What do you know of Shirley and how did this come about?
My mum and dad would play Shirley Bassey albums as I was growing up. I obviously know all the Bond stuff she’s done. I forget the year, it was somewhere between ’93 and ’95, we did a royal variety show and she was on it and absolutely stole it. They put her on before half-time break; standing ovation. It was a brilliant site to see. Big orchestra, that big sound she has. I was completely blown away with it and it’s sort of stuck in my memory that has.
How was the approach first made on this song-writing collaboration with Shirley?
It came about from Universal who has signed her. It came through a friend of mine who said listen we’re doing a Shirley Bassey album. We’re looking for all the best song writers to write for it. I asked why he was coming to me and I thought “wow, that would be great,” but didn’t make any promises that I was gonna turn anything in because I find often when you, especially for me nowadays, I actually say no more than I do yes because I only try to do stuff I really want to do now. The band keeps us so busy, I don’t have time to do much anything else really. But when I heard about this I thought I really want to have a go but I’m not promising anything. So I went away and I must say, most of my best songs have written themselves really quick – twenty, thirty minutes, an hour, two hours but usually quite quickly. The song I’ve written for Shirley, I’ve probably spent about three months writing it because I kept going back and changing it. “No that bits not good enough, I’m gonna change that again and I’d go back and to and back and then my friend called me from the label and said “Can I here something?” and I go “I’ve not finished it actually yet.” So, it spurred me to on to get the last couple of lines that I was missing so I went and invited him down to the studio and said “Is it worth playing for her” and he said “definitely worth playing.” About a week later, I went up to Air studios and met her producer, David Arnold. I met Shirley and I played her the song, sang it. I was quite nervous actually. She loved it straight away and was singing it within about two minutes. She learned it really quickly. I just can’t wait to hear the finished record. That’s all I’ve heard, just that one bit of her singing it with me at the piano. So, I’m dying to hear it.
When you first set out to write this track for Shirley, what was in your head? What were thinking about in terms of what would be
a right song for Shirley?
My first thought was that it would be too obvious to do a great big ballad. Very orchestral, kind of retro, sound like it could come from a big musical. And yet in the end that’s what I ended up doing. I’ve done a big Bert Bacharach sound. It could be in Carousel really, this song because I thought, you know, you think now and again, that’s too simple, too obvious and they’re the things that are usually right. So I went back, I second-guessed myself and I thought, “No, that’s what I want to do. I want to write something like that for her.”
So you want to write something classy. It wasn’t too radical. Have you got a name for the track at the moment? Is it still unnamed?
The track has been delivered. It’s called “This time.” There’s not much to talk about really. It’s a very complete song. I’ve went through the story of it. She’s a great singer so I think when you’re a writer, the thing you’re most nervous about is how someone else is going to perform your work. How are they gonna get your lyrics across. Are they gonna use the right emotion and I just listened to her, 30 seconds of her singing and I’m just so excited to here the finished result. Because, you know, your keyboard is three times the length it would normally be if you were writing for somebody – she’s got such a wide range and great power. You don’t hear singers like that anymore. It’s very, very exciting as a writer – a great project to be a part of.
Is she fun to work with? She looks like she could stretch you a bit.
I think it’s very hard for her – I don’t know what everyone else is like – but at the point I’m starting to relax I remember it’s Dame Shirley Bassey and I get like [tightens up] back to work. She’s a legend. In our lifetime, she’s a legend. I think in music, and I’m a big fan of music, young and old. Her career spanned years and years. We’re all desperate to be around for years and years and she has done it.
Do you think you’ll be playing live with her at all? Do you think we’ll see you playing with her on the tour? You’ve got any time?
Who knows. I’d love to, definitely.
Is it interesting working with a producer like David Arnold?
He’s a great guy. Love his work. It’s great pairing actually, David and Shirley. I think he’s not too obvious. He often takes risks. Again, he’s had a career that’s spanned over years and years. He’s a great musician and I think a perfect partner for her for this record.
We’ve got some other collaborators involved: the Pet Shop Boys, the Kaiser Chiefs, Rufus Wainwright, KT Tunstall, so it’s quite a mixed bag that’s going to be on this record. What direction do you think they’ll take? How do you think this album will turn out?
I’ve heard all the other songs –taking no risks (laughing). When I heard the other people’s songs I’d think that’s unusual, that’s interesting, they’ve taken that approach. It helped me to finish what I was doing because I thought yeah, yeah, it’s good, I’m on the right wave-length.
The John Barry song as well. I love everything he’s ever done. I think, obviously it’s a very exciting project, but also to be a part of that list is a great thing for the record collection that is.
Have you heard Kaiser Chiefs?
I’ve heard theirs. Theirs is great.
We’re hoping we might see this album live at some point. IF you had to be up there with anyone on the album, who would you like to be up there with?
I really like Rufus Wainwright. I really like him. I like his song that he’s done for this. Anyone who’s involved really. I think she’s chosen some great people. I know there are other artists who’ve put stuff in as well and I feel quite privileged that my song has been chosen in a way. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it all turns out.