'NONE OF THE ARTISTS I HAD WERE ATTRACTIVE'
- Biddu and his stable
All the Biddu things were arranged. Not
much left to chance. If you had a drummer and a bass-player, a
guitarist and a piano-player, then you would expect to get three
or four tracks down in three hours.
I did a few things with Biddu. We used then to record at Nova
Studios in Marble Arch, and we used to do four songs in a three-hour
session. And in the early days, Biddu used to cram everybody in:
a rhythm section, a couple of horns, small string section. I remember
in those days he would never use cellos, because he said it used
to muddy up the sound - I expect it was a lot to do with budget
as well - so we only used to use four violins and a couple of
violas. A tiny string section, not unlike some of the Motown things.
There was never really a guide vocal for some of those. In actual
fact, for Christ's sake, there wasn't room in the studio to stick
a vocalist in there to sing a guide vocal, we had so many musicians
And then, as he had a couple of hits, we changed the mode of recording.
We would record all the rhythm section in the morning, and he
had the luxury of overdubbing the strings and the brass in the
I would do a lot of obscure almost Philly
black covers - they weren't well-known but anyone who was an afficianado
of black music would say, 'Yeah, I remember it'. 'Armed and Extremely
Dangerous', things like that, which now a lot of people know,
but in those days there were very few people into that kind of
black scene - it was an undergroundish scene.
I was making records with a certain dance beat, that's how it
started - everything came out with a certain beat. And I found
that although none of them were getting played on the radio, they
were building up a scene up North, the Northern dance scene, which
I didn't know anything about, but I'd find that each sold 5000
or 6000 copies.
And in a way I suppose it was laying the foundation for better
and bigger things to come later on, because eventually when I
did 'Kung Fu Fighting' with Carl Douglas, once again it didn't
get any airplay - that was nothing new - but within two weeks
of coming out, it was being played in all the clubs and just shot
through into the charts. It was quite a meteoric rise for an unknown
record, an unknown artist. And that obviously helped me to establish
myself to some degree in this country.
There were all these soulful singers -
Jimmy James, Geno Washington, loads of artists - with the ability
to do things, but no one would sign them, or they'd give them
I didn't know who Jimmy James was, who
Carl Douglas was. I didn't know their histories. Probably if I
did, I wouldn't have signed them, cos I'd have thought to myself:
well, they've already been going for the last ten years. Who'd
want to work with Jimmy James? I should've avoided him, but you
don't - you like the voice and you go in and do it. I've worked
with Johnny Johnson & The Bandwagon - fabulous voice.
Even Tina Charles I found had made a lot of records; even though she
was very young, she had sung on this, that and the other. She
was just singing some cabaret spot.
I met a guy called Lee Vanderbilt and
he said, 'There's a friend of mine called Biddu looking for girl
singers.' And he gave him my number and we met up and went from
None of the artists I had were attractive or slim or fit any pop
role model. They were plump, fat, one was balding. Tina was the
youngest one - the other two guys were old, so she was the youngest,
but she was nothing like you'd imagine a pop star to be: she was
plump, frumpy, everything else. But had a great voice. Unfortunately
the downside is a lot of them didn't think beyond their nose.
They all wanted to leave, after having a couple of hits. Tina
was the only one who stayed on for a while. None of them could
see the long game-plan.
It was more soul-oriented, as I recall,
the early stuff that I arranged for Biddu. As a bystander, who
just used to do arrangements for Biddu, the thing that changed
it all was 'Rock The Boat' by The Hues Corporation, with that
particular rhythm - the off-beat tom tom - which, as I saw it,
profoundly affected Biddu. He loved that record. I remember when
I went round to do the routining session for 'I Love To Love',
he played me The Hues Corporation version of 'Rock The Boat' and
said, 'If you can imagine it a little bit slower.' Cos that was
the rhythm, with the off-beat tom tom and the sixteens on the
hi-hat. I know he said he wanted me to take the drum rhythm from
'Rock The Boat'.
I used a rhythm box on Tina Charles' 'I
Love to Love' - it's very much like George McCrae's 'Rock Your
Baby' in the groove. Like a samba rhythm. All my songs have a
slight samba rhythm - all of them, even the ones I do in India.
They just have a slight, very light Latinish feel, just nice to
On 'I Love To Love' the gliss sound is
the resonant strings on the electric sitar. In fact we used it
on a few things. Biddu loved the sound of that.
I played 'I Love to Love' to the record
company and the guy said, 'It's okay.' Then he played the flip-side,
'Disco Fever', and he said, 'The disco scene is starting to happen,
and we have a song called "Disco Fever"; what more do
you need?' I said, 'No way, the other song sounds like a number
one.' He said, 'I'll bring out "I Love to Love"; we'll
give it four weeks.' We brought it out and within four weeks it
was #1. I asked myself, 'How can anyone be so wrong about a record?'
When I did 'I Love To Love' I was actually
suffering from really bad flu and I just thought: oh, it's a nice
song, blah blah blah. But I was really feeling ill and I went
home and I didn't think anything of it. I was very shocked and
surprised when within five weeks of release it was #1. It took
me by surprise totally, living in a little flat in Streatham with
Trevor Horn. One minute I was in this little flat, and the next
minute I was jetting off everywhere.
I was pregnant with 'I Love To Love' - I remember doing Jim'll
Fix It and I was pregnant and about to drop, I was very pregnant.
I actually once collapsed on Top of the Pops because CBS
had just overworked me so much. I was in Israel one day, then
I went to Germany, then I was in Holland, and I just got back
to London and they picked me, took me to Top of the Pops
and I started singing 'I Love To Love' and I just went. Because
they wouldn't use tapes. I just went 'bang'. And David Essex came
in and said: 'Oh you need a B12, love.' And they gave me a B12
in the bum and I did it. It just shows you can be worked far too
hard, because you become a commodity, you're not a person - everybody
wants you all of a sudden because your record's #1 everywhere.
It was massive in South America - I've got a platinum album from
there. Sweden, that was another place, it was an incredible market
- I was actually bigger than The Beatles in Sweden. Which was
For some time I'd been doing stuff with
Biddu, and then out of the blue he said, 'I've signed an old mate
of yours, Jimmy James.' I was in Jimmy James' band in 1969.
The hardcore sweaty gut-crunching r&b just didn't get played on radio as much as the other sort of stuff. It never has got that vast sort of exposure. The sort of stuff we were doing in the clubs that people were listening to and dancing and getting down on wasn't being played on radio, so the record-buying public wasn't hearing it. To be successful, or to be seen or heard by the public at large, you had to water down - you had to go slightly poppy. I have to say that happened to me with 'I'll Go Where The Music Takes Me' and that sort of thing.
One thing I always used to think was a
tiny bit sad was that with guys like Carl Douglas and Jimmy James
there always had to be a degree of compromise in their records
to make them accessible to the record-buying public, i.e. commercialization.
'Now Is The Time', for me, although it was a hit for Jimmy James,
is not what Jimmy James was all about. You Don't Stand A Chance
If You Can't Dance, to me, was more Jimmy James, more the
raw soul thing. But it wasn't accessible.
You Don't Stand A Chance If You Can't
Dance had a poppier feel but there was
a bit more funk to it. And yet that, of all the albums, just sunk.
When it was released ... I don't even know how many copies it
A lot of Jimmy James' fans, the diehards,
detested 'Now Is The Time'. I actually got a lot of flak from
some of the little soul mags, the very precious soul mags, for
'Now Is The Time'. I said, 'Look, I've arranged a tune to the
best of my ability. It's a pop tune, don't knock it. At least
it's given Jimmy James an income and enabled him to carry on doing
what he does.' They really thought he'd sold out, but who could
I'll never forget, I was on the M1 and
for some reason I was listening to Radio Two, and there was Jimmy
Young playing this thing, and I thought: 'Hey, wait a minute,
that's me, what's happening here?' It's being played on radio,
first time I heard it - 'I'll Go Where The Music Takes Me'. They'd
put it to Radio One, and Radio One said, no, they wouldn't play
it. And some producer at Radio Two heard it and thought, 'What
a great song.' Jimmy Young was the first man to play it on radio.
It was totally unexpected. The record company didn't expect it
- they put it out but they didn't think anything was going to
happen. And it took off. What happened with that, though, was
that the same company [Pye] had just had the Brotherhood of Man
winning the Eurovision Song Contest, so the whole record-pressing
plant was geared to pressing Brotherhood of Man, so when 'I'll
Go' takes off, there's no preparation for it. So it sort of died
a little bit, and then came alive again - it wasn't as big as
it should have been.
Biddu always had a very commercial ear,
because Biddu's stuff always veered towards being pop more than
soul. Which was the disco thing. I used to have a lot of respect
for Biddu, though I didn't like all of the stuff that we used
Biddu was clever. But it was never music
with Biddu, it was hits. But Biddu was one of the first people
to realize the power of the club record.
At the end of the day, the only good writer
is the writer who writes hits. No matter how bad the songs are.
What happened with 'Let's Go Disco' was
this - let's get this straight. Our manager rang us up and said,
'Biddu would like you to do this song which is going to be in
this film called The Stud.' Right away, as soon as we heard
the name Biddu, we went: no. Cos musically we're like light years
apart. But then the record company came on and said, 'This song's
going to be in The Stud, we're going to get worldwide promotion
on the song.' In the end, after a lot of pressure, we thought:
okay. But then the record company went further and demanded that
the song be released as a single. We've never performed it live
on stage. That is the record we're least proud of.
Tina Charles: 'Dr Love'
(click to enlarge)
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