DAVID BRINN meets legend who founded hit giants 10cc . . . and finds the magic's still there
MUSICIAN Graham Gouldman may be a pensioner but he's still touring and enjoying making music more than ever.
The founder of '70s giants 10cc and the writer of many classic 1960s hits, Graham, 65, scaled the top of the charts.
And by the age of 20, Graham - raised in an observant Jewish home in Salford - had already penned a host of classic Top Ten hits for a who's who of British giants.
These included Heart Full of Soul and For Your Love for The Yardbirds, Look Through Any Window and Bus Stop for The Hollies and Herman's Hermits' No Milk Today.
"I tried to write songs like The Beatles, but like anyone trying to write like someone else, the songs always come out differently," Graham said as he recalled falling under the spell of the Fab Four.
"The Beatles opened the floodgates for everybody - they provided inspiration that if they can do it, so can I.
"I was one of thousands - if not millions - who came under their influence and picked up the guitar.
"They were the pinnacle - and still are - of what I wanted to do.
"Not only did they inspire, but they gave people confidence that they could do it, too."
Graham was clearly overflowing with confidence . . . and talent.
But it turned out that writing songs for others was only the tip of the iceberg. Within a few years, he would step out from behind the relative anonymity of being the name behind the song to co-founding one of the most successful mid-1970s bands, 10cc, whose long line of hits included Rubber Bullets, The Things We Do for Love and the mega-hit I'm Not in Love.
For a while, the band was a Fab Four itself, with Gouldman and bandmates Kevin Godley, Lol Creme and Eric Stewart all multi-instrumentalists, singers and songwriters.
They were seemingly able to freshen up any musical genre and provide a comical twist along the way.
They picked up their musical chops from years of playing as house producers and studio musicians at their own Abbey Road - Strawberry Studios - for everybody from bubblegum-era favourites the Ohio Express to Neil Sedaka.
It was working with Sedaka on his 1972 album Solitaire that provided the impetus for the quartet, who had been releasing one-off singles here and there under assumed names, to get serious and form their own band.
Graham remembered: "We said to each other, 'You know what, we're doing so much work for other people that maybe we could be a band ourselves'.
"Until then, whenever there was downtime in the studio, we would write and record our own stuff for our amusement, but there was no master plan to speak of.
"We just decided to pool our creative talents."
Graham, Godley and Creme had known each other since their schooldays and performed in various bands with names like The Whirlwinds and The Mockingbirds.
One of the places they honed their chops was a steady gig at the local Jewish Lads' Brigade.
"We weren't active members - we went there because they let us use the rooms there for rehearsals with the band we were in," Graham explained.
"The deal was we would play for their dances. It was quite a good deal."
Graham's affinity for music, and his drifting away from his family's religious traditions, might have caused some tension with his parents, but he said that on the contrary, they were supportive of his growing obsession.
"My parents actually encouraged me to get into music," he recalled.
"They recognised that I had a gift and encouraged it.
"That was fortunate because I was terrible at school and there was no way I was going to university or anything like that.
"I think that had I shown acumen in that direction, they might have objected to my musical involvement.
"But as I didn't and I was good at music, I was encouraged."
That encouragement paid off with his string of hit songwriting credits, but it didn't douse his ambitions to be a performer himself even with the relative lack of success his first bands enjoyed.
Graham continued: "I always knew I would be in a band.
"I didn't care if it was successful or not because I just love playing and the camaraderie one gets with being with fellow musicians.
"Even when my bands weren't successful, I never thought of packing it in.
"First of all, it was the only thing I could do - and the other thing is that I knew something good was going to happen."
That's an understatement, considering 10cc's meteoric rise to fame and success following their decision to pool their talents.
One of their first joint efforts was a song called Donna, which epitomised the eclectic direction the new band would take - a Frank Zappa-influenced '50s doo-wop parody, with a sharp mix of commercial pop, irony with a chorus sung in falsetto.
British producer Jonathan King signed the band to his own label, UK Records, and coined the quartet 10cc, allegedly representing a volume of semen that was more than the average amount ejaculated by men.
10cc quickly became one of England's top bands with their first two albums Rubber Bullets and Sheet Music.
Despite them being among the most innovative pop albums of the early 1970s, 10cc only achieved cult status in America.
But all that changed with 1975's The Original Soundtrack, which also featured their first bona fide timeless song I'm Not in Love.
The song hit No 1 in America and cemented their commercial status.
Their next album, 1976's How Dare You!, would be last to include the original quartet, as the duos of Godley and Creme and Gouldman and Stewart began pulling in different directions.
Ever the experimentalists, Godley and Creme had invented something called a Gizmotron - an electric guitar effect which bowed the guitar strings, producing notes and chords in endless sustain.
They began working on their own project - a triple LP set showcasing their new device - and neglecting 10cc, the forerunner of them leaving the band.
Graham recalled: "It was a big blow when Kevin and Lol left, but they wanted to do their own thing. 10cc wasn't fun for them any more. It was predictable and they didn't like predictability.
"Eric and I were the more business-minded, and we were like 'it's got to be this way - we're involved in this big machine now and we have to plow ahead and do things'.
"We told them, 'Look, we have to get on with 10cc'.
"And they said, 'Well, we need to finish this first'.
"We finally told them they had to choose, and they chose to finish their project and leave the band."
Godley and Creme went on to become innovative directors in the-then new art form of music videos in the 1980s.
10cc's partially clipped sails started to drift and despite another successful album with 1977's Deceptive Bends and 1978's Bloody Tourists with the reggae-tinged Dreadlock Holiday, the band had run out of gas by the early 1980s.
Graham went on to various projects including releasing a handful of solo albums, producing an album for The Ramones, and teaming up with singer/songwriter Andrew Gold in the synth-pop group Wax.
By 1999, he had formed a new 10cc line-up consisting of many of the band's original tour and studio support musicians Paul Burgess on drums, guitarist Rick Fenn, and multi-instrumentalist Mike Stevens and Mike Wilson.
Graham last week gave Israeli audiences a taste of 10cc after taking his band for two shows in Tel Aviv and Binyamina.
He had visited Israel many times as a tourist but it was his first working trip.
At 65, Graham is still brimming with musical ideas.
He said: "I hope I can still write a great pop song, but it's for other people to say."
With his music of the last five decades burned into our collective consciousness, it is clear what the verdict would be.
Graham is also working on a new album which he plans to release next year on 10cc's 40th anniversary.