Muscle Memory: Kevin Godley Talks

“I was born prematurely, and I’ve spent the rest of my life catching up!” We chat with the art-pop polymath.

“I’m working on video games, tweaking The Gate, a screenplay I’m writing about Orson Welles’ time in Ireland in 1931 that, if and when we return to normal, I’m hoping to direct. And oh yes, I’m making music again.”

5 Minutes Alone isn’t meant to be a love song,” says singer, songwriter and all round polymath, Kevin Godley. “It starts off like that, and then it changes into something darker. So, it’s not what you think. But it’s funny how people misinterpret these things. Every Breath You Take is about cold surveillance, and yet they play it at weddings!  It’s odd how people react when they hear a song, I think they take the whole sound in, regardless of the words, and waltz to it. And then there’s I’m Not In Love. I once met a guy who told me when he first heard it … Well, I hoped he was going to say, ‘it was the best song ever.’ Nope, he said his marriage broke up!”

Godley chuckles, as any with half his pedigree would do. But he’s also more than happy to laugh at himself, embodying the schmaltzy, schmoozing pop star promoting their first solo album. Well, he’s only seventy four! “I was born prematurely, and I’ve spent the rest of my life catching up,” he cackles, and so the interview continues to follow the fine line between shrewd, steadfast scrutiny and brilliant, bawdy humour.

He’s referring to his solo album Muscle Memory, a collation of vignettes that collaborates with composers all over the world. Eager to work on an album of his own choosing, Godley invited songwriters to send him instrumentals over which he could complete a song. The ambition, sprawling and complex as it was, was matched by the interest that met his inbox. 5 Minutes Alone emanated from a submission Alex Dunford sent the drummer, a submission that seems to emulate the darkness, wackiness and heart which flows all over Godley’s long-awaited debut.

Out of the 286 instrumentals that tickled his fancy, Godley whittled it down to a more palatable length, where no less a luminary than Gotye sits among the credit listings. “Gotye sent me six pieces,” Godley admits. “They were all very strong but different and the one I chose turned into Song of Hate. I’ve met Gotye before. Very talented guy. He works with loops, samples and arcane technologies. At the end of the track, I go into this Manc thing: ‘fookin’ right’. That’s the Manchester me coming out. I moved down South when I was younger, and sometimes it reasserts itself. I try… I try to keep the singing accent neutral and it usually approximates English or American. But when I listen back, the vowels are very Mancunian!”

As the 21st century advances, no abatement of popular interest has occurred in 10cc, a product of Northern English values. Determined to write, record and distribute from the comforts of their Strawberry Studios, the band’s in-house philosophy was one of pragmatism, practice and polish. The results, often astonishing, were the results of four determined vocalists coming together in musical harmony. “Unfortunately, or fortunately, I never sang any of the 10cc hits. I’m not sure I could have carried them off visually. But I did sing some of the more complicated stuff, and I definitely sang the songs I wanted to sing. Graham Gouldman still tours as 10cc, and he asked me to make a performance video of Somewhere In Hollywood a few years ago. So, it’s a film of me singing, with arty bells and whistles, up on a big screen at the back of the stage, while the band accompany me, live.”

For most musicians, a gig drumming with a band as influential as 10cc would prove a godsend, but for Godley there were other avenues he wished to explore. Four albums into 10cc’s tenure, Godley & Creme quit the band to co-write a sprawling abstract music meets theatre piece with comedy laureate Peter Cook, Consequences. Then there was the gizmotron, a guitar device Godley co-patented with partner Lol Creme, designed to capture the opulence of an orchestra with more expedient effect (Paul McCartney, rather than use another string quartet, used the device on the haunting I’m Carrying in 1978). More than that, Godley, who’d spent the seventies singing about the glories cinema offers, reinvented himself as one of the premier music video directors in the eighties. “We directed the video for Peter Gabriel’s Biko back in the days when I worked with Lol. It’s a great song, and a pretty effective video. The song was featured in Cry Freedom, the film about Steve Biko, and we used footage from it in the edit. It was tricky balancing the two entities, but it worked. We also directed the video for Don’t Give Up, with Peter and Kate Bush and technically, it looks a bit shabby now, but I think it still has the emotional kick!”

Both as a drummer and a director, Godley has led musicians through their varying markers to a beat undeniably his own. And yet for many listeners, including this one, it’s his voice that remains his most astonishing marker. “People have told me that my voice sounds pretty well kept,” Godley admits.”I wonder if it’s because I’m a vegetarian, and perhaps not eating meat may have something to do with it? Paul McCartney’s voice is still supremely intact and Chrissie Hynde’s remains a force of nature. Maybe it’s something to do with lifestyles. But more likely, it’s because I haven’t used my voice too much in the intervening years.”

Issued as the album’s first single, Expecting A Message carried with a mirth that instantly downplayed any hesitations a listener had before listening to the track. Simply a quick scroll through the YouTube comments that hang under the pounding number demonstrates how quickly people took to the mellifluous voice that once broke hearts on synth classics Under Your Thumb and Cry.

“I get that New Order comparison in Expecting A Message,” Godley chuckles. “Some people say I even look like Peter Hook. Incidentally I disciplined myself to work with the recordings, as they were, without manipulating their structures in any way … I can’t play any instruments anyway, other than drums, obviously.”

“Actually, I recorded very little drums,” Godley continues. “When I first got the track that became The Bang Band Theory, it was more guitar heavy; very jump country, very Pokey La Farge. But they’d erased the stems, so I couldn’t mix it. ‘Can we record it again?’ ‘No.’ It was my wife who said I should try a different approach, a more aggressive, percussive one, so I went back in and recorded drums with my genius of an engineer Ivan Jackman.”

Godley’s an art school graduate, but it’s fair to say The Beatles were just as instrumental in his education as any lecture he may have attended. (“I remember hearing Sgt.Pepper from every side of the campus on its release day” Godley laughs.) Much like John Lennon’s work, there is an honesty to the singing that prides guttural emotion over technical skill; much like Paul McCartney’s output, the songs shift from the dreamlike (5 Minutes Alone) to the thunderous (Cut To The Cat) with enviable ease; and much like George Harrison did on Within You Without You, Godley paints a vision of a destructive world seeking to burn itself down on the excellent All Bones Are White.

All Bones Are White was the first song I really sat down and attacked,” Godley boasts with tremendously well earned pride. “It came about after the Charlottesville debacle, asking myself how this could happen in 2017? Giles Perring wrote the haunting music, and when he sent it to me, it was called Why Kay Blue. So, he had a very different perspective to me.”

And yet, Godley’s vision merges seamlessly off Perring’s probing instrumental, cautioning listeners to a world where colour, class and gender dictates the funeral box that they lie in. Written in 2017, the lyric has only grown more prescient with time. Watching the Charlottesville Parades, Godley could scarcely have foretold a world where a black American would lose his breath at the feet of the services who swore to uphold it. Then there’s the Pandemic, which has locked everyone on the inside of their homes, regardless of race, creed or colour. “It’s strange times we live in. I’ve spoken to Graham Gouldman, and he’s seen it kill his touring plans. He’s one of many musicians who are struggling with the whole thing and it must be difficult for those who live for the road. Me, I’m not in that place. I’m working on video games, tweaking The Gate, a screenplay I’m writing about Orson Welles’ time in Ireland in 1931 that, if and when we return to normal, I’m hoping to direct. And oh yes, I’m making music again.”

Godley, whose interest and knowledge in tape loops led to the cosmic I’m Not In Love, is in the perfect position to hazard where the future of technology  should bring us. “We talked about this in the seventies. It must have been one of those four in the morning conversations, so it might have been the wine and weed [laughs]. But we talked about how one day they might come up with synthetic versions of Brando or Elvis, and put them in new movies years after their demise. In some ways, they came close in The Irishman. So, on One Day, I had this idea about a guy who’s invented this software and he finds himself in the lift with the CEO of a major tech conglomerate. They’re going up to the hundredth floor together and the song is his elevator pitch.  I also believe they may actually be creating this right now. There could be a music tech company buying an artist’s entire recorded output; they dissect, re-composite it and thirty seconds later, it spits out a new song. I can’t wait. Can you? Cut To The Cat is alternative dialogue for another screenplay I’d co-written with Adrian Deevoy called Where The Treetops Glisten. It deals with media overkill and was originally written for eight sleazy media executives. Irish composer Rori Coleman sent me the amazing music, and these words came flooding back. Muscle Memory indeed!”

Amidst the projects Godley mentions his involvement with, comes the sound of one much nearer to his heart and home. There’s a barking echo, no hollow metaphor, but the sound of pets begging for his attention. Sensing that we should wrap up the phone interview, we ask whether or not Muscle Memory II will reach our ears in the near future? “That really depends how well Muscle Memory I goes down, but I certainly have the material for Muscle Memory II, so, there could well be. There’s a lot of other tracks that I’d love to develop but it’ll have to be done differently, because that’s the only way I’ve ever been able to function.”

That said, the phone clicks down, and Godley returns to the drums, dogs and scripts that require his immediate, undivided attention. There’s no rest for the prolific, eh?

Tracks from the album ‘Muscle Memory’ (state51 Conspiracy) will be released in order every two weeks until the album’s release on the 17th of December 2020.

❉ Eoghan Lyng is a regular contributor to We Are Cult. His writing has also appeared in Record Collector, CultureSonar, Punk Noir Magazine, DMovies, Phacemag and other titles. Follow him on TwitterVisit his homepage.

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