PHIL WAINMAN BIOGRAPHY

 

Interviewed by Hannes A. Jonsson, Reykjavik i 1999

 

Phil Wainman - A '70s Survivor.

 

By no means new to the mid-'70s music scene, Wainman had enjoyed an incredibly good run as a producer for The Sweet since 1971 (Eight Top 10 U.K. hits, including a no. 1 with the still amazing sounding glam classic "Blockbuster", and a U.S. Top Five hit with "Little Willy") and was also no slouch in the songwriting department. But let's get back, way back, to his very humble beginnings. After having endured what was by his own account "A very rough childhood," 15-year-old Phil Wainman left school - and home, at 16 - to join various cabaret acts who toured the U.S. naval bases of Europe. These were the very early '60s and drummer Wainman was "Out on my ears. I left home on terrible terms and I never went back. I had a drum kit and a mini van, and that was all I had in my life. I used to sleep in people's spare rooms."

.By 1964, Wainman was working the European cabaret circuit with a band called the High Grades. "I heard what was happening in the U.K. I think the record that really made me drop everything and come home was The Kinks' 'You Really Got Me'. I really didn't want to miss out on what was going on in the sixties here in the U.K. So that was when I joined the Paramounts and it all started there really". The Paramounts had had a minor U.K. hit with a cover of the Coasters' 'Poison Ivy' in early 1964, but instead of falling that easily into oblivion as merely just another one hit wonder, they later changed their name to Procol Harum who will always be best remembered for the timeless psychedelic classic, 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale'(1967).

.Prior to that, however, Wainman had left the band and started working as a session musician. On the side he had also started to write his own songs and enjoyed his initial success as such with a song called 'Little Games', which was a minor U.S. hit for the Yardbirds, who at one time or another housed guitar greats Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck. Says Wainman now: "That was my first taste, really, of success - that song, 'Little Games.'"

.Also, by this time - 1968 - Wainman had been signed to EMI Records as a solo artist, and there he he made his own drum records and had a "Very, very minor hit with a song called 'Hear Me A Drummer Man'. I did a lot of T.V. shows and it really got my name around. I was one of London's top session drummers and that's really where I got my [first] experience as a producer - as a drummer. It was very, very worthwhile." He played on records by such studio bands as Brotherhood Of Man, with which a certain songwriter by the name of Johnny Goodison was also involved. Much later on, of course, the pair became a successful songwriting duo penning songs for the Rollers, MUD, and others. But way earlier than that, Wainman says, "I was [also] in a band with John Goodison called the Quotations, and that was a band which toured a lot with Brenda Lee, Jerry Lee Lewis, and all those people from America".

.Around 1970, Wainman got into music publishing as well and enjoyed his first hit as such with Brotherhood Of Man's 'Where Are You Going To My Love'(#22, U.K. summer 1970). "I was publishing that when I met Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn." Chapman and Chinn later became the most successful writing/producing duo of the glam rock era, with artists like The Sweet, Suzi Quatro, Smokie, and MUD on their roster - all at the same time! "It all started right there in my office," Wainman says. On occasion, though, Chinn and Chapman worked primarily as writers - not producers - and got Mickie Most, Phil Wainman, and others to actually produce the records.

."I had already produced The Sweet, for Fontana [Records, in the late '60s]," Wainman continues. "I produced one track called 'Slow Motion'. It only got a few plays and it wasn't very successful. But then I lost them." Later on, when his paths with The Sweet crossed again, the still-struggling and hit-starved group practically begged him, as a music publisher, to supply them with a sure-fire hit kind of song. "I've got a song which would be great for you," Wainman immediately told them, "A Chinn/Chapman song." And "I played them two tracks," Wainman now says, "[and] one of them was [Sweet's breakthrough hit] 'Funny Funny' with Mike Chapman singing". The Sweet liked that song so much that in the spur of the moment, so to speak, their voices for it were recorded and replaced Chapman's guiding vocal on the demo, and, according to Wainman, "That was the master". However, due to the fact that The Sweet were already under a contract with another production company, said recording was kept under a lock and key until that contract was up and the band could be signed to Newtone Productions, Wainman's very own production company.

."We needed a vehicle," Wainman remembers, "And I said to Nicky [Chinn] and Mike [Chapman], 'We need a vehicle for your songs and I've run into a band I used to work with called The Sweet and we're gonna start making some records.' Nicky put the money up. I think it cost him 1.500 pounds, and we made records with The Sweet. We also made records with Jimmy And The Vagabonds, which was the other band we had signed. That didn't come to much though, and we concentrated on The Sweet." Much later, backed by different writers and producers, the Vagabonds scored their sole Top 10 U.K. hit with the disco throwaway "Now Is The Time"(1976).

.The Sweet got signed by RCA Records after having been turned down twice by them before and had their first hit with the aforementioned 'Funny Funny' - a sticky piece of bubblegum - in 1971. "We were competing with David Bowie who was also on RCA," Wainman casually name-drops. "And Marc Bolan was putting out records as well, so these were the early days of glam rock and they were great days."

.The Sweet's success, with Wainman as their record producer and Chinn/Chapman (another, different link) as their chief writers, got bigger and bigger, hit by hit. What started out as merely modest and musically unspectacular ('Co-Co', 'Poppa Joe'), became, as time went on, more ambitious with gained confidence and increasingly assured artistic identity and ability (much like the Rollers, The Sweet didn't play on their earliest hits), and ended up as some of the most memorable glam rock music of its time ('Blockbuster', 'Ballroom Blitz'). Between June 1972 and July 1974, The Sweet racked up an impressive total of of seven U.K. Top 10 hits - including a number one and no less than three number two's. "It just went on and on," Wainman says now, "And the records just seemed to get better and better - it was great."

.However, in early 1974 The Sweet enjoyed their last Phil Wainman-produced hit with the bombastic 'Teenage Rampage' - itself not all that unsimilar in style and sound to the Rollers' 1976 hit 'Yesterday's Hero' - which had to be heavily (self?) censored before being cut since its original lyrics carelessly (well, for 1974 anyway) flicked forward such ever sensitive topics as masturbation.

."Chapman and Chinn wanted to have a go at producing," says Wainman. "There was, by then, also a lot of aggrivation between us, it got heavy. The boys were arguing internally, then they were arguing with us, and we were arguing also internally. It wasn't very enjoyable, so I was happy to go off and produce the Bay City Rollers, which was great fun - really, really great fun. They were a good laugh and they were the hottest band that England had - they were huge." In the meantime, though, prior to join forces with the Rollers, Wainman had taken the time to supervise Alex Harvey's acclaimed 'Next' album..

As for MUD, another aforementioned successful british act Wainman worked with at the height of his prowess, he recalls, "They had fallen out with [Nicky] Chinn and [Mike] Chapman (ED - Who wrote & produced most of their earlier hits, such as the 1974 U.K. chart-topper 'Tiger Feet'). And again, as with the Rollers, songs that John [Goodison] and I had written went on their album. And they wanted to record 'Give A Little Love', it was all happening at the same time. They were desperate to record 'Give A Little Love', but I said, 'No, that's already a track for the Rollers.' And I said, 'If you want a ballad, I'll write you something and we wrote 'Show Me You're A Woman' (ED - A number 8 U.K. hit for MUD in late 1975, and practically a carbon copy of the Rollers' 'Give A Little Love' - a number 1 U.K. hit in the summer of '75). That was a number one record, I thought. But they wanted their own song, 'L-L-Lucy' - a B-side! - to be the first single off that album. I said, 'You're mad.' 'Under The Moon Of Love', which they did a year before Showaddywaddy (ED - Who took it to number 1 in the U.K. in 1976) should have been the first single, followed by 'Show Me You're A Woman', and both of them could've been number one's! But they didn't want that so I never worked with them again, because you give them an idea how you think it should go and then they go away and do something completely different (outraged). I had that really planned well. And then Showaddywaddy had a number one with it (ED - 'Under The Moon Of Love', obviously) and it's not as good a version as MUD's. And Showaddywaddy laughed all the way to the bank. I later ended up working with them [as well]. Also I worked with Dollar, Darts - virtually every act that was happening in the seventies. It was just a fantastic time, you know. I kind of got into that fifties revival thing a bit: Showaddywaddy, Darts, MUD - I could make those sort of records - but I always wanted another shot at The Sweet. I think the could have been...not as big as Queen, 'cause they weren't as talented as Queen...but they still could have been a big band; I wanted them to go for the adult rock market."

In the early '80s Wainman started to work a lot less than he had previously done. "My last number one was in seventy-nine," he says, "And that was ['I Don't Like'] 'Mondays' with the Boomtown Rats. I didn't do a hell of a lot after that. I did 'Classic' (ED - A number 8 U.K. hit in 1982) with Adrian Gurvitz. I had him here (ED - At his now defunct Utopia Studios). And then I had an incident at home, where I got home one night at five o' clock in the morning, after I had been working, and there were six police cars in my driveway. You know the feeling when your heart jumps into your mouth? Well, my wife had been bound and gagged and [after that] I just figured if I had to risk my family's security because I'm in the studio - do I have to have an armed guard minding my family while I work? - so I just kind of gave up producing...I dropped out. But not because I wanted to, but because I felt I had to. And I kind of gave myself a 9-5 job and I started a video company, which was more like a job where I could go home early - and it's been really like that ever since. I work shorter hours now, I'm a lot older - a lot wiser - and now I run a very successful property company. I also run a small company that imports cars from Japan into the U.K. I got a garage with five different classic cars in it - I just finished building one myself. So, I kind of...don't work very hard, I enjoy life and I've watched my family grow up. Not my oldest kids, 'cause that was when I was still working a lot, but my youngest who's now 21; she made sure I was here. You have to get your priorities right. Did I want to work for another ten years? You know, drive myself into the ground.

The answer was that I had all the energies to do that, but did I want my family put at risk? No, I didn't. I'm very much a family man. I've been married [to the same woman] for over thirty years, and that's fantastic in rock and roll terms, and I don't want to risk that to continue having hits. I came to a crossroads and one man - a burglar - made me choose which one or the other. So, that's it. Now (ED - Autumn 1999) I'm fifty-three and I've retired from the record company I used to run as well - Utopia Records - I've closed the recording studios (ED - Utopia Studios) - we used to have a staff of twenty-three there - and we had loads of hits out of that studio. Some of the staff would become quite famous producers [in their own right]. But now the property the studio used to be in is (ED - Property/real estate company) Utopia Village and that's 43-44.000 square feet, and I kind of run that on a daily basis, with a lot of help from my assistant and my wife. And we're just building this company up and it's growing. I enjoy it, 'cause I believe if you're creative you can be creative in any field - and property is no exception."

And on these somewhat sombre notes ended my long distance conversation with Phil Wainman - a '70s survivor and a seemingly straight-forward and direct kind of a guy, with nary a nasty word to say about anyone - which took place on September 10th, 1999.

 

 

 

This is an extract from Hannes much longer interview with Phil Wainman, the majority of the interview was about his relationship with The Bay City Rollers. You can read the full interview at Hannes own site. Thanks again to Hanne for lending us the "glamrock"-part of the interview.....

 

 

 

GLAMROCK OF THE 70S - 2010