Sound of the 80s: Look Ma, No Musicians!

I’d love to think that my post two weeks ago was responsible for ending almost a year of torture for Paul Gambaccini.

The news that, after an 11 month ‘investigation’, no charges were to be brought followed hot on the heels of my post.

Subsequently, other journalists picked up my themes – asking when we might next hear from Cliff Richard, and comparing Yewtree to the Salem Witch Trials.

I jest, of course. This blog is neither widely read by meeja types, nor influential in any way whatsoever.

And I don’t read daily newspapers. For all I know, people have been saying for months what I finally put together just two weeks ago.

But I’m relieved to get back to business as usual, and this week I am able to say: I was one of the first artists in the UK – and therefore the world – to record using a Fairlight.

Does anyone remember the Fairlight? By the mid-80s it was all over pop, from Peter Gabriel to Frankie Goes To Hollywood and the entire Hounds Of Love album by Kate Bush

This isn’t me bragging because a) I never laid hands on the Fairlight myself, and b) I’d forgotten about the experience until last week when I unearthed a bunch of demos and unreleased material.

Among them is a song called I’m Losing, which I had thought was lost forever. I remembered writing it. More importantly, I remembered why I wrote it.

I even remembered the session when I put the vocal on the track. But I had totally forgotten the lyrics and the melody, and even the title.

So basically, I forgot the song. How hopeless is that?

I’m really glad it’s turned up, and I hope you have a listen and enjoy it, after I tell you the story.

Now – not many people know this…..

In fact, I’m pretty sure that only three people ever knew that after the failure to follow up Car 67, and the miserable response to the Tax Loss album, there was a brief attempt to rebrand me as a solo artist under the name Ipso Facto.

This was the genius plan of the legendary Oliver Smallman. Ollie had been responsible for securing Car 67 as Kid Jensen’s Record Of The Week on Radio 1, thus ensuring its subsequent success.

At the time, he was the top plugger in London, which meant he was the best in the country.

So I took Ollie a recording of the first non-Driver 67 single, The Secret. As he listened he got up to open a window. “Just to let the money in,” he grinned. By which he meant The Secret was going to be Top 10. I thought so too.

It wasn’t, of course. But Ollie was convinced the song had a future in the charts. When I was free of my recording contract, he came up with the idea of Ipso Facto, and picked two songs he thought were hits. One, of course, was The Secret. The other was The Date, which I’ll write about in a later post.

The icing on the cake for Ollie, who was also a music publisher, was that I had just written I’m Losing, which meant the publishing was still available. He snapped up the rights and decided it would be the B-side to my first single as Ipso Facto.

By this point, I had been a producer for nearly ten years. I had always taken complete control of sessions I produced. Not a note was played without my approval.

As Ipso Facto, I was to be a ‘product’. The producer – (Brian something, I think; we’ll call him Brian) – put together tracks for my first two singles. All I had to do was sing.

So I’m at the studio, and I see this weird-looking equipment sitting there. That was the Fairlight.

Apparently, you would spend hours programming it to produce a few seconds of music. Then you had to programme again, and again, and splice all the music together into one track.

I would never have had the patience. Nor, as it turned out, would I have had the will. I didn’t like the tracks for my songs. They were big and brash, and sounded quite soulless to me.

How was I to know this would be the sound of the 80s?

Still, for one of the few times in my life, I played the good soldier, did my vocals and said nothing.

A few weeks later I was asked to attend a studio in London’s West End where I would add the vocal for I’m Losing.

I sang it once for ‘level’ (volume).

We’ll-call-him-Brian said, “OK, let’s do a take.”

So I sang it again. Then he said, “Let’s do another.”

So I sang it again. And then he said, “Next time, why don’t you just mail it in?”

Ouch! In music industry parlance, ‘mailing it in’ is a way of describing a performance you could do standing on your head. It’s not a compliment for a job well done; it’s saying you did the least you needed to.

The truth is that I sang this song the way I’d written it, with a lot of emotion. It was written after I became somewhat fixated on a girl who led me a right old dance (no touching!), and then found herself in love with someone who did the same to her.

That’s what the song’s about. You’ll hear it towards the end: “It’s not your love, that I want. I’m crying for somebody else.”

We’ll-call-him-Brian apparently wanted me to sing it differently each time. To him that denoted feeling.

But the feeling was already there. You could have put my three takes together and you’d barely hear a difference. Doesn’t mean it’s sung without emotion.

I hope you will listen. Having not heard it in 30 years, I’m happy to say it’s easily the best vocal performance of mine on record.

That may not be saying much, but for me it’s comforting to hear that I once had the voice and the range to be a pop singer. What I lacked was staying power.

I don’t think Ipso Facto ever appeared on a record, and frankly, I could scarcely have cared less. By 1983, I was on my way out the door. It was 25 years till I looked back and started caring again.

The record industry will do that to you.



Yewtree, DLT, Gambaccini and me

Paul Gambaccini sits at home, his diligently structured 40-year broadcasting career in tatters – a career built on hard work, intelligence, deep knowledge, a carefully cultivated public persona, and a courteous manner in private that never seems to flag.

Eleven months on bail, and no charge brought.

Did we even know that was possible? Are we not shocked that it’s legal?

This is Operation Yewtree at work, in which police and prosecution services seem to have dispensed with some of the hardest-won and longest established tenets of British justice.

I launched this blog at the beginning of 2014, just as BBC4 started running repeats of Top Of The Pops from 1979, including my own appearances.

Since then, many editions of the repeats have been cancelled because they were hosted by presenters who have come under Yewtree’s magnifying glass. More will be cancelled in the coming years – or else they’ll be edited to remove the guilty (or even the arrested-but-not-charged).

I’m not here to talk about the hateful crimes of Jimmy Savile, Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris. Good riddance to them, and God bless and help their victims.

What I am saying is: surely our police and prosecution services might have foreseen that the public would discern a difference between heinous paedophiles and rapists, and groping pillocks like Dave Lee Travis?

More to the point, they might have realised that the public would be seriously perturbed at the effect on the lives of those the police haven’t even charged. When do you think we will next hear from Cliff Richard?

But neither the police or the media seem to pay much attention to public feeling. To this extent, they appear to be acting more akin to Cotton Mather (the Salem Witches) than William Blackstone (Fundamental Laws of England).

The Facebook group Popscene has over 350 members. A significant portion, maybe half of them, are female. Throughout Yewtree, I haven’t seen a contribution from anyone, let alone a female, that says, regarding sexist gropers being prosecuted, “About time too”.

The thing that binds Popscene, apart from a love of pop music, is that many members are of a certain age. So a lot of these women have been through the era when, we are told, female employees were routinely assaulted and too afraid to do anything about it.

And yet Popscene women appear furious at Yewtree’s tactics in publicly outing those they are ‘investigating’, whether they charge them or not.

Jimmy Tarbuck, Jim Davidson and Freddie Starr are just three of those arrested, given maximum publicity, and released without charge. Others – no use to the police for publicity, so not named – have also been arrested and released without charge.

But they did manage to charge Travis with 12 offences. Unfortunately for them, after two trials, only one of the charges stuck, and then only for a short suspended sentence. Which tells you something about how the rules of evidence are being degraded.

I’m not saying what Travis did was excusable.

Also, just so you know, I never liked the man. That’s just me. Doesn’t matter why. It’s personal.

But still, imagine yourself in court, and the Crown’s QC is telling the jury: “It’s not for you to judge degrees of guilty.

“Don’t ask why we are trying something that could have been dealt with by a slap in the face.”

Really? We’re not allowed to ask that?

It doesn’t matter, she said, that the allegations “are not the most serious that courts have to deal with. ‘Is it serious enough?’ is not a question you have to worry about.”

Wow. I would have thought that was partly what juries were for – to tell the Courts at the very least when they are overstepping the bounds of common sense.

All of this has resulted in a spate of reminiscences and newspaper stories of ‘inappropriate’ (God, I hate that word) behaviour. Some of these stories are of events that happened less than 20 years ago. In the 1990s, The Spice Girls led us to believe that girl power had taken over, and that women knew how to deal with sexists like Travis.

But it seems not. Janet Street Porter recently told the story of a female editor of a 1990s television programme. The editor’s star presenter routinely presented himself ‘stark naked in the bath’ for daily meetings in his dressing room.

Complaining that you allowed yourself to be subjected to this indignity every day, day after day – isn’t that just whingeing?

I’ve spent a week trying to frame this blog in the least controversial manner. But it’s an almost impossible task. You’re reading my 53rd draft, and still I know it will offend. Because – all special pleading aside: we are a victim if we say we’re a victim – this is not how we conduct justice.

So let’s make it personal for a second. At the age of fourteen I told a fully mature 6′ 4” man – father of two toddlers I had just babysat – that, no, I didn’t want him masturbating me while I took a bath. Surely by the 1990s a grown woman could take personal responsibility for telling a grown man they should meet in an office, rather than in his bath?

In the Sunday Times this week, Camilla Long recounts her 2012 interview with Dave Lee Travis.

In 2012 she reported “I don’t think there was a part of my body he didn’t grope”.

In 2014 she reports that she “left the interview feeling like a non-person, odd and dirty and used”.

Is it just because I’m male that I find it difficult to understand why she didn’t say that first time around?

After all, Camilla Long is no shrinking violet. She is caustic and controversial. Last year she won the Hatchet Job Of The Year award for her review of the book Aftermath. She described author Rachel Cusk as “a brittle little dominatrix and peerless narcissist who exploits her husband and her marriage with relish”, who “describes her grief in expert, whinnying detail”.

So this is where we’ve got to, 45 years after Germaine Greer’s watershed work. A tough, professional woman, willing in print to attack a ‘sister’, but afraid to slap an ageing dj or knee him in the balls, or even just tell him to fuck off, despite the fact his wife and a photographer were in the vicinity. She put up with Travis’s behaviour for 90 minutes, she says. Why?

My mother and my grandmother, feminists before the word gained currency, would have wanted a word with Camilla. They’d have also wanted ‘a word’ with DLT. He would have regretted it.

No music this week. It seems, erm…..inappropriate.

Instead, here’s a clip of Morgan Freeman, around the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death, suggesting we stop talking about racism. I’m wondering if there is a woman out there, in the 45th anniversary year of The Female Eunuch, brave enough to address the discussion of sexism with a similar breath of fresh air.

Meanwhile, I’d like my 1970s back, please. But maybe that’s too much to ask. Or too trivial……