The Worst Band
Zigzag: The Rock Magazine, vol. 5 no. 4, issue 44,january 1975, pp. 10-18
While many of the veterans on the 1960's musical scene are still around, few are creating much in the way of new musical excitement. There are the ageing glitter idols (Gary Glitter, Bolan et al); stupefying jam bands (Yes, ELP, etc); and those who belong to the old-horses-never-die school (Stones, Lennon, Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel etc). Most of these chart toppers are resting on past laurels, and some (Jethro Tull, Ten Years After, etc) don't even know if they still have laurels to rest on. But 10CC, not content to rely on past track records, have been working wonders up in Manchester, becoming, in the process, the first creators of a 1970's rock aesthetic. This, then, is their story—one which begins sometime around 1960 . . . .
It was about that time that Kevin Godley, Lol Creme and Graham Gouldman were attending the same grade schools in Manchester, eventually gravitating to a local Jewish club. the J.A.B. (Jewish Alliance Brigade) quickly became the scenario for a local battle-of-the-bands where three local groups all competed for the music room so they could rehearse. Lol Creme, then a mere lad of 14, recalls it thus: "The Sabres and the Whirlwinds were the two big competitors. Graham was in the Whirlwinds, and I started out in the Sabres . . ." Alongside Lol in the Sabres was his cousin Neil, and Kevin Godley who joined with his now legendary Hofner Club 50 bass. Things went along like this for a while, when the Whirlwinds got a recording contract and became 'professional'.
Unfortunately, no one in the Whirlwinds could come up with an adequate song, so an old Buddy Holly number "Look At Me" was chosen. For the B side, Gouldman turned to his old rival from the Sabres, Lol Creme, who had just penned his first song, "Baby Not Like Me". Lol: "I had just started writing a bit, about the time the Beatles were beginning to happen, and Graham needed a song, so I gave him "Baby Not Like Me". He did a fabulous guitar solo on that—he's a great guitar player—but the Whirlwinds split up soon after their first bout with the music business . . . ."
Meanwhile the Sabres were plugging along and by now Kevin Godley had graduated to drums. But Graham, headstrong boy that he was, didn't give up. He took Bernard Basso and Steve Jacobsen from the Whirlwinds, and 'stole' Kevin Godley from the Sabres, and formed a new group called The Mockingbirds. Graham: "I started writing just about the time the Mockingbirds began. The first record the Mockingbirds made was my song "For Your Love", but our company turned it down!!! The Yardbirds later got a hold of it and it was a world-wide smash." Kevin: "We played a lot of strange material—obscure r'n'b and soul, and we recorded pop songs. The two directions just didn't go hand in hand. It was sort of mediocre pop, and the r'n'b was a bit obscure for the audience.
It seems inconceivable that the Mockingbirds never made much of an impact in Britain. Graham was having hits with major stars like the Hollies, Herman's Hermits and Yardbirds, and was meeting all the right people. Even their first record (two Gouldman originals) "That's How It's Gonna Stay"/"I Never Should Have Kissed You" issued in early '65 was phenomenal. Strongly commercial, the record was distinctive, although clearly in a Beatles-Hollies mould. It was polished, and really quite brilliant, but it just flopped. "We called that 'The Milk Bottle Song' . . ." recalls Kevin, "and the second was called 'I Can Feel We're Parting'. We did one for Immediate as well, but I can't remember it for the life of me . . ."
How did the newly successful songwriter feel when his own group just couldn't get anywhere? Graham: "There was an interest in my writing, but no one paid too much attention to the Mockingbirds. I was writing hits, but we were still playing for $80 a night. In a way I felt guilty that the Mockingbirds weren't having any hits . . ." Kevin: "Just about all the songs we recorded were Graham's songs, but nothing happened. It was amazing—he was a very big writer at the time, but the group chemistry just didn't make it together."
After the two releases for Columbia, the Mockingbirds went over to Immediate for a lone single, 'You Stole My Love'. Graham: "That one was produced by Giorgio Gomelsky and Paul Samwell-Smith . . . Julie Driscoll sang on it as well . . . The last two Mockingbirds singles trickled out from Decca, but even the group members remember little about these. Kevin: "A lot of time and effort went into the Mockingbirds, but it just didn't happen. We certainly weren't jealous of Graham's success because if anything, it gave us a better chance for success. I was still at college and would have to get up at 6 in the morning, travel 60 miles, play a gig at night, travel back home, and then get up at 6 the next morning. Eventually, it just got to be too much, so I split from the group."
Kevin and Lol teamed up in college and got heavily into art and design. Meanwhile local boy-wonder Eric Stewart became a national figure as a member of Waye Fontana and the Mindbenders. When Wayne split to go solo, the Mindbenders reaped enormous success with 'Groovy Kind Of Love'. In all, Eric made three US tours, and continued to be the mainstay of the Mindbenders throughout 1966 and early 1967.
During his tenure with Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Eric recalls his first meeting with Jonathan King: "An interesting thing about Jonathan is that originally at the start of Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders he used to follow us around in this sort of tatty white sportscar—he had just left Cambridge, I think. He saw the music business as the ideal way to make millions of pounds. He'd follow us all over England, and he'd tell us: 'Please let me manage you—I'll make you bigger than the Beatles . . .' And we said, 'Get lost, you're crazy' . . . So he went off and did it on his own with 'Everyone's Gone To The Moon' . . ."
Meanwhile, Graham Gouldman was gaining stature and money for his slew of compositions including 'Heart Full Of Soul', 'Listen People', 'For Your Love' 'Look Thru Any Window', 'Bus Stop', 'No Milk Today', 'East West', 'Pamela Pamela', 'Evil Hearted You', and Jeff Beck's 'Tallyman'. In early '66 (when he was still in the Mockingbirds), Graham recorded his first solo single. The A side was an overproduced rocker with an attempted r'n'b feel to it, and the B side was a nice, though plain, ballad. Graham: "That was a terrible record—horrible. One of those things you're pressured into doing. I did that one without the Mockingbirds—I'd really rather forget it . . ." Graham continued writing hits: "I did for a period write specifically for a particular artist I had in mind. Like 'Bus Stop' was specifically written for the Hollies as a follow-up to 'Look Thru Any Window'. On my demo for 'Bus Stop' I just played guitar and bass, and had about four vocals and some backing tambourine . . ."
Graham's first outside work was when he produced a record by Little Frankie in August 1965. Graham wasn't too happy with the choice of material, but it gave him a taste for production work. So he wrote 'Getting Nowhere' (originally titled 'I'm 28, It's Getting Late') for local Manchester lass Friday Browne, in early '66, and later that year penned Dave Berry's 'Gonna Take You There'. Others like 'Behind The Door' were recorded by both English (St Louis Union) and American (Cher) artists.
When the Downliners Sect, nearing the end of their career, asked for a song, Graham came up with the 'Cost Of Living'. Gouldman declares that his demo was actually released as 'The Downliners Sect': "That record was my demo. I think they may have added a few things, but it was basically me . . ." Despite the unfinished nature of the record, it holds up well, driving along nicely.
'The Cost Of Living' was co-written by Peter Cowap, a Manchester mate who almost brought 'Greensleeves' into the British charts a few years earlier as a member of The Country Gentlemen. Later Cowap was content to play small local gigs, not pushing for any star success. However he did work on numerous projects with Graham, one being 'People Passing By' by the High Society. The late '66 release written by Graham was a one shot deal. Gouldman: "I was involved with the production and singing on that one. The people involved were Peter Cowap, me, and Friday Browne. The session people included Phil Dennys, Clem Cattini, and John Paul Jones. Now that I remember, I think it was the first time I met John Paul . . ."
Early in 1967, a rollicking platter emerged by the Manchester Mob. 'Bony Maronie at the Hop' was the name, and though a huge disco favourite, it never broke onto the national charts. Again a one-shot, the Manchester Mob was actually Graham and friends: "Pete Cowap and I thought the rock'n'roll era was coming back, but I guess we were about two or three years ahead of it. The other session people were Phil Dennys, John Paul Jones, and Clem Cattini. It was really a lot of fun . . ."
In mid-'66, when the Mockingbirds were nearing their demise, it was announced that a new group was forming, "primarily for recording purposes". The press release continued: "As yet unnamed, the group will feature Animals lead guitarist Hilton Valentine. Also in the lineup are ex-Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith, and hit songwriter Graham Gouldman. The group will independently produce its own records for a major company not named. The first single, for release in October, will be a Gouldman composition. A singer is being sought to complete the lineup . . ." Graham: "I remember something vaguely about that, but nothing ever came of it . . ."
For a year during '67 and '68 Graham signed a publishing deal with Robbins music in America. It was one of Graham's less successful ventures: "They gave me a good advance which was very nice of them, and sent me a cheque every quarter. In return I was sending them songs. But that was it—I don't think one of the songs was placed, out of 22 I wrote for them!! It was a very depressing time for me, because an artist needs his ego fed. He needs recognition . . ." Perhaps Graham's attitude at this time was best summed up by his own lyrics as they appeared on an obscure American single by Toni Basil, 'I'm 28': "Hey! I'm 28/It's getting late/What have I got to do?/My time is going/My fears are growing/My chances now are few/. . . It's getting me nowhere."
During the Robbins deal, Graham began two projects which were to carry him through late '67 and just about all of 1968. The first of these was his involvement with the Mindbenders. The group had been issuing singles, without much success, choosing writers like Toni Wine and Goffin-King for their A sides, while Eric Stewart wrote most of their B sides. The A sides were usually MOR pop songs, while the B sides were a bit more heavy and instrumental. Rod Argent's 'I Want Her She Wants Me' didn't bring them back to the charts, and neither did the follow-up 'We'll Talk About It Tomorrow'. However the flip, Bob Lang's 'Far Across Town' was a lovely pop-rocker which has to rank as one of the group's better efforts. One day Graham heard 'The Letter' by the Boxtops: "The minute I heard that record I fell in love with it, I had known Eric for some time and just started by writing and producing for them. 'The Letter' was the first thing I did with them . . ." Arranged by John Paul Jones, and produced by Graham, 'The Letter' brought the Mindbenders back into the Top 30. Stewart's flip was again adventurous with wah-wah, phasing, off-beat drumming, lilting background vocals, and psychedelic sitar like solo. 'Schoolgirl' was next, and looked like another hit, when the BBC banned it for suggestive lyrics. Eric: "We put the lyrics on the cover of that one, which was a big mistake . . ."
Next came 'Blessed Are The Lonely' which Graham states he didn't work on: "I helped set up the session with the group and John Paul Jones, but didn't participate in it." He should have told the record company that because the advertising that went out for 'Blessed' had Graham pictured as being a member of the Mindbenders! Stewart's flip, 'Yellow Brick Road' was one of the best records Traffic never made.
As if the 'Blessed' ad had been prophetic, Graham joined the Mindbenders for their last few months of existence. By now Jimmy O'Neil had been recruited from the Uglies, and Paul Hancox was added, so only Eric was an 'original' Mindbender. Eric: "We couldn't get it going, because the group was into very heavy music, and the group was well known for light soft music. The audience just wouldn't have it—they wanted 'Groovy Kind Of Love' and that sort of thing. We were all bored with that. The product we tried to release was just too heavy for the record company . . . and they wouldn't release it . . ." The Mindbenders final attempt was a brilliant two-sided release, Gouldman's 'Uncle Joe The Ice Cream Man' b/w Stewart's 'The Man Who Loved Trees'. 'Uncle Joe', trying to cash in on the cutesy flower-power mood, was about as commercial as a record could get. But like most of Gouldman's commercial leanings, 'Uncle Joe' had a lovely melody, a fine arrangement, and a tasty production. It's really a shame that this group of Mindbenders was not allowed to continue, because judging by this last single, they had a lot to offer—an album from this period might have ushered in an era of a new commercial-pop supergroup. Stewart's final B side remains today a perfectly innovative record. Particularly noteworthy is the fine drumming, strong lyrical content, and really outstanding lead vocals. Graham: "Our final Mindbenders records just weren't successful in the least. We were trying obviously, but the whole scene was very depressing really. The audience just couldn't accept what we wanted to do. Listen to some of Eric's old B sides—they were quite heavy . . ."
The other project that Graham got heavily involved with during '67 and '68 was his solo album, THE GRAHAM GOULDMAN THING. It was originally intended to be produced by Peter Noone: "It was supposed to be something like the artist produces the writer, but he wasn't there on any of the sessions—though he is credited as producer. I did the whole thing with John Paul Jones who arranged the tracks, played on it and also helped produce it. It was an important project for me at the time, I put a lot of work into it." This concern is shown by listening to the album, which exudes tasteful arrangements, and thoughtful production. My favourites are still the hits like 'Bus Stop' and 'For Your Love', but all the tracks have something interesting to offer. The orchestral arrangements on 'No Milk Today' and 'Upstairs-Downstairs' are particularly refreshing. Strangely enough, the album was not released in England, and despite a heavy US promo campaign, didn't sell much to Americans. A perennial cut-out album,