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Phil Wainman - A '70s Survivor.
It was considered to be quite bold, if not outright foolish in some circles, when, towards the end of 1974, the Bay City Rollers decided to bail out of their association with the writing/production team of Bill Martin & Phil Coulter, which had catapulted the group to mega stardom by yielding no less than four Top ten - three of which went Top 5 - U.K. hit singles and a number one album - all in less than a year. But, understandably, the band wanted to grow, record more of their own self-penned material, play unconditionally on their own records, and not to get stuck within the admittedly charming yet limited realms of the Martin/Coulter formulatic sound. If the Rollers had continued recording with M/C, one can easily imagine them being handed the very same material the dynamic duo went on to write and produce for the likes of Kenny and Slik, which in itself was a direct and natural continuation of the Rollers' "Shang-A-Lang", "Remember", et al.
So there was obviously a pre-precieved pressure on M/C's successor, whoever that might be, to deliver the goods - among them, that inevitable first no. 1 hit. Famously, and clearly very well aware of that pressure, Phil Wainman, who did become that successor, has on numerous occasions been qoted as saying about "Bye Bye Baby", which did become that previously elusive no. 1 hit, that he was "...so relieved when I first heard 'Bye Bye Baby', 'cause I knew that'd be a hit".
By no means new to the mid-'70s music scene, Wainman had enjoyed an incredibly good run as a producer for The Sweet since 1971 (Eight Top 10 U.K. hits, including a no. 1 with the still amazing sounding glam classic "Blockbuster", and a U.S. Top Five hit with "Little Willy") and was also no slouch in the songwriting department. But let's get back, way back, to his very humble beginnings...
After having endured what was by his own account "A very rough childhood," 15-year-old Phil Wainman left school - and home, at 16 - to join various cabaret acts who toured the
By 1964, Wainman was working the European cabaret circuit with a band called the High Grades. "I heard what was happening in the
The Paramounts (Wainman w/glasses far left).
The Paramounts had had a minor U.K. hit with a cover of the Coasters' 'Poison Ivy' in early 1964, but instead of falling that easily into oblivion as merely just another one hit wonder, they later changed their name to Procol Harum who will always be best remembered for the timeless psychedelic classic, 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale'(1967).
Prior to that, however, Wainman had left the band and started working as a session musician. On the side he had also started to write his own songs and enjoyed his initial success as such with a song called 'Little Games', which was a minor
Also, by this time - 1968 - Wainman had been signed to EMI Records as a solo artist, and there he he made his own drum records and had a "Very, very minor hit with a song called 'Hear Me A Drummer Man'. I did a lot of T.V. shows and it really got my name around. I was one of
Around 1970, Wainman got into music publishing as well and enjoyed his first hit as such with Brotherhood Of Man's 'Where Are You Going To My Love'(#22,
"I had already produced The Sweet, for
"We needed a vehicle," Wainman remembers, "And I said to Nicky [Chinn] and Mike [Chapman], 'We need a vehicle for your songs and I've run into a band I used to work with called The Sweet and we're gonna start making some records.' Nicky put the money up. I think it cost him 1.500 pounds, and we made records with The Sweet. We also made records with Jimmy And The Vagabonds, which was the other band we had signed. That didn't come to much though, and we concentrated on The Sweet." Much later, backed by different writers and producers, the Vagabonds scored their sole Top 10 U.K. hit with the disco throwaway "Now Is The Time"(1976).
The Sweet got signed by RCA Records after having been turned down twice by them before and had their first hit with the aforementioned 'Funny Funny' - a sticky piece of bubblegum - in 1971. "We were competing with David Bowie who was also on RCA," Wainman casually name-drops. "And Marc Bolan was putting out records as well, so these were the early days of glam rock and they were great days."
The Sweet's success, with Wainman as their record producer and Chinn/Chapman (another, different link) as their chief writers, got bigger and bigger, hit by hit. What started out as merely modest and musically unspectacular ('Co-Co', 'Poppa Joe'), became, as time went on, more ambitious with gained confidence and increasingly assured artistic identity and ability (much like the Rollers, The Sweet didn't play on their earliest hits), and ended up as some of the most memorable glam rock music of its time ('Blockbuster', 'Ballroom Blitz'). Between June 1972 and July 1974, The Sweet racked up an impressive total of of seven U.K. Top 10 hits - including a number one and no less than three number two's. "It just went on and on," Wainman says now, "And the records just seemed to get better and better - it was great."
.However, in early 1974 The Sweet enjoyed their last Phil Wainman-produced hit with the bombastic 'Teenage Rampage' - itself not all that unsimilar in style and sound to the Rollers' 1976 hit 'Yesterday's Hero' - which had to be heavily (self?) censored before being cut since its original lyrics carelessly (well, for 1974 anyway) flicked forward such ever sensitive topics as masturbation.
."Chapman and Chinn wanted to have a go at producing," says Wainman. "There was, by then, also a lot of aggrivation between us, it got heavy. The boys were arguing internally, then they were arguing with us, and we were arguing also internally. It wasn't very enjoyable, so I was happy to go off and produce the Bay City Rollers, which was great fun - really, really great fun. They were a good laugh and they were the hottest band that
.In the meantime, though, prior to join forces with the Rollers, Wainman had taken the time to supervise Alex Harvey's acclaimed 'Next' album.
.As for the Rollers' musical excellence - or lack thereof - Wainman says, "To be honest, I just wanted to sell records. None of the records the Rollers ever made were musical milestones, we didn't revolutionize anything, but they were just good pop records and we gave the public what they wanted. So that was great and we used to sell lorryloads of records, and I think that's what it was all about - it was about marketing and giving the public what they wanted."
.When asked about the Rollers' much speculated actual participation in the making of their own records, WAinman quickly replies, "Yes, they played on my records. They didn't play on the earlier ones, but I did 'Bye Bye Baby' and they played on that, and they played on 'Give A Little Love', which John Goodison and I wrote. They were brilliant days: 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 - that was fantastic."
.Enter one David Walker, who, according to Wainman, had been involved in the management of The Sweet as well as managing Wainman himself, who has on occasion been namechecked by Roller Eric Faulkner as Wainman's personal song-peddler and thusfore effectively responsible for creatively suffocating up-and-coming artists and songwriters such as Eric himself, who has said that Walker used to come up with blatant threats like, "If we don't get five songs on the album, Phil won't produce it." "That is," Wainman contemplates, "Actually quite possible. But by then (ED - mid-'75?) we had lots of outside interference and the boys actually didn't have that many songs anyway, so we were covering [other people's songs] and what we actually wanted to do was to get the best songs recorded. And we also had outside influences from [Arista Records' boss] Clive Davis, and he didn't want to know about the Bay City Rollers originally. And then we did this live T.V. broadcast (ED - U.S. T.V.'s short-lived 'Howard Cossell's Saturday Night Live') and the boys became huge [after that] in
.As for his exit from the Rollers camp after the late summer '75 recordings of the 'Wouldn't You Like It' album and the 'Money Honey' single, Wainman says that by then Davis had actually made several "suggestions" to the Rollers about which songs the were supposed to record next. But, as Wainman tells it, "When I got there, the boys had already decided they weren't gonna cut the songs that Clive Davis wanted [them to do] and that they had written some songs themselves, and these were the songs that they were gonna record. So I said, 'Look, I don't wanna get involved in the politics of this and I think I'm going to leave you to it' - and I just left them to it. But that's when Clive Davis came over [to me] and said, 'We still want you to produce the band, you make a great team and everything.' But there were just too many influences there [for me to continue], too many cooks [in the kitchen] and no one's running the show, everyone's trying to influence it. I didn't wanna get involved in the politics of it, so I just walked away from it and, in fact, that was when they (ED - Arista, presumably) stopped paying me - I think they stopped paying the boys as well - even from the hits we had already had, but that's another story."
.About Tam Paton's role in the overall scheme of things, Wainman says, "Tam had actually discovered the Rollers. They were totally, totally his brainchild. But it all got so big and it was like, you know, the project he had been nurturing as a young guy himself had turned into a monster he couldn't handle. So it all got a bit out of hand and he just genuinally couldn't deal with it".
.Paton's sometime-rumoured pill-popping habit at the time, Wainman claims not to have known about and adds, "To be honest, I didn't see very much of Tam. He would just turn up for the odd session. When the boys were in the studio, I was completely responsible for them. It was fantastic, great fun. I would book a studio I didn't think anyone would ever find us at - Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire - and it was invaded by fans, you'd never seen anything like it. But that was a sign of the times and it was just quite incredible."
.About said sessions themselves, Wainman remembers having brought his bike to the studio and he would ride it around the the control booth as means of entertainment when he found the band's working pace to be too slow. "They were just great fun sessions, we worked very hard, we would be there until four or five o'clock in the morning, crash out in the hotel and go back again; just work really, really hard, and we would make an album in a month. The record company couldn't believe that I would bring the record in on time and under-budget."
.Later B.C.R. albums like 'Dedication'(1976) and 'It's A Game'(1977), Wainman finds to be "Grossly over-produced. That's the American style for you there; that's what the Americans wanted, what Clive instructed and that's what they ended up with."
.Speaking of the Faulkner/Wood songwriting progress, Wainman finds it to have been fairly adequate. "I think they did improve as songwriters, but did they write any classics? I don't think so. It was pretty juvenile when I was working with them, but they were only kids then - it had to get better. Eric also realized that you could actually earn more money from your writing than from your records, so it didn't take him long to catch on and he wanted to write his own songs, but, unfortunately, I don't think the songs had the quality that was needed to continue the success. And I think Clive knew that [too] and that's why they became more like baked beans when they got to
.About Colin Frechter's, the Rollers' musical director during the mid-'70s, exact input into the Rollers records, Wainman explains, "Colin was kind of like my musical director. He would would help out occasionally with some keyboard overdubs, harmonies, and stuff like that. And if we needed string overdubs, Colin would write them. Any brass - whatever you wanted - Colin was very able...you know, 'M.D.'. He actually ended up producing (ED - the 1976 single) 'Rock 'n' Roll Love Letter'. He asked me if I minded him producing the boys since I didn't want to do it, and I said, 'Colin, get on with it.' You know, he knew them well and they liked him. I don't know where he is now; I haven't seen him in a long time."
.When disgussing his own stylistic contribution and impact on the records he made, Wainman admits, "I didn't actually have a style. When I was in the studio I would actually just see what the band wanted to do. I would kind of embellish on what they wanted; I'd get a feel of it. I did some oddball things, really off-the-wall things. Like the Boomtown Rats or Alex Harvey - would you think I did that? Although [Boomtown Rats' Bob] Geldof worked with me (ED - On the Rats' eerie classic 'I Don't Like Mondays', which Wainman produced) because he liked my Sweet records - and he wanted to know all about the Rollers - what really convinced him was [my work with] Alex Harvey. I also did Generation X (ED - A short-lived, late '70s, punk rock band, featuring Billy Idol) - would you expect me to do that? (Laughs) Well, I didn't enjoy that - that was a session I didn't enjoy at all, because musically they weren't that much; they weren't very good. But they knew they weren't very good. Billy Idol asked [me], 'Look, do you think we're gonna make it?' I said, 'I think you're crap, but I think you look good'. (Laughs) He didn't know what to say to that. But he did get a lot better, that stuff he did on his own in
But Goodison, Wainman's collaborator on Rollers songs of considerable repute (amongst the fans, anyway), such as 'Give A Little Love', 'Rock & Roll Honeymoon' and 'Let's Go' - as well as on material for other successful mid-'70s acts like MUD - was not long thereafter cut down in his prime. "Yeah, he died," sighs Wainman sadly, "...Unfortunately. He was a big man and he had a heart attack. He was on the road with another act I used to produce, called Big John's Rock & Roll Circus, and a lot of those songs I wrote with John for the Rock & Roll Circus the Rollers ended up with. 'Rock & Roll Honeymoon' was one of those. But it was never a question of persuading the Rollers to records those songs. We used to play them the Rock & Roll Circus' albums and they would say, 'Oh, we like this song,' and, 'Oh, we like that song.' They liked all the songs."
."These were wonderful days;" Wainman swiftly shifts gears, "Wonderful, creative days. The phone would ring three or four times a day with [offers]: 'You want to cut this band, you want to cut that band?' - and they were all multi-million sellers! I said, 'I can't fit everybody in'. Later, I think, Mike Chapman would [momentarily] fall out with Blondie and someone from Chrysalis [Records] flew over from
.As for MUD, another aforementioned successful british act Wainman worked with at the height of his prowess, he recalls, "They had fallen out with [Nicky] Chinn and [Mike] Chapman (ED - Who wrote & produced most of their earlier hits, such as the 1974 U.K. chart-topper 'Tiger Feet'). And again, as with the Rollers, songs that John [Goodison] and I had written went on their album. And they wanted to record 'Give A Little Love', it was all happening at the same time. They were desperate to record 'Give A Little Love', but I said, 'No, that's already a track for the Rollers.' And I said, 'If you want a ballad, I'll write you something and we wrote 'Show Me You're A Woman' (ED - A number 8 U.K. hit for MUD in late 1975, and practically a carbon copy of the Rollers' 'Give A Little Love' - a number 1 U.K. hit in the summer of '75). That was a number one record, I thought. But they wanted their own song, 'L-L-Lucy' - a B-side! - to be the first single off that album. I said, 'You're mad.' 'Under The Moon Of Love', which they did a year before Showaddywaddy (ED - Who took it to number 1 in the U.K. in 1976) should have been the first single, followed by 'Show Me You're A Woman', and both of them could've been number one's! But they didn't want that so I never worked with them again, because you give them an idea how you think it should go and then they go away and do something completely different (outraged). I had that really planned well. And then Showaddywaddy had a number one with it (ED - 'Under The Moon Of Love', obviously) and it's not as good a version as MUD's. And Showaddywaddy laughed all the way to the bank. I later ended up working with them [as well]. Also I worked with Dollar, Darts - virtually every act that was happening in the seventies. It was just a fantastic time, you know. I kind of got into that fifties revival thing a bit: Showaddywaddy, Darts, MUD - I could make those sort of records - but I always wanted another shot at The Sweet. I think the could have been...not as big as Queen, 'cause they weren't as talented as Queen...but they still could have been a big band; I wanted them to go for the adult rock market."
.In the early '80s Wainman started to work a lot less than he had previously done. "My last number one was in seventy-nine," he says, "And that was ['I Don't Like'] 'Mondays' with the Boomtown Rats. I didn't do a hell of a lot after that. I did 'Classic' (ED - A number 8 U.K. hit in 1982) with Adrian Gurvitz. I had him here (ED - At his now defunct Utopia Studios). And then I had an incident at home, where I got home one night at five o' clock in the morning, after I had been working, and there were six police cars in my driveway. You know the feeling when your heart jumps into your mouth? Well, my wife had been bound and gagged and [after that] I just figured if I had to risk my family's security because I'm in the studio - do I have to have an armed guard minding my family while I work? - so I just kind of gave up producing...I dropped out. But not because I wanted to, but because I felt I had to. And I kind of gave myself a 9-5 job and I started a video company, which was more like a job where I could go home early - and it's been really like that ever since. I work shorter hours now, I'm a lot older - a lot wiser - and now I run a very successful property company. I also run a small company that imports cars from
.About that most recent, albeit seemingly brief, '99 Rollers reunion, Wainman feels "That needed to be done. But I've heard some of the songs they recorded, but they're no better than the songs they were recording years ago. I'm a little disappointed, yeah."
.As for former Roller Derek Longmuir's rather recent dubious claim to tabloid notoriety as an alleged child molester - as well as an avid collector of child pornography, Wainman feels that "That is just really sad, I think, and same goes for that thing with Tam (ED - Paton's early '80s conviction for indecency involving underaged boys)."
.As for the Rollers' internal squabbling for the good part of the last twenty years, and, in particular, the band now mainly placing the blame for lost fortunes and opportunities on Paton's suspiciously financially broad shoulders, Wainman responds, "Well, they're all gonna blame one another. Everyone's gonna blame this one, then he's gonna blame them, they're gonna blame him, and, to be honest, I think everyone's to blame - they're all to blame. Because if they had not had the internal anger and they would have gotten their stuff together as a unit...it would have been lovely if I was still involved, but if I wasn't they could have still kept themselves together...I just think we had the chemistry. I think I was that extra person that gave them what (ED - The Rollers' first producer) Jonathan King didn't, what Bill [Martin] and Phil [Coulter] couldn't, and I was a musician and a writer and I wanted the best for them. I was a perfect ally, I was a perfect person to have on their team, and all they needed as a group was to spend another five or six years doing that and then we could've all gone our seperate ways, but we could could have all had lots and lots of money in the bank. I just think that if you show a young kid a fifty Grand, a hundred Grand, that changes their lives, and the trick is that the money must not change your life. I've done extremely well, but I didn't let the money dictate to me what I should or shouldn't do - otherwise I'd still be doing it. It's not about money; it's about quality of life. You only live your life once, so you should enjoy it and if there are people you don't enjoy working with, then don't work with them again. But when you're on a roll and you got a very, very successful team and you do get on...(drifts off) These were kids, you know, from Edinburgh - the rough part of Edinburgh - and their first check might have been four or five Grand, which in those days was a fortune, and it changed their lives. Personally, I did put my money in a bank account and did not even count it - I didn't want to know what I had 'cause I didn't want it to affect me. I had everything in life: a great family, a nice house, a Rolls Royce - I had everything, so I didn't want anything to upset that. The money was just there as my foundation - and for my family. I had nothing in the way of a family in London and suddenly I had my own family, which is something I used to dream about. I had a very, very rough childhood, so therefore when I did find someone I wanted to spend my life with, I really wanted to make a go of it. Looking back on it all, it's really quite sensible - and I was really very young. I was a very responsible person."
.On the long-debated issue of whether the Rollers have been unfairly judged and/or underrated by their critics and public alike, Wainman responds, "No, I don't think they were underrated. I think there was a...(hesitates)...bit of a jealousy [from others], because they were five kids who didn't have a hell of a lot of talent and they weren't brilliant musicians, they weren't brilliant singers, they were not enourmesly talented but they did extremely well with the amount of talent they had. So, I think they were envied, but I don't think they were underrrated, no. (ED - A "bit" of a paradox there: the people knocking them were not doing so unfairly, even though envy was most likely the main motive. Hmmm.) They had a good team around and I will not knock Tam's input, because Tam got them there. He couldn't actually handle it once he got them there, but he did get them there. But, as I said before, by then there were just too many cooks...Clive [Davis] probably did it all (ED - The "advice" and "direction" he offered) with the best will in the world, he wanted to Americanize them and I think that that may have been the downfall."
.As for Davis' inarguably wicked ways later on, when the Rollers wanted to change, progress, grow, and move on, but he wouldn't let them and swiped them under the carpet as a result (Some 15-16 years later, when boy band Take That wanted to do something similar, BMG/RCA offered them all seperate solo deals!), Wainman says, "I think that was probably the old way of dealing with that - that was the old-fashioned way: 'If they don't do as I say, then I'm gonna bury them.' Now I think record companies have gotten smarter, thinking: 'Well, they've got a following and we don't want to lose that following.' - That's the modern approach. But Clive likes to state his authority. In his eyes, you know, he's probably the biggest star (ED - Note, in this aspect, what a central role - and credit - Clive Davis took in the success of Santana's 'Supernatural' album a bit back. As a direct result, he even managed to squeeze sympathy out of the general public when BMG wanted to retire him!). That's a huge mistake, I think. That's the [same] mistake as Chinn and Chapman made: they outshone their own stars...a terrible mistake. Again, Jonathan King likes to do that. When you got a band like 10cc (ED - Who started out on King's very own U.K. Records label in the early seventies), you don't try to outshine them; they're too good. In fact, what you should do is to support them 100 or 200 percent; that's what you do with a band like that. That was, I believe, Jonathan's big mistake: you don't let a band like 10cc go. They were really, really talented, you know. They could have been the next Beatles. Although I did like what I was doing with the Bay City Rollers - it was good fun - that (ED - 10cc, presumably), for me, was ultimate talent. Same thing when I first heard Queen. Then I just realized how long a way Sweet and I had to go (Laughs), although Queen were borrowing lots from The Sweet. But 10cc - that was a very, very underrated band."
.As for a final overall assessment of his professional relationship with the Rollers, Wainman says, "I only worked with them for a few months, I think. I did one album (ED - 'Once Upon A Star'), and then we had two singles that went to number one (ED - 'Bye Bye Baby' and 'Give A Little Love') , and then I did the next album [too] (ED - 'Wouldn't You Like It'), and then they insisted on putting 'Money Honey' out [as a single], which was their own song, which was a bit of a risk and it didn't make it (ED - ?!?!? A number 3 U.K. hit and a number 9 in the U.S. a bit later) - it had to be a number one 'cause it followed two number one's. And then the whole thing with Clive started, so for me it was a bit of a relief to be out of there, it was all getting a bit...mmm." Crowded? "Yeah, much too many influences."
.And on these somewhat sombre notes ended my long distance conversation with Phil Wainman - a '70s survivor and a seemingly straight-forward and direct kind of a guy, with nary a nasty word to say about anyone - which took place on September 10th, 1999.