the most spectacularly unspectacular set of mugs in rock (possible exceptions might be drummer Kevin Godley, whose sedate wild-man visage makes him look like he’d probably suffer from athlete’s foot, while Graham Gouldman resembles an amiable moose with an awkward physique to match).

“You only have to look at a photo of us to see we’re the most normal, boring-looking bunch of creeps imaginable,” states Lol Creme almost matter-of-factly. Creme is the small one in the group.

Eric Stewart, who always appears nervous and slightly onedge when he talks, agrees readily — stating that they’re been hassled no end about what they should be wearing on stage.

“Personally we feel most comfortable in a well-fitted pair of jeans, know what I mean, but…I mean, someone even got the person who does all Elton John’s clothes to design some costumes for us. They turned out so weird they didn’t even bother to show ’em, to us.”

“Yeah,” chips in Creme again. “It says a lot for the whole business when the only big obstacle in your way is that you don’t have the right sort of image.”

“I mean, Top Of The Pops don’t like us because they think we’re weird. They’ve never picked up on one of our singles before it got right into the chart. And Old Grey Whistle Test refuse to have anything to do with us because, according to them, we’re not an album band. We always get the rough end of the stick whichever way you look at it.”

And they’re right enough in that assumption, for if that fairly horrendous term “to pay one’s dues” has the slightest grain of validity left going for it after the likes of Stephen Stills have sucked it of all meaning, then 10cc are worthy of proudly bearing the slogan close to their collective breast.

Even now, when the band are winning all manner of critical accolades for their work — particularly from the American rock press — and record sales are booming nicely enough, mere are many who are more than prepared to totally ignore what 10cc may have to offer simply because they cannot relate to such music coming from a label owned by Jonathan King, the British pop scene’s very own eminence grise and prince of utter self-denigrating musical dreck.

And then again, there are those who don’t really understand to begin with.

“I think when we formed 10cc we knew that the very best was yet to come,” states Graham Gouldman, whose reputation as rock/pop whizz-kid of the middle 60’s is unarguably striking enough to send any self-respecting Anglophile stationed on the other side of the pond collapsing in ecstacies and salivating all over his ‘Limey invasion’ scrap-book. For is this not the same Mancunian sibling who penned a vast array of commercial hits for all manner of British bands during that period?

It undoubtedly is, and looking back, much of Gouldman’s work can stand as valid examples of probably our most creative pulp peak for hits. There’s ‘For Your Love’ and ‘Still I’m Sad’ for the Yardbirds, ‘No Milk Today’ and ‘East-West’, the two finest tracks Micky Most ever let Herman’s Hermits record, Jeff Beck’s great ‘Tallyman’, and ‘Bus Stop’, the very best thing that the Hollies — Graham Nash et al — have ever recorded before or since.

“I wrote that one with my father. He came up with the first lines and I just built up the melody and chorus. I can’t have been much over — uh, let me see — eighteen probably.”

Gouldman’s whole success story is one of the real archetypes from the whole ’60s razzamataz culture. Just like everyone else and his mother at the time, he started up a boutique with business partner Peter Noone in New York. It was called the ‘Zoo,’ and like almost every other boutique, it collapsed soon afterwards.

The years that followed found Gouldman signing himself away to a number of agencies, including the whole Kasanetz Katz bubblegum circus.

His next real financial commitment, though, was the forming of Strawberry Studios with old friend and ally Eric Stewart.

Stewart’s past is almost as impressive: guitarist with Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, who cruised through a series of smash-hits (notably ‘The Game of Love’), until Fontana decided to duck into cabaret, leaving the band to continue with Stewart as frontman, still scoring heavily with ‘Groovy Kind Of Love’.

The hard times began to set in, culminating around 1967 when the local disco crowds would still flock in to hear the big hits while Stewart was trying to bowl everyone over with his ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ variations.

And as you slowly sink down the scale, you become all too aware of the cheap show-biz dreck which you are forced to put up with. Like the situation which used to manifest itself in the recording studios set-up, when producers of the Norrie Paramour ilk would rule the roost, sanctioning a drastic paucity of humour, artistic consideration, and even time to develop a sound whenever they would appear.

“I remember once,” states Stewart, reminiscing for a moment, “when we were in the studios trying desperately to do something with this song of Graham’s called ‘Uncle Joe The Ice-Cream Man’, which wasn’t a bad little number now I think about it. But it was being rushed through, like, and Mick Jagger, who I’d known through the old circuit and who was recording in the same studio, just walked in and stood in the corner listening for a while and then left just saying ‘what the fuck are you doin?’ Real cynical. That really brought it home to us.”

At that point Gouldman had actually entered the Mindbenders’ ranks as a performer (he’d gained experience prior to this working as a vocalist for a band called the Mockingbirds back in Manchester), while Messrs. Creme and Godley — both still into the whole art school circuit — were starting to appear in the picture, helping out on sessions and such when they weren’t involved in making low-budget films and other artsy projects.

The Mindbenders’ days were obviously numbered though, and duly reached their end at the beginning of 1968 — a year which also saw the opening of Strawberry Studios in Stockport.

The studio was a very humble project at the time, helped along by various contributors while its geographical placing was almost a defiant gesture to the whole London studio nightmare.

Creme and Godley moved in fulltime, and before they knew it a track later titled ‘Neanderthal Man’ was conceived by accident while Godley was messing with his drum sound. Viola, Hotlegs!

The band were of course the almost obligatory one-hit-wonder, and are now only famous because the album cover over of their first and only album, Thinks School Stinks, was ripped off mercilessly by Alice Cooper and his cronies for School’s Out.

“Hotlegs fell apart because — well, yeah, there were problems with the record company and all — but with Kev and I it was the first time we were, like, popstars, though Eric had obviously been through it all before, and we blew it by going off on these mad holidays abroad when we should have been doing heavy touring and such.”

Curtains for Hotlegs. Meanwhile Graham Gouldman was back again in the picture and after a short space of time the four recorded ‘Donna’ at the Studios.

“This was even before we were called 10cc. Jonathan chose that name for us.”

Enter Jonathan King of aforementioned notoriety, who, in between putting out various mounds of dreck under numerous pseudonyms, was not unnaturally sharp enough to notice the superior commercial value inherent in ‘Donna’ — which still sounds to these ears like a slicker superior out-cut from Zappa’s Reuben And The Jets ’50s ‘rama-lama ding-dong’ deja-vu experiment.

“Getting in with Jonathan was originally Eric’s idea. We all thought ‘Wha-a-at?’ when his name was mentioned, but well…let’s say it couldn’t have worked out better.”

Stewart takes up the story: “Originally I knew Jonathan when he was this weird undergraduate type who had to follow the Mindbenders around on gigs and kept telling us ‘look I can make you into another Beatles. Trust me.’

“We just used to laugh him off, like. Then a few months after he’d stopped pestering us, I saw ‘Everyone’s Gone To The Moon’ in the charts, and thought ‘Mmm’…y’know.”

“Aye, Jonathan King is a genius, and he’s the only one who knows it,” muses Rick Dickson, who’s appeared again.

“And he never interferes with what we’re doing up at Strawberry.” Stewart again: “Even though he’s always right there whenever we need advice or an outside opinion, he’s never tried to tell us what to do or how to look or anything.

“I mean, he comes up to Strawberry all the time — he only stays five minutes usually, just enought to hear what we’re doing. Like when he came up a few weeks ago to hear the first tracks from the new album. He just heard the opening bars of ‘Worst Band’ and said simply ‘The Next Single’.

‘The Worst Band In The World’ just has to be the strangest 45 to be released on an unsuspecting singles-buying public since, well, since the last 10cc record. The treme of the lyric is characteristically zany in an incisively off-the-wall style, but the actual music construction is so strikingly unconventional that pinpoints the intention that 10cc may very well be the most exciting band us limeys have going for us at the moment.

The tapes of the new album only serve to bear this out further, displaying a sound on each track that almost defies you to label it mere invigating eclecticism, pumping away at a pace that is both frantic and meticulously crafted and culminating in a concept which falls between something akin to musical Dada and constant rock pastiches set off by a Busby Berkeley set of dynamics.

Like on ‘Hotel’, a track in which one can musically visualise Paul Simon and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young dancing calypsos in the harmonies while 10cc lurch between Caribbean crooning and totally lunatic ‘Tropical Heatwave’ burlesque passages about “two coons who want to open a hotel on their own island.”

‘Wall Street Shuffle’ possesses the sort of sound McCartney only half-succeeded in attaining on the more energised segments or Band On The Run — a frantic, pumping piano-based mind jangle with what may well be instrumental segment copped straight out of ‘Lovely Rita’. You can never really be too certain though, because 10cc work at such a break-neck speed you’ve just begun to pinpoint the influence and the whole sound has already transformed itself into something else again.

There’s ‘Clockwork Creep’ which really does operate at or an aforementioned Busby Berkeley ferocity, to ‘Old Wild Men’ which has a chord progression either straight out of Bach or else Carl Wilson’s minor-chord repertoire before it starts getting crazy all over again.

‘Oh Effende’ sounds like Ray Davies’ ‘Holiday In Tahiti’ period but without the latter’s tedious whimsicality; ‘Baron Saturday’, a mock-voodoo send-up, seems also to be parody of Santana’s hot latin rhythms, and ‘Hollywood Song’ is a veritable piece de resistance, throwing in odd movie soundtracks and tap-dancing sequences while the lyrics contain such memorable lines, relating to Marilyn Monroe, as “Norman Mailer wants to nail her…He’s under her bed” etc.

“Actually we’re going to change Monroe to Harlow. It’s too trendy the other way.” Such stout-hearted resilience towards the politics of ‘chic’ deserves several rounds of applause, especially when it’s bounded by such excellent music as that purveyed by 10cc.

The new album is scheduled for release in mid-March, by which time the band should be half-way through their American tour. Hopes are high even though they’re set to support such arrogant hodad noise-merchants as ZZ Top.

But then again Stewart and Gouldman are heading over as a brand new musical commodity — unlike former ’60s cronies like Peter Noone and Wayne Fontana who are busy living off their flimsy past careers as ’60s pop kings of oblivion straining under the yoke of the whole English Invasion package tour syndrome, with some small-time cabaret on the side if they’re lucky.

Eric Stewart: “God, I can’t think of anything as bad as having to get involved in one of those tours. Yeah, it is like a form of musical necrophilia if you want to put it that way. I know I’d be embarrassed and ashamed to have my name associated with anything like that.

“I mean, the incident that sums it all up is that one where Billy J. Kramer is supposed to have jumped into the audience and everyone immediately ran away from him.

“Actually I was asked as one of the Mindbenders to take part in one of those tours. It was right at the time when ‘Rubber Bullets’ was breaking into the charts. We’ve been lucky, sure, but there’s no way we’re going back to the bad old days.”

© Nick KentNew Musical Express, 16 February 1974

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