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Graham Gouldman

10cc and all that

Written By Andy Gunton

10cc were one of the most highly respected bands of the 1970’s and beyond, with 3 Number 1 singles, including ‘I’m Not in Love’ and ‘Rubber Bullets’. They’ve also sold over 30 million albums worldwide. But, did you know that 10cc are still touring today and are coming to Hastings later this year? I spoke to founder member Graham Gouldman recently to find out more about both his own songwriting history and 10cc as well.

Andy Gunton: You’ve just been inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame in America. Your career is as much about song writing, as about being in bands, so how would you like to be remembered? Would it be as a song writer, or as a musician?
Graham Gouldman: Well both really. One goes hand-in-hand with the other. I wouldn’t have been one without the other. I suppose that as a song writer your songs are going to be your legacy. But being a musician in various bands throughout my life has been one of the most satisfying and gratifying things that I do. It’s what I love. I feel very lucky in the elements of what I do: writing, recording and playing live and my life is going through those 3 things. This is amazing because it’s all I really want to do.
AG: Is it something you aspired to do? Or was it something that you sort just fell into?
GG: I don’t know whether I really fell into it. I always feel very fortunate that the time that I was born meant that I was being exposed, as a very young teenager, to the best possible music. I lived through an incredible era of listening to American Rock ‘n’ Roll and other American artists like The Everley Brothers, Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, then through Cliff in The Shadows and what I call, The Beatles era – my most influential time.
AG: You’ve written a lot of hit singles for other people, even before the 10cc days, for the likes of The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits and The Yardbirds. That’s quite a diverse range of songs there...
GG: Yeah, because I always listen to different sorts of music. I wasn’t into just Pop, R’n’B, or just Country, I am influenced by all sorts of music. I guess that’s shown in what I’ve written over the years.
AG: Is there an art to song writing? Is it a case of grabbing all those musical influences from everywhere?
GG: I guess so. We’re all influenced by certain things we hear and the different styles. You can’t learn it, you’ve either got it, or you haven’t. I don’t think there’s anything clever about it, but you do need a certain amount of ambition, drive and organisational skills as well. But really at the heart of it is a gift that can’t be bought, or taught.
AG: I work with quite a few young and local musicians. Is there any advice you could give to young song writers? Do you have to keep trying?
GG: I don’t know what you could learn. You could learn arrangement and not to repeat more than two verses at the beginning of a song. But really any song writer will know that instinctively. I get bored really quickly, so I always want to be interested, I want to keep the energy level up of any song that I write. I don’t want any boring spots in the songs, everything’s got to be there for a purpose. But it’s not like I’m conscious of it, it’s like I’m writing to please myself so that’s how it works out. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be a hit or a great song, but it’s what I want to do at the time.
AG: Do you, like a lot of musicians do, write loads and loads of songs and then sort of thin them down? You hear of bands going into the studio with 100 songs and then coming out with the 10 best ones. Do you throw away a lot?
GG: Not really, no. For a song to get written it’s got to have its own legs anyway, for me to want to finish it off. Put it this way – if it becomes work, I abandon it.
AG: That’s a good way of looking at it. I suppose it should never be work, it should just be that gift..
GG: It’s like when you’re writing a piece. It’s been a good interview, you start to write and it starts to flow. You’re not even thinking about it, you’re just chasing your pen. It’s the same thing with writing songs – when you hit that spot, it’s like it’s catching a stream of consciousness, you just go with it.
AG: Coming onto 10cc. From reading about the band recently, it does seem that the way you come together was a bit of a happy accident in a way?
GG: We weren’t put together, we just happened to be in the same place at the same time. There were lots of elements to how it all happened. But I suppose it’s the same for any band, how did Coldplay come together? Or The Beatles? But it’s all those chance meetings and just good luck.
AG: One thing with 10cc that strikes me is - you mentioned The Beatles – there were leaders in that band, but with 10cc you had 4 people who were writers, 4 people who were vocalists, 4 people who could even have been the front man as well.
GG: That’s right. We had our own studio and we had an engineer as well (Eric Stewart). This gave us a unique position, because I don’t know any other band who would be in a studio on its own, with nobody else around at all.
AG: Very self contained unit then...
GG: I think that added an atmosphere to things.
AG: When it came to writing the songs with 10cc, was it a case of you, or one of the others, coming in with an idea and you all worked around it? Or did someone come in with a complete song?
GG: It varied. Very rarely did someone come in with a complete song, maybe more so in the later years. What would happen is - whoever wrote the song would bring it to the other people and it would then become the property of the whole band, in that we’d adopt the song as our own and do our best for it. It was a case of whatever’s best for the band; we had some very good principles. That extended to who was to sing it and who was going to play the guitar, we gave it to the best man for the job. That’s why we had 3 number 1s with 3 different singers.
AG: And very different songs as well.
GG: Massively different songs.
AG: The one I remember buying first was a track called ‘Silly Love’, you put that up against ‘I’m Not in Love’, or even ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ and they’re completely different.
GG: Because the song was master, you did whatever was right for the song. With Queen it was always Freddie’s distinctive voice and Brian May’s very distinctive guitar. With us it was different. Lol Creme played lead, sometimes I did, most of the time it was Eric, but it wasn’t confined to one person.
AG: I had written down “Was it all about the song?”, that seems to have been the ethos.
GG: Yes, it was all about the songs.
AG: 10cc never really had an image as such either did they?
GG: No we didn’t, and maybe because of that is why we aren’t remembered as much as we should’ve been. But hey, there was nothing we could do about that, that was the way we wanted to work and we were very successful at it.
AG: Well the songs certainly still stand up today.
GG: Which is why we are still able to tour. Because the songs are the stars, rather than any personalities.
AG: I have a great quote here from 1973. It says that the first time you played live it was at the Isle of Man casino and you were taken aback by the response, “we went on stage and the girls started screaming, it was like, what the hell’s going on?”
GG: We didn’t expect that at all. We just saw ourselves as a serious band, serious musicians. That was the last thing we thought would happen. We didn’t know that that was how we were perceived.
AG: Things have moved on so much technologically since 1973, did you find what you created in the studio hard to put across live?
GG: We had to make some compromises, but we did our damndest to reproduce it as much as possible. Our idea was to take the studio on the road with us.
AG: You’re back on tour now and coming to Hastings on 30th October. You actually played on Hastings Pier, as 10cc, back in December 1973. I don’t know whether you remember that?
GG: I’ve got a vague recollection of some piers.
AG: You’re playing at the White Rock Theatre, which is right opposite the pier, which you may have heard burned down, but they are now revamping it.
GG: I look forward to coming back, because you go back to places and think “I know I’ve been here before, but I can’t tell you when”
AG: Well there’s so many places I suppose. Did you think you’d still be doing this getting on for 50 years later?
GG: I had no idea, I never thought about it. Why think about it? I was just doing what I love doing and I’m still fortunate enough to still do that. I suppose the answer is no.
AG: I remember quotes from The Beatles saying they thought it would last 18 months, if they were lucky.
GG: We never said “Oh, it’s just going to last for 18 months”. I love the idea that, of all people, they said that. In generations to come there will still be no one like The Beatles.
AG: I didn’t realise that you’d actually produced The Ramones. With the recent sad death of Tommy Ramone. I don’t think he was with them when you worked with them, but do you have any memories of working with them?
GG: I do, very fond memories actually. They were the opposite of what I thought they would be. They were very punctual, cooperative, they wanted everything to be right. Most of the time it was a pleasure to work with them. Johnny was a bit of a miserable bastard, but Joe was absolutely charming and everywhere we went with him, people fell in love with him. They were unique and I did enjoy working with them. I’m very sorry that they are no more.
AG: They had quite poppy roots, even back to the 60s sound.
GG: The first question I asked them was “why me?” and they said it was to do with the songs I’d written in the 60s. They thought their songs were like that. It was nothing to do with 10cc, it was to do with those early songs, specifically The Yardbirds.
AG: Maybe it was to do with the 3 minute Pop songs that they were trying to do?
GG: They usually did it in 2 minutes.
AG: I often help out local musicians. What advice would you give to any young musicians generally? Especially, the way what things have moved on from the analogue to the digital days? Is there one thing you’d say they should do, or not do?
GG: There’s the whole joy of playing with other people. The most important thing is that you enjoy it, rather than expecting to be the next big thing. The other thing I guess is that you must try and be original. They say everything’s been done, but of course it hasn’t. That’s like saying every song and every combination of notes have been used, but missing out one little chord, or note, can alter the whole thing. Whether you’re doing covers or your own songs, just the joy of plugging in and playing, there’s nothing like it.
AG: It’s all about just having fun and enjoying yourself really.
GG: Absolutely. When I say fun, the fun we have is serious fun. It’s very serious what we do. I’m not very funny at all when it comes to making sure that what we do sounds just how we want to hear it. There’s no democracy in song writing, there’s either the right chord, or the wrong chord. And generally it’s my chord that’s right.
AG: That’s a good note to end on I think.
10cc play the White Rock Theatre in Hastings on Thursday, 30th October 2014. More details can be found at:

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