Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. Growing up in the eighties, certain things from the era, especially those things that have by now ceased to exist, elicit an exaggerated Proustian rush. For me its a strange menagerie: Abandoned white goods on the side of road; Dog shit so old it has turned white (odd but true); Tightly folded rectangles of paper for shoving into pre recorded tape cassettes to allow them to be recorded over. All of these things take me back to eighties London and a time of childhood joy and innocence.
In amongst this trove of airbrushed half reconstructed memories is the theme tune to arguably the most important tv show of the era: Top of the Pops. That tune is, of course, The Wizard by Paul Hardcastle, which opened the show every Thursday night for 5 years between 1986 and 1991. The track, with its big manic, tumbling electronic instrumentation, was the perfect representation of both the show and pop music generally in the second half of the eighties: large, flashy, joyous, camp.
The first couple of beats of The Wizard and Im away: sitting on the old black floral sofa in my C&A skiing themed tracksuit, eating chilli con carne and frantically loading the vhs in case Salt n Pepa are on. Im not alone. There are hoards of us out there, armies of eighties kids who have The Wizard hard wired into our memory mainframe. So the opportunity to meet the man behind the anthem of my childhood was too good to turn down. Not only that, but to meet him at his home – the real life home of an Electro God. In my mind I imagined it as some futuristic lair, us jamming out together on the 808 and Synclavier in his metallic, space-ship-like home studio, perhaps starting a band and, you know, touring the states for a bit or something.
Id checked the address with TFL, who cheerily informed me that after breaking through the fringes of the city to the very end of the underground line, i could then catch a local bus right to the door of his house, so long as I paid an extra 1 levy on top of the standard Oyster card fair. Great. I wondered if this was part of some route which Japanese tourists undertook in quasi religious pilgrimage, The great Electro tour of London. On getting to the bus stop I was, in fact, scuppered. An old lady with an eyepatch and a nicotine stained beard, who looked like shed been waiting an eternity, looked me up and down suspiciously. Where you going son? she croaked. I told her the vicinity and she laughed. Youve missed the last bus she said. I looked at the time on my phone, it was 11.30 am.
Already bamboozled, I headed back to the station to try and pick up a cab. I woke the guy in the minicab office and showed him the postcode. He whistled and rolled his eyes. Thats right out, that is mate, right out. Well, how far? Ooh, I dunno mate 7/8 miles. Is that a problem, I thought? For a car to travel 8 miles? I mean, if it was any less than that, I could walk it. What were these parochial cars running on that made 8 miles a daunting proposition? And furthermore, what exactly did right out mean? Were we heading into some kind of unknown? Was the world, in fact, flat all along and were we now, wherever the fuck we were, only 7 and a half miles from its very edge?
After some deliberation, the cab controller pointed me in the direction of an Astra in the car park. I clambered in, by now running late. The cabbie put the postcode into his satnav and let out the very same whistle the controller had. Blimey mate, thats right out. Yes, I said, so Ive been told. We set off.
What you doing out here, anyway?
Im doing an interview
What at someones house? Thats a bit odd ain't it? Job interview at someones house?
Its not a job interview, Im interviewing someone. Im a journalist.
That whistle again, followed by a chuckle.
Oh, right. A Journalist. Who you interviewing then?
Id rather not say
Oh, go on. Give me a clue.
They were big in the eighties.
No, not Micheal Barrymore.
No, not Kate Bush.
I know: Paul Raymod, the err, you know, the publisher!
This went on for the entire journey, winding through country lanes, passed a flying school and then a riding school. We eventually pulled up to a large house with electronic gates, which duly opened upon our arrival.
Would you be able to pick me up in an hour?
Only if you tell me who it is!
Jesus, alright. Ill tell you when you pick me up
I walked up the drive and there, opening the door was Paul Hardcastle. Looking younger than his 50 odd years and dressed in a tracksuit and trainers, he shook my hand warmly and beckoned me in to his suburban mansion to the sounds of a chorus of angry high pitch barking, emanating from the kitchen. Three furious Chihuahuas, housed in some kind of temporary pen within the kitchen, jumped up and down in a deep fug of growls and barks. They think theyre Rottweilers smiled Paul as he brought the kitchen door to and ushered me into the plush, spacious sitting room. We shared a moment's awkward silence while a cup of tea arrived and I fumblingly set up my recorder.
Right then, lets start at the beginning – were you born into a musical family?
Yeah, my Dad was a musician, a trumpet player. Ive got some real old musical roots, from my Nans side. There was an English group called the The Crazy Gang – Budd Flannigan and others, they were very big in the Palladium and old time music hall scene. There was a guy called Monsieur Eddie Gray who was part of it, a really funny comedian.
Monsewer Eddie Gray
He was my Nans brother. My Mum was a tiller girl, a dancer at the London Palladium – every Sunday night. Yeah, so the roots go back far. But, to be honest with you, I didnt want anything to do with music at all at the time. My dad taught me to play the drums when I was about 8 and I was going all round the world, playing the drums for him. we never lived in one place , we lived in Germany for a couple of years, France, Denmark, Sheffield, Leeds, Cardiff – all over, wherever he worked. I stopped doing the shows at about 12, he was a bit upset about it but I wanted to go out and play with the kids and get into trouble. I wanted to be a motorbike racer, thats the one thing that I really loved more than anything else in the world – motorbikes. In 1979 I had a really bad accident – an 80mph crash.
X-ray of broken leg that changed it all
I was in hospital for three months with three compound fractures. While I was in hospital I listened to the radio alot and it got me thinking: I could do this. It had been a 12 year gap since Id been involved in music, which is a hell of a long time. But anyway, I remember hearing all this music: Ashford & Simpson It seems to hang on, that was one of the first things I learnt on the keyboard – dun, dun, dun, daaa, dun.
Ashford & Simpson – It seems to hang on
Id never played a keyboard before, but I swapped a video camera I had for a synthesizer that my friend had. It was a monophonic Korg 700s. Hawkwind used it, and I loved them at the time. So anyway, I got started by bouncing one note to tape with it. Then Id rewind and bounce another single note, do that a couple more times and youve got a chord!
It was painstaking and ended up sounding awful quality wise with all the bouncing but, you know, it was cool. It enabled me to get a few ideas down, then I got a little weeny drum machine that sounded like something off a bontempi organ and just started messing around. It sounded crap, Im sure, but I thought Im going to put in a bit more money in and get myself a polyphonic synthesizer. Suddenly, things got a lot easier!!
After about three months of playing Id got a few ideas together and one of them was a track called Time Machine, which ended up being a Direct Drive record. Direct Drive were the band that I went and lied my way into! I told them Ive been playing for two years and Im sure they could tell I hadnt, but it was what they heard on these tapes. The guy that auditioned in front of me – I heard him and he was a proper keyboard player. I thought Im not getting in, no way. But they asked me to join – they said they liked my ideas and that was enough. I thought they were taking the piss but they werent. So, from then on I became really focussed on it – started getting some new bits of equipment, my first reverb unit – I sold my car and bought a small portastudio – a T8 – four tracks on cassette, thats how the band recorded all their demos. I was the driving force in it – by now I wanted a record deal and all this I was like ooh, here we go – I had a mortgage by then, Id left my job in a hi fi store in Sloane Square and was totally 100% committed. I signed to Oval records, with Charlie Gillett. He was very well respected, hes written books about Atalantic records and all that. He said to me If you dont make it, with your drive and enthusiasm, I dont know who will. At the time I had more drive than ability, so I kept on and then Time Machine came out, we had our first record.
Then we had Times Running Out, our second record. After that, myself and the singer began to feel that within the band things didnt move fast enough. Charlie wanted to sign us and I said to him, look if they wont make up their minds, Ill sign to you so we broke away, myself and Derek, the singer. So we went on, and we called ourselves First Light, after the studio we used in Penge: First Light Studios. The first thing we did was one of my instrumentals AM. That was recorded in my house in Leytonstone.
It started getting our names about and on the back of that, we signed with London records. But that wasnt great to be honest. They wanted us to be totally pop and put us in with Steve Levine. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Levine Dont get me wrong, hes a great producer but it didnt really work. So we spent 15k on the A-side on this big production Explain the Reasons, meanwhile I did the B-side at home on my 8 track – Daybreak – and that was the track that everyone played. Roger Ames, head of A&R at London went mad. He didnt like it and I was told next time to not make a B-side dance track! So, anyway – we went on and recorded the next single a track called Wish You Were Here with Bob carter, the Linx producer at the time. I went on and produced the b-side at home, a sort of reggae instrumental track called Stop The Clock; and that got more attention than the a-side again! I said well look I didnt make a dance track, but youre obviously looking at this project wrong….
Stop The Clock
At this point the phone rings: the ringer is (I kid you not) The Wizard, and for a moment Im back in 1986 – floral sofa and all, only on this occasion Im sitting across from the man himself. Paul grimaces slightly and apologises.
So, where were we? Oh, yeah – so basically that really soured it with London Records who left me with the impression that an instrumental record would never do anything. So me being me, and because of the reactions I was getting from people, I left London and went and recorded Rainforest for a label called Bluebird Records. It was initially for the soundtrack of a Body Popping video.
They loved this track. Id taken the sound of New York that was going on at the time, sort of the Afrika Bambaata stuff. I really liked that, everything in it was great – the groove, everything – but its not very nice. So I thought, well what would happen if I took that sound but put a nice melody over the top, made it a bit nicer. It got sent over to the US, Profile records signed it and it just blew up! It was ridiculous. It went to number one on the Cashbox R&B chart, number 4 BillBoard and number 1 on the 12 sales chart. A massive hit, it got to number one on the club chart in the UK, but only number 41 on the pop chart. That was a graveyard shift number to be on, at the time remember Radio 1 was not touching a dance record. If Id have got to 40, theyd have had to play it on the run down. The thing is it sold about 400,000 copies in the US so that was good, I bought some more equipment with the money and I thought – do I want a track in the pop chart at the moment? the answer was probably not. At the time the biggest influence on me was the D-Train record Youre the one for me, I thought that was the best thing ever, so I thought Im going to take Daybreak, AM and Youre the one for me and do a medley. It blew up in the clubs here but yet again, it hit 41 on the charts. I thought, Im not supposed to have a record in the pop charts.
Youre The One For Me
But then the next major release I did was 19. That went in at 4 and went to number 1. What happened with that was I was at home watching tv and I saw in the paper that a programme called Vietnam Requiem was on about the war, and I thought Ill tape that, so I did, onto beetamax. I thought shit, I was 23 or 24 years old at the time and I saw people on there, kids of 19 years old being shot at. I thought, when I was 19 I was out on my motorbike, doing all the things a kid of that age should be doing, not getting shot at in a place 6000 miles away. I thought, I wonder if I took the beetamax and taped the audio onto an old revox I had. I just started experimenting, we had an 808 drum machine on loan from when I did Rainforest. I hired it for a day and put some beats on it. For 19 I used the second pattern Id programmed on it. I spun a bit of the Vietnam Requiem dialogue into it, and it sounded OK but I thought what else can it do?. Id hat a few decent hits by this point – wed done the album in America with King Tut on it, the album did 260,000 or so and King Tut did about 100,000 as a single, so Id sold a few records by that point. So I bought myself an Emulator 2 – 2 because it had two seconds of sampling time on it. All I could get in there was the dialogue In Vietnam he was 19.
The emulator 2
Thats where it goes In-In-In-In Vietnam he was nineteen and I thought, bloody hell whats going on here? It sounds so commonplace now with what you can do with computers and plugins, but at the time this was pretty groundbreaking. I left the track alone and went out for a bit, came back a few hours later and listened back N-N-N-N-Nineteen and I was like Shit, this is really different! I put an Orchestra stab in it and a few other bits and pieces, and that was the original demo.
I was approached by Simon Fuller who was the junior A&R man at Chrysalis at the time. They asked me to come in and so I went in and said Ive been working on a new idea. Simon was there with the whole A&R team including someone called Ken Grumbaum who was head of promotion. Only Ken and Simon got 19, the rest of the A&R team were like as if Radio 1 is going to play this!. They didnt see it. Did I see it myself? After what they said, maybe not. Simon said I reckon there might be something here, so why dont I leave Chrysalis and become your manager. I didnt really know what a manager did at the time, but in the end I thought lets do it. Five weeks later, we had 13 number bloody ones!
So, what about the D-Train remix, how did that come about? I saw a video of the performance you did with them on TOTP, looks like you were having the time of your life…
Yeah, well, being asked to remix the original was quite something. Id stopped doing remixes at the time, from Dury to Phil Lynott, Barry White to Five Star. It was taking over and I couldnt get my album done. So when that came up, Simon said to me – Ive got a remix, I think youll want to do it. I said No way, no more He said, let me just tell you what it is but I was resistant. He said D-Train. I was able to do what I wanted to it. I added some overdubs, make it sound a bit more alive for radio play. I added a few riffs in there, a new solo – because it was D-Train I so wanted to be involved in it. After that D-Train came over and we did TOTP together. It was fantastic, the first time Id ever been on TOTP – with 19 I stayed out of the way, the video did the talking. That all changed soon, as about a year later I ended up doing the theme for TOTP.
That came about because I was doing Dont waste My Time with Carol Kenyon on the show.
Dont waste my time
(For the record, my favourite Hardcastle track)
Wed just come off stage and this guy came up and said I really liked 19 – very innovative, I just wondered if youd be interested in doing the theme for the show? The penny dropped, Shit: it was Micheal Hurll.
He was God at the time, he could change a record, he could change the music business. So I went away and did the theme in 2 days. Id just got some new equipment – the Synclavier. It was huge, the size of two banking computers. It cost something like $12,000 and had a 40mb drive! I had the first ever direct to disc system in the world. It came direct from the R&D department.
New equipment does give you new ideas. The Wizard was the first track ever that was done entirely without tape. People had used 48 track digital tape but this was the very first time that discs were used to record. It didnt work very well, it broke down quite a lot. Synclavier actually sent a guy over to stay here for two weeks while I worked, so I could show him what was going wrong.
So anyway, Initially no one would play the Wizard. BBC radio wouldnt touch it. At the time, every single cast member of Eastenders had a tune out, and they were dominating radio. When it came out, it got to something like 76 in the midweek chart. I said to Michael: whats going on? That was on Tuesday and on the Thursday when TOTP went out, it was on every link. I worked out it was like 15 mins of The Wizard in a 30 minute broadcast. Then it went straight through to 30 odd in the chart, just on the back of that one broadcast. That was Michaels power. He became a real ally of mine, a great ally to have.
Moving on to aliases, of which Hardcastle has had many – most surprising to me was an act he started up in 1990 called LFO, which apparently put Warps nose out of joint:
I did an album called the Acid Mixes, when acid was coming out, just for a laugh really. It sold nearly 40k records, I put a big smiley face on the sleeve, it was a bit of fun. I called it LFO. About a year later, theres another LFO knocking about. I get a call from this guy at Warp Records saying what the hell are you doing?! and I said look, are you near a fax machine he said yeah and I said right, Ill send you something and get back to me, if you want. I sent him a copy of the LFO brainstorm cd, big smiley face on it and it said p – 1990 and I never heard back! They got the hump with that and that was the end of it.
Ive done the Deff Boyz, a big hit in Germany – sort of hip hop thing; Bleeps International – there was a genre at the time Bleeps, I knocked that stuff out really quickly, 3 hours. Im very open to ideas – I got Sir Laurence Olivier and Bob Hoskins together for Just for Money, that kind of thing.
With that the buzzer goes, the cab drivers back and its time to go. Pauls wife comes in to take a quick photo of the two of us and Im out. Whats most striking about Paul Hardcastle is his humble nature, if you actually listen to the early Direct Drive and First Light material, its quite obviously well written and produced – by todays dance music standards its VERY musical. To hear him speak about how, in his mind, he was fudging it for the first few years is very refreshing. And to see him now – with his continuing success in America in the jazz charts and having sold millions of records while maintaining an incredible degree of enthusiasm (I'd written out about 20 questions, but ended up asking maybe 2 or 3 – Paul Hardcastle can really TALK!) and an apparently grounded sense of himself, it makes it impossible not to like the man.
As I step into the car and we exit through the electronic gates, the cab driver turns to me.
Ive got it, he says. I know who it is. Its Kenny G
Yep, I say, you got me, its Kenny G.
We drive back to the station with the cabbie whistling Kenny Gs Songbird while smiling smugly, tapping a rhythm out on his steering wheel as we snake back through the country lanes towards some semblance of normality.