Right Between The Ears: Graham Gouldman

 The British pop hitmaker waxes lyrical about Wax, his post-10cc collaboration with the late Andrew Gold.

“There are some Wax songs that are just great, Andrew was a great singer. It was synth-oriented and probably the records from that era sound a bit dated production-wise, but the songs are still there. That’s the strength. And I love the stuff, I just adore some of it. I’m a massive Wax fan!”

Graham Gouldman is a great songwriter. He was a great songwriter before 10cc, in 10cc and after 10cc. Collaboration has been one of his fortes, writing with 10cc guitarist Eric Stewart in the seventies, reuniting with 10cc drummer Kevin Godley for the GG06 viral project in the noughties and striking a strong relationship with American AOR singer/songwriter Andrew Gold in the eighties, which had its roots in his Manchester band.

“I first got to Andrew Gold on a 10cc album” Gouldman starts. “It was through Warner Bros Records, I think. They wanted Eric and I to work with an American songwriter/producer in the hope that our album would break in America and to increase our chances of that happening in the American album market. That actually didn’t happen.”

It didn’t, but it did bring a new collaborator into Gouldman’s life. “I was a big fan of Andrew’s anyway, so I was all for the idea when it was mooted that he would write with us. He came to the studio and we wrote three songs, Eric, Andrew and I; Andrew co-produced them. I think they were on the Ten Out of 10 (1981) album, and, to his credit, the three songs he wrote with us, they were all singles. Singles, none of which did anything, but it did show they were a cut above the other material!”

Gold’s pop sensibilities were heard on seventies radio hits Lonely Boy and Never Let Her Slip Away, the first seducing listeners with telling lyrics of isolation and the latter aided by a magnetic synth hook driving the song. Between these two singles he’d captured John Lennon’s lyricism and Paul McCartney’s melodiousness, influences wholeheartedly welcomed by Gouldman.

“Eric and I, when writing, he’d play keyboards and I would play guitar. I like writing with people who play keyboards, because the chords are different and they inspire different melodies. Generally, it wasn’t that different with Andrew. There were a lot similarities as the three of us were all Beatle inspired, so we all came from the same place, even if I was Mancunian and Andrew was American. Andrew was an amazing mimic of Beatle songs. He would do Blackbird and you would think it was McCartney! Recently, I did two tours with Ringo Starr and that was a dream come true, amazing fun and great to play other people’s music, bring what I could to a Toto song. I’d ask them if I could play it this way, and if it wasn’t working, I wouldn’t. It was great fun”.

10cc were considered by many to be the heirs of the Beatles, but by 1983, that dream was over too. Stewart returned to studio work (his first love) to collaborate with idol Paul McCartney. Gouldman knew who he wanted to work with in Stewart’s absence, and Gold was a formidable choice.

“Andrew was a multi-instrumentalist. He could play drums, he could play bass, a great guitar player. There’s a Richard Perry-produced Art Garfunkel album, I can’t remember what it’s called, but there’s a track called I Only Have Eyes For You and it’s all Andrew, guitars, drums, keyboards. He was a great singer, musician, producer and engineer, clever boy.  The only main difference to Eric was when we established ourselves as a writing team, we would use drum machines quite a lot, as writing aids. It set up a lot of rhythms, and a lot of the songs we wrote, it was me and Andrew and a lot of Linn drum machines. I would say that was the major difference to our approach to writing! We were doing stuff in the eighties, so there were a lot of synths, where 10cc generally were more guitar based. It wasn’t a conscious decision to establish a different sound, we just did what we felt was right. When Wax toured, which wasn’t that much, it was always great to play his songs from before we met. That was a joy. It was primarily Wax material, we did Bus Stop and Dreadlock Holiday of mine and Lonely Boy, Never Let Her Slip Away and Thank You For Being a Friend of Andrew’s ”.

Wax were off. They were professional, they were sensible and they were immediate. Magnetic Heaven (1986) had a string of catchy songs, among them Ball and Chain and Right Between The Eyes, produced with a liveliness that sounded fiery in rock and roll dynamics.

“I played the guitar hook on Right Between The Eyes. That is actually one of my favourite Wax songs. That song was produced by Philip Thornalley and I love the energy of it. It’s funny, it really cornered a market in Spain and I have no idea why. It was a strange thing, it was in the charts for like six months. There was a record guy called Jésus, so we thought he must be on our side [laughs]. You go on YouTube and I’ve seen loads of covers from small bands in Spain, it’s amazing. I don’t know why it resonated with the Spanish, but it did. There’s the riff in Ball and Chain, the dun de dun dun. That’s mine. Let’s say, all songwriters are inspired by parts of other songs and there’s that Led Zeppelin track that goes “dun de dun dun AAAHHH” [ Immigrant Song]. When we did it, we didn’t go, we’d better not do that, it was more, a small snatch of it, and nobody’s ever said ‘You nicked that!’. Then again, Led Zeppelin have done enough nicking [laughs]. All the songs were a real mixture of us both, another similarity with Eric. I’m more music led than lyric led. Ball and Chain was generally the both of us equally, but other songs like Bridge To Your Heart, I’ll give credit to Andrew. I came up with the idea, but most of the lyrics are his on that one”

American English (1987) calling card Bridge To Your Heart was Wax’s finest hour, a thumping, thriving rocker, ballast in chorus, searing in vocals. The duo performed it on Top of The Pops to much fanfare, hitting number 12 on the UK charts. It has one of Gold’s most confident vocals – even a mistaken count in sounds fab!

“That ‘Hold it’, it was on the original demo, and it was intentional” Gouldman chuckles. “When we went to do it for real, Christopher Neil, our producer, said “You’ve got to do that count in” and Andrew said he’d like to do it again and we said “No, you’re not. You got it right”. And that became a bit of an ident for the song.

“People always talk about that. The video wasn’t Godley and Creme, it was Storm Thorgerson from Hipgnosis. Hipgnosis were mainly famous for their album covers; Peter Gabriel, Led Zeppelin, 10cc. Storm had gone into videos and he did that one, a great video, the idea of the cartoony things. Andrew and I worked well together. We produced a lot of demoes ourselves as tracks, which turned into tracks, we did a lot of it by the two of us, but we also worked with three producers. I like both Christopher and Phil. They work in different ways, Chris goes for immaculate vocals, a bit more sophisticated, I guess, which isn’t a dig at Phil. Phil’s a bit looser, he’s a dear friend. Fantastic stuff with The Cure and has an excellent solo album called Astral Drive”.

The eighties ended, and with it Wax. Gouldman opted to reunite with Eric Stewart on two 10cc albums, which weren’t the happiest of experiences. But Gouldman could count on an old friend. “Andrew sang on Ready To Go Home” Gouldman says. “It was a song we wrote together and we sang it as a duet, so you could say I sang it. It became the last 10cc single ironically! We used to do it live with 10cc as well. I can’t remember if it was on the …Meanwhile album or Mirror Mirror, which was the last 10cc album. There was so much animosity between Eric and I that we had to record it in two halves and needed a common coordinator, no, a producer I mean, who made the record with us. Andrew was very involved in the Ten out of 10 album, but I think that was the only other track Andrew was involved in”.

Stewart has retired from performing, leaving Gouldman the only original member steering a touring 10cc incarnation, although Kevin Godley occasionally guests with them. Andrew Gold’s death in 2011 means a Wax reunion is impossible, but whenever Gouldman plays Bridge To Your Heart or Right Between The Eyes by himself, the enthusiasm has been infectious. “It’s very nice of you to say and people have said that the music holds a special place for them. Songwriters and musicians have said that. It must be the songs, it has to be! We could have been something bigger. I wouldn’t say unfortunately, because it was one of my happiest relationships, working with Andrew, but maybe we missed the boat, we were a bit too old when we started, it might have been different had we started ten years earlier, but obviously we didn’t. Everything is tinged with a certain sadness because of Andrew being taken from us. There are some songs that are just great, Andrew was a great singer. It was synth-oriented and probably the records from that era sound a bit dated production-wise, but the songs are still there. That’s the strength. And I love the stuff, I just adore some of it. I’m a massive Wax fan!”

❉ Wax discography – Albums:

• Magnetic Heaven (RCA PL/PD 70937, 1985)
• American English (RCA PL/PD 71430, 1987)
• A Hundred Thousand In Fresh Notes (RCA PL/PD 74182, 1989)
• Wax Works: Best of Andrew Gold & Graham Gouldman
(Camden/BMG 74321 419662, 1996)

❉ Eoghan Lyng is a writer, part-time English teacher and full-time lover of life.

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