Kevin Godley – SPACECAKE
For those of you who may not recognize the name, Kevin Godley was a founder member of hugely successful UK art rock band ‘10cc’; along with Graham Gouldman, Eric Stewart, and Lol Creme.
The band shot to fame in the 1970’s and their single “I’m Not In Love”, continues to be one of the best selling records of all time.
As one half of ‘Godley & Creme’, KG went on to pioneer the notion of music video and was responsible for iconic videos throughout the 1980’s for artists such as Herbie Hancock, The Police, Duran Duran,Lou Reed& Frankie Goes to Hollywood ; continuing to up his game in solo mode from 1989 onwards by working with U2, Bryan Adams, Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, and The Beatles to name just a few …
It’s July 2015 and Godley’s career hasn’t halted by any means – his talents appear to be limitless, and he seems to thrive on re-inventing himself …
Cue his first book “SPACECAKE”, which according to the blurb :-
“ … chronicles the misadventures of a debauched and dangerous masochist as he tantrums his way through the sleazy worlds of Rock & Roll, music video and technology, each squalid escapade dragging him ever deeper into a repugnant maelstrom of sordid excess … well sort of. A wee bit.
Actually … not remotely.
It’s all about the work really.
It takes you on an interactive tour of his life via pictures, music, film clips and 27 chapters of abstract insight into how everything from the first hits to WholeWorldBand, his music/video collaboration app, got made. It’s dark in some of the corners though …
so make sure you bring a torch”.
Well, we were intrigued!
Helen Robinson hooked up with KG recently for a chat about the life, and work, of a truly humble, and genuinely funny man …
HR : Kevin Godley – The Innovator?
KG : [laughs] Kevin Godley … The Innovator … sounds like a really bad film idea!
HR : But it’s true! You’ve been a key part of, or been present at the birth of a ‘new’ media on more than one occasion – music video , digital recording apps, and now a 3d biography …
KG : Well yeah! It is, kind of- but it’s Hardly 22nd Century stuff ; it just uses the technology that’s available to us on a digital platform, and that added another dimension I guess …
HR : I have to admit that I’m at a slight disadvantage, because I don’t own an Apple device which would let me download it, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one, so could you tell us a little bit more about it, please?
KG : [laughs] Oh dear!
Well … It’s my biography of sorts.
It starts from the very beginning – me … learning how to cope with being a kid growing up in Manchester, and pretty much takes me through to the present day.
It’s not the full story by any means.
When I started writing it I was trying to figure out what would be interesting to somebody reading about me, and essentially, it’s about the work that I’ve done, and the work that I do, and how I do it, and anecdotes that spin out from doing it.
It’s written like a screenplay so there is dialogue in it, and characters in it – all based on reality of course!
There are highlighted words, titles or whatever, in the text, that take you to other sources which allow you to watch and listen to clips whilst you’re reading about it – which is actually pretty cool!
HR : It sounds very cool …
KG : It really is! And, doing it in the way that I have, allowed me to look at it from a different angle and turn it into something special – as opposed to just being one solid block of narrative and prose.
Oh! And I inhabit the book in two forms – I am ME, but also my alter ego KGB.
You’ll have to see it!
HR : I will, at some point, I promise I’ll check it out. I’m not a complete ‘techno-peasant’ – I do have an iPod classic, but sadly it won’t support books …
KG : that’s because it’s 110 years old …
HR : [laughs] Well, I’ll instruct my alter ego to save for an upgrade!
So – you assumed an alter ego …
KG : Well, the reason for that was that I haven’t got any brothers, or anyone to say “that’s b*ll*cks , shut up!”, so I created a secondary version of me, to shut me down if I started to drivel on about stuff too much.
It’s like a kind of barometer or a set of brakes …
HR : Aaah I see! I just wondered though – some musicians that I know assume different characters anyway – they have one persona for stage and another for home, and there’s a big grey area left in between where their consciences disappear …
So did assuming another character give you ‘creative license’ to exorcise certain memories that would perhaps otherwise have stayed buried?
KG : Oooooooooh! Good question!
The thing is … I haven’t had a stage life for a long time.
You see, I don’t really consider myself to be a performer – I consider myself more a back room boy, more somebody who is behind the scenes in dark rooms with flickering lights and big speakers!
I’m more one of those kind of guys – I was never really out front on stage thrusting my hips to the masses, and I haven’t sh*gged my way around the world on crystal meth either, so it’s not that kind of a book!!!
Plus I can remember what I’ve done – which helps!
It’s such a cliché all of that other stuff anyway … but you’re right, there is a lot of that goes on. [laughs]
HR : Dangerous ground for our respectable readers!
So, moving swiftly along –
KG : Apple because it allowed me to do the interactive thing, although you’ve just illustrated why only having it on Apple is proving to be a bit of a disadvantage, as not everyone has Apple devices, so I think we have to get it on Kindle asap!
But what was attractive about the project from day one, was being offered the chance to create a different reading experience – for people to be able to dip into it and watch and listen, and experience the book as well …
That’s what drew me to the project, but strangely enough what kept me glued to it, was the actual process of writing.
I’d never written anything of this length before, and to create something that sums you up as a person and is an intelligent and entertaining read for people, it’s quite a task – as you can imagine!
It was all very well having all of these things to tap on to watch and listen to, but if the written word didn’t hold up, it was going to be a waste of time.
Knowing that – the challenge for me was to write a good book; The kind of book that could exist without all of the flim-flam and window dressing.
It’s a bit like if you write a really good song – it’s still a good song if you play it on one acoustic guitar, or whether you produce it in a studio with a full orchestra – you should be able to hear that.
It’s the same with the book – you should be able to just read the story and enjoy that. Everything else is a bonus!
HR : Who had the idea initially? Were you approached to do biography and came up with this instead?
KG : I was approached yeah – I’d never even considered it because I never thought anyone would be remotely interested!
HR : It’s the first of it’s kind though – a biography done in this way …
KG : I think it may be the first that has delivered this mount of activity yeah … it’s more like an app than it is a book.
HR : But again it’s put you at the forefront of another new platform -which brings us nicely onto video!
You were a front runner, without doubt, when Music Television first hit our screens, and it’s clear to me that having studied Art is what gives your work an edge …
KG : Well it’s interesting that you should say that, and I do talk about that in the early part of the book.
I had a lecturer at Art college called Bill Clarke who was very influential on me and on Lol [Creme] as well.
If you were right handed he would get you to draw left handed , or if you were using a 4 colour palette he would get you to use 2 ; he would get you to paint with a brush in your mouth.
He would conjure up various ways of you doing what you do, to shut off what you already knew ; In other words he would get you to do it in unexpected ways to see if there was something extraordinary out there …
A bit like Brian Eno really with Oblique Strategies!
That was his mission – to make people do things in new ways to constant keep their brains on their toes, and to constantly be amazing!
HR : Did you experiment with film at college?
KG : No not really – There were no tools at college back then – we’re talking 1965 / 66 – so there were no film courses as such where we lived.
We were studying to be graphic designers because it was a proper job, but our greatest love was not what we did at college; rather how we pushed the limits with what we did outside of college – messing around with tape recorders and borrowing 8mm cameras.
I think the thing that made us happy was ‘pushing the envelope’ as they call it now.
Not always with great results – sometimes with disastrous results; but it was just always interesting to see what happened beyond what you were taught …
HR : There’s always seemed to be a natural pairing of music and art …
KG : Yeah they were one and the same ; back in the 1960s – it was an interesting time.
It was kind of a revolutionary time, or everybody felt that it was a revolutionary time.
Music was so attached to art – art and music were where everything was really changing, and everybody was into breaking down barriers. There were no boundaries as such. That, coupled with this particular lecturer, and just having fun messing around –
We had no thoughts about becoming professional musicians or professional film maker s – we were just a couple of kids playing around like everybody else, but I guess we were maybe a little more focussed than everyone else, because we somehow found our way through the confusion of that era to somewhere that allowed us to express ourselves in meaningful ways and commercial ways – we were lucky in that respect …
10cc – Graham Gouldman, Kevin Godley, Eric Stewart, Lol Creme
HR : You stayed based in the North West of the UK too, rather than feel compelled to move to London – You also had the use of Strawberry Studios in Stockport, which again meant you could record music practically on your doorstep – do you think that helped to keep you grounded?
KG : Initially yes – I think it was very important, because when you’re starting out doing something, if you want to make music and you’re learning to make music, you naturally gravitate towards wanting to sound like your heroes to a degree – and we sounded like The Beatles a little, but we weren’t surrounded by that culture.
There were clubs, but you’re right it wasn’t the centre of the music industry, so there were less influences.
Strawberry Studio I guess, was our private oasis where we just went to experiment , and there was nobody to tell us whether it was good or bad, or whether it sounded like things should sound ‘up in London’!
I like to think of it as kind of inspired ignorance, because that’s precisely what it was!
We didn’t know what we were doing, at all, we were just reacting intuitively to the music-making process, and when something felt good … it was done, and it wasn’t really a matter of comparing it to anything else.
The first 10CC album was recorded very quickly – in about 3 weeks ; and there was no time to consider stuff and say “well does that sound like proper music? The harmonies should sound like them, or the drums should sound like those guys” – we just went in and did it. So the full process was less in play, we relied on intuition.
A great deal of that was down to where we were, yes – there was nothing feeding into what we were doing.
We were left alone to conjure these things up and therefore it was all based on our own ‘taste buds’.
It was a great process. It was like “this sounds pretty good, let’s do this, and let’s get it out there”.
It’s quite extraordinary to me that people take 2 or 3 years to make an album, I think the most time we ever took was about 3 months, and that included the writing!
HR : When ‘10cc’ began to take off and you were aware of everything else that was going on around you in the industry, were you paying attention to music video when it started out?
KG : I remember the very very beginning of music films – they weren’t videos as such .
Programmes like “The Old Grey Whistle Test” and “Top Of The Pops” would show a little film (or get Pans People in – who were brilliant!) when an artist couldn’t be there to perform.
Video really didn’t start to become anything until late 1978 / 79 – that’s when it really started ; where the pictures suddenly became meaningful somehow …
HR : Did you see a gap in the market, and think “we can do better than that”?
KG : [laughs] I don’t think we presumed that we could do better, no!
What happened :– we had a track coming out called “An English Man In New York” – not the Sting song – and we were aware of the fact that people were making little clips.
Lol and I weren’t a touring band at the time – we didn’t want to perform – so we wondered if we could make a little film that might get shown somewhere, and the thought didn’t go any further than that initially.
Then we did a few drawings of an idea that we had, which was a little whacky, and we approached the record label – not expecting to get a positive result – and they said yes! and that they’d finance it, on the condition that we got a proper director to do it.
Which was fine, and we didn’t really know the difference between film and video back then, but as soon as we started doing it, it was like “WHOOAAH!!! This is AMAZING!”
It was almost as if a hidden switch had been turned back on – the bit that had been turned off from our art school days, that we’d then dedicated to making music – was suddenly turned back on again, and that need to do things visually was suddenly back in play. We took to it like ducks to water!
HR : There are great number of the most popular music videos ever, that were directed by You and Lol – when MTV started out you were really dominating our screens. Have you got a favourite from that period in time?
KG : Yes … my favourite is “Rockit”, for Herbie Hancock, and later “Two Tribes” for ‘Frankie Goes To Hollywood’ – both because they were pretty ‘out there’ for what was going on at the time!
I think that’s why, in my creative development – they were so important.
When we – Lol and myself – were in music it was 1970ish, and the template had been set by numerous other bands, but when we were doing music video we were there at the very beginning , and we were creating the template.
It was like the early 1960s all over again – the lunatics were running the asylum – Because the suits didn’t really know what music video was all about so they were just letting people get on with it.
It was only when MTV kicked in and became a commercial success that managers and labels and so forth, began to understand the power of the moving image – but until then, particularly in England, there were only 4 or 5 people doing this stuff, and none of us really knew what the hell we were doing! We were making it up as we went along, and nobody was telling us NO!
No one was saying “you can’t do that!”, because they didn’t know … so we just did it!
HR : Would you strive to get what you envisaged without compromise, or were you aware of your limits and find it frustrating?
KG : No – there didn’t appear to be any limits!
First of all you have to understand that it was a big thrill for us to be doing it in the first place .
We had almost accidentally fallen into a new career!
After doing the thing for ‘An English Man In New York’ – the record was a hit in Europe but didn’t mean anything anywhere else …
But some other artists who’d recently joined our label, namely Steve Strange from ‘Visage’, saw it and wanted us to do a video for them.
So, from it being a sort of self generating art project, it became a career because people were asking us to do stuff for them – and it worked because most of the directors working in the medium back then had come from TV, or documentaries, and didn’t really have a feel for music – but we were musicians … and musicians felt at home and at ease with us, and that was a huge help!
HR : Plus you were artists …
KG : Yeah, and that’s hugely important, you know? Someone would come to us with a song they’d recorded it and we wouldn’t slavishly say “well yes, you say in the song that you get on a train and you go to Blackpool, and then you meet this girl and you marry her and then divorce her and that’s what we’re going to show” – we could see beyond that [laughs].
We were always after something that didn’t tell the story of the lyrics but summed up the mood of the recording, which was much more pertinent to the medium. Mind you, there’s a lot of the other goes on – people tell crap stories, and they tell them even worse with a video! But back then, for us, it was more about finding a way to engage people that wasn’t that.
So yeah in that respect we were artists – we were looking for the truth in the sound …
Creme and Godley
HR : Are there any videos that have really made you cringe to a point where you’ve wanted to pull the band to one side and say,
“Will you let me redirect this please?”
KG : [laughs] Erm … well, actually no!
I’ve seen other videos that I adore, that I wish I’d done! There are loads of those, and when I see them I think, “God I wish I’d done that!”, but none really that I’ve seen that I’ve thought I could do better … [laughs]
I’m not super competitive – but I’ll tell you which video really grabbed me.
It was one of the best video experiences I’ve ever had :-
I was up late one night, and switched on MTV – when MTV still played music videos! It was about 2am and I was suddenly looking at Christopher Walken sitting in an armchair in an empty hotel lobby – I had to check to make sure it was MTV – and then he starts twitching, and looking to one side, and I was gripped!
Then he gets up and starts dancing and I thought “Ah Man! This is the best thing that I have ever seen in my life!”
That was a moment! That must have been like Orson Welles audience hearing “War Of The Worlds” on the radio, missing the beginning and thinking it was real!
It was a great idea, and brilliantly executed.
There are many like that, that I’d wish I’d done – but I haven’t, and what the hell can I do about it?!
HR : True – you can’t change the past, but yours is really quite brilliant, and I hope you’re proud of what you’ve done – testament to your popularity is the fact that you’ve worked with the biggest bands on the planet …
KG : Well you kind of don’t think about it whilst you’re doing it …
I’ve thought about it more when I was writing about having done it!
HR : Did you have a “WOW!” moment, looking back?
KG : I had a “WOW!” moment when I did something for The Beatles – I went “WOW!” too much actually!
It was the 2nd single that they released when they did their Anthology. They did “Free as A Bird” and “Real Love” ; which was the one I did. The mix they sent us wasn’t a great mix because they were worried about people hearing it before the record was released – it was really rough – Johns voice was really down in the mix and I couldn’t hear what he was saying; so I got a copy of the lyrics and went into the studio and overdubbed my own voice over the top – so that I could at least get a sense of what the song was doing when I was listening to it, because I like to be inspired by a song, but … that’s actually out there somewhere!
The Beatles featuring Kevin Godley is actually out there in the Aether! And it’s like … How embarrassing! How embarrassing is that?!
HR : But is it embarrassing, or did it sound really good?
KG : I don’t remember, this is the thing, I just did it simply to clarify what was there, so that I could hear it really, and I probably tried to sing like he did!
HR : [laughs] Oh even better! Like Stars In Their Eyes! See I feel compelled to seek that out now …
KG : Oh don’t … it’s really stupid isn’t it?
See I look back on all of this stuff that I’ve done, and I am proud of a lot of it, but I’m very critical of what I do and will pull it apart and say “Ah f*ck I wish I’d done that” or “another 3 hours in the editing room and that would have made sure that didn’t happen” but nobody ever sees that – It’s just me … I am a perfectionist I guess .
If you aim for being amazing, you’ll probably get very good – any less than that and it’s not worth the effort!
HR : Because it’s relevant, in a way, to Apple, and to you having worked with ‘U2’ on a number of occasions – what did you make of the Global uproar when they released their new album “Songs Of Innocence” for free via iTunes? To me, it proved that the World will never be content ; they want free downloads and then when they’re given them they beat up on Bono about it!
KG : [laughs] I thought it was a brilliant idea!
I think Bono put it best though, when he said something like “ … It’s like we put a bottle of milk in people’s fridge that they weren’t asking for, when It was supposed to be on the front doorstep …”
It did rebound somewhat, which was a shame, but you know – what the hell?!
They seem to be getting over it!
Their new shows are getting some incredible reviews – They always put on a great show …
HR : They do, they are incredible – and one of the few bands I love that I have never met or worked with …
KG : They’re an extraordinary bunch of people and probably because they’ve been friends and collaborators since they were kids and it’s been like that since day 1.
And they are so incredibly focussed, and they know about video, and they know about film; they understand all the component parts of what they do, so from that respect it’s always a challenge to work with them.
It’s not like “Oh yeah man just do what you want, it’s cool” – they’re constantly trying to better everything that they do, so you always have to be ahead of the game – which is a good place to be!
HR : Talking of being ahead of the game – U2 also mentioned that they’re working with Apple again now on a new music platform, which once again puts them in the same arena as you, because you’ve already done that with “Whole World Band” haven’t you?
KG : Yes! I have, but I’m not sure what they’re up to! I think it’s something to do with just delivering more content but the whole world of technology is changing every week so I’ve no idea what stage they’re up to with that at all – I keep hearing about it every now and again, but I’ve really no idea … it seems quite secretive!
HR : How successful is “Whole World Band” proving to be for You?
KG : It’s doing well.
It’s quite disruptive – the technology – but it’s doing well.
It’s attracting some interesting people, and the audience is growing every day – the most recent addition is Taylor Hawkins from ‘The Foo Fighters’.
So yeah – I’m really happy with the way things are going ; again it’s a completely new area for me to be dabbling in – so I’ve surrounded myself with people who know what they’re doing in the technological space, as well as the musical space …
HR : Was it your concept originally?
KG : It certainly was yes, and it all stemmed from a TV programme that I received back in 1990 called “One World One Voice” – which was kind of a musical chain letter that went around the world and recorded and filmed musicians adding to a single piece of music that was made by people all over the world.
At the time it kind of annoyed me that it was finished, so why put on something like that being tampered with and twisted – why keep adding and subtracting to it, and why couldn’t anyone add to it … and that thought stayed with me.
I had it again, the thought, in 2008 but resolved to actually make it reality.
It took a while! [laughs] but it’s real and it’s out there now.
HR : Have you contributed to it yourself?
KG : Yes I have – I’ve got a couple of things on there. I’ve got a drum track on there, and a vocal track, and I’ve added to a couple of other peoples things …
HR : Have you seen anything, or heard anything that would coax you back into writing a new album or even performing?
KG : Well I have been writing again recently, and doing some singing – I’ve literally just finished, a couple of nights ago, a very strange project called “Hog Fever” which is a movie, but in sound only.
It’s got 3 or 4 of my own tracks on there – which is totally new for me because I’d never actually written on my own before.
HR : Really?
KG : Never! Every time I’ve written or recorded – If you look back at the credits – it’s always either Me and Lol [Creme], or Me and Eric [Stewart], or Me and Graham [Gouldman] , or some combination of us.
I’ve never actually tackled the business of writing and performing on my own, but it was just a natural move during this project because there was no one else to do it with! So it was required!
I had a sound engineer, and a great sound guy who helped to bring it to fruition …
It is a pure audio experience, starring Terence Stamp as a shrink, and I play about 5 or 6 roles in it – something else that I’ve never done before – acting! Which is very bizarre! It’s being released by a company called Black Stone Audio, and it should be out in the next few weeks as a podcast and a download – it should stream and we might even release it on Vinyl.
So keep your ears open for that!
HR : Yes – we’ll certainly link to that … a surround sound version would be great!
KG : Well, yeah! We haven’t done surround sound … yet … but essentially sound experiences are relatively limiting these days –
I suppose it’s like an audio book on hallucinogenics!!
An audio book is someone reading a book, but this is like going to a movie and closing you eyes – it does all the sound effects , the echos, and the stereo pictures – so you’re really there!
HR : Where did that idea come from?
KG : I was introduced to this guy who wrote the book “Hog Fever” a long time ago – it’s a book about Bikers and the biker lifestyle.
The guy who introduced me to the author said “there’s a movie in this and you two should get together” – which was kind of awkward because he lives in LA, and I don’t, but we forged a great relationship and actually wrote a screenplay for it, but it was too whacky. Everyone was going , “Yeah it’s great but it’s a bit f*cking weird man, you can’t make this!”, So we didn’t.
We wrote about 6 versions of the screenplay but couldn’t get it off.
And then recently, Richard La Plante (that’s the author) had the idea of doing the original book as an audio book, and then thought, “hang on why don’t we do the screen play instead?”.
So that was the beginning of the thought process that lead me to adapt the original screen play for sound – which is not an obvious thing to do!
For starters all the visual gags had to go [laughs] – you can’t have those in there because nobody can see it, so you have to replace them with something they can hear, that will help to sell the story … so it’s been quite an odd learning curve, but an extraordinary one, I have to say … I loved it!
HR : Sounds great …
KG : Well I hope other people agree!
HR : It’s yet more innovation!
Has it started you on another new path?
KG : Oh yeah absolutely! And the other thing that’s great about it was that it’s a tight little team. We didn’t have to go out and cast it and raise a huge amount of money to do it. I hire a local recording studio for very little cost, and I go in on down time and we get it done quickly, with people who know what they’re doing, and we learn as we go along.
Very much like the early days of being in ‘10cc’ to a degree – it’s that sense that you’re doing something interesting.
You don’t quite know how it fits into everything else that’s going on, but you get a sense that it does … in some way!?
I suppose only time will tell – I have no idea how people will react to it, at all – but it now exists , so it has to find it’s own way in the world …
HR : I’m sure it will …
And I’m sure you’ll carry on cooking up new and brilliant things.
Since you’re into whacky stuff, I don’t suppose you have a decent recipe for a Space Cake, do you?
KG : [laughs]
Take one small child who knows bugger all about anything, and stir for 50 odd years …
HR : Sounds like a good recipe to me!
KG : Well it’s a start – and who know’s where it will end?