Full Circle – or maybe Ellipse
Although in reality this is just coincidence, the end of the decade seems a nice moment for me to decide that I am formally stopping making myself available as a producer for mainstream music companies. I will still mix because I enjoy it and I’m good at it. I will still work with artists who have something to say and who have the full creative support of their funders or who have no support at all but I don’t think the mainstream has anything to offer me at the moment.
I am a guitarist and songwriter. I started long before anyone offered me money to do it. My dad bought me my first guitar when I was 11 in 1963. By the time I was 21 I had written 100 songs and had a record deal with Atlantic. The first record I ever released was a hit but by that time I had already thought hard about quitting music. The charts were dominated by cheesy singers and groups in matching outfits miming their way through banal pop. Bay City Rollers, Nolans, Brotherhood of Man etc. What saved me was moving to France, discovering Devo Magazine and counter-culture and for 5 years, two at Le Chateau studios, I forged a new life in new wave.
After a year with ex Velvet Underground singer Nico I returned to the UK and started my own studios Power Plant. The avowed intention was to make an environment which was forward-looking, cutting edge and arty but which conformed to the highest studio production values.
I still think ‘Diamond Life’ and ‘Promise’ were very unusual pieces of work for the time but their success pushed me into a conventional spotlight. I do think the work I was involved in at that time – Weekend, Working Week, Sade, Fine Young Cannibals, Black, Style Council, were all doing something really different and I’m pleased I got Randy Crawford her first ever US R&B hit record but there is less and less confidence shown in creative teams now and making a record for a major is a serious compromise of artistic integrity.
So I am returning full-time to songwriting and playing the guitar, unless I meet people who truly have something to say and who can make music which may change a generation’s thinking and most crucially are surrounded by people who will let them make ‘the great record’.
My friend and Verve Producer Cameron Jenkins worked hard to buy Olympic studios as a base for his ethical label Hub. He nearly pulled it off and I want to help Cameron because he wants to make great productions with great new or old artists. I am writing a musical with Eran James, a young Turkish-Australian discovered by Elton John. Eran too is fighting for his musical identity like a young me and we are close…and most important, no-one is paying me to do it.
350 people wrote supporting my nomination as a representative for all music makers in the House of Lords…including the CEOs of all the majors, artists great and small, studio owners, publishers, The United Nations and so on. A good friend in The Lords volunteered that I would not be acceptable. First off I was in ‘POP Music’ and secondly and genuinely hurtful was the remark ‘they now have the first and only blind Peer and they still are having trouble accommodating him, so they don’t want another one’…so this is definitely not going to happen.’ I think Gordon Brown will appoint Lucian Grange. Lucian is a good record man and business leader but he only represents corporate big business and I fear that he will not be in a position to really help or represent the rest of us. So apologies to all those who stupidly did not see my blindness as an obstacle to being effective when you wrote in my support. You should know by now that disabled people can’t be expected to function in the real world.
The greatest joy to me of 40 years as a music maker is that I moved into a world where prejudice against sexuality, race, non-conformism, class, disability etc were not really an issue except in their defence. I’ve made music with white, black, brown, yellow, often green people. I spend two years on stage in women’s dresses and full makeup. I’ve pushed wheelchairs up to microphones, I’ve met thousands who will give their time to fight oppression and inequality and I hold this industry up as a shining light to the rest of the world.