'80s - T'Pau (2010)
'The T'Pau Story: The Heart & Soul of Intimate Strangers'
The band T'Pau formed in 1986 in Shropshire, taking their name from a Vulcan priestess by the same name in the Star Trek films. Prior to deciding on this name, they were called Talking America on early demos sent to record and publishing companies.
Their debut single and first hit was the 1987 release "Heart and Soul". Initially a flop in the UK, it first became a hit in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, reaching #4 after being featured on a Pepe Jeans advertisement; it repeated the feat in the UK Singles Chart some months later.
The following year, the band had their biggest hit with the ballad, "China in Your Hand", which spent five weeks at Number 1 in the UK chart, and also claimed the top slot in several European countries, but made little impact in the United States.
Their 1987 album, Bridge of Spies (the album was called T'Pau in the U.S.) was a best seller and won several British music industry awards. Bridge of Spies produced a number of smaller hits which made it to at least the UK Top 40, including the singles "Valentine" (UK #9), "Sex Talk" (a new recording of early less successful single, "Intimate Strangers") (UK #23), and "I Will Be With You" (UK #14).
1988 saw the release of their second album Rage which produced the hit single "Secret Garden". A third album The Promise followed in 1991, but the band split soon afterwards.
Carol Decker re-formed the band with a new line-up in 1998, whilst former guitarist Ronnie Rogers is currently in the band The Ronaldos. Guitarist Dean Howard has toured and recorded with Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan.
Today T'Pau, featuring Carol Decker are still a major attraction on the live circuit. Luckily for me, I sat down with my friend, the always-beautiful CAROL DECKER and we chatted about the early days of the band, the dark days of the business, and which other '80s star she so kindly reached out to help in late 2010.
Taking it from the top, and knowing that T'Pau was formed in 1986 when taking their name from a Vulcan priestess by the same name in Star Trek, come on now, after all these years, let's get this all out on the table of admission - who was the Trekkie in the band that was allowed to win the band-naming vote at the time? "I hate to disappoint all you Trekkies, but I only had a mild interest in the original TV show! The TV was just burbling around in the background and in the episode they kept saying 'Tpau, Tpau, Tpau.' It was like kabing kapow, kerchow Tpau! Onomatopoeic we had the album in the can, ready to release, but no name. It was the one that everybody objected to the least!"
In the UK, it seems that every single (7" - wow, flashback!) you released was a hit! From 1987's 'Heart and Soul' (although, in fairness, it was the re-release that did it for the song) to 1988's 'Secret Garden', each song hit the UK charts and TOTP performances were a regular occurrence for the band. So, for that decade, did it feel like you couldn't put a foot wrong? "It did get a bit 'conveyor-belty.' Ron Rogers and I had been together, both personally and professionally for a long time and we had the material for two albums straight away. And it was good stuff so we were able to roll out the hits in succession."
"As you say, 'Heart & Soul' was a re-release. It stalled in the UK chart at number 98 and went straight back out! We were gutted. Our label were very disappointed. It looked like we were over before we began, but thanks to a UK cinema commercial for Pepe Jeans, and the fct that it soared up the U.S. chart we got a reprieve. And boy, did we fly!"
Now off and flying, what was one of the worst arguments that you guys ever had back then - and over what?! "The worst argument we had was over money, of course. Ron and I got all the publishing as we wrote all the stuff. We went from all being on a sort of wage to us having so much more than the four musicians that we had in the band. I feel we tried to give them a good salary and cuts of merch, but the seed of resentment was sewn."
"They also became very disenchanted with being viewed as my backup. I got all the attention. This included Ronnie too, actually who was my boyfriend at the time."
What do you remember the most about the creation and work that went into the debut album, 'Bridge of Spies' back in 1987? Where there any musical speed bumps making it at the time - and if so, how did you overcome them? "It was just stunning working with Roy Thomas Baker. Everything went up a league. Big studio new Chicago and a big producer. Ron loved all the Queen album's he'd done and we both loved The Cars album."
"Gerry Napier was his engineer and had been Neil Young's FOH for 10 years. We were with the big boys! Roy would have crazy ideas like putting 70 mics around the kit or playing a guitar solo through a pig nose amp on 'Monkey House.' It was his idea to put the bass for 'Heart & Soul' onto a sequencer, as per the demo. But Paul, our bass player - who played the riff live - got really upset as he thought it was a slight on his playing. Which it wasn't! It was just the style of the thing."
"Ron and I were very up for trying different things in production, but some of the band members were insecure and took it the wrong way. Paul never really came around to the idea and felt very offended. And, again, it added to later resentment. But, when push came to shove Ron and I were the talent and called the shots. We would've avoided a lot of problems if we had not said we were a band. They wanted equality and loking back that was never going to happen."
"It's so much easier now that I just pay people when I need them. We all know where we stand."
Was there any track, in reflecton that was just causing you too much trouble, for some reason? "Yes, we were working on a track that just wasn't cutting it. I can't even remember the bame, but Roy said we were wasting too much time and had we got another song? I literaly had a cassette of a piano vox verson of 'China In Your Hand' (our biggest UK hit, number one for 5 weeks) just roughed out. Roy said, 'That's it, that's the one.' We owe all that dramatic production to him."
When were you made aware that 'Bridge of Spies' (UK) was to be simply named 'T'Pau' in the US - and did it ever make you wonder why? "I found that out when I saw a copy of the LP. There was no title on it, but it turns out it was nothing more sinister than a f**k up by Virgin USA! They had also photoshopped off an 8th off my chin. And the mole on my chin! Virgin UK also used that modified shot! I couldn't quite figure out why I looked subtly different I look more chocolate box pretty!"
So, you noticed the missing mole before the album title?! "I think Ronnie noticed it first and then we asked and were told. I still have the mole. Must get it done one day. You start growing hairs out of them as you get older. I will look like Nanny McFee soon!"
After the release of 'The Promise' (1991) the band split soon afterwards - but why, and what did you personally sink yourself into to escape the band for the following seven (7) years? "This is the scary question. It's all a long time ago now and it's hard for me to recall just how depressed I was. But I was, very."
"The recording of 'The Promise' was horrible. Things had really disintegrated between the band and largely me. They hated me and by default acted badly toward Ronnie also. We were at loggerheads about creativity and money. Ron and I had written the first two albums and had run out of songs and had no time to write; as we were on the road so much. So, we invited the band to write with us. It suited all our purposes."
"We split the writing an even 6 ways as we all bashed it out in a room together. However, when we recorded 'The Promise,' right in the middle of it we were communicating like a divorcing couple through attorneys. We would be in the control room, a call would come in, they would all leave the room and take the call from their lawyer. Another call would come in, Ron and I would leave the room and talk to our lawyer. But none of us talked to each other, which I deeply regret. We were all very angry. In one of those calls I think that the band were told by their lawyer that they had a 4 against 2 majority vote on all the material for 'The Promise' so could withdraw permission for the recording to continue right in the middle of the recording!"
"Ron and I had to compromise a lot about money and felt that they wanted too much. We weren't The Beatles! They were behaving dishonourably and holding a gun to our heads. The writing was on the wall but we had a commitment to the label to finish the album."
"Then on the 20th of December 1990 my dad died suddenly of a heart attack - right in the middle of our recording 'The Promise.' I raced from Rockfield Studios to St. George's hospital in Nuneaton, but he was dead when I got there. My mum was catatonic with shock for days. I took a week off to be with her and cremate dad. I did not get a call from any of them. They sent no flowers or card to my mum. It was over then for me."
"I decided that after this tour I was done. I called it The Walkman Tour as no one was speaking to each other and all had walkman headphones on all the time. On the last day of the German leg back at Heathrow airport, I said 'See you around' and walked away. I couldn't look at them and fired them that week. It took me years to get over how they behaved."
"Tim and Dean and I have now made our peace and I am glad. We went through so much together and before it went bad it was SO good. The label dropped us after that tour as 'The Promise' only went Gold after a quadruple platinum album in 'Bridge' and a platinum album in 'Rage.' People forget 'Rage' went platinum as 'Bridge' overshadows everything. 'The Promise' was a much overlooked album and has some great pop songs on it, but the world was over us."
"A new dawn broke with rave - [bands like] The Farm and the Stone Roses. We never fitted in again until now! Viva the 80's renaissance 20 years later :)"
After the band split up, how long after was it that you and Ron broke up? "Ron and I broke up in 1993 after 13 years. I lost my best pal, partner in crime and lover in one blow. I can't really remember much detail. It's a haze of panic and fear. I had about 4 years of going to and from L.A. trying to write with people without much success. I was drinking a ton, in a horrible rebound relationship with a cruel man, then I met Richard, my husband in 1997 and things took a huge turn for the better. I probably owe him my life."
Finally, please tell us more about the recent work you did with Hazel O'Connor, in aid of her own close-to-the-heart charity work "I offered to sing on her hospice song when I got into conversation with Hazel. These hospices do a wonderful job letting families just be together in as positive and loving an environment as possible under the sad circumstances of a patients final months. They are saints."
"Also, my mother lives very near to Coventry where the hospice is so it was no trouble to swing by as I was dropping her home after a visit with me."
"I found singing the song very emotional as although my mum doesn't have cancer she has a bad heart condition. And I do worry about her now she is getting older. I had to have a bit of a cry. Hazel gave me a big hug and then I was able to get on with it. Life is so precious and flies by so quickly - being involved in the project really brought that home."
"Oh God, I need the Kleenex again! Hazel!!!!"
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
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