Thursday, 24 May 2018

And Introducing Cliff Richard


Back in 1996, while working on the Cliff At The Movies double CD for EMI, and while working on The Ultimate Cliff, the third Cliff book I co-wrote with Peter Lewry, we were called on to help in the production of a programme about Cliff’s movie career for a Polygram video release. Soon after, we were given an uncut audio version of the interview Cliff filmed for the video, some of which was not used in the final programme, and so, for this article, I dug out the two C90 cassette tapes of the interview from my box of Cliff tapes, took a listen and transcribed some excerpts from the interview in which Cliff talks about life on set and behind the scenes of his first two movies.

“My first reaction to being asked to be in a movie was just total disbelief. You have to remember when my career started in 58, I was not quite 18 when I had my first big hit record and I had only been out of school for a year and a half, so I’d seen Elvis, the Ricky Nelsons of this world, and all the people who were big influences upon me in my career, I had seen what they had done, but I hadn’t dreamt I could actually become a recording artist, let alone a film star, so when Serious Charge came through, it was almost unbelievable, and I thought what am I going to do. All I had done was the dramatic society at the school, and I don’t know how good I was at that, so it was with a bit of fear and trepidation that I arrived on that film set for the first time, but they were fantastic. They must have known, and I must have looked terrified and naive, very young, and they were wonderful, the director, the other actors were fantastic to me, they were really wonderful, and molly cuddled me all the way through it. I know it was meant to be a B feature, but Living Doll was the song featured in the film, and so therefore, the record went to number one and it created this mood for the film, and the film became a big success. And it was really fantastic to be part of that, and when watching that film, for the first time, and even now, looking back, I have seen clips, shown now and then, and there is one little scene where I’m driven away at the end in a car, and the probation officer, a rather large lady, shuts the door and tells me to be a good boy, and there’s just one look that I give out of the window, and I thought ‘I can do it.’ Just that one look, the fact that I could stop being me for that moment and be someone else with someone else’s feelings, I thought ‘I can do this,’ and that’s always stuck with me, that one shot, of me looking through the window of a car, and I remember that moment a lot of times. Acting, after all, is trying to be what you’re not and any moments that I see where I’m really successful at it, I just store them away.

“The thing about going onto any film set - and I don't know whether actors feel it now after a dozen films - but all the films I’ve made, every single first day on a film set I find quite terrifying because you don’t really know what’s going to be demanded of you, you don’t know anything about the success or lack of success of the movie until after it’s made, you don’t really know the people you’re going to work with, they’ve all been cast, so you arrive there, you’re introduced to these people, ‘This is going to be your father, your brother, this is going to your friend,’ it’s all very strange. I’m not sure if anybody ever gets used to that, I certainly haven’t.

“I have to say because Serious Charge was my first movie it seems like such a gigantic step in my life. Even records, they were inaccessible to us at that stage. How did you make a record? None of us knew where a studio was, now they’re on every street corner, so to get my recording career off the ground was a mighty triumph, and to be offered a film in the first three months of my career was impossible, just impossible. I remember being driven to the studio with this script under my arm, not knowing what it was going to be like, I don’t think I had been so afraid, but being Curly was really strange for me, because not only did they give me this name Curly - if it had been an American film, I bet they would have changed my name to match my looks - but no, they changed my hairstyle, so not only was I making my first movie, I had to come out onto that stage set with these curls in my hair, which I wasn’t very happy about I have to say, but what do you say when you are not quite 18 and you’ve been asked to make a movie. I guess you just do anything they tell you, so I did, but it was quite terrifying.

“Anthony Quayle, Sarah Churchill and Andrew Ray, they were all wonderful to me, really friendly. Anthony Quayle would say, ‘Don’t worry, let's do that one again, let’s rehearse that again,’ and made me feel very comfortable, but it was Terence Young, the director, who said to me, ‘You’re a natural,’ I didn't know what that meant at first. I was heavily complimented. I realise now that really he was saying you’re not acting a part, you just really being yourself, and he said to me a number of times, ‘It’s not as easy as you think, so don’t worry,’ and he kept on talking me through it, and he was really, really kind to me, and again, the thing that’s really impressed me about my time in the movies is how much fun it can be. I know it’s hard work, we all know that your hours are whatever early hour in the morning they call you in, usually at 6 or 7 in the morning, and you’re supposed to look wonderful on camera a couple of hours later and have that sustain throughout the day, and it’s tough work, but on the whole, I found it to be totally fun. Even Two A Penny in which I had headaches in trying to work out the scenes I had to play, was totally satisfying, and I would still call it fun as well, so to have someone like Terence Young, who was a director I never heard of, I’d hardly heard of any directors before that time, to actually take the trouble to work on someone who was absolutely a novice, one hundred percent novice, was amazing. When you think there are so many actors out of work, they could have got a million actors, a million times better than me to play that part, but I think someone was being quite clever, they wanted a pop singer, an up and coming pop singer, so first of all, I wasn’t very expensive, but I was up and coming, and of course, during the shooting of the film, my record went to number two, and subsequently Living Doll next year was a number one, so that’s why I was there. But he was very tough on the natural acting bit, ‘Be a natural and play it this way, and listen to me, and you’ll be all right’ - and I think I was.

“In the days when I was offered those movies, Serious Charge and Expresso Bongo were both X rated movies, which is ironic, isn't it, my first two films would be X rated, and therefore my actual fans who were probably in their early teens and younger wouldn’t have been able to officially, legitimately see the films. I don’t think I had management at that time, in fact I had no real management at that time. I had a chap with me who discovered me, and we called him my manager, John Foster. He did actually mutter the immortal words in a pub where I was singing, ‘I’ll make you a star’ and he did. I have to say I owe John the beginning of my career. All the steps that followed were what he gave me to start with. But as I got older, and I’m sure John will forgive me for saying this, he also had no experience, no idea of what management really entailed, and we hadn’t got to that stage of deciding on routes and ladders to climb, and areas not to go in. We just instinctively did what was put in front of us, and when the opportunity came up for making a film, there was no way we were going to decide not to make a movie, even though Expresso Bongo did have sequences that were nude sequences, but of course, they were only seen in France. They are probably now available in Britain, but at that time, the sequences with Sylvia Syms where she was supposed to be a striptease dancer, and Laurence Harvey’s girlfriend, they filmed it in close and that was supposed to be the English version, and then they said, ‘Right close the doors, we are now going to do the French version.’ It was hysterically funny when you think about it, and of course, we were all around watching these nude scenes being filmed I have to say. When you look at the film now, you wonder how it could have possibly been X rated. It’s impossibly bad rating.

“I wasn't in all the sequences, of course. In Serious Charge, I wasn’t called on for the midnight skippy dipping shot, and I’m really glad I wasn’t actually, I have often wondered why I wasn’t because at that stage in my career I would understand it. There are certain things that I feel are unnecessary and feel I don't want to be part of, but its interesting when I see clips of that film now, it still looks so innocuous, there was naivety and an innocence about it, that in fact, makes it acceptable, whereas sometimes if you were to compare the kind of things that happen in Serious Charge and Expresso Bongo with the X rated movies of today, it’s almost Enid Blyton and pornography. I’m not saying the films I watch today are pornographic, other than I think the violence tends to be pornographic, and even some of the sex scenes are, but I don’t want to generalise, but if you compare what we did as an X rated movie to what we have now, we were really in the state of Enid Blyton.

“I think Serious Charge was meant to be a look at what was happening in the youth culture at the time. The Elvis phenomena had taken place, Ricky Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, the Everlys, it was a fantastically musical time, and there was this sort of liberating effect among teenagers, we suddenly had our own art form, but at that time, I didn’t think of it as art form, it was just frolics as far as I was concerned, but it was ours and nobody else seemed to like it, and there was a generation gap, which I believe doesn’t really exist anymore, but it was an insight. I remember the scene where you had Anthony Quayle playing the vicar character of the church suddenly coming in and seeing this young curly haired slob singing a song, and everyone dancing and bopping, and throwing the girls between their feet and lifting them up and swinging them round, and there was this kind of violent look to it, or so the older generation thought, and in the actual film, he stops it, and says ‘That’s enough of that, let’s all cool, down!’ And it was meant to be a bit of a warning, I suppose, but it wasn't really a warning, it was about this is what kids do now. This is what they do and how are we going to deal with it. It was probably one of the first films in Britain to be made where a message was trying to handed across, but looking at the clips I have seen recently, I don’t think in it was any kind heavy cane stick, it wasn’t this is what we want, this is what we’re gonna do. There was no demand from us as younger performers, it’s what we were and we did it. It’s interesting, but I watched one of the clips recently, and blimey, I’d forgotten Jess Conrad was there. I’ve acted alongside Jess Conrad before he ever became the Jess Conrad that made records later, and performed on the Oh Boy! show.

“I do think Serious Charge was one of a type, and probably, almost certainly, not one of the best of the type, but I don’t want to belittle the actors in the film or the people who were involved in making it, after all it was a massive step in my own move and in my career upwards, and so I will never totally put it down, but if you compare it to the kind of things that the Brando’s were doing in the States, the kind of gang warfare and stuff like that, ours in comparison was pretty lightweight. But then again, certainly at that stage, Britain has always been slightly more gentile, I suppose, so we may look at the same programmes and we may look at the same problems, but we don’t react in the same way, less so now, of course.

“The film industry is supposed to be, in some respects, notorious, has a lot of people in it that would squash you flat, that will upstage you, but I never had that. Robert Morley was wonderful to me in The Young Ones, the actors in Serious Charge were absolutely incredible, Laurence Harvey in Expresso Bongo was absolutely fabulous. I remember when we were doing a scene, he actually said to me, after we rehearsed it, he came to the side and said, ‘just listen to me one minute, try doing it like this.’ I don’t know if that is normal or not, but I found it fantastic, that he was actually willing to help me, improve my performance in a scene in which he was participating. And if all these other rumours had been true, he would have more likely, or should have just squashed me and said ‘yes, you are fine Cliff,’ but he didn’t.

“The story of Expresso Bongo is interesting because it was supposed to be depicting how perhaps life within showbusiness was lived, you know, managers getting hold of naive young singers, exploiting them, and I’m sure that’s happened. But I’ve been very lucky. In my whole career I’ve only ever had... a manager who was put in as a kind of a probationary period I seem to remember, a friend of Norrie Paramor’s, the producer who gave me fifteen years of hits. He found me this guy, and said, ‘look, just six months and if it doesn’t work we can forget it’, and sure enough six months later, we did forget it, and I was with someone else, a man called Tito Burns, who was my first real manager, and that lasted a year or two, and then I met Peter Gormley, and when my contract with Tito was over, Peter took over. And our relationship went right through to the day Peter retired, and now I don’t have a personal manager. I have a group of people that are a management team, and we work as a team, and so, I feel very fortunate that I managed to somehow sidestep all of that side, but the film did show what could happen and did happen in those days.

“I never actually wanted to be in movies as such, I had a naive approach to life and the simplistic view for me was why would I want to star in a movie, when in point of fact, so far, I had been introduced and co-starred in two movies, so I wasn’t the star of either of the films and yet I was revelling in the success of both of them, and I had this thing about I wouldn’t star in a movie but I would co-star in movies. I mean it’s ridiculous to think that way but that’s what I wanted to do, and I thought if the film was a success I could say ‘Well, I was in that film,’ if it failed I could say ‘Well, nothing to do with me, I’m not the star of the movie.’ And that was my naive approach to it.”

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Story Behind The Cliff Liner Note



I have to admit I was totally surprised when I received a call last month from colleague, Stephen Munns, who has for some years been servicing the Parlophone label with a number of very successful compilation album ideas and product, most notably the Cilla Black catalogue, to alert me to a new Cliff Richard compilation album that Warners were releasing on their Parlophone label in November. Stephen had quite unexpectedly been asked to write the liner notes, but knowing what the crew at Parlophone didn't, that I had spent 20-something years working on Cliff's catalogue when Warners were EMI, he turned down the gig, and suggested they ask me to do the liners as I was, in Stephen's words, the go to for Cliff guy. Within a couple of days, Warners had sent me an email outlining the project, sent the track listing, and asked if I could work up a liner note of about 500 words that could discuss the reflective nature of the songs in Cliff's career, and as this compilation was focusing more on Cliff's songs of reflection and love, they didn't want a straight biog because it wasn't that sort of best of album, but they did want something that bought a fresh insight to the tracks featured on the album. I immediately knew that what they were looking for was not the type of liner note I did, or had done on any of the 50 or so Cliff catalogue albums, box sets and compilations I had worked on in the EMI days, so it was pretty clear to me that I would have to pass on it, or find someone who could do what they were after. And as luck would have it, I knew someone who I thought would be just right for it!

Vic Rust had written and published a book on Cliff's recordings, writing about every song in the same reflective tone as Warners were now seeking for the liner note of the new album. Vic and his book were already well known to Cliff and his management team, and was involved, along with myself, in coming up with the 100th album figure for The Fabulous Rock 'n' Roll Songbook in 2013, and on top of everything else, his book had been highly praised by Cliff himself, so if I could get Vic on board the project, it would be the perfect solution. In the absence of not doing the liner note myself, it would provide Cliff and Warners with the kind of liner note they were after, keep me in the frame of things for any future ideas, and make Stephen's decision to pass the project over to me all worthwhile. I briefed Vic about the project, sent him the track list and told him if he wanted to have a go at it, purely on spec, I would submit it to Warners on his behalf for Cliff and his team to approve. Vic agreed, and less than a week later, he told me Cliff had chosen his liner note over and above another liner that had been submitted by a music journalist, and that it would indeed be used on the album, so as a taster of what to expect in the CD booklet, I am thrilled to share an exclusive first look excerpt from the opening paragraph of Vic's fabulous liner note... 

To call Cliff Richard merely a singer misses the point: The techniques, the versatility, the ear for strong melody and harmony all serve to highlight the impact of his huge back catalogue. In an extraordinary career of nearly 60 years, Cliff has recorded almost 1,300 songs, making each one sound unique, contemporary, poignant and essentially personal. The important goal for any singer is for the audience, the individual, to take something specific away from every one of their performances, be it simple enjoyment, strength of belief, a powerful message to ponder, or simply a hummable tune delivered to the best of their capabilities. Throughout his long career, Cliff has excelled in making this seem inordinately easy, which is one of the reasons that his fan-base has remained so resolutely strong. Of those hundreds of songs, most have understandably been about love because that is what the general pop genre demands, but there have also been many that talk about faith, and some that are quite pointed environmental protest songs. The key to creating a successful performance is to make the songs accessible to everybody at some level, regardless of their personal beliefs, and this is a skill that is often unrecognised. It is achieved by focusing on how the song is put together and then evolved to become the final polished product, so that every listener can take something that is important to them away from it.  

Cliff Richard Stronger Thru The Years is released on 10 November.       

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Olivia Newton-John In My Own Words


 

What a truly pleasant surprise it was to hear Olivia Newton-John telling her own story, in her own words, on BBC Radio 2 over the last couple of weeks. I say surprise because Olivia is not someone who is known for talking about her own life and career, has never written her own autobiography or participated in any book about herself, and there was a time when I wanted to do one, and is generally not someone who is known to give a lot of interviews or talk openly about her life or career.

Not only did I want to write a book about her, with her co-operation, but with my Cliff Richard writing cohort, Peter Lewry, we made several attempts to interview her about the duets she had recorded with Cliff over the years for our book on Cliff's recording sessions. To this day, it is still a bit of a mystery why she didn't speak with us, but maybe it was down to the fact that she may have felt a little uncomfortable to talk to a couple of unknown wannabe rock writers putting together their first book on one of her favourite people, despite the book being approved and authorised by Cliff himself, unless of course she never received our request that was sent to her through Cliff's office, which can often happen and does. It is not unknown for interview requests never to reach the people they are intended for.

We made other attempts to interview her, but again, without success, about some of the recordings we re-released on the Cliff album remaster series for EMI, including the backing vocals she contributed to the Cliff Live in Japan 1972 album, so with all that in mind, it was nice to hear her talk about recording Don't Move Away, her first B-side duet with Cliff in 1970, on the Radio 2 programme, as we had very little information about the recording apart from what Cliff told us, and what we found on tape boxes and recording sheets at Abbey Road. What I did find interesting to hear her say was  how petrified she was about going into the studio with such a big star as Cliff and having to record with an orchestra, neither of which, she had ever done before. For the purists, the track was recorded at the same session as the two other songs that appeared on Cliff's Sunny Honey Girl maxi-single. And even though Don’t Move Away was the first track to be completed with the third and last take being used to make up the final master, it wasn't remastered until we added it as a bonus track to the the reissued Tracks ‘n’ Grooves album in 2004.


It was a great shame we didn't get to speak with her as we found quite a few alternate takes, some with Cliff, and some of her own recordings for singles and albums, and even though we wouldn't have included any info about her early work with Bruce Welch and John Farrar in a book about Cliff's sessions, it would have satisfied my curiosity to have had the opportunity to listen to them, discover their history, and find out why certain takes were chosen over others, and why some remained unreleased, but sadly it was not to be. 

Probably one of the most interesting things we uncovered about her recording work with Cliff was the recording of Suddenly. For those who have read our book, you will know that Olivia's vocal for the duet was recorded in a garage located in Los Angeles, which obviously created some acoustic problems with traffic noise levels outside. Compounding the technical problems was the recording method used of Cliff and Olivia taping their vocals simultaneously onto a pre-recorded backing track. We were told that Olivia returned at a later date to re-record her vocals due to her track containing the noise levels mentioned. We were unable to trace the origins of the backing track or the musicians featured and never found any tape boxes or recording paperwork, and although it would have been something we would have asked Olivia, as we did Cliff, like Cliff, she may not have remembered.     

As Cliff said in the first episode, everybody loved her when she first burst onto the scene 50 years ago, and I was one of those people. For me it started back in 1971 when I bought her first album, simply titled Olivia Newton-John, and went to see her live at the Brighton Dome the following year during her first concert tour, for which she was not top of the bill, but a supporting act, with Labi Siffre, to the headliners, Marvin and Farrar, and Cliff.  Below are two pages from the souvenir programme. One features a biography of Olivia, and the other is an ad for her then first and second albums on the Pye International label.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Cliff At Christmas

Over the years, I have often been asked about Cliff's 2003 Christmas album, how did it come about, whose idea was it, and why no liner notes? Below, is the press release that I wrote for EMI to help promote the album, which hopefully will answer some of those questions, and for those who missed having a liner note, hopefully this be a good alternative...


When Mistletoe and Wine went to number one and became the best selling British single of 1988, it also became representative of one of Cliff’s most successful genres: the Christmas song. Like gospel music, it is a body of material that speaks directly to Cliff’s roots, and one he enjoys celebrating. With both new and old recordings, CLIFF AT CHRISTMAS brings together – for the first time – a collection of Christmas favourites.

Due in part to the success of the single Millennium Prayer, and in part to the almost traditional association of Cliff with Christmas, even when he had Christmas hits that weren’t Christmas songs, Cliff has decided, this year, to create an album of purely Christmas repertoire. The idea was to cut eight new songs and put them on an album with some familiar favourites. Although four of the ‘older’ tracks would be remixed to bring them into keeping with the new recordings, there is the handful that appear in their original form, all digitally remastered, to remind us of the unprecedented run of Christmas hits that Cliff’s had ever since his version of O Little Town of Bethlehem was released in 1982. After all, no Christmas album by Cliff could be considered complete without the Christmas number ones like Mistletoe And WineSaviour’s Day and Millennium Prayer.

Nor could a Christmas album by Cliff be considered complete without his own stylish arrangements of seasonal standards like Silent Night, which interestingly enough, includes his own additional lyric of Mistletoe And Wine ‘just being played on the radio’ – but now with a new hidden extra.

Another is White Christmas, the Irving Berlin favourite that Bing Crosby recorded in 1942 for the film Holiday Inn, and has since been in the charts every year at Christmas from its first release all the way through to 1962. Though dozens of artists have recorded it over the years, Cliff has given his own originality to the song. As with the other traditional selections on the album such as Winter Wonderland, When A Child Is Born and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Cliff says, ‘if you’re going to do a cover version, it should be distinct from the original. So you bend or change the melody, the arrangement, and all the guitar riffs. There’s no need to do it the same way. In everybody’s mind, the original way is always going to be the definitive version. There’s no point in making it sound exactly the same as the original.’

From the list of new material, Let It Snow and Walking in The Air, recorded in Nashville, are probably among Cliff’s favourites. ‘I did those tracks with Michael Omartian and I loved working with him. He was fantastic. They were really done as test cases to see how we would gel together, and it worked really well. The piano on those two sound great.’

One listen to this 17-track album, which also includes a duet with European star Helmut Lotti, should forever put to rest the question of Cliff’s deep-rooted feeling for Christmas songs and for the traditional simplicity that they represent.

With Cliff’s proven instinct to spot potential hit material, and Christmas number one songs, a special radio edit of Santa’s List, co-written by Chris Eaton, who also penned Saviour’s Day, will be released on 8 December as the single Cliff has chosen to promote the album, and more importantly, to echo his own distinctive feeling for Christmas.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Me, Elvis and The Sun Collection


Before I was a writer and got published, one of my dreams was to write a sleeve note for an Elvis Presley album, and in the early part of 1975, I thought I was pretty close to fulfilling that dream. The album in question was The Elvis Presley Sun Collection, which was going to be released that summer and would collect together all of the recordings Elvis cut at Sam Phillips' famous Sun Studio in Memphis between 1954 and 1955 and place them on a 16 track album, that would also launch the then new RCA mid-price Starcall label. It would also mark the first time that all the Sun sides had appeared together on a single album. Previously the tracks, with the exception of I Love You Because (2nd version), had been spread over a couple of earlier compilations in 1959 on A Date With Elvis and For LP Fans Only, while Elvis did his national service in the U.S Army, and were then new to LP.

What is perhaps surprising, or maybe it wasn't when you consider the wealth of its material, is that the album was Elvis's most successful album of that year in the UK. It was released one month after his then latest studio album Today and fared much better in the British album chart, and for the first time in four years, was packaged without the usual live picture of Elvis in a white jumpsuit, but in a sleeve with a striking illustration that reflected the music inside, and was, in fact, based upon a photo that had been taken during Elvis's historic performance at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas on 11 October 1956.

I can't remember where or when I first heard about the project, but if my memory serves me correctly, it was probably through the pages of the New Musical Express as the project was the brainchild of NME writer Roy Carr, who had collected all the tracks together and had somehow persuaded RCA Records in the UK to release them. Neither do I remember if the project had to be approved by Colonel Tom Parker before it got green-lighted for release, but let's presume it was, and they usually were, isn't it strange that Elvis seemed genuinely surprised and amazed about the album's existence when a British fan handed him a copy during his Dinner Show performance at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas on 13 December 1975, and despite what some have assumed on various Elvis internet forums that I was that British fan who handed Elvis the album, I wasn't.

Back in Britain, before any of that, my first port of call was to Shaun Greenfield, then the RCA product manager in the UK, who looked after all of Elvis's UK originated albums, and as this was a UK only release, Shaun whom I knew and had met previously in London's RCA offices, was my best bet. I asked him about the project, and whether or not he was looking for any sleeve notes for the album. Shaun gave me all the details, and told me that it was Roy Carr's baby, and although it was expected that Roy would write the liners, he told me I was most welcome to submit some of my own. At that stage it was uncertain whether Carr was going to write any notes, but when you consider it was his project, and as he was one of Britain's most respected music journalists, it was pretty obvious to me that he wouldn't want some wannabe rock journo treading on his feet for a project that was obviously close to his heart.

The offer that RCA made me was simple. If Roy wrote the sleeve notes  then they would be used, but if he didn't, and if the notes I was going to write, were good enough, then they would use them on the album. In the end of course, and as we all now know, Roy ended up writing the notes, and they were the ones, along with a detailed discography that appeared on the back sleeve of the album. It was the first time ever that such a lengthy, informative and factual sleeve note had appeared on an Elvis album. At the time I started to write my notes (which weren't anywhere near as detailed or as lengthy as Carr's), it still wasn't certain if and when Roy would supply his, but as luck would have it, by the time I had written mine and sent then to Shaun, Roy had already completed his, which were now in the hands of RCA.


Listen here to a live audio recording of the British fan giving Elvis the album

The only copy of the notes I kept was my own personal copy which I had printed on the back of a blank white 7-inch record sleeve, which I decided in the end to send off to Elvis's father Vernon, while he was in Las Vegas during Elvis's December 1976 season at the Hilton Hotel. I thought this was the best bet to get my work seen by Elvis and acknowledged with his autograph, which in my letter to Vernon I had asked for. The sleeve was returned to me, duly signed "Best Wishes Elvis Presley" from Memphis Tennessee in February 1977, the same month that Elvis's new single Moody Blue was released in the UK. Unfortunately the signed sleeve got lost in a house move during the early 90s, and the only photographic evidence I still have to this day is in a picture cutting that my local newspaper, the Evening Argus, ran in September 1977, when I was the Sussex branch leader for the official fan club, in which I can be seen holding the signed sleeve, a scan of which I have included below.    

Monday, 7 December 2015

Christmas with Elvis in 1970


When Elvis released his first Christmas Album in November 1957, he probably didn't expect it to be reissued and repackaged as much as it was during his lifetime - and still is to this day. The original album featured eight Christmas songs recorded at Hollywood's Radio Recorders in September 1957, and the four gospel songs that were first released on the Peace in the Valley EP at Easter that same year. In the U.S, the album had a book style cover that opened up to reveal a 10-page album of full colour promotional photos from Elvis's third movie Jailhouse Rock, and had a gold gift sticker attached to the front of the shrink wrapping. The two sides of the album were divided into a selection of secular Christmas songs on side one, with two traditional Christmas carols and the four spirituals on side two. It was first reissued two years after its first release, replacing the iconic cover of the original with a close-up of Elvis posed against an outdoor, snowy backdrop. 

The first time it appeared as a budget album was fourteen years after it was first released, and apparently came about when Harry Jenkins, then RCA's vice president in charge of Elvis, began talking about a new Christmas album, to which Elvis asked what was wrong with once again repackaging the original one from 1957. By now, Elvis was ensconced in Memphis, had received his special U.S narcotics badge from Richard Nixon, was basking in a new film documentary about his August 1970 Summer Festival in Vegas, and was about to go back out on the road, so the idea of a new Christmas album held little interest for him, so instead, RCA did what he suggested and repackaged the original LP, but with some changes that upgraded the set. After all, fourteen years in the music business is a long time, which in this case, had encompassed everything from the Beatles to the Vietnam war. 

The album, this time, was repackaged in a completely new look front and back sleeve with an altered track listing and was put out on RCA's budget label, RCA Camden in November 1970, which retailed in the UK on Camden's International imprint for just under one pound. But of course, it was actually a different album than the original LP even though it used the same title and some, but not all, of the original songs. I first came across it when I was browsing through the Elvis section at HMV in Brighton. By this time, the original album had been long out of print, and widely unavailable, unless you could find a copy in a second-hand record store. Although the new cover echoed that of the 1959 reissue, we now had a more recent 60s photo of Elvis taken on the set of his 1967 movie Speedway, wearing a blue racing jacket with two white stripes down the left-hand side, which once again, was set against a wintry scenic background. The back sleeve art, which differed to the U.S version, had also been given a make over. Now, all in black-and-white, it featured a cropped close-up of Elvis from his comeback special, an advert for his previous two Camden albums, and the new altered track listing.

 US and UK label variations

The four gospel songs from Peace in the Valley had now been eliminated and replaced with two newer tracks. One was Elvis's festive single from 1966, If Every Day Was Like Christmas, and the other, was Mama Liked The Roses, a 1970 non-seasonal B-side that had been out earlier in the year as the flip to his #1 UK hit, The Wonder of You, which the front cover announced had been added "By Request!" The other noticeable change when comparing this version to the original was the number of tracks. It had now been reduced to ten songs instead of the original thirteen, due to the industry requirements for shorter running times on budget albums. The running order of the Christmas songs were also changed. All the same, it was a fine release, with a good selection of tracks, a great looking sleeve, and released in the original mono sound of the original. In the year after its release, it peaked at #7 in the UK top ten album chart, and over the following years, would go on to sell seven million more copies than the original album, although according to EPE (Elvis Presley Enterprises), it sold nine million. Not surprisingly, it also became Elvis's biggest selling album of all time, and his first to attain a Diamond disc award from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Camden re-released the album the following year in a modified cover that now had a cropped version of the Elvis Speedway picture in a circle in the middle of a white sleeve, with the title and song selections in red, plus a sleeve note on the back underneath the album title and track listing. Even when it was reissued in 1975 by Pickwick, the sleeve again was updated, which this time, echoed the second Camden version, but now with a more elaborate royal blue background decorated with red ribbons around the picture of Elvis in a circle. Although the 1970 RCA Camden release remained in print until the late 1980s, with the same track listing, and has since appeared in various different official and bootleg combinations, not once in all that time, has it ever appeared in its original 1970 cover art despite the sleeve being one of the most popular and a firm favourite among fans. It's certainly one of mine!


With thanks to Tony King for the sleeve and label restoration and scanning.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Winona: The First Interview

To celebrate the 17th anniversary of my biography of Winona Ryder this week, here is the very first interview I did for the book, which I did with Neil Milner for his quarterly published Winona Fanzine. The interview appeared in Issue #9, one month after publication of the book. In the interview, I talked to Neil about how the book came about, some of the people I interviewed for the project, and what I thought of Winona herself... 

 
NM: I suppose the most logical place to start is, why a book on Winona? What gave you the idea to do a book on her?
Nigel: The initial idea came from Hannah MacDonald, then the publishing editor at Virgin Publishing. We were discussing another project when the possibility of a book on Winona came up. To write about the actress whose career I had followed with interest and admiration ever since watching her in Lucas in 1986 simply excited me. Not only that, but it would be entirely different from the type of books I’d done before. At that time, I was writing works of references, but now I had a vision of writing, what I hoped would be the first book about Winona Ryder. So that gave me the idea. I submitted a proposal for what I wanted to do, but all of a sudden, several books were announced for publication in the States. Dave Thompson’s book was the first straight biography and was, I thought, a very accomplished one, and one which sort of encapsulated some of my own ideas.

NM: Was it difficult to get a publisher interested?
Nigel: Yes, because it’s a very erratic market. Believe it or not, most rejected the idea in their belief that Winona, although ranked among the top ten box-office stars, and certainly one who encourages millions of fans, still didn’t have the profile to warrant a book. I remember one publisher telling me that most bestselling film biographies were the ones about the male heartthrobs, or if female, the ones with a reputed gay fan following, and as Winona didn’t fall into either category, I didn’t find anyone rushing to do my book. Even when I did find a publisher, they were only interested if it was authorised, which always scares me because I know how difficult it is to encourage someone like Winona to become involved with a project like this. And although some publishers take the view that it is best to co-operate and/or authorise a biography to ensure accuracy, not many Hollywood stars share that view. Nevertheless I had a go. In fact, I approached Winona’s public relations firm several times with several ideas asking for Winona’s co-operation and an interview, but as I have explained in my author note, her publicist made it clear that they were uncomfortable with the idea of a biography at this stage. I even remember when Hannah moved from Virgin to Andre Deutsch, she came up with the idea of Winona writing her own film dairies for a year or so, but even that was a no-no. Still Smith Gryphon did come back to me months later with an offer for an unauthorised work, and so, I began writing in the early part of April 1997, and quickly got up to speed as the manuscript had to be delivered at the end of June for publication that October to coincide with the landmark release of Winona’s twentieth film, Alien Resurrection. But about two weeks before it was due to go to print, Smith Gryphon sadly went into liquidation and my book on Winona was cancelled.

NM: And this was only the first delay…
Nigel: Yes, but I was really pleased that Blake Publishing were now going to publish Winona in April 1998. the icing on the cake was that they were going to put it out in hardback with two picture sections – one in black and white and one in colour. But their attempts to rush out my book didn’t really work out. The shops were reluctant to order a hardback and they also felt that they had not been given sufficient notice of publication which was really strange since Virgin’s sales teams had already been out selling the title for Smith Gryphon. Reluctantly Blake put publication back to September, and also decided to produce the book as a large format trade paperback instead of a hardback. Only differences were the price and that one was in soft covers and the other wasn’t. But there were advantages. I now had the opportunity to ensure that my book on Winona would be the most up-to-date published, which I think it is since it ends with Winona and Matt Damon. But it also allowed me the opportunity to do some fine tuning and polishing to the body of the text. Even the picture spreads got a re-working.

NM: Who did you interview for the book, and did they give you much material?
Nigel: Everyone at the Polly Klaas Foundation was extremely helpful in checking the chapter on the Polly case and guided me to write that part of the book more accurately. I spoke to them a number of times because one of my prime concerns was the sensitivity of the story and I didn’t want to cause any distress to Polly’s family and friends. The public relations associate at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco was equally helpful for commenting on the accuracy to the background of the A.C.T and to Winona’s time there, as well as supplying me with details of Winona’s honorary degree that they awarded to her in early 1997.

NM: Where there many people who turned you down, who said that they didn’t want to be interviewed?
Nigel: There were a few, but that was understandable since people can be very suspicious about co-operating with unapproved biographers. Long before I spoke with the public relations associate at A.C.T, I called the director of their Youth Conservatory, who had been there when Winona was a student, but he was reluctant to talk with me about Winona’s time at the A.C.T unless she called him to say it was okay. I respected that. Not only for the fact that he remained close to Winona and her family, but also because Winona continued to be very supportive to the conservatory. And from that point of view, without Winona’s blessing, I understood his reluctance. He did however tell me, that if I did ever manage to talk to Winona, I should be prepared for the fact that she didn’t really like talking about herself as she was very shy.

NM: Where there people you interviewed who perhaps hadn’t spoken at length about Winona before?
Nigel: I’m sure there were, but I wouldn’t claim great credit for that, you know, it’s not like ‘Hey! I interviewed this person for the first time!” because it’s not like I did any great thing. As I have already said, the Polly Klaas Foundation and A.C.T were extremely helpful, and maybe it was the first time they got involved in anything like this. I have to be thankful for that. That they allowed me to speak to them a great number of times, they’d go over the same ground for me, and they put up with me asking what probably sounded like stupid questions because I wanted to clarify so much.

NM: Was there anything that didn’t end up in your book?
Nigel: Yes, but that was to do more with legal reasons than anything else. I was very disappointed to lose the story about Winona being asked to leave Kenilworth Junior High because she was a distraction. Our libel report, essential to any biography, pointed out that this, as with a few others, could be taken with defamatory of living, identifiable individuals, and also alerted us the the fact that it should not be assumed that quotations or source material is necessarily accurate. So I’m afraid some passages of the manuscript had to be withdrawn.

NM: I heard that you also had difficulties with obtaining to use certain photographs. Is that true?
Nigel: Yes! Unfortunately, most of the film companies were reluctant to grant permissions because the book was unauthorised which is understandable in a way, and I respect that. We lost a lot of movie stills that way. You know things like Mermaids, Edward Scissorhands, The Age of Innocence, The House of the Spirits, Reality Bites, Little Women, The Crucible and Alien Resurrection. It was very disappointing, but we managed to replace them with some relevant pictures, something that still had a connection wherever possible. For instance, we used Winona receiving her Golden Globe for The Age of Innocence, and Winona and Daniel Day-Lewis at The Crucible premiere in place of the actual stills. In fact, I think we ended up with a selection of pictures that are perhaps not so often seen, so I hope that will please the fans. I think we’ve got some really good ones, and a few surprises too!

NM: I understand that the local newspaper in Winona’s hometown, in Petaluma, were very helpful. How much material did they give you for the book?
Nigel: Yes – the Petaluma Argus-Courier have definitely been helpful, in fact, I’m doing an interview with them in November which I’m very excited about. Nothing pleases me more than that because it’s Winona’s hometown – just hope she’s home when I’m in it! But I really appreciated their help in supplying me the article and interview they did with Winona around the release of Lucas in April 1986, which we have been able to include in the book. It features a wonderful picture they shot of Winona in her classroom at Petaluma Junior High. They also sent me an article and interview from the San Francisco Chronicle that Winona must have done around the same time. The picture that featured in the article of Winona stretched out across a railway track with her hair cut boyishly short, and wearing a lace scarf over a beat-up Levi jacket, and equally beat-up jeans, was another wonderful picture, and must be one of the least seen, but it was impossible to get hold of. We were unable to negotiate a permission fee, but there are always going to be photographs that you can’t use for one reason or another. I suppose you’d never finish a book if you wait until you’ve got hold of every picture you want. It’s just impossible to do. I remember we also wanted to use the one of Johnny Depp kissing Winona on the nose that was an official shoot for Vogue, taken by Herb Ritts, and was not available for unauthorised projects, but I’m glad we’ve got what we have in the picture spreads. I think they sort of depict what I’ve written in the text.

NM: What’s the publication date in the States?
Nigel: November in the States, it’s being distributed by Seven Hills, but I’m not sure of the exact date. I assume it’ll be out in the early part of the month. It’s been a labour of love – more so than any of my other books, but that’s because I think Winona Ryder is such a very, very, special actress, and it’s from that perspective that I was writing. I hope I don’t disappoint anyone! My ambition is that’ll it reach a readership of people who feel affectionate about Winona. People it’ll mean something to. I set out with the thought that this is such a great, great story and she is such a great actress. I have tried not only to tell her story but also to offer a sense of the world that she grew up in, and the excitement of the world she entered into – and it’s pitfalls.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Elvis Today / From Vinyl to Legacy

Although I don’t usually write reviews as I don’t consider myself a critic or reviewer, when the opportunity came up to write a review for SDE (Super Deluxe Edition), I jumped at the chance, because it’s not something I usually do, and it also offered me the perfect excuse to write about Elvis Today, one of my own personal favourite Elvis albums. My review, reproduced below, includes a history of the original album, the sessions, the new Legacy Edition, and some long forgotten images that didn't make it into the latest package!   


Elvis Today was never one of Elvis’s biggest selling albums. At best, it could only be called a mediocre hit, one which only managed to reach #48 in the UK album chart, and did even worse in the States. Released at a time when the pop scene was swamped with the robotic sounds of Disco, and country music had become besotted with the countrypolitan age, perhaps it was no surprise that the first single from the album, a new rock song called T-R-O-U-B-L-E didn’t really have the impact that was hoped for, and yet it had everything going for it. As Stuart Colman notes, “Uptempo rockers that twinned a fifties feel with a contemporary lyric were by no means easy to come by at this stage of the game, and it suited Elvis to a tee.In the UK, oddly enough, considering it was a return to everyone’s favourite Elvis style, it just missed the Top 30 and nowhere matched the success of his earlier 70s hits. The second single in the States, Bringing It Back didn’t perform any better, but the second single in the UK, Green Green Grass of Home, a cover version of the Tom Jones chart-topper, was easily the biggest single from the album when it charted inside the Top 30 in November 1975.

In Britain, the release of Today was squeezed in between two compilation albums of old material. The first was the budget U.S. Male on Pickwick, and the other, was the mid-priced Sun Collection on the then new RCA Starcall label, which actually performed better than Today in the album chart. But that, perhaps, was no surprise and no accident. The recordings Elvis made at Sam Phillips’ famous studio in Memphis had always been among his most popular, and as this was the first time, they had all been placed on one album, it was almost written in stone that it would score well in the UK album chart. It peaked at #16 just two months after Today had been and gone and missed the Top 20 boat altogether. 

Unlike those famous Memphis sessions 20 years earlier, Today was recorded over three nights between March 10 and March 12, 1975, at RCA’s Studio C in Hollywood, California, the same studio where Burning Love and Separate Ways had been laid down in 1972, and served as the rehearsal location for Elvis’s MGM movie Elvis on Tour that same year. Now, three years later, Elvis returned, armed with a recently won ‘Best Inspirational Performance’ Grammy for his 1974 concert version of How Great Thou Art, and some material for recording a new album, which unknown at the time, would be the last time he would lay down tracks in a traditional recording studio. The result was one of the most diverse albums of his career with Elvis interpreting songs previously recorded by artists such as Don McLean, Perry Como, Billy Swan, Faye Adams, the Statler Brothers, Charlie Rich, The Pointer Sisters, and as already mentioned, Tom Jones. In some ways, the Today album was like Elvis’s first - made up of songs he chose and loved. But of course, to be fair, it was no first album, and neither was it an Elvis Is Back, His Hand in Mine or From Elvis in Memphis. It was, nevertheless, a fine album, and arguably one of his most underrated, and although some may argue that point, this 40th anniversary Legacy Edition goes a long way to prove otherwise. 


Disc one features the entire original album plus 10 undubbed mixes from the sessions, providing an alternate mix of the album. Although previously issued on the 2005 Follow That Dream (FTD) edition, this is the first time these versions have seen the light of day on a commercial release, and with fans favourite, Vic Anesini, at the remastering helm, they are certainly an improvement on the sound quality of the FTD version. It is very refreshing to hear the unvarnished performances of these songs, in such good sound quality, and freed from the controversial “countrypolitan” overdubs that Felton Jarvis did for the original 1975 release. If you compare them to the more polished versions of the finished album, they certainly provide an entirely different listening experience. If there is anything missing from this new Legacy Edition, it surely has to be the 3-minute warm-up jam session of Tiger Man that was a highlight of the FTD edition. With a running time of 67 minutes on disc one, there was certainly room to fit it on as a bonus track.  

Disc two features live performances from May and June 1975. Originally issued as The Concert Years in the 8 LP Elvis Aron Presley 25th anniversary silver box set, in August 1980, it included, for the main part, Elvis’s show from Dallas in Texas on 6 June 1975. Originally recorded direct to cassette tapes from the mixing console for reference purposes only, it was never intended for record release in Elvis’s lifetime, and as such, it was necessary to replace damaged or missing songs from this show with other performances from the tour to present an album that mirrored a complete show. For this 40th anniversary Legacy Edition, the entire constructed concert, which includes a first-ever live performance of T-R-O-U-B-L-E, has been reassembled and remastered from the original sources, again by Vic Anesini, and thereby offers improved audio quality. And despite what some fans may think, these restored live performances provide the perfect companion to Elvis’s last official studio recordings, especially as they all come from the tour that surrounded the release of the album. Listen out for the drum roll on Hound Dog that echoes the original drum roll from the original hit, not often featured in Elvis’s live versions of the song in the 70s.

The packaging is the usual Legacy Edition packaging we have come to love and respect. Like the previous On Stage, Aloha From Hawaii and Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis Legacy Editions, it comes in a six-panel digipak with decent front and back cover art reproduction, and is a huge improvement on the repro quality of the FTD edition which lacked definition and looked more like a third generation copy. Housed behind the discs are excellent repros of the T-R-O-U-B-L-E singles bag, albeit it being the wrong side featuring the B-side as its main title, and the QuadraDisc version of the album, which seems a bit pointless as the cover art is exactly the same as the standard album release, as used on the digipak and booklet front covers. The obvious alternative would have been to include the picture singles bag for Bringing It Back or the UK generic RCA bag and label for Green, Green Grass of Home. Another option, of course, would have been to feature the cover art of the original 1980 sleeve or label from The Concert Years LP (shown below). In many ways, it also seems a shame that disc two didn’t settle on representing the label of the original 1980 vinyl. 
 

The glossy 24-page booklet features an excellent essay by Stuart Colman, who gives a good historical narrative about the sessions and the songs, with some good footnotes to the not-so obvious, such as the story of the final mixing and overdubbing of the original album, recorded with musicians outside of Elvis’s usual live band, which would become a point of contention between Elvis and RCA to the degree that it caused Elvis, at one stage, to blow his top, and probably encouraged his decision about recording his future output either live in concert or in his home studio at Graceland.

The booklet also includes a batch of first rate quality photos, many not seen before, and as was the norm for Elvis official photos and record sleeves during this time of his career, all are concert shots. For this release, we are treated to a number of various shots of Elvis in different jumpsuits and outfits that were taken during the tour of the bonus disc. There is also the usual batch of memorabilia that we have come to expect with Elvis reissues, and this booklet is no exception. Included are the usual record labels, sleeves, cassettes, letters and RCA ads. Once again there are no images from The Concert Years album, either front or back sleeve, the box or labels, and no repro of the UK singles. Although that may seem like a niggly point, their inclusion would have added to the completeness of what is otherwise an excellent anniversary edition of Elvis’s last official studio album and the collectible live recordings taped just a few months after the sessions.


With thanks to Sara Irvine at Sony Music, Paul Sinclair at SDE, Tony King for The Concert Years LP sleeve and label scans, and George and Linda Athans for the full size unedited and uncropped version of the booklet back cover photo. (Please note that George and Linda's credit in the booklet is misspelt as George and Linda Nathans, which is to be corrected in all future pressings).

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Restoration of Kylie


Earlier this month, the long-awaited re-issues of Kylie’s first four albums on PWL were finally released after a delay of three months. Each album is now available in three collector editions, but the most interesting, without doubt, are the ones that include the DVDs of original promo videos, bonus material and BBC footage. Although I had seen some of the material on VHS when I was researching my biography of Kylie in 2002, and later, on the DVD releases of Kylie Greatest Hits and Ultimate Kylie, for which I co-wrote the album liners, they were never in such outstanding picture and sound quality as they are on the new PWL re-issues. Intrigued to find out more, I recently spoke to video director, editor and restorer Dan Hall about the challenges of the work involved in restoring Kylie.

What brought you to work on the Kylie videos for the PWL reissues?
I was first approached at the conception stage by PWL archivist Tom Parker. He had followed the work of my company Pup Limited on the Classic Doctor Who DVD range. I had commissioned the high-profile DVD range for several years. The releases contained restored episodes as well as new documentaries. Tom’s original idea was to apply the Classic Doctor Who DVD model onto the Kylie releases.

Are you a fan of the Kylie PWL era?
Indeed I am. I must be one of the few PWL / Springsteen / Suede fans in the UK! Pete and the team made some absolutely smashing melodies, and it has been an honour to be a part of bringing them back to audiences. The PWL concert a couple of Christmases back was one of the best nights of my life. I lost my voice for two weeks after.

Restoring the videos then, must have been like a work of love.
Absolutely a work of love. We were unable to go down the same restoration route as for the Doctor Who DVDs because of budget. And so Pup developed a whole new series of restoration techniques. These were designed more for short-form content like music videos as opposed to longer-form television shows. There is always some more work to do, always another piece of drop-out that can be improved. The more you fix these things the more errors begin to show. And of course nobody wants to let content out that could be improved. So you do go on and beyond budget, but with a willing heart.

Did you play a part in finding any of the footage, like the original and location-based versions of Got To Be Certain, or were these in the PWL archive?
All the footage was sourced and found by Tom Parker whose passion for the project drove us on. He has a fantastic knowledge of Pete Waterman’s legendary barn in which many of the masters are stored. Tom had the key knowledge about different versions of videos and where they might be found. We did have one fortunate find towards the end of production. A couple of videos had been missing from Tom’s original masters delivery. When getting these transferred we uncovered superior quality versions of many of the titles. By this point we all but finished restoration, so much of the earlier work was scrapped. But the time was by no means wasted as our improved techniques could now benefit the new masters.

Was there any other major restoration work done apart from what has been seen in the Pup showreel?
Absolutely! Every single one of the videos averaged two or three days’ work. The promo only shows the “greatest hits”. Although these videos aren’t hugely old, it is alarming how quickly videotape begins to fail. Information is lost causing what is called “drop-out”. These are brief flashes of lost data, usually shown as a bar of colour. There are also dirt and scratches which we remove. Grading is always controversial. This is where you alter the colours in the picture to give a mood. It can have a massive effect on audience’s perceptions. For example Loco-Motion was too yellow, which we fixed resulting in a more natural skin-tone. On Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi we took a gamble and completely regraded it. The original was super-80s in colouring and brightness, and yet it was set in 1940s France. So the re-grade played on this with a more brown austerity grade to complement the fantastic sets. For Finer Feelings we found the beautiful photography was undermined by a low-contrast master. So the blacks were pumped down a tad to give it more gusto. Out of all her videos this is the one that I feel deserves our reappraisal most. The photography and editing really is first rate.

What can you tell me about the restoration process and did you have any say on what videos should be included and ones that shouldn’t?
Tom and PWL very much led the editorial of the release, although of course they were happy with my input. But frankly they were one and the same. We all wanted to make a definitive set of releases that showed the passion of those who had put it together. As for the restoration process, we vestigated investing in automated technology. But it was quickly apparent that it was no match for careful human eyes and hand-crafted fixes. Music videos are available, pirated for free all over the internet. If we are going to persuade people to part with their money we have to provide something special. And I do not think pumping a video through a rough, computerised clean-up is going to cut the mustard.

Were there any videos that you were given to work on that you felt wouldn’t benefit from restoration?
Every single video was restored. Even later ones like Word Is Out, which had very little dropout, suddenly had huge green splodges on several frames. Each video was their own challenge with their own unique set of solutions. 
 
How good or bad condition was the BBC footage that you worked on? Did the BBC give you any other footage that is not included in the sets?
The BBC material was in okay condition. The sound isn’t fantastic on some of the Wogan episodes, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Part of the texture of archive is its faults, and sometimes you make a judgement call to leave things as they are. In the case of Wogan the music wasn’t replaced as people are watching it for the archive, rather than the song. However, almost all the BBC footage had a lot of what we call noise. This is lots of tiny dots that look a bit like a slightly off-tuned television. So we cleared those away and gave the colours a bit more punch. Everything that the BBC provided for us was placed on the discs. And great it is too! I loved the old Top of the Pops graphics so much that they were recreated for the albums’ four promos.

Who initiated the restoration work on the videos? Did you have any say in it because you felt that the original videos could do with restoration?
It was Tom Parker who first approached me, and he had previously done fantastic work for both companies. Without realising it I’d been buying Tom’s fantastic reissues for quite a while! I imagine the whole thing was driven first by him. Later on Ian Usher took over the reigns and led the project to completion. I have a lot of self-interest in wanting the videos to be restored! So quite rightly I wouldn’t have a say in whether they should be done or not.

Most of the video promos have been released before on various DVDs. Did you wonder why they had not been restored to the picture quality you have now given them?
I can absolutely understand why, because there may not be the demand. But now videos are pirated all over the internet labels and artists have to take quality to the next level if they are going to persuade people to part with their money. This will hopefully encourage people back to official sources and off YouTube. In addition, a scratchy and unattractive video does undermine the song and the audience’s perception of the material. We do live in a very visual world, even those of us in music. 
 
Would you say they are near enough Blu-Ray quality? They look like they are.
That’s very kind of you to say! The first part of Pup’s restoration process was to boost the standard-definition masters up to high-definition. This is where very computer software “guesses” the extra pixels that are needed by an HD picture. Our restoration work was then carried out on these new HD masters. It was only the very end of the process where the HD was scaled back to standard definition for DVD. From your question I’m guessing our specially developed restoration technique worked! 
 
Are there any more videos and footage that could be restored?
Oh, goodness yes! I look at the wonderful work of artists like Kate Bush, David Bowie and the Pet Shop Boys and long to get my hands on their material. Bush’s Cloudbusting is a stunning video, but it desperately needs cleaning. Same goes for the wonderful Pet Shop Boys feature-length concept video, It Couldn’t Happen Here. Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes is iconic, but covered in dropout. And Queen… who wouldn’t want to get those fantastic promos looking sharp?

What visual and audio quality were the original promos in?
The audio wasn’t brilliant, and a tad muffled and quiet. But this was fixed with wonderful new audio masters from PWL. Visually the conditions varied a lot. Loco-Motion, Got To Be Certain and Never Too Late were particularly bad. The PWL masters of If You Were With Me Now had an eight second section that was unplayable. For this I sourced another copy from a different source and compiled a new master. What this showed was that often it is believed that somebody else is looking after the master. The TV companies think the labels are, the labels think the agents are, the agents think the producers are, etc. If we are not careful we’re going to lose some of the iconic promos of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. On Better the Devil You Know we discovered one single frame of a shot that had been left in by accident way back when. So this was removed as it is “illegal” for broadcast. There’s an exclusive! The restored Better the Devil You Know video is actually 1/25 second shorter than the original. 
 
How painstaking was the restoration and what were the primary technical processes/tools you used?
Very painstaking! Each video has at least ten passes, and for some we slow it down to 50% in order to allow us to extrapolate every possible piece of visual data. I won’t go into exactly what we use or how we use it – it’s our magic formula! – but suffice to say the technique was developed by Pup using a Computing Science PhD wizard.

Is re-mixing sound for a DVD a completely different process to the remix of a CD set and did you work on any of the CDs?
Sometimes one can get too close to a project and forget that at the end there is a consumer – and hopefully one that is smiling. This is a brand new restoration process that Pup has developed especially for music videos. I sincerely hope that we’ll get to cast our magic on more titles. The sound was provided to us from PWL, remastered and sounding fantastic. For DVD we simply put a small amount of compression to keep it from going too loud. But really on the sound the hard work was done by Tom and PWL. All we had to do was match the old sound to the new. That said, it was tougher than it first seemed as the sound on those videos didn’t run at a consistent speed. These errors had to be forced back into the remastered audio in order to keep things in sync!

Was there a specific rationale for the video tracks that were chosen for the new DVDs?
From my understanding the only rationale was: “Is it relevant” and “Is it available”. With those two simple criteria PWL and Cherry Red were able to pull together a brilliant set of releases. 

Do you know if Kylie has seen any of the restored videos? If so what was her reaction?
I don’t know whether she has, although I’m sure Pete would have made sure she knew about them. As an artist I’m sure she’s wary about spending too much time looking back, when there is an expectation always to move forward. That said, I hope it reminds her how much people value and enjoy her fantastic back catalogue.