This week we celebrate the 1000th 80sObscurities entry in fine fashion, with an artist whose work can still be heard regularly today in retro nights around the world. Read on…
As our loyal listeners know, from time to time here on 80sObscurities I like to provide a deeper look into an artist from the era by way of exclusive – and hopefully insightful – interviews. When I first approached 80s icon PETER GODWIN for such a piece, I had no idea was I was getting into. Over the course of several months, Peter and I talked at great length about his career, both then and now. Rather than condense into the usual shorter format, which would have necessitated editing most of the content out, I’ve decided to share it with you in its entirety, as part of a week-long Q&A.
80s: Every story starts with a beginning. How did Peter Godwin begin?
PG: Jumped out of the womb into a brief gypsy life from birth ma to adoptive parents – via a London hospital and my first kiss of the surgeon’s knife…all in a handful of days. From London Pimlico all the way downriver to a new life with English parents – but Greek, French and Celt blood still pumping in my veins. The city still just a heartbeat away. Back then my origins unknown for decades to come. Raised with love and accordions and cosy Englishness that provoked a creative escape through song and rhyme from seven years old. An only child who loved to read, dream and make song! The seeds of a life in music sown early and forever in a rebel need to be and feel different! Sealed with a swap of dad’s accordion for an electric guitar at sweet fourteen!
80s: What type of music filled your home?
PG: Music everywhere back then. My father’s accordion: as he taught me from age 7 to play the global hits and repertoire of his lifetime. The radio and TV: exploding with British rock heartbeat. US rock and soul dreams – and then chanson poetics when I hit my teens and discovered the French language and the great singing poets like Jacques Brel, Serge Gainsbourg and Aznavour. Of course, also the great American singing poet-troubadours like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon.
80s: At what point did you discover that you had a talent for writing music and want to pursue composing for yourself? Was there a pivotal moment or event that inspired you or was it more something that evolved over time?
PG: As a small child, every time I got a plastic guitar or toy trumpet my dad noticed I quickly found a way to play it by myself and find a tune. So when I was seven, he decided to dust off his piano accordion and teach me to play by ear. As soon as I could bash out a tune I made up my own as well. I loved reading at that time, too, and I remember reading Mozart’s biography and thinking how much I was lagging behind Amadeus at 7! Been playing catch up with Mozart ever since. Actually, the only thing our music has in common is that I tend to write automatically when I write alone. The song comes through finished; I virtually never edit a word or a note. I loved poetry as soon as I could read and write. There were no books in my house, so I bought them all with my pocket money. When I started songwriting on the accordion, I was already writing rhymes. I remember I once got threatened with expulsion from my school because they thought I was lying about something that I had written. They thought I had stolen it, or that my parents had written it for me. My parents had to inform the school that I was the only poet in the family.
80s: So was Metro your first “official” group involvement then, or had there been other bands from school and such? How did you come together and how would you describe your relationship with Metro co-founder (singer/songwriter) Duncan Browne?
PG: Metro was my first record release, but the first time I was in a studio was with the partner of the Beatles’ producer George Martin, John Burgess, at Air London Studios. I did have a college band called “Children.” We recorded a song of mine called “Lady Lilac.” The second time was with the Rolling Stone’s producer and manager, the legendary Andrew Loog Oldham, at Olympic Studios. That was actually the first run at Metro songs for his label “Why Not.” That session didn’t fly, but those songs were re-recorded for Metro’s début. I met Duncan in a tavern in Holland Park and a chance remark of mine about Louise’s “Black Lace Shoulder” sparked a collaboration of 60 songs and ultimately gave birth to Metro. He and I had instant chemistry in music and camaraderie in life. That was my first experience in co-writing, having always written songs alone, but we had the magic and we were prolific and it flowed. Still, after “Metro” (the eponymous debut on Transatlantic in 1976) was released, I think Duncan realized that as much as he loved our music, he needed to be centre-stage. That’s where he was when we met, after his first two albums. So, he took some of our songs and musicians back into the studio for his solo adventures. I decided not to repeat Metro musically, but we kept the name. Sean Lyons and I embarked on another adventure based on a new live band and released two more Metro albums for EMI. It all kicked off with a UK and European Tour with Dire Straits. And the rest, as they say, is…mystery.
80s: Discogs classifies Metro as: “art rock, prog rock, glam.” Did you envision yourselves in any of these categories? Did you set out to achieve a particular style with your music?
PG: Some people love to put you in a box or a tribe or a gang. Those music tags make me smile. Our primary intent was to “make it new.” In so far as we related to the mainstream, it would be those acts that rebelled against the “progressive” notion: David Bowie, Roxy Music, Lou Reed…that sort of DNA. It’s ironic, therefore, to be grouped with “Yes” and “prog rock”! There was an art idea in our approach, like painting a canvas with a certain disregard for anything but our own brushstrokes. So you could say “art rock”, cause at times also, yes we rocked – even in 3/4 time, like on the coda of “Criminal World.” Lyrically, we evoked a certain cosmopolitan mystery and even, at times, some cinematic mood. The urban night-life vibe was central to our experience, so yes there was some glamour there. Most fans who bought that first defining Metro record, when describing it now, always focus on its originality; being ahead of its time, more than of its time. (ed note: Bowie apparently thought the same. That’s why he bought it and even covered a song from it years late.) I always felt that anything that makes a sweet sound and drives the emotion could invite the listener into your world of words, melodies, harmonies and grooves. Duncan felt the same. So that’s why in our work you’ll find there is classical guitar, chiming 12-string acoustic, effected and swirling Lesley and Echorec electric guitars, real and fake strings and even a mini moog adding to the rock rhythm section. But the heart and soul is in the *song*. Any of them can be sung with only an acoustic guitar on accompaniment and still touch you. I still approach my music that way today.
80s: During the late 70s and early 80s, you and many other young musicians were part of the storied “Blitz Kid” scene in London. What effect did your involvement there have on your development, both professionally and personally?
PG: A “Blitz Kid” was basically someone who went every Tuesday to a nightclub in London for what most people there called “Bowie Night.” It started out at a club called Billy’s and moved in 1979 to The Blitz in Great Queen Street. Steve Strange, later the singer with Visage, controlled the door and decided who was interesting enough to get in. He was the style guru of the night for sure. He famously turned away Mick Jagger for not looking cool enough, although he did let in Prince, Michael Jackson and Bowie himself of course to his nights at the Blitz and his later clubs. Rusty Egan created the music scene by spinning an eclectic mix of anything danceable that he found interesting: from Bowie and Roxy Music, to Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, to Kraftwerk and La Dusseldorf and Telex. He also played other contemporary bands that had just started up, like Simple Minds, The Human League and my band. Rusty liked a couple of Metro singles – such as “The Mystery” and “America In My Head” – which were new releases for us. Every week this small club was packed with creative people from music and fashion and art – nearly all of whom would later become known internationally for their work. I saw Spandau Ballet do their first gig there and Boy George famously worked in the cloakroom early on. Many friends of mine hung out there: Billy Idol, the Kemp brothers and Tony Hadley, Richard Burgess from Landscape, Midge Ure, Marco Pirroni from Adam and The Ants, some of Siouxsie And The Banshees, Sade, Marilyn, Martin Degville who later formed Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Pete Burns from Dead Or Alive…and that’s just a few of the musicians. Between the music and the style of self-expression through fashion, this one night was a cauldron of the creative arts and probably had some effect on *anyone* who hung out there every week, including me. I felt part of this community. My music and my friends’ music were played and included. I was included…and I felt at home. You can hear the influences of Rusty’s DJ set on every musician who went on from there to make their own music, and even on some who just visited once in a while. Gary Numan, Duran Duran, Bryan Ferry, even David Bowie himself, who actually used Steve Strange and some Blitz regulars in his “Ashes To Ashes” video. You started to hear drum machines and electro elements all over the planet from “When Doves Cry” to “Sexual Healing.” So much of that sound was nurtured at The Blitz and radiated out to the planet over the coming decade, as the 80’s were born. It was dance, but not American dance – certainly not disco – with the odd exception, as there were no rules. Like Giorgio Moroder producing Donna Summer or Sparks or another favourite,”Searching” by Change, which was an Italo-American fusion. In fact, my solo career started with a production by Midge Ure – whom I had first met on German TV when I was playing “Criminal World” – and he was singing with Slik. Later we became friends and part of that friendship played out at The Blitz and the clubs that followed. A lot of people I collaborated with in the 80s I either first met at The Blitz or I was introduced to by someone I met at The Blitz. Warren Cann plays on “Images Of Heaven” and some other work of mine; we’re still friends to this day. My friendship with Hans Zimmer – who’s performed with me both live and on record – that came from a Blitz connection (of course, he and Warren were great friends). To be honest, I have enough tales of The Blitz and the late 70’s and early 80’s scene to fill a book. As this is an interview, I’ll just leave it at that. 😉
80s: Speaking of David Bowie, he famously covered “Criminal World” on his 1983 album “Let’s Dance.” I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but what did you think of his version?
PG: David Bowie had bought the first Metro album and, in an interview with Radio I’s Kid Jensen from 1983 that I recently listened to, he calls it a “really great song.” I read elsewhere that he liked other songs on that first Metro album too, so that’s how it happened. I had been introduced to Bowie in The Embassy nightclub the year we made that record by Mick Jagger’s wife Bianca, who I knew back then through some mutual friends. It was a quick hello, unrelated as far as I know to him becoming interested in the band. I have never met or spoken to him since, but I met Nile Rodgers (the producer of the “Let’s Dance” album) at the Heartbreak in New York the year it was released. Apparently, Bowie just brought the Metro track in one day and they worked it up quite quickly. I believe that whole album was recorded in 17 days. Coincidentally, that is about how long we took to record the Metro album, too; all the basic tracks and some extras we didn’t use were laid down in five days with no rehearsal beforehand, including our “Criminal World.” Nile actually seemed to think “Criminal World” was a Bowie song when they recorded it. Personally, I like his take on the song, although I’ve come across a lot of people who prefer the darkness of the original. For me, Bowie’s choice to make it brighter – more up and major key in the verses – it makes a lot of sense to me. It takes the song in a different direction, rather than just emulating our version. It also better fits that way with the pop/”fake disco” vibe of “Let’s Dance.”
80s: You are recognized in part for your songwriting talents with respect to other artists for whom you’ve written, but casual listeners and fans of 80s music may not fully appreciate everything you’ve done. Can you share with us some detail around this aspect of your career? Were there any particular “partnerships” that may have stood out to you or which you enjoyed more than others? Any situations where you wish you *hadn’t* written a particular song, due to how it ultimately turned out in the hands of the “featured” artist?
PG: My songwriting began as a way for me to express myself, culminating in Metro and my first releases to the world. Even in collaboration with Duncan Browne and Sean Lyons and Colin Wight in Metro, I just saw song as a means of expression for my musical ideas and visions. The arrangements and recordings were a continuation of that. When other people covered my songs, in the early days I had already made my statement with it. So, someone else’s version was just another way, possibly – like with Bowie – to reach a wider or different audience. So I welcomed it, whatever the choices the artist made. In fact, to this day, I still feel the same. I personally tend to prefer covers that do not too faithfully reproduce my original recording, but I don’t dislike how covers turn out, even if they are not especially to my taste. The only thing I can’t stand is when someone covers my song and either misunderstands or consciously decides to change my lyrics. In this day and age, they can so easily approach me for the correct lyric before recording the vocals. The only person I didn’t mind changing my lyric was David Bowie – on one verse of “Criminal World” – because in my mind he had earned that right through every great lyric he had written himself. To be honest, though, I don’t think his changes improved on my original lyric.
I have had an extraordinary range of writing opportunities in my career, both writing for people and with them; from Bowie to French/Belgian singers Ronny and Nathalie to Dutch artist Michel Van Dyke to The Drifters to Steve Winwood. One artist that I worked with that 80sObscurities readers might appreciate in particular was German band Camouflage. I worked on all of the songs from their “Methods Of Silence” album, but only took a cowriter credit on “Love Is A Shield.” I also helped produce and record the vocals on that record, too, along with Dan Lacksman of Telex. Of course many artists have covered my songs as well; too many to list here. In fact, to tell all the tales of my adventures in songwriting would turn this interview into a novel, but I’ll snapshot a pair of my favorite experiences.
Working with Johnny Moore of The Drifters was unforgettable. I wrote “Your Broken Heart” with Colin Wight of Metro for The Drifters, then I produced it and we recorded it in Trident Studios which was owned by Rusty Egan of Visage in those days. He was at the sessions. I used some contemporary friends to back up the voice that had sung “Under The Boardwalk”, “Save The Last Dance for Me”, “When My Little Girl Is Smiling” (the first single I bought for my first “record player”!) and about 20 other American chart hits. On drums, I had Warren Cann; on keyboards Hans Zimmer; on guitar Sean Lyons from Metro…and the other Drifters were “doo-wopping” live as we laid it down. Magic! After eighteen hours of work, I was so buzzed after recording and finishing that track that when I got home I wrote a “B-side”, which we recorded with Hans Zimmer on piano the next day. I wrote that song from Drifters inspiration in just twenty minutes. Johnny called it “New York blues”; I loved that. It was called “Soul Of Love” and a year later I recorded a completely different version of it myself for the “Correspondence” album.
The other collaboration that really stands out for me was co-writing all the songs on Steve Winwood’s last album, “Nine Lives.” One Sunday night around midnight, I got a call from my friend Johnson Somerset, my partner in the Nuevo album project. (Ed note: we’ll find out more about Nuevo later in the week. Stay tuned.) He was backstage with Winwood at a charity gig for cancer research, where people like Pete Townsend and Paul Weller played Winwood-Capaldi songs to raise money. Jim Capaldi was the drummer in Traffic and a great co-writer with Steve who had died of cancer, hence the concert connection. Johnson recommended me to Steve as a co-writer, as he was looking for someone new to co-write his next album, which Johnson would be producing. I had an acting job the next day, but somehow between midnight Sunday and lunchtime Tuesday, I wrote 17 lyric ideas for Steve to give him an idea of my “lyric world.” By that Thursday, we had met, and on the train in the snow back to London I wrote “Fly”, our first song together. The album ended up being his biggest US chart success in over 20 years, peaking at #12 in the album charts. Eric Clapton even played a lyrical guitar solo on the single “Dirty City” that reminded me of his famous solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” So, that was another unexpected piece of beautiful music history to be part of and all of this happened because Johnson stuck his neck out for me one night and asked Steve Winwood to meet me and try the chemistry. Bless you Johnson!
80sObs: Now that we’ve established how you got your start, we’ve sort of come to the middle of our story. So I must ask what caused the breakup of Metro and what inspired you to move forward with your own solo material?
PG: It’s always hard to recollect every emotion that makes you move on from a band you have poured your heart and soul and songs and passion and years into. There was no doubt more than I would wish to share. Some of it is private, like the nuances of why a marriage falls apart. Often it’s more a case of many nuances of dispute than one major headline. One thing was that the line-up of Metro had always been guitar driven and founded on the freedom of a live rock rhythm section. By the last Metro album, however, I was getting more and more interested in electronic groove as a setting for my songwriting. You can hear the heavy offbeat syn-drum accent on “Alone” on “Future Imperfect”, for example. I wanted to hear something more futurist and industrial in flavor and less rock, to offset the romanticism of songs like “Images Of Heaven”, which I originally did take to Metro. I presented them “Baby’s In The Mountains”, too, but those songs weren’t well received by the band at the time. Plus, I was also craving a broader sound pallet, less of a band sound.
The first song I recorded as a solo artist was “Torch Songs For the Heroine”. This celebrated my new freedom with sound and instrumentation; it felt so liberating. As an artist, I want to feel excited and liberated and forward-looking. For better or worse, that is the kind of artist I am. I know that’s not everyone’s groove, but it’s mine. So “Torch Songs For The Heroine” features real drums and bass, but drum machine and synths, too. There are also some unusual acoustic instruments: Persian Santoor, Roma-Hungarian cimbalom and Austro-Slovenian zither. Middle Eastern and Middle European flavours. I had this urge to create cinematic landscapes, almost soundtracks, for my melodies and poetics.
Then again, the second solo single I recorded (“Emotional Disguise”) was a pure synth record; just synths, Linn drum and 808…and my vocals. I really wanted the freedom to shift between different experiments in soundscape and just do whatever I heard in my head when the song arrived. So I took it. I really think Metro had run its course artistically as a band with those three albums. I was proud of what we accomplished, but I wanted to do something new. I wasn’t the only one feeling these urges to express myself outside of a band, with a blank canvas of possibility. It was in the Zeitgeist of the time. Peter Gabriel did something similar.
80sObs: By the beginning of the decade, you were churning out deeply textured and intricately programmed synth numbers, predating many of the other acts who would go on to become better known in that genre. Did this reflect more of a thematic change or a technological one?
PG: “Emotional Disguise” (Polydor, 1982) was produced by Georg Kajanus who had a band called Data and shared a passion for synth-generated music. That track was almost entirely Georg’s Roland Jupiter 4, as I recall. I must say that in London, there were plenty of synths to be found and every few months new models were on the market. Shortly after demoing “Emotional Disguise” and “Images Of Heaven” using the Jupiter 4, we were recording “Images” on the new Jupiter 8 (as well as the 4 for some parts). We also featured real bass guitar, though, as we didn’t want to be tied down to a uniquely synth sound. So many other bands were beginning to restrict their sound in this way and we wanted to keep the sonic experiment open.
Plus, we had electric guitar played by Metro’s Colin Wight. Sometimes it sounded like a guitar, but we also used it through his custom-made Electro Harmonix guitar synth. He used that device in Metro during his whole time with the band; it was heavily featured on the “Future Imperfect” album. At live shows people would think we had a keyboard player hidden somewhere! To this day, many fans of “Images Of Heaven” enthuse about synth sounds which were actually guitar; played through an effects unit developed especially for/with Colin, which produced a unique sound that you can’t get through any synth. Some of the key riffs on “Images” were played on this guitar, so when people try to cover the song, they struggle to find that sound they love. It really is a one-off.
I was never married to synths. They were just full of exciting new sounds and I was always enthusiastic about new sounds and atmospheres and how they could help deliver the emotion and story of a song. That is why, since the beginning of my solo career with “Torch Songs For The Heroine”, I was combining real and synthetic and treated acoustic instruments. I still do that. The Nuevo album has synths and electric guitar and accordion and Spanish and steel strung guitar and layered loops and samples…and everything treated and manipulated to weave the dream. I would never limit my “palette” to synths only, neither then nor now.
Even my very first album with Metro embraced this philosophy : creating a kind of universal sound library with sounds, melodies, lyrics and even languages that could evoke every culture and corner of the musical planet, as seen through the vision of the artist traveling that wondrous landscape. That first Metro album had Moog, string synth, treated electric guitars, Spanish/classical guitar, real bass- treated sometimes too- real drums- some created drum effects, backward tapes and acoustic 12 and 6 strings – as well as layered vocal choirs as a sound fabric.
For me it was always an adventure in sound and atmosphere and story- from the 70’s through the 80’s right up to the present day. Never repeating a formula exactly the same, always re-inventing and evolving the music to keep it new and interesting – but always with a strong song in there that would still sound sweet and deliver even with just an acoustic guitar. When making records I think I was like a painter in attitude. I always admired Picasso for his innovation and evolution. I guess the first Metro record was my “blue period.”
80sObs: Musicians often have a love affair of sorts with certain of their instruments. What was the first piece of gear that you bought and how important did it become in your work? Do you still have it?
As I mentioned before, the first instrument I ever played was my father’s Hohner piano accordion, which he taught me to play by ear at age 7. It was so heavy for a little boy, with 44 piano keys and 120 bass. I remember it used to make my back ache but, despite the pain, I wouldn’t take it off. I loved making music. That was also the first instrument I ever wrote songs on. When I turned 14, I swapped my child’s accordion for my first electric guitar and taught myself how to play that. But my dad always kept his big one and when he died I inherited it. I have it to this day.
A couple of years ago, I actually recorded myself playing it for the first time , on the Nuevo album I made with Bryan Ferry and Steve Winwood producer Johnson Somerset. It is heavily featured on “Milonga Moon” and “Namaste.” I was actually amazed how well I could still play it after having not touched it for so many years. That was a nice surprise. My dad would have been so proud of me.
I know they were probably looking for a story about synths, but that accordion was really how I got into making music, so it feels more important to me. I also had a Watkins Dominator amp with a wonderful tremolo switch that I used to play my guitar through when I was fifteen. That was heavy to drag to rehearsals with my bands of that time, heavy for the skinny kid I was anyway! And that piano accordion weighed a ton for a little boy. Thankfully, the synths I used later were pretty lightweight. In 1978, I even had a “Wasp”, which weighed next to nothing. It was black and yellow – hence the name – and you could make it yourself from a kit with instructions they gave you! It was a poor man’s mini- Moog really.
Most 80’s synths were pretty lightweight, actually. The massive Moog that you can see Hans Zimmer play with me on stage at the Dominion singing “Images Of Heaven” (video available on YouTube), that was a piece of history by then. A Moog 3P from 1968, I believe. It was as big as a house…well, three walls, at least. We only used it on that one gig, for fun, because Hans loved it. It could generate any sound you could dream of. No presets, either. Every sound was bespoke and unique. Amazing!
Still, all my most well-known songs were actually written on acoustic – mostly Spanish – guitar. Not on synths, even if they were recorded on synths later. “Images Of Heaven”… it was written on a flamenco guitar.
80sObs: One of our readers submitted this question for your consideration: What was it like to be a synth artist in the post punk/new wave/new romantic scene as it was still emerging?
PG: I never especially saw my work in the 80’s as that of a “synth artist.” No more than David Bowie or Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry did. I had already created a new kind of music including those kinds of sounds and visions with Metro. I was just developing that and playing with it as a solo artist, without the constraints of a particular band line-up.
There were some regressive attitudes to new music around that time, as there is always a reaction to “the new” in music. For example, drum machines and anything run off tape or sequencers on stage was seen by some as anti-musician, putting drummers and keyboard players out of a job, etc. So, as a counter reaction, many artists would flaunt the technology and the tape machine and sequencer, make it part of the artistic statement on stage and on TV shows. This was partly a reaction to the raw “amateur rock band” ethos of back-to-basics punk. It was actually a new punk; but more art school and satirical and less art school manager (Malcolm McLaren) mentors streets rockers-with-attitude (The Sex Pistols). It was a new attitude. Of course, if you knew your music, you knew it was actually an old attitude, that satire on machine music. Kraftwerk had done it in live shows and on record years before and were still doing it better than most in the 80’s.
This is why I wanted a freer identity to my solo records. I didn’t want to become a rehash of Kraftwerk, however much I loved and respected their music, especially not in copying their machine music irony. I always wanted passion and a degree of romanticism and exoticism in my music. From the very beginning, that has always been the ambition: new atmospheres, but always soulful. I believe it is the soul, not the synths, that makes “Images Of Heaven” so loved, even 30 years on.
80sObs: Here’s another one from the audience: What is the story behind “Images of Heaven” and “Baby’s In The Mountains”? Who was “baby”?
PG: Ha ha. Like I said before, I originally wrote both “Images Of Heaven” and “Baby’s In The Mountains” as songs for Metro, but the band didn’t really take to them. Even so, Colin played some dazzling synth guitar on “Images Of Heaven” and Sean played some magical funk guitar on “Baby’s In The Mountains”, which really lit up the dance mix especially. Of course, “Images Of Heaven” also featured my good friend Warren Cann from Ultravox on drums. What a talented man and a real innovator. He was the first man to really fuse a distinctive style of real playing with electronic programming, years before anyone else did it. Bit of a genius really!
Famously there are two videos for “Images Of Heaven” because Polydor in the UK thought the first one was too erotic for MTV. So we did a kind of spoof MTV version for the second one. Ironically, MTV played it a lot, which was all in all a tiny miracle. All credit to David Rose, who directed both versions with wonderful panache. The biggest miracle was the budget: about $800 for both. In other words nothing…and our MTV version stood its ground against videos which cost $200,000 to make! Mind you, I think the sensual first version is closer to the poetic soul of the song. It is, after all, about desire and yearning and what that can do to us.
I actually wrote “Baby’s In The Mountains” at about 5 am on the first day of the 1980’s, after having come home from a New Year’s Eve night of clubbing. I was thinking about my break-up with my French girlfriend Christine, who was travelling in the Swiss Alps. I wrote it in about 20 minutes – maybe less – then I went to bed. When I woke up on New Year’s Day, I was pretty sure I had a cool new song for the decade ahead.
Despite our break-up, Christine and I are still very close friends. She’s a kind of soul sister to me. I also wrote “Flame” for her, when we fell in love. That song is all about her and us. It’s on my début album with Metro. I wrote that song Christmas Day in Paris six years before “Baby’s In The Mountains.” It was probably the most productive Christmas Day of my entire life. Ha ha. And I also wrote “Christine” for her, which is on Metro’s “New Love” album. Then, last year, I filmed the video for my 2012 single “Disguise” in Christine’s magical apartment, which is full of her art, her masks and her general dream-weaving. You can see a lot of her home and her personality in that video, if you pay attention.
80sObs: One last question from the field: Besides music, what else do you like to do? Do you have any interesting hobbies?
PG: As for my day to day, what to say? I chose the artist’s life – if that doesn’t sound too pretentious – a lifetime ago. There has never been a day job, there never will be; it’s all or nothing with me. However tough it gets, I keep the faith; sometimes running and jumping, sometimes crawling up that hill. No regrets. It was my choice. That choice was a vocation: music and rhyme, to spread some joy and leave a legacy of song in a few hearts and souls and minds. Fame was never it. Gold was never it, either.
Somehow, I was never married along the way. Maybe marriage was a casualty of my vocation. Then again, I have loved longer than many friends’ marriages. Never say never; I could marry in the future, who can say?
I live in London, but my Greek blood longs for the sea and the sun so many years. I may move there soon. (Ed. Note: Peter recently relocated to Nice.)
Hobbies? Mine tend to be passions and not too separate from my art. For example, I’ve danced Argentine Tango for over ten years now. It’s a great passion and love of mine and this year I am releasing some tracks with a well-known electro tango band. It will feature me singing in a tango context for the first time, but I can’t say more for now. Let it be a surprise!
I have always loved the physical as well as the musical and every day includes some warrior work with my body. It has been that way my whole life. Along the way, I’ve picked up Shotokan karate, Tai Chi, fencing, yoga, power-lifting. I love the body to exalt and test itself and push its boundaries.
It’s been a lifetime of joy of the written word and philosophy; bewitched with movies of all kinds and nations; a gypsy love of travel. I could go on, but this will start to sound like a dating profile. Mostly I love good conversation and to communicate.
80sObs: Can you explain how your career evolved in the mid-80s? The perception amongst many is that you released a slew of great 7” and 12”s and then suddenly disappeared. Where were you, actually, and why was there only one full-length PG album?
PG: Just after “Correspondence” was released, I demoed a new collection of songs I’d written for a follow-up for Polygram. There were about 14 songs that I recorded with guitarist Russell Bell, who was backing Gary Numan at the time and also had his own band Dramatis. I presented these songs to several producers who were doing well at the time and whose work I admired. This included Giorgio Moroder; the late Alex Sadkin (who had recently produced great albums for Robert Palmer, Bob Marley, Joe Cocker, Grace Jones and James Brown); and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis of The Time, who had worked with Prince and went on to produce Change, Janet Jackson, The Human League, George Michael, Mariah Carey and Usher. All three producers agreed to make my next album. I thought I had chosen well; any of them would have made a great next album for Polygram. I was very flattered that they were prepared to work with me, but there was a problem. They were all going to cost more money than Polydor/Polygram wanted to spend. So we hit a deadlock.
My manager started looking at other labels. Another favourite producer of mine of that time was Quincy Jones, who was making great albums with Michael Jackson. Quincy had started his own label called Qwest in 1980. His A&R man, John Brown, wanted to sign me as the first white act for the label. This was at a time when there were still those kinds of divisions in the U.S. charts. So, I negotiated a release from Polygram and let them off of their obligation to record another album. My manager and I travelled to meet with Qwest in L.A., staying at the Sunset Marquee while Bruce Springsteen and Tears For Fears were staying there too, spending too much money and hanging out by the pool.
All this negotiation took time. In the meantime, John Brown left Qwest for Atlantic Records to head up “Black Music” there and Quincy Jones found his first white British act elsewhere in New Order.
By the time I was free, I had missed the boat. Meanwhile, I had been approached by various acts who liked my music and wanted me to produce and write songs for them. I got quite distracted with this over the next few years, but I enjoyed it too and even had some hits and artistic successes with it. Over the years that followed, I worked with Reggie Magloire, whom I had met when she was 17 singing “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” at Danceteria in New York one July 4th; she also sang with Technotronic. Then there was Camouflage, Steve Winwood, The Drifters, Nathalie (Gabay), Michel Van Dyke, Ronny, Tik And Tok, and many others. I have also played guitar on other people’s records, including remixes for Katy Perry, Paloma Faith, even Roxy Music. There were many more, too, not all them so well-known.
Outside of songwriting, producing and playing, I kept making my own music. I also kept playing live, traveling around Europe doing solo shows there. After the Qwest signing fell through, I formed a band with guitarists Rick Driscoll (who had played for years with Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel and also Alison Moyet) and Sarah- Jane Owen of The Belle Stars. They were both friends of mine for many years. Sarah- Jane and I would often do TV shows together, especially when “Iko Iko” was first released in the early 80’s. Actually, “Iko Iko” became a US hit (#14) around the time that we were touring this new band in 1989. Our band was called “Wild” and there were six of us, three men and three women.
While I was haggling with Polygram, I had recorded some new songs in the mid 80’s with Fashion guitarist Alan Darby (who went on to play with Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton and many others). I added to these, recording more songs with Rick Driscoll, recorded in Georg Kajanus’s studio. Georg has produced most of my solo work – including “Images Of Heaven” – but this time Rick and I just used his studio and synths. We formed Wild so we could start playing the songs live. Our then touring agent is now the agent for The Rolling Stones, John Giddings. We played around London to start with and were well received.
Just when we were starting to get record labels interested, the band split. It was a personal conflict, not a musical one. It didn’t actually involve me, but I won’t go into it further. I didn’t fight to save the band, because I don’t think I was that convinced about it. Perhaps in part because around that time I had started another parallel career that was starting to take my attention: acting.
This took root in the mid 80’s, when an agent at William Morris in New York (who represented me for touring briefly) offered to represent me if I would move there. His name was Kevin Huvane and he went on to represent Tom Cruise and many others with his agency CAA. At the time, the mother who had raised me was dying, so there was no way I could move to New York. After she passed away, I needed to direct a lot of my energy towards my father, which was another factor in how the 80’s evolved for me after “Correspondence”. You see, I was still focused on recording and writing and producing and touring and family, too. It might look like I did nothing, but actually I was very busy at that time. Then I found a London acting agent and started working in TV, film and theatre, whilst still doing music.
After “Wild” didn’t work out, I focused for the first half of the 90’s more on songwriting for others, and on acting. I was enjoying that combination, but then in 1996 a fan hooked me up with Carl Caprioglio of Oglio Records in the U.S. and we had lunch on 13th August in Marina Del Rey, which turned out to be a lucky 13th!
We decided that day to go for a license from Polygram and release a Peter Godwin compilation. I played a demo of a new song I’d written with Rick Driscoll called “Rendezvous.” The demo was me singing it alone, but I had this idea to make it a French- English duet and Carl loved the idea. Two years later that song – a duet with Sasha – ended up earning me the best review from Billboard of my entire career. What an unlikely track to score in the U.S.!
Rick and I had been doing soundtracks together, including one for an air force flight simulator documentary! At the same time, we had written and recorded some new songs for me and were also writing for a teenage female vocalist who was friends with a young actress I’d just made a film with called “Somewhere, Someone” by French director Juliette Blanc…a mysterious double act. All these random factors led to new tracks for the U.S. compilation. It’s funny how things happen in the arts.
This compilation was licensed by a British indie label who had plans to release a new Peter G single called “Everything.” An independent promo team took this single to Radio One and got a very keen response and guarantees of primetime play. It was pretty exciting, suddenly to have the prospect of a U.K. hit at the end of the 90’s! But it was not to be. The principle investor in the label had some kind of melt-down and withdrew and, without funding, the label collapsed. That was the end of that adventure. Still, one of my favourite tracks from that period did end up on both the U.S. and U.K. editions of the compilation. This was a “fake orchestra” version of a song I had written about the painter Degas- “Naked Smile.” I would love to record that with a real orchestra one day!
A couple of years later, I was still acting and had just played the lead in a play (“Lechaim”) at the London Battersea Arts Centre. I’d also written a play called “Homesick” with Dafna Rubi which earned Time Out Critic’s Choice and some very good reviews and a month run at London’s New End Theatre. So I was keeping myself amused and creative. One night I was introduced to Johnson Somerset at a pub gig of a young mutual friend. This meeting led to a whole new phase of creativity. I almost didn’t go out that rainy Monday night, but something pushed me out the door and from that instinct a world of wonderful music followed.
Johnson and I ended up creating an album together – “Sunset Rise” – under the project name Nuevo. Later, Johnson produced and co-wrote “Disguise” for me. He also invited me to play guitar on some mixes he was creating, which led to me playing the electric guitar again on those mixes I mentioned earlier. I also contributed guitar and composition to some instrumental albums Johnson recorded. I even sang choruses and played guitar on several rap records he made with some teenage rappers under the “West End Wolf” disguise.
So, I really think it was worth braving the rain that night. As it turns out, as a teenager Johnson was a close friend of Pickford Sykes who played keyboards – especially Emulator – on my “Correspondence” album. Johnson actually heard the rough mixes and he became a kind of fan. So all in all, it was a beautiful twist of fate that found us working together many years later.
Last year I put out an alternative Bond song, “Sky Falls”, that I wrote the day the film and the title were announced. The talented Charlie Hoskyns produced it; he has played and written for Shane MacGowan and The Popes for many years. Kudos to Charlie for a great job and helping me realise a dream of making a Bond record. I actually sent the song to Adele, but I later found out that she already had “Skyfall” on the go with her producer. Who can blame them?
My acting career has continued for over 20 years. I have appeared in everything from “Eastenders” (TV) to “Eyes Wide Shut”; from vampire movies like “Sentinels Of Darkness” and “Razorblade Smile” to classic English TV like “Minder”; and even played the lead on the London stage (“Lechaim”), as I mentioned before. So from Kevin Huvane’s offer the seed was sown and I pursued acting alongside music for two decades. Of course, I never set the world on fire. Maybe with Kevin Huvane’s help I might have, but I have no regrets. I did what was right for me at the time and focused on family. They had adopted me as a baby and were always there for me, so I wanted to recriprocate.
Anyway, you can see that since “Correspondence” I have hardly been idle. Last year I returned to playing live with a concert in Houston, Texas, and later again in London with a cameo from Warren Cann playing “Images Of Heaven” at some friends’ gig. So life again comes full circle it seems.
80sObs: Can you tell us about the Nuevo project? How does it differ from your previous work? What are the plans for the future?
PG: I have covered some of the Nuevo story in the last answer, but there is one new development: a brand new dreamy remix of “Lovely” from the “Sunset Rise” album by Johnson Somerset, my partner in crime in the band.
I sang a Nuevo song on stage for the first time last year, the title track from the album, one of my favourite Nuevo tracks. I’m not sure if I will make more Nuevo albums with Johnson in the future, though he will certainly produce and remix tracks for me. He currently has a supercool Peter Godwin remix on the go, but I can’t say more because I don’t want to spoil the surprise! Like I said before, never say never, but that album was for me a kind of “Sergeant Pepper.” It was created under a kind of disguise, as a one-off project using a name intended to be free of association, so people wouldn’t immediately link the music to my past.
Of course, it’s also a full on collaboration in every sense with Johnson involved in writing, playing, production, everything. I am very proud of what we created on that album. Like my début Metro album, I think in years to come it will be valued as a unique and ambitious effort, one that is soulful and still full of Peter Godwin DNA, for those who can hear it. And of course I sing lead vocals as I did with Metro and I play more guitar than I ever have before, and even incorporate that original accordion sound. So my spirit is totally committed to that album. I’m sure people will listen more someday, or at least I really hope so. I do intend to include some of those Nuevo songs alongside Peter Godwin songs, old and new, when I tour.
As for the similarities and differences between the two, honestly, I think that lyrically all my work from the very beginning is concerned with the same themes, just differently explored at different times in my life. The same spirit is always there: the inner life, romance, yearning and the sensual experience. I also like to ponder the questions of reality and dream and what is true and what is mask. And I hope my work also represents a celebration of love and life in all its colours and all its joy and pain. The old refrains return again in Nuevo and in “Disguise” and “Sky Falls.” They will always return as I try to learn and grow and evolve, always stumbling and fumbling but always bemused and bewitched at the same time.
80sObs: It has been a thorough pleasure to get to know you better as an artist and as a person. Thank you very much for your time and for being so open with our audience. As our story comes to a close, is there any particular epitaph with which you’d like to leave us?
PG: Thank you, and the fans, for keeping the faith. On my tombstone write just this: “He sung his own song.”
Fans who wish to follow Peter into the future may do so at his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/PeterGodwinFans