LOL Creme was never one to seek the limelight. In fact, after his days in rock band 10cc came to an end, he and fellow band member Kevin Godley went behind the scenes to direct some of the most iconic music videos of the past 50 years.
And Lol is typically self-deprecating as he chats to me from his home in Surrey.
“I am a gifted amateur who keeps blundering on — but I love doing it,” he said.
Now 74, the Manchester born-and-bred musician is delighted that a collection of rare recordings made by him and Kevin have been released.
Frabjous Days — The Secret World of Godley & Creme 1967-1969 (Grapefruit Records) includes tracks that the duo recorded under the name Frabjoy and Runcible Spoon for a planned 1969 album for music impresario Giorgio Gomelsky’s Marmalade label that was never released.
Gomelsky envisaged the pair as a British Simon and Garfunkel.
But Gomelsky did a runner after spending all the money Polydor had advanced him for his Marmalade imprint — leaving Frabjoy and Runcible Spoon in limbo with just seven tracks recorded.
“I’d actually forgotten about the songs as I hadn’t kept track,” Lol said. “They were recorded pre-10cc and I remember Giorgio being a Rasputin-type person.
“He was a massive fellow and when he was high everyone else was, but when he was angry, the atmosphere was low and vile.
“Giorgio was a powerful personality and you’d feel encouraged or demoralised when you were working in his studio.
“If we were lucky, the atmosphere would be good and the engineer would not be hiding from Giorgio under the desk!”
The compilation also features a 1969 solo track that Lol and Kevin’s future 10cc bandmate Graham Gouldman recorded for Marmalade called The Late Mr Late, and two unreleased songs written by Graham which the duo recorded in 1969 called Hot Sun and Virgin Soldiers.
Other tracks on the album include two songs from a 1968 single which Lol and Kevin released under the moniker The Yellow Bellow Room Boom, and two more unreleased tracks.
The the 19-track CD also comes packaged with a 28-page booklet featuring a new essay, as well as rare photos and memorabilia.
Lol recalled: “It was Kevin and mine’s first experience of being taken seriously, so at the time there was unequivocal excitement about the whole thing.”
Music played a huge part in the multi-instrumentalist’s life from his early years in Prestwich, north Manchester.
Born to Betty and Harold Creme, Lol remembered his dad loving music — especially classical — and a radio in a “big brown box in the corner of the living room”.
He recalled: “I received a record player as one of my barmitzvah presents and, with it, two records, Apache by The Shadows and Duane Eddy’s Shazam. That was it for me.
“I also remember, on a family holiday to Barcelona, being bought a guitar for around three quid. I was hooked and music became serious.”
Lol and Kevin already knew each other when they joined the Jewish Lads Brigade, which is where they met Graham.
Their first recorded collaboration was in 1964, when Graham’s band The Whirlwinds recorded Lol’s composition Baby Not Like You, as the B-side of their only single, Look At Me.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing in the early days.
“I had a great childhood and dad took me to JLB before it had its own building — as far as I can remember it was in an old gym somewhere,” Lol explained.
“You either joined the silver band or the bugle band, and my grandma used to polish the cymbals.
“I tried the cornet and bugle, but I couldn’t play either!
“A couple of years after I joined JLB, it moved to a beautiful building in Middleton Road.
“That is where my band, The Sabres, did our first gig.
“Three or four table-tennis tables were put together and we’d stand on those.
“Meanwhile, Graham and The Whirlwinds practised next door, as they had a proper music room to rehearse in. We knew our place, even then!”
Lol and Kevin attended an art school in Manchester — they were still students there when they recorded the tracks with Gomelsky.
Graham was forging a successful songwriting career, penning hits for such acts as The Hollies, The Yardbirds and Herman’s Hermits.
Meanwhile, future 10cc bandmate Eric Stewart had left Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders, and set up Strawberry Studios, in Stockport.
Graham and Eric enlisted Lol and Kevin to write songs and produce stars such as Neil Sedaka.
“In those days, you’d do a three-hour session in the recording studio and then you’d go to the pub while a professional producer added strings or whatever,” Lol said.
“By the 1970s, more musicians were actually interested in the actual production of a record.
“Then, when the 1980s came in, it was the beginning of digital, synthesisers and all the rest of it, so the technology drove the production.”
One day, at Strawberry Studios, Lol, Kevin and Eric began trying out newly-installed record equipment — Graham was in New York working for bubblegum pop company Super K Productions.
The trio’s ‘messing about’ resulted in the single Neanderthal Man, which was released under the moniker Hotlegs.
It sold two million copies across the world and reached number two in the UK Singles Chart — only kept off the top spot by Elvis Presley’s The Wonder Of You.
Grapefruit Records parent company Cherry Red released Hotlegs Thinks: School Stinks a few years ago.
Hotlegs eventually developed into 10cc, with Jonathan King signing them to his UK Records label.
10cc’s first single, Donna, reached number two in the UK Singles Chart in 1972, and was written by Lol and Kevin.
And Lol confirmed the rumour that they had thought about calling their band ‘Three Yids and a Yok’, as he, Kevin and Graham are all Jewish and Eric isn’t.
“That is actually true,” Lol laughed. “Obviously we didn’t go with it and our name, 10cc, was actually chosen by bloody Jonathan King.”
10cc went on to sell more than 15 million albums in the UK and more than 30 million albums worldwide.
They had five consecutive UK top-10 albums: Sheet Music, The Original Soundtrack, How Dare You!, Deceptive Bends and Bloody Tourists.
10cc also had 12 singles in the UK Top 40, three of which were number one — Rubber Bullets, I’m Not in Love and Dreadlock Holiday.
Known as the nice guys of the British music scene, their touring days were not exactly a concoction of sex, drugs and rock ’n roll.
“We had a thing among ourselves that, instead of trashing hotel rooms, we would redecorate them and make them look nicer,” Lol joked.
Perhaps one of the reasons he did not involve himself with raucous behaviour was due to the fact that he was already married, to Angie.
The couple marked their 50th wedding anniversary this year and are parents to son Lalo.
That family unit helped keep him sane, too.
He said: “I’ve always been really grateful to have come from a stable background, a traditional Jewish family with two loving parents.
“I had the maximum support from my wife, as well, when it came to all the travelling we did as a band.
“I saw a heck of a lot on the road and it is easy to get carried away with yourself, and become a bit arrogant and self-indulgent.
“The huge stars I know who have enjoyed great success are the ones who are really lovely.
“They are good at what they do and have come through tough times without being a complete a***hole.
“It’s the ones on the second rung on the ladder who had a bit of a chip on their shoulder.”
And Lol is insistent that he and Kevin never set out to be pop stars.
“We were art students and everything we did was for the sake of having fun,” he explained.
“We’d been in a few bands, but we became songwriters.
“Graham we knew, obviously, and we wrote two song for him and his gorgeous voice.
“We presented them to Giorgio, who invited us down to London to sing for his Marmalade label.
“To listen to the tracks on this new album has been quite an extraordinary experience.”
Lol and Kevin left 10cc in 1976 and formed Godley & Creme, an innovative duo who later directed some of the most memorable music videos in history.
They also released four albums, Consequences, L, Freeze Frame and Ismism.
Their 1979 hit An Englishman in New York, from Freeze Frame, featured an ingenious video with Kevin singing in front of Lol, as the latter conducted mannequins dressed as members of a 1930s big band orchestra.
Back then, purpose-made videos for songs were a rarity — however, the advent of music channel MTV came just at the right time for Lol and Kevin.
Among the videos they made were Fade To Grey, by Visage; Duran Duran’s Girls On Film and A View To a Kill; Two Tribes and The Power of Love, by Frankie Goes to Hollywood; Every Breath You Take, by The Police; Wang Chung’s Everybody Have Fun Tonight; and Don’t Give Up, by Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel.
And one of their most impressive visual tricks was for their own video for 1985 hit Cry.
It featured a host of faces, including their own, morphing from one to the next, using techniques which were considered revolutionary at the time.
“I absolutely loved doing the videos,” Lol enthused. “The spirit of rock and roll in the music business was gone by then, and nobody had a clue what they were doing when it came to music videos to start with.
“It was basically trial and error, but there was a pioneer spirit.
“Sitting in the edit suite working on that first video was exhilarating. We had to learn again, but we took to it like ducks to water.”
Lol and Kevin later split, with the former joining Art of Noise, alongside Trevor Horn, Ann Dudley and Paul Morley.
After that he moved to Los Angeles, where he directed adverts.
Kevin, meanwhile, continued to direct music videos and, in 2006, he teamed up with Graham to release six new tracks under the name GG06.
Lol and Angie loved their near-14 years in LA. But when recession struck, advertising was the first industry to take a huge hit.
“Coca-Cola was never going to spend millions of dollars on a new campaign during that time,” grandfather-of-one Lol recalled.
“We were fortunate that we kept our house in Surrey, so we moved back there.”
These days, he is a voracious reader, enjoys painting, watching snooker — he is a huge fan of Ronnie O’Sullivan — and regularly performs in The Trevor Horn Band at charity events and festivals.
Lol’s brother-in-law is Eric Stewart, who married Angie’s sister, Gloria.
And Lol is not averse to reuniting with 10cc — but thinks that the chance of it happening would be remote. Graham is the only original member in the current 10cc touring band.
“I’ve not seen or heard from Kevin for years,” Lol added.
“When I was in America he was living in the UK and now I’m back here and he’s in Ireland.
“I’ve bumped into Graham a few times as he sometimes uses Trevor’s rehearsal rooms. Eric is living in France, but I am not sure if he would be up to it physically.
“Saying that, I’m not against anything to do with having fun and making music.”
A regular visitor to Manchester to see his sister, Susan, Lol is proud of his background but isn’t practising.
He said: “Being Jewish is a marvellous thing, but I don’t go to shul. I do think about being Jewish all the time and how lucky I am to have been raised with this whole culture and outlook. It is about enjoying it in my own personal and private way.”
Remarkably unpretentious, he considered writing his biography a few years ago — but then decided not to.
“I ditched it when I realised I wasn’t that interested in doing it,” Lol said.
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