For a while I published “Song Story Sunday” where I took a song and made a collage of it, going through the various stages of development. Today I’m reviving this feature for a song called “One of A Kind”. This song was co-written with Tommy Morrison. Just under a week ago I heard this song played as we all bid our final farewell to Tommy. The version we used for that occasion was by Elkie Brooks because Tommy was justly proud that his song had been recorded by a major artist.
Naked song alert !! – the collage starts with my rough “dooh be doo be dooh” rendition. All I had was the title. I gave this to Tommy to develop a lyric and next there is a version sung by Tommy when he’d done the lyrics. This is not a simple pop song lyric – “I’ve spent a lifetime, or so it seems, moving in circles, dealing in dreams”, pure Morrison Magic. Next there is a version sung by Phil Caffrey that I used to pitch for covers. This version can be heard on the recently released “Sleepless Nights” album by Caffrey, Morrsion, Thompson. Then we hear the version by Elkie Brooks released on her “Pearls iii” CD and also as a single in various parts of Europe. Finally, there is an updated version I started to work on about a year ago. Maybe I need to finish this?
SUNDAY SONG STORY: This weeks story has a festive theme so I thought I’d bring it forward a day. Back in the 90’s I was producing demo recordings for other songwriters. They would send me their rough efforts and I’d record a polished product with which they could seek fame and fortune. I had a stable of singers on tap to sing these songs including Phil Caffrey, Dave Black, Tanya Rowlands, Mark ‘Busk’ Conlin, Liz Wilson & the infamous Mick Whitaker who features in this story. This group of singers was known as the ST Stable of Singers, the studio was ST Studios, the writers were ST Writers and we had a regular newsletter for this merry band of souls which was edited and produced by one of the writers. Given all this. it seemed only right that we should distribute a special Christmas recording to all these folks and it is the 1998 ST Christmas special that is featured below. That day Mick Whitaker was in the studio. As Mick didn’t drive I used to take him home at the end of sessions but our journey was always impeded by the fact there was a pub (The Coach Inn) in the way between my studio and his home. I’m explaining this to give some context to the track you will hear. It is indeed a live recording I just ran some inane loop and then went into the vocal booth with Mick for some impromptu (well hastily prepared) festive singing. Enjoy!
SUNDAY SONG STORY: The previous two stories have included Toni Haliday and this is the third and final in a song story trilogy. You may have noted in the preceding stories that I was striving to develop material that would work for Toni as an artist. She was young and edgy and I needed material that reflected that. I felt I was getting close with Paris By Air. I also looked around for younger musicians for her to work with as my session guys were decrepit 25-26 year olds!
I attended many scruffy rehearsal rooms auditioning bands for Toni and As I eventually hooked Toni up with Hot Snax who were a cooking young band of the time with quite a large following. We arranged a TV show “Check It Out” where Toni and Hot Snax performed live and she and I recorded an interview to camera in the recording studio for inclusion on the show. The day after the show I got a call from Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame. Toni had said in the interview that one of her influences was Annie Lennox. Dave said, The Eurythmics were on tour and although Annie had gone off to Scotland, Toni could meet him for a chat if she wished. I arranged a car and took Toni over to a cafe in Sunderland (Daves home town) where he was holding a kind of royal court. I don’t recall much of this but after a couple of hours I had to head back to the studio in Wallsend to do a session and Dave came with us. I just got on with the session and the entourage went off to the green room.
Anyway, afterwards I started to develop the song that is the subject of this weeks story. “Empty Pockets”. This has some elements of “Paris By Air” but is far more edgy. I wove into it some of the things Toni had told me such as the fact she had her handbag stolen at a party. She was bemused that such a thing should happen at a “posh” party. I recorded the track and gave it as much edge as possible even double tracking the snare drum with a dustbin lid. I called Toni to come in and have a go at Vocals but could not raise her after several tries. I then sent a couple of letters which went unanswered. This was frustrating as I believed I now had the track that would achieve what we had been striving for. Then one day I got a call from a Lawyer. He said “do you realise that this girl is below the age of consent to enter into contract”. I just said “yes, I do” and hung up. Everything that we’d done had been done with Toni’s Mothers approval and clearly Toni had desperately wanted every opportunity that had been put her way. However, when an artist decides they want out there is little point in discussion or coercion so I just let it go. From the day I introduced Toni to Mr Stewart I never heard from nor saw her again. Your conjecture about what happened that day will probably be as accurate as mine. I believe she went on to have a fairly successful career but I never received any gratitude for the efforts I made in her formative stages. This was not the first nor the last time this had happened so I did not spend too much time thinking about it.
And what of the track? Well I shelved it because it was very hybrid and not suitable for pitching about to other artists. However, in the studio one day there was a young guy called David Baird and I cajoled him into to singing it. He did a fine job and added a blistering sax. In retrospect, maybe we should have put his version out.
Anyway, here it is after 32 years: EMPTY POCKETS by Rewind. Available for download now (follow the link below). Lets see if we can beat the X Factor to the Christmas number one!
SUNDAY SONG STORY: I mentioned Toni Haliday (CURVE) last week so let’s continue that story. At first I was giving Toni songs to sing that I had lying around but I realised that if I wanted to get her a record deal I needed to write stuff that matched her age and attitude. I was sitting in a London pub with my publisher of the time (1979-ish) and he was giving me tips on where to find inspiration for songs. “Take this pub for instance”, he said, waving his hand around the room “you could write a song called The Duke Of Wellington”. My eyes alighted on a poster and I replied “No, I’m going to write a song called Paris By Air”, (as the poster declared). I then described what the story would be, a young girl trapped in a council estate and a hum drum life longing to escape.
“I walk down the street with time on my hands,
The sign on the walls show far off lands,
But I don’t know a soul in this neighbourhood,
Can afford the fare, I’m stuck here for good.”
I was drawing on some of the things Toni had told me about her life. I always planned the song would be for her. Back home in Whitley Bay I put together the song. The first sequence on the sound file is my rough demo from the time. Toni was young and an unseasoned singer at the time and I put together a very simple melody which revolved mostly around just three notes. The next part of the audio sequence is Tonis demo. I had a bunch of mates record the track with me and I’m on a Rickenbacker 12 string.
Now at this time the house I was living at in Whitley Bay contained various members of The Tygers of Pan Tang. Singer Jon Deverill and also oddly the singer he replaced Jess Cox. I seem to recall this led to the odd bit of tension. Also living there was guitarist John Sykes. John Sykes played his guitar through an old record player incessantly. When I came home from the studio each day he would stop and ask me what I’d been recording that day and been doing and I’d often play rough or finished mixes of tracks. Rocky, the bass player didn’t live there but he must have been visiting on the day I played them “Paris By Air” because I later learned that Rocky had lobbied the band to record the song for a year or so. And so it came to pass that the Tyger recorded Paris By Air for their fourth album, The Cage. This necessitated some changes of lyrics to suit a male singer. For me the lyrics don’t work quite so well in the male context. John Deverill made his own minor changes (misunderstandings perhaps) that again threw the context off. I had Toni sing that she didn’t know anyone in her neighbourhood who could afford the fare so they were stuck there. Jon sang that he didn’t know anyone in his neighbourhood AND HE couldn’t afford the fare so he was stuck there. Subtle, but a world of difference. However, it had no effect on the songs success and it came out as a single and became a minor hit. The album was a huge success and went top 20. The third segment on the audio collage is the Tygers version and the fourth is their live rendition.
SONG STORY SUNDAY: Back with a story after missing a couple of weeks. This week let’s look at “Looking For Love In A Stranger”. Toni Haliday walked into the studio one day and said she wanted to be a pop star. She eventually had some success with Curve but I recall she was just 14 at the time. She had attitude and a decent voice so I gave it a go. This song was already done (complete with Rickenbacker 12 string) and I put her vocals on it. It’s not really her thing and I later spent some time trying to develop suitable material for her. I later put Mick Whitaker’s vocal on it too . Wayne Bickerton of State Records called and said he’d like to cut this and another song from the same session (She’s a Runaway) as singles with Mick. Wayne said he loved the demos and asked who was playing on them. I told him it was Paul Smith on Drums and me doing the rest. So Wayne said I should come down and play guitar and he’d hire some session musicians for the rest. We cut the tracks at Waynes Odyssey Studios which was pretty new at the time. http://www.philsbook.com/odyssey.html
The single came and that’s the second segment you hear on the audio collage. When I returned to Newcastle, Keith Satchfied asked me about the sessions and who had played on the track. I said the drummer was called Simon and the bass player had an unusual name. Keith said – was the drummer Simon Philips, I said yes. So was the bass player Mo Foster. I said yes that’s it. Keith says F*** me, you’ve only been playing guitar with the Jeff Beck group!!
Unfortunately Micks single did not set the world alight and did not sell well. About a year later I was at Odyssey doing something else and Wayne introduced me to Chris Farlowe. Chris had come in to sing his own version of the song and that’s the third segment on the collage. I don’t even recall if Chris’s version got released or not.
In the early 80’s I was signed to MCA Music. One day I got a call from my mentor there, Pete Waterman. Pete said I there was a big-shot movie producer in town and I was was urgently needed the next day in London to meet up with him. I flew down and arrived in Pete’s office around midday. Pete introduced me to an American guy who’s name now escapes me. He was one of the producers of the movie, Jaws 3D which was nearing completion.
Anyway, this guy treated me to the story of his wonderful new movie and told me all it needs is a killer song. Apparently it’s a “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl” theme. Except in this case there are no boys and girls involved; the lovers in question are dolphins. He says they have Streisand lined up to sing this yet to be written song. Pete has put me in the frame to write the lyrics and makes his office available to conduct my work. Pete and the American guy went off to lunch saying they will check my progress on their return. As they are leaving the American called back over his shoulder, ( American Accent) “hey kid, gimme a lurve song for two dolphins”
Alone in the office I slid the cassette into the machine. Shit!!!!! How on earth could I turn this orchestral pomp into a song. Still I had been charged with the task so I had to try. I spent the next two hours racking my brain and writing one liners and drawing doodles. Click here to see my handiwork.
The guys arrived back and the American says, “OK Kid, whaddyah got?”
I said, “not much” and passed over the piece of paper and waited to be well and truly spanked. Pete (ever the bullshitter) went into overdrive. “What did I tell you about my boy, F***ing brilliant, just look at this, “sink or swim, I will follow him”, that’s a killer line”. It was just about the only line but Pete was leaving no room for contradiction. He was already on the phone booking a studio for that evening. Then he dashed out of the office and grabed another MCA staffwriter who had a good singing voice. This hapless guy was named Simon Jeffries and he was going to have to sing this crap. Like me, Simon was not going to say no to the guy responsible for signing his yearly salary cheque (publishers advance).
I was therefore obliged to spend the rest of the day making words fit to soaring violins and trumpets. The pain of this was nothing compared to the recording session that evening. I think we nearly killed the poor vocalist. Unsurprisingly, I never heard another thing about my entry into the world of movie themes and as it happens I never saw Simon again either.
However, like many things in our past – it has ended up on YouTube – this is NOT to be taken seriously.
I realise the previous stories may a bit name droppy so this one will be a bit of an antidote to that. I have written my fair share of duffers so let’s have a listen to one now shall we. When I quit being in a rock band and decided to concentrate on songwriting it was a whole different ball game, writing and pitching songs to artists than writing with and for a band you’re a member of.
The two demos here represent a couple of firsts on that journey. The opening track is the first time an artist recorded one of my songs locally and the next track is the first time an artist cut one of my tracks for national release. There is a common thread between the two as well and that is that I began to notice that producers were sticking pretty close to my demos. I capitalised on this by being very careful with arrangements and production ideas. I couldn’t compete with the high quality studios they used but I could give them a blue print for their production.
I don’t have the original demo for song one close to hand but it will have been recorded on my Akai 2 track. It’s called “Ways of Making You Talk” and the artists are the Debonaires. What on earth was I thinking of: “When we get right down to the thumbscrews, fix your feet so that you can’t walk, Stick bamboo shoots up your nose, we have ways of making you talk”. The next song is better; Messing Around, the demo sung by the Caffrey Bros followed by the actual Bruce Ruffin version as released by RCA records in 1980.
As last weeks SONG STORY SUNDAY featured the Searchers, how about Mike Pender this week. First you’ll hear “It’s Over” which was a solo single for Mike. I did not write this song but I produced the single as well as paying bass and keyboards on it. My co-producer and I, John Verity gave him one of our songs as the B Side which is what you hear next. It’s a pretty crappy song really but to give Mike his due he did his best with it.
Anyway when the single came out Mike had set up Mike Pender’s Searchers he called me asking me to do a TV show with them in Manchester. I was playing off stage and would not be in camera shot. However, various camera men and dudes with clipboards found my positioning not to their liking as I kept getting into shot. I was eventually moved to about 30 feet away. Now, although I had a monitor it was a bit discomforting to be playing with a band that was small figures in the distance. What was really difficult was that I could not hear the drummer’s count-in. A couple of times I had to add to the surreal-ness of the situation by shouting across the studio floor, “sorry I missed the intro can you count in a bit louder”
SONG STORY SUNDAY: This week it’s the Searchers. It was this song and a track sent me by Roy Clough that started me thinking about stories behind songs as this one has an interesting history.
I was a big fan of the Searchers in the sixties so it was a pleasure to work with them in the early 80’s. Now not many people know this but the song they recorded was originally a “Cowboy Song”. Yes, the first demo demonstrates this both in the lyric and in a short intro by a guy called Ken Black. Ken was a retired policeman and used to come round the studio a lot. For some reason that escapes me now I had Ken record an intro to each song in the batch of demos. I explained the story behind the lyric as an imaginary western where a bad hombre was hiding away in a backwater one-horse town.
My publisher of the time Brian Oliver called me and suggested if I were to take a verse from another of my songs and the chorus from this one, re-write the lyrics then I’d have a hit on my hands. Always willing to oblige I did as he said and you can hear this version next on the audio collage. In the early 80’s I was signed to MCA music and my mentor was Pete Waterman. Pete got the song to The Searchers who decided to cut it as their next single and the producer was to be Peter Collins who Waterman managed. The next version you hear is the Searchers but this is not the mix that got released. This is the one that Roy sent me recently.
It’s possible that this mix was a bone of contention between Waterman and Collins and may have lead to the breakup of their partnership. Collins thought that the raw rocky mix was a good representation of the modern day Searchers. Waterman disagreed because, as always he had his sights on the charts. He wanted all the bells and whistles and Collins obliged. This is the next version you hear and the one that was released. The single entered the lower region of the UK charts but it charted and went gold on a K Tel compilation album. Later the Searchers recorded another of my songs “Innocent Victim” and both tracks feature on their 30th and 40th Anniversary albums as well as various other compilations.
There is a YouTube of the band performing the song on the Leo Sayer show here:
The Searchers were performing at Castles in Catchgate (Co Durham UK) which is near where I was raised and where my old band Bullfrog used to rehearse so I arranged to go along (by now I was living in Whitley Bay) When I got to the gig I went into the dressing room and introduced myself to the band. It was a great show and it was quite a blast to hear my song in the midst of all those classic tracks. What made it even better was that John McNally (or was it Frank Allen) introduced the song and said “this song was written by a guy who used to go to school around here and he ‘s standing at the bar over there, Steve Thompson”. I got a round of applause & it felt great.
Here is another of my songs going through it’s various stages. Firstly there is my home rough demo using a DR 55 Dr Rhythm drum machine (a very early drum machine ). Next I took it to Guardian Studios in Pity Me (UK) where Paul Smith supplied the drums I did the rest and Dave Black added the vocals. I’m afraid I don’t recall the name of the girl who did harmonies. Next we hear Sheena Easton’s version. This was released in 1982 on the top twenty album “Madness Money and Music”. Unfortunately my song was not included on the USA release but it did really well in Japan and was added to later Stateside releases. Finally there is a version by Celine Dion which is a French adaptation by Eddie Marnay released both as a single and album track in 1984. The single was a hit in France and Canada and the album Les Chemins de ma Maison also did well. As you can imagine the album has been re-released many times now and Ne Me Plaignez Pas is on oodles of compilation CD’s which continue to sell well to this day. Incidentally, Sheena’s version was produced by Chris Neil who also went on to produce Celine Dion. I’ve featured a live version of Ne Mr Plaignez Pas which I prefer