Heirs to The Beatles: the story of 10cc

Graham Gouldman recalls the era when his band were creating smart, inventive pop that made them one of the best in the business


10cc: Lol Creme, Eric Stewart, Graham Gouldman and Kevin Godley

10cc: Lol Creme, Eric Stewart, Graham Gouldman and Kevin Godley

With their run of hits such as Donna, I’m Mandy Fly Me, The Wall Street Shuffle and Art For Art’s Sake and their number one singles I’m Not In Love, Rubber Bullets and Dreadlock Holiday, 10cc were one of the biggest bands of the ’70s.

More than that, they remain the biggest Jewish band ever to come out of Britain. There have been many popular solo Jewish stars, from Marc Bolan to Amy Winehouse, but there has never been a more successful rock group comprising Jewish members.

Mostly Jewish, that is. 10cc were three-quarters kosher: Graham Gouldman, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme were friends who used to rehearse at Jewish Lads Brigade in North Manchester. Godley and Creme later attended art school and Gouldman became a writer of hits for the likes of The Hollies, The Yardbirds and Herman’s Hermits.

But it was only when they teamed up with Eric Stewart, formerly of The Mindbenders and singer on their worldwide number one, Groovy Kind Of Love, at the dawn of the ’70s, that they became famous as 10cc.

Not that they were always going to be called that. There was a brief mad moment when they looked at the religious make-up of the group and wondered if they should go by the name of Three Yids and a Yok.

“It was a joke, really,” explains Gouldman. “We never would have done it. It would have been offensive to Eric and it would have been offensive to us! Eric was fine about it, though. We explained the derivation of the word and he knew that ‘yid’ was detrimental to a Jewish person.”

Gouldman is the only original member of the band who still tours as 10cc. Stewart lives in France, where he occasionally records, Creme is in a band with-producer Trevor Horn, and Godley, based in Ireland, has been working on a “music creation” app.

And although Godley and Creme were creative partners for 27 years — after leaving 10cc they became a musical duo as well as video directors for Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel and The Police — they hardly speak these days.

Likewise Gouldman and Stewart: after working together on and off for a quarter of a century, not to mention penning I’m Not In Love, one of the greatest songs of the post-Beatles era, they are no longer in touch.

It is Creme and Stewart who keep in contact because they are brothers-in-law, while Godley recently appeared onstage with Gouldman’s iteration of 10cc at the Royal Albert Hall. But they have all individually contributed to Tenology, a five-CD box set of their work that has just been released.

It is a timely reminder of 10cc’s brilliance as songwriters, musicians and producers. Tracks as varied and dense with melodic and lyrical ideas as Clockwork Creep, Silly Love and The Worst Band In The World made 10cc seem like your arty and acerbic older brothers. No wonder Paul McCartney was such a fan of their music. Many saw 10cc as the rightful heirs to The Beatles.

'For a millisecond there was a chance of me being a rabbi,' says Gouldman. 'It sounds ridiculous now but it’s true'

They had come a long way from the suburbs of Manchester. Gouldman grew up in Broughton Park in an Orthodox household.

“Let me rephrase that,” he says. “We were members of an Orthodox shul. I went to synagogue with my dad and we kept all the festivals at home. Dad was frum to the extent that he’d eat kosher. But as he would say, there are different degrees of hypocrisy.

"Put it this way: when my dad and I went to shul, we’d walk there and back. And then in the afternoon he’d go and watch Man Utd. Maybe he had a pact with God that it was okay. Did the rabbi find out? The rabbi knew everything.”

In fact, so impressed was he by the rabbi that after his barmitzvah — which he sang and for which he got “rave reviews” (“My mother still tells everyone how great I was,” he laughs) — Gouldman briefly intended following in his footsteps.

“I wanted to be like him,” he reveals. “For a millisecond there was a chance of me being a rabbi. It sounds ridiculous now but it’s true.”

Instead, Gouldman pursued a career in music. But at least he did so surrounded mainly by Jews. First there were the American producers of “bubblegum” pop, Kasenetz-Katz, who he went to work with in New York. Then he came home and joined forces with Godley, Creme and Stewart who had just had a worldwide smash, as Hotlegs, with the novelty song Neanderthal Man.

And just before Hotlegs became 10cc, Gouldman, Stewart, Godley and Creme were the backing band for Neil Sedaka on two of his early ’70s albums.

Even when 10cc became superstars and regulars in the charts and on TV, Gouldman could feel the pull of his roots.

“I didn’t like it when we had to work on Yom Kippur,” he admits. “I remember doing Top Of The Pops for Rubber Bullets, travelling down to London on the train and feeling slightly uneasy about it.”

It happened again when he was late for Pesach dinner with his first wife (his second wife died but he recently got married for a third time, to a good north London Jewish girl).

“She was doing Seder night and again I had to do Top of The Pops,” he recalls. “So I rented a plane to make sure I’d be back in time, because I knew how much it meant to her. But I was late anyway, and I remember walking in and I’ll never forget the scene — it was like one of those clichéd westerns where the cowboy goes into the bar and there’s complete silence. Was she broigus? A bit. But 10cc were the most important thing in the world to me.”

Gouldman’s early songs for The Hollies et al featured a lot of minor keys “because that’s what I heard in shul. Maybe there’s a bit of suffering in there”.

10cc’s output, meanwhile, had a similarly satirical feel to the music of Steely Dan, their US counterparts, whose frontman Donald Fagen (and producer Gary Katz) were also Jewish. Gouldman agrees that there is a Jewish voice — a “shtick-y” sensibility — that runs through popular culture, one that extends to the comedy of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David.

He is constantly amazed by how many Jews gravitate towards popular music. “The number of Jewish songwriters is totally out of proportion,” he says, citing Burt Bacharach, Carole King, Bob Dylan, Lieber and Stoller and Leonard Cohen as examples. “Look up any non-Jewish festival and there will be a song written about it by a Jew.”

It’s true: Easter Parade and White Christmas were both written by Irving Berlin. Gouldman laughs at the irony.
“Love it,” he says. “Still, business is business, right?”

Tenology is out now on Universal

Last updated: 9:16pm, January 8 2013