When Jim and I started Planet Studios way back in Dec 88 it was a momentous moment for us. A moment that came after several years of writing songs together and doing record company demo’s and finally getting a publishing deal with Virgin Music.
We first met in Aug 79 at a club band “showcase” in Foleshill Working Men’s Club. Several covers bands were playing and the audience included a few top booking agents. Jim’s band Solid State, and the band I played bass in called Hollywood, were on the bill. Our guitarist Jim Lantsbery and Jim Meikle were band mates from their school days so we all ended up socialising after we’d played. Both bands were a hit with the agents, and they were very keen to fill up our diaries. But the main thing I remember from that night was being really impressed with Jim’s voice, a sort of Michael McDonald/Stevie Wonder/Joe Cocker hybrid.
Through the early eighties Jim’s new band Burlesque went from strength to strength, playing two or three gigs a week at clubs and pubs around the Midlands, doing chart songs mixed up with some old classics. Alongside his best buddies Pete Cook on guitar and Terry French on bass, Jim was not afraid to push his voice to the limit, adapting to each song but keeping a strong, soulful sound that was his own. His voice, together with his personality and banter played a big part for the band, and always seemed to hit the right spot with the audience.
Meanwhile, I was happy in Hollywood, with a really nice bunch of lads (Steve/Paul/Colin Duncan, Jim Lantsbery/Paul Civil) and all excellent musicians, and as the new boy I was made to feel very welcome. We played what I would call quality covers, like Chic, Earth Wind and Fire and various soul/disco chart songs (all great from a bass player’s perspective). But we also did our own songs and recorded a couple of times at Woodbine Studios in Leamington with Johnny Rivers, and Rhythm Studios with Paul Johnson.
After a couple of years the band bought a Portastudio, so that we could do decent home recordings. It was an eye-opener, seeing what could be done on a 4-track cassette recorder, and from that point onwards playing live would have to take a back seat for me. Now it was all about drum machines and synths and finding the right singer to work with. That seemed to take forever, trying a succesion of mainly female singers (I was a bit obsessed with Eurythmics at the time). Then I remembered Jim and everything clicked into place. I had two songs ready and Jim sounded great on both. So from May 84 we became a songwriting and production team, getting together several times a week. I learned a lot from Jim, especially in the area of lyrics and choosing the right words (not just for their meaning but also for the way they sound when sung). I had a Portastudio of my own by then and we could get pretty good sounding demo’s, particularly with the music. But we needed a better vocal sound so we headed to Paul Sampson at Cabin studios, taking instrumentals and recording Jim’s vocals again from scratch. That did the trick and we immediately made 20 cassette copies of the two songs and mailed them to all the major record companies. We were amazed by the response, within two weeks twelve of them called us back, including A&M, Island, Polydor, EMI and Warners. They loved the songs and production and some even thought we had a black singer! (Jim liked that). All of them wanted to hear more songs and were happy to pay for the studio time.
Eventually a publishing deal came in May 86, two years after we first started working together, and we chose this ahead of an offer from music mogul Pete Waterman (Stock/Aitkin/Waterman production team). He said we could have free night time use of his London PWL Studio (with SSL desk) and he promised he would use our songs, starting with a new unknown artist he had just signed called Rick Astley! Ok, with hindsight, maybe not the best decision on our part, but we just didn’t fancy the idea of driving to London every night and trying to get our heads around an SSL desk, plus he was offering no advance so we would need to keep our day jobs. We went with Virgin as it gave us wages for a couple of years and a generous recording equipment budget. It meant we effectively had a studio in my front room and we could take our time writing and producing, without the pressure we had when record companies would put us in studios like Leamington’s Woodbine and Rhythm or Coventry’s Cabin Studios with Paul Sampson.
But getting the right song with the right artist proved elusive for us