interviews

Kanya King: The Music Week Interview

Kanya King is a legend, in the music industry and beyond. Since founding the MOBO Awards in the mid-’90s, she has elevated Black music to unprecedented heights, inspiring wave after wave of artists and executives to break boundaries in the ...

Hitmakers: Gary Barlow on the secrets behind making Take That's Never Forget

The penultimate No.1 single of Take That’s first incarnation, the 1995 classic Never Forget was sent into overdrive by the production fairy dust of the late, great Jim Steinman. Here, the one and only Gary Barlow recalls the origins of an emotive pop masterpiece that has truly stood the test of time... WORDS: James Hanley Whenever I’m writing for an album, songs don’t come out as songs; they come out as big clumps of music – three or four, or even five or six songs at a time. I remember doing a big batch and the one I always look back and go, ‘Christ, what was going on in my brain?’ is Never Forget. With Take That, what used to happen was that we’d go off on a world tour and then, when everyone got home, the label would say, ‘We need the new album in two weeks.’ The lads would all go off to Greece and I’d be stuck at home writing a bloody album! So these records would happen very quickly. I was 15 when I wrote A Million Love Songs, but it was kind of on its own. I’ve got those old tapes and there was nothing else of that standard. I really started songwriting in 1988/89, about two years before the band got going. I’d left school by then and was writing all day and gigging all night, every night. I’d listen to pop music with my headphones on, studying what people were doing. Then in the evening, I was going out and singing Neil Diamond and Lionel Richie songs and it was like another world. I love to listen to music; it refreshes what you’re looking at and I like that as a writer. The idea of coming into the same room and hitting C on the same piano every day is not inspiring; there isn’t going to be anything new and interesting that comes from that. So by listening to music, or going into a key you don’t normally write in, it keeps the palette fresh. Never Forget is a very poignant song that is definitely about where we were in our lives. But when we sing it at concerts, I always think, ‘Good god!’ I was only 24 or 25 at the time, right? And it still amazes me when I read those lyrics back. So little life had been lived at that point and there are lines in there where you think, ‘Where does that even surface from?’ Looking inward wasn’t really me at that time and that’s what I think is amazing about it; you’re writing these things on the fly and it just unconsciously appears on the page. But that’s songwriting – so much of it is unconscious and a feeling. Howard [Donald] sang lead vocals because we’d reached the point where we were a vocal group and were sharing. When we started, there was only really me and Rob [Robbie Williams] who could sing proficiently. But the other lads came on so quickly, so it was about sharing it around and giving everyone else a bit of a voice. We were keen on making the single version different from the album version, and my brother used to listen to Bat Out Of Hell all the time, so we came up with the idea of sending it to Jim Steinman. The original Never Forget was like new jack swing – there was no choir and it was very simple. It was big, but nothing like it became when Jim Steinman got hold of it. We went to New York and I turned up at his studio but was told, ‘Oh, Jim doesn’t arrive until midnight.’ I said, ‘What?’ They said, ‘No, no, he only works in the dark...’ You know what the jet lag is like after coming over from England – you’re in bed for 8pm – so I actually went to bed and then returned to the studio at midnight. Anyway, he turned up with a big cloak on and left as soon as the phone started ringing in the morning. He basically went crazy on it. He put the kids’ choir on there... Essentially, all he kept was the lead vocal. I think he had a reel-to-reel [recorder] all hooked up and it ended up having over 100 tracks. I had never seen anything like it. A couple of years ago, when we were putting the Odyssey [re-imagined greatest hits] album together, we got all the multi-tracks transferred from the reel-to-reels and I tell you what, it was an education listening to it – every single track is just precision. Jim was a real master and a lovely guy. Very strange, but so talented and he made that record what it is. And do you know what? As we said our farewells, he said he had another meeting and as I walked out, Celine Dion was waiting to come in. She did It’s All Coming Back To Me Now [written and produced by Steinman] and that was the start of them working together. ‘Someday soon this will all be someone else’s dream.’ Did I know then that the band was close to splitting? It must look like it was really well planned out, but it really wasn’t. I’m sure that it’s the same for any artist – you do the best work you can in that moment and just hope that people engage with it. 

The Aftershow: Barry Weiss talks Britney Spears, The Stone Roses and Will Smith

Working with legendary exec Clive Calder, Barry Weiss launched his career at Jive in the ’80s, and went on to RCA and UMG before co-founding Records in 2015. Here, he talks Britney Spears, The Stone Roses and reveals what he taught Will Smith... It was amazing to watch Britney Spears become the biggest pop star in the world... “She was a 17-year-old girl from Kentwood, Louisiana. I told people that she was Elvis Presley meets Marilyn Monroe. I remember speaking to Steve Jenkins [former Jive UK MD], I was on the way to Newark Airport in the car and the Midweeks had come in. The single [...Baby One More Time] has sold over 200,000 [in three days in the UK], and it was a global phenomenon. She had this star power and innate ability to move the media – and still has it. Nothing was orchestrated, nothingwas premeditated, she just had amazing instincts. I remember when she did the Rolling Stone cover, we were all freaking out – there she was in lingerie with [a Teletubby] on her bed in a David LaChapelle photo. But it was like putting gasoline on fire, it exploded to a whole other level.” I’m proud of my origins in signing rap acts… “A Tribe Called Quest was obviously a seminal act for us at Jive Records. There’s a direct line between A Tribe Called Quest into Outkast, into Kanye West, into Kendrick Lamar. We had KRS-One and West Coast rappers like Too Short and E-40. We sent Teddy Riley to Battery Studios in Willesden where he made the Kool Moe Dee albums, they were a huge success in America. We tried UK rap with the Wee Papa Girl Rappers. It didn’t necessarily work but we thought we were in with a real shot. I learnt how to be an entrepreneur back in the days of Jive Records, and rap was a big part of that.” I’ve always had a strong affinity for UK music... “I was 23 years old and the first day on the job [at Jive] I was working on A Flock Of Seagulls and how to break them in America. Billy Ocean was a really big success for us, Samantha Fox was an artist that everybody thought was ridiculous but we defied gravity with her in America. I was taught when I was  young by my [music executive] dad, and later Clive Calder, that a hit record can come from anywhere.” The Stone Roses didn’t understand how to break America... “We had The Stone Roses on Silvertone, they had enormous success in the UK. We tried to break them in America and then had the whole lawsuit [parent company Zomba took out an injunction when the band tried to leave their deal]. The group came over for a couple of shows but I don’t really think they felt comfortable. It was like an Oasis situation, there was so much buzz around them in the UK. But schlepping in a van and playing to 100 people in North Dakota? They didn’t really have any interest in doing it. [Their debut] was a seminal album but we could never get them to come over here to the US and spend the appropriate amount of time. But I understand, because they were so big in the UK and all over the world. We then watched Geffen Records sign them for a ridiculous amount of money and fail.” Clive Calder is the greatest record executive that ever lived… “He’s Michael Jordan, David Beckham, Lionel Messi. One of the most brilliant entrepreneurs, the perfect blend of left brain, right brain. He’s the guy who could be in a boardroom and finance meetings one hour and then be in the recording studio the next hour. Clive Calder has the intellect of a prime minister but he happens to be a bass player from South Africa who loves music. The combination of his music and business ability is like nothing anybody’s ever seen.” Samantha Fox was a promotion machine... “I’ve never seen an artist work as hard as she worked, whether it was opening a Tesco store in Oxford or coming to America doing a radio promo tour. She was unbelievable, she was a pleasure to work with and we had an amazing run with her. She played these high school graduation events at Disney World, she was just like a regular girl. It was against all the odds because nobody took her seriously. At the time, we were switching over from Arista to RCA from a licensing point of view. I remember at the time it was like, ‘Good luck and don’t let the door hit you in the ass’. But we took it into RCA and we killed it.” Will Smith says Jive Records taught him that... “The global market is really important. That is why he still goes to openings of his movies in Tokyo, the Philippines, Indonesia, Paris, London, that was something that he learned growing up. Him and Tom Cruise are the most prolific promoters of their movies on a global basis. I signed Will Smith when he was 17 years old, he was part of Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. He absolutely attributes a good amount of his global success to the lesson he learned at Jive Records, which was, ‘Get your ass on the plane and go travel and promote.’”

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