An interview with Graeme Duffin of Wet Wet Wet.

Graeme Duffin is a member of Wet Wet Wet. He played lead guitar on that song, did vocals on it and has appeared on Top of the Pops a total of 56 times.
 He also runs a successful recording studio in Scotland and has a daughter who was recently invited over to Nashville by the man who produced Neil Young's Harvest album. Graeme also has a stammer. In the interview we talk about his work with aspiring pop idols, his involvement with Wet Wet Wet, Esther, his daughter, and speech difficulties, as highlighted by the movie The King's Speech. We also talk about fame and how much it costs.

WW: Graeme, we’re sitting in this marvellous studio, at the Foundry Music Lab

GD: Aye, it’s not much but it’s home

WW: You have provided a fantastic opportunity for young aspiring musicians..

GD: Well we not only have the studio here but we have a couple of rehearsal rooms and a training lab as well where we run some courses in conjunction with our local Motherwell College. We do NVQ, an HNC and an HND in music technology and it’s and kind of rock and pop performance-based course where they can access our years of production experience. The Studio itself is mostly for private projects. The idea of the name Foundry came because we are virtually on the site of the old Ravenscraig Steelworks.

WW: What do you think motivates people who want to become professional performers?

GD: I think there are two main streams, two lines of thought. For some people, they see things that go on in the reality TV shows, where it is all about 15 minutes of fame. It is basically a karaoke competition. Shows like Pop Idol and The X-Factor generate huge amounts of cash for the industry but all that happens is that you have a vacant celebrity slot that is available at the end of the competition and the person who gets the most votes ends up in this position. Depending on the sort of person this is, they can end up having quite a stellar career or else they can be almost immediately dropped, which is damaging and harmful.

So one answer to that question may be fame, people just want to be famous, end of story. The other type of person is the artist. First and foremost it’s the artistic integrity that is important. They are not really interested in selling out or being manipulated by the system. It becomes very difficult for them because if you are so artistically minded that you aren’t willing to engage with the system and engage with what remains of the music industry, which is rapidly changing, then that type of musician can end up being side-lined and ultimately, ignored. The type of person who tends to make something of it has first of all a certain level of talent and ability. But you also need to have a real business acumen, drive and a focus on where your career is going, and at that point it is about the determination to continue to carry on and work as hard as you can.

WW: So you have a balance between musicianship and fame. At this point, which of these two streams is likely to get you in? Can you be a talentless nobody with lots of chutzpah.?

GD: Yeah! I think that’s possible and people have made careers out of that, out of just being famous for no reason other than being famous.

WW: Would Wet Wet Wet have made it today?

GD: A very difficult question and I don’t think you can answer that because it took at least a couple of years, nearly three years from the point where the band got signed to having a successful hit single. Today, if a band or an artist is signed and nothing happens almost immediately, then you are just going to get dropped. I think that the more money that is spent up front on either the recording process or some ridiculously expensive video for a single, the more likely it is, ironically, never to see the light of day because people get scared about the amount of money that has been spent up front. Most of the expense of launching a new act is in the marketing and if it has all been spent up front on the project so far, then it’s going to get dropped before anything hits the shelves.

WW: You hear about people getting million quid deals and limos and parties..

GD: They are paying for it ultimately! Don’t do this! Spend it on the marketing. Record companies nowadays are going more and more down the route of being happy to accept a finished product. People like ourselves have taken an artist on board and made the investment in the production and given studio time.

WW: You are in a position to recognise and nurture new talent, what can you do to help them?
GD: We can provide advice, studio time, and our expertise in the production aspect and our own musicianship. We tend not to get involved in the management aspect. We maybe hand them on to professional management.

WW: Have you got anyone coming through who you are excited about at the moment?

Esther O'Connor
GD: Yes. My daughter, Esther O’Connor. That’s the project that I am probably most excited about. We are in the process of recording and producing Esther’s third album. Ten years ago she had a deal with Chrysalis and a publishing deal with BMG, but the scenario that I was describing earlier emerged, where the record company sign an act and then sit on it for a little while the album is being delivered and then there is a big change of staff. In Esther’s case, the A&R man who signed them and the Managing Director left and a new MD came in and decided he was going to clear the decks and start again. So in spite of the fact that the record company must have spent £300,000 to £400,000 on the project up until that point, it was, “Nah, we’ll just drop everything and start again”. That was also the year that Chrysalis also re-signed Robbie Williams and he got everybody’s money! Everything that could have been spent on new and up and coming talent just went into that pot.

WW: Wasn’t it about £80 million? – Robbie’s deal?

GD: I suppose, technically, if you add everything up and spread it over the years, and if that album is enough of a success, then you would get picked up for the following album, you would get more of an advance, more spent on it and on and on and on. It works on a kind of logarithmic scale; the more success and album has, the more can potentially be generated in an advance for the next album. So that’s how these ridiculously astronomical figures are bandied about. It doesn’t really have any bearing in reality.

WW: You mentioned when we were chatting earlier that Esther has a fantastic opportunity coming up in Nashville.

GD: Yes. A guy out in Nashville was hit by one of Esther’s emails and responded. He bought a CD and loved it and asked if he could help out a wee bit and he was fairly well connected so he spoke to somebody at one of the American collecting agencies who liked what he heard..

WW: Sorry, what is a “collecting agency”?

GD: They collect your royalties, for live shows and airplay. The company is called SESAC and they have funded the Nashville trip. Esther and her husband and her brother had the opportunity to perform for publishers and for a couple of record companies and have made some good contacts.

WW: What kind of music do you listen to when you are having time off?

GD: Aaaagh! What type of music I listen to is generally what’s happening in the studio at the time. I’ll take a CD home and listen to it in the kitchen and make sure everything is sitting in a good place. You always end up hearing things at home that you did not hear in the studio.

WW: To put it another way, who did you pretend to be when you were young? People in my generation wanted to be Elvis and Cliff or maybe Chuck Berry..

GD: I suppose, coming from the same sort of era, Hank Marvin. He was my first guitar hero. I thought, “It sounds great, how do you play that?” Fortunately it was all quite easy. At primary school I was playing all the Shadows tunes.

WW: Apparently Neil Young of all people was a big Shadows fan and freely admits it, and if you hear his early stuff it is a clone of The Shadows!

GD: In actual fact there is another Neil Young connection there because the guy out in Nashville who brought Esther over is a guy called Elliot Mazer, who produced those early Neil Young Albums.

WW: What?!  Harvest?

GD: Yeah.

WW: What I was getting at was that most players initially start by wanting to emulate a hero.

GD: After Hank Marvin there were people like Jan Ackerman..

WW: Of course! Focus!

GD: Yeah. He knows how to play fusion rock guitar.
(At this point Weasel goes off on a flight of fancy and we both start doing cod Dutch accents)

WW: There’s the Jethro Tull..

GD: ..esque…flute. Thijs van Leer the organist and flute player. I poured over those Focus albums and worked out as much as I could.

WW: So, were you into Prog, and are you prepared to talk about it and come out of the closet?

GD: That’s part of my dark secret in the past!  I did like Steve Howe at the time, I have to say.

WW: Have you confessed to the boys in the band.. Marti?

GD: They quite enjoyed it.

WW: Well, I mentioned Marti (Pellow). We have gotta talk about Wet Wet Wet. And we’ve gotta talk about that song..

GD: Mmm. Ah Hmmm..

WW: I do have to say that I listened to it (Love is all Around) last night, possibly for the first time in, erm..

GD: Oh, 40…45 years..

WW: It’s fresh, it sounds great, it’s a wonderful arrangement with a great vocal performance but we all hated it at the time.
GD: Yeah, I know!  I don’t think I ever hated it. I was always very grateful for that song extended the career of the band by a good few years and it’s certainly stood the test of time. And as you say, when it comes on the radio occasionally, it still sounds vibrant and fresh.

WW: You played lead guitar on it..

GD: Yeah, and sang a lot of the backing vocals and had an involvement in the production.

WW: My first encounter if you like, with the band was at Bristol airport and four or five very cool looking guys got out of a private jet and someone said, “There’s Wet Wet Wet”. They looked the part and I suppose the band is a paradigm of the Rock and Roll life..

GD: It’s pretty much followed the obligatory Rock and Roll manual and the ups and downs, but somehow the friendship and the commitment to each other has been strong enough to keep that cohesion there and to sustain the band. That old adage that the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts is true with Wet Wet Wet. Whenever the band do get back together and do a gig there is definitely something very special that happens. The last gig we did was in the Summer last year. It was just a little private gig in Spain, which somebody must have coughed up an extravagant amount for. It was great. We rehearsed for a week and then flew out and did this gig for about 150 people or so, a high profile birthday party and it was great fun. The band just played well, sounded fresh.

WW: Let’s go back a bit to what we began with, which is the pressures and influences in the copybook Rock and Roll story. Why is it that you can take someone who is talented and has what it takes and the industry turns them into a monster, or if not a monster someone who is intent on the path of self-destruction?

GD: Disillusionment. Boredom.

WW: That surprises me. You have a hit band, everyone hangs on their every word.

GD: I think human beings aren’t really designed for that sort of pop star “I can have whatever I want, whenever I want it”. The big myth is that if you get loads of stuff and you get loads of money you’ll be happy. Most people know that can’t really be true. The press is constantly full of break-ups and people going off the deep end and just going crazy and set on that path of self-destruction. I think it is the confusion which arises when you get to that point when you have everything and you don’t have to do anything and “I am bored out of my nut” Why is that? “I’ll just obviously have to try more of whatever it is or try other stuff”. What do you do when the drugs don’t work? Everything becomes the norm.

WW: So you quickly acclimatise?

GD: Yeah. You quickly acclimatise, and if you are not happy and content where you are at any stage, then just getting more stuff is just going to add more baggage.

WW: Can we talk about Marti’s Heroin addiction, I mean, what gave him the strength to crawl out of it?

GD: Fortunately he got himself on the right track and he had a lot of help from people around him..

WW: Did he still have friends at that point?

GD: The friends, maybe, that he thought were friends weren’t really that. He had some people come around him and he had people that he felt he could trust, who certainly helped him. Marti has a real spiritual awareness and Marti and I in the past have had some very interesting conversations. We have spoken about things that have certainly helped sustain me through my whole career.

WW: Let’s get more personal now. We have got to talk about the Stammering.

GD: What Stammering?! What do you mean?!  - It’s rather fashionable at the moment.

WW: Clearly, these things become flavour of the month, what with The King’s Speech and it has generated a lot of interest in the subject.

GD: It can be quite controversial because traditional speech therapy in the NHS has always been underfunded. As you saw in the film..

WW: I haven’t seen it yet.

GD: Oh, alright then, for the purposes of this interview just agree with me and pretend you have. In the film, Lionel Logue was a complete maverick. He had no professional speech therapy training, he wasn’t a doctor and didn’t have any formal training but he did have a keen interest in the human psyche and how the psyche and physiology interact. He treated men, completely shell-shocked, coming back from the First World War who had lost all speech. The psyche was so traumatised, the physiology of the speech had become locked up. So, he had had considerable amounts of success in that, as opposed to the establishment of the time who couldn’t really fathom what was going on or the intensity of the problem or the therapy or the work required to even begin to scratch the surface of stammering.
And it was portrayed very well. I’m involved in a programme called the McGuire Programme. I know I’m not being a terribly good example right now, but it’s been absolutely fantastic because it has allowed me to do things that I would never even have looked at. A few years back, if I had tried to sit and do this interview, you would have got virtually nothing out of me. I remember doing one traumatising interview for Radio Scotland, so I know how The King felt. It was a pre-recorded interview and they could use none of it. It’s that feeling of drowning, and you can do nothing about it. The harder you try, the more locked up you get. That feeling that your credibility, your whole personality gets annihilated.

WW: This still happens with you?

GD: Oh yes, and I think that came across in The King’s Speech. Although Lionel Logue said, “I can cure you”, I think he was just kidding everybody on. What you can do is learn how to control it and learn that you don’t have to let it rule you. The more you avoid stuff and the more you avoid situations, the fear level just keeps going up and it becomes worse..

WW: Worse than being on stage in front of 10,000 people or millions on TV?

GD: Oh that’s easy! The movie was very well cast. I thought Colin Firth did an excellent job. You could see the terror in his eyes and he just would rather have been anywhere else, and that opening scene when he is at Wembley, and you could hear him blocking into the microphone and it was echoing all around the stadium, he must have thought, “What am I doing here, this is not part of the plan”!

WW: Authentic?

GD: Absolutely. Programmes like the one I am involved in will probably do quite well out of it. Whether the NHS is in a position to take on a big influx in admissions of those who stammer chronically and see them and really go through the work is another question.

(Shortly after this point we formally concluded the interview, but the tape was still running…..)

Graeme has a unique position in the band because, although he always toured and recorded and featured musically with Wet Wet Wet and been on Top of the Pops about 56 times, he was left out of most of the promo work due, he says to the band being marketed at teenagers and him being about ten years older than the rest of the band. But he has a curious and maybe bizarre footnote to this:

GD: I accidentally appeared on the front cover of Smash Hits. The manager at the time wasn’t very happy about this. We were playing at this open air TV Saturday morning thing and the shots were taken. It was probably one of two occasions that promo pictures of the band appeared with me included.
A couple of years ago my daughter Esther and her husband, Tim were in Zambia. They are involved with a youth AIDS village there. The wee guy they have been supporting educationally is in a shack in the back of beyond in Zambia in this village. He was very very proud that he had his own shack and a light bulb and some electrical power to light the light bulb. And his wall was randomly decorated with things cut out from magazines. And on the wall, there was this Smash Hits picture of me and Wet Wet Wet, in a shanty town in Zambia. Tim saw it first and said, “That’s Esther’s dad”. The guy said, “What, it looks like Esther’s dad?” And there we were.

(It kind of bears out that cliché about meeting fellow travellers in far flung places in the world and saying, “Oh, you are from England, do you know Cliff Richard?” but is perhaps even more bizarre than that. WW)

further information on stammering:



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