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THE likelihood of pop bands imploding is even greater than Adele’s chances of revealing teary turmoil in her career and personal life.
Eclectic Seventies music legends 10cc were no exception. Having come up with 11m hits such as Rubber Bullets, I’m Mandy Fly Me and the quite sublime I’m Not In Love, the band split in 1976.
As is almost always the case, ‘creative differences’ were cited. Today, a new line-up of 10cc exists fronted by band original Graham Gouldman, appearing in Glasgow in the Spring. Yet, he’s still profoundly sad at the way the immensely clever, melodically ingenuous art-rock band was allowed to fall apart.
“We certainly saw it coming,” he says of Kevin Godley and Lol Crème’s desire to pursue experimental music. “And with hindsight we know how we should have handled it. But I still regret it. It’s incredible to think what the four of us could have come up with had we carried on.”
Shouldn’t they have taken a break at the point of ‘creative differences?’ “That’s exactly what Kevin and I have said. Taken a year out. But at the time, they wanted to finish their Consequences album, and Kevin and Lol were also a little tired of the cycle of 10cc recording.”
Gouldman is still friendly with Kevin Godley, who contributes video to the new stage show. But what of the relationship with Eric Stewart, with whom he continued as 10cc and had a series of hits including Dreadlock Holiday and The Things We Do For Love. “I can’t really comment on that,” he says, firmly.
Oh, well. What he will talk about is his quite incredible career. So here’s a rewind question; what was it like to be just 21 and have chalked up eight million sales as a songwriter for bands such as The Yardbirds (For Your Love), Herman’s Hermits (No Milk Today) and The Hollies (Bus Stop)?
Did he high tail it out of industrial Salford for the Cheshire equivalent of Beverly Hills and a swimming pool and champagne on the cornflakes lifestyle? “I hear these sales numbers but all I can say is they are often exaggerated,” he grins. “It’s like when Meat Loaf died. They said he’d sold 53 million albums, but I bet he didn’t make 53 million quid.”
He adds, grinning: “I did move to Cheshire at one point. But I didn’t get into the music business for that reason. It’s always been about loving what you’re doing.”
A music career was almost an inevitability. “When I was seven, I played the drums using my mum’s handbag and hairbrushes for sticks. When I was eleven, my cousin brought me back a guitar from a Spanish holiday and I loved it.”
The teenage Gouldman saturated himself in the music of the late Fifties and early Sixties such as Cliff and then the Beatles. He joined a series of bands playing every venue imaginable, from Jewish Boys’ League Clubs to Bernard Manning’s Embassy Club.
The fun to be had on the circuit was unimaginable. But the money was desperate. Aged 17, he left school to work in a gent’s outfitters, a job his parents lined up for him. “I wasn’t very good at school but that was fine because I was so focused on music,” he explains. Thankfully, he was given his P45 from the gent’s shop. “I was playing in a band at the time, The Mockingbirds, (with future 10 cc’er Kevin Godley) and the boss had enough of me coming in late in the morning, struggling to stay awake in the shop.”
Gouldman now concentrated on playing music, and songwriting for talent such as Peter Noone, of Herman's Hermits. “I knew I had a gift for writing songs, and my dad was a great inspiration. He worked in the clothing business, but he was also a great writer, who wrote poetry and articles for newspapers.
“He helped me write lyrics, and I’d let him read my songs as I wrote them. Later on, during the days of 10cc I’d call him up when I was stuck for a phrase or whatever. He used to say to me ‘Art for art’s sake, money for God’s sake’, which of course became one of my songs.”
Is it fair to guess that Life is a Minestrone wasn’t one his dad’s suggestions? “That’s a fair guess,” he laughs.
In and out of a series of bands from the mid-Sixties to the early Seventies, and the Strawberry recording studio in Manchester, he would connect with fellow hopefuls Eric Stewart, Lol Crème and Kevin Godley. Here were four major talents who wrote and played clever avant garde material. So was it a given they’d get together, like a musical rom-com, in which friends who find they have so much in common come to realise they’re in love? “Well, I’m not sure if that’s how I’d describe it,” he laughs. “But I do agree it seems that us forming a band was inevitable.”
Success didn’t arrive immediately. Record company rejections hit hard. In 1972, the band, as yet untitled, came up with a Fifties pastiche Donna, (“A pi** take,” admits Gouldman) and in desperation took it to producer Jonathan King because they reckoned he was ‘mad enough’ to sign them. He was. It was hit. King also came with the band’s name, after having dreamt he saw a sign saying ‘10cc play the Hammersmith Odeon.’ “The deal we had wasn’t very good but we went on to have hits, so we were grateful for that.”
Donna illustrated the group’s ethos. “We made it for our own pleasure, like every song we recorded. It was nothing to do with you, the public. We never thought about writing hit songs. Just songs.”
The magic of 10cc, apart from powerful melodies and quirky lyrics, emerged from their musical unpredictability. It was impossible to guess what they would produce next. Or sound like. “We had three Number One records with three different singers, (Rubber Bullets – Lol, I’m Not In Love – Eric and Dreadlock Holiday – Graham.)
It was the 1975 release of I’m Not In Love however that rewrote the future for band. Yet, Eric Stewart’s original version, Gouldman reveals, didn’t work. “We all agreed it was crap. The song was good, but it was originally done with a bossa nova beat. Thankfully, Kevin came up with a different rhythm and tone.”
The result was an elegiac masterpiece with lyrics that caused hearts to miss beats. It resulted in leaving Jonathan King behind and a new, fabulous five album deal. How did he cope with success? Did life become one of rock star excess, legions of groupies and drug-induced self-abuse?
“Not really,” he smiles. “Our northern upbringing helped keep our feet on the ground. I’m a happily married father-of-four and I even resisted moving to London, which the rest of the boys did, until I eventually relented when working with Andrew Gold in the mid-Eighties.”
There is a sadness in the that original line-up will never reform. But Gouldman is thankful for the journey, having been part of a band that ran in parallel lines to Queen in terms of imagination and musicality. And to be still performing. He will be 76 when he comes to Glasgow with the band. “When you do a job you love you still feel young,” he says.
A final question. Did he cut his dad a nice royalty percentage, having enjoyed his lyrical input? “I definitely did,” he says, grinning.
• 10cc, The Ultimate Greatest Hits Tour, the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, April 8.