Title: Gold Seal
Author: Muff Fitzgerald
After hawking his talent around unenthusiastic record companies, Seal ended up at number one alongside Adamski. But now he’s out there on his own, will he get the gold once more?
Words: Muff Fitzgerald. Images: Normski
The music industry has been likened to a rock ‘n’ roll circus. In the ring, a variety of performers: jugglers, clowns and tight-rope walkers. All acting under the aegis of the eternal ring master, Johnny Fate. When you’re walking on a piece of washing line 60 feet above the crowd without the benefit of a safety net the silence is deafening, but you can almost hear the subconscious minds willing you to make a false move and come hurtling down to earth and end up with a mouthful of sawdust.
In an industry where you’re only as good as your last hit, there are a lot of people walking around with their mouths full of sawdust. But it doesn’t look as though this is going to be the diet of one Sealhenry Samuel (AKA Seal), the young man who gave the voice to Adamski’s half million selling number one, ‘Killer’.
Seal is an appropriate name. To say he’s somewhat slippery would be an understatement. Our cosy ringside chat had to be abandoned twice due to circumstances beyond his control. On the first occasion, he had to dash off in a cab to collect some vital recording equipment. The second attempt degenerated into the realms of farce, with your intrepid reporter trying to track the man down on his portable phone from a coinbox in the middle of Camden’s busy Sunday market. Peter Sellers would have turned it into quite a sketch.
It soon became apparent that Seal lives his life not by Greenwich Mean time, but according to the dictates of the cosmological clock. Finally, after an earbashing from his record company, we meet at the studio where he works on Beethoven Street, part of the Mozart estate. (No, really, it’s in west London.)
Laying his portable Motorola phone and Psion Organizer on the table next to his Grip-master thingamy, it becomes obvious that he’s fond of his gadgets. Picking up his guitar, he treats me to a laid back rendition of his current single, ‘Crazy’, with not a safety net in sight. He’s been up all night recording, but still exudes enough energy to make you think he was about to take part in the London Marathon.
Most people who saw him for the first time on ‘Top Of The Pops’ probably assumed his success came overnight. In some ways they would be right. He was in the right place at the right time. But it nearly didn’t work out that way. The three-and-a-half years prior to ‘Killer’ had seen Seal and his manager take the depressing journey round the capital’s record company A&R departments with the words “no” and “pass” ringing in their ears. “They all said the same thing: we can hear something, the guy’s got a good voice, but…”
Jaded and despondent, Seal was about to embark on a different kind of journey. “I went to play four dates in Japan singing with a group called Push, who were like a pastiche of a ‘70s funk band, like The Meters or JBs.” But that wasn’t all. “We stopped off in Thailand, simply because it was on the way back. It was the first time I’d ever been over to that part of the world and I couldn’t believe it. I stayed out there for seven months, travelling to India and Nepal. I had a wicked time.”
After considering a sojourn in Australia, he decided to come home last summer. “I came back and the whole acid house thing had exploded into various different avenues like techno, garage and deep house. It was the perfect idiom to get my point across.” So how did he then hook up with the keyboard wizard nine out of ten dogs prefer? (That’s Adamski, folks!)
“I started going to M25 parties, as they called them, and after a Sunrise party I went to Clapham Common to hang out. That was where I met Chester, who used to rap with Adam(ski). It so happened I had my Walkman with me, and a tape of the first demo I’d done since getting back. Anyway, Chester heard it and played it to Adamski, who I didn’t know at the time. He came back half an hour later and said, ‘I’ve played it to this guy that I work with, he’s going to be a big star and he likes your music. Maybe we can work together sometime’.”
Their paths next crossed at a New Year’s Eve party, hosted by London club runners Spike and Neville, where Adamski turned up to play at eight in the morning. “He asked me when we were going to do this track and the following week we went into the studio. He played me a tune he’d written called ‘The Killer’, which was weird because I’d written a tune called ‘Killer’ three years ago. That immediately sparked off the lyrics for the track and I sang the verse over it. He loved it and that was that!”
The irony is not lost on Seal. To have the door slammed in his face by A&R men for three years and then end up with a gold disc on the mantelpiece gave him great satisfaction. So what was his reaction when it hit the coveted top spot?
“I was at this Family Inn pub with my girlfriend and we were listening to the charts on this cranky old radio, and when they said Stevie V was number two and I knew we were number one, I let out an almighty roar. I got quite emotional, I didn’t actually cry, but it was a real experience.”
Of course, with a number one on his CV, he was now in a position to say no to the hordes of A&R men. He finally said yes to Trevor Horn and his ZTT label, with Big Trev due to produce the forthcoming album. Was that the reason for signing to ZTT? “No, in fact that was the reason I didn’t want to sign to ZTT, ‘cause I’d heard lots of stories about Trevor. I heard he overspends and gets really indulgent, things like that. But once I actually met him I found his views on my music were fairly accurate and I suppose he won me over. He’s really brilliant, a really clever guy.”
So how does he feel now he’s a paid-up performer in the rock ‘n’ roll circus? “Mixed feelings really. I’m happy I’ve arrived, but it’s not all hunky dory. I suppose being recognized is nice, but there’s the other side to it, which is really horrible — the invasion of privacy. Like not being able to pick your nose in public. Even though I still do.”
And for your next trick? “I think the British people have got a few things to look forward to in terms of Seal.” Not arf! Arf arf.