It’s difficult to say what Kevin Godley is most famous for.
For some, it’s his four years behind the drum kit with 10cc, a period during which he played, sang and wrote some of the most deathless songs in that band’s entire catalog.
Certainly the response to a BBC documentary aired last year, marking the fortieth anniversary of the band’s “I’m Not In Love” milestone; and, before that, a mighty box set assembling highlights of the band’s entire career, prove that the band still means an awful lot to a lot of people.
For others, though, it’s the left field art rock of Godley and Creme, the duo he formed (of course) with fellow 2.5cc-er Lol Creme following their split from the band, and who introduced themselves with what remains one of the unsung masterpieces of the prog conceptual era, the sprawling Consequences, before embarking upon a string of still effervescent hits - “Englishman in New York,” “Under Your Thumb,” “Snack Attack”… the list goes on.
For others still, it’s his work as a video director, a pioneer in an art form that was still in its infancy when Godley and, again, Creme, turned their attention to it. They wound up being responsible for what are still some of the most vivacious videos of the MTV age - Duran’s “Girls on Film,” Frankie’s “Two Tribes,” Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” the Police’s “Every Breath You Take”… the list goes on.
Or you could settle on his years as a solo director: a slew of U2 and Phil Collins, Blur’s “Girls and Boys,” Black Crowe’s “By Your Side,” Eric Clapton’s “My Father’s Eyes’….
He has published an autobiography, the unputdownable Spacecake; he returned to the musical fray with another former bandmate, Graham Gouldman; nearly half a century after his so angelic voice was first heard on a record, in fact, Kevin Godley has excelled at nigh on everything he’s turned his attention to.
He should be most famous for all of it.
Godley’s latest offering is another “first” in his canon - a so-called “ear movie” based around Richard LaPlante’s highly-acclaimed 1994 memoir Hog Fever.
Arranged in episodic form, an old time radio show for new time CD fans, it’s an often gripping, sometimes hilarious, and never less than absorbing listen - two and a half hours of exquisitely envisioned action, punctuated with some great songs, and no sooner have you reached the end than you’re scouring the jewel case in search of more. It’s that good.
Godley sits down with Spin Cycle to talk us through its creation:
SC: I know you and Richard LaPlante originally intended Hog Fever to be a conventional movie. What happened?
KG: Yes, it was a ‘MOVIE’ movie first. It only became an EAR movie because we couldn’t raise money to make the film. We’d written a screenplay that, unfortunately, was too whacked out for the uptight PC mood of the first half of the twenty first century. Anyway, it sat there for a few years, as scripts often do, then In 2014 he decided to record Hog Fever as an audio book - one of those straightforward ‘author reads his own text’ things.
But he got terminally bored doing it after one day in the studio, which is when called me with the notion of resurrecting the screenplay we’d written together, instead.
Something clicked! The idea of reviving our biker movie as a high-end audio production with cool sound design and new music was deeply attractive. A pure audio experience using modern tech to deliver an age-old form got my juices flowing…if you’ll forgive the expression.
SC: Were you thinking about any past radio plays/audio books/similar as it took shape? Were/are you a fan of such things?
KG: When I was young, living with my parents, I’d always listen to plays on the radio. One serial, called Journey Into Space, was incredibly evocative, had me pinned to my seat. I loved it but didn’t understand why it worked so well.
When making Hog it became obvious that sometimes less is more. If you’re telling a story in sound only, strangely, you need fewer audio cues to conjure an emotional response, as what isn’t heard is as important as what is. For example there are no footsteps in Hog Fever because they didn’t help tell the story – you don’t miss them either. It’s a delicate balance but you need space to allow the imagination to kick into overdrive. Orson Welles’ War Of The Worlds was a big touchstone for me.
SC: Among the stars of the show, Terence Stamp is, of course, magnificent. Was it important to get a “name” star for the project? And was he “easy” to get?
KG: Terence was amazing. A legend but he was always ‘attached’ to Hog Fever. He was originally going to play himself and Robert’s conscience in the film version but, once we nailed the device of a shrink coaxing the narrative from the Robert Lourdes character, it became clear that he should play that role.
Getting a ‘name’ actor is obviously a bonus but not as important as getting the right person for the part. Terence, luckily, was both. He’s also Richard’s friend and was staying with him when we started pre-production, but there were serious time constraints. I adapted the screenplay in two weeks flat, working stupid hours and had Terence and Richard in the studio recording their dialogue a couple of days before Terence had to fly back to London. I also directed the sessions, from Ireland, via Skype. Insanity doesn’t come close!!!
SC: At what point in the process did music become such an integral part of the storytelling? It is so beautifully interwoven that it feels like it was there all along… And how were the other contributing performers selected?
KG: Thank you. It worked for you then? A strong musical component was in our heads from the off really, although we were never quite sure how it would fit around the story or exactly what it would be.
We also had the idea of a soundtrack album but not what it would consist of. Richard recorded some tracks in LA and I did the same in Ireland, with Ivan Jackman at the mixing console, but then it became more about weaving the budding musical elements into the story and the actual soundtrack album took a back seat.
When I came to edit the final episodes, I shied away from even thinking about music until the story was sitting right and the narrative made sense. Next up was sound design, and sourcing suitable elements from the music we’d made became part of that complex process.
Lots of trial and error and, in truth, more error than trial. Eventually though, we found a rhythm and the music and sound design kind of fused together, each supporting the other.
Typically, the lyric for the song ‘Confessions’ came from Robert’s dialogue, and a line from ‘The Bad & The Beautiful’ appears in one of Robert’s rants, so we were always experimenting, one thing informing another, one thing turning into another.
SC: It’s interesting because, although a soundrack, but it isn’t … the music really hangs together as a collection in its own right,
KG: As none of us knew exactly what we were doing, the results, thank goodness, don’t sound like a straightforward film. There’s no ‘Robert’s theme’ or ‘Gabriella’s Theme’ or any of the usual film music conventions. We just kept trying things until they felt good. I spent a lot of time hitting bum notes on a synth, banging strange objects and making weird vocal noises.
Essentially, I was feeling my way through the mood of every scene, arse-backwards, relying on intuition. The last thing we did was reassemble what started life as finished songs and rewrite and re-record things that could be. This process became the soundtrack – episode six.
SC: There’s an impressive line-up of musicians involved, aside from yourself.
KG: Other performers, both actors and musicians, just kind of fell into place, mostly in LA. We either knew people or knew people who knew people. Daniel Ash also has an acting role as Waylon Rock the drug dealer DJ. The hardest role to cast was Gabriella because it’s a pivotal but not a fully rounded character. We auditioned about 4 girls before finding the right fit.
SC: Back in the 10cc/G&C days, you always gave the impression of being an incredibly fastidious crew, forever tinkering with the tunes… I always imagined you all just taking root in the studio for months at a time. Are you still like that?
KG: I’ll tell you what’s weird. I used to take forever to make music. All the music on Hog was written and recorded very quickly. Messing about outside my comfort zone did me a power of good.
SC: Were the songs written specifically for Hog Fever? GG/06 aside, have you written much (or anything) since the last days of Godley & Creme?
KG: Mine were, mostly. As for other songs, I’ve done nothing solid since GG/06. There are always tunes in my head and unfinished lyrics but I need a reason to make things tangible. Hog Fever was the reason. ‘The Bad & The Beautiful’ was part written before Hog, but my other songs were written especially for it.
Strange but I’d never written a song on my own before, so this awakened a musical muscle that I didn’t know I had. Great fun, too, as I used to be a bit precious about the writing / recording experience. It was always about perfection and honing and polishing then suddenly it was all about letting go and capturing a moment.
SC: Does the experience of writing music for Hog Fever mean that an entirely solo Kevin Godley album is now a possibility? (And, if not, why not?)
KG: I’d love to write and record an album, but it’s an outmoded format. I think Kanye West has the right idea. Keep improving the recordings; keep updating them, changing them. Confound the audience as well as thrilling them. That said I’d love to make more music for its own sake.
SC: This is your first “physical” release in some time - Spacecake and GG/06 both remain digital beasts. Have you given any thought to giving either the early demos or the GG/06 material a full CD or vinyl release? And again, if not… why?
KG: Not seriously, as I doubt if there’s a decent enough audience for any of the above. Frankly I’d rather keep my head down and keep barging forwards.
SC: On a similar topic, we’ve had the 10cc box, we’ve had the Strawberry Years compilation��� isn’t it time that the Godley & Creme canon was given a similar reappraisal? And, if so, what would you like to see from such a thing?
KG: I’m so proud of the G&C records. Yes, even Consequences! Every record was the sound of two inspired stoners moulding sonic plasticine in dark rooms with no windows. We got lost sometimes but we never stopped trying to stay lost!
A re-assessment / remix / redux could be a beautiful thing for a small audience of eccentrics (us included). I guess I’d like to hear how a bunch of contemporary producers would stir it up and how contemporary video directors might film it. Actually - just a few directors, of my own choosing.
SC: The 10cc documentary last year was fascinating, and seems to have sparked a lot of renewed interest in the band. How do you think it turned out?
I was really pleased with it. It was very simply done. No effects. No sensationalism. No bullshit band break-up sagas, just each of us telling the story from our POV and honoring the band’s legacy. It was well reviewed and got a good-sized audience too, so I guess in the end, it suggests we were more than a guilty pleasure and had some kind of lasting impact.
SC: With that interest in mind, has anybody dared utter the dread word “reunion”? And do you think anyone from the band would even agree to one?
KG: It has been mentioned, through gritted teeth, occasionally, but I don’t think any of us have ever taken it seriously. The image of 4 elderly men trudging through their greatest hits with flailing memories and failing body parts isn’t a pretty one.
SC: You don’t know how happy I am to hear you say that.
KG: I doubt if we’d remember our own names, let alone a set list and can’t you just see the 10cc branded walking frames and colostomy bags on the merch’ stall?
Performance-wise, exo-skeletons might help, but a band of robot look-alikes would be a safer bet. They could beat the crap out of each other for an encore and throw the pieces to the audience who would have to rebuild us before they were allowed to leave the venue. No camera phones allowed!
SC: So what are your future plans, music or directing-wise?
I’d do Hog 2 in a heartbeat, and we already have a number of plot lines up and running. Also I’ve got many other plans in many mediums, music included. I’ve just written and recorded a song for Luke Mornay’s next album, which was very exciting.
I’m developing film ideas, TV ideas, making 2D Art, pushing ahead with Youdio (my rebranded WholeWorldBand music video app) and generally being busier and more engaged than I’ve ever been.
Hog Fever is available now….