Title: The Morley & Horn Show present - How to make a spectacle of yourself
Author: Barney Hoskyns
Publish date: 13 October 1984
ZTT – Warriors of pop or theatre of hype?
Barney Hoskyns meets the men in the ironic masks
The Morley & Horn Show present
How to make a spectacle of yourself
“We can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far…” The Buggles
The first year of ZTT has been a spectacular success with Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s singles ‘Relax’ and ‘Two Tribes’ becoming respectively the fourth and eleventh best sellers of all time. Now the label is to release their first batch of LPs and unveil their second wave of acts. But it is a theatre of hype? Barney Hoskyns enters the pleasure dome to question the ethics of Trevor Horn, Paul Morley and Jill Sinclair and meet Anne Pigalle, Propaganda, Andrew Poppy and Instinct. Photos by Peter Anderson.
THE BLUE spaceship in Basing Street is housed in the studios where, all those pre-punk years ago, Island Records recorded The Wailers.
Island boss Chris Blackwell’s Swinging ‘60s bachelor pad in the west wing is still there, unchanged except for the blue and white ZTT dots splattered on the walls. But then these are everywhere, even the loos.
Inside this gilded palace of din, the new home of the hits is expanding daily. Yet another studio is being constructed, yet more personnel are being drafted in. Not that you’re in a pop factory: Trevor Horn vociferously denies that ZTT is any such thing.
To be sure, things are pretty quiet for the most part. There’s no great sense of mobilisation, no target charts on the wall, nothing like Island’s own control centre in St Peter’s Square. Everything is housed here — a pop world within a world”, in Paul Morley’s words — but it’s no factory.
The boundaries between music, money and propaganda are neatly observed: Horn is permanently in the studio, his wife Jill’s business office is perched on top of the building like a nest. And Morley, well, Morley has his own elegant lair where he does very little but, of course, does it brilliantly.
“Karen and Paul (MacDonald) take the phone calls for me,” he says blithely. “I hate phone calls.”
THE MARRIAGE of these three highly acute minds seems to have been one of the few inspired things to happen in pop music this decade.
With an opening chapter in Dirty Old Men With Modern Mannerisms (Paul’s 1980 article on Trevor’s group Buggles), it’s a brilliant story for all concerned. Horn is the single most extraordinary record producer Britain has ever known, Morley pop’s most extreme and hilarious scribe, Jill the business brain that keeps them both sane. Trevor’s bizarre career has taken him from ten years of sessions to Yes to Dollar to ABC to McLaren and now to this: just as Paul’s nib-pushing took him from The Buzzcocks to Quentin Crisp to Meat Loaf and finally back to himself. A pair of comedians, they claim: the one a visionary of sound, the other of language.
Together they’re beautiful, although only occasionally will they bump into each other. “Sometimes we just meet in the corridor,” says Paul, “and it ends up on a record. The Patrick Allen thing came about like that, and the same happened with Christopher Barry doing Reagan.”
With just a few records they’ve achieved a magnificent amount, and they know it. ‘Relax’ is the fourth best-selling British single of all time, ‘Tribes’ the eleventh. Neither is lording it over anyone, though. The humour is much too vital for anybody to start getting complacent or flashy about things. The figures don’t interest Horn or Morley so much as the commotion Frankie stirred, the excitement of the forbidden that a 25-year-old like myself perhaps can’t understand.
“Every record company panicked after ‘Two Tribes’, coz all they’d ever done was stick a record in a bag and stick it out — treating consumers like morons. Young people today have got other stimuli, they’ve got Spielberg! The Young Ones! Their language now is a lot richer, a lot more eccentric than record companies give credit for. They demand more from it. They are a bit nihilistic.”
Right now the full promotional propaganda is about to go into action for Frankie. While Horn is hidden away in the studio, adding final touches to the double ‘Welcome To The Pleasure Dome’, Morley twiddles his thumbs and dreams up ever-more absurd gambits to hype it. At the moment, he’s toying with the notion of giving away free vibrators.
“We’re trying to do what we did with ‘Two Tribes’, make it part of public language. Being a, ahem, semiotician, that’s what interests me, to involve it.”
At three or so o’clock of a Friday afternoon, Paul Rutherford enters bearing a copy of the Bowie album. “Stop everything!” commands Morley. “Barney, take this down: ZTT PLAY BOWIE ALBUM! Call the NME! Call The News Of The World! Actually, The News Of The World just called us. Apparently they’ve got some 15-year-old who claims to have been fucked by Mark O’Toole.”
Frankie just Came Back From Hollywood, actually, after recreating their video for a Brian De Palma film called, irresistibly enough, Holly Goes To Hollywood. Rutherford is still brimming with the funkiness of it all. As a tribute he plays ‘Erotic City’, the American B-side of Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’. ZTT’s girls are all over him..
THE PRIVATE MOMENT
MORLEY IS a gas. Someone told me he was going mad, drinking, doing cocaine. I’ve never seen anyone so calm, so easy, so relaxed. Paul Morley is NOT WIRED, just full of love. I discover we share an adoration of the late Eric Morecambe.
What happened in the minds of Frankie fans, Paul?
“Probably not a lot. You know I’ve always been a bit pissed off with people like Weller and The Clash and Killing Joke, these people who say there can be some kind of polemic within pop. Well, ‘Two Tribes’ was trying to prove to people that it’s impossible. I mean, we get to number one for nine weeks with an explicit, extravagant anti-war thing with the real government warning on there and the next week it’s George Michael taking over at number one, and that’s the end. Nine weeks, and nothing’s happened. I like that in away. Because… what can happen?!? So what it really comes down to is what Trevor’n’me are involved in — which is the private moment.”
What I liked about Frankie was the sense of communality. There’s something refreshingly humble and ordinary about Holly Johnson which means he’s not the focal “point” of the group. He’s so uncamp. Indeed, if truth be told, he’s a good deal less “faggy” than most pop’s hetero pin-ups. Partly this was achieved by Morley’s substitution of T-shirts for pin-ups, nagging words for images.
“What persuaded me was reading Katharine Hamnett saying she wanted the T-shirts ripped off, which reminded me of Mark P, saying he wanted Sniffin ‘Glue to be ripped off. And I mean, I did a fanzine, so when I read that I thought, great, fanzine T-shirts! I thought it was funny reading Murray and Bowie taking the piss in NME. I mean, 12 years ago Murray was interviewing Bowie, and 12 years later Murray is interviewing Bowie! It’s like, what’s happened?’
EURO-GIRLS 1: ANNE (CERTAIN)
THE FIRST of ZTT’s new school we meet is the gorgeous Anne Pigalle, a rive gauche beauty with Juliette Greco cheekbones who first came over to London in the Vic Godard/Wag Club days and took her name from Paris’ infamous street of shame. She’s 23 and all dressed in black. Paul says she is a cross between Edith Piaf and Leonard Cohen and when she lets down her hair I fall in — ‘ow you say —lerve.
“What I like to do in my texts, I always make a twist, you know, it’s always on two levels, always to do with love but always something going weird or wrong. I think that’s the way you make things iteresting, by mixing things together. Sometimes if you do something just straightforward, it can be totally brilliant, but it’s very rare. That is not to say that you tell everyone, look, the trick is here! I try to keep it simple. It interests me to put my thoughts in words.”
Her songs are electronic Sade, jazz ballads with a wistful edge of sleazy melancholy.
“I could say it sounds French, couldn’t I? But that doesn’t mean much. I thought the name Pigalle was good, because it was a bit of a joke. Obviously, I am not a prostitute, but I quite like the ambiguity, and also that you could put that name on a public spot. In France, people think it’s really shocking. I thought it was good to suggest the French thing, and still make it a street thing, but not just a kind of tourist hole (!), I thought it was quite a good idea. In France, it’s fair to say that there hasn’t been anything worthwhile for ages, and I think this will be very big in France.”
The danger is of being too stylised. You could probably learn a lot about Anne and her image from Paul Webster and Nicholas Powell’s new account of Left Bank life Saint-Germain-des-Pres (Constable).
“I like to use that for people to understand something about me. It’s quite hard for people to listen to somebody who’s got a French accent, they think it’s stylish but they don’t think it’s their thing. Therefore I am approaching people through what they know about the French. After all, it’s French culture that brought me up, and that is what I am strongest to express.”
You do look the Greco type.
“Mmm,” she sighs wistfully, “I get the Maria Callas as well, so it’s not too traumatic. For me, looking at the styles at the moment, it’s very French, but they’re only into the clothes aspect, and the only people that get to express are people like Sade, who are very self conscious. I don’t think Sade gives much, you know, she’s nice blah blah blah, but that’s all. I think I am attracting people by the French thing, but then I am offering them something else, something more.
“All I do is really how I feel. If I don’t feel something I don’t do it, and if I’m in a bad mood, well, you’ll see I’m in a bad mood. I think if you try hard to smile and look like everything’s great, it sounds silly. I don’t like the idea of putting on a face, I think you have to be true to yourself. That is what rock was originally about, and now we’re getting into all this stylish stuff, which they think just has to be good, but it seems to be stopping there.”
Anne’s songs include ‘Hey Stranger’ — “about being foreign and always having to prove something” — and ‘The Thousand Colour Waltz’.
“That’s a very Brechtian type of song. All the verses are about things that are bad in the world, but all the choruses are about hope. Maybe it’s a hippie song.”
The single, ‘Why Does It Have To Be This Way’, will be “a bit Spanish-influenced, and also a bit James Bond…”
What has ZTT done for your career so far?
“Well, they’ve made me wait a lot. That pissed me off for some time, but now I’m starting to accept it. The more time you put into something, the better it is.”
EURO-GIRLS 2: CLAUDIA (ACTION)
“DO YOU have a light?” inquires charming Claudia of Propaganda.
“I’m sorry, no one smokes at NME anymore. Paul was the last unhealthy
writer. That’s why he had to go. (Actually, I’m slandering him: Paul Morley doesn’t smoke.)
Propaganda were the name behind the mighty ‘Nine Lives Of Dr Mabuse’, the group Chris Bohn called “the children of Fritz Lang and Giorgio Moroder”. They are the ZTT act who most consciously fit the label’s tactics of media dissemination and disinformation, though ‘Mabuse’ was essentially a straightforward disco melodrama — Horn’s Wagnerian Kraftwerk. (He says it’s essential to preserve the steeled Euro-ness of Propaganda amidst all the boxed American beats.)
The group’s principal strategists also happen to be away, and Claudia, who was still a schoolgirl only a year ago, doesn’t claim to speak for them.
“At the moment we are waiting for Trevor to finish mixing the Frankie album. After that he has one week’s holiday and then comes back to work with us. I think he needs a holiday. The others are in Germany, and maybe you know that Ralf (Dorper) is, working in a bank, and Michael (Mertens) is working in opera. Ralf is a very clever money man.”
Claudia has been living here five months. “It’s much better here” is all she says, though she can’t understand what happened with ‘Mabuse’.
“We went to number 27 in the charts, and Top Of The Pops didn’t want to show us. It was very strange. Maybe it was because of ZTT and the ban on ‘Relax’. Maybe because we came from Germany. It is very strange, because if Gary Glitter can come in Top Of The Pops when he’s 46… don’t you think so?”
Perhaps ‘Duel’, the single to be released at the end of December (“or maybe the first of January”) will be treated better. What’s it like?
“It will be a pop song, that is what it will be. Very, very different from ‘Mabuse’, because we always want to have our songs changing. ‘Duel’ will be a pop song, like in the ‘70s. The mood shall be very… rock’n’roll, something like that. Well, not rock’n’roll, really, but…”
What about the album?
“The first side of the album shall be a long, long version of ‘Dr Mabuse’, different from the seven and 12 inch. This follows ‘Discipline’ (the ol’ Throbbin’ Gristle chestnut), and on the second side will be five other songs. ‘Mabuse’ is still selling, about 500 a week. I think we are 140 in the chart. ‘Mabuse’ came at the same time at Frankie Goes To Hollywood, so that ZTT was concentrated on them, and it was not good for us. Now we want to do things three months later than Frankie.”
What I’ve heard are demos of ‘P. Machinery’ (though I hear “missionary”) and a hypnotic arrangement of Josef K’s ‘Sorry For Laughing’ which features a madly insistent syndrum beat and sounds like a futurist Shangri-Las.
How do you compare yourselves to the rest of pop music?
“I think ‘Mabuse’ was very, very different from everything. The people had to get used to the song, and you have to hear it about ten times till you can like it; it’s so different, so strange. We didn’t expect it would be a success in Germany. In Dusseldorf, they were very jealous of us. Not Kraftwerk, Kraftwerk is very nice. But the others are very jealous when they know you have a contract with Trevor Horn. I don’t like the Dusseldorf scene. I like Berlin and Frankfurt. The music they are making there you can’t compare with English music. There are still people there who are doing it for themselves, for their own enjoyment.”
She chuckles her sweet laugh.
TREVOR HORN has been padding around in the same track suit for days. Occasionally you’ll see the goggles floating towards you down a corridor and he’ll say Hi in his soft, gentle voice. He’s usually en route to the kitchen to get a Bounty.
As his wife says, “he’s much more normal than Phil Spector”.
“At first, Jill never forgave Paul for slagging me off that first time in NME, she really had it in for him. And when ‘Relax’ was banned, quite a few people were suggesting it was somehow Paul’s fault, and we’d be better off without him. However, she never subscribed to that.
“I always thought that the idea of someone who’d been such a father-figure of negative journalism having a go at it himself was great, and would be bound to cause trouble. Plus I began to see that a record company would need someone who could visualize it, who could dream it up, someone who could be the soul of it.”
Trevor’s tried to start a company before. It didn’t work. In fact, he’s tried lots of things before, and they haven’t worked either. He’s even tried the classic path of the hit record producer.
“What normally happens to producers is that they go mad. The rewards for producing big American groups are so enormous, in comparison with producing a new band for a new label — I mean, you’re talking about the difference between £10,000 and £¼ million. Producers go bonkers, plus more often than not these groups have incredible internal problems, through drugs, family problems, money problems, and politics, and as a producer you have to cope with the whole thing.
“Generally, you end up living in California, with loads of money, and it’s a whole trip, and I didn’t really fancy that. The Yes album was enough, but even before the Yes album I’d been so cheesed off watching people that I’d worked with, like Dollar, go down the drain through their own stupidity.”
What do you think of Paul’s description of the company as “a pop world within a world”? The temptation is to see it as two geniuses with a galaxy of stars agglomerating around them.
“Wow! It certainly doesn’t feel like that! I mean, I’m quite anxious that we present a wide spectrum of music, rather than being stuck in one area. I don’t like to think it’s all me and Paul, and it isn’t. I also don’t like any Phil Spector comparisons, because I don’t honestly think Phil Spector was that good. He was good a few times, but not in my mind consistently, and not with a great deal of versatility. I mean, I’ll never forgive him for what he did to The Beatles, and I think George Martin was much better than him.
“I’m afraid that pushing ZTT as me and Paul will scare people off and make them think we want to change what they are. You see, I don’t think you can ever set up a pop factory, because if you’re talking about pop factories, you’re talking about Chinn and Chapman and people like that, and sure, they were pretty entertaining records, but I’d like to think that we could use ZTT to make people listen to things they’d never normally listen to. And in any case, there’s not many pop records I hear on the radio that would make me want to start a pop factory.
“If by establishing a name for ourselves we can cut out the middleman, we might get people to listen to Andrew Poppy. But these are early days yet.”
Does your career strike you as strange when you look back on it?
“Yes, it does. And that’s only my career as a producer! I mean, there must be a hundred bands in England who can say they had me in them at one time or other. My first ever professional engagement was at the Isle of Man Old Tyme Dancing Festival, so I’ve never really seen too many barriers between different sorts of music! Before I was a producer, I didn’t really understand that much about music, so I was just playing for anyone that would pay me.
“I’ve always tried never to do the same thing twice, because I get really bored and I find I lose a lot of freshness. I hear 12 inches now that sound like the Art Of Noise with exploding voices and everything, and I haven’t done one of those for ages; I’ve tried to do every1hing but that. Y’know, the Propaganda 12 inch was meant to be a 12 inch that was orchestrated, instead of being a bunch of random mixes of things. Sometimes it gets very tough to think of something new to do, but the best way is just to keep moving. Very much a turning point was deciding to do Malcolm McLaren instead of Spandau Ballet after ABC, where I opted to go for the daft rather than the obvious.”
How long has it taken you to master the range of equipment you use?
“None of that’s really important, actually. All the equipment, the Fairlights and so on, are just another passing fad. I’m even beginning to hate all of that stuff, which is why I like Frankie’s version of ‘Born To Run’ so much.
“If I’m obsessed with one detail, it’s generally a very important one. I always ask myself at the end of a record, do you feel satisfied? Has it done anything for you? And whatever I do comes much more from that — from sitting in bandrooms for ten years listening to records — than from any mastery of computers. You ask anyone I work with, I never touch anything. I’ve got no idea of how to work a Fairlight, but I know exactly what it can do. I don’t even know what I want half the time, all I know is what I don’t want.”
Has anyone adequately described your sound?
“Well, a producer has got to be the hardest job for anyone to understand, especially a music critic. I mean, you can’t fail to notice that sometimes people do really well with one producer and not so well with another, and it must concern you exactly what a producer does. I’ve never really been able to explain it myself, it’s such an enormous question. I’ve certainly never looked for anyone to describe my sound, I’ve read a couple of good appraisals of things that I’ve done that I thought were quite well put, but that’s all.”
What are you most looking forward to?
“I guess I’m just looking forward to the next thing. We’re building a new studio, and this has been the first year and I’m looking forward to the next year, just hoping that we can keep it together and keep all the records good and… God, this is why I never do any interviews, you always end up saying such boring things!
“But no, we’ve got to keep on our toes. There will always be groups around who are average and who sell records and make money, and when I listen to their records I can see that they’re basically just doing business, like trading, and I want us to kind of kick them up the ass and make sure they do better! They’re got to make better records, they’ve got to think, they’ve got to work at it. I mean, there’s no rules to this business, there’s no reason why one shouldn’t sell 40 million copies of a single record in this country. The business is as good as people make it.
“We’ve got to make the marketplace a more exciting place for everyone to be.”
THE ART OF NOISE (INCIDENTAL)
WE’VE JUST listened to Side One of ‘Welcome To The Pleasure Dome’. It sounds like Raiders Of The Lost Ark of pop music.
Paul decides to speak on behalf of the Arts.
“The Art Of Noise comes from an early decision of mine, that (whispers) I hate pop groups. I mean, you know as well as I do that a lot of groups are well stupid, and yet they’re suddenly in this position of being able to talk a lot about life and the world and themselves, and the haven’t got a clue. They’re not very literate, they’ve got no experience or knowledge. And what I’ve always found very funny is, like, the idea of the pop group doing their serious photos.
“We’ve just been looking at photos of Savage Progress, they way they all look like (a pompous pose I cannot reproduce for you, reader) and, I mean, who do they think they are?!? All the Art of Noise is, is taking the piss a little out of pop groups, which is why the first photos we sent out were of spanners and roses.”
THE FIRST deliciously mad Art of Noise album is finally being released here this month after being on American import for the best part of the year. How to describe this riotous jam of spliced tape and Fairlight fantasia?
“Sounds and textures that make you go ‘ah!’” said Thereza of Dollar of the Horn of Plenty sound. (Use that in your next campaign, Paul!) It’ll have to do for now.
“Art of Noise make sounds that are bunged together in a parody of a song, and around that we’ve taken the piss out of all the ‘artistes’.”
ZTT seems to be about the dialectic of private moment and public event.
“The private moment is all that’s there, really. The public exhibition is the joke. To me, maybe 15 minutes into the Frankie album there lies the most revolutionary moment of your life. Everything else is the play.”
Does pop music have any altruistic value at all?
“You see, to me it made the world a better place, therefore is does make the world a better place, because my belief must be the same as my faith. So, yes. But you’re talking a bulk, a mass movement, actually making the world in all its details and quality better, and I don’t believe that.
“I understand your celebration of America, but sometimes the way I see America is a saturation of indigenous European culture. I mean, I used to go over to Europe, and all the kids looked like they were from Indianapolis or Des Moines. Their natural culture has been washed away, and so I wanted to try and recover some of that great wayward Surrealist spirit of just before the war, which was one of the great comic events of the century. That was a major part of calling it Zang Tuum Tumb, which then reduces to ZTT, as they all do, like EMI, CBS, PiL, ABC, you know, the universal initials, all that classic capitalist way of doing things.”
Will the games ever lose their entertainment value for you?
“No, because the game changes every week, really. But anyway, the playful element mainly comes out of taking the piss out of a record industry. I myself am probably quite serious about introducing people to the possibility of choice. I know that in the private moment you can achieve or receive something spellbinding intensity. I also know that in the public sphere you can do a similar king of thing, but the only way I’ve seem that you can do this is by comedy, because comedy is in itself a kind of tragedy. If you see what I mean…
“Frankie was my proof of the private moment in a public way, because it did cause a phenomenon. It was what some people would term intellectual. In fact, it’s the kind of thing I get really pissed off about, that if you’re quite knowing they accuse you of some kind of elitism or dryness. To me it’s the other way round. Eric Morcambe was probably one of the most knowing people who ever lived. He could make people laugh, which is a very wonderful thing to do. D. H. Lawrence was a comedian, too.”
Why did Art of Noise happen in America and not here?
“What happened in America is something that I enjoyed, being a theoretician.
“‘Beatbox’ emerged out of Trevor’s period in New York when he was wandering around Harlem and seeing people dance to ‘Buffalo Gals’ and they were laughing at him, little knowing that he’d done that piece of music. For that reason, The Art of Noise in America because really whimsical. To me The Art of Noise are like God’s backing band, because The Art of Noise does deal directly and unselfconsciously with the private moment, y’know, and ‘Moments In Love’ is the classic version of that. To me, it’s the greatest love song ever written, because all it says is moments in love, and it just goes on and on.
“To me, The Art of Noise aren’t a fad, they’re both the ultimate joke and the ultimate seriousness of pop music.
“The funny thing about Trevor is that it’s so unselfconscious. He doesn’t give a shit about people like you or me, he just gets on with it. He never goes out, he doesn’t know what a disco is even though he was the creator of these 12 inch extravaganzas. He’s a comedian, the Bernie Winters of ZTT. I’m the Bernard Manning.”
The next Art of Noise project is a soundtrack for ZTT’s feature film The Living End, which Paul has written and Godley and Crème will direct.
“It’s all about faith, Barney, Faith in a… huge sense. I’m really dealing with WHY. I mean, I know how bad this looks in print! No, the film is really about Leslie Crowther, and y’know… why? WHY DOES LESLIE CROWTHER EXIST?”
What should I ask Jill?
“Ask her about the morality of it. I wonder whether sometimes she isn’t a little bit disturbed by what goes on. She’s a parent and all that, and in many ways a very conventional kind of parent, very protective. I’d be interested to know what she feels.”
How many children has she got?
And they like what, Thompson Twins and Durex Durex?
“The oldest one’s two and a half. I think she’s interested in Schoenberg at the moment.”
A PAUL Morley request, Ms Sinclair: did you feel there was anything immoral about ‘Relax’?
“Pass, pass. Is this how the tone of the article is going to be, cos I’ve never managed to read one of his articles from beginning to end. I can’t even read his press releases.
“But no, I don’t think Frankie’s the slightest bit immoral, they’re absolutely the most normal people you’d ever wish to meet. They remind me very much of the boys I used to teach when I was a teacher. It’s a typical Morley question, which he’ prevaricate and waffle around for hours. Really, I don’t see any moral problems about ‘Relax’ at all.
“I’m awfully sorry,” she adds in mock-meek schoolgirl smirk. “I hope I haven’t disappointed you.”
Has teaching given you a base from which to run this burgeoning empire?
“When you’re a teacher you have to be able to suss out who the troublemakers and ringleaders are going to be, and I taught in a very rough school. The teacher I replaced has left because she’s been punched in the stomach. None of my kids murmured to me, since I was very authoritarian. I’m told I have a very unsettling manner. I was one known as the Iron Lady Of The Music Business, and parallels between Margaret Thatcher and myself have been made.”
So no one in the ZTT classroom has punched you in the stomach yet?
“Not quite, no.”
Jill Sinclair was running the original Sarm studio in Whitechapel when Trevor did a session there as a bass player. She it was who originally bought ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’, signing it to Sarm Productions.
“We stayed laying the ‘Video’ tracks on a Wednesday, and by Friday we were living together.”
It’s reasonable to say that without Jill, Trevor might never have worked with Dollar, ABC, or anyone. She’s a tough, unsentimental woman who knows what her husband can do and how he can get to do it.
“My interest in pop music is very little. I can honestly say that I hadn’t bought an album before I joined the music business. I mean, I listened to a few old Genesis albums, I liked Nillson, light classical music — not that guy Trevor’s into… um… Stravinsky — and that’s about it. I’m a typical punter. In other words, if I like something, it’s going to be a hit.”
Do you think that every company needs someone like you?
“Well, we’d go bankrupt if Paul was running this company.
“Paul and I do have an understanding now, and thought we may jibe each other, I respect him tremendously. I think he’s the best at what he does, I really do, but I’m happy that he’s prepared to do it within a framework now.
“Paul, if you ask him, didn’t really want to sign Frankie. I remember him being worried because Holly had been in Big In Japan and a few other bands and he wasn’t sure about that. But Trevor said we can make a hit out of ‘Relax’, so we signed the deal in September ‘83, and Trevor did the record before going off to do some preproduction work with Foreigner.
“In those three month, Paul and I were as near to murdering each other as we’ll ever be. At the time, he was totally uncompromising; he didn’t understand any aspects of the business at all. I spent 90% of my time mopping up after his mistakes. He’s got superb ideas but we are working in a business, and in this game you can bend the rules, but you can’t break them.”
Are you and Trevor workaholics?
“We both enjoy our work, but we also enjoy our leisure time tremendously. I love riding, Trevor goes out in the boat. We’ve got two kids. We live in the country, well not “country” country, it’s Elstree, about half and hour outside London. We’re not workaholics insofar as we are capable of intelligent conversation outside the working atmosphere.
“Trevor’s a perfectionist, but he’s much more normal than Phil Spector, probably one of the most normal people you’d ever wish to meet. He’s a wonderful husband and father, even though I don’t think he could be married to anyone else, because no one could take him coming in at 4.30 after he’s been mixing all night, and get up and have a cup of tea with him and ask about it.”
ANDREW POPPY is ZTT’s systems man, Morley’s archetypal loner. Some of his long orchestral pieces in the Philip Glass mould will emerge in the New Year. He does not resemble a pop star. How does it feel to be on this label, given that
you’re not Frankie Pt V?
“It feels quite natural in away, When I came round to ZTT, the only thing they’d put out was the first Art of Noise 12 inch, and I thought, well, this just sounds really interesting. I’d been round all the other labels, and CBS were vaguely interested, since they’ve had Philip Glass. They thought, well, maybe there is an area here, but what they do in actual fact is pussyfoot around the whole thing. EG were really interested for about a year and a half, and it was exactly the same story. I left a tape with Paul, and he called me back almost immediately, saying this was exactly what he wanted form the label.”
Paul told me he wanted one obsessive hermit on ZZT. Do you fit the part?
“Well, you could slant me so many different ways, coz I’ve played in rock bands, and I didn’t study the piano single-mindedly from the age of six. There was never any chance of me being a concert pianist, even if that was what I’d wanted to do. I’m in an area that’s opening up, where boundaries start to break down.
“One of the things I found really interesting at university was that you’d find these people who were being taught very seriously about music, and pop music would never enter into any discussions, and then you’d go to a party and what you’d have on would be Joan Armatrading!
“I suppose the area I’m in, and which Glass and Steve Reich are in, is an area which actually exploits that contradiction. It’s like Steve Reich says on the sleeve note to his last album, that you can’t not acknowledge that Charlie Parker’s happened in this century. If you’re ignoring that you’re post-Parker, then you’re ignoring part of your position in the century.”
This is Andrew’s first foray as an independent composer, His work has included accompaniment for dance groups, teaching music courses at art school, and arranging much of the two Psychic TV albums. ZTT expect great things of him.
INSTINCT HAVE been signed to the label for just one month. They are Simon, James, and Angela from Pigbag, who left the Bristolian combo because they wanted to write some songs. At present they refer to themselves as a songwriting team, with other musicians to be brought in for live shows. They’ve stockpiled enough material for two albums. Clearly they possess the kind of patience ZTT acts will need as they start queuing up for Uncle Trevor’s services.
Simon: “The stuff is rhythmical, it’s dance orientated, but it’s quite difficult to see what’ll come out of it. That’s one of the things about working with Trevor. I want to make music that’s very exciting, but not in an obvious kind of way.”
What if Trevor builds your stuff into massive neo-Spectoresque cascades?
“Well, we’ve got big-sounding songs anyway.”
SO THAT’S that, for now.
ZTT are literally about to explode over Young England, with advance orders for ‘Pleasure Dome’ already well in excess of a million. Trevor’s gone back to the board to complete some mega-mixes of ‘Relax’ and Tribes’, Jill is asking her secretary to let in some “little man” who’s got stuck on the roof, and Paul… well, Paul’s got to rush off to save his girlfriend from a kangaroo that just leapt out of the fridge. Or something.
Paul, when did you realize ZTT was going to break?
“When Trevor rang up and said he’d shown the ‘Relax’ video to Yes, and they’d gone, look at the state of them! When Yes say No, it’s definitely a Yes.”