Give me 10ccs of creativity, stat
INTERVIEW:Kevin Godley cut his musical teeth with pop rockers 10cc before making the transition to music-video production. Now, he says he has another musical trick up his sleeve. He talks to KEVIN COURTNEYabout creativity, learning to survive in the entertainment industry, and why there is something in the Irish air that drives him
KEVIN GODLEY IS ensconced in his favourite corner of the Residence, the members’ club on Stephen’s Green, and there’s a slight look of puzzlement on his bearded visage. He’s wondering why The Irish Timeswould want to interview the likes of him. After all, it’s been 35 years since he left the chart-topping pop band 10cc and more than 20 years since the dissolution of Godley Creme, the 1980s pop duo turned video pioneers. He’s not promoting a new album or pushing a new video, and he’s definitely not announcing a 10cc reunion. He’s just living a quiet life at his home in Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow with his wife, Sue, and their dog, Willoughby.
When he’s not pottering around the house, he’s making videos for Irish acts such as Gavin Friday and Bipolar Empire, trying to get his first feature film off the ground, putting the finishing touches to his ebook autobiography, a multimedia memoir that will also come as an app, or tweaking his latest invention – a web-based audio/visual application that, he believes, “could well be the saviour of the music industry”. Not up to much, then.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter if Godley isn’t holding a product in his hand – it’s what’s in his head that matters. Since he began making music in his home city of Manchester with his childhood friends Lol Creme and Graham Gouldman, Godley has always run on unleaded creative juice, and today it keeps him fuelled up and plugged into the matrix when others his age may be thinking of downloading the pipe and slippers.
His move to Ireland in 2008 was a sort of homecoming: U2 have long been one of his biggest clients, having hired him to direct videos for Even Better Than the Real Thing, Numb, The Sweetest Thingand Stuck in a Moment. He’s also made Boyzone look almost credible.
“We’ve got connections here and we have just as many friends here, and contacts, as we did in the UK. We were looking to move house and we always fancied trying to live here. So we just said, f**k it, let’s see what it’s like, and we haven’t looked back. It’s lovely we’re very happy here. What’s interesting for us is the artistic community, the creative community and the media community: in the UK it’s very much six degrees of separation. Here, it’s like two degrees of separation. It’s much easier, everything is much more fluid. You can actually collaborate with people. It’s more informal. People are up for stuff here.”
What impresses Godley about Ireland’s creative community is that they’re simply getting on with it despite the dearth of dosh to finance projects. “There’s a willingness to become involved in projects for their own sake. The videos for Bipolar Empire and Gavin Friday were all done on a shoestring, but people wanted to do them with me because they’d rather do something for nothing than nothing for nothing. They’d rather stay out there and be busy doing interesting things. And it’s the same with me to a certain extent.”
Godley has often paid the price for his desire to strike out and try new ideas. At the height of 10cc’s success, he and Lol Creme jacked it in to try and market their new invention, the Gizmotron, a device that made your guitar sound like a celestial orchestra. To showcase their invention, they released a sprawling triple album, Consequences, which failed to replicate the chart success of such 10cc albums as Sheet Music and The Original Soundtrack.
But taking creative risks also paid off for Godley and Creme. Moving from making records to directing music videos would have been a quantum leap for many a seasoned musician, but they also made videos that pushed the creative boundaries beyond much of the MTV dross. Their iconic videos include The Police’s Every Breath You Take, Duran Duran’s Girls On Filmand Herbie Hancock’s Rockit.
“I think when the whole video thing started in the 1980s, people really didn’t know what it was and directors thought, this is a great opportunity for me to do my Western, my thriller, my film noir, essentially copying movies. But videos shouldn’t tell a story, because people like to associate their own images with a song. We always felt it was about creating a mood and putting something up on the screen that was innovative, interesting to watch, and added something.” The video for their smash single Cry introduced a face-morphing effect that was, for its time, considered cutting-edge.
Three decades after impressing MTV viewers with that video, Godley is still going after the wow factor – even with restricted budgets. The video for Bipolar Empire’s Feel That You Own It, for instance, was shot with almost zero budget in the old John Player factory, with boxer Katie Taylor appearing, along with a flash mob of the band’s friends and fans. The end result is eyecatching, memorable and – crucially – will make this Dublin band stand out from the pack.
Godley describes himself as an “advanced dabbler”, and he’s currently dabbling in a project that he hopes will revolutionise the way we interact with our musical heroes. Wholeworldband allows people from around the globe to join in with their favourite band as they perform one of their hit tunes. You log on to the website and select a video of your favourite band playing. You can then replace individual members with your own performance, or simply play along. So you get to boot, say, Mick Jagger out of the band and take over as lead singer, and Keith Richards won’t bat an eyelid. Think of it as a global jam session – with you deciding who gets to play.
A number of bands are interested in getting involved, says Godley, and the site is currently at beta testing stage at wholeworldband.com. It sounds like a perfect tool for the X Factor generation, and what better way for artists to connect directly with their fans than by letting them join the band? “I think there’s a new kind of user, a new kind of consumer. These are people who log on and do stuff. They don’t want to be passive.”
Long before X Factor, there was Top Of the Pops, and in July 1970 young drummer Godley made his debut on the programme with his band Hotlegs, performing their number two hit, Neanderthal Man.The band then became 10cc and had a run of chart hits that took them right to the end of the decade, with a series of clever, catchy pop tunes that fell between rock and MOR. All four members – Godley, Creme, Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart – wrote and sang, pooling their talents to produce such hits as Rubber Bullets, The Dean and I, The Wall Street Shuffleand their biggest-ever smash, I’m Not In Love.
In recent years, Godley has been recording music again with Gouldman under the name GG06, but he insists that nowadays it’s more a hobby than a calling. “It was always making music for my own enjoyment, It was never anything but. We were lucky in that we had the chemistry, and as well as making stuff that we really liked, the public liked it as well.”
But although music has taken a back seat in Godley’s life, creativity and imagination are still at the top of his agenda. “It’s what gets me up in the morning. If there wasn’t creativity, if I wasn’t looking for things to do, and there weren’t the tools out there to help me do them, there’s no point in me.”
Life in Ireland is simple for Mr and Mrs Godley. He works mainly from home, making forays into Dublin when there are meetings to take or editing suites to take over. “We’ve always lived outside of town. It’s nice to leave your job in the metropolis and go back to wherever you are. It’s nice to hear the birds tweeting.” They go to see a movie, go out to dinner, and occasionally go to Glendalough. “I don’t think we’re very different from other people. We’ve been married now for a long time. It feels like we’ve been together all our lives, in a good way. It’s like we’re two halves of the same thing, I think we complement each other very well.”
He kept one eye on the recent presidential election and professes to be very pleased with the results. “I was reading about Michael D in Hot Press.[Steve Wall from The Stunning] had met him on the train and they were talking about poetry and music and he was very knowledgeable and indeed he was quite instrumental in the arts and film industry in this country a number of years ago, so I’m very happy he got in.
“To me one of the great things about Ireland is that it’s a nation of poets, a nation of artists, a nation of writers, songwriters, musicians. The arts are an incredible part of the fabric of the country. So if there’s someone up there who can enhance that, who can help it to grow, I think that’s gotta be a good thing.”
Godley calls himself a dabbler but you might also call him a diviner, able to detect hidden reserves of creativity like a dowser finding water.
“There’s just something in the air here that gets me ticking over. It’s difficult to pin down what it is, but it’s there. Regardless of what’s going on with the economy and so forth, there is an enthusiasm that is difficult to pin down, but I can sense it.”