FICKLE HEART
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"Without the slightest feeling of hesitation, this reviewer will go out on a limb and declare 'Fickle Heart' the finest and most intelligent album by a newcomer act this year. The six-man ensemble, coming out of nowhere, has produced an album that combines slice of life lyrics with a musical form that incorporates a distinct folk consciousness with rock, country twangs and synthesised shadings. The result is so irresistible that certain songs send chills through one's body."

"Sniff'n'The Tears is music for the '80s. Hopefully this will be just the beginning of a new age of music that will hold up long after the last dance has ended."

BILLBOARD MAGAZINE, 1979 (Ed Harrison)

THE MUSICIANS

Paul Roberts - vocals and acoustic guitars
Mick Dyche - guitars
Loz Netto - guitars
Chris Birkin - bass
Ron Lawrence - bass (Sing)
Luigi Salvoni - drums & percussion
Alan Fealdman - keyboards
Keith Miller - synthesizer & string machine
Noel McCalla - backing vocals
Jim Nellis - backing vocals

PRODUCED by Luigi Salvoni

 

Fickle Heart started life as a series of demos made in 1975 while I was living in Paris. I had signed to a French record company and persuaded them to let me record some demos in England. A friend, Ricky Daniel, introduced me to the drummer of a band called Moon who were having great success on London's pub circuit and had made an album with the producer of The Crusaders. They specialised in R'n'B / Funk. Luigi put Loz Netto, the guitarist from Moon, together with Alan Feldman, the piano player with another R'n'B band FBI, and Mick Dyche, an accomplished rock guitarist who had played with names as diverse as Wild Turkey and Snips. After a brief rehearsal the demos were put down more or less live in Pathway Studios in a day. Everyone who heard those demos reacted very favourably.

In France things dragged on without much happening, a single, 'Give Me A Sign', was released but didn't take off. I was asked to help a band called Paris Palace Hotel with their lyrics. Their problem was they wanted to sing in English to reach a wider audience but their lyrics were to say the least embarrassing. I took the best song 'Born To Be Alive' and wrote new lyrics keeping the title. The singer Patrick Hernandez years later was to have a huge dance hit with this song, curiously forgetting to credit me.

On a trip back to London I got an offer to show some paintings with a gallery and decided to concentrate on painting. Then, probably in late '77, I got a call from Luigi. Moon had broken up and he said he had been listening to the demos and if I was interested he'd like to do something with them. Well, of course I was interested. Being '77, music was in the throes of post punk, later called New Wave. Which really meant all those pub rockers who hadn't joined the punk revolution. Two independent record labels from that time were Stiff and Chiswick. Stiff with Ian Dury, Graham Parker and Elvis Costello and Chiswick with Johnny Moped, Rocky Sharpe, Radio Stars and later The Damned. Luigi took the demos to Chiswick where he knew Ted Carroll. Ted liked them and offered to put them out as they were. Lou declined and instead we went into Regents Park Studios with a young engineer called Steve Lipson and Bazza from Pathway.

Steve Lipson brought something new to the sessions away from the rough immediacy of the demos. This was a man who listened to more Christopher Cross than Willie Mitchell. And then things took another twist. Recorded on 16 track for less than ten grand, the finished album then had to wait over a year to be released in 1978. Things picked up when a lot of people realised that one of the songs, Driver's Seat, sounded like a hit. Luigi had made this song his priority from the start. Now things progressed quickly, possibly too quickly. Our busy schedule meant that the musicians in the band had to make the commitment or leave. Sadly Alan Fealdman, who had contributed so much to the album, decided he wasn't going to give up the day job and bass player Chris Birkin was forming a three piece band he hoped would rival The Jam. Nick South came in on bass and Keith Miller, who had played the Moog solo on Driver's Seat, took over the keyboards.

Sniff'n'The Tears 1977

We had been one of the first bands to tour post-Franco Spain. With the new line up we toured England and Wales, pursued by a man called Bud Prager. We had interest from several American managers, including Peter Leeds, manager of Blondie and Bill Graham, manager of everybody, but Bud Prager, manager of Foreigner, got on the plane and came in person to stake his claim. This says something either about us or the Americans - I'm not sure which. Nobody had pursued us in Britain so we went with Bud. He was of the tendency which thinks the US to be the only important market. We had, prior to this, done 'The Old Grey Whistle Test, a much loved live music TV show. The MD for Atlantic records in Britain had seen it and was keen to sign us to Atlantic for America. It was between them and CBS as it was then. Atlantic were offering more money but also this was the label of Aretha Franklin and some of the all time greats, we chose them. Bud also managed Foreigner, one of Atlantic's biggest acts, so it all seemed to make sense.

Bud organised a massive two and a half month tour of America, supporting Kenny Loggins in two thousand seater auditoriums, then Kansas in ten thousand seater plus sports arenas. Just before this tour Luigi had said he didn't want to do the tour: he felt that it was the wrong move for us and had expressed doubts about that and the management plans of Bud Prager. In retrospect he may have been right, but for me and the rest of the band the prospect of a long US tour was too exciting to forgo. Also it was the first major input by the new manager and we had to bow to his judgement, or why have him. So Paul Robinson stepped in as a last minute replacement for Lou, Paul was a jazzer at heart but a great drummer and a nice guy.

Before the tour began our entire back line was stolen in Indianapolis. A complete disaster, as we had spent weeks buying all new stuff to tour with, much loved customised guitars etc all gone, two days before the first gig we'd lost everything. We thought about calling off the tour but decided to carry on, first hiring and then buying as we went along. Bud gave up his Diner's Club card to keep the show on the road. The police thought it was a professional job by a gang operating out of New York where the gear had been shipped. So in the spirit of "the show must go on", we went on. The first month was spent supporting Kenny Loggins who had a sort of educated preppy crowd, a sit down audience mostly in theatres. By contrast the next month and a half we supported Kansas, this time in Colliseums, ten thousand plus with a younger and rowdier crowd, so a whole new ball game. Sometime during the Kansas tour we started getting encores every night, unusual for a support band, especially as Kansas couldn't have been more different musically. The tour was an unforgettable experience and we played to huge numbers, but maybe a club tour would have created a more specific interest.

Greasy Spoon '78
DRIVER'S SEAT
"This is that rare breed - dance music that isn't disco. The Tears resemble The Zombies auditioning for Poco, those spooky jungle rhythms covered with a smooth, emulsion-finish sheen and thus all the more disturbingly hypnotic. How can we resist ya? And those lyrics - fragmented certainly but surely much too modern to have been begat by that 30-year-old literary technique, the cut up method. Hedonistic cerebration, alone in the room and on something more than Chiswick? 'Come what may, I'm gonna dance the day away / trouble and strife - she had another way of looking at life / pick up your feet, got to move to the trick of the beat / there is no elite / just take your place in the driver's seat.' And let that be a lesson to all of you."
NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS, Tony Parsons (November 11, 1978) (Single of the week)

Driver's Seat started life one evening in the summer of 1973. The original incarnation of Sniffn'The Tears had built up a little following on the pub and club circuit of the time and I was sharing a room in Hammersmith with a mouse and a very noisy fridge. I had stepped out for a walk, having been woken up by the mouse combining with the fridge to disturb my reverie, when a riff started to nag, a riff so compulsive I couldn't possibly let it go. Returning to my humble dwelling I found chords to compliment this fantastic riff and wrote the song. The whole thing came together very quickly. Later I discovered to my dismay that the riff bore more than a passing resemblance to one belonging to a song by the OJ's. However the song that remained seemed to manage very well without it. I didn't do the song with the band at the time as not long after I went to France and stayed for two years. Singing in a restaurant in Paris the song had proved popular, so when I returned to London to do some demos with Lou and the boys Driver's Seat was among them.

The demos were for a French record company but nothing came of that. I returned to London and took up my career as a painter. I was more than a little disillusioned with the music business by that point, so when I had an offer to show with a London Gallery I jumped at it. Around 1977, two years after the demo recordings, the drummer on the session, Luigi Salvoni, rang me with a proposal. He had kept a copy of the demos and had found that he really liked them, would I mind if he tried to get a deal on them. Luigi took the demos to Chiswick Records who would have put them out as they were. Forgoing that option he found a studio with a young engineer called Steve Lipson, who subsequently became the successful producer of such artists as Annie Lennox. Luigi then put together a group of musicians he knew well, recruited Bazza from Pathway to help out and we were off. As I remember we recorded Driver's Seat pretty much as we had done on the demos, but it sounded cluttered. Steve Lipson and Bazza worked on the track in our absence, playing around with the idea of removing the electric guitar in the verses. They put together a rough mix and presented it to Luigi and me the next day. Suddenly the whole thing gelled. At this point Luigi suggested we re-record it a little faster, with the stripped down concept as our new approach. Driver's Seat was becoming, by common consent, our obvious choice for a single.

 

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