Eric Stewart – 2.5cc Speaks and Rocks Out

Eric Stewart

Things I Do For Love (e-book)

(itunes.apple.com/gb/book/things-i-do-for-love/id1207456782?mt=11)

Anthology (2 CD)

(Lemon/Cherry Red CDLEMD 229)

One day in late 1975, New Musical Express-reading fans of 10cc were shocked to encounter a vituperative letter from Eric Stewart, taking issue with a recent review of the band’s latest single, while describing other chartbound records of the day as, if memory serves correctly, “unadulterated crap.”

They were shocked, not because his sentiments were at all disproportionate (they weren’t), but because Stewart always seemed … well, he was the cuddly one in the band, 10cc’s sweet-smiling, doe-eyed, dare-one-say-sex-symbol.  At other times, the same magazine had described him as one of the world’s greatest Erics, and even in a company that included messrs Idle, Burdon and Blair (George Orwell), that seemed a reasonable conclusion.

To learn he had a temper, and a short-fused one as well (the letter was clearly dashed off in a fit of pique, with no thought given to the amusement it would afford the magazine’s staff), was akin to discovering that the Beatles stopped touring because Ringo kept stealing their lunch money before gigs.

Now we discover, he not only had a temper.  He is also still angry… not about the review, or at least, he doesn’t mention it in his autobiography.  But other events that shaped his career; management reneging on a Virgin Records deal because Phonogram offered a bit more money; the demise of the original 10cc; his ousting from the sessions for Paul McCartney’s Press To Play… these clearly still play on his mind and, while you cannot blame him for that, there is one point to make.

If Stewart had delved into as much detail about the rest of his career as he does those three (admittedly pivotal) moments, this would be one of the most detailed and personal rock biographies of the age.  Instead… it’s still fun.  But it’s also bitter.  That much becomes apparent with just one glance at the acknowledgements – thank yous to two former bandmates, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme.  But not a single mention of the third, Graham Gouldman, and that despite him being the one who stayed behind.

Because… well, you can read that for yourself.  Indeed, all the stories are best told by Stewart, and he does so with a frankness that has to be admired.  His willingness to shed whole new light on events that have never been publicly aired in depth is what ultimately makes this book both an essential read for anyone curious about the dirty tricks with which rock overflows; and feel half-written.  Again, if every other aspect of his career was given the same forensic examination as those, we’d be throwing Stewart a ticker-tape parade.

His career, after all, is a remarkable one.  A teenaged star with Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, a chart-topper before he hit twenty-one, he defied all expectations by taking over when frontman Fontana quit in 1966, and immediately led the band to another #1.

A few fallow years followed, during which Stewart set up Strawberry Studios; and a couple more as that project got off the ground.  By 1972, however, he was back at the top with 10cc and when, in 1976, history repeated itself and another band was split asunder, Stewart did exactly what he’d done before, and carried on as usual.  In 1966, it was the Fontana-less Mindbenders’ “Groovy Kind of Love” that sent the pall-bearers home early; in 1976, it was 5cc’s “The Things We Do For Love,” and two years later, “Dreadlock Holiday.”

Like the Mindbenders following their Houdini moment, 10cc fizzled out after that – in part, it was always assumed, as a consequence of the ghastly car accident that laid Stewart up (and which ultimately cost him one eye), but now it seems there were other currents swirling, as well.  Again, read the book.  But undaunted, Stewart marched on – a couple of solo albums, a few neat production jobs, and then Macca came calling.

That fell apart a couple of years later, and a few years after that, Stewart stops.  If his coverage of life before the original 10cc split is scant, and it is, he writes off the last thirty years in barely more time than it takes to read the discography.  Then devotes the rest of the book to chapters about his love for the Beatles, the Stones, old cars, remodeling houses, anything but talk about music.

Which is fine.  Keith Richards’ autobiography does much the same thing, and Stewart does at least spare us a rundown of his favorite recipes.  But at least Keith wrote about the records that he knew we all cared for.  The only song that Stewart goes into any serious depth about is “I’m Not In Love,” when that’s a story that has been told a myriad times before.

What about all the others, though?  The dozens and dozens of others with which Stewart, whether as player or writer, kept first the Mindbenders and then 10cc rolling in hits?  Nobody wants to read a book that is all “then I wrote this with a blue ballpoint pen, and then I wrote that with a green one.”  But a bit of background wouldn’t go amiss; a few glimpses inside the studio, a few trips out on the road.  Instead….

It is an entertaining read.  Stewart is an engaging writer and, when he lets rip, an engaging storyteller, too.  The photos are fabulous, tracing Stewart through childhood, stardom and beyond, and most of them are published here for the first time.  Interactive links connect the e-book with online songs and occasional videos… nothing rare or unreleased, unfortunately (band mate Kevin Godley’s Space Cake was like a museum in that respect), but if you don’t quite remember a particular song, it’s a handy feature.  When Stewart says in the intro that he wants the book to feel like you’re sitting chatting with a friend, there are moments when he hits that on the head.

There are more, however, when you wonder if maybe his bitterness over past slights has dulled him to the joy he should feel over past successes?  If, in fact, the only tales he had any interest in telling were the ones that put some old warped records straight, and the rest was just background detail?

If so, that’s a shame.  If not, it’s still a shame.  But, if you have any love for either 10cc or the Mindbenders, or any of Stewart’s other activities, you should read this book from cover to cover – and, while you do so, you can listen to Anthology.

It’s surprising, given how closely book and album share their artwork, how few words Stewart expends on his solo career (most of which reappear in the liners here).  True, it did not set the world afire, but the four albums that are highlighted here (Girls, Frooty Rooties, Do Not Bend and Viva La Difference) are all eminently enjoyable and the best of the songs are equals of any he wrote with the Mindbenders and 10cc.  Indeed, it’s intriguing to note that the weakest cuts of the thirty-one tracks are, in fact, those excerpted from 10cc’s Ten Out of Ten and Mirror Mirror albums.

One assumes that licensing problems and, perhaps, Stewart’s own taste dictated the less than representative selection from Girls (the title track only), so this may not be the answer to every fan’s dream… difficult to find in its original format, it’s eluded CD reissue, too.

But 1982’s Frooty Rooties is present with seven of its nine songs, including both  the epic “The Ritual” and the terrific “Guitaaaaaarghs”.  2003’s Do Not Bend weights in with nine of its nineteen cuts;  and 2009’s Viva… serves up eight out of eleven – more than enough to convey a fair taste of each album’s delights, at the same time as the distinctly unchronological programming pursues feel and mood over time and place.  Only Viva sees its contents lumped together in one place; the remainder are laid out with defiant disregard to dating.

It works, too; slipping from “The Ritual” to “Do The Books,” into “Never Say I Told You So” and thence to “Make The Pieces Fit” and “Girls” makes delightful musical sense, and one comes out of the collection wishing that whoever controls the mainstream 10cc catalog these day would devote more attention to journeys like this, than yet another go round for You Know What and it’s over-anthologized siblings.  And yes, there is a new mothership box set (Before, During, After: The Story Of 10cc) just out but, to paraphrase one of 10cc’s final singles, “we’ve bought it all before.”

The contents of Anthology, on the other hand, might well be new to a lot of people, and it’d be fun to watch them get to know it.  His biggest hits proved long ago that Stewart rates among the most gifted, if under-rated, songwriters of his generation; his best loved moments reveal him to be a guitar player to match… he’s one of the world’s greatest Erics, remember, so stop trying to push to the front, Mr Clapton.

If this anthology of the best of his solo work focuses the spotlight onto the rest of his canon, then job done.  His autobiography is highly entertaining.  But his music tells his story far more joyously.

2 thoughts on “Eric Stewart – 2.5cc Speaks and Rocks Out

  1. Wow Dave, reading Eric’s book in fact is a must but your review reveals a lot of aspects that are not included in it. Do you mean that Eric doesn’ own his catalog? He was in the business and he should know about The Beatles music, shouldn’t he? I’ve enjoyed a lot reading it. Thank you!

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