Paul Bliss — Star Fleet Command
X impulse at the ready; your intrepid Editor switched to hyperdrive and warped over to North London for a cosmic conversation with Paul Bliss — the musical influence behind 'Star Fleet'.
It would not be particularly surprising if the name Paul Bliss failed to trigger some spark of recognition within the majority of readers. However, anyone who followed the adventures of 'X-Bomber' in the recent 'Star Fleet' series, will have experienced some of the haunting synthesizer music composed by this unsung hero. And the intuitive leap which drove me, one morning, to follow up this career turned out to be extremely fruitful, since Paul Bliss has been the creative force behind many famous artists in America and in Britain — not quite a 'rags to riches' story, but one of success all the same.
Paul's initiation into the harsh world of 'group democracy' came around 12 years ago, when as an aspiring bass player, he was kicked out of a band because they didn't like the way he played bass. Quite reasonable, you might think, but in the light of his current successes, here's a perfect example of creative potential winning over practical ability — it's not much good being the world's best musical technician, if the music you are playing is dull and tedious. Anyway, Paul's performing history seems to have been characterised by changing line-ups and lack of backing. As he explained, "I've been in lots of bands since about 1974, but all my successes — if you like — have been in The States. The band I was in then was called 'Dog Soldier', though they never toured in Britain." They did tour, however, in America and it was also there that the first 'Bliss Band' did two albums on CBS which were released in '78 and '79 — still no British release though. "I'd been trying for about a year, 18 months, to get a deal with a record company over here (England). I had a great band — well, all the guys had gone on to do great things: Alan Park plays keyboards with Cliff Richard, Phil Palmer (Guitar) is with Joan Armatrading, Andy Brown, now plays bass with Barbara Dickson and Nick Heyward and Nigel Elliot is a session drummer. We were all together in this one band and it was fantastic — the best musical experience I think most of us ever had — but we couldn't get any money to back us. We hadn't even got the money to go out and do a gig, it was that bad."
It was then that fate took a hand and through a friend in Manchester, who had a contact at Piccadilly Radio, one of Paul's cassettes was heard by Jeff Baxter (Steely Dan and more recently The Doobies), and six months after handing over the tape, a single phone call set everything in motion. "From having nobody interested in us at all to getting Jeff Baxter and Mike MacDonald interested, which subsequently led to the contract with CBS records in America, was quite amazing — it was almost like rags to riches."
The money for the trip over to The States was gathered together (no easy task) and following a meeting with Jeff, the band's first album ('Dinner with Raoul') was recorded. Inevitably, that album sounded like Steely Dan, so the second album was done in Britain with a new producer. It gained critical acclaim, but CBS seemed unwilling to put some real money up front for touring "...it all just sort of petered out — at the end of 79 it was d-e-p-r-e-s-s-i-o-n, m-i-s-e-r-y and What-am-I-gonna-do". What Paul did do was to concentrate on writing songs.
"We hadn't even got the money to go out and do a gig, it was that bad."
Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, four tracks off the second album, 'Neon Smiles' were hits for some other people, like Ami Holland, Uriah Heep and Graham Bonnet, and Paul's songwriting talents were in demand. Over the past three years he's had covers by at least 30 artists, and this led him to continue writing until early summer last year when Starfleet came about. "It seemed like an ideal first thing for me to do since to go in and do a movie straightaway, cold, which you've never done before and don't know anything about, is quite a daunting proposition. They said there's this space fiction thing for kids (and Editors!) coming up. It seemed like the perfect thing to get me started, and it's TV, and it's Saturday morning, so it's not as though it's a huge presentation — even if I make a bit of a 'balls-up' of it, who's gonna really know."
"Once the germ of an idea has emerged, I'll work like a demon to bring it out."
The original deal was for two or three minutes per episode, plus some incidental music, but things turned out very differently and whilst in America, Paul received a 'panic call' from Central TV concerning the 15-20 minutes of incidental music for every episode (24 episodes; 10 hours of music plus the titles). From this awesome total, Paul had only worked on the title music and so some concerted effort was needed: "I was working about 16 hours a day solid for a good two months after I'd done the original titles. Before I went into it I spent a lot of time just watching movies. I would put a movie on the video and not look at the picture, but just try to imagine what was s'posed to be happening." Half a dozen themes were developed and then the variations composed around these. The success of the title sequence was confirmed when after 10 or so episodes, Paul's sister told him that the local kids were running round the streets shouting "Star Fleet" and singing the tune. "I thought, it's worked; I set out to do something and it worked it gave me a lot of confidence."
Further evidence for this successful combination of music and video (if any more were needed) came when Brian May announced that he and a few other noted musicians (like Eddie Van Halen) were putting together a Starfleet album (released on 24th October) and releasing a single (17th October), which will no doubt have ascended the charts as you read this. Also on the horizon from Paul are a Hollies single called 'Casualty' and a track on the new Sheena Easton album.
The morning concluded with some 'home truths' about songwriting: "I get into that room and sit there. And I'll look at the keys and I think, right, what sort of song do I want to write. I might sit from 11 to four for days or weeks and nothing happens. But, once the germ of an idea has emerged, I'll work like a demon to bring it out. It drains me completely and within about three days I hate what I've done. But after about three months I think, hey, that actually wasn't too bad."
"The most frustrating thing, though, is that once the song's done there's this terrible feeling of 'What do I do now' and the only thing you can do is go and try and do it again". And if Star Fleet is an indication of things to come, I for one will look forward eagerly to any future ventures.
Interview by Paul Coster
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