senior showtime

Paul Hamilton:


High Wycombe is a satellite town of London and it was there, at Bucks New University’s Students Union building on Thursday 8th March 2012, Producers played the last of their nationwide sprint of college gigs. The group themselves – Trevor Horn, Lol Creme, Steve Lipson and Ash Soan, names that will almost certainly be found lurking in the small print of your record collection, no matter what your stripe – are no somersaulting, pirouetting circus performers. All, bar the far younger Soan, bear the hallmarks of a million recording sessions; the studio tans, the take-away pizza jowls, the all-night mixing-board hunches, the baggy-eyed insomniac ruination of a zillion repetitions of the slim volume of muso wisecrackery. So what are they doing and why are they doing it? (More pertinent, perhaps, is what am I asking and why am I asking it? The answers are plain: They do what they do and they do it because they do it. Like philosopher king Sinatra would say, “Do be do be do.”)

photo: Paul Hamilton

Lol Creme was probably half-joking when he said that the purpose of leaving the studio and hitting the road was to see if they could cut it playing in a pub. In a sense, it’s the toughest gig – winning over a partisan audience, in this instance a couple of hundred students who weren’t even born when Horn et al were pushing technology to the limits with ‘Two Tribes’. (And two tribes of opposing generations were facing each other at this venue.) Happily, Producers won this battle: They stumbled onstage with barely a ripple of acknowledgment (“Hello?” Horn quavered, peering through the lights: “Er, we’re here. Shall we come on again?”) and exited some 70 minutes later to roars for more.

Photo: Paul Hamilton

A game that’s fun to play – partly because it’s all guesswork and it doesn’t matter, really, because it’s a debate and, no matter what conclusions are arrived at, the world still turns – is to pick apart the seams of a collaboration, trying to figure out who injects what into a joint venture. Lol Creme sings a new song – actually, it’s five years old – called ‘Barking Up The Right Tree’ and one can analyse and attempt to deduce, from what is missing from it, the input of Kevin Godley, his former writing partner. The surprising aspect is that it’s a totally straight song about love. Other than the wordplay in the title, a sweet twist on the well-worn old adage ‘barking up the wrong tree’, there’s little in the lyrical form and content to mark it out as Smart-Arse School Of Godley & Creme. One supposes that, had Godley been on board, there would have been some subversive upsetting of the applecart – maybe in the last verse we find his lover hanging dead from a branch of the Right Tree. (Similarly, in the GG06 songs Godley recorded with his former rhythm partner in 10cc, Graham Gouldman, the lyric content is unremittingly dark – poetic, yes; but the trademark wit is ebony, the landscape barren and bleak. Creme would have shone some light in the shadows, added a lick of colourful melodic paint. Godley & Creme’s strength lay in the harmony and balance of two opposing forces. This isn’t to say that the material they now write separately from one another is better or worse or anything. It’s just different. They’re not the same people and the old world is gone.)

In addition to a leper’s handful of Producers songs – ‘Barking Up The Right Tree’ being an anomaly (a deft, no-frills, fireside Honest Joe strum-a-long, far from the progging crowd that surrounds it) and the Yes-like ‘Freeway’ being the highlight, the filigree of dancing guitar notes bludgeoned by the irresistible force of a hammering Horn/Soan battery – the band rip through a mini-catalogue of numbers from Horn & Lipson’s studio diaries’ back pages. To hear ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ and ‘All The Things She Said’ shorn of the dominatrix defiance of Grace Jones and teen scream of tAtU is to experience them afresh. These are complex works of heart and mind previously masquerading as image-enforced run-of-the-mill pop fodder.

Trevor Horn makes for a diffident, somewhat baffled front man. Looking like Ronnie Corbett with an ice cream on his head, he engages with the audience like a slightly mad old uncle who’s walked into a children’s party, imparting some good-humoured banter on his way to his garden shed where he tinkers with Heath Robinson-like contraptions. For all his studio perfectionism, it’s he who makes the occasional boob on his 5-string bass (mouthing ‘Bollocks!’ after hitting a bum note) and this is a wonderful experience: He is not perfect, he’s just an ordinary bloke – albeit making extraordinary music. Horn also is carefree and willing to clown around. He isn’t ‘above’ trying to rap, a task he acquits self-mockingly, and his love and passion for pop music is exposed when they play Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, that essential link between the Broadway daredevilry of Anthony Newley and the rock operatics of The Who and the audio explorers that followed. Appropriate, too, that ‘Space Oddity’ builds its dramatic tension on the basis of existential solitude in the new technological age. The filmic jump-cut from NASA’s panicking radio operator (“Can you hear me, Major Tom? Can you hear me, Major Tom? Can you -?”) to the blissed, listless astronaut (” – here am I floating in a tin can”) surpasses Kubrick’s bone-machine edit in ’2001: A Space Odyssey’ in its emotional power. A shame that the song wasn’t performed as a duet between Trevor and Lol.

Creme keeps mainly to providing rhythm guitar – the long, loping, loopy-looking Lipson tending to lurk at the back, reeling out lyrical lead lines – and semi-comic banter (mainly on the theme of their decrepitude). He sings two 1973-vintage 10cc hits, ‘Rubber Bullets’ and ‘The Dean & I’, but the cartoon soprano of yore has long gone. The trio of singers – Kirsten, Katie & Holly – handle the nigh-castrato sections originally tackled by Creme and Godley, leaving Lol to perform in his ‘mature’ voice first heard on Kate Bush’s ‘Aerial’ album where he’s found c

g ‘He loves, he loves, he does love his numbers’. What is undiminished is the absolute strangeness of ‘The Dean & I’, a construct that breaks or ignores almost every rule in the songwriters’ rule book. A Top 10 hit with no chorus? (Let’s not even begin to unravel the travels in time undertaken in the lyric…)

Leaning on the crash barrier at the lip of the stage, I thought there was a malfunctioning air-conditioning unit nearby, as every few seconds a fist of air would punch into the faces of me and the rest of the front row. It turned out it was the after-blast from Ash Soan’s bass drum. A drummer of dexterity, stamina and invention – ah, he makes you sick!

The questions as to the future of popular music, its relevance as an artform or business venture, what is left to sing about, whether the mode is exhausted or we’re teetering on the brink of a whole new adventure, were neither asked or answered here. Quite rightly so! This is not the time for hopeless vacillations by the privileged strokers of the pointy-beards. The name of the game is re-creation, the re-making of the old as something new for the recreation of an audience. Producers must re-produce to survive. On tonight’s evidence, they’ll make good.

Paul Hamilton
Hamilton has made some records. Some are here at

Aural sects:
Bisonics ‘Seconds’
CD available from shop / Download from bandcamp
G.T. Thomas ‘The Luckless Pedestrian Years’
CD available from shop and amazon / Download from itunes bandcamp amazon emusic
Doug Murphy/Paul Hamilton ‘Only Two Can Play’
CD available from shop / Download from itunes bandcamp
Bisonics ‘Play For Today’
CD available from shop / Download from bandcamp
Horrible Head ‘The Gloom Of Youth’
CD available from shop / Download from bandcamp
Loudsneakers ‘undoneup’
CD available from shop / Download from bandcamp

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