Kevin Godley and Lol Creme
THE WEIRD AND WONDERFUL WORLD OF
PULSE! fifth anniversary issue april 1988 pp. 66-72
Question: What do a critic's poll-topping band from the 1970's, the video for "Every Breath You Take" by The Police, a guitar attachment called The Gizmo, a Nissan Hardbody truck commercial, an illustrated memoir titled "The Fun Starts Here," a new video label and an upcoming feature film called "Howling At The Moon" have in common?
Give yourself a gold star if you answered Godley and Creme. In a world increasingly dominated by specialists, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme are multi-media renaissance men, a modern, double-sided version of Leonardo da Vinci, if you will. These two men have - over the course of a 27-year partnership - accumulated a substantial resume: as composers, musicians, video directors, illustrators, wordsmiths, and - soon - as film directors. And, though they appear to be jacks-of-all-trades, they're masters at every one, and somehow manage to do them all at once.
Listening to them talk is like seeing a well-oiled comedy duo in action, off-the-cuff, one finishing a sentence the other has started, then starting a sentence which will be completed by the first. But you don't assemble a body of work like theirs in Derek and Clive mode. They've got an enviable mastery of the tools, a seemingly endless palette of ideas and a rare gift for putting - and keeping - it all together.
They are funny, articulate and remarkably calm considering the demands surrounding their new album - titled Goodbye Blue Sky - and the mounting pressure of an imminent shooting deadline for their debut feature film.
Have they bitten off more than they can chew? "Well, it does keep us off the streets," admits Creme. "But not out of trouble," adds Godley. A TV is playing in the background with the sound off and, as if right on cue, up comes a series of Godley and Creme videos. In one scene, nearly naked girls fight each other with pillows astride a symbolic pole. In another, demented prisoners hurl hammers at the camera. In another, a group of suspended and stockinged robot legs performs a crazy dance.
This is the British duo that brought to the screen such delights as Duran Duran's "Girls on Film"; "Every Breath You Take" and "Wrapped Around Your Finger" for The Police; "Rockit" and "Autodrive" for Herbie Hancock; "Victims" for Boy George and Culture Club; "Two Tribes" and "The Power of Love" for Frankie Goes to Hollywood; and "Don't Give Up" for Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush.
But music video is but the most recent medium they've mastered. As half of the British pop quartet 10cc, they had a six-year string of hits, and they're about to release their seventh LP as a duo, Goodbye Blue Sky, their first since The History Mix, Vol. 1, in 1985. In the meantime, they've written and/or illustrated a variety of books; created and produced television advertising (Wrangler Jeans, Lincoln-Mercury, New York and Boston Yellow Pages); invented, manufactured and marketed guitar electronics (the Gizmo); as well as directed an eye-opening array of creative endeavors which never quite made it to market .
All this on top of 40-plus music videos for an eclectic group of artists.
Right now, though, they're reclining poolside at an expensive Hollywood hotel, where they're doing some movie business. Just how do a couple of Manchester blokes take 27 years to get here from there?
Lol Creme says he was born on September 17, 1947, just 'round the corner from the home of Kevin Godley, who appeared two years earlier, on October 7, 1945. "We basically grew up together and just became best friends. We were always working together on ideas and projects. We had this group at school called The Sabres - Kev played drums and I was the guitarist. At the same time, we wrote shows together and got into painting, and eventually we both landed up in art school, where we started getting into designing books. We actually invented this huge book complete with 3-D models of 'The Charge of the Light Brigade."'
Godley says he was 13 when they met "I was shooting an 8mm version of dracula, he explains, "on a film set at my house. I desperately needed a hunchback, so I auditioned Lol in the living room. He was perfect."
"It was my first brush with showbiz," adds Creme. "Later, we both began playing around in various groups, doing session work and demos, and writing songs. Later, we met Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart, the other half of 10cc. Eric had set up his own studio, called Strawberry Studios, and that's where we recorded our first hit, 'Neanderthal Man.' We wrote it in the back of a taxi on the way to a session, and it went to number one. No one was more surprised than we were."
To promote the single, they quickly formed a band called Hotlegs, made an album and toured. "But we failed to come up with another hit," says Godley, "so we started getting more into production." Armed with the first Moog synthesizer in Britain, they did sessions for Paul McCartney, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Freddie and the Dreamers and others between their own projects.
In 1972, they emerged with Stewart and Gouldman as 10cc, one of the '70's most successful British bands. Those stories, by the way, about the origins of the band's name are true: "We were racking our brains for a suitable name," Creme says, "one that really captured our style and image, and Jonathan King, who'd signed us to his U.K. label, said, '10cc - because it's the average amount of semen ejaculated by a healthy male!' Well, naturally, we thought it was perfect."
Their first single off 10cc, "Donna" - a clever doo-wop parody - reached number two in the U.K., and the second, "Rubber Bullets," hit number one in July '73. "The Dean and I," the debut's third single, also went top ten. In America, Cashbox magazine voted them "The Best New Group of 1973."
The next few years saw a succession of hit singles and albums. In June '74, "Wall Street Shuffle" went top ten, and their second LP, Sheet Music, was released to rave reviews. In '75, they nearly had a worldwide number one smash (it was number two in the U.S. for three weeks), "I'm Not in Love" from The Original Soundtrack album. Their fourth album, How Dare You, followed in January '76, spawning British hits like "Art for Art's Sake" and 'I'm Mandy, Fly Me."
Although 10cc had a Top 5 gold single in the U.S. with "The Things We Do for Love" in 1977, its lineup didn't include Godley and Creme, who suddenly announced in '76 they were leaving the band, surprising both fans and Gouldman and Stewart. "It may have seemed sudden to everyone else," explains Creme, "but we'd been planning it for some time. When 10cc first happened, we decided to give it four or five years, because we were already interested in a lot of other areas, and always planned to move on at some point."
The first of those other areas was an invention called The Gizmo, a device which, when fitted onto a guitar bridge, gave it an orchestral-type sustain, making it a relatively inexpensive alternative to the newly arrived synthesizer. Though hailed as a breakthrough, it was a total commercial flop, as was Consequences, their debut album box, which showcased the Gizmo.
"We got a deal to manufacture it, and after leaving 10cc, we spent over 14 months - and a fortune - demonstrating the Gizmo and its potential on our Consequences album," recalls Godley. "But we ran into a whole lot of problems. For a start, it came out as the recession hit, and then the album didn't do too well. It almost sold about three copies."
"Yeah, it went silver, or was it bronze?" jokes Creme. "The timing was terrible too, because overnight, the whole punk scene took off in Britain. No one wanted self-indulgent statements or 'artistic adventures in sound' like Consequences."
The pair still has a soft spot for the now-deleted set, "or at least some of the ideas," says Godley. But neither has any interest in the ill-fated Gizmo. "The company went bust, and we just got very fed up with it and decided to shelve the whole bloody thing," he adds.
Such disappointments were compounded by their split from 10cc, which had been far from amicable "It was like a divorce I guess," says Creme. "It was extremely difficult and in a way it was made even worse because we decided to leave when the band was so huge worldwide. People understand more if things are going badly, but we had to follow our instincts and leave."
"After leaving 10cc, we spent over 14 months - and a fortune - demonstrating the Gizmo and its potential on our Consequences album." - Kevin Godley
"In certain bands, like Talking Heads, the situation is loose enough for members to do their own projects every so often, and then re-group. But the pressure in 10cc to keep coming up with hits, the touring and recording just made it impossible for us," explains Godley. "In order to grow, we had to leave, painful as it was."
Undaunted by the failure of the Gizmo and their first solo album, the pair released a second, more commercial album simply titled L in 1978, followed in the U.S. a year later with Freeze Frame (in the U.K., Music From Consequences was next). It was the single taken from this album, "An Englishman in New York," that finally provided an opportunity to return to film via a music video.