Strawberry and Creme
The Hammersmith Odeon, like most London venues, is nobody's favourite place to play. The acoustics are good enough, it's the audiences that are usually a let-down.
The night before, Graham Gouldman had been saying much the same thing — that Southern audiences in general and London audiences in particular were cold.
It was a typical London audience for the second of 10CC's Hammersmith gigs. More aware of themselves than what they had come to see and hear, they filed indifferently into the Odeon. Their departure, however, was a different matter. In between the two, making all the difference, was the self-styled Worst Band in The World.
For a band who were hesitant to go on the road at all, 10CC are astonishing. Lol Creme: "We weren't really hesitant to go on the road, I just don't think we realised there would be any real demand for us to tour, even after 'Donna'.
"It's a tremendous risk to tour in this country, for a lot of reasons. To begin with, we had a very comfortable existence in the studio. It's very easy, playing sessions and producing".
Comfortable, and fruitful as well. Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley, Graham Gouldman and Lol Creme have all been associated with Strawberry Studios (which Eric and Graham partially own) since the late sixties. As Hotlegs, they gave the world "Neanderthal Man", and their various skills are present on a number of notable albums of the period.
"Donna" was the first 10CC single, and it wasn't until "Rubber Bullets" that the band considered touring at all. "There was also the expense that made us think twice about going on tour. It really is a risk. We didn't want to do it at all unless we could bring the same quality of sound to the stage that we had in the studio. It took time and money, but it's worked out well".
It has in fact worked out very well: 10CC's live sound is one of the best around, and it didn't come easy.
It meant, to begin with, modifying a Helios board for use in the nation's wildly varying theatres and halls. Pete Tattersall, a resident engineer at Strawberry Studios told me that 10CC's present desk is an extension of one that he and Eric built for Hotlegs a few years ago. "Eric had the idea at that time, to try and bring the same quality of sound to their live performance as they had in their studio".
The system required a lot of work: modifying the desk was only part of it. Eric installed complete graphic equalisation throughout the system, as well as on the P.A. That makes it possible to switch through and across channels with perfect Eq.
"It effectively means that they can tailor their sound to fit any hall in the country. They have a tape programme that they run through the system, and then they modify the system so that they can hear the tape as they know it should sound", Tattersall added.
It's only the beginning of 10CC's superb system. "Literally everything is miked. All the mike lines are balanced, and the P.A. is fantastic — they could even use it in the studio with a bit of modification".
Considerable care has also been taken to ensure that the right frequencies go through the right speakers. As you might expect, considerable thought went into the problem of reproducing vocals. All the vocal mikes are Beyer M88's usually reserved for studio use, and the right frequencies are again put through horns and bins as the frequency dictates.
Eric Stewart pointed out that the band also utilise echo units, both a Master Sound echo plate and a tape echo. That system also includes a DBX sound reduction unit, which eliminates virtually all audible hiss.
Eric also added that, to improve the sound, the band all use relatively low power source amplification. "Lol and I are both using 50 watt Marshalls and Graham uses an Acoustic — Fender set-up.
"It's very easy, playing sessions and producing."
Lol and Kevin Godley have invented and are awaiting a patent for their Gizmo, a device about the size of the finger plate which bows the strings individually. The resultant sound is like a string section, and it can also be used in conjunction with a phaser or wah-wah. With all this and some fine albums the band ought to be as free of criticism as the Pope. It doesn't work that way.
"We seemed to have good critical acceptance in the beginning, but that has deteriorated recently, even though our music has been improving". Eric and Lol are not so much bitter about the criticism of the British press as they are by the lack of it — real criticism, that is. "Most of the press in this country are on an ego trip. What they write isn't really criticism, it's facetious destructive — writing things like 'Graham looks like a hairdresser'. What good is that?
"We could learn from some constructive criticism, it really can be a help, but it doesn't help anyone to destroy for its own sake".
10CC have probably had more injustice and less critical understanding than any band remotely close in talent or stature. When they've intentionally used both musical and lyrical cliches for their own sake, turning one on another to give a wickedly incisive comment, as in The seat of learning/And the flush of success/Relieves a constipated mind (from The Original Soundtrack), 10CC have relentlessly been labelled cliche ridden. No-one is ever beyond criticism, but it occasionally appears that 10CC far outstrip their critics, not so much because of their overwhelming brilliance, but because of their overwhelming competence — they are superb at what they do.
There are very few chinks in their professional armour — their music is inventive, witty and professional. And it's getting better all the time. The future holds very little fear for 10CC.
"We're getting pretty heavily involved in melody. Music in this country seems to be changing", Eric continued. "Lyrics are becoming more interesting". Lol added "I think we've had some influence in that direction. I don't think it's conceited to say that. There just isn't as much 'verse — middle eight — verse' as there was a few years ago".
With a new record company (Mercury) behind them, the band should be able to crack the American market. Indeed, their failure to get the foothold they deserve in the States is the main reason for switching labels.
"Somebody told us", Eric said, "that London Records was like a dinosaur. It takes ages to get going, but once it finally moves, it really does a job for you".
"So we gave them two albums", Lol continued, "albums we'd really sweated on, and they did fuck all with them. It was really sickening, especially the way we work, to watch that much time and effort go down the drain. Especially after the good reviews we got in the American press".
After spending three months locked up, writing an album that you work on 12 - 16 hours a day, bouncing ideas and riffs off of each other, it's understandable that 10CC might resent anything that stood in their way.
The prevailing belief in the band is that what really matters is not the critics but the audience. By those standards, the tour, and the Hammersmith concert, was an enormous success.
10CC are the quintessence of professionalism on stage. Like the best, they know that you can be good and still lose. That's a special kind of self-confidence, realising that for all your talent and preparation, things can still go wrong. Fortunately they didn't in Hammersmith. Everything was for once perfect, and the cool London crowd melted quickly. The band and particularly Lol Creme were in control throughout, confident enough to ask the crowd to withhold their applause on "Line Nuit A Paris" — which has three parts — until the end. It worked, as indeed the whole concert worked: perfectly.
An encore, and a second encore followed the band's departure from the stage. Afterwards, the crowd filed out, more happily than they entered. What more can you say?