WONDERFUL LIFE WAS A BIG HIT IN 1987 – A GREAT SINGLE FROM, FOR SOME, A REMARKABLE NEW TALENT – BUT LIVERPUDLIAN BLACK (aka COLIN VEARNCOMBE) HAD ACTUALLY BEEN ISSUING RECORDS SINCE AN INDIE LABEL 7″, IN 1981.
The A-side of that first release – HUMAN FEATURES – is included on the SCARED TO GET HAPPY box set. In this brief interview with The Mouth Magazine, Vearncombe discusses his first record, and hints at his feelings on the enduring WONDERFUL LIFE. He discusses a little of what time on a major label was like (he was signed to both WEA and A&M), revealing that his first taste of success was “the beginning of the end”, and explains why he’s released records under both his own name and as Black, on the independent label he has set up: Nero Schwarz.
FOR MANY, YOU MAY BE SOMETHING OF A SURPRISE INCLUSION ON SCARED TO GET HAPPY AS YOU’D SEEMED TO ARRIVE FULLY FORMED WITH HIT SINGLE WONDERFUL LIFE, IN 1987…
All artists seem to appear fully formed, don’t they? Except to those who noticed them from the get go – typically, not many.
WELL, I’D LIKE TO GET THE INEVITABLE WONDERFUL LIFE QUESTIONS OUT OF THE WAY… HAS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SONG CHANGED?
I’ve got nothing new to add! The song is now older than some of the people listening to it – and has, in most ways, ceased to be mine… It belongs to those who love it.
THE TRACK ON SCARED TO GET HAPPY – HUMAN FEATURES – WAS ACTUALLY YOUR DEBUT SINGLE FROM SIX YEARS BEFORE THAT HIT. HOW DID YOU GET TO THE POINT WHERE YOU WERE PUTTING OUT THAT RECORD?
I wrote some songs, the drummer had a job and fronted the money for a bit of recording in a studio… Rox records was merely an interface with a pressing plant – our nerve ran out in that area, but we could have done it ourselves! Then I got busy hustling to get some attention and distribution – had to pay the drummer back, right?
DO YOU REMEMBER MUCH ABOUT THAT TIME?
Broke but happy, fired by the dream… People sometimes write to me asking if they should or shouldn’t have a go at music – I usually say “don’t’!” because if you have to ask then you really don’t have what it takes to be a professional musician / artist. Obviously, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t just do it anyway… Most of what it takes is balls and audacity.
DID YOU HAVE A “DAY JOB”, BACK THEN?
Never had a day job for longer than two weeks. I’m not proud of that – but that’s the way it panned out.
YOU SIGNED TO WEA AFTER A COUPLE OF INDIE SINGLES… DID YOU NOTICE A CHANGE IN HOW THINGS WERE DONE, OR HOW PEOPLE DEALT WITH YOU?
No. Of course, some people start celebrating as soon as they sign – but I knew it was only the beginning… In fact, all you’ve done when you sign with a major is take a loan from a shark – admittedly a shark with some muscle when it comes to selling…
YOU FAIRLY QUICKLY LEFT WEA, SO PRESUMABLY YOU’D ACTUALLY BEEN ON A ‘DEVELOPMENT’ DEAL. WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING ‘LET GO’ LIKE?
Like being fired. But worse. People get sacked all the time but often from jobs they never really liked anyway. When it’s you and your music, things are much more fraught. It’s a bit like someone threatening your children as you stand helpless…
YOU THEN RELEASED WONDERFUL LIFE ON AN INDIE (IN 1985)… PRESUMABLY IT WAS THIS THAT GOT YOU PICKED UP BY A&M?
To be pernickety, it was the fact the the indie single was in the lower reaches of the charts anyway that did it. Chris Briggs from A&M endeared himself to me hugely when he opened his conversation with acknowledgement of the fact that it doesn’t take much to discover someone who’s in the charts already! And let me be clear: I signed with A&M because he was there.
A&M PUT OUT WONDERFUL LIFE, AND IT WAS A HIT. SWEETEST SMILE WENT TOP TEN, THE ALBUM WENT TOP THREE… HOW MUCH DID IT MEAN TO YOU?
Sure it was gratifying… but it was also the start of the real problems… because every song after that point isn’t SWEETEST SMILE or WONDERFUL LIFE! And, of course, success having many fathers means everyone suddenly knows what you should be doing! I really didn’t have the armour to deal with it.
SO DID YOU FIND THAT YOU HAD TO MAKE COMPROMISES TO BE SUCCESSFUL?
YOU WERE ON A&M FOR FOUR YEARS – WHAT WAS THE RELATIONSHIP LIKE?
Fine – until Briggs developed the personal problems with drugs and alcohol dependency that he’s subsequently done so well in banishing. A frustrating man sometimes, but a good one and the only person on that side of the business I ever met with a functioning pair of ears! After him, the rest were just in business… he was in music.
YOU’VE SINCE FOUNDED YOUR OWN LABEL: NERO SCHWARZ. WAS THAT BECAUSE OF YOUR EXPERIENCES ON WEA AND A&M?
Sometimes when you want a thing done properly… Ha ha ha – here come the years of cock up. But my cock up! I can live with that.
YOU’VE CONTINUED TO RELEASE RECORDS, BUT UNDER THE NAMES BLACK AND COLIN VEARNCOMBE… IS THERE A DISTINCT DIFFERENCE?
I thought so, but I was wrong. My musical vision is just the way it is… I’ve spent far too much time listening to people talk about marketing and brand – and shite like that – when I should have been demonstrating what the brand is. And if they can’t market it, they get fired and I end up broke.
FINALLY, COLIN, WHAT DOES INDEPENDENT MUSIC MEAN TO YOU?
You make music for the reason of making music your way… Then comes the independent music business: a small version of the other, but the gap is closing fast.