After a year or so of following the musical briefs of twenty million west end marketing guys on cocaine, I longed to make pop records or just work on a rock band project – something that was real! I received a call from old girlfriend Maggie Luckley saying that ‘Frankie Goes to Hollywood’ were rehearsing in a hotel in Jersey where she lived and Holly Johnston was interested in working with me – Holly had heard an album I had produced for an artist called Carey Duncan on the big indie Irish label Ritz Records. Would I like to meet up with him to discuss.
I really wanted to find an artist to cut a song I had called ‘Smack’ written by my friend Reg in Folkestone. I had been recording Bobby Tench (one time singer with The Jeff Beck band and guitarist with Alan Price) and legendary session guitarist Big Jim Sullivan (ex Tom Jones) and loving being in amongst creative guys who could instantly deliver a performance. The song definitely wasn’t right for Holly but I wanted to find a few more songs of a similar theme and put together a collection with various artists fronting them.
Maybe it would be something that a major label might go for if I could round up some names but where on earth would I start the ball rolling. I wasn’t known outside of my own front room and after all this time still felt a bit like a hayseed from the north.
They might all go for it especially if a percentage of the sales were for an anti drugs charity. I didn’t know one musician that didn’t know of someone that had been badly affected by drugs.
I needed names and studios who would give me down time to record for free in exchange for their branding being mentioned on the finished product and also help in contributing to such a worthy cause. Bobby Tench suggested I have a word with Keith Grant who ran Olympic studios in Church Street, Barnes.
Everyone had recorded there from The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton to Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles in the late 1960s onwards. Olympic Studios had been described as the “go-to studio for many of rock and pop’s leading lights in the music industry’s golden era and being of the same standard and importance as Abbey Road Studios – The studio’s mixing desks eventually became famous in their own right, and were later manufactured commercially.
Keith and sound engineer Dougie Bennett agreed to give me free studio time in order to record my first ‘Live in World’ song with Holly Johnson, it was entitled ‘Slay the Dragon’ and co-wrote by Tenchy and Toby Allison, one of the other Olympic sound engineers.
On the day of recording Holly’s vocals we did a great band track mix for him to sing to – We kept Tenchy’s guide vocal on a separate track just in case we needed it for reference, so that Holly could listen to it if he lost the melody or phrasing at any time during the proceedings.
I got a call from reception asking me if I would drive over to Holly’s house in Parson’s Green and pick him up along with his partner Wolfgang Kuhle. He also wanted to discuss one or two things about the session and song before he came to the studio.
So off I went like a good little taxi driver leaving Dougie Bennett and Tenchy to twiddle their thumbs for an hour or two.
Holly’s home in Chiddingstone Street, Parson’s Green was as smart as a carrot, a red bricked Victorian terraced house with bay windows all shuttered and very private looking. I was slightly disappointed because there wasn’t a moustachioed, leather clad and thong wearing gay prancing around anywhere in the vicinity – especially singing ‘Relax don’t do it when you wanna cum’ and ‘hit me with your laser beams etc’ – Honestly not that I had expected to see ‘Welcome to the Pleasure Dome’ being performed in a Parson’s Green side street but I had some stupid idea that there may be some kind of extraordinary pop star titillation hanging in the air in this little corner of SW6 – but if there was it was certainly not around Holly’s home turf.
The interior of his home was beautiful and tastefully decorated with expensive leather sofas on oak floors throughout, a wall to wall art collection ranging from known artists to up and coming artists whose work would only appreciate in price very quickly – Wolfgang, an art collector and now with Holly had a knack for discovering new artists and investing their money wisely.
Being in a posh pop star home that exuded success impressed me and I had to admit that I wanted some of this in my own career – What Holly had achieved was a far cry from my own banging out of radio jingles in the old Off-Beat music studio in Hammersmith – this type of success had nothing whatsoever to do with the deluded speed sniffing, dope smoking dickheads that routinely thrashed out their tuneless noise over the yard in the black hole that was Yeldham Road rehearsal studios.
We got back to Olympic an hour or so later and started setting up vocal levels for Holly’s performance on ‘Slay the Dragon’.
As soon as Holly heard Tenchy’s soulful guide vocal he had instant doubts as to whether he could sing the song and his efforts went from bad to worse – I ended up taking him for a walk along Barnes High Street and explained that I just needed Holly Johnston on the song and not Holly Johnston trying to sound like Bobby Tench – I wanted all the great energy he had put into the songs on ‘Welcome to the Pleasure Dome’ and not the sound of a soul and rock singer. ‘Slay the Dragon’ wasn’t a soul song it was a hard driving pop song that was designed just for Holly.
He bought it and we returned back to the studio and he nailed it in just a few takes – it was magic! Everyone in the control room gave him a round of applause including Tenchy standing at the back of the room.
I took Holly and Wolfgang back home to Parsons Green and stopped over for some tea and a chat about the session. Holly explained that the session had been quite demanding for him and outside of his vocal comfort zone but a good eye opener too and wanted to be kept in the loop on everything we were planning.
He showed me his little loft studio space which he and Wolfgang had created in the same tasteful fashion as the downstairs house – Sunshine streamed in through a couple of roof windows and lit the whole space giving it a beautiful airy vibe – Holly pulled up a couple of kneeling chairs for us to kneel on whilst he lined up one of his latest unfinished song demos – He had a great recording set-up here which boasted some top of the range outboard recording equipment but to be honest, little in the way of song ideas to play me at that point in time.
He wanted me to call back soon so he could play me more song arrangements he was working on and also told me about his passion to become an artist too – he fantasised about painting in oils on huge canvasses and holding exhibitions of his work – I agreed to call back soon and give any creative input that I could offer. I kept pondering upon Holly’s life in the fast lane whilst driving my rust bucket of a Renault 4 back to Sutton Court Road each night and it niggled me quite a bit.
When I got home my answer machine was blinking away with various messages – There was one from Hazel O’Connor who had received a message from a mutual Hari Krishna friend from Radlett in Hertfordshire, he told her that I was looking for artists and she wanted to come to my place to meet me. The thought of actually bringing a pop star to my hole in the ground in Chiswick was extremely alarming. What if Wally the Glasgow gorilla from up stairs started his IRA and bullying antics while she was visiting? What if stinking Stella started emptying her piss pot down my window whilst we were having a cup of tea?
It wasn’t right that I should try and quietly smuggle her in and downstairs as that would rapidly reduce any credibility that she might have thought I possess – there was no way that taking anyone remotely human back to 23 Sutton Court Road would have enhanced my credibility anyway. Never the less I didn’t have another option if I wanted to play her some of the songs we had on the table and also it was Hazel who suggested my place anyway – sitting in the smelly local pub with a cassette, a walkman and lots of blokes drinking wasn’t my idea of creating a good impression either.
So I rang her back. ‘Hi! Is that Hazel?’ (confident voice) -‘Yes?’ – ‘Its Charley Foskett here from the Anti Heroin project – I’ve just got your message about coming over to Chiswick for a meeting to discuss you recording with us’ – ‘Yes are you around tomorrow?’ said Hazel, sounding very enthusiastic. ‘I think so – I have to be at Olympic studios in Barnes at some point but not sure of what time exactly – We could meet there’ I offered. She didn’t want to go to Barnes – she wanted to meet me at my own place in Chiswick as she was driving past on her way to Berkshire and could pop in from the M4. ‘Ok Chiswick it is – what time is good for you?’ ‘Breakfast time?’ she suggested. Oh no! The house would smell of fried crap and boiled underpants. There was no alternative but to go for it. Hazel O’Connor, star of ‘Breaking Glass’ with Phil Daniels was coming for breakfast at Shitsville!
The following morning I frantically cleaned the communal kitchen upstairs and sprayed around the entrance hall with an air freshener – This didn’t help much as the stench coming from under stinking Stella’s door permeated the whole of Chiswick if the wind blew the wrong way. ‘Oh f**k’ what could I do to disguise the fact that I resided in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ with a bunch of rotting zombies?
I slipped down stairs to wash behind my ears and at least made myself look half presentable for my pop star visitor. What would I wear? my old tweed suit and brogues? or jeans, trainers and a tee shirt? Should I shave or leave the stubble? I wanted Hazel to think I was cool even if I did live with sub humans!
The upstairs doorbell rang and of course no body answered which was just as well – I ran up and opened it to Hazel dressed in army surplus gear and looking like she had just been dragged through a hedge in the park. Fantastic!
‘Hi! Charley Foskett?’ ‘Yes hi – come on in’, I suggested nervously. Hazel wandered in past me looking up at a nicotine stained ceiling with cobwebs, dirty damp patches and wall paper peeling off at the edges. ‘This is erm, this is a kind of communal place – sorry about the rough edges’ I said as I started getting a whiff of stinking Stella – I willed that she wouldn’t for some reason open her room door at that precise moment or my said guest would be gagging and gasping and legging it along Sutton Court Road.
I hurried Hazel into the communal kitchen, sat her down and put the kettle on. I had scrubbed every surface earlier and emptied everyone’s garbage bins so with the window slightly open luckily the usual greasy stench had subsided for a while. We sat there for five minutes whilst I made some toast and coffee and discussed some of the reasons for me putting together the Anti Heroin project – Hazel knew people who had over-dozed and also lost a couple of friends along the way to heroin abuse – She said she was up for anything that I suggested so firstly I suggested her coming downstairs to my little basement flat. Whether she thought I was going to try and show her my etchings didn’t cross my mind, though it may have been a good idea but not a good time – I just wanted to subtly guide her away from the ground floor and any possibility of unwanted embarrassment by invading Morlocks. We chatted some more about her friend the record producer Martin Rushent which was where she was heading after touching base with me. I once again apologised for the weird residence I lived in and explained that the house had been used as a bit of a refuge for drug addicts and now more so a clientele for rather ill-smelling lost souls who had gone off the rails.
Hazel thought it was all rather funny and proceeded to tell me of the time she had acted in a stage play of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ at Manchester’s Royal Exchange – I told her that I spent most of my time acting in the real life version of a similar gig upstairs.
‘When I get back from Berkshire, why don’t you come and visit me at my place in Aldenham and we can go over ideas for songs and see what might work for the project’, said this star of ‘Breaking Glass’. I was really chuffed and we exchanged telephone numbers and decided to meet up again a few days later.