That loyal little song-bug has stood him in good stead through decades of distinction as one of the UK’s most productive and imaginative hitmakers. We’re talking very much in the present and future tenses, too, since he continues to write with contemporary hitmakers and see his classics renewing themselves constantly, as with the news that ‘For Your Love’ and ‘Heart Full Of Soul’, two of the timeless hits he wrote for the Yardbirds, have lately been part of live sets by the White Stripes. The headlines of Graham’s career may always be his early compositions for the scenesters of the ’60s, his crucial role in the super-intelligent ’70s pop of 10cc, and his livewire combination with Andrew Gold in Wax during the ’80s.
To begin at the end, let’s talk about the motivation behind Graham’s new road route. Approached to do an Australian concert for the Lifeline charity in 2003, he couldn’t resist something more expansive. “We thought ‘it’s quite a long way, why don’t we do something else while we’re down there?’ And it turned into a four-week tour.” It’s the latest example of the old “once a performer..” rule, as Graham readily admits. “Around the late ’90s, I realised I missed playing on the road, and I wanted to do it. I didn’t want to call it 10cc, because it wasn’t. It was something I had a hankering to do more for the pleasure of it, I didn’t think it was ever going to be a great money-spinner. So we went out, I think it was ‘Graham Gouldman and Friends.'” With the involvement of Rick Fenn and Paul Burgess, both veterans of 10cc studio and roadwork, as well as the talented Mick Wilson and Mike Stevens, the show evolved into ‘Graham Gouldman Celebrates 30 Years of 10cc’ for a 2002 tour, then again into ’10cc featuring Graham Gouldman and friends.’
Spin back 40 years and you find just the same motivation in the Manchester teenager: to be at the centre of music. Not necessarily the front, but certainly the centre. “I always wanted to be in a band,” he says. “I never wanted to be a frontman, because I haven’t got the look or the personality, (tell that to his mum) but I loved the gang mentality. There’s a humour that musicians have that’s unlike anybody else’s, and you can’t have it if you’re on your own. To be with a bunch of like-minded people, it’s like any other fraternity. I don’t know about you, I think musicians are the best people.”
So it was, after an initial whim to be a drummer, that an 11-year-old Mancunian took possession of a simple acoustic guitar as a gift from a cousin returning from Spain and became hooked in an instant. Early bands included the High Spots, the Crevattes, the Planets and, a little more permanently, the Whirlwinds, who scaled the heights of becoming the house band at the local youth club, the Jewish Lads Brigade. It was around this time that Gouldman met Lol Creme and Kevin Godley, who were in another outfit called the Sabres. They began to play together for fun, lapping up the chance to learn at close quarters from visiting stars such as Manfred Mann and local heroes the Hollies as well as the Beatles and Stones. Once the Liverpool and Manchester waves had crashed the shore, the Whirlwinds’ very birthplace helped land them a record deal with HMV.
But by 1964, around the time their first single (a cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘Look At Me’) was singularly failing to become a hit, Graham’s musical horizons were being seriously expanded, and he broke up the Whirlwinds to form the Mockingbirds, who included Godley on drums. Then begins the most schizophrenic period of his career. Despite a contract with EMI’s Columbia label and a regular spot as the warm-up band at recordings of the fledgling ‘Top Of The Pops’ in Manchester, the band steadfastly failed to make it big. “That was weird. One week the Yardbirds were on doing ‘For Your Love,’ and we were the warm-up. But WE didn’t do it!” Graham wrote ‘For Your Love’ at the age of just 18. With the help of Herman’s Hermits manager and lifelong associate Harvey Lisberg, it reached the Yardbirds, and in March 1965, in the week the Rolling Stones ruled the charts with ‘The Last Time’, their version debuted on the UK bestsellers, climbing to No.3.
Even better was to come that summer, when the follow-up ‘Heart Full Of Soul’, another brilliant slice of cool pop from the teenage Gouldman, went to No.2, held off the top only by the Hollies’ ‘I’m Alive’ and the Byrds’ ‘Mr.Tambourine Man’. In October came a third straight Yardbirds bullseye with ‘Evil Hearted You’, and even by then, Gouldman had branched out by penning with a No.4 smash for the Hollies, ‘Look Through Any Window’.
The reputation of the previously unknown songwriter was signed and sealed right there in little more than six months, in a golden run that any modern-day teen-pop hitmaker would be proud of. Enhancing it further, and giving him an enviable transatlantic cach, was the fact that ‘For Your Love’ soon climbed to No.6 on the Billboard Hot 100, and ‘Heart Full Of Soul’ to No.9. “That whole period was strange,” he admits. “I wanted the band I had to have hits, but looking back on it, I gave the cream of the songs away. What would you do, would you have a song with the Mockingbirds, or the Hollies? The Mockingbirds’ life was a little shortlived, and after that I thought ‘maybe I’ll just write songs.’ Then my dream came true, pretty much.” 1966 is a year remembered with fondness by many Brits, but Gouldman had more reason than most, as an outrageous sequence for the sharp-penned creator of Britpop classics continued. By now he had the confidence and nous to have augmented his compositional skills with a knack for sparkling, evocative lyrical vignettes. The singles-buying public lapped them up, in the form of the pocket melodramas ‘Bus Stop’ by the Hollies (No.5 in July, and the same peak in the US) and ‘No Milk Today’ by Herman’s Hermits (No.7 in November).
The Mockingbirds continued to beat their wings to little wider public response during 1965, with a single on Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label. Next stop was Decca, but success continued to elude Graham as a band member, despite all his achievements as a writer, which also embraced a top three US hit with ‘Listen People’ for Herman’s Hermits, included in the film ‘When The Boys Meet The Girls’ starring Connie Francis. Gouldman had also released his first solo single, ‘Stop Stop Stop (Or Honey I’ll Be Gone)’, for Decca in early 1966, but his “double life” was to continue. While that too missed the charts, he would chalk up more sales glory by writing ‘Pamela Pamela’ for Wayne Fontana and ‘East West’ for Herman and co. By ’67, he was signed as a writer to the American publisher Robbins Music, collecting further covers by such artists as Jeff Beck, the Shadows, Cher and PJ Proby. He also started work, with future Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, on what would become the album ‘The Graham Gouldman Thing’ for RCA. For reasons you mostly know about, it was an album he wouldn’t follow up as a solo artist for 32 years!
The palace of pop varietiesgood, bad and weirdthat would be Graham’s lot in the period 1969-1972 have been newly compiled on the Castle album ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’. That records his writing and recording at what became the renowned Strawberry Studios, in Stockport, near Manchester, for New York’s famous Kasenetz-Katz team on such projects as the later incarnations of such erstwhile chart creations as Ohio Express and Crazy Elephant, as well as such dubious songwriting delights as ‘Susan’s Tuba’ by Freddie and the Dreamers. “That was supposed to be a spoof on bubblegum,” laughs Gouldman, “but it was a big hit in France. It was like in ‘The Producers”where did we go right?!'” Those sessions were a veritable mixed bag, but they were crucial in crystallising the combination of talents that would soon become one of British pop’s most inventive groups. Old friends Kevin Godley and Lol Creme plus Eric Stewart, late of the Mindbenders, all took part, and indeed while Gouldman was in New York, those three scored an unlikely 1970 smash as Hotlegs, ‘Neanderthal Man’. Graham returned home to join his friends for a Hotlegs tour and recording. They maintained their creative momentum by working at Strawberry with Neil Sedaka and other artists.
But 1972 was the year when suddenly, the sum total of all the wisdom amassed by these four friends made perfect sense. In October that year, now going by the name 10cc, they released their debut single ‘Donna’, a faultless pastiche on 1950s pop that surged to No.2 in the UK, spending a month in the top three. In June 1973, the equally sophisticated but instantly accessible ‘Rubber Bullets’ went all the way to No.1, and when a self-titled debut album arrived that September, it was obvious that 10cc were on their way to becoming one of the most innovative, stimulating groups of the decade. Gouldman now remembers it as a time when musical imagination was allowed to burst into full flower in the pop mainstream. “There was a period between ’72 and ’76 with 10cc when I always thought God was in the band,” he says. “Like, because we did it, it was good. We maintained it for a long time, and I’ve done a lot of things after it, but there was no time like that. Everything came into…confluence, is that the right word?”
A series of hugely acclaimed and equally successful albums ensued, from ‘Sheet Music’ and ‘The Original Soundtrack’ to ‘How Dare You’, ‘Deceptive Bends’ and ‘Bloody Tourists’, in a catalogue that has now sold 30 million worldwide. It also generated a total of 11 top ten hits that of course included the anthemic, timeless ‘I’m Not In Love’, which won two Ivor Novello Awards and has been covered endlessly. The sequence continued beyond 1976, when Godley and Creme left the Mark I line-up, into 1977, when Gouldman and Stewart scored with ‘The Things We Do For Love’ followed by another 10cc No.1, ‘Dreadlock Holiday’.
When Stewart was injured in a car accident, Graham began to take on outside projects such as the title song to the film ‘Sunburn’ and the soundtrack of the animated picture ‘Animalympics’. The ’80s would be a period of typical versatility, ranging from his production of American punk prototypes the Ramones’ ‘Pleasant Dreams’ in ’81 and Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Life and Rhymes’, to his lasting partnership with US singer-songwriter Andrew Gold. Already widely known for his hits of the late ’70s, Gold’s pop sensibility proved a perfect match for Gouldman, and as Wax they enjoyed a major UK hit in ’87 with the hugely enjoyable single ‘Bridge To Your Heart’. They continue to work together. “He’s someone I would always work with,” says Graham. “He’s such a great writer, a genius really. One of those guys who can do everything well.”
The early ’90s brought a reunion with Stewart under the 10cc banner for the album ‘Meanwhile…’ and in more recent years, Gouldman has continued to be hugely demand as a songwriter with EMI Music Publishing. He has written with such various talents as Paul Carrack, Gary Barlow and, most poignantly, Kirsty MacColl, a working partnership cut short by her sad death in 2000. That was also the year Graham teamed with UK indie Dome Records for ‘And Another Thing…’, (the follow-up album, three decades late!), and renewed his love of live performance, leading to the hit-laden live show we mentioned at the beginning. But it’s never just about nostalgia for Graham – not as long as he has a guitar and a pen. Excitingly, he’s recently been writing and recording again, for the first time since 10cc’s heyday, with Kevin Godley. They have a website, www.GG06.co.uk, which features four brand new songs with more coming. Graham has also been working with McFly and Morten Harket as well as recent tours with his 10cc band in Japan and New Zealand.