Eric Stewart Interview

Dear Eric ...Did you realize how many fans out there have been waiting patiently, and not so patiently, to hear from you the past few years?

Hi, Eric here from the 'Dark Side of What Matters'.....

I've been taking some time out from recording lately because of other activities.... but I wouldn't say I was a recluse!! I admit that I generally avoid certain public functions and tabloid newspaper 'in depth' or 'lifestyle' articles. However, I am pleased to tell you that I am here and I do exist in flesh and blood and many people know this and get in touch with me! The '3rd string mini celebrity' scene is just not my bag and I do value privacy for my family and myself......Sometimes there are serious reasons why I am not in the public eye. There are sometimes problems, things beyond our control, which we have to sort out in privacy.

You have been taking your time with this album - are you simply doing it for your own satisfaction? When do you think it will be finished?
I haven't felt the time has been right to release anything - until NOW! I don't have any idea of a release date, though, but I'm working flat out and aim to finish the album by the end of the spring. When I've finished this album the Rock and Roll album is a definite project for me. A reggae based album is also already in my head. I'm thinking of old
songs (not 10cc stuff) that I would like to use - even something silly such as God Save the Queen or White Christmas! I really love the calypso rhythms of the Caribbean; they are so infectious. I will make time to do these projects because I now have the strong desire to do so after such a long rest from recording music.

These days I am happy to work on my music just when the inspiration strikes me. After nearly forty years in the business I don't feel the pressure as I used to with previous deadlines, planning tours and all the press. Maybe it is better to work under pressure sometimes but I am more comfortable with the way things are nowadays.

Are you working in your own studio at home? How does the equipment you are using now compare with Strawberry in the old days?
I'm working in my home studios in the UK and France. The equipment is now much smaller and very portable which makes it a lot easier for me to transport the gear around and to record anywhere in the world. Although I do use drum machines I play the samples myself on 'Drumpads' using drumsticks or on a keyboard. I can play a full drum kit but not as well as I would like. My recording set up is very complicated but the main ingredients are:

  • Otari 'Status' Analogue desk with digital routing and 64 inputs
  • Otari 'Radar' Digital 24 track recorder
  • Logic 'Audio' Platinum Audio Midi sequencer using 'Pro Tools' 24 bit/96Khz digital cards in my Apple Mac computers
  • Neumann Condenser Microphones for vocals and acoustic instruments
  • numerous Midi modules with natural and synthesized sounds in them
  • various 'Echo and 'Reverb' units.

It isn't necessary to have a huge set up such as in the Strawberry Studios I built in the 60s and 70s. However, I will probably use the London studio of Dave Gilmour, an old friend from Pink Floyd, to do my final mixing.

So far there are no other musicians involved but I may ask a few other people to contribute when I am closer to seeing the end in sight.

Are you still in touch with Lol / Graham / Justin / Macca, etc.? Do you think you will make any music with them in the future?
I'm in touch with Lol most of the time; he is my brother-in-law after all! We see a lot of each other and are always swapping good books we have just read. Anything Lol gets into is always of interest to me because I admire his very creative brain and the AON project is a very creative item. I went to see their show when they hit London. It was the first time I had seen Lol on stage since 10cc days. The sound, of course, was excellent and the musicianship, especially of Anne Dudley, was superb. They are not really touring in the old sense of the word, so I am sure Lol is just enjoying a few gigs with like-minded friends, as I love to do.

I've seen Rick Fenn recently. I sit in with his band, The Theramones, at some private charity functions and it's great fun! I really like Rick. He is a fine musician and I've always enjoyed working with him. We usually play songs like Johnny Be Good, Roll Over Beethoven, Slow down, Oh Boy, easy things that we can have fun soloing through. We always have to play I'm Not In Love at the end and at one of the last shows, for the Children's Leukaemia Fund, some guy said he'd donate an extra £500 if I would sing it again. I did of course!

I haven't seen Justin for a while because he seems to spend so much time touring in the States with The Moody Blues. I'm in touch with Paul [McCartney] but I don't see Graham Gouldman at all.......

Do you think that you will do live shows again? (this is a begging question!) What shows do you remember well?
I love to do a live show but I hate the 22 hours of travel and hotels just to get on the stage for 2 hours. By now I think that I've paid my dues to this wonderful business we are in. I saw the Alan Parsons Project live in London last year (Alan's an old friend) and possibly that is the sort of thing I could envisage myself doing: writing, recording and just travelling to talk to people, with the occasional concert, as Alan did. It could even be the Eric Stewart Project - ESP!!!!....sounds rather interesting......maybe.....!

I do remember quite a few gigs which just felt right on the night; the one at the Carré Theatre in Amsterdam stands out and the one in Tokyo in 1978.The audience there were so astounded by I'm Not In Love that when we had finished they sat in silence for a minute (it felt like an hour on stage) and then they applauded for 6 minutes. Those sort of nights stay with me. That concert which was shown on UK Arena recently was filmed during our second tour and I remember that it was shown on UK TV at the time.

........All those guitars! Do you still have the old favourites?
My old favourite GUITAAAAARS are still here! I have added a beautiful Taylor acoustic guitar to the pile, plus a 50s Gibson 225 semi-acoustic, single cutaway with 2 P50 pick ups; it has a nice jazzy sound. Most of the time I use my old '57 Fender Sunburst 'Stratocaster' which Ted Lee in Manchester has restored for me; it's great to play. My Les Paul is a 'Les Paul Custom' model from 1958, with the electrics modified by Ted Lee to give me a stereo output should I need it. I have plenty of favourite guitarists: Ry Cooder for slide, Lowell George from Little Feat for slide and voice, Mark Knopfler is seriously good, old Les Paul, Scotty Moore [Elvis 50s records], James Burton [Ricky Nelson], Cliff Gallup [Gene Vincent], Eddie Cochran...also Albert Lee and Martin Taylor, from England, who are outstanding.

What music are you listening to at the moment?
There are quite a few different albums in and out of my CD player. Lately I've been listening to the Buena Vista Social Club (a Cuban band produced by Ry Cooder); Dr. John (Duke Elegant, plus a superb live album from him); the new Steely Dan, which isn't bad at all but a bit samey; and albums by Keb Mo, an American blues guy who blows me away. He's done three albums with real gems, full of the natural feeling that I love. There's BB King's new album, 'The Music of Louis Jordan' - Lol has done the video for the recording. I also have a compilation sent to me by a close friend who designs cars for the Formula 1 McLaren team; it is his own choice of 50 of the most important Rock and Roll tracks from 1950 to 2000 and it's fantastic, very refreshing and it lifts me up.

..Eric, I’d like to ask you about a couple of people with whom you have worked. First of all, how did you meet Alan Parsons?
I met Alan through Eric Wolfson. Eric W. had worked with us at Strawberry North Studios in the late sixties, doing demos of his songs there. I think that our manager, Harvey Lisberg, was also managing Eric at that point.

Do you see any similarity between you and Eric Wolfson?
L ike Eric??!!! Seriously, we are from similar musical backgrounds and I liked a lot of his songs.

Do you ever choose which AP songs you sing?
I don’t have a say in the choice of songs. Alan picks the songs that he thinks will suit my voice. I have recorded some songs that Alan didn’t use on albums and I have also turned down songs that I didn’t like. By the way, you can hear my vocal double tracking behind Neil’s voice on Too Close to the Sun, although there is no credit on the album cover.

What are your favourite APP songs?
I love the big love ballad on Freudiana and I loved doing Blue Blue Sky. On Air is my favourite album.

How often do you see Alan?
We are in touch from time to time. He stays with me in France occasionally. He’s been in the States a lot lately, though, so we get together whenever we can. He’s a good mate.

Could you see yourself working with Alan on a more permanent basis?
I can’t see that happening really because we move in very different areas of music. I really just enjoy sitting in there with him and his writers, just singing and playing, without having to promote the stuff we are working on. …

On to Agnetha Faltskog. How did she come to ask you to work with her and did you enjoy producing that album?
I had met Aggy, along with Frida, Benny and Bongo (as the Swedes call Björn) at one of our earlier gigs in Sweden. She asked me to produce her because she liked the work I had done with 10cc and Sad Café. She also wanted me to write some songs for her and with her.

She was very professional and had a nice, easy going manner, as I recall; plus there was a good vibe in the studio with the musicians I had asked to help out. I know I feel more comfortable when I am in full control of a production. The fact that she decided to ‘retire’ just as we finished the album didn’t go down too well with me but I believe she was having a bad time with her ex who was leaving Sweden at that time.

In retrospect, I think the album has some great songs on it but some of the sounds are now dated. I asked quite a few of my friends in the Biz to contribute songs and play on them and I wanted Jeff Lynne’s One Way Love to go out as the first single but Aggy didn’t go for it. Shame, it was a sure fire hit.

Was it the only time you were involved in designing a cover?
Yes, except for Frooty Rooties which has a picture I owned by my favourite American "pin up" artist, Gil Elvgren on it.

…And now about Mirror Mirror. There is something I still don’t understand, even after having read Liam’s book. Why did you continue with this project when it became clear that you and Graham couldn’t really work together? Was there a contractual obligation?
Well. I think that it is time to get all the mystery surrounding the Mirror Mirror album out of the way and the 10cc fans can make up their own minds as to whether or not it should have been released as a 10cc album.

When we were asked by Avex to make what became Mirror Mirror I refused at first, partly because I hadn’t worked with GG for a long time and partly because I thought it was bordering on necrophilia to resurrect the 10cc name yet again. Harvey Lisberg then asked me if I minded GG putting out an album as 10cc on his own. Of course, I hit the roof! This didn’t go down well. Harvey then persuaded me to at least give it a try. So I asked GG to let me have a copy of the songs he intended putting forward to use on the album, simply because we hadn’t written together since well before the Meanwhile album…..I really needed to get an idea of where he thought a new 10cc album should be heading for musically, and to see if we had any common ground to work on.

I was sent a copy of GG’s proposed tracks and listened to them carefully……I was unhappy by what I heard. I called GG to voice my reservations. Naturally he disagreed with me and said they were ‘our babies’ and that we should stick with them no matter what the other person thinks. Oops, I thought, we have our old impasse situation again.

Apart from the AG/GG song Ready To Go Home, which I did like, and GG’s updated version of my song Take This Woman (that I had recorded some five years previously but never released) there was nothing there that I could consider working on. I did like the lyrics, chords and melody of Ready To Go Home and was asked to sing the lead vocal on it. I felt the treatment was too slow, heavy and doom laden so I suggested we re-do it as a big ‘Anthem’ number in the style of Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry… GG didn’t agree and at that point it became clear to us that there was no possibility of us working together on any of the tracks. We were indeed on different planets musically….

Can you believe that GG and I couldn’t even agree on a title for the album or the running order of the tracks, that’s what the situation had come to. Unfortunately, this had been a recurring problem since the split in 1976 – with 2 people we often reached an impasse. As a four man band we had to go with the majority but there can never be a majority with two people!

Still, the fans must make up their own minds about Mirror Mirror being 10cc, 5cc, 2.5cc or whatever. I wrote my songs, played on them, sang, engineered and mixed them as I always did. Adrian Lee added some ‘polish’ to some of the tracks eventually. But, for me, the album is a mish mash of styles – highlights and very low points. I don’t listen to the album. C’est la vie!

The promotion of the album was also very awkward because of this impasse situation. I wanted to go with something ‘up’ and 10cc like as a single…. but Avex went with the heavy version of Ready To Go Home and the rest is history!

We also had this pathetic promotions guy at Avex who had his head up his backside and made the job harder for us! He is now writing children’s books and is no longer in the music business – surprise surprise!!

A group, for me, is a lot like a Formula One team – you need a good product, a good crew around you and a driver who can win for you. We ended up steering the bloody thing in opposite directions and when we gave the wheel to someone else, such as Gary Katz, we crashed out of the race!

After that, back to the present day! Have you heard the Olive version of I’m Not In Love?
No, I haven’t but I have requested a copy. I always like people doing cover versions of our songs. They are sometimes really bad but it is nice to know that someone has had a go.

Finally (for now!!), how is the album coming along?
I remember you telling me a little while ago that you had 18 songs – how many will make it onto the album? A family holiday is taking priority at the moment but the album is coming along nicely! I haven’t yet decided which tracks to use. The songs titles are………no, no, not yet!!

Published May 2000, drawing by Diane Bentley

Further reading: the Official Eric Stewart Website



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