If Graham Gouldman was known only for his contribution to 70s rock icons 10cc, that would surely be enough to make him a music legend, but by the time 10cc first hit the charts in 1972, Graham was already one of Britain’s most accomplished and sought after songwriters.
Graham was just 18 when For Your Love became a top 3 hit for The Yardbirds in 1965. Heart Full of Soul (#2) and Evil Hearted You (#3) quickly followed establishing Graham as one of the brightest young talents in a golden era for rock and pop. Now aged 71, Graham is still writing, recording and touring, working as hard as ever, and still loving it.
“Oh yes,” he told me, ahead of his recent solo tour. “They are the three things I love, touring, recording and song-writing.” In fact, it has been three years since Graham been able to take his solo acoustic show Heart Full Of Songs on the road because of the continual demands of touring with Graham Gouldman and Friends as 10cc.
The Heart Full Of Songs tour gives Graham the opportunity to strip back the songs and include some of his vast catalogue that he would not be able to include in a 10cc set.
“It’s quite different from the 10cc show which is all lights and production, a big band sound. This is a much more intimate affair.
“The songs take on a different character. You home in on the lyrics a lot more, listening to them in a pure form and I get to share what is was like the first time it was written. Obviously I was there,” he laughs, “the first time I’m Not In Love was ever played because I co-wrote it! That’s what I want people to feel.
“I’m Not In Love is a good example. It’s quite famous for its production, but to hear it in its pure form, it stands up very well. That’s the sign of a good song, really, if it works like that. The production is a plus but there has to be a good song at the heart of it all. The show also gives me the chance to talk about the songs a little bit, how they came about and what inspired them.
“I hasten to say that I was very shocked to think of how many decades I’m drawing these songs from! It’s wonderful to have that and it gives me the luxury of being able to pick the songs that really suit being played acoustically.”
Born in 1946, the young Graham grew up listening to the pioneers of rock and roll before becoming involved in the vibrant local music scene in Manchester.
“I was fortunate to be born in an age of Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, Cliff Richard and Elvis, coming through the skiffle era with Lonnie Donegan. I think The Beatles were probably the biggest influence on my writing. Manchester was a university town, there were lots of clubs and coffee bars and places for people to play. Every week there would be a major band come through.”
After receiving a guitar as a gift at the age of 11, Graham as involved in several local teenage groups before a longer stint with the Whirlwinds who became the house band for the local Jewish Lads Brigade youth club. Lol Creme and Kevin Godley were also finding their way playing with another group, the Sabres, and they soon became close friends with Graham.
In the frenzy to sign Mancunian bands, the Whirlwinds landed a deal with HMV, but soon broke up and Gouldman and Godley joined forces in the Mockingbirds who became the warm-up band for the Top Of The Pops TV show, recorded in Manchester.
With the help of Herman’s Hermits’ manager Harvey Lisberg, Graham’s composition For Your Love found its way to the Yardbirds. Their recording was released on the 5th March 1965, entering the charts at number 32 on the 18th March and reaching number 3 just three weeks later. That must have been a great thrill for a teenage songwriter.
“Damn right! That was fantastic, I was very proud, very happy about that. That started a run with them and other people – the Hollies, Herman’s Hermits, so it all got quite serious.”
The rest, as they say, is history, a catalogue that includes Herman’s Hermit’s hits No Milk Today and East, West, Pamela, Pamela (Wayne Fontana) and Look Through Any Window and Bus Stop for the Hollies. I had to confess that Bus Stop is one of my all time favourite songs.
“And mine!” Graham laughed. “It was semi-autobiographical. Some songs are complete fiction and some a mixture of fiction and reality, with quite a lot of imagination. I used to take the bus to work every day before I became a professional writer. There is a bit of fantasy there but the bus stop was real. When I was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, you have to perform one song and I chose Bus Stop.”
Although he was now a successful songwriter, Graham was still a frustrated performer. Following the demise of the Mockingbirds, he began work on his first solo album, The Graham Gouldman Thing, with John Paul Jones, shortly before Jones joined Led Zeppelin. Tracks included some Graham’s best known hits and he was joined on the album by Lol Creme, Kevin Godley and Mindbenders’ bass guitarist Eric Stewart.
After a brief sojourn writing for the New York-based Kazenetz-Katz pop factory, Graham returned to reunite with friends Godley, Creme and Stewart, who had enjoyed some success as Hotlegs. The new foursome, now called 10cc, released their debut single Donna in late ’72 and scored their first number one the following year with Rubber Bullets, penned by Godley, Creme and Gouldman.
“10cc was perfect for me, for all of us really. We had our own studio, we sang, we produced, we played, we did everything ourselves. That contributed to the way we worked together, it was just great chemistry. That’s so important, it’s something that you can’t plan. The chemistry was great because we were all quite different, we all brought something different to the table and together it worked very well.”
The writing partnership with Eric Stewart blossomed, the pair creating some of 10cc’s most memorable tunes: Art For Art’s Sake, I’m Mandy Fly Me (with Kevin Godley) and the impeccable I’m Not In Love.
10cc also, at last, gave Graham the chance to take to the stage and perform the hits he had written – in his own right. However, at the first show, things did not go quite how the band imagined they would.
“I didn’t want to be a rock and roll star, or anything like that, I just wanted to play the guitar in a band, it was a beautiful thing to do – and still is. 10cc was born in a studio making records, so it was a bit of a shock to us the first time we went out and played, which was on the Isle of Man.
“We came on stage and all of these fans were screaming and we didn’t know what to do! We were completely taken by surprise. We expected people to listen to what we’d spent hours and hours and hours working on, but they were just screaming all the time and it was quite odd.”
Godley and Creme departed in 1976 leaving Graham and Eric to continue as a duo. The hits continued and Dreadlock Holiday gave 10cc a third chart-topper before Eric was seriously injured in a car crash.
It proved to be a turning point in 10cc’s career and they called it a day in 1983 but as one door closes, another one opens and Graham spent the next six years partnering Andrew Gold in Wax, a particularly satisfying period for Graham.
“It was, because I was working with someone who I was a big fan of. Our influences were very, very similar and we just gelled. We were self-contained, too, because we played everything, much in the way that 10cc did. Andrew had his own studio, he was a very good engineer and played keyboards, guitar and drums. He was a great writer, one of those guys who does everything well. We did things ourselves and there was a kind of purity in the things we did.
“I’m very proud of the songs that we wrote, as successful a project as I would have hoped, but it was also worth it for the time spent with Andrew and what we produced.”
Graham’s acoustic tour gives him the opportunity to play material from the Wax collaboration, something he is unable to do when touring with the latest incarnation of 10cc. Their best known track was Bridge To Your Heart but it also gave Graham a problem when trying to include it in the acoustic set.
“It is the one song that I could not get to work at all, so I completely changed the rhythm of it, it goes down great and it’s fun to play in its different form. I don’t really like to change arrangements that much, although sometimes you have to. Going back to I’m Not In Love, there is a whole middle section that I just cut out because it does not work. Some songs are so production orientated that I don’t feel they work acoustically, but I have so many other songs that I can use, so it’s ok.”
This platform also gives Graham the chance to perform later material including Daylight, Graham’s tribute to Andrew who passed away in 2011.
“I love playing that song, I just wish he could have heard it. There are a couple of songs that I wrote with Andrew in the show, they are things I couldn’t do with 10cc. That’s what is so nice about it.”
In more familiar surroundings, Graham Gouldman & Friends’ 10cc show
One of those is Ready To Go Home, which appeared on the final 10cc album Mirror Mirror in 1995. “Andrew and I had both lost our dad’s, and we were talking about loss and the inevitable… My father was my biggest influence. He loved words and taught me to be original.
“He came home one day and told me of an empty milk bottle he had seen on a doorstep. I thought that was a rubbish idea for a song but he explained the symbolism of there being no love in that house anymore. I looked at it with fresh eyes and wrote No Milk Today. It was the writing that he lived for and some of that has rubbed off on me.
“Songs from personal experience have an air of authenticity about them. I’ve written a song (Ariella) about my wife, how we met, which turned out to be quite handy,” he explains. “Whenever people ask how I met my wife, I just quote the first verse of the song,” he laughs, “and I don’t have to go through a long rigmarole!
The continued interest in 10cc led to Graham putting a show together to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary in 2002, which evolved into a regular touring show: 10cc featuring Graham Gouldman and Friends. This included Rick Fenn (guitar) and Paul Burgess (drums), both part of the post-Godley and Creme 10cc, together with multi-instrumentalist Mick Wilson.
Graham first performed his Heart Full Of Songs show in 2013 and again the following year, but Graham Gouldman and Friends’ success over the past three years has been such that this is the first opportunity Graham has had to go back on the road again with his acoustic set.
Graham with Ciaran Jeremiah (left) and Iain Hornal
“I really enjoy working with my band mates on this show. Iain Hornal is a wonderful musician and singer-songwriter who is a sometime replacement for Mick Wilson when Mick is not available for 10cc gigs. One of the songs we perform on the tour is co-written with Iain. Ciaran Jeremiah joined me on the last Heart Full Of Songs tour. He is a member of The Feeling and is a super talented musician and singer.”