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Harvey Lisberg - Interview

  by Eoghan Lyng

published: 26 / 5 / 2023

Harvey Lisberg - Interview

"I told Graham Gouldman to offer 'For Your Love' to The Beatles," Harvey Lisberg says. "The Beatles did a lot of covers. I mean, they performed songs like 'Chains', so I thought we could give 'For Your Love' to The Beatles. 'You're mad,' Graham told me, but that was ok, because I was a bit mad." It's a witty story, but it's one of several anecdotes that makes up a legacy for Lisberg, a Manchester born manager and impresario, which is why he made the wise decision to commit these anecdotes in his excellent memoir: ‘I'm Into Something Good: My Life Managing 10cc, Herman's Hermits and Many More!’ Lisberg knew Gouldman as a youngster, and later managed 10cc, an idiosyncratic outfit that featured Gouldman as well as bassist, singer and songwriter. "[10cc bandmates] Graham, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley all lived about two miles away from me, but Graham was probably the first one I worked with. He was performing with The Whirlwinds, who I guess were a Jewish covers band." Lisberg recognised something in the musician, particularly in 'For Your Love', a splashy rock number that became something of a staple of the 1960s. The tune, a sophisticated power ballad, may have benefitted from help from Hymie Gouldman, a sometime playwright, and father to the man credited with the song. "Hymie most certainly was involved with that song," Lisberg replies. "No seventeen year old could do a lyric like that with that construction. It was a very arty lyric." Lisberg reiterates that he held the elder Gouldman in high esteem, although he notes that success eluded him before his son's prodigious career as a musician. "In some ways, his success was through his son, so it must have been gratifying for him." Lisberg, who couldn't convince Gouldman to send the tune to The Beatles, was impressed by The Yardbirds, a band he witnessed at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. Eventually, the song found its way into Girogio Gomelsky's hands, who promptly persuaded The Yardbirds to record it. "There was a lovely harpsichord on the recording," Lisberg beams, congratulating Gouldman's achievements. "Graham's written so many songs - he should be knighted, for God's sake!" The Yardbirds were sufficiently impressed enough with the track to record 'Heart Full Of Soul', a barrelling number that features a choppy solo wet with the influence of India. “I should be co-credited with 'Heart Full of Soul', because I came up with the title, and that's basically the chorus," Lisberg cackles. This leads me onto my next question: 'Heart Full Of Soul' featured Jeff Beck on guitar, who had taken over from Eric Clapton after the latter walked out on the band after recording 'For Your Love'. Was it petty of Clapton to quit The Yardbirds? "No, I could totally understand that," Lisberg admits. "Eric Clapton and The Yardbirds were big into blues, and that song was pretty poppy. Of course, once Clapton did his own thing, he went a bit poppy [laughs]. But people like Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and Long John Baldry were into blues, and what they saw as 'real music'. They were playing places like the London Marquee Club, and weren't into pop." Pop, like Herman's Hermits? Herman's Hermits were a pop act who enjoyed a monster hit with 'I'm Into Something Good'. I've heard a story that singer Peter Noone was told to bring buoyancy into the listener's lives - did Lisberg ,who managed the act, convince him to do this? "I don't know about that story, so it wasn't me," Lisberg chuckles. "But it was a very upbeat song, a bit like 'In The Summertime' and those sort of songs." It was Noone's personality that drew Lisberg to the band. "Average isn't a nice descriptor," Lisberg muses, but he does concede that Herman's Hermits had little to distinguish themselves from the torrent of bands that performed in Manchester at the time. "They were playing the usual: 'Roll Over Beethoven', 'I Saw Her Standing There'. But Peter was Peter." Lisberg, who acted on instinct, saw something in the band, and fittingly the band recorded 'No Milk Today', a sombre ballad written by Graham and Hymie Gouldman. Lisberg speaks warmly about songwriters Kevin Godley & Lol Creme in his book, so I ask him about Frabjoy & the Runcible Spoon, a vehicle fronted by the duo. Gomelsky saw the duo as a British alternative to Simon & Garfunkel- was that a fair comparison? “Kevin certainly had the voice, just as Art Garfunkel had the voice," Lisberg says. "There were similarities, but it never happened. As for the name Frabjoy And Runcible Spoon.." Could they not have gone down as Godley & Creme? "Yes, that would have been better." Whether or not the name was a blunder is a point is a point this article doesn't have the word count for, but I make a blunder in the interview when I ask Lisberg about Jeff Christie. "Do you mean Tony Christie?" Yes, that's the one, 'Amarillo' et al. "'Amarillo' was interesting. I went to visit Neil Sedaka in the Brill Building, I think it was. He was sitting upstairs writing songs, and one of them was 'Amarillo'. I said, 'That's a hit', and said I'd like to bring it back to England." Encouraged by his wife, Lisberg searched for a suitable voice, which he found in Tony Christie. The song was a sizable success. "And of course in 2004, Peter Kay had a hit with the song." Impressed by the impresario, Sedaka accepted an invitation to record at Strawberry Studios, where Gouldman, Godley and Creme worked in situ with Eric Stewart of The Mindbenders. "Neil Sedaka came over, and recorded in Strawberry, which in some ways led to the formation of 10cc. Working on the two albums Neil made gave them the confidence they needed to form 10cc, I suppose." Gouldman and Stewart owned parts of the studio, which helped the quartet (later christened 10cc) to write, record and produce. "Strawberry was a great thing, because there wasn't a studio in Manchester, and eventually we thought, 'Why do we need to go down to London, when we can record here?' And because we had our own studio, we could virtually use it 24/7." 10cc were a group without a set frontman, although Eric Stewart came closest, not least because 'I'm Not In Love' was such a towering hit. Stewart's vocals were tender, but that wasn't a disservice on either Gouldman or Godley, who tended to sing the artier, more idiosyncratic, material. And then there was Creme, oscillating falsettos and blustering backing vocals, who was best equipped to tackle hard rock numbers a la 'Rubber Bullets' and 'Silly Love'. "We always said Lol was the personality of the band," Lisberg admits. "He was a bit of a cheeky-chappie." For many people, including this writer, 10cc were the worthy successors to The Beatles. Gouldman idolised Paul McCartney, so it must have been a thrill for him when the bassist booked Strawberry Studios to record ‘McGear’. "It was like God arrived," Lisberg admits. 10cc were working on their second album, ‘Sheet Music’, when McCartney arrived. A triumph of 1970's art-rock, the album stands up fifty years after its release, but Lisberg says that he had little to do with the music. "At the beginning, Eric was involved with the production side, but Kevin and Lol later got involved. In fact, they all did. Graham is an excellent guitarist, although he moved onto bass in 10cc, because Eric was so good at guitar." Endlessly inventive, the band recorded four stellar albums before they inexplicably split in 1976, although they did perform a stellar set at Knebworth before calling it a day. "I can't quite remember, but I think there was some bad feeling in the band around that time," Lisberg admits. "And I didn't think they were right to headline for The Stones. I mean, they started with [vaudeville number] 'One Night In Paris'! But they won them over the fans towards the end, especially with the last two or three songs." Adding to the pressure, this was the first time they acted as an opening act for another group, and incidentally, it was the last time the original 10cc line-up performed together. It's rumoured that The Stones interfered with the band's sound, and although Lisberg won't be drawn into it, he suggests that it could have been possible, because the headline act could influence the set-up. "It was all four part harmonies, so it was very technical. I said to the promoter that we weren't right for the gig, and that the audiences, a lot of them drunk and on drugs [laughs], wouldn't miss them. So, we would take our money and walk. But they had to play the gig. I wasn't sure about it, but it was serious money: £27000." I wouldn't say no to £27000. "It was much more in those days. Oh, much more. So, they played, and it was the last time the four of them played together." Lisberg points out that the band members each holds a truth as to why they split, but it's hard to point out one overarching answer. "Nobody wanted them to split," Lisberg says, "but we had to save it when they did." Godley & Creme left the group to work on ‘Consequences’, leaving Gouldman and Stewart to reboot 10cc as a duo. The name remained, but the material was decidedly different in tone, although judging by the success of 'The Things We Do For Love', fans didn't seem to mind. Godley & Creme reinvented themselves as music video directors. Lisberg oversaw their publishing, which suited him, as they continued to compose whenever they weren't directing videos. "They were so pioneering," Lisberg says. "They did tremendous work." By 1983, wounds had healed sufficiently enough for Godley & Creme to direct a video for their erstwhile bandmates. "I thought Kevin and Lol should direct the video to 'Feel The Love'. It was a fantastic video, and we had a lovely day at Shepperton Studios, reminiscing and telling stories." Ultimately, both factions broke up. 10cc released their final album ‘Mirror Mirror’ in 1995, and the Godley & Creme partnership - once thought inseparable - had disbanded by the close of the 1980s. "It was a bloody shame," Lisberg sighs. "After twenty-seven years Kevin & Lol finally split. Imagine that after being in each other's lives day after day, eh?" He's a little more candid about the tensions that broke through the Gouldman - Stewart partnership. "I'm not sure if Graham's divorce was a factor," he responds, "but Eric's car crash definitely changed things." I'm interested to hear about Sad Café, another Mancunian act Lisberg managed. "Paul Young was a fantastic singer, and he sadly died very young," Lisberg sighs. "But Sad Cafe were a great band: Vic Emerson was the most incredible keyboardist. We were fortunate to get Eric Stewart to produce them." Granada presenter Tony Wilson championed the group, and 'Everyday Hurts' remains a staple of 1980s British pop. Stewart later worked with McCartney on ‘Press To Play’ ("McCartney likes to do things his way," Lisberg reasons), while Gouldman continued to fashion his work as a songwriter. Lisberg is happy to talk about the ‘Animalympics’ soundtrack. "The film was produced by a guy called Steven Lisberger; can you believe that?" And the soundtrack? "Graham was at his peak, and he wrote a lot of lovely songs: 'Love Is Not For Me', for one. But we were a bit frustrated by the lack of success for the film. It could have done much better, but the Russians got involved in the Olympics, and it changed the whole thing." Lisberg and Gouldman were brothers in law for a time, which might explain why Stewart had issues with both men. Lisberg says he tried to negotiate a deal with Stewart when Gouldman rebooted 10cc for a second time during the early part of the 21st century, but this came to naught. But Lisberg is happy with his book, which has garnered an effective following. "I'm hoping it gets [caught up] by word of mouth," he says. "There hasn't been a bad review." Lisberg is calling from the United States, and I'm envious of the weather he must be enjoying. "When I moved here when I was about fifty two, I said I'd never have to do another February in England," Lisberg chuckles. "And I haven't." Considering my place in Dublin, I'm not half envious, but Lisberg surprises me with his knowledge of Ireland, describing it as a "fabulous" place, and praising the audiences that celebrated the musicians who performed before them. "I love the live music scene in Ireland, places like Dublin and Killarney." There's no doubt about it - Lisberg is into something good. I'm Into Something Good: My Life Managing 10cc, Herman’s Hermits & Many More! is out now.

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Harvey Lisberg - Interview

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Harvey Lisberg - Interview

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