Kevin Godley and Graham Gouldman were one half of 10cc, that perennially inventive British band of the 1970s. This is a fuller version of an interview that appeared inThe Word magazine of March 2007.
Friends for 50 years, the two gents in a London restaurant murmur to one another in a quaintly respectful way. “Have you read the menu, Mr G?” “Yes I have, Mr G. I’m leaning towards the Vegetarian Feast. And you?” Kevin Godley and Graham Gouldman were once half of 10cc, but each has done much more besides. Even before 10cc, for instance, Graham Gouldman wrote 1960s pop hits for The Yardbirds and Herman’s Hermits and, best of all, The Hollies’ Bus Stop.
With Lol Creme and Eric Stewart, the four emerged as 10cc, and in 1972 went mega. They were a bit anonymous as rock stars, but proved to be true pop wizards. In that decade of man-perms and Hawaiian shirts, they bestrode the charts with witty, hook-laden gems such as Donna, Life Is A Minestrone, I’m Not In Love, I’m Mandy, Fly Me and Dreadlock Holiday. All wonderful. (Well, apart from Dreadlock Holiday, maybe.)
The artier half, Godley and Creme, seceded in 1976 to make solo hits such as Wedding Bells and Cry, the latter a showcase for the duo’s new skills in video; in the ’80s they were hired as directors by everyone from The Police (Every Breath You Take) to Frankie Goes to Hollywood (Two Tribes). Stewart and Gouldman carried on as 10cc, successfully for a time, before the final separation. These days, especially since The Feeling, the group are viewed by trendsters in the same favourable light as ELO, Wings and Queen – clever confectioners of pure, pre-punk fun. And, delightfully, the author of Bus Stop now has a bus pass. “You have to be a certain age,” Graham Gouldman explains. “And resident of a London Borough. So if David Bowie insists on living in New York, then I’m afraid he’s missing out.”
Trading as “GG06”, Godley and Gouldman have just recorded some fine new tracks, available for download from their website. And Gouldman is touring this month with a new line-up of 10cc. Both men, meanwhile, are promoting a double CD compilation, 10cc: Greatest Hits And More. But where, in all this, are their former compadres Lol Creme and Eric Stewart? Relations seem a little strained, unfortunately, and the other two are avoiding 10cc projects. Then again, as one of our Mr Gs observes: “I don’t think they send any of the cheques back, do they?”
You two go back a long way, don’t you?
Graham Gouldman: I remember Kevin in the playground at primary school, making these drawings of knights in armour.
Kevin Godley: I graduated to nudes when I got to grammar school. There were lots of bullies, and I would sell them the drawings for sixpence each. Only I didn’t quite know what to draw “down there”… My first musical experience was being evicted from a class for banging along to an Elvis track. We were always messing around with music. My Dad had a music instrument shop. But it didn’t really kick in until I got to art college, with people like Adrian Henri around.
Did you play together on the Manchester beat scene?
KG: Yes. We had a band called The Mockingbirds. Top Of The Pops used to come from Manchester and we’d do the warm-ups, like the guy who goes on before a stand-up comic to get the audience in the mood.
GG: The Yardbirds were on one week, doing For Your Love, which I’d written, so it was a bit strange playing in the warm-up band. My manager’s idea, in his glorious naivety, had been to get this song to The Beatles. I said, But The Beatles actually write their own songs. Then a publisher friend said to him, “You can forget about The Beatles, however The Yardbirds are looking for material.” And out of that came my career, came me sitting here. I didn’t know how dramatic that was, cos I was still living in Manchester, a no-bullshit place, and I just carried on my own merry way, but out of that came a relationship with The Yardbirds.
One song that I’d written for The Hollies, Bus Stop – we were supporting them at Stoke Town Hall, they’d already done Look Through Any Window, and they asked me if I had any songs. So I borrowed Tony Hicks’ guitar and went into the toilet with him and Graham Nash – this doesn’t sound very good does it? – I played it and they said it was great. They recorded it within three weeks and it was out three weeks later. There were no videos in those days to delay everything.
KG: I was at art college, trying to think of ways of avoiding growing up. I wrote a song called I Am Beside Myself and I brought it round to you, and your dad started dissecting the lyric. I’d just started listening to Bob Dylan and figured he was just writing any old shit that came into his head, so I did exactly the same, and God bless him, Graham’s dad dissected the meaning of this lyric and found meaning where there was none. Like a true Dylanologist. [To Graham] You were already established as a professional songwriter, with your name on record labels.
GG: Yes, but I don’t know how many people actually took any notice of that.
KG: The chicks did.
GG: Can’t say I did badly but I don’t think people were that aware of it. The songwriter was just a backroom boy. I remember once walking down Oxford Road and someone started whistling one of my songs and I thought that was pretty cool, and I suddenly realised the power of it, I felt like going up to him. But years later it was embarrassing, I was staying at the Plaza Hotel in New York and outside was a band playing For Your Love. I knew it was just a coincidence, but I went up and said I just wanted you to know I actually wrote that song. “Oh yeah?” Nothing. I must have been expecting him go “Hey man, that’s fantastic! Come and meet the guys!” So I’ve never done that again…. I’ve been in quite a few bands and loved playing, but I expected I would just be someone who wrote songs…
My dad used to help me with lyrics; he should have been a professional writer but he wasn’t interested. Writing a song about No Milk Today was his idea, which I though was dreadful until he explained it to me, what the bottle symbolised.
KG: He added depth to your banality.
GG: Thank you, nicely put. The phrase Art For Art’s sake, he used.
Did 10cc form through you all being based at Strawberry Studios in Stockport?
GG: That was definitely a catalyst. If Strawberry hadn’t existed I doubt whether 10cc would have come together. We did two albums there with Neil Sedaka. Then we did an album with this guy called Ramases. He thought he was the reincarnation of Ramases II, but in fact he was a central heating salesman from Sheffield.
Three of you became Hotlegs, for a time, didn’t you?
GG: We were travelling round somewhere and Lol had started chanting this thing, “I’m a Neanderthal Man,” and a while later we were testing some equipment and I started playing drums as Lol sat with an acoustic guitar singing this chant. A music executive called Dick Leahy was checking out the studios and he heard it and said “That’s a hit!” But before or after that version we wiped it, someone unfamiliar with the technology hit the red button, so we had to do it again. Which wasn’t that difficult.
KG: I’ve recently discovered a video we did, on You Tube, the three of us in this studio, with scantily-clad girls doing Hot Gossip moves, while we just look like a bunch of knobs in a studio. But it was a big hit, got to Number 2.
You were signed up by Jonathan King, who named you 10cc. Is it just an urban myth that 10cc means 1cc more than the average male “emission”?
GG: His story was that he had a dream. He saw a sign outside the Hammersmith Odeon that said “10cc: The best band in the world.” And then the other thing came in, which was much quicker to explain. And that’s become the most popular version.
Were you, in effect, two duos working together? Godley/Creme and Gouldman/Stewart?
GG: There was that, although there were times when we swapped places. I always felt that whoever had written or produced a song, we were working as one. All for one and one for all. And not above criticising each other, either. It was almost like an American corporate thing: What did you do for 10cc today? Every day you must do something.
KG: And there was a healthy competition between the two factions. [To Gouldman]Although our songs were always better than yours, of course.
GG: Well, we let you think that. Whoever presented the song, no-one ever rejected it. You weren’t allowed to say, I hate it, it’s just crap. We respected the fact it had been written at all, and we adopted the song as our own. Until later on, anyway.
Yes. Why did Godley & Creme leave 10cc?
KG: We’d invented this device, the Gizmo [a mechanical attachment to the guitar neck, producing cut-price orchestral effects], and we thought, This is a world-beating item, we’ve got to see what it can do. So we booked three weeks in the studio and really enjoyed a much freer mode of expression. Because at that stage with 10cc, we’d managed to quantify what we were and it had taken some of the spirit away. So Lol and I threw ourselves back into experimentation and thought, This is much more fun than 10cc. It all came to a head when we went to the studio to hear People In Love, which Graham and Eric had written. And our hearts sank. We thought it was bland crap. And that was the first time we didn’t like something.
GG: What we should have done was said, You go and do your thing for a while and Eric and I will do something else, and we’ll reconvene when we’re ready.
KG: That would have been a much more grown-up way. But it was either, You’re in or you’re out. So we left. And we had a fantastic time.
GG: Well, so long as you enjoyed yourselves…
KG: But of course it was a commercial bomb. It died. The Gizmo and Consequences, the triple-album we made with it. We put a lot of time and effort into it and it was probably our major folly. But everyone deserves a folly. It was the last big concept album, too, because somewhere in the middle of the recording the Sex Pistols exploded. Something deep in my heart said we were doomed, but we couldn’t stop, there was too much money invested in us. We carried on and tried to sell it, but it was too late. We had a huge party in Amsterdam, all our friends came, we had a fantastic night. The End…
Yet, for a while at least, 10cc survived the split and had more hits?
GG: When Kevin and Lol left, Eric and I knew we wanted to continue working together. Eric had sung quite a few of the hits, and we’d written some, so it was a business decision as well. We had another three years of everything going great, but then Eric had a road accident in ’79 and we had to take a year off, and when we came back everything had changed. It was flogging a dead horse, but we carried on. We were eternally optimistic, when we should have been more realistic. We went into Phonogram to play them our new album, and I had a bad feeling as we were playing it, and then the guy said, “OK, now have a listen to this.” He played us the new Dire Straits. It sounded great, and I thought, We’re absolutely fucked.
Meanwhile Godley & Creme really took off, didn’t they?
KG: We were in recovery after Consequences died but we recorded the next album and gradually became involved in making videos. Steve Strange was the first to ask us, with Fade To Grey, and it was a hit and it was quite influential in that New Romantic era. Then someone else would come to us and someone else, because we were musicians… So we were doing he two things side by side. We thought, This is great, music and pictures, the two things we do quite well with our art school background. The early videos weren’t that expensive, Girls On Film only cost about 19 grand, although I suppose that’s a lot of money. But the video era was like punk, another tectonic shift; different kinds of band were becoming successful, for a different reason. And we were lucky enough to be part of that.
Is the time ripe for a re-discovery of 10cc?
KG: I’ve got great memories of 10cc. Also, we mean a bit more now than we used to. I’m not sure why, maybe because various bands are name-checking us. So there’s a sense that we are worth more than people used to think. It annoyed the fuck out of me when people used to name-check bands from the ’70s and it was Queen, Bowie, T.Rex, Roxy Music…
GG: Yes, we were like, [Waving to be noticed] Hello-oh?
KG: It was annoying, because I think we did pretty good work. But I know why it’s the case. The people I’m talking about took care of the visual side of the business and we didn’t. Even punk had a powerful visual element. But everything goes full circle and people are maybe discovering us now.
Perhaps your story lacked drama, too? No deaths or anything.
KG: Yes. No-one went into rehab, no-one committed suicide, there were no scandals, no drugs – well, no public drugs. There wasn’t a great deal doing on in terms of mythology, or iconography. It was just music. That’s a good point.
GG: Hmm. Could we start again and maybe do all that?
KG: Yes! But just that. No music this time.