'Spacecake' by Kevin Godley, published by the Hand Held Company, iBook £9.99 - reviewed by Giles Booth 31 May 2015
Kevin Godley, quarter of 10cc, half of Godley & Creme and 100% of Kevin Godley, has published an autobiography as an iBook - it's on iTunes here and I just spent a very pleasant few days on a farm in France reading, and watching and listening to it.
I've not read a huge number of rock autobiographies, so I've not got much to compare it to, but I enjoyed it as least as much, if not more, than that of another Mancunian musical hero of mine, Morrissey. The two men, and books, have almost nothing in common, save for one or two things.
First, they both skate over their most famous musical incarnations very swiftly; Morrissey covered the entire career of The Smiths in a few pages, and Kevin Godley only devotes one chapter to his most famous band 10cc. Where that infuriated me with Moz, I didn't mind Kevin doing the same, even though I was a huge 10cc fan as a kid. As he explains, 10cc was actually only about 4 years of his life. And, crucially, he devotes plenty of words to Consequences and the Gizmo musical instrument, the subject of this web site.
The other thing they have in common is the descriptions of Mancunian childhood that are most affecting, heart-breaking even. Kevin's dad ran a small chain of electrical shops in Manchester, the main one of which was demolished to make way for the Arndale centre. 'The Arndale Centre killed my dad. It took away everything he had...' he writes in a moving section on his father's life and death. He doesn't mention the 1996 bombing of the Arndale by the IRA, but I can imagine he may have had mixed feelings about it. And don't get me started on the labrador puppy episode...
The book incorporates a lot of audio clips as well as links to a YouTube playlist of relevant material. There's loads of fascinating stuff in there, though the playlist won't make a huge amount of sense without the supporting book. I knew Graham Gouldman had written 'bubblegum' hits in the 60s, but the early Godley and Creme stuff is fascinating, some of it sounding very much like 10cc, some songs peculiarly like quite late Godley and Creme songs. The YouTube playlist also covers Kevin Godley's extensive late career as a director of music videos such as the ingenious video for Herbie Hancock's 'Rockit', conceived to get round MTV's then-ban on black musicians appearing on screen: Just as it's fascinating to read how Consequences was painstakingly pieced together in an analogue world before samplers, it's fascinating to read details of how he pushed the video technology of the day (and human editors) to the limits. Filming the video for An Englishman in New York (a personal favourite of mine - not to be confused with the Sting song of the same name) was a seminal moment, getting Godley and Creme hooked on the art and technology of film and video, which provided them with a long-needed outlet for their art-school creativity. Oddly, they never got very involved in the visuals on stage, or otherwise, when they were in 10cc. I suspect that all along, their hearts weren't in 'the best band in the world'.
Sidebar on 10cc from Kevin: 'Do you know what really pisses me off? I mean I totally understand it but it still annoys me... 10cc barely register in any list of influential UK bands of the seventies. Bowie, Roxy Music, Queen, T-Rex, Sex Pistols et all feature every time, not 10cc. It's obvious why. We had no visual impact and no dodgy habits, both de rigeur for a successful career in music. We simply weren't cool either.
...so you can forgive him quoting John Lydon describing 10cc's first album as 'one of the greatest things I'd ever heard.'
For me, the most fascinating thing about Spacecake is his re-appraisal of Consequences. In 1997 when he spoke to Kit Aiken he was very harsh in his judgement of the work, understandably so given its commerical failure and decidedly mixed critical reaction. In 2015, however, he is kinder on himself. Not blind to the project's faults, but less brutal:
'Part of me loves it, part of me hates it. All of me still feels the promise of what it could have been and how far it fell from grace. It was no one's fault. The world changed during its conception and we emerged blinking into the light of a cultural purge that had no time for it. Does that make it bad? Does that make it good? Thirty eight years on I think it makes it - revisitable, warts and all.'
He takes the time to explain, with audio clips, just how many of the extraordinary sounds in the album were made in the pre-digital, pre-sampler era. Fascinating reading for someone like me who's worked in sound most of their life, and been a huge fan of Consequences since I was about 16 and my brother lent me a cassette of it along with an off-air recording of Derek Jewell reviewing and playing tracks from the Godley and Creme album L on his Radio 3 programme Sounds Interesting. I lived in Stockport for a while, and I still find it extraordinary that all this magic was going on in a non-descript building there - Strawberry Studios:
'Why had those early Factory releases had that magical Hannett sound? The young genius had been able to plug in his digital thingy into the outboard racks of a major world-class thirty-six track studio that was in Stockport - Stockport ladies and gentleman, Stockport, because 10cc were a Manchester band and they had taken the proceeds of the delicious I'm Not In Love and had reinvested in their home. Reinvested. Built a fuck-off studio. Respect.' - Tony Wilson
If you're a fanatical 10cc, er, fan with no interest in Godley and Creme's solo/duo work, this is possibly not the book for you. But if you're interested in 10cc's roots and legacy, or have an interest in music videos, the evolution of music recording and video technology, or even if you're a U2 fan, you'll find Spacecake a fascinating read. (He writes a LOT about U2, who aren't my cup of tea, but he did work with them on ZooTV and he did invent and direct the video for The Sweetest Thing, so fair play to him.) And if you're a fan of Consequences, it's essential reading.
I've just thought of another thing Kevin Godley and Morrissey have in common: they are both vegetarians. Perhaps they could be persuaded to work together on a triple concept album re-working of Meat Is Murder featuring a play written and performed by another Beyond the Fringe member, say Alan Bennett...