by David Stubbs
THE LAST thing I want to do, of course, is say they're wretched.
That would be too easy. Go West are an easy target. They are significant and reviled, as the first perennial chart band of the Eighties to drop from nowhere into the charts. Prior to Go West, the vigorous chart-gloss was made up of the likes of The Thompson Twins, Heaven 17, Spandau, Wham!, bands that, at one point, had in some way or another, paid their dues, played the toilets, run themselves by "us". Even Duran Duran were heralded, if not initiated, by two-page spreads in the music press. Go West, by contrast, did not run in from the left under some vague pretext of a revolt into style and colourmotion, had no pretensions to irony or spike.
"We were both in rehearsal bands, never did any gigs. We played material with an American feel, like Kenny Loggins, or Michael MacDonald, at a time when that sort of thing was completely unfashionable. When we did become fashionable – five years on – and were signed, the record company had the advantage of being able to get everything together at the same time – the video, the single."
Go West's tale of chart success is one that pop strategists such as ABC might have been excused for imagining had been dispensed with forever; drop a demo tape in the fruit machine and come up trumps. Go West are what happens when A&R men learn how to ignore the music press, ignore the live circuit, the indie dirtbox, cut corners and construct their own (notion of) "Celebrities". Go West were suitable because they looked like Wham! – and played like Phil Collins. Go West's muso globalism, clipped by funk and compensated with passion was, at once, a pleasing return to the old values – a major language, the rewardable virtue of competence – and also conducive to the demand for boys and lager-funk. Go West were Proper Musicians but also lads on the make. The perfect combination! After them come Wet Wet Wet and Living In A Box – a pop hell, in which "our" bands no longer have a hand at all.
But the last thing I want to do is say that Go West are wretched. I want to hear them speak. So I'm driven out to their hideaway, an estate in Chessington with rehearsal facilities, to meet these hounds from hell in their natural habitat. I want to make being Go West seem like the most reasonable thing in the world, just to show that it could happen to you or me.
It's a long journey and there is time to listen to the new album. As I expected, Songs From The Couch, finally available after delays due to technical difficulties and illness, is not a masterpiece. There are things in our culture that exceed it – the paintings of Tintoretti and Botticelli, for example or the singles of Racey. 'Crossfire' is akin to being made to eat a travel brochure dipped in honey. 'Chinese Whispers' and 'True Colours' are pasted pastiches of Level 42 so uncanny in places as to be worthy of the late Max Beerbohm. 'From Baltimore To Paris' is a song about Edward and Mrs Simpson. 'Masque Of Love' is good, and boasts a riff that has become as familiar to me as a brother.
'I Want To Hear It From You' is a song that I should like to have played at my funeral, but not before. It's glutinous, over-produced state-of-the-art stuff, with a grossly overstated voice deployed to compete, loudly, against the technological over-determination. That's what always galls about these records; it's not that they are flashy but that they are fleshy. It's not that they are too busy playing with metal to know what's going on but that they are well-meaning, reluctant to lose themselves in the callous jouissance and impersonality of pop.
Having said all that, I'm not expecting Go West to be friendly and well-meaning to me. Their rehearsal schedule is tight and, what's more, they know my sort. Time and patience are short. Peter Cox, however, is affable and, like all these coves who have Ruined Pop As We Knew And Loved It, is likeable and open, with nary a hint of Antichrist, nor any suggestion in his demeanour that he ever burnt down an orphanage in his life. He's one more good bloke.
Richard Drummie's initial politeness does soon give way to broody suspicion. He stares at me throughout the interview with what seems to be utter loathing. His grim, gimlet eye appears to be conducting a silent narrative of its own. Something like: "Why do you people bother us? What is it we're supposed to have done wrong? Become Pop? But it's perfectly obvious that we don't want to be that plastic or ephemeral. But then, we don't want to be revolutionaries either. It would be nice to occupy that middle ground. It would be nice just to get some respect. Oh, that bloody word, we're stuck with it – respectable! Level 42? That name always crops up, as if we both came out of the same box! Yes, we're musos. Why should we be ashamed of that? All we want to do is carry on as we are and get a bit of money for it. Is that unreasonable? I would have thought that was universal. We're not rich. Taking a band like this out on the road costs a bleedin' fortune, and we have to pay for it. What will I be doing in 30 years' time? That has to be the stupidest question I've ever heard."
Peter, when you look at pop, do you dislike what you see?
"Gimmick records do so well. Americans can't believe our charts. I saw Top Of The Pops last night and you had a sequence of Spurs scoring a goal. I couldn't believe that. There are musicians, like, one rung below who are denied a chart place because of Hoddle and Waddle. It's no big deal, I suppose, but, in a perfect world, the music charts would be full of music."
"You have to fight to be uncontrived. Every circumstance is un-natural, photograph sessions, videos, but (giant sigh) you have to give it the time. Chrysalis don't give us money because they like us. But we never quite succeed in coming across as we'd like to, you never do. Personally, I don't feel that I benefit in any way from that image side of things. We have a low public profile and we prefer it that way. The song 'Let's Build A Boat' is about escape and that's how we like to work – away from it all. In Denmark. In The Isle Of Man."
It seems to me that you want to have your cake and eat it to enjoy the remuneration of pop without fulfilling any of the responsibilities.
"What, like going out and smashing things up, or going out nobbing some dodgy personality?"
That would do for a start. But then there is the glamorous, the tragic... "We have our feet more or less Super-Glued to the ground. We enjoy ourselves but not riotously. We don't want to be boring people but we think you can be interesting without being shiny."
Richard: "When you talk about 'pop', we don't know what your tag is."
Go West, I'm saying, are too heavy and soulful to be considered pop.
"Well, yes, we'd rather be considered a soul band than a pop band."
Steady on, that wasn't meant as a compliment.
Do you feel that you have any kind of duty to your fans?
"Yes, if fans don't understand something about the music, then interviews are a good opportunity of clarifying matters."
Do you feel you have any kind of duty to the people who are most definitely not your fans?
"What do you mean?"
That even if you sell two million LPs, that still means that the vast majority of people don't like you; to them you are an irritation, on the radio, the TV. This is often forgotten.
"But they're not interested in us, are they?"
Richard: "How is this responsibility supposed to manifest itself? As an apology?"
That would do nicely.
"No, I'm sorry, if they haven't the intelligence to switch off the radio then I can't feel sorry."
What about jukeboxes? You see it really is very difficult to get away from you. We get pop whether we like it or not.
"Well, I must admit we don't lose sleep over that one. I suppose at one point we ourselves went into pubs and said to ourselves: 'We're fed up of all these dodgy records, let's make some of our own dodgy records,' ha ha!"
Go West are fugitives from pop. Like all "mature" pop, their "seriousness" consists in abstaining from the spectacle rather than engaging with it. Instead of ambiguity, mischief and front, they offer us biography, anxiety and accomplishment, all apologies for pop. Genesis to Exodus – Go West are forever on retreat. But who can blame them?
Out there in the real world, it's raining Wet Wet Wet and posters advertising Songs From The Couch are bursting out like boils all over the West End. I'd rather be on their side than our side. This is a nice place they've got here. I am the only interruption.
In fact, by the end of the interview, I want nothing more than to join Go West, join them in their green seclusion, flee with them away from pop's reckless claustrophobia, get a bit of peace and do my own thing. I could learn rhythm guitar, or acquire basic keyboard skills, or maybe just start off as a roadie. Well, why not? After all, like Go West, I'm a reasonable bloke, I'm only human.