- The Driving Beat
- Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
- Snow White
- For What They Promise
- Without Love
- Steal My Heart
- That Final Love
- Don't Frighten Me
- Love / Action
Paul Roberts - vocals, acoustic guitar
Les Davidson - guitars, backing vocals
Nick South - bass
Mike Taylor - keyboards, backing vocals
Jamie Lane - drums, percussion & backing vocals
Rick Fenn - guitars & backing vocals
Mo McCafferty, Annie McCayg & Mark Williamson - backing vocals
Pat Crumley - saxophone
PRODUCED - Mike Howlett
Soon after the launch of The Game's Up I was taken by a friend to see a band called The Movies who were playing at The Venue in Victoria. I had been told that the drummer was great, and possibly interested in moving on. The Movies were an interesting band made up of Cambridge graduates who had made a couple of albums which had garnered good press but had failed to sell. The drummer however was exactly what I was looking for, so my friend and the drummer's girlfriend organised a meeting and Jamie Lane became our new drummer.
Our manager Bud Prager, at our request, had set up an office for us in Great Portland St in London's West End. In charge of things on this side of the Atlantic was a young guy called Ged Doherty who we had poached from our agency Asgard. Ged was paid rent and salary by Bud to organise the day to day running of the band. Ged was also using our office to manage a band of his own, The Q-Tips, but that was ok, he was a very capable and reassuring presence and about to be put to the test. Asgard had set up a European tour to promote The Game's Up, mainly taking in Germany where the band were doing particularly well. In the week before rehearsals were due to start Loz (Netto) came off his new motorbike and broke his arm, very rock'n'roll but just a bit inconvenient. (He was told he would never play again, but through exercise and determination proved the doctors wrong.) We had to find a guitarist to replace him and quickly. Ged lined up two top notch guitarists and we settled for Clem Clempson of Humble Pie and Colisseum fame. Clem turned out to be an inspired choice - not just one of the great guitarists but a lovely guy. I was to use him again on my two solo albums. The tour went pretty well but after that and a few more promotional trips we knew we had to start work on the next one.
When we started demoing the songs for Love / Action things went brilliantly, we recorded two or three songs in a demo studio and I went on holiday. When I got back Nick and Jamie told me that Loz wanted to put a band together, a band for his own stuff, and had asked them all to join him, everyone said no except Mick Dyche. So sadly Loz and Mick moved on. (Loz went on to make several albums under his own name.) They had been an integral part of the sound of "Sniff" so I anticipated it would be difficult to replace them. Through Nick South we found Les Davidson ex of East Of Eden and Pilot who though working for Leo Sayer at the time was keen to get involved. His baptism by fire was having to do a live half hour spot for Dutch TV with just one afternoon's rehearsal.
We now had a settled line up comprising me, Nick South, Les Davidson, Mike Taylor and Jamie Lane; this was pretty much it for the next two years. I had a few tunes in the pipeline so we started laying some tracks in the Island studios in Notting Hill. I had met the woman who became my wife and the mother of our three children so I was in love and I think many of the new songs reflected this. This brief period was very exciting, the tracks we had recorded sounded great They had been put down live and had great energy, a bit of garnishing and they would have been finished: one of them even sounded (did we dare think it?) like a hit. Unfortunately things conspired to make my euphoria short lived.
Freedom in the arts can only be bought with success, and as The Game's Up had not emulated Fickle Heart, Bud had made it perfectly clear that the third album could only succeed if it was done his way and that meant getting a producer. Chiswick, who had always given us free reign, seemed to accept Bud's view on this. I would have preferred to keep going at Basing St where I felt things were really happening. This I was told was not an option and neither was working with Steve Lipson again, as he was "not a producer". I was not entirely sure what a producer was supposed to be, as all the music I had ever been involved in had been a collaborative effort. For me ideally, a producer was an enabler, an objective moderator who brought expertise and tact to the situation rather than someone who imposed their own principles on you. Steve Lipson was keen to do it and I wanted the continuity and the knowledge that I was working in a creative partnership with someone I got on with.
We met two or three producers all of whom seemed like good guys, though no one to get excited about. This was the early eighties after all and production values were becoming slick and formulaic. I felt the ethos of the band was that of a group of musicians making music together, it had to feel natural, real, the performance being the thing. I think the first two albums had that and the Basing St stuff did too. One of the people suggested to us was Mike Howlett who had had hits with Martha And The Muffins and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. This was not really our territory but he had been the bass player with Gong and was a very nice bloke, and he filled Bud's criteria (he had hits). I was also tempted by the guy who had produced an album for Van Morrison, good enough for me but not Bud. So negotiations were instigated to acquire Mike Howlett's services.
A month to do the album, a few days rehearsing, two weeks recording and a week to mix because Mike had a skiing holiday booked at the end of that week. We decided on another residential studio, this time Chipping Norton. We were under pressure to make an album for a notional audience, to conform to the diktats of the supposed market place. We did a few days rehearsal before going into the studio, we were joined by guitarist Rick Fenn who has worked a lot with Mike Oldfield. This was a continuation of the two guitarist theme that Sniff was known for. We were able to put the tracks down very quickly in the studio with a minimum of overdubs. Mike introduced the element of the "click track", something we had never tried before. This is where you play to a pulse or beat that keeps the timing rigid, ubiquitous in these days of digital editing but in its infancy then. Mike and I went to Hamburg to mix and the whole thing was completed very efficiently. Love/Action was to prove a direction that a lot of people really liked, and some didn't. I have not worked this way before or since, I prefer to chase the elusive, that bit of spontaneous magic that can't be rehearsed.
Bud had put together a deal for Love/Action with MCA in the States which was to end somewhat tragically. In the first week or two of release things were looking very positive, promotion people were constantly ringing, sales and radio were excellent and we were optimistic. Then one day nothing, we could no longer get through to anyone and nobody was contacting us. We found out from the Canadian side of MCA that there had been a palace revolution at the company. A lot of people were sacked and the new boss had decided to stamp his authority by dumping half the roster, unfortunately that included us. At about this time as well, Bud Prager had forgotten to exercise the renewal option on his contract with us which gave us a way out. I think we had been the wrong band for Bud, he had hoped to mould us to some archetype that we could never be. It probably cost us but who knows.
Jamie who like many drummers had a forceful personality, was proving his worth in other ways. He had somehow managed to get Hit and Run, the management company run by Tony Smith that managed Genesis and Peter Gabriel, interested in looking after us as well. This would have been fantastic as Genesis were in negotiations to sign a new deal and Tony Smith was talking about swinging us in on it. It seemed like things were taking a turn for the better. The contracts were drawn up and we were ready to sign when I got a call from Tony Smith, he was sorry but the deal was off. He had met with two of the Chiswick directors. Tony had wanted to get us out of the Chiswick deal so that he could start with a clean slate. As I understand it, Chiswick were unable to agree to this as they had signed licensing deals on future product, so that was that.
On the positive side we toured Scandinavia with the new line up to great acclaim and Love/Action became our most successful release there, ditto Spain. In Britain some reviewers who had championed the band in the past were not thrilled by the new direction, others loved it. We did so well in Greece that we were booked to play football stadiums. In one of these stadiums they had so much trouble in the past with kids getting in without paying that they ringed the stadium with police. The result was that there was a crowd outside the stadium almost equal in size to the one inside. This had the curious effect of having the inside applause closely followed by the outside applause, wonderful for us if not the promoter. We also toured Germany, Benelux and Scandinavia, played London, did several European festivals; live the new line up was starting to really gel. Listening to Love/Action now it sounds remarkably up to date, maybe because eighties production values have had a bit of a resurgence, who knows.