Gary James' Interview With Gordon Waller of
Peter and Gordon
Peter and Gordon enjoyed considerable musical success in the mid 60s with songs like "A World Without Love", "Nobody I Know", "Woman", "Lady Godiva" and "I Go To Pieces".
Gordon Waller talked with us recently about Peter and Gordon.
Q - I always thought that Peter and Gordon broke up in 1968. What happened to bring this act back together again?
A - We didn't break up at all. We just decided we'd done what we could do at the time. In those days, even if you were top of the bill, you only did like 20 to 25 minutes. By about '67, '68, that 25 minutes was just taken up with playing hits. So we didn't have time for anything other than the hits. It just got very, very tedious doing the same songs night after night after night. So we said let's give it a break for a bit and concentrate on recording. And that break lasted 39 years. (laughs)
Q - Most people would know that Peter went on to become a record producer and manager for people like Linda Ronstadt, but what did you do?
A - I carried on singing. I did a musical called Joseph And His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I did that for about 3 years in various different places in England, including the West End and the National Theatre. Then I went over to Australia and did it there in '75. Then when I came back from there, I was a bit sort of disillusioned about the state of the music, especially in this country. (U.S.) I didn't know much about what was going on in America. I just didn't like what was going on. So, I stopped doing it for about 15 years.
Q - If you thought music was bad then, try listening to some of today's music.
A - Well, there you go. The good thing about today is, some of it's OK, but there's nothing of the new stuff that I'd actually go out and buy. That's a shame. Now-a-days of course, the old music is coming back. That's pretty good...well, not pretty good...it's great! It's great for us old guys. (laughs)
Q - And for the kids too. Just remember they never got to experience the 1960s.
A - Well, you say that...I get probably 25 letters a week, which doesn't sound like quite a lot, but it is quite a lot considering I'm talking about 25 that come from kids under 15, saying that they just discovered various acts including Peter and Gordon and they think it's great and I think it's great, but they actually appreciate the difference between music and what's going on today.
Q - Is it true that both of you and Peter came from well-to-do families?
A - Well, I wouldn't say well-to-do, but we weren't on the poverty line. I think if you want to put it into a class, we'd be called Middle Class. Peter might consider they were Upper Class, but my family was certainly not.
Q - Is it also true that after your school dorm would close, you and Peter would scale the fence and go out and play London clubs?
A - Yes, that's true.
Q - How old would you have been when you were doing this?
A - Well, I first started doing it when I was 16½, 17.
Q - Where would you two practice you act?
A - We both went to a school in London. It was pretty lenient if you like. The fact that it was possible for me to sneak out and sneak over the gate...'cause Peter left school the year before me, but, when I came back, which was usually about 1 o'clock in the morning, I had to climb over this great big 12 ft. wrought-iron gate with huge spikes on the top of it. In fact I put one of 'em through my foot once, which I thought was a dead give away.
Q - I take it the Head Master never caught you.
A - The Head Master didn't know anything about it, but my House Master, 'cause it was a boarding school obviously; once you get into your second year you had what they call studies, so you had your own private little bedroom. This night in question when I put the spike through my foot, of course I left a trail (of blood). I was just wearing a pair of light moccasins. I just left a trail of blood going down from where the gate was, through the house where I was staying in. So, that was a bit of a give away.
Q - Did you have to have medical treatment then?
A - Yes, I did, but the nurse was pretty cool as well. She asked me how I did it and I said it doesn't matter how I did it, I just did it. When you put a hole in your foot, there isn't really very much anyone can do except put dressings on it. So, the next day I was walking around with one shoe on and a great big sort of bandage on the other foot. The people who knew just used to smile.
Q - So, obviously that foot healed and there's no problems.
A - It healed, but like all old injuries the actual hole is still there. And of course like a lot of old scar tissue at certain times it does start itching. So, I'm still aware of exactly where it was and when it happened.
Q - Did you end up graduating from that particular school?
A - Yes.
Q - I almost forgot to ask, when you were doing Joseph And His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the '70s, were you recognized?
A - Oh yes of course. They knew exactly who I was.
Q - How did Peter and Gordon get a record deal? Who pointed the finger at you and said - "You!"
A - Well, quite a lot of people did. This was the early time of independent labels. Of course we'd never heard of 'em so we really didn't take much interest. Having said that, if we had taken a little bit more interest we probably would've gotten a better royalty rate and probably able to get out of it a lot easier. But, it was a producer from E.M.I. in London who asked us if we'd like to do an audition, gave us his card and we said yes, we'd love to. At the time it was E.M.I. or Phillips or Decca. Those were really the only three record companies in England. E.M.I. of course had loads of subsidiaries like Columbia, Parlophone. Then Decca was Decca and Phillips was Phillips.
Q - After you got this record deal, you obviously went on tour. Who did you tour with?
A - Lots of people. We toured with The Stones. We toured with The Beatles. We toured with The Kinks. We toured with Roy Orbison, Gene Pitney, Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown.
Q - I'm guessing you got that record deal in '63.
A - Yeah. October '63.
Q - Did you know what was happening in England was going to explode all over the world?
A - No. At that time we didn't know at all. When they said to us in April '64...May '64, "Capitol Records have decided to take you on", oh, wow, does this mean our record is going to come out in America? They said yeah, of course. That's what Capitol Records is. We were the first group after The Beatles to have a number one in the 60s, the first English group.
Q - In the U.S. or Europe?
A - In the United States. We were the first group to be number one in the United States apart from The Beatles. So, that was pretty cool.
Q - Where did you tour with The Beatles?
A - We did Germany with The Beatles. We did about a six week tour with The Rolling Stones in England. Then we did loads of tours in America here.
Q - What year would you have toured with The Beatles?
A - '66. That was some tour.
Q - By that time, they had grown weary of being on the road.
A - Yeah. In fact I was looking at a recording of it the other day. They hardly played any of their hits. They played what they wanted to play. Mind you, it didn't really matter. Number one, you couldn't hear them or they couldn't hear themselves and number two, the fans didn't really give a shit what they played, it was this is The Beatles and that's it. Whatever they do is going to be good.
Q - How did that work for you? What happened when you went on stage?
A - We'd had a couple of fairly big hits in Germany. We had a captive audience who knew who we were. So, we went down really great.
Q - They didn't boo you then?
A - Oh, no. If they'd booed us, The Beatles wouldn't have gone on, so that was it.
Q - You appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show?
A - Yes, we did.
Q - Now, what was that like?
A - That was frightening because Ed Sullivan was a pretty sullen bloke. You didn't know whether he was going to speak to you or not. People said, when you finish your song, if he asks you over to shake hands, then he likes you, if he doesn't, don't worry about it, there's still millions of people who have just seen you. But in fact, he invited us over and we've got photographs with him.
Q - I don't know if anyone else has ever brought this up, I suppose they have...
A - I'll soon tell you.
Q - Yeah. I know you will. In the mid 60s, there were two very popular duos, Peter and Gordon and Chad and Jeremy. I used to get the two duos confused at times.
A - Silly you.
Q - I know. I'm just telling you the truth. Did you ever hear that from other people as well?
A - They don't get us muddled up, but they do get us muddled up as to where we performed. Chad and Jeremy did the Patty Duke Show I believe, which we never did. People come up to us and try to be buddy buddy and friendly and say "Hey, I saw you on The Patty Duke Show. You looked great!" You'd say, well thanks very much. Glad you enjoyed it, but it wasn't us. But these things happen, who cares? It doesn't alter anything in the end. The people who come up with the wrong questions are just one of many millions.
Q - You stopped having hit records in 1967. Would that be accurate?
A - '67, '68, something like that. Yeah.
Q - Why would that have been? What was the problem there?
A - 'Cause we weren't making records. In the end it all comes down to enjoying it and making money. The actual artistic side of it got to the stage where it wasn't worthwhile financially going out, in other words sometimes we went out on tours where we actually lost money. So, it was purely a promotional tour. That really shouldn't have been us taking the burden of that. That should've been down to the record company.
Q - I know that Peter and Gordon performed at one of those Beatles conventions recently, but where else do you perform?
A - Well, anywhere if it's right. Peter and I have only done one Beatles Festival. Fest for Beatles fans as they now have to call it. I've done about nine of them on my own. We've done a couple of casinos. We went to the Philippines in December (2005). We did a couple of shows there. That was excellent. Great audience. Great reaction. Considering their age, great musicians. It's like anything out there, you give 'em something and they all copy it. It was the same in the sixties. We went over there. All we did was we just sent them a record in those days and just ticked off the ones we wanted them to learn and they learned them note for note. The only thing we had to do was try and get a little more feeling into it. When they're actually copying something, it's not quite a spontaneous.
Q - When you're out on the road, do you travel with your own musicians?
A - No. There's a band over in the Philippines that I used a couple of years ago. When I go out on my own, I do about five Peter and Gordon songs and the rest of it is stuff that either I've written or old rock 'n' roll things. When Peter and I went over there we used the same band, but we got a different keyboard player. We got this young kid who was so good it wasn't true. He really had everything programmed. He could make all the string sounds and all the horn sounds and brass section sounds. He was really excellent.
Q - How about recording. Do you put out any CDs of your own these days?
A - What, new stuff you mean?
Q - Yes.
A - No. We haven't recorded anything since 1968 or 1969. I think we did an album in 1969 just to fulfill our contract. Then I put out a few solo songs, none of which were hits of any sort. After Peter and Gordon finished, I had a recording contract on my own with E.M.I.
Q - How long did that contract last?
A - They were all two year contracts. Then I went to a company called Bell Records. Then I went to a company called Vertigo, which is a subsidiary of Phillips. Once again they didn't spend the money promoting it. They expected me to spend the money and I said well, I haven't got that kind of money it takes to promote it. You promote it and do the business and I'll be there. I'll do the songs.
Q - Were Peter and Gordon ripped off? I've heard so many horror stories from sixties artists.
A - Let's not go into horror stories unless you've got about a week and a half to listen.
Q - That bad?
A - Oh yes.
Q - Very seldom do you hear of a performer from the sixties who didn't get ripped off.
A - When you're seventeen, eighteen, how the hell are you to know, if you've never heard of a recording contract before, if it's good or bad? The Beatles were big enough to be able to change their contract. We weren't. But, initially we had exactly the same recording contract as they did. They were powerful enough to say we're not going to record, sue us if you want.
Q - I thought maybe Brian Epstein would've taken you under his wing.