Sunday, 5 June 2016

Young Man Gone West

So what happened after City Boy, Steve? If you didn't know already, you'd never guess in a million years...

1978. I was conducting an interview on BRMB. It might well have been Bill Nelson from Bebop Deluxe, but I can't be sure. It was someone on the arty side of pop-rock, in any event. 

A call from security. Someone to see me: Steve Broughton, real name Steve Lunt. We were pals; I'd been championing his band, City Boy, for a couple of years. And they'd finally had a hit, '5705'. 

I hadn't seen him for some time. So, up he came... to hand me a silver disc for sales of their hit. I was chuffed, of course. It led to slightly awkward chat in the studio, in between records, with the three of us: me, my interview guest, who might have been excused for looking slightly askance at my visitor with his very pop hit. 

The following year, City Boy were in the States, a million-dollar contract with Atlantic records under their belts. That was the year they sacked Steve. 

Trying to get a grip as the earth moves 

City Boy were a clever bunch. Individually, they still are. They wrote Interesting Songs, some of which now sound slightly gauche, and certainly of that florid mid-70s period. They were one of a crop of bands that didn't fit into conventional rock. They came up with clever lyrics and complex structures. 10CC and Roxy Music led the way, but there were plenty others, more or less commercially oriented. Then? Punk came along and comprehensively demolished that bandwagon.  

It wasn't entirely a surprise when City Boy hit the buffers. But they had their fans. Up until quite recently, the band enjoyed a reasonably active online fan following.  

After that night at BRMB, I only saw Steve once, when I was working in New York at RCS, the Selector people. I knew Steve was working in the States, so I chased him down through his record label. We hooked up briefly. Ten years later, we caught up properly for two hours of detailed chat over Skype. 

You were a cocky young whippersnapper back in those days...
When we first met you, I came on your show (on the old BRMB), along with Lol Mason, the other lead singer. We didn't have a deal. When I look back now, we were so arrogant! I said some outrageous things. In our wildest dreams we couldn't have been as good as the Steve Gibbons Band at the time. But there I was on the radio, mouthing off about how we were better and younger. Now, that's embarrassing.
But at our next gig – I think it was at Bogarts – we set the house record. Packed the place out. And the A and R guy from Phonogram was there, the same guy who signed Spencer Davis. He didn't know we'd seriously pissed off Steve's fans. But we got the deal. Two months later, we were on the road with Thin Lizzy.
It took you quite a while to score a singles pop hit
Yes. We were on our fourth album. We'd had good critical success. We did a promo tour in the US for the third album, just me and Lol. And it felt like we fitted in the US. We didn't have to compete with Punk over there, rather it was bands like Styx. Album number four was produced by Mutt Lange, who went on to do Foreigner, AC/DC, Def Leppard, The Cars, his then wife Shania Twain... But we were his first UK band - he did our first three albums as well.
Confession time – although City Boy fans already know this - I didn't actually sing on our hit, 5705; it was Roy, the drummer. But Mutt said I should go up there on Top Of The Pops and mime to it. I was the lead singer, the pretty boy of the band. So I did. And we took a huge jump on the charts.  

Then there was... Punk

How did you feel when Punk came along and instantly trashed your commercial prospects?
Mixed feelings! I really enjoyed what punk was doing, but overnight we were lumped in with the dinosaurs, and I struggled with that, maybe more than the other members of the band.  
But you'd had a proper pop hit, and some very well received albums. So then you finally went to the States with a big new album deal. Lots of UK bands tried that back then, and it really didn't always work – Slade tried really hard, for example. Did you make any headway over there?
Yes and no. 5705 was a medium hit. In the US we ran up again much slicker competition like the Bee Gees. Exactly the opposite to our UK situation. 
And what happened after that?
We'd just done our fifth album. Recorded in in Nassau in the Bahamas. The band were starting to splinter into factions. I was really unhappy. We came back after a Canadian tour, and I was called up to our manager's office to be told the band had voted me out. I got some back money and royalties. But it felt weird to say the least. 
Ouch. I'd have been fantastically bitter. 
Well... I was. Lol and I had been working together since we were schoolkids. When we broke up, I lost my friends as well. I should add that Lol and I have now reconnected, and we're the best of friends. 
I only ever did one show after that. I'd put together a band for a solo project. Great musicians, way superior to anybody in City Boy, apart from our guitarist Mike. And I got to the end of that, and said I'm not doing that again. Hated it. Went from the guy who couldn't wait to get onstage to never wanting to do it again. 
So what happened next? 
I was 29. Not the young kid any more. I got a call from Cyndi Lauper's manager. We tried to work out some songs together. Nothing happened. But three months later, she calls me and comes over, really late at night. She had a half finished track, needed a new vocal. It didn't really work. So we sat drinking Guinness and talking. And I played her a track. She asked what it was about. I said Masturbation. She liked that. So we reworked the lyric. It was great fun. And it went top 5 in the US.  It got added to a dirty songs list, along with Prince.... 
...which didn't hurt sales one bit....  
… and that changed my whole life around. I was trying to get a publishing deal. And after She Bop the phone didn't stop ringing.

Enter the Song Doctor

So you become one of those go-to guys to fix songs. That's a very big part of the business these days, of course, with a big guns hired in to do songs for everyone, and star producers. 
I had a bunch of hits with different artists – Stacy Lattisaw, Peter Frampton,  Deniece Williams, Joan Jett. I seem to be able to pick out what can work in someone else's material. 
And then you moved into A and R, which is another kettle of fish.
Yes. Clive Calder, who had managed City Boy, and who owned Jive Records, gave me the job. He wanted a pop person. America was all about Pearl Jam and  Nirvana; he had the Backstreet Boys. So that's where I came in; I chipped in there.
But then one day this fifteen year old girl comes in, and it's Britney Spears. I've still got her demo cassette.  We signed her on a three month development deal. And we hooked her up with Max Martin, who is now one of the most successful songwriters of all time in terms of sales – he'd just done stuff with Backstreet Boys. We flew over to Sweden and we did the first album in about ten days. And then I was hanging on with both hands as the whole thing took off....
Nice work if you can get it. But it's an object lesson. Not one but two comebacks. Lots of bumps in the road. Lots of help from your friends, and more than a bit of hard graft. It's a story of music biz survival. Not many people get the chance, or are allowed to build the bridges, to enable that. Whether you like Cyndi Lauper and Britney Spears or not is irrelevant. It's a fascinating story.

We hope to pick the threads up again for a much more detailed discussion about this end of the process. It's not something I write about that much on this blog, focussing as I do on new and local talent and creativity. I'm looking forward to it. 


City Boy history on Wikipedia
Steve's post-City Boy track record on Allmusic


This post is part of a much longer conversation I had with Steve. You can hear this in much greater detail, as we also talked at length about Steve's choices in music. He has a great love and deep knowledge of classic US pop and soul. Part One of our conversation is here 

And this is Part Two...


Tue 7th, 4pm: Big Wheels -  Steve Lunt part 2
Wed 8th, 11pm: Live and Local: Tom Walker Trio
 (repeated Sat 11th at 11am)
Fri 10th, 3 pm: Muso Takeover: ViX (Fuzzbox, ViX and Her MsChiefs)

After airing, these can be found on Brum Radio's Mixcloud page.

All Radio To Go shows are listed here


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