5 or 50

Life – Terror. Ecstasy. Fight. Denial. Flight. Failure. PAIN. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Hope. Love. Peace – Death.

1984

The week before Christmas 1984. My Band had signed a record deal with EMI Records (via RAK Records) with a proposed debut single release early ’85.

Around Easter ’85, the label still hadn’t decided on a release date. The label founder and owner, Mickie Most would have the final say as to when, and what the single would be.

We had recorded around 6-7 songs for an album (12 songs), to be released depending upon the success of our debut single. We had strived for our ‘record deal’ for over ten years, those days a record deal was the ‘Holy Grail’? At the time, our manager, Cliffy (Paul Cliff), said to me ‘getting a deal is the easy part, then (now) you have to get a hit …..and then the next hit and the next and the next…..’

The choice of first single was vitally important.

The label was virtually inactive although still profitable due to a substantial back catalogue and associated, thriving, publishing assets. The RAK Studios were also thriving, at the time one of the first cutting edge SSL facilities in the UK and regularly hired by all of the top artists and record producers of that era, the absolute peak of the Recorded Music Era. The 80’s.

RAK (the label) had not signed anything for the previous five years. We were signed by head of A&R (Mickies son) Calvin who was totally ‘in love’ with our band. After receiving a ‘demo-cassette’ in the post, Calvin had turned up to watch us rehearse in a dirty, dingy store-room built on top of an Exhaust Fitting Centre (owned by our manager). We were fully prepared, super tight, super rehearsed with an amazing drummer at the heart of our ‘big’ sound, Calvin, instantly wanted to sign us.

Mickie would have the final say. He flew up from London, to St Helens (Manchester Airport) the very next day to audition the band for himself. When Calvin had seen us the previous day, we had been rehearsing solid for 3 weeks, our sound (PA), the band, everything was perfect, or as perfect as it could be.

What Calvin (and Mickie) didn’t know was, after Calvin had finished watching us we had a gig to do, that night in Widnes.

We deliberated about inviting Calvin to the gig and decided against it. He had already seen us, he was already in love with us? Why give him any opportunity to change his mind? We might have a ‘bad’ gig, a shite audience, a bad sound? It was an unnecessary and totally avoidable risk.

Looking back we should have just cancelled our gig in Widnes.

We got back to our rehearsal room, after the gig, around 2.00am to set up for Mickie’s Audition the following day. The gig had been good but not great. We now had to set up, to try and recreate our ‘perfect’ sound from the previous day(s). Calvin had stayed over locally, he must have been bemused by us not meeting with him that evening? He met Mickie from his flight, early afternoon, to escort him to the shitty exhaust centre. The band had around 4 hours sleep.

It sounded good, we were still tight but not quite as tight as the day before and the sound wasn’t quite the same. Mickie wasn’t enthusiastic. The story goes that Mickie had said no, he didn’t want to sign us but Calvin, with the help of his mum (Mickie;s Wife) persuaded him. No sign no ham-shanks nor blow jobs!

Later, much later Calvin mentioned it, ‘it wasn’t it as good when Mickie watched, it sounded different, why?’ We owned up. We had been gigging the night before, chose not to invite him and had to completely reset the equipment ‘the sound’ the following day. He understood.

Mickie wasn’t producing the band but literally everything at RAK (eventually) is decided by him. It would be Mickie who had the final say on any release. He scheduled a meeting with us, in his office, on the second floor of the impressive label headquarters, in ‘posh as fook’ St Johns Wood, London NW5.

Mickie would routinely hang around the RAK studios, offices and tiny canteen, all had old photographs of his huge successes, the bands, artists, from a decade or two ago. He was a serious, unapproachable (superior) man who seemed to enjoy our ruff around the edges ‘Scouseness’. This was only the second such formal, ‘team’ meeting. The previous, to discuss a producer for our recordings, had been around 8-12 months previous, not long after we had signed.

We crowded into the surprisingly, small, office, a couple of us having to sit on the floor in front of his desk. As we entered, he was talking on the phone speaking to his PA, we heard him say ‘get Paul McCartney for me please Jenny’ and then hang up to greet us. It was intentional, planned, designed to get our attention, we were meant to be impressed.

We were not, or we were but, we pretended not to be.

A minute or so later his phone rang, McCartney was on the line. ‘Hi Paul, Mickie’ (not Mickie Most).

We were privy to one side of their conversation only, ‘Paul, I have signed a group of scousers, how do you fancy producing them’? The rest was immaterial as McCartney immediately, (politely but firmly), flat refused.

We provided Mickie with our choice(s) for producer (and why).

RAK our Label, our publishing company, Neptune Music and our manager, ‘Cliffy’, approached our record producer choices without any success, we were aiming high and to no avail, we simply didn’t have the pulling power to attract the likes of Thomas Dolby (our first choice). We settled for our A&R man, Calvin (Mickey’s son).

Calvin, a musician (drummer by trade) had seen something he liked in the band, he got our ‘sound’ and he sold himself to us, however, truth is although a successful drummer he was an inexperienced producer. Mickey knew this and to ‘hold his hand’ for his first major production project, he teamed him up with a highly experienced engineer/producer/musician, Phil Thornalley, (The Cure bassist and producer of iconic songs such as ‘Love Cats’).  

Some 3-6 months on, another meeting, this time to discuss our debut single release.

Mickey explained that ‘thus far’ he hadn’t heard a track that had ‘jumped out’ at him. He had not heard any ‘hits’. He suggested (insisted) we go away together for an exotic, song writing, boot camp in ‘the Shack, Canne, South of France.

‘I have a shack in Cannes, my summer house, we should go there for a few days (a week), new surroundings, it will inspire you to write a hit single’?

It felt like we had little choice or no choice but also quite exciting.

The truth is although we had signed a record deal we were (still) skint. I was ‘signing on’ receiving employment benefits, with a young baby, with literally, no money to ‘spare’ for a jolly in the play ground of the Supper Rich, the South of France?

Two weeks later we arrived at Heathrow Airport in Mickies limousine. He was (still) a celebrity and an airport porter instantly recognised him, wanting to assist with his (our) luggage. Next to check in was a set of weigh scales, the type you always seen in Woolworths, big, red ‘insert a penny’ old fashioned, weigh scales.

Mickie insisted on us weighing ourselves. A band, pre title fight group, weigh-in.

Embarrassed, we took turns to stand on the scales, I was second to last weighing in at 10st 10lbs I was told I had to lose half a stone, prior to the single release.

The Porter, set our bags down and was retreating to his position in the entrance hall, away from us. Mickie noticed and reached into his pocket and pulled out a huge donkey choker of cash, quickly passing me a £50 note saying ‘go give that to him’ I took the £50 note and quickly, followed him. I had £5 in my jeans pocket, £5 for a week in Canne, literally all of the money ‘we’ (my wife/family) could spare.

Here I am going to give £50 to a complete stranger for carrying a bag or two for twenty yards.  

Mind racing, cold-sweating, what do I do, is it going to be 5 or 50? Do I swap Mickies £50 for my £5? Lets face it £5 is still a sizable tip? The porter would not have a clue?

But, what if Mickie’s testing me, watching to see what I would do?

Honestly? What would you have done?

I gave the man a big fat shiney-new £50 note.

I have played out that scenario a million times since, where I do the swap, and also where I don’t. Honestly, if it was tomorrow, I would give him the £5. At the time? I made the correct choice, the only choice? To jeopardise our record deal, the future of ‘our’ band, for £45? No brainer.

We stayed at ‘the shack’ in Canne for a week, like four kids looking into the Willy Wonka Factory Sweetshop with no money to buy sweets. We stayed in the Shack, but not in the main house, the separate, servants annex. It was (is) fucking impressive, ridiculously so. Were we impressed? Of course not, we’re Scousers it takes more than a £50 million villa to impress us (or at least for us to to show that it does).

Truth is, we were fucking blown away, who wouldn’t be? It was beyond belief?

But, was it inspirational? Would it help us, inspire us to write a hit-record? Maybe. Maybe not? We will never know…. we had already prepared something.

We had spent the two weeks before, knocking together at least, three new (previously unheard by Mickie) songs. Our pre-emptive strike. We had a daily, writing schedule – Breakfast then 3 hours in the morning writing by the pool (heating not switched on), lunch and another couple of hours before ‘dinner’, again, around the pool.

The rest of the time was ‘our own’ and we were given the Friday off to go see Canne on our own (with Fifty French Francs pocket money from Mickies Donkey Choker).

We pretended that we had thought up, melodies, riffs, lyrics ‘songs’ there and then, off the cuff, sitting, playing our instruments around the pool. Mickie was appeased, justified in his decision to take us to his incredible shack, and; he had final heard his ‘hit’.

Whilst there, more so on reflection, I felt belittled by the experience. Being there, in all that luxury, with literally no money. A seemingly impressive gesture, ‘to inspire us’ however, not valued enough to be permitted to stay in the main house? If anything, it inspired me in the opposite way it was intended. It was my first real taste of Capitalism in full play, in the flesh. I despised it but it also made me (even more) determined to be successful, so as not to ever have to feel that poor ever again.

Did we write ‘Mickie’ his hit?

We started recording as soon as we got back from Canne, Mickie has 50,000,000 record sales with his name on, as producer. He is renowned for his lush, string & brass (orchestral) arrangements. Mickie produced the strings on the track, and helped with the final mix, even though Calvin was credited as producer of the song we (supposedly) wrote in Canne. Our debut single, was released about two months later.

Sadly, it wasn’t a hit. ‘Cliffy’ was right, getting a hit is the hard bit.

I had to put my own shack purchase on hold!

Thanks for reading

Peace     

Published by Riff

Husband to my inspirational, (long suffering) wife, father of two amazing (adult) children, teacher, former guitarist (now guitar owner), recent 'granda(r) to my beautiful grandson who I am yet to meet. I Love people. I love my family, my friends, I love(d) what I do (my Job), I love Music, Cars, Everton .... I love many things, most of all I fucking love 'life'.

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