AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL HOWES
editor of The Dusty Springfield Bulletin
and author of The Complete Dusty Springfield
If the book was another biography I don't think I'd have an answer for you. However, it's a totally different type of book to the other four in that it concentrates solely on Dusty's professional career: recording details, TV, radio and concert performances, professional lifelines, etc. The intention was to create a reference book - it's definitely a book for dipping into rather than a cover-to-cover read. It's funny, one Bulletin member - I don't recall who it was - thought I sounded apologetic when I mentioned in the Bulletin that I was writing this book and then pointed out to me that so far Callas had had thirty-something books written about her. So maybe even if this had been a biography, being the fifth would have been okay.
Although I began writing this particular book early in 2001, I had been working on another book on and off for several years. I started it back in 1996/7 a year or so after I was approached by David Evans' publishers to collaborate with David on a revised edition of Scissors And Paste. I spent a day with David at his home talking the whole thing over, discussing what type of book it should be and we both came to the conclusion that it would be better I start from scratch. David very generously offered me any guidance I needed along the way. However nothing materialised. In fact I don't think the publishers are in business any longer. I then got grand ideas of a totally illustrated book, in colour - something like the Bassey book issued a couple of years ago - and did in fact complete 40 pages or so. In the early days of talking things over with the publishers of The Complete Dusty Springfield, I showed them what I had been working on. However it wasn't quite what they had in mind - it would have been far too expensive; what they had in mind is what has now been published. Incidentally, I'd like to mention that 'The Complete Dusty Springfield' was not my idea for the title.
2. Can you talk about the process of putting together The Complete Dusty Springfield?
When I agreed to do the book, I don't think I quite realised what a mammoth task I had in front of me. Fortunately (only insofar as the book is concerned, of course), Dusty was not a prolific recording artist. Under three hundred songs is really quite manageable. I started with a discography out of which evolved the 'Song By Song' section. This constitutes the lion's share of the book and is its raison d'etre. Once I had established a comprehensive list of all Dusty's studio recordings - I'm still having nightmares that I've left out a song, like 'You Don't Have To Say You Love Me' or some other hit - then came the task of compiling the appropriate credits and details for each song. The records were obviously the main source for this information but I also needed to reference recording companies' tape library documentation, music papers, music organisation databases and many other sources. A bit of a mundane task but absolutely vital.
3. What was the most enjoyable aspect of writing the book? What were some difficulties you encountered?
I already knew anecdotes, historical data etc. about many of the songs but one of the joys was to speak or correspond with people who knew Dusty or had worked with her; there's a list of all those involved in the credits at the beginning of the book. Some had almost total recall. Others had forgotten virtually everything. That was a great pity. And of course there are many who worked closely with Dusty (Vic Billings, Johnny Franz, Peter Knight, Ivor Raymonde, Fred Perry) who have passed on: knowledge and stories lost forever.
Difficulties? Describing each song - a horrendous task. I'm not a musician so that didn't come easily at all. I must have listened to each song so many times that by the time I'd finished I never wanted to hear another Dusty record again (you'll be glad to know I took a pill and I'm back to my Dusty-loving self again). I didn't relish having to give an opinion on each recording either. Nevertheless, I hope I've achieved this without sounding too opinionated but I guess the readers will be the best judges. The publishers were insistent that I include these two elements or there would have been no book.
The remainder of the book was just hard slog. Wading through music papers, sixties/seventies fan club letters, Bulletins, the net, TV guides - you name it, I think I've waded through it.
4. Did you choose the photographs in the book? If so, how difficult a task was this? What were you looking for in selecting photographs? Do you have a favourite shot?
The publishers came up with about half the photos used and I supplied the other half from my own collection. They gave me total freedom of choice, for which I was very grateful. We both shared the same opinion that rare rather than common shots should take priority. There were some from agencies I would have liked to use but agency fees can be very expensive and therefore I just had to let them go. I didn't have any input into the cover design (other than giving an opinion) and the back photo was not my first choice. I had wanted a photo of Dusty scaling Kensington Palace Garden gates to show off her wacky side (in contrast to the front cover photo), but apparently the negative was flawed. However I'm very pleased with the photo that was eventually used.
One of the main difficulties was selecting photographs from my collection that I had not previously used in the Bulletin. Although on reflection there will hopefully be a lot more people buying the book than subscribe to the Bulletin so to many the photos might still have been new. However I felt the hard core fans should get something out of it and, let's face it, besides the reference aspect of the book it's the photos that are the attraction.
I wanted to select photographs that covered every stage of Dusty's career. That was difficult as there were certain periods when she rarely went within a mile of a photographer. I think we may have used a few too many from 1978 and 1979 but of course she was very active at that time. I also prefer action shots as I think Dusty often photographed better when she was not actually 'posing'.
One of my favourite shots is the one taken at San Remo with Petula Clark (and Anita Harris). Whilst not a particularly good quality photo, it's the only photo I've ever seen of Dusty and Pet together. In fact I believe that was the only time they ever met. Another favourite is the Baker Street shot--so natural.
5. Dusty was recently ranked 15th in Q Magazine's Readers' Poll of female musicians/vocalists. In your view, what is it that attracts people to Dusty and her music? Why does she remain so well-loved and popular?
That's a tough one. I'm not sure I have an answer. There's obviously the 'sound' of her voice although of course it isn't to everyone's liking. And Dusty was an intelligent singer so I guess that has something to do with it. Not that anyone sits down and says 'Oh, doesn't she sing intelligently'. But that intelligence manifests itself in her delivery of a song and I guess a lot of people like the way she delivered a song.
You know, many will disagree with me but I have to be honest here. I'm not sure Dusty was as well loved and popular as we are sometimes led to believe. Or indeed as we fans might like to think she was. She obviously went through periods of popularity. That's not a criticism of Dusty at all, it's just the way I perceive it; I've always felt her talent deserved wider acceptance. Of course it's difficult to measure how popular an artist is but I really don't think readers' polls are an accurate reflection. All they indicate is how loyal and devoted the fans of particular artists may be...and then it's restricted to the readership of the magazine. Not in all cases of course, but in most. And that's something entirely different. As an example, in 1967 Dusty was voted Top Female Singer in both the UK and World sections in the NME readers' poll; at the same time she had a minor hit followed by a major flop in this country. So, how popular was she? I think it's more accurate to say that Dusty remains a highly regarded interpreter of popular music among many of her peers and that she has always had a strong and loyal fan base.
Having said that, I do believe that the public is beginning to show a greater affection for her now that she's no longer with us than they did when she was alive. But isn't that often the way?
6. Can you share something about your own history as an admirer of Dusty and her music? What inspires you to dedicate so much of your time and energy into keeping Dusty's musical legacy in the public spotlight?
Another difficult question. Well, maybe not the first part. I became interested in Dusty around 'Swahili Papa' time, I think. I can't be too certain. I know it was before 'Island Of Dreams.' What I can remember is a classmate having a large photo of Dusty from a newspaper...which I pinched and attached to the inside of my desk lid. I have no idea why. Thereafter he would come out with all manner of stories about her and I would for some reason come to her defence. Yes, even in those days there were rumours. But a fascination, at that stage in the image rather than the music, just grew from there. Unfortunately, in my teens, I never knew anyone who liked Dusty. At school, if they liked popular music at all, they were into the Beach Boys, Beatles, Rolling Stones etc. A Dusty fan was a rare breed even though she was selling records at the time. But I never knew anyone who was buying them. As a result, with no one to share my enthusiasm, I didn't get to see her as much as I would probably (definitely?) have liked. When I did eventually meet up with like-minded souls, Dusty's appearances were few and far between. Such is life.
As for the second part of the question, I'm really not sure what inspires me to do what I do. Dusty, I suppose. The love of her music. Also the creative kick of putting together a Bulletin, a CD release, or whatever. I first got involved in Dusty-related projects at the beginning of the 1990s and it's very much escalated since then. Whenever new projects come along I usually get drawn into them. I think if you have a strong admiration for an artist and their music, you want to see everything concerned with that artist done well. That's the motivation. I have fortunately found myself in a position where I am able to contribute something to help achieve that.
7. Did you ever meet Dusty? Can you share something about that experience?
I'm afraid the answer to this isn't very interesting. I got to meet Dusty on a number of occasions but never really spoke with her at any length. The first time was outside the Paris Theatre in London after a recording of Easy Beat for the BBC Light programme in 1963. In fact, the autograph she gave me on that occasion is the one reproduced in the Simply Dusty boxed set. Then there was the Ready, Steady, Go! thing in 1964, the footage of which has survived to haunt me. I'm the one swaying in the opposite direction to everyone else during 'Losing You'! Following that, there were several other times, after TV shows or concerts, but nothing particularly momentous. I would love to have interviewed her for the Bulletin, but unfortunately Dusty was not well disposed towards the magazine or those responsible for it at the time, so that was that.
8. What are your favourite Dusty songs or albums? What is it about them that makes them so special for you?
I guess my favourite album must be Where Am I Going?, with the exception of a couple of tracks...and the cover. I'm probably in a minority with this choice. As time would prove, Dusty was at the height of her popularity when she recorded (most of) the album and I think it shows. Although vocally she was at her peak in the early 1970s, artistically she didn't have the freedom she enjoyed on this album. Everything gels - her confident vocals, strong orchestrations (it was her first album with a variety of arrangers and musical directors), superb background vocals, and overall an excellent choice of songs. Records are also closely associated with memories of events at the time; there are a few of those and that's another reason why Where Am I Going? is up there on top.
A close contender would have to be Longing, but for totally different reasons. If that album had been completed, it would have been a highlight in her recording career. It has an intimacy only hinted at on other recordings.
I would also nominate side two of Dusty...Definitely. The mood doesn't let up from the opening of 'This Girl's In Love With You' to the last note of 'Second Time Around'. It's a showcase of tracks perfectly sequenced.
As for a particular song, where do I begin? 'I Will Come To You' has to be up there, 'All I See Is You' as well. 'Welcome Home,' 'Just One Smile,' 'I Wish I'd Never Loved You,' 'In The Winter,' 'Exclusively For Me,' 'Natchez Trace'... there are so many. I know it's totally unoriginal to say but ask me tomorrow and I'll probably give you a different batch of songs (although I think 'I Will Come To You' would still be included). I can't tell you what makes them so special. If I tried to analyse what did, maybe they'd lose their magic.
9. Had Dusty not been so untimely taken by cancer, what direction would you have liked to have seen her career go?
On the strength of A Very Fine Love, I think I would have liked her to retire. However if she had not been so ill, then that album may have been totally different. I don't know. However I do recall that after [she recorded 'Someone To Watch Over Me' for] the PPP advertisement, I was included among a number of people who were asked to submit titles of songs they would like Dusty to record for a kind of 'standards' album. I also recollect that there was talk of the songs being recorded in front of a live audience; whatever the state of Dusty's health, I think that would have been a bit ambitious. But whether Dusty was seriously considering such an album I don't know. And whether she instigated the 'poll', I don't know either.
10. Along with your book, the ongoing publication The Dusty Springfield Bulletin is the definitive source of news and information about Dusty and her music. Can you talk a little about the history of this publication and your role in it?
Well, I appreciate you saying that although I think these days the net and some of the excellent Dusty websites have made the Bulletin less indispensable. It had to happen.
The Bulletin was started back in 1987 by John McElroy and was born out of his frustration at the time over the selective dissemination of news by DSI [Dusty Springfield International], the official fan club. The Bulletin was also intended as a forum for Dusty's fans to give their opinions; I believe I'm right in saying that DSI never published members' letters. The Bulletin came in for a lot of flack initially, especially from Dusty, as it did tend to be critical of her.
I made contributions to most editions in the early days and took over the administration side when John moved to the States. Gradually I became responsible for putting the whole thing together, although John retained editorial control. When he decided to live permanently in the States, he announced that the Bulletin was to close down (I think this was around 1994 or 1995) but we got so many begging letters to keep it going that I agreed to carry it on alone. DSI folded around this time (for reasons we won't go into) and, although the Bulletin was never an 'official' publication, it became the only source of information at the time and certainly achieved a sort of 'official' status with record companies both in the UK and in the States.
11. The Bulletin has released three excellent CDs of rare and/or live Dusty material. Can you talk about these projects and the experience of working on each of the CDs?
I could probably write a book on this alone. There were certainly some stressful moments.
The first CD was We Wish You A Merry Christmas. I don't know why I thought that Mercury would ever entertain licensing tracks to the Bulletin but I asked and they said yes. What swung it, I'm sure, is that the disc was for charity; I know the authorisation came from someone who himself was very keen on helping charitable causes. And also I was asking for material with little or no marketable value to the record company. By the way, as DSB members know, the profits for all three CDs go to the Royal Marsden. The Marsden was Dusty's choice of a charity. She dictated a message to her secretary Pat Rhodes to this effect for inclusion in the Christmas CD, even though (typically) she couldn't understand who would be interested in buying it.
The next step was to get the tapes. If at all possible I wanted to issue a stereo CD but the recordings had only ever been released in mono and I didn't know whether Mercury had the multi-track tapes. As it turned out, the multis existed for only two songs, 'O Holy Child' and 'Jingle Bells,' so we asked a colleague, Ben Mitchell, to mix them to stereo and the other six tracks remained in mono.
When I approached the BBC to license radio broadcasts for the Bulletin's next CD (The BBC Sessions), I really had no idea how many programmes still existed. In fact, it turned out to be disappointingly few. Although six programmes were documented as held on transcription disc, the BBC could only find five; the missing one featured Dusty singing 'Always Something There To Remind Me' and 'Baby I Need Your Loving.' It was a pity we couldn't get that. Before licensing the material to the Bulletin, the BBC required Dusty's permission. Although she was very ill at the time Dusty sent me her consent. The tracks were then licensed to the Bulletin and I was sent the tapes, only to find that the short interviews (with the presenter Brian Matthew) were not included. Apparently my agreement only covered music and not the spoken word, an entirely different right. However, after a few phone calls, this was resolved.
By now, I was PC literate (well, fairly) so I was able to do all the artwork myself. I had first noticed the cover shot while researching photos for another Dusty project and, as the proceeds were going to charity, the agency concerned let me use it for free. The results turned out to be fairly good although the colour photos are a bit 'gingery' (I screwed up a bit when converting RGB to CMYK). As things turned out, the CDs were ready for collection on the day Dusty died.
I was surprised that the third CD (Good Times) which contains many of Dusty's TV performances for the BBC ever got off the ground. Even at the outset I felt the chances of the BBC licensing the material to the Bulletin were pretty slim. How wrong can you be? But I had to be very persistent. Initially I was told that nothing had been kept so the door to any progress seemed firmly closed. However, with ringing around, I eventually established the right contacts and everything seemed to go smoothly. For a while. But then personnel changes took place and it was almost like starting all over again. Having decided on the songs I wanted to use (I avoided hits as much as possible), agreements were eventually signed but it took an age to get all the tapes. The quality of some were pretty poor - you have to remember that the BBC never kept Dusty's sixties shows and therefore what I was given had been taken from copies retrieved from abroad.
Doing the artwork was great fun and things went a lot more smoothly than on the previous occasions although there are one or two minor cock-ups. I chose to use mainly black and white images this time to evoke the atmosphere of the performances, most of which had only ever been broadcast in monochrome.
Work is now beginning on a fourth and fifth CD, details of which I hope to announce in the next Bulletin. [NOTE: For further information about the Dusty Springfield Bulletin check the DSB page on this website].
12. Although The Complete Dusty Springfield is your first book about Dusty, it's not the first time you've written about her or her music. Where else (apart from the Bulletin) have you written about Dusty and her career and how did these opportunities come about?
I don't remember writing for any publications; all I recall are CD releases - Something Special, A Girl Called Dusty (bonus tracks), Ev'rything's Coming Up Dusty (bonus tracks), Dusty (1998), Dusty . . . Definitely and From Dusty With Love (bonus tracks - although I wasn't credited as having written them) and the annotations for Simply Dusty. In the States I did the liner notes for the Springfields' Taragon CD and the recent Ultimate Collection [from Hip-O Records]. I've also written the liner notes for the upcoming UK release of Living Without Your Love.
John and I first offered our services to Mercury back in late 1989/early 1990 when the company was starting out on their Dusty CD re-issue programme. As you know, they put out the first few albums on CD; there was also a Springfields CD planned. It actually got to the stage where I wrote the sleeve notes for it but it was never released. Plans for a proposed boxed set also fell through. There were then personnel changes at Phonogram and the boxed set idea was reactivated, this time with Mike Gill in charge of production. A fairly lengthy and detailed letter to Mercury in respect of Dusty's recordings led to Mike Gill taking me on board. And believe me, it's been a privilege.
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