Nick R Thomas writes:
The interview with Stuart Tosh and Rick Fenn took place in Broadcasting House on the morning of Wednesday 8th February 1995, about a month after producer Sonia Beldom and myself had started work on the Well Above Average documentary.
I had never heard (or even read) any interviews with these two long-standing 10cc musicians so I was really keen to meet them especially having so enjoyed their contributions to the Classic Hits And More tour in 1993.
We chatted on the way up to the studio and, once wed all settled in, Sonia asked each of them to say something so she could test sound levels. Rick described what hed had to eat that morning muesli and Greek yoghurt, the most healthy breakfast hed had for a long time apparently!
Stuart recited a limerick:
There was a young man named Wyatt
Whose voice was incredibly quiet
Whatever hed say
Would just fade away
Until I cant tell you how it finished because as he said it, he deliberately made his voice fainter and fainter!
Stuart and Rick were interesting, friendly and enthusiastic interviewees and the time flew by. There was a lovely moment when Sonia asked them if they rehearsed! She knew perfectly well that they did she just wanted their startled reaction to the question on tape and got it. That sort of technique made her an award-winning radio producer before successfully moving on to television.
It was a shame that we were so spoilt for choice that we were not able to use much of what they said in the final, edited broadcast but they did at least have the penultimate words of the documentary and Rick was also heard on the music sessions.
We carried on chatting all the way out of the building until saying our goodbyes. We saw Rick three more times during the making of Well Above Average and Sonia was very taken with the way he kissed her hand when they met!
I am delighted to have the opportunity to bring the full version of this fascinating interview to 10cc fans
(Nick) So Stuart, can you start by saying how you were involved in Pilot, a litle bit about them and how you came to be invited to join 10cc?
(Stuart) Yes, well, actually, it's coming on for 20 years ago. January was at number 1 actually. It's frightening to think about that, time passing. It evolved from doing sessions in a studio in Edinburgh. David Paton and Billy Lyall wrote together and they'd sent demo's to the labels that were happening at the time. And I played drums on some of the demo's and we went down to EMI who loved the music and it really went from there. So we put the band together with Iain Bairnson and my involvement was about two and a half years really and then I left. Did a few sessions here and there and joined 10cc. I think Pilot at the time were slotted into being a little pop band, almost teeny-bop band, which ran against the grain with us at the time, because there was another Edinburgh band quite popular at the moment, at the time, clad in tartan [Editor's note : He is referring to a pop group called the Bay City Rollers, whose lead singer also happened to be called Eric!] and we were sort of unfortunately, perhaps, regarded as, in the same slot. But when the band played live, I think people realised there was more substance than just being a little pop band. Basically it was one of these situations once you're labelled in that category, it's hard to get out of it. But I think since the band's disbanded, everybody has, you know, continued to work, to this day. David's still working with major people and he did quite a while with Elton John. Iain Bairnson's worked with just an unbelievable list of people. So in that respect, musicianship still carries through.
It was quite by chance that I happened to apply for the job as it were. I was reading a music press and read of the split and thought "Crikey, what a shame!" A great band, I was, been a fan really...
(Rick) Yeah, I was a big fan, me
(Stuart) and just in passing I wondered if I should phone up. So I did and just as well I did (laughs). Like Rick, I went down to Strawberry in Dorking and the rest is history as they say. I suppose there is a similarity in both bands in that, in my own point of view in that, like, vocal harmony. 10cc were very much into vocal harmony so I was sort of naturally drawn to that when I heard they were looking for somebody
(Nick) Rick, can I ask you what your background was before joining 10cc?
(Rick) Well, they pretty much picked me up off the street you know (laughs). I was in a band called Gentlemen at the time. A Manchester band who sort of modelled themselves on Yes and Genesis and we were doing a TV. Probably the high point of our career and we asked Paul Burgess who was living in Manchester at the time, asked Paul Burgess to come and sit in on drums for us, and he rehearsed with us. He couldn't unfortunately make the gig when it came to it. But he really liked the band and we got on really well. My band fell to pieces about 6 to 9 months later and I suddenly got a phone call from Paul Burgess saying, you know, "I've played Eric and Graham tapes of the band. You've got the gig!" I thought "Yeah, yeah sure, you know!" (laughs). But I went to, went down for an audition which more or less was a formality, I mean, everyone seemed to get on really well and whoosh, there it was. So it's something of a rags-to-riches story for me. It was fabulous (laughs).
(Nick) Can I ask basically, because you both wrote songs on the albums, how very much they let you get involved in the production of writing songs, you know, the whole business of being an actual member of 10cc?
(Rick) They were really... um... when then the new band first formed, it was definitely done in the spirit of a full band. That's how they wanted to proceed, but obviously with Eric and Graham sort of being responsible for releasing the new band, being responsible for, you know, the band being what it was. They held a tight grip of the reins, which was right and proper as it, it should have been. But they were, in a way, they were very good at, about letting us get involved. We, Stuart and I, both co-wrote and Stuart actually ended up singing one of the, actually we both ended up doing lead vocals (laughs) on some of the stuff but Stuart actually ended up on some, one of the singles, didn't break, but, and you know, we were all in all the group photographs and everything like that. It was very much a band, a band spirit for the first two studio albums and the live, the first live album we did. And all that kind of changed around the time when Eric had his car accident. Everything changed around then really. It came at a terribly bad time for the band because we were really rocking at that time. I mean everything was going so well...
(Stuart) Very much so, and that was worldwide at the time. In fact we were due to go back to Japan and Australia
(Rick) The gear had already left on the boat (laughter)
(Stuart) That's right, stranded in Italy or somewhere, wasn't it?
(Rick) Yeah, we really feared for Eric, you know, for a while but by the grace of God he came back. But it took nearly a year really before we could all work together again. And it's amazing how the wind can go out of your sails in that time. So it really, what ultimately happened, Eric and Graham, we more or less disbanded actually. Stuart and I had both gone off and done other things. I'd gone off and worked with Mike Oldfield, toured around the world with him for a while and when we came back tgether again, it was very much Eric and Graham fronting the band and we came in on a session basis really. Probably quite a good way to work. We got involved in all the albums and all the tours from that point on and we always have, ever since then, in fact, always been involved in all the activities and stuff.
(Nick) That period just before the accident, you were doing some massive live shows, weren't you. Some two hours plus with the support...
(Stuart) Yeah, I think the first tour we did in 1977 with the new line-up, I think it was 2 hours and 20 minutes or 2 1/2 hours without a break. No intermission. And it seemed to fly by, didn't it. We didn't realise it was that long.
(Rick) There was a lot of stuff to play, wasn't there.
(Stuart) There was, yeah. Incredible.
(Rick) The last, that one we did with the big tape recorder, that's the one that, the last big tour we did before the band kind of broke, broke up, we had this massive sort of tape recorder, a model of a Technics thing, I think they were sponsoring the tour. Must have been about 30 foot, 40 foot high or something, wasn't it. All working, you know.
(Stuart) It was a kind of a snub to the Press perhaps, who were claiming that the band sounded so good live it was all on tape which was total nonsense. So we thought, well, we'll put a tape recorder up... (laughs). In fact we could only get it in a few gigs couldn't we, it was so big.
(Rick) Yeah, 10cc tongue in cheek.Yeah, there were some gigs we couldn't get it in.
(Stuart) Places like Wembley and Manchester, various other places but it was enormous.
(Rick) Great tour.
(Nick) You were saying about the accident and the effect it had. It was over a year before you put out another album. I've read Eric quoting, saying he didn't think Look Hear? had the magic of the other albums and the critics absolutely savaged it, and it just didn't sound the way the others had. Do you think also the musical climate had changed so much, you survived the punk thing but then all the synthesiser bands were coming along, and they were getting all the airplay...
(Rick) I guess it was a tough time for "thinking music" really. I mean that's not putting down punk. I think it had quite a lot to offer in a way but the media at large, I think they weren't very, they homed in on it to such an extent that they weren't very kind to, I mean you had, certain people seemed to ride it but 10cc, what with everything else that was going on, with the accident and everything else and just trying to pick ourselves up, I mean there were other things, the album it just, somehow the spirit wasn't there when we were recording that album, I remember that quite well. I think it would have been fine if there'd been just one song that was, you know, that broke on the singles market, but nothing was, just quite had that little extra edge. But it wasn't as good as what was before and I think what has come since either. That's just an opinion but it seems to be quite widely shared.
(Stuart) Yeah I agree with that.
(Nick) Was that just in Britain? I mean, a massive following in Europe and Japan and everywhere. Did the same thing happen there?
(Rick) Japan always seemed to like us, didn't they?
(Stuart) Yeah, I think they're pretty loyal to us
(Rick) Holland was always very big. Yeah, I mean even some of the singles that disappeared without a trace over here did reasonably well in Europe didn't they. But there was nothing that really sort of seems to have stayed in the public's mind very much since, Dreadlock Holiday was the last sort of big hit, international hit that we had.
(Stuart) A while back yeah, it was.
(Nick) I was struck at the time too that there were these two film soundtracks that Eric and Graham had done individually and they came out at exactly the same time really as the Look Hear? album, on the same label. It seemed crazy to be promoting all three things at the same time.
(Rick) That was part of the problem that was going on at that time really. The year off had made everyone start, you know, getting involved in other things. You know, Graham's a man who doesn't like to be inactive and he's obviously famous and everything and he gets offers and one of these offers was a film score. So he got involved in that and some certain amount of energy went into that and the same sort of happened to Eric around the same time. What happened, the energy got dissipated. This is what I think, it was very tragic really, the timing of the whole thing from the band's point of view. I think that's really how it came about, because there was this time, this void, in which we had to wait for Eric to get better. And so a certain amount of energy and probably a certain amount of the creative, you know, side of Eric and Graham, you know, Eric and Graham's talents went away rather than focussing in on the next album.
(Nick) In 1983 you did two sell-out tours of Britain in one year, within 6 months of each other. The last single Feel The Love got only 3 prime time television appearances plus a live concert on television and it still didn't make it so presumably Eric and Graham thought this was the time to put this to bed
(Rick) Yeah I think it was getting to the point where we weren't playing, it just started to feel a little like a nostalgia thing when we went out. I mean and this was, and at the time I thought let's put it away, really.
(Stuart) I think from day one the general feeling within the band was we'd never go out and do nostalgia hits, cabaret type circuit, if the band went into decline to a great degree. So maybe that was an element in it. It was maybe not time to pack up completely but...
(Rick) Put it on ice, the back burner
(Stuart) Yes indeed, yes
(Nick) Then of course, after 9 years, Eric and Graham did the Meanwhile album which I think was their biggest ever selling album in Japan and you went and toured Japan and a live album here. And it's amazing that this was recorded on the first two nights of the tour, that you hadn't played together for nearly 10 years at that stage.
(Rick) That's it, the band was smoking! I mean it really was. That's what was really good fun about getting back together again. I was a little unsure about how it was going to be because I wondered if it was going to be a little nostalgic, you know, that sort of cabaret flavour but it didn't feel like that at all. We'd also got some fantastic people in for the tour, Gary Wallis and Steve Pigott, who are masters of their instruments, came in and the band never sounded so good, I didn't think it did anyway. Everyone was just digging it so much that the album had to sound good really. A lot better than the first live album.
(Stuart) Without a doubt!
(Nick) And not really a nostalgia tour - you've got the hits, you've got the Beatles cover versions and material from the meanwhile album
(Rick) Yeah but the idea of putting the Beatles stuff in was just because it had never been done. Eric and Graham, or 10cc, had never ever played anyone else's songs live so it was just a good idea. Also because it was going to be recorded, it might be nice to do that on an album as well. It came out pretty good.
(Nick) And then a sell-out tour of Britain following that. The two I went to I know were sold out, as I'm sure the whole tour was. It was a fantastic response, people recognising everything.
(Rick) Yeah it was really good fun, yeah.
(Stuart) We played a few venues we hadn't done before as well. One that springs to mind is Lincoln. A bit of fun there, oh yeah, it was hanging off the ceilings.
(Rick) Yeah I hope we do it again, you know.
(Nick) And there is this enormous following as I saw on that tour. But without getting the airplay, the album has been pretty much ignored. But there's this huge following that loves the songs and go to the concerts.
(Stuart) Well that's it, they remember the songs.
(Rick) It's such a tricky one really. You know, you've got to in the end just take things as they come, and you can't really blame anyone for these things and it could all come back again. There's a lot of bands out there having record success that they haven't had, a record, I mean, Simple Minds, they've just had a record. I mean, I know they, wasn't that long ago but probably 7 or 8 years ago since the last hit, that's off the top of my head, but Human League, there's another band that just got another hit. I mean it does happen and I think it could easily happen. There's a very good energy at the moment. Eric and Graham just made a lovely album. And it could easily happen again.
(Stuart) Let's hope so. (both laugh)
(Nick) Are there any particular memories you've got. We've got one or two stories from Peter Tattersall about the sort of practical jokes the band are always playing. Any memories of that sort of thing?
(Stuart) I remember a near disaster. Do you remember in the early days we had the 10cc logo - rotating mirror ball. And it was, it came in, it was lowered in and I can't remember where it was but it almost took my head off (laughs) And I was aware of this thing just about crowning me on the head and I thought "My God!" I literally had to get off my drum stool and I think they were shouting at this old fellow "STOP!!!" Look, no drummer! I remember that, I can't remember where it was but I'll never forget that.
(Rick) I can remember, this is the practical joke the crew used to do...
(Stuart) Oh I remember them using a harmoniser on the vocals.
(Rick) Oh God, yes. They're sending the vocals down the monitors through a harmoniser through a delay line...
(Stuart) ...your voice would go up and down an octave. The audience would never hear it, just you through the monitor. So you're either sounding like Mickey Mouse or Barry White.
(Sonia) Have you got a particular track that you, or record, song that you like playing the best gig-wise, live-wise?
(Stuart) I remember one of the hardest songs to play live and it was a single which unfortunately didn't really happen. It was the Nouveaux Riches.
(Rick) The Nouveaux Riches was great, I don't know why it didn't do better actually, a great song.
(Stuart) Not the easiest one to play and sing at the same time.
(Rick) We played it probably on one tour. It's always very demanding when you've got to play and sing something complicated at the same time, quite funny. We've had to do a lot of that as well, because Stuart and I'd always been involved in the backing vocals and that one was pretty hard when you're trying to play one rhythm and sing sincopated backing vocals...
(Stuart) I think when you record, obviously you're playing the instrument independently of doing the vocal and you do the vocal once all the back track is done...
(Rick) You try and put them together.
(Stuart) ...and you don't realise until you come to a rehearsal situation and you get them together and you think "Oh good grief!"
(Rick) It's like trying to learn the piano one hand at a time and then put them together.
(Stuart) A bit more difficult than walking and chewing gum at the same time.
(Sonia) Is there anything sort of "off the record", is there one number that you just sail through, it just goes over you when you're on stage, sort of becomes very mechanical?
(Stuart) I don't think any of them. That's the beauty of 10cc songs. They're all so varied.
(Rick) What's the name of that one I play piano on? There's one I play piano on and I mean, I'm quite a good sort of honky tonk pianist but this was, you know, quite awful lot of chords and it modulates in the middle, and I was really like on my own with this. You know, Vic used to play keyboards on that particular tour and he used to do all the strings and everything. But I was sort of stuck on the piano and I really used to get the jitters about that on that tour. I never normally get nervous on tour, i really look forward to the gigs, I never used to get nervous, but that tour I used to get terribly nervous. Mmm, wouldn't like to do that again.
(Stuart) I think my nerve-wracking thing was when I sang that thing I co-wrote with Eric, Reds In My Bed, where I was from the security of behind the drum-kit, I was...
(Rick) We'd drag him down the front with an acoustic guitar
(Stuart) ...and put a guitar on. And I'm no guitarist and when you've been playing percussion and drums all evening, your fingers are sort of fattened up or whatever, or swollen, and you're trying to shape chords and sing at the same time. Feels like you've a hand with a bunch of bananas. Nightmare! That was on the Canadian/US tour.
(Rick) Yes, I used to get, because I've only ever sung one song for 10cc. It was one of my own songs and used to get quite nervous about that too. But it was fun.
(Stuart) Well it was certainly a change from being stuck at the back to be out front there.
(Sonia) The acoustic version at the moment of I'm Not In Love that's about to come out, is that the version that you'd always perform on stage?
(Rick) No, no. It did actually change, I mean, what Stuart said about the tapes. 10cc were actually one of the first people I think to use backing tape on tour. I mean it did actually happen, but it only used to happen on that one song. Basically it was just the voices which would, especially when the record first came out, really was impossible to reproduce that sort of thing. Nowadays, with the sort of digital technology, it's a lot easier to do. On the last tour we went out, we did it, we reproduced it really well. (to Nick) I don't know what you thought, you saw the last tour. There was no tapes on that tour at all, but most of the band's career there was that one song that did use the vocals on tape. We used to get a click track through or soemthing to play with but the audience used to get these massive voices out the p.a. And this new version is the first time they've ever really done that. I think the novelty value really when they recorded it for radio, came in, listened to it and thought mmm it does actually sound really good like that but, and it really did go down exactly like you hear it. They just sat and played the whole thing and sang it as it came out. We played it on stage except for those voices but on the last tour it was particularly satisfying 'cause I'd always really, really, you know, wanted so much to have to play it for real but it's so much a part of the sound of that record, these mass voices and it wasn't just like 3-part harmonies, it's just like a wash of voices. In fact what they did is have every note in the octave on a separate track on a multi-track and they had it, they moved them all up a little bit and they sort of waved them in and out so it really was an impossible job to reproduce literally live, but on the last tour we had ratehr more sophisticated keyboards then we've ever had a chance to have before and we just found ways of getting, also we had Steve Pigott's, the magic fingers of Steve Pigott who done a marvellous job of reproducing that part of the record. So that, I'm sure, that's the way we'll always do it if we go out again. I'm sure we'll always do it live again from now on, I mean, and it was only that that wasn't live, I mean, everything else was, it was still quite a hard song to put out live.
(Nick) Feel The Benefit live was 10cc's Stairway To Heaven. It's a very classic album track, 11 minutes long, can you tell us something about that, playing...
(Rick) We've played it every single tour we've done.
(Stuart) We've done it ever since it was on the album, every time. Still goes down very well, doesn't it!
(Rick) What can I tell you about it really? It's a good un that's for sure. Always enjoy it.
(Sonia) Can I ask about whether you rehearse?
(Rick) Do we rehearse? (laughter) What? Before we go on tour?
(Stuart) Oh yeah (more laughter).
(Rick) I mean, yeah, no more than anybody else, but it probably takes 2 or 3 weeks, to you know, new songs. Every time we've gone out on tour, we've always played some new material and you have to learn that but I mean, the last time we went on tour, we hadn't done it for nearly 10 years. And I mean I didn't know whay key I was in. Fortunately Eric and Graham could still remember. No I had to really relearn the lot, you know.
(Stuart) Yeah, it's two to three weeks of fairly intensive study.
(Rick) Honestly, I thought it was gonna take more but when you actually get rolling, it didn't actually take more than, a lot, 4 weeks amd actually doing it in 2 weeks and the rest of the time you just sort of...
(Sonia) Sorry, I just wanted that reaction (laughter) People always assume that yeah, just get up on stage and do it, but do they ever think 'I wonder if they rehearse this?'
(Rick) It was a very technically demanding set actually, but I'm sure a lot of bands play technically demanding sets but I mean probably because we used to have so much vocal stuff, and it really is, does split your brain you know, trying to do both. It's fine when you get the hang of it but trying to make that happen requires a little more rehearsal than I think, perhaps.
(Stuart) Panic factor.
(Sonia) And the usual old one... do you get the jitters before you go on stage or are you too old and hardened?
(Stuart) Oh no every time.
(Rick) I've already answered that one. No, I only got the jitters on that tour 'cause I absolutely, you know, crapped myself about thatone piano thing, I mean, I love it.
(Stuart) I mean you do relax to a certain extent but I think you're always nervous, aren't you? It's a good thing, gets the adrenalin going.
(Rick) Adrenalin rush, but I wouldn't say I've ever got fears, more excitement from my point of view.
(Stuart) I mean, still, to this day, doing this theatre thing at the moment every night even though I've been doing it for about a year. It's Roy Orbison's story, Bill Kenwright, Only The Lonely, Picadilly Theatre...
(Sonia) ... talk about that afterwards
(Nick) If you could just say something about the perfectionism of Eric and Graham in the studio and live as well, we've heard they've this reputation...
(Stuart) Well, yes, I mean...
(Rick) Healthy perfectionism...
(Stuart) I remember a sign in Strawberry Studios... "In the pursuit of perfection there can be no compromise". That kind of summed it up, hasn't it.
(Rick) Yes, sounds like a political thing.
(Stuart & Rick together) In the pursuit of perfection there can be no compromise
(Stuart) I think it goes for everybody when you listen to a band like 10cc you can hear what's going into the music. It is very involved and it is very precise.
(Rick) Classy pop songs
(Stuart) Thinking man's pop
(Rick) Yeah, yeah, a band I've always been very proud to be associated with.
(Sonia) When are you next on the road, do you know?
(Rick) I dunno, I'm doing this little acoustic gig with them next week but Harvey's a, is always, that's their manager, he's always very hot to get the band out and now Eric and Graham have, are sort of free and working together and got such a great album, I'm sure they'll be very een to make it happen. So I have pretty high hopes, one way or another. It's an expensive band to take out because there really isn't any compromising. I think it has to have a good sound system, it has to have a good crew and it all costs money. So it, the economics are all, that's what's got to work. But I think that'll probably happen. Enough interest in the band, it's just a matter of making it, putting it all together but I'm sure it will happen.
(Sonia) In the summer maybe??
(Rick) There's hope
(Stuart) Maybe perhaps earlier than that. It could coincide with the release of the album.
(Rick) I think it's very likely we'll go back to Japan again because the band seems to be in big demand over there and so even if it starts with that, once that's happened, you know it's an up and running band, you know. Which is half the battle really with, once the band's sort of more or less rehearsed, it's that much easier to take it out again. And this time, playing territories we've never been to. I mean, South Africa's a territory which hads not been politically sound to go to for years, even though they wanted us out there. I mean, we didn't obviously want to do it. Now it's all changed and that's a territory where they have showed a lot of interest and so maybe we'll go there or we haven't been back to Australia for a very long time. But God knows what will happen. I just feel pretty good about, you know, the band. Well, you know, the band's getting relaunched with an acoustic version of I'm Not In Love and with a bit of luck, that will relaunch the band onto the road in the very near future, eh Stuart?
(Stuart) Indeed. Well, it's on the new album.
(Rick) That alright? That sort of thing?
(Sonia) Lovely, that's great because we've sort of run out of time I'm afraid. We could have talked and talked for ages. Nothing desperate we've missed?
(Nick) No, no
(Sonia) It's great, well, thanks for being so pliable.
(Stuart) That's okay
(Rick) Pliable is my middle name
(Sonia) That's great!