A SILLY PHASE I’M GOING THROUGH:
It is quite possible that you have something by Eric Stewart in your music collection at this very moment without even realizing it. Eric was a member of Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders, eventually singing lead on their 1966 hit “Groovy Kind Of Love” after Fontana had left the fold. By 1969, with the Mindbenders in his rear view mirror, Stewart was recording backing tracks for Bubblegum hits at his Strawberry Studios facilities. His recording mates included hit songwriter Graham Gouldman and multi-instrumentalists Lol Creme and Kevin Godley. In 1970, Stewart, Creme and Godley released the surprise hit “Neanderthal Man” under the group name Hotlegs. Two years later, American singer/songwriter Neil Sedaka arrived in the UK in hopes of recording new material and making a comeback. His backing band featured Stewart, Gouldman, Godley and Creme. Sedaka and this quartet of talented musicians recorded two albums together, both directly responsible for the enormous success that Sedaka and 10cc would achieve within a few short years.
It was Sedaka that encouraged his backing band to write and record their own material. Naming themselves 10cc, Eric, Graham, Lol and Kevin instantly scored a hit with the ‘50s pastiche, “Donna.” The band scored more UK hits before finally breaking big in the U.S. with the now-classic radio staple “I’m Not In Love” in 1975. Godley and Creme exited the band the following year while the Stewart/Gouldman edition of 10cc scored another huge hit with “The Things We Do For Love” and radio favorites like “Dreadlock Holiday” and “Good Morning Judge.” Eric even had time to record the soundtrack to the 1980 film GIRLS plus the 1982 solo album FROOTY ROOTIES. By 1983, the dream was over and 10cc quietly slipped away.
While 10cc were coming to an end, Eric Stewart’s long friendship with Paul McCartney became professional when he began working with Paul on his albums TUG OF WAR (1982), PIPES OF PEACE (1983), GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROADSTREET (1984) and PRESS TO PLAY (1986). Eric can be seen in videos such as “So Bad” and was featured on the big screen in the film GIVE MY REGARDS… Eric and GrahAm reunited for the 1991 10cc album MEANWHILE (featuring brief appearances by Lol and Kevin) but had essentially fallen apart by the time of 1995’s MIRROR MIRROR, which was essentially half an album of Eric’s solo recordings and half an album of Graham’s. Since then, Eric has quietly released two more solo albums while remaining out of the spotlight.
With a musical pedigree like that, it will come as no surprise if you discover a little Eric in your collection. From the ‘groovy’ Mindbenders days up through 10cc and then onto McCartney – with a side of Sedaka – Stewart’s magical musical touch is virtually everywhere. But wait, there’s even more…
10cc has never fallen out of favor in the Pop/Rock world. In fact, music fans are only now catching on to their utter brilliance. With the usage of “I’m Not In Love” in the hit movie GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, the band gained a whole new generation of fans that may not have even heard “I’m Not In Love” until it was played in that mega-blockbuster. the band’s albums have been reissued on CD numerous times and, in recent years, even on colored vinyl. Two 10cc box sets have hit the market recently – BEFORE DURING AFTER (4CD) and DURING AFTER (2CD) – as well as a Godley & Creme five CD box set entitled BODY OF WORK.
Also issued is the excellent two CD ANTHOLOGY release from Eric Stewart himself, which focuses on his solo recordings as well as a smattering of later-period 10cc tracks Miraculously, this double disc set has no overlap with the other box sets, making this an essential purchase! Focusing on his solo albums – FROOTY ROOTIES, DO NOT BEND and VIVA LA DIFFERENCE, ANTHOLOGY also includes tracks from 10cc’s 10 OUT OF 10 and MIRROR MIRROR albums and the title cut from the GIRLS soundtrack. Eric has gone in and remastered and remixed the tracks, presenting them in a non-chronological order. While some of these songs may have been recorded 20+ years apart, the track order is entirely cohesive with each recording seemingly destined to be paired together. ANTHOLOGY should not be ignored!
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Eric about ANTHOLOGY, 10cc, Paul McCartney and so much more.
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: ANTHOLOGY has just been released. How are you feeling about the way the collection turned out and the reaction you’ve had to it so far?
ERIC STEWART: I really like it but it wasn’t my idea! It was Cherry Red Records in the UK who came to me and said, “We’d like to suggest that you use solo projects, 10cc and stuff with Paul McCartney. Would you like to compile them together?” When I started to do that I realized that a lot of them, sound-wise, were not as good as I would be able to achieve these days. So, what I did was copy all of the multi-tracks across to digital then remix them with all the facilities that we’ve got available now which are far superior to the things we had back then in the days when everything was going onto tape. That was a nice exercise for me and the more I got into it, the more I was pleased that I could improve the stereo, power and the sounds of things: the voice levels, backing voice levels, the echoes, reverbs, etc. Everything is available to us now on software like Logic Pro, which you use on the Apple Mac.
SPAZ: How difficult was it choosing the tracks? There’s a nice balance of your solo stuff and later 10cc material as well.
ERIC: Well, it was a question of listening to them all very, very carefully, over and over and just seeing what I thought was recorded well or not, and it was good to compare them and then start to link them together to see how they flowed into each other. It didn’t matter which albums they were from or what time they were recorded, but the theme of them going from one to the other was very, very important to me. I couldn’t possibly use all 50 or 60 tracks, but I chose what I thought flowed nicely from one to the other. I wanted the songs to complement each other as they flowed. I hope I achieved it.
SPAZ: I think that both discs are very strong, and I’m not one of those people that feels that everything has to be chronological.
ERIC: When people were reviewing it, they would ask why did we use a song from the 1990’s, and then stick in the “Girls” track, which was from the late ‘70s or whatever. I couldn’t figure out why they were saying that. Some people obviously thought chronological order is the way you should do it… but I don’t.
SPAZ: I think that you approached it as an album as opposed to a greatest hits because this flows like an album.
ERIC: Well, thank you for saying that. That’s exactly what I was trying to achieve. Something that people would sit down and listen to rather than listen to the historic side of it – they’d listen to how the music flowed.
SPAZ: 10cc’s material remains some of the most cleverly arranged pop music of the last 50 years, but your solo work is more direct, more Blues and Rock influenced. Did you purposely move away from the busy 10cc arrangements when recording the solo material?
ERIC: I did to some extent but other things like “Age of Consent” … I love Steely Dan and I wanted a track to have that sort of feel about it and I think that track did. And then it links into “Code of Silence,” which was a lovely song that Paul McCartney got me to record. He just sat there with me one day and started playing a keyboard thing and I said, “That’s beautiful!” And he goes, “I’ll put a little simple bass part on it”, and then that sounded great. Then he said, “Have you got a good electric piano sound?”, I said, “Yeah”, he said, “Okay, patch it into the mixing console, let’s see what I can do”. He put that bit on and by the time he finished that I said, “Paul, that is brilliant, that’s brilliant”, and then he says, “Okay, well you finish it then. Let’s see what you can come up with”. We did it one afternoon after having a lovely big lunch and a couple of glasses of wine and then he left it and left me with it, It was such an inspirational thing for me to work on. So things like that were developing by accident and that really turned me on. The tracks from FRUITY ROOTIES was definitely me going backwards to the Rock ‘n’ Roll era and using the guitar sounds I picked up from Scotty Moore with Elvis Presley and James Burton with Rick Nelson and people like that, I adored those sounds and I just wanted to emulate them. I couldn’t be as good as those guys but I could get the sounds and that sort of stuff. But it was me thanking them in a way for turning me on to guitar. I didn’t want to be a singer at all when I started. I really wanted to be the guitarist in the band, but fortunately I could actually sing a song as well and eventually when Wayne Fontana left the Mindbenders, I took over the lead vocals and immediately got a worldwide number one with “Groovy Kind of Love”, so that was a big turn on for me and a big confidence booster, shall we say.
SPAZ: Reggae rhythms seem to creep into a lot of your songs throughout your career. During your later solo recordings, there’s also a big Blues influence. Any other musical influence that make up your musical DNA besides what we’ve talked about, something that might surprise people?
ERIC: Well, the Blues came from those early guitarists and the more I studied those guys, the more I went back looking into the real Blues influences that turned them on. And The Beatles – they influenced me incredibly because every single song on the album was different. They didn’t follow any pattern, it was always different and that really tuned me on more than anything. The Reggae thing happened because of traveling to the Caribbean. I love that natural sound. I’d go out just go down into the little villages and listen to people playing things like steel drums. It turned me on so much I wanted to do it with quite a lot of tracks like “Dreadlock Holiday”. You can hear tracks from other people and one track can blow your mind – like a Ry Cooder track. I adore the way he plays the slide guitar, and I love his plaintiff voice. It’s gorgeous and he’s one of my heroes. So things like that influenced me although I couldn’t play the slide guitar as good as Ry could.
SPAZ: ANTHOLOGY has a few tracks from the final 10cc album, MIRROR MIRROR (1995), which seemed like half of an Eric solo record mixed with half of a Graham solo record.
ERIC: It was. Yeah, to be honest with you, we weren’t working together at all by then, we’d split up and I was just asked by the record company to come up with some songs. Fortunately, I had a couple in my pocket. I already mentioned “Code of Silence” with Paul McCartney and then “Yvonne’s The One”. That was a beautiful song that came about purely from a postcard I received from Nick Mason who is the drummer with Pink Floyd. It had this gorgeous picture of a girl on the front with a volcano exploding behind her. I showed it to Paul. I said, “Just look at this, this has come from Nick Mason,” and he looked at it and he said, “What’s it say?” “Oh when I first saw Yvonne volcanoes erupted”, and he sang, “Once I saw Yvonne, volcanoes erupted”, and he sang the first bloody line of the song! We went on from there and we wrote the whole song. That was the magic that he had with The Beatles. John Lennon did too. It was just something clicking and inspiring you, getting you excited about it. 10cc had four writers so we had that chemistry between us – every one of us had a different slant on a song, and that’s how we came up with things like “I’m Not In Love”. It could have ended up a Bossa Nova song! When we first sat down to play it in the studio, it was a Bossa Nova and it was Kevin Godley who said in his sweet way, “This is a load of crap”, and we’re like, “What?”, he said, “Yeah”, he said “Listen, why don’t we do it all with voices?”, and I said, “Well, you mean like a capella harmony?”, he said, “No, the whole bloody backing track, let’s do it all with a mass of vocals”, I said, “But like a choir, should we hire a choir?”, he said, “No, we could do it ourselves, keep recording voices, ah’s and ooh’s and God knows what”. The minute he said that we all went to work on it and it took about three weeks of singing ah’s to get the backing track there, but by the time we’d finished recording it and I’d mixed it down we sat there saying, “What the fuck have we done here? It’s 6 minutes 12 seconds long, We’ll never get this released”. But when we released THE ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK (1975), we started getting messages on our answerphones saying that we needed to release “I’m Not In Love”. But the BBC in England wouldn’t play it because it was too long and they asked me to edit it and I said, “No way”. Fortunately, it hit the charts at #29 and the BBC had to play it by law – it was on the charts, they had to play it and it hit eventually #1. So it worked and it started with somebody saying, “That’s crap, let’s do it another way.” It was very exciting, believe me.
SPAZ: What did you think of the U.S. single edit, where they edited out quite a bit – even the last verse.
ERIC: I thought it was terrible. I can’t listen to it. I cringe because it is like asking someone who has written this beautiful concerto or just even a small classical piece and you chop something out of it and the magic is lost. The continuation and the flow of “I’m Not In Love” worked so beautifully by accident, we were just experimenting. After I’d mixed it, we sat there for three hours listening to it again and again and again and again and saying to each other, “What the hell have we created here? This is unique, no one’s ever done this before”.
SPAZ: It’s really one of the most beautiful songs ever written.
ERIC: Thank you. It’s very important to me because I’d written it about my wife Gloria, who I’m still married to after 51 years which is astounding in the music business, believe me. I don’t know anybody who is with his first wife these days. But anyway, I wrote it for Gloria because she said to me one day, I think we’d been married nine years, “Eric, why don’t you say ‘I love you’ more often these days?” My mind at that point was saying to her, “If I keep saying it, it’s not going to mean anything.”. But the minute I thought about it again on my own, I thought, “Well, If I say I’m not in love but then give you all the reasons why I’m so totally in love with you, infatuated by you without saying those words…” Once that clicked, I’d got all the words written. it just worked so beautifully from that point. It’s like an accident.
SPAZ: There seems to be a lot of 10cc activity in recent years. The first couple of albums have been reissued on colored vinyl, there is that four CD set BEFORE DURING AFTER, the two CD set DURING AFTER, the Godley & Creme box set and your two CD set. Are people finally realizing the majesty of Eric Stewart and the gang?
ERIC: Well I would hope so, but the fact that somebody came to us and said we’d really love to do this. I mean the compilation albums of 10cc came through Universal Records, which is now by Sony ATV I think. They thought there was definitely a market out there, especially because the vinyl thing was coming back in as you mentioned and our agent said, “Let’s do this and let’s represent them all on vinyl too”, and I’m delighted about that, yes. And they certainly did so well so, yeah. Good thing they asked us.
SPAZ: In regards to your ANTHOLOGY release, even though it contains 10cc and solo material, there is no overlap to the other releases. This makes it an essential addition to those planning on buying any of those sets. 10cc, Eric Stewart and Godley & Creme – back on the shelves again. How do you feel about it all in hindsight?
ERIC: Godley and Creme, after they left the band, they did that triple album CONSEQUENCES which unfortunately do well because it was too long and too meandering. I always wished – and I said it to them – I wished we could have kept the band together to do that album because the chemistry of those four brains working on that would have come out with something much more successful, I believe. Kevin did say in an interview recently that he thought “I’m Not In Love” and “Things We Do For Love” were crap. Then he said, “But, Christ, I wish I had written them!” Typical Kevin… but I know what he means because “I’m Not In Love” is still a big seller.
SPAZ: The amazing thing about 10cc, is when you set that needle down on the record, you didn’t know what you were going to get but you knew it was going to be quality.
ERIC: Well, that’s really what I was certainly intending when I was mixing the stuff and mastering it. But it was the chemistry of the four guys – the way their brains worked. I wanted every track to be different, completely different. Kevin’s voice for me was the most beautiful when he sang a beautiful ballad like “Don’t Hang Up” or “Old Wild Men.” It was so beautiful to listen to that voice and get it down on tape.
SPAZ: What do you remember most about working with Neil Sedaka?
ERIC: Him coming across from America to record with these four guys in Britain. At that point we weren’t 10cc – we were just a backing group. We were doing bubblegum music for Kasenetz-Kats as well. We did anything that came along to keep the studio running. It was Neil Sedaka who said, “Why don’t you guys write some of your own stuff? Your backing tracks on my two albums SOLITAIRE and THE TRA-LA-LA DAYS ARE OVER are so good and your backing vocals are great – why don’t you get some bloody songs written?” And that’s what we did. We wrote “Waterfall” which was the first thing I’d ever written with Graham Gouldman. Godley and Creme wrote “Donna” and I took it down to Jonathan King who’d just started his own record label in Britain. I played him the two tracks. “’Waterfall’ is a lovely track, Eric,” he said, “But ‘Donna, that’s a hit!”. I said, “Really?” He said, “Yes, and I’ll sign you up now”. We did, and the record went to #2. We took off from there.
SPAZ: It’s so wild to think that “Donna” was recorded by the same band as “Feel The Benefit” (from 1977’s DECEPTIVE BENDS album)
ERIC: That’s true.
SPAZ: It’s like comparing “Here Comes The Sun” to “Don’t Bother Me” by The Beatles… But in a much shorter span of time for 10cc.
ERIC: Yeah, much shorter span. There were just really four albums with the four of us working together. And by the last album, HOW DARE YOU (1976), we were certainly fragmenting by then, breaking off into different directions. Godley & Creme said that they were getting bored of this constant roll we were on – hit single, new album, world tour, etc. They wanted to go and do their own thing and hence the three LP CONSEQUENCES, which unfortunately didn’t do very well. But the combination of those four brains on those first three albums – we broke boundaries.
SPAZ: There wasn’t that many white bands playing Reggae at that time.
ERIC: I love the rhythm of it! The idea for “Dreadlock Holiday” came when I was on holiday in the Barbados and I saw this white guy trucking down the street, trying to be cool and he looked so naff. He walked past these Afro-Caribbeans and the guy says, “Hey man, don’t you walk through my words,”, and the guy, he ran away from them. But that stuck in my brain, “Don’t you walk through my words, you got to show some respect.”
SPAZ: A lot of people seem to be interested in your work with Paul McCartney – what was it like to work with him?
ERIC: Well, there’s a whole great chapter in the book about me and Paul McCartney (see link below for book details). First time I met him, we were both doing an audition for BBC Radio. We passed the audition – our group was called Jerry Lee and The Stagger Lees – but The Beatles didn’t. And I sat there and watched them- the audience was made up of people who had been in the auditions. I was looking up at them and I said to my mates, “That is the future of English music”, and they all said, “No, no, no man, Cliff Richards and The Shadows, far better”. I said, “Well there’s something here that is so special!” They released “Love Me Do” about six weeks later. And it was so fantastic. And I talked with Paul many, many times after that because we were locals. Manchester and Liverpool, we were just 30/40 miles from each other. I kept in touch with him all the way through his career and all the way through my career, and he actually came up to Strawberry to record some songs up there when we had the 10cc thing going – it was about the time of SHEET MUSIC. We also lived close to each other, which we still do now, – he lives within half an hour of me. So I got involved with these songs, on the TUG OF WAR and the PIPES OF PEACE album. He asked, “Do you want to come and do some backing vocals with me and Linda?”, I said “I’d be delighted.” And then he said, “We’re going to pay you.” I thought, “Thanks a lot, but I’m just delighted to do it anyway”. So going and working with him and with George Martin, the fifth Beatle, and watching the influence of George on Paul was terrific – he could bring something out of him. So, he’s been one of my heroes all of my life, Paul. He usually comes up with the most brilliant ideas just right off the top of head. I remember a time, it was snowing here in winter, and we were supposed to be writing together so I said, “I’m going to try and make it down there”. The snow was three feet deep and I got down to his place and the sun was shining outside and was gorgeous and I walked to this little studio at the back of his house and I walked through this little door and I said to Paul, “It’s beautiful outside, Paul look at this beautiful…”, and he sang “It’s beautiful outside”. That was the basis of the song “Footprints” and we started writing it. His brain worked in that way which really got my brain working as well when I was doing my solo stuff, so a great debt is owed to Paul by a lot of people but especially by me.
Thanks to Eric Stewart
Special thanks to Matthew Ingham