Godley & Creme
Sleuth journalist Tim Goodyer tracks down video nasties Kevin Godley and Lol Creme in a disreputable part of town. Raymond Chandler would turn in his grave.
After twenty-five years of working together in music, production and video, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme are tracked down in a seedy part of what may or may not be Southern California.
It was a cold autumn morning in downtown Hollywood. There was a light rain falling and the town had acquired a renewed air of desolation. The windows were all shut, and even the birds had left town. In a small, dingy office above a beat-up liquor store, I was searching for a phone number. My desk, as usual, was a mess, but then that's all part of the journalist's image. I suppose I should have guessed: the number was in the bin.
The phone rang three times before someone answered it. 'Kev? It's Tim. I'll see you in 20 minutes outside Mario's', I said, and hung up.
The Kev in question was one Kevin Godley. He was one half of a partnership that was big in music videos and had been for some time now. I had some questions I wanted answered, and I reckoned he had the answers. He'd just got back into town from New York where he'd been with his associate, Lol Creme. They'd been doing a lot of talking there too - most likely to the wrong people - and I wanted to know why.
I picked up the phone again and dialled another number quickly. 'Hi, Spats. Look, I've got a hit on. It's Kev Godley and Lol Creme and I need your help... Yes, that Godley and Creme. I'll try to lead them down towards the beach - get in as many shots as you can... Great... And Spats, don't let me down.'
I'd hired a new Cadillac convertible for the occasion. It wasn't cheap, but I knew I'd have to make a good first impression if I was going to get any further than the average two-bit LA copywriter. As I drove it towards Mario's I wondered just how many other hacks would be in the know about this pair. Sure, they were big names once, but their operations had changed a little since then. Luckily I'd been put in touch by a mutual acquaintance, Karen, who'd since high-tailed it out of town. Was it an omen?
The boys had a record as long as Sunset Boulevard. They'd worked with the sort of talent that makes your mouth water just thinking about it. They could drop names like Wall Street could drop bucks - Duran's 'Girls on Film', The Police's 'Synchronicity', Herbie Hancock's 'Rockit'.
They'd also been busy expanding their activities. From an ad placed in a couple of magazines I'd never heard of — The Face and another whose name I couldn't recall if some punk was pointing a gun at my head - they'd recruited four new faces to help out with creative ideas. The ad had attracted the attention of around 1000 people on the strength of only one appearance, and I reckoned that was a pretty good indication of Godley and Creme's stature. But I still needed information, and I needed it fast.
Kev and Lol were already waiting when I arrived at Mario's, a small cafe that's far enough off the beaten track for big names to sit and talk without fear of being disturbed. 'So what's all this about NYC?' I asked.
Godley drew heavily on a cigarette and replied in a gruff voice. 'We've just released a single and an album over there, so we've spent a week talking about ourselves. It was great!'
I wasn't so sure. After all, it wasn't me they'd been talking to. 'So what about the music racket: you given that up?'
'You can't abandon music if it's there in your brain', Godley continued. 'But you can relegate it to something of a hobby which is what we have done. We do so much that we find it difficult to concentrate 100% on two things at the same time, so we've said to ourselves: "we'll make music when we wanna make music", and when we do that we'll put 100% of ourselves into it then.'
I managed a smile. It hadn't taken long for the conversation to get round to percentages. As we began to walk aimlessly down the street, the rain's aim seemed to be improving all the time. To begin with I was worried that we might be recognised, since Kev and Lol had once been half of a set-up called 10cc, a combo that had had more hits than the wall behind the St Valentine's Day Massacre. I needn't have worried: we were quickly beginning to look like any other sodden threesome. I sidestepped into a doorway, the others followed. 'So how did you get in on this in the first place?' I asked.
%%Godley: 'It just happened.'
Creme: 'Commonsense. '
Godley again: 'When we first started doing video we felt our loyalties suddenly change. It gave us a new palette to work with that we didn't have before.'
This was starting to sound like a narcotics operation. I looked to Lol for something constructive.
'It's more fun. We'd been making records for 15 years and this was dead fresh - so we did more of it. We loved it and it became a business.'
"Even when we were writing songs we thought in terms of pictures — probably because we're from an art school background."
Godley had lit up another cigarette, and was looking down the street the way we'd come, as if he was scared we might be being followed. Whatever, he left Lol to do the talking. I had the feeling I wasn't making myself clear. 'Yeah, great, but how did it start?' I pleaded.
'Well, even when we were writing songs we always thought of things in terms of pictures - probably because we both come from an art school background. We made a record called 'An Englishman in New York' that was very visual and for which we had ideas for visual images to go with the track.' Now I was getting somewhere. 'So who put up the bread, Lol?'
'We said to the record company: "Look, these pictures go with this music; please let us do a video for it". And much to our surprise, they said yes.'
My surprise, too. The record company obviously didn't know these boys as well as I did, but that 'please' was a killer. One other thing that was a surprise was the rain. Or more precisely, the sudden lack of it. It was time to move on, so we made our way towards the beach. Godley stopped looking over his shoulder and picked up where Creme had left off.
'Promos had just begun to happen in those days - particularly if you didn't have a band or you weren't able to travel but still had to promote your record. We didn't have a band and couldn't travel, so we did the promo.
'It was just testing the water — getting behind the camera. It was such a pleasure and so easy. It was like coming home; it was where we belonged. We realised what berks we'd been, making pictures using music instead of a camera.'
Now we'd reached the beach and there was no sign of Spats. Just as well, or his cover would have been blown.
Now it was Creme doing the talking. These two were taking turns to speak like gangster families take turns to start wars. 'One of the reasons we'd left the group was the thought that one day we might be able to direct a movie. But we thought as long as we stayed there was no way that was going to happen. All we were being offered was scripts to go with stupid love songs - that's not the same as directing films.'
He kicked an empty bottle from the sidewalk into the road. 'It's ironic that a record company, not a film company, decided to risk some money. You can see their point though: why should two guys that have had success in the music world be able to direct a film? You're talking about an awful lot of money when you're making films. You blow four hundred bucks in a day if you blow a recording session, but you can blow 40 grand in the same day on a film set, very easily. They were right not to let us. But luckily we found a process that allowed us to learn how to make films, so that today we feel confident that they wouldn't be risking anything if they did let us make a film. We've learned through video.
'A year afterwards we turned round and there was a little industry going. Now it's a big industry and we're up around the top of it, watching it all pile up around us, and we feel a responsibility towards it.'
Like the weather, the story was slowly coming together. A couple of guys from Manchester, England make it big with a beat group. They leave after several years of success for the uncharted waters of video-making - and repeat their success. With the kind of money these two were talking, I guessed there must be a lot of other operators eager for a slice of the action. 'So what's the competition like, Kev?'
'I'm certainly not impressed by most of it. It's the same that happens to anything in the commercial world: as soon as the money gets big and it becomes an industry, the powers that be milk it. Which means that they make as much happen as soon as possible, they bombard you with it and, inevitably, the quality drops.'
Money again. No matter where the conversation begins, it always works its way back to money. I glanced round as casually as I could. There was still no sign of Spats...
"A video editing suite is like a complete artist's palette; we took to it like ducks to water."
'It's not just the business people that are responsible for the overkill', hissed Creme. 'The people who are making them are jumping in and using their adrenaline more than their brains. We watched MTV in New York, and it's the only time we've seen our work in the context in which it's used. We were glued to it and most of it was terrible, terrible dross. There's very little there that's entertaining or that has anything to do with the music.'
I didn't like what I was hearing. 'Who would you point the finger at, Lol?'
'There's a lot of energy in there. It's as though, apart from the business demanding that you turn out shit, the creative people involved seem so eager to get behind a camera and "do a video" that they're letting their enthusiasm run away with them. They're not thinking of any good ideas. They're spending fortunes playing with the editing facilities and getting people to dress up and be as silly as possible so that it's got some fun about it. The problem is that it doesn't have fun about it because it's not done well. It's not well thought-out humour - it just comes over as a mish-mash of terrible things. If your child is sat in front of that for several hours a day, it's going to drive the fucking kid mental! There's no responsibility about it, and I presume that's because of the youth involved and the fact that it's a new medium.'
Godley takes up the thread. 'Doesn't that happen with anything? Take pop music: there's some great stuff but there's also a pile of garbage because of the demand, because it's new.'
Now I remembered what I liked about these two. The fact that almost alone in the pop rat race, they had a social conscience. I'd almost forgotten what one of those was.
'Listen, guys, thanks for the chat but I gotta go now. See you later.' They nodded their collective goodbyes and drifted off towards town. There was plenty more I wanted to know but right now I'd got a few other things to sort out. The last I saw of them was a pair of dusky figures disappearing slowly into the renewed rain. I hung around waiting for Spats, who obligingly appeared once we were alone. He looked as though he'd just stepped off the set of a twenties Chicago gangster movie, bur that was nothing new to me.
'I got some goodies!', he enthused with a cheerful wave of his hand; Spats, or more formally, Matt 'Spats' Vosburgh, was a longtime buddy of mine and a photographer of considerable tact, subtlety and patience. He was also very wet.
'Been here long?'
'Guess so', the photographer replied damply.
We made our way hack to my office in record time. Spats watched whilst I hurriedly dialled a number and waited for a reply.
'Carl ? Tim. I've got to see you...' But that's another story.
It was almost a week before I saw Godley and Creme again. During that time I'd been busy. For a start, the boys were celebrating the 25th year of their partnership with a new release (of music, this time) called The History Mix. The album was a collection of their past work remixed and retitled as a sort of milestone to their achievements. Twenty-five years... that was some partnership!
They'd also done a video for some dude called Howard Jones. Howie'd done a single called 'Life in One Day', and they'd run into a lot of trouble getting the accompanying video screened. I made a mental note to find out more about this prohibition the next time we met.
I was sitting with a dame I know when Kev and Lol walked into the club. It was a long way from my office so it wasn't a joint I normally frequented - I'd hoped to go unrecognised, as Madeleine belonged to someone else — but it was an opportunity I couldn't miss.
I made my way to the bar. I was still limping from the kiss Madeleine had given me. She was as adhesive as a band-aid. Judging by the attention Kev and Lol were giving their glasses, they hadn't left the booze alone for some hours.
"Our motive, in almost everything we do, is to give you something you haven't quite seen before."
'Having a party?' The silence told me not.
'Tell me about the editing suite', I asked, as casually as I could. I'd heard a rumour that the boys sometimes shot on film but always edited on videotape. Naturally, I didn't want to reveal my sources.
'That's the most exciting part because of the control it gives you', Kev replied, looking up for the first time and warming to the subject. 'It works so well with music and everything's so primitive with film; you have to look at a tiny screen and all you can do is snip and join together. You can't even do something as simple as a dissolve from one picture to another. A video edit suite is like a recording studio - if you want to see something you do it there and then, in real time.'
Creme: 'It's a complete artist's palette if used properly. We took to it like ducks to water. As soon as we saw one after 'An Englishman in New York', and saw what they were doing in there, and what they could do, we thought: "Gimme. Want one, want one now!"'
I was obviously asking the right questions.
'The next video we did, 'Wide Boy', was an editing idea. We planned it around a certain editing idea, and every single shoot we've done since then, we've had the edit in mind. Sometimes it's formed a very important part of the idea because the shooting and the editing are inseparable parts of the finished thing. Editing yourself, you can go for something and see if it will work, which you can't do if you shoot something and then hand it over to an editor.'
Godley took the initiative again. 'Our motive, in almost everything we do, is to give you something you haven't quite seen before. On video you can just try that out, whereas you have to sit and mathematically think it out on film.
'Because editing is such fun, as you're doing it your ideas change and grow. We don't stick to a storyboard all the time, so if we say: "what happens if this does this?" we can just go ahead and try it. You can't do that with film. You have to send it away and, when it comes back a week later, it's three frames too long.'
I could see I'd found a weak spot in the duo's defences. If only my other sources could talk like this.
Creme had cut in again. 'It's like being a musician, you know? If you want to try a new chord you just play it. At any stage of the process you can try things: when you're writing, when you're playing, when you're recording, when you're mixing, and even when you play live, and it's the same with this process. The only difference is that it's for your eyes as well as your ears.'
I decided to cash in on a good thing whilst it was going. 'This dude Jones, what's his angle?' I asked, turning so I could see Madeleine across the room. She had a pair of blue-grey eyes, and right now they were looking at me as if I'd just said a dirty word.
Godley: 'One of the first jobs our new creative team did was an idea for the Howard Jones video, which Terence Donovan directed and we edited. We're having a lot of problems getting it shown, mainly because the basic premise behind the visuals is that your television is fucked up.'
Creme: 'We've made you think as you're watching the video that your TV's on the blink. It's hilarious. It's like a very mild version of what Orson Welles did with War of the Worlds. A very innocuous little gag really, but can we get it shown? No way - it's unbelievable.
'At one point the TV's going so berserk the test card comes up. And the test card stays up. And the test card stays up. And you begin to think: "maybe my TV is on the blink". And that's the bit that gets them; they won't show it because they're frightened that people will turn over.'
Creme's tone had become coloured with disbelief.
'At first they sent it back, saying there was something wrong with the tape - which proved the idea worked. But we said: "no, there's nothing wrong with the tape, you check the tones, they're all spot on". There's no reason in the world that it can't be shown, but they're still worried.
'The record company were the first to get worried because we'd interrupted the music. Then people said the unions might think we're sending them up because the picture keeps going on and off. We said: "nonsense, the video doesn't say that". We got over that one and now it's not going to get shown unless we take out the test card, because people will turn over. They can't see that once it's been seen it's only a gag.
'Doors are closing, partly through paranoia. But it's only entertainment, after all. All Howard's trying to do, and all we're trying to do, is entertain, make you laugh a little bit. We're going to try to slip it into Rebellious Jukebox when that goes out on Channel 4 (they succeeded). That's the state of the game and makes me furious: print that immediately!'
'Sure, Lol, sure. Consider it in print', I assured him. But Madeleine was calling, and who was I to refuse? So once again, I made my excuses and left them.
I haven't seen them since, but now I know what they're trying to do I find it a lot easier to sleep at night. A couple of guys off the streets who haven't forgotten who they are, what they're doing or who they're doing it for. I reckoned that if that didn't get me four pages in E&MM, nothing would.
Interview by Tim Goodyer
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