Master songwriter and 10cc founding member Graham Gouldman is raring to go for next month’s 16-date tour with his semi-acoustic show, Heart Full of Songs.
Graham, joined by multi-instrumentalists/vocalists and 10cc live bandmates Iain Hornal and Keith Hayman, plus percussionist Dave Cobby, 10cc’s production manager, will perform songs from his celebrated back catalogue, also including hits for The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits, The Yardbirds, and Wax, his ‘80s project with Andrew Gold.
The tour begins on March 6th in Bury St Edmunds and ends on the 23rd where it all started for Graham, on his old patch in Salford, including a London’s Cadogan Hall date on the 16th, having played his first Heart Full of Songs show almost a decade ago, for the pleasure of performing his songs acoustically, the format’s popularity such that it now tours the UK every two years, between 10cc’s sell-out UK tours.
The most recent Heart Full of Songs dates were in September 2021, Graham playing and talking about some of his best-known numbers, explaining how they came about, and new material he’s equally proud of – including tracks from solo albums, And Another Thing, Love and Work, Play Nicely and Share, and 2020’s Modesty Forbids.
The last time we talked was in September 2017 (with a link here), and so much has happened since, from the reality of the shambolic Brexit decision the previous year onwards, not least the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences.
“I’m afraid it has!”
But we’ve always got good music to pull us through, yeah?
He certainly keeps busy, more recent highlights including guesting for Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band on 2018 European and North American arena tours, the band playing three 10cc songs a night, Graham describing the experience as, “One of the most enjoyable things I’ve done.”
Then there was the song he wrote then recorded with Queen legend Brian May, ‘Floating in Heaven’, released as a single to mark the unveiling of the first images from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the pair also performing the song with a full orchestra at a prestigious space convention in Armenia, and also featuring as a soundtrack for a video of images released by the Space Telescope Science Institute in the States.
Graham started this year in style too, a Maldives winter break with his beloved, Ariella, proving a suitably restorative moment ahead of preparations for the spring tour.
“It was, because we’ve got quite a busy year. We had a busy 2022 and this year it’s also looking to be very busy. So yes, get a break while you can!”
This is his second post-pandemic Heart Full of Songs tour. In those early days after the initial return of live music, there seemed to be – for musicians and fans alike – a more heightened appreciation and respect for the fact that we were back out there again.
“You could feel it. Exactly, yes. You really could feel how happy people were. As you say, not only us, but the audiences – there was a kind of ‘thank goodness we’re all back together for the audience to be with the band, but also for the audience to be with itself, with other members of the audience, in the same place for a common reason. I really felt that.
“The first gig we did after the lockdown was in a small club in Sutton, for a friend of mine – a journalist – and he said, ‘There’s only going to be 100-and-odd people there, but we said we were going to do it, because it was going to be a warm-up for something else but more ‘why not do it?’ You know, it was just so lovely to get back doing it again.”
Absolutely, and that intimacy counts for a lot, doesn’t it?
“Oh, yeah. It’s everything.”
You’ve played some major venues down the years. Do you still strive to get that intimacy when you’re on the biggest stages?
“I try to. It depends. With the Heart Full of Songs show, it’s easier because I’m sat down, talking to the audience more about the songs, whereas at 10cc gigs there is some chat, but not as in depth, purely because we want to get as many songs in as possible during a set. People aren’t there to listen to me chat. They want to hear the music. With Heart Full of Songs, it’s a completely different experience.”
I won’t hark back too much to lockdown days, but was that mostly in north west London? And did you see a new side to the area where you lived?
“I saw a new side to my recording studio! It became a haven and was really important to me. I recorded lots of stuff with other people, did a solo instrumental album, some library music, lots of stuff, some I wouldn’t normally do. I just wanted to keep working. It was the only way of doing it.
“And thank goodness for the digital technology that me and many, many others … I wouldn’t say held on to their sanity – if it hadn’t been there, I would have found something else – but I was still able to make music, even though it wasn’t with other people. It was still making music. So that was okay with me.”
And creativity is often key to mental health.
“Absolutely, and I think just work in general – to have purpose, get up in the morning, like everybody. Whatever your job is, if you have purpose and know you’re going to do something, sometimes you’re happy to do it. A lot of people aren’t. I’m incredibly fortunate that I love what I do, and that helped me through that horrible time, not being able to be with other people and being confined to your house, virtually.”
Talking of your studio output down the years, I like to look up notable anniversaries of recordings when talking to esteemed interviewees, and it’s now 55 years since Strawberry Studios came to be. Were you aware of the original location, in its inaugural Inter-City Studios days above a town centre music shop in Stockport?
“I knew of it but had never visited it. My first experience of it was while working with Eric Stewart, with The Mindbenders. He said he was going to start this studio off with Peter Tattersall, and asked if I wanted to be a partner in it, to which I said, ‘Yeah, definitely.’”
Was there a little sales patter involved? Or did they not need to sell the idea to you?
“There was no need to sell the idea at all. At that point, being with local bands and recording, the studios in the north of England up to that point weren’t that great. If you wanted to do anything, make a proper record, you had to go down to London. But that was a nonsense, because there were so many bands in the north that needed a really fantastic facility … and Strawberry provided it.”
There’s a great book from former Fall drummer Paul Hanley about all that, Leave the Capital, writing about Strawberry Studios among others in the area, and he makes that very point, pointing out that not even The Beatles recorded outside London.
“That’s right. There were studios, in fact I’ve found some tapes recently, and there was a studio in Huddersfield. The recordings were pretty poor, I have to say, but to give it credit, you know – it’s better than nothing.”
And because you mentioned Eric Stewart, you already knew that talented lad from Droylsden, Tameside, fairly well by then, yeah?
“Well, I’d met Eric at Kennedy Street Enterprises, the agency that handled so many of the Manchester bands, including The Mindbenders.”
“Of Eric? Well, I was already a fan of The Mindbenders, and it was great to meet him. And we went on to have a very successful collaboration, in 10cc in particular.”
The wheels of progress were soon in motion, one thing led to another, and last year marked 50 years since the start of 10cc. How did you celebrate that particular anniversary?
“We celebrated it on tour by saying, everywhere we went, it was 50 years since the release of ‘Donna’ in 1972. And this year sees the release of our very first album, 10cc.”
And this summer it’ll be 50 years since ‘Rubber Bullets’ (credited to Lol Crème, Kevin Godley and Graham) topped the UK charts, while later this year it will be 45 years since ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ did the same, the third 10cc No.1, on the back of 1975’s wondrous ‘I’m Not in Love’, the latter two both Stewart/Gouldman compositions. Let’s face it, you packed a fair bit in to just a few years, didn’t you.
“Yeah, and when you say it, you kind of go, ‘What happened? How did that happen so quickly? Where did the time go?”
These days, only Graham still performs live with 10cc. Are they all still in touch, be that via email, phone calls, or in person?
“Er … the only person I’m in regular contact with is Kevin Godley, who I’ve kept working with over the years. We’ve recorded together, and he’s actually just done a video for me for a song that’s going to be on a new album. He’s also appeared with us on stage. And when we do our own tours, he sings somewhere in Hollywood via a fantastic video that he made. We play live to his singing, and it’s great. And he’s also made other videos for us.”
Is there any animosity in the fact that it’s not all four of you these days? Or is it just that you’ve been there, done that, and you’re all too busy with your own lives and working ventures?
“I think … yeah, with some people you just drift apart for no particular reason, and other people you stay in touch with. It’s just one of those things.”
Graham and Kevin go way back. How good would he say their early outfit, Jewish Lads Brigade house band The Whirlwinds, were?
“Oh, absolutely brilliant, of course! Ha! It was a different sort of band. I mean, like many other bands at the time we did lots of covers. It wasn’t really an original sort of band. It wasn’t really until 10cc that any of us were doing our own material. That’s what 10cc allowed us to do.”
Ultimately, it was the Columbia record label’s lukewarm reaction and rejection of follow-up band, The Mockingbirds’ take on ‘For Your Love’ in 1965 that proved a turning point, the Yardbirds stepping in instead, scoring a major hit.
“A turning point for me as a songwriter, blimey, yeah! A bit of luck, that.”
Out of bad luck came some good?
Working by day in a men’s outfitters shop and playing by night with his semi-professional band, Graham went on to write a string of hits, such as ‘Pamela, Pamela’ for Wayne Fontana, ‘For Your Love’, ‘Evil Hearted You’and ‘Heart Full of Soul’ for The Yardbirds, ‘Bus Stop’ and ‘Look Through Any Window’ for The Hollies, ‘No Milk Today’and ‘Listen People’ for Herman’s Hermits, and ‘Tallyman’ for recently-departed guitar legend Jeff Beck.
In fact, Graham’s and Jeff’s fortunes seem almost linked, albeit each taking very different paths throughout their careers, ‘Heart Full of Soul’ Jeff’s first hit as part of The Yardbirds, having replaced Eric Clapton. Was it around then that they first met?
“Yes, I met Jeff with The Yardbirds just after they recorded ‘Heart Full of Soul.’
Did you get on well and get to know him over the years?
“I never really hung out with them. I was introduced to them by their manager, Giorgio Gomelsky. They were very nice and everything, but it was never like, ‘Let’s have a drink together.’ I’m not being detrimental to them. I mean, I was quite a shy boy anyway. They were very nice, and I’m eternally grateful to them, because they recorded my songs. And also because Jeff recorded ‘Tallyman’, so I’m really proud to have had an association with them and with him in particular, because, like many others who have said it because of his untimely passing, he was quite simply the greatest guitarist in the world.
“There’s no one that plays like him. I’ve worked with some of the greatest guitarists in the world. Most recently, Brian May, doing a record with him. He is a phenomenal guitar player but he himself acknowledges the fact that Beck is the greatest.”
I love ‘Tallyman’. It seemed a perfect follow-up to ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’, but barely scraped the UK top 30.
“Hardly anyone knows it. But for me, it’s worth it to have my name and his on the same label.”
Those Yardbirds links seemed to bookend such a creative period for Graham as a successful songwriter and gun for hire the first time around, ultimately leading him to America, from those three hits with them and The Hollies’ ‘Look Through Any Window’ through to ‘Bus Stop’ the following summer, then ‘No Milk Today’, ‘Pamela Pamela’, and so on. But it seems you ended up somewhat burned out for a while.
“I did in the sort of late ‘60s, just prior to 10cc happening. But you know, one thing leads to another, there’s cause and effect, and working in America with a company that was ostensibly … Kazenatz’s Kats was the company I was writing for, and they wanted to sort of up their game with me writing with them.
“It was a project I eventually bought back from New York to Stockport, to the studio, and really it was part of the glue that helped stick the four of us in 10cc together, because we made those records under various pseudonyms.
“I mean, we were recording any old rubbish! But we really enjoyed working together. It was a good experience for us, and it was good business for the studio. Our attitude was, ‘Let’s just make the best possible record we can out of this’. As everybody does. Whatever it was we were working on.”
It was in 1972, along with Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, that Graham formed 10cc, the band going on to enjoy a string of hits, scoring nine top-10 hits in all – as well as their three No.1s, also including ‘Donna’ (No 2), ‘Art For Art’s Sake’and ‘Good Morning Judge’ (No.5), ‘The Things We Do For Love’and ‘I’m Mandy Fly Me’ (No.6), and ‘The Wall Street Shuffle’ (No.10) – and selling more than 30 million albums worldwide.
In fact, ‘I’m Not in Love’ has been played more than five million times on US radio alone, with YouTube videos of the song viewed more that 30 million times. And on the subject of US radio statistics, ‘The Things We Do for Love’ has been played more than 3.5 million times, while the Hollies’ ‘Bus Stop’ has amassed more than four million plays, and The Yardbirds’ ‘For Your Love’ more than two million.
And ultimately, the enduring popularity of those tracks, others such as ‘Bridge to Your Heart’ by Wax, who sold more than two million albums worldwide, and songs for film soundtracks, including Animalympics, led to the Heart Full of Songs tours.
But let’s go back a bit further again. We talked a fair bit about ‘Bus Stop’ last time, a song I love, and I recently happened to look at the UK chart just before the World Cup Final in 1966, when there was so much quality in there …
“I know! And now, if you’re of a certain age, you look at the charts and probably don’t know one person in it. It’s a different world now.”
That week alone there was ‘Get Away’ by Georgie Fame, ‘Sunny Afternoon’ from The Kinks, ‘Out of Time’ by Chris Farlowe, ‘River Deep Mountain High’ from Ike and Tina Turner, all top five …
“Yeah, great! Blimey, just those lot were classics! And of course, we know every single one of them and they’re still being played today. That’s going to be the difference. I think. You could say, ‘well, so what?’ Today’s No.1 is not going to be played forever, but the kids will say ‘so what?’ Music has maybe a different value to a lot of people today.”
‘Bus Stop’ was also in the top 10 that week, and then there was The Troggs’ ‘A Girl Like You’, Dusty Springfield’s ‘Going Back’, The Beatles’ ‘Paperback Writer’, Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘I Am a Rock’, and The Loving Spoonful’s ‘Summer in the City’, to name but a few. That’s more than nostalgia on my part, surely. Did you feel you were part of a huge moment in music at the time?
“Well, I was part of a huge moment in music, and it was the most important movement. I mean, it really shifted – with The Beatles being the pinnacle of it – from our parents’ music, sort of the big band era, moving into bands that were people were making their own music. Not only playing it themselves but writing their own songs. This was massive.”
And if I’ve worked it out right, you’ve been playing in bands for 60 years now. That’s some going. You clearly still have a passion for live shows.
“I love it. I absolutely love it.”
And two years on from Modesty Forbids, you mention another LP on the way.
“Yes, I’m recording one now, looking forward to that coming out later in the year. I’ve not finished it yet, but …”
And will you work with Brian May again?
“Ah, it’s possible. We’d like to work together again. All it depends on, quite rightly, is the right song, whatever it may be.”
Not just for the sake of it.
“Yeah, I’m certainly not going to do that. I would only approach him with something if I felt it suited him.”
Finally, we talked last time not only about the songs that made your name, but also those that somehow never got the kudos you felt they deserved. And you mentioned ‘Ready To Go Home’. I concur with that, having properly listened since … although I have a suggestion, not least because of your BBC Songwriters’ Circle link a few years ago. I’d love to hear yourself and Neil Finn duet on a new version of that, stripped back.
“Ha! So would I!”
Can you sort that out for me?
“I will do for that! I’ll let you know how I get on!”
Is it too much to ask if Roddy Frame can join in too? Let’s hope so, the three of them joining forces for that show in an edition first aired in 1999 … which is somehow now a couple of dozen years ago.
Anyway, as Graham puts it himself, the beauty of the best songs is there beneath the added touches. And the two versions I’ve heard of ‘Ready To Go Home’ are fairly full on. I’d love to hear a stripped-back, more acoustic take.
“Have you heard the Morten Harket version?”
Well, I will seek it out now you’ve mentioned it (I have, and yes, he does it proud).
“Yeah, I’m very close to that song and of course I co-wrote it with the late, great Andrew Gold.”
Absolutely, and it was lovely to catch up. What’s more, I’m glad you’re still out there performing, all these years on, still on the road.
“Yeah, I’ll keep going! Nice to speak to you.”
Graham Gouldman’s Heart Full of Songs show tours the UK in March, calling at: Bury St Edmunds, The Apex, 6th; Sunderland, Fire Station, 7th; Glasgow, St Luke’s, 8th; Buxton, Floral Pavilion, 9th; Holmfirth, The Civic, 10th; Stamford, Corn Exchange, 12th; Lytham St Annes, Lowther Pavilion, 13th; Southport, The Atkinson, 14th; Shoreham, Ropetackle, 15th; London, Cadogan Hall, 16th; Basingstoke, The Haymarket, 18th; Oswaldtwistle, Civic Arts Centre & Theatre, 19th; Lincoln, Drill Hall, 20th; Wavendon, The Stables Theatre, 21st; Shrewsbury, Theatre Severn, 22nd; Salford, Quays Theatre, 23rd. Tickets are available from all venues and from www.grahamgouldman.info.