Saturday morning, 9am. Sometime 1980. Last night was a heavy one. The phone rings. ‘Bugger that,’ I think, and turn over in my bed. But someone answers anyway. Next thing I know, my friend Pam is shaking me, saying, in quite urgent fashion, “It’s Jonathan King for you”.
“Tell him I’ll call him back,” I croak.
“I’m not telling Jonathan King you can’t talk to him!” says Pam. Easy to forget what a big deal Jonathan was back then. So I get up, go downstairs and pick up the phone. “Hi Jonathan, how are you?”
Let me tell you a couple of things about Jonathan King. The first time I met him was in a pub in Beak St, during Carnaby Street’s heyday. I was working at Music Week, the music industry’s bible. Every Monday lunchtime – press day – the Editor would take us off to the pub and try to get some luminary to join us. This particular week it was Jonathan King.
At some point in the conversation I decided to say something. I was 19, two years out of Wolverhampton, and perhaps not quite as suave as I thought I was. Hearing me speak, Jonathan looked at me quizzically and said: “Would you mind saying that again, only this time opening your mouth and enunciating?”
It would be wrong to suggest he and I became friends. Nevertheless, seven years later, out of work for the first time in my life, I took a gig freelancing at Midem, the music industry’s biggest European festival. It would be no exaggeration to say that at this point in my life I was a complete nobody.
Only a year before, I had been a minor somebody. Music Week had conferred its own magic status, and all doors had been open and welcoming for seven years. You got used to being wanted and courted.
I had left in 1973 to work in Artists & Repertoire, talent scouting at CBS Records, another job where I was courted assiduously and got to work with the likes of Mott The Hoople, Mike Batt and David Essex.
But in 1975, CBS fired me because I’d spent half a million quid and signed no hit artists. By 1976 I had no job and no status.
And yet when I arrived in the foyer of the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, the fabulous Tony King (the Beatles marketing guy, no relation) and Jonathan broke away from their group of music industry bigwigs and came over to make such a fuss of me that everyone in the place wanted to know who this newcomer was. God bless the Kings (and queens).
So what was it Jonathan wanted on this Saturday morning in 1980? He was phoning to tell me he’d heard one of my songs, The Waltz. “I want to tell you, Paul, this is one of the best songs I’ve heard in the past 10 years”. You can’t buy the kind of feeling you get from moments like these, and Jonathan King has given me two of those moments in my life.
The Waltz was written sometime in 1977 at the height of Punk. I loved Punk. There’s a book by Nick Cohn called Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom. You should read it. It’s great fun and fizzes off the page. Plus he explains, very convincingly, that every time pop music gets tired and lazy, someone comes along who really upsets the grownups and the establishment, and that’s “the next big thing”.
So if I had still been an a&r man I would have signed the Sex Pistols in a heartbeat.As luck would have it, I was out of work. Instead, I visited all the heads of a&r at that I knew and told them, for God’s sake sign the Pistols. As an example, the guy at RCA Records said: “Oh, I couldn’t do that,” he said. “It would upset my other artists.”
“What,” I said. “Jack Jones? Bonnie Tyler? Middle Of The Road (Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep – remember?). Fuck ’em.” Needless to say he didn’t.
Much as I welcomed Punk though, I couldn’t help speculating about their sex lives. How would it happen, I thought? So I wrote The Waltz, whose opening line is, “Do young men kiss their girls these days?”. It was hard to think of green haired, spiked and safety-pinned kids being romantic.
Later, my song publisher told me that Cliff Richard loved the song and was going to record it. Well, that’s what you get for writing an old-fashioned song, and I wasn’t going to complain.
Unfortunately, when Cliff got the lyric sheet in front of him he realised what the last verse signified. “And there, in the dark, what does she do, she watches you watching her“. Whoops. Cliff the Christian wasn’t going to be singing about that kind of how’s your father. Which meant no big payday for me.
But I still love The Waltz. I could have given it a less enigmatic title, but it is in waltz time, and I don’t think punks did a lot of waltzing. So the title just accents the irony of a song about sex and romance with spitting and safety pins involved. I hope you like it. And thanks to the joys of computer technology, I’ve been able to add a harmony I felt was missing for 35 years.
Here it is then, this week’s song – The Waltz. Think about the Punks when you listen. It does add a certain je ne sais quoi.