03 June 2008

I looked up to the sky

Continuing the EMI NZ theme, 18 months ago I interviewed Shane Hales when writing a veterans-on-the-road story for North & South (Oct 2006)*.
I asked him about his time at HMV.

“I recorded in the old studios in Wakefield Street, before they were unceremoniously demolished,” he said, “I loved that studio, we had a lot of hits out of it, along with everybody else.”

Could you fit all 36 of the musicians for ‘St Paul’ in there?

“Everyone, it was a huge studio, in the old fashioned way, they don’t build ‘em like that anymore, you just need the gear at home. The EMI technicians from Abbey Road came out and set it up.”

Was Wellington a happening music town then?

“It was, there were a lot of musicians around. Mike Farrell was here, he worked part time in the EMI storeroom. On ‘St Paul’ we got all the staff out of the EMI offices: we needed a choir. ‘Right, get the staff down, the office girls, the guys in storeroom’ ... everyone came down and they were all told what they were going to sing. They all sang the la la las. We didn’t have the multi-tracking then, we only had about eight-track, so we couldn’t put any more orchestration on it. You had to do the whole thing in one go.

Looking back at it, I’m amazed ‘St Paul’ came out so quickly after ‘Hey Jude’ ...

“Did I tell you about Terry Knight, who wrote it? He’s dead now – but ‘St Paul’ has been released on a Beatles tribute album in the States with a lot of Beatle tribute songs.

“We all stayed at the Royal Oak, the old hotel [on the corner of Cuba and Manners Streets]. I always said I want to be there – it was such a fun place – the drag queens, people up the stairs, the bars were rocking, the house bar stayed open till all hours, all sorts of women were found leaving the hotel at various hours of the morning. A great place, a real rock’n’roll pub.

“And I’d have all the musicians up there to eat, all on the EMI tab, they paid the bills. They called me to the offices one day and said, ‘We’ve been looking at these accounts, they’ve been getting higher and higher’ ... I’d get the wine list and say, Whaddaya want?

“EMI would say it was only supposed to be me in the hotel. So EMI paid their way in that department: social activities. And of course it was great, the Quincys, they were all part of it, the guys who backed me. Bruno Lawrence ... until he was barred, from the EMI studios.

Left: the Quincy Conserve keep Bruno Lawrence surrounded.

“I had come down to do a new album, and I thought well Bruno will be playing drums again, on the Straight Straight Straight album and Richard Burgess turned up. They said ‘No, Bruno’s not allowed in the studios anymore. We had a gold disc reception down in Wellington in 1970 for the Loxene Golden Discs. And Bruno’s band were in it, Quincy Conserve, and we had a big luncheon with Loxene, the managing director and his wife and everyone standing around.

“And we all turned up in jeans, it was getting to that era, the long hair and stuff ... and they were put out about that, and of course Bruno had something wrong with his foot, so he was on crutches, and he stuck his crutch in the managing director’s wife’s face and said, ‘Do you wanna bite my crutch?’

“She was like ‘Aah! Disgusting!’ She complained, and said to her husband, I want that man thrown out. And they tried to tell him to go, and he didn’t want to go. And in the end, he jumped on the table, and they had this big buffet, and they tried to say, ‘Out. Leave. Now.’

“Bruno – having had a few drinks – wouldn’t go. He jumped on the table, on the buffet, as we were about to have lunch, and he kicked the food everywhere . ‘You’re nothing but a bunch of phonies, wankers!’ Screamed his head off at everyone. And the band, the Quincy Conserve, you could see them thinking their careers were coming to a fast end here. They tried to drag him off the table, which made it worse. He’s rolling in the food. He was taken out and he was up in the foyer of the theatre up the road, and they dragged him down the stairs still screaming and covered in food.

“So he was barred, and next day we were supposed to be starting on the new album. I’d just come back from the UK. And they said, Bruno’s not allowed in the studio, he’s been barred. Richard Burgess is drumming. [Burgess, from Christchurch, went on to produce Kim Wilde and Spandau Ballet, and he was in a British group called Landscape that released the unforgettably titled album From the Tea-Rooms of Mars ...To the Hell-Holes of Uranus.]

At the time of ‘St Paul’ you were very much in that tuxedo jacket pop scene, with the velvet bow tie. But by the 70s you could ditch that for jeans.

“Yeah I went into that rapidly,” Shane said, sighing with relief. “I always had a little bit of a complex with [Nilsson’s] ‘Cuddly Toy’, and stuff like that. Because my friends were cool musos. And I couldn’t be, I had to go on TV every week. You were groomed to be a little pop singer. And I’d been in the Pleazers, who were wild and woolly, and all that stuff. Then I was groomed for this nice boy image.

“EMI said to me, no way, you do ‘Cuddly Toy’. You want a hit? I said yeah, they said well you’re doing it. That’s what Peter Dawkins said to me, the very words. And it was a hit. It got me off the ground, got me off to a good start. But they always moulded the songs. It evolved into a sort of 70s image, where the hair got longer, a slight beard grew mainly because I couldn’t grow one anyway. Denims came in vogue, that George Harrison hairy look.

“The 70s changed everything. Then of course I went off to England and I came back totally different. I didn’t even do my songs for a while. For about three, four months I said I don’t sing those anymore, I’m doing my stuff. Of course people would come and they’d go ‘You didn’t do “St Paul”, you didn’t do “Natural Man” ... I love those songs.’

“I thought I’m doing this wrong, so I went back to them and didn’t bother about it again. You grow up quick.”

Soon, EMI: the days of cultural imperialism, 1926-60.

* The rock’n’roll veterans story is here: Devlin on the Road: It's a Long Way to the Shop if You Want a Sausage Roll.

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