CentreStage: interview with Nicky Wells May 1st 2013
Welcome to CentreStage!
NEVER has this feature been so aptly named. Today, it is my tremendous pleasure to welcome onto my humble blog the one and only Jane Risdon: crime writer, photographer and bona fide Rock Star’s Wife! It was inevitable, I suppose, that Jane and I were supposed to connect via our blogs and I really, really look forward to sharing with you the guest post of all guest posts. Let’s do this!
Jane, hi! It’s so wonderful to have you on my blog today to show you off to my readers. We’ve been chatting offline for months, you and I, and you’ve been a fabulous help with the research for my second and third books ~ my inside source, so to speak. Today, I want to shine the spotlight on you, if that’s okay… Are you sitting comfortably? Is that tea all right for you… What? Oh… of course you can have a glass of wine, so much more civilized. And here’s some nibbles too, couldn’t have chocolate digestives with a nice chilled Pinot. Ready?
Hello Nicky, thanks so much for having me on your blog, which I really enjoy reading, especially the Music Monday features. As your readers are well aware your posts often set me off on one of my rambles about ‘back in the day,’ when I lived a very different life.
Being a Cristal champagne and Riedel Sommeliers Grand Glass kind of girl (trying not to giggle), I’ll have a glass (or two) of the red stuff to oil my little grey cells, so yes thanks, I’ll have some with you – Pinot Noir will be great. I’m not a biscuit eater so anything savoury will be fine. Lovely, thanks!
I’ve spent the greater part of my life in the Music Business, having married a musician when young, and so my life has not been that conventional even though I was, for the earliest part anyway, working in very conventional institutions; the Diplomatic Service and later the Civil Service.
I joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office having spent some time living in Germany with my parents who working in the Ministry of Defence (British) over there. My then boyfriend was living in England and touring with his band, so we had fleeting opportunities to meet and be together. I applied to the Ministry of Information (the then Press arm of the Government), in hopes of coming home to England and being with him more often. The Civil Service thought I’d better suit the FCO and so I came back to England, to London, at the height of the ‘Swinging Sixties.’ Thus began the next phase of my life which resulted in marriage to my very own ‘rock star.’
Someone had to earn a decent living and I continued working in various departments of the Civil Service throughout our early marriage. Most of the time we lived with the rest of the band, which you may well think was fun – I couldn’t possibly comment. It was an education for an ex convent girl!
Our son came along and when eventually my husband and the band called it a day, he and I decided to go into the Management side of the business. Our work has taken us all over the world working with many famous people and has given us a wonderful experience which will never leave us.
But there came a time when I could no longer ignore doing something I have always longed to do; write. I’d waited long enough to have the time to get on with it. Life on the road is not the best place to find time for oneself and so I decided to concentrate on me for a change. For the last two years this is what I’ve been doing.
Wow! From the civil service to artist management and now crime writing. Your leading lady, Ms. Lavinia Birdsong, also worked in the civil service…in a manner of speaking. What was the inspiration for Ms Birdsong Investigates, your current novel work-in-progress?
Ms Birdsong, Lavinia to her close friends, is actually an ex-MI5 officer and I guess my inspiration for her came from working with various individuals at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. A lot of the ladies working there were of a certain age, unmarried, devoted to their work, and those who worked with Ambassadors and in the overseas Embassies were nearly always a little in love with their bosses.
Lavinia Birdsong is not based on one person but an amalgamation of several of these ladies. I wanted her to be ‘well-bred’ but with a slightly naughty air about her, liking the good things in life, yet down to earth as well, with a hint of mystery. Lavinia is most definitely a Cristal and Riedel sort of person!
Tell us a bit more about Ms Birdsong Investigates ~ give me the three-line pitch.
Ms Birdsong has been ‘voluntarily’ retired from MI5 under somewhat of a cloud, and has taken up residence in the rural village of Ampney Parva in The Vale of The White Horse, Oxfordshire, where she tries to hide from her past and those who might be seeking her; her enemies. She turns her hand to crime writing and spends her time observing her fellow villagers. Within a short space of time she feels something is not right in the village. As she puts her investigative skills to work the village is rocked by two seemingly motiveless murders. Lavinia is in her element doing what she does best, the old juices are flowing, and during her investigations she gets a blast from her past; someone she thought she would never see again.
If Lavinia could be here with us now, how would she sell it?
Posh bird with experience in espionage goes to live with the local yokels and finds it’s not too bad after all. Unable to keep her nose out of other people’s business, she keeps them all under discreet surveillance which eventually sees her investigating murder.
Personally, I love a cracking crime novel and this sounds right up my street. When can we expect to get our hands on it?
Good question Nicky! I’ll have another glug of the red stuff please so I can gird my loins for the answer. Yummy, thanks so much. And I love Twiglets. Thanks.
I have been a while writing about her. I moved house and have had lots of set-backs which have caused me to neglect Ms B on and off for longer than intended. She is not too keen on being ignored and the last time she and I had a discussion about her exploits seeing the light of day, she was a little upset to hear that I had decided to do a bit of re-writing. I am about three quarters of the way through this and we both hope she will be ready soon.
Lavinia keeps reminding me that there is an Agent waiting to read the first three chapters and that I should stop faffing around deciding which three I want to be the first three. I hear her and I understand. However, it is not she who is writing this; I am, and I cannot help it if I get the wobbles every time I think I have the three sorted and ready to send. I shall have to get Ms Birdsong Investigates finished soon because my mother is convinced it will not be published in her lifetime, and anything to rattle her cage is enough to spur me on.
In addition, I have got three other books on the go. I have recently started working on a sort of memoir – WIP title is ‘GaGa in LALA Land,’ and I have plundered it for some of this interview along with some of my photos too.
Next, I’ve been co-writing a book which I have completed. My co-author is working on her parts as well as two contracted books she needs to get out this year. Our book is not crime and is a departure from my comfort-zone, and it should be with the Publisher later this year. Fingers crossed.
The third book is called ‘God’s Waiting Room,’ and is a humorous, character-driven, observational series of stories….if anyone purchased Telling Tales (anthology) written for The Norfolk Hospice, you will find two stories in there by me, one of which is called ‘The Ghost in the Privy,’ and this is from GWR.
So, then, let’s hear it about Jane Risdon, author. You have done many, many things in your life… I am totally stunned by your bio. If I understand correctly, you were working in the civil service when your husband was really getting into his rock career. At what point, and why, did you make the decision to become “The Rock Star’s Wife”?
Cripes, that’s a question. Well, we met when I was 16. His band had come over from the Channel Islands to record and tour and they ended up in my village, almost next door. This shows you how innocent I was, the band had been in the village for about three months before I even noticed them.
This musician pestered the life out of me, much to my mother’s disgust. She had him down as a long-haired, drug-taking member of the great unwashed brigade. Eventually we went out together, a few weeks before his band went off on tour for ages and about two months before I moved to Germany for three years. Two weeks into our ‘relationship,’ he asked me to marry him. I said ‘yes’, knowing that it would be impossible for years.
Some years and a lot of plane fares, train fares, and ferry trips back to England later, we got round to it. Typical musician-style wedding just the four of us; the bride and groom, a female ‘best-man,’ and a girlfriend as witness with the taxi driver to take photos. It rained throughout proceedings and afterwards he went off on tour and I went back to work. That was almost 44 years ago!
Ooooh, I so want to write that book some time!! What was it like, becoming the manager, touring, recording, doing the industry thing? I bet it was a world apart from the civil service….
Okay, let’s start with management. Artist management is very different to being the artist and being managed. It is a very intimate and personal relationship where the manager is employed by the artist and the artist is under the complete control of the manager. It is not for the faint-hearted. It is gruelingly hard work with no set hours or conditions of work. There aren’t any rules or a guide book telling you ‘how to,’ and you have to make your own contacts and reputation. You never get thanks or credit for anything, but you do get the blame for most things. You spend your life trying to prize your artist’s money from the Royalty collection agencies, Record and Publishing companies and then the rest of your energy trying to prize your own commissions and expenses back from the artist.
All your efforts on behalf of your artist don’t guarantee you, or them, success. The music business is fickle and image, sales and marketing are what counts. Music is way down the list. The artist is a product, the means to shift ‘units.’ It really is a cut-throat business, full of all sorts of scams and under-the-table goings on. When we first began working in Hollywood, they were getting over the Payola scandals where the Record labels had been paying Radio stations to play their artists. If you know anything about Pink Floyd you will know that back in the late 1970’s they nearly lost their whole career due to their record company refusing to pay syndicated Radio for air-play. The Radio stations refused to accept this and would not play ‘Another Brick in the Wall,’ until the record company gave in and paid up; bands like Loverboy and The Who had similar problems. This was how it was back then, and in my experience, not much has changed. The Banking Scandal has nothing on the way the Music business is run. As I mentioned, I’m now writing about our experiences after resisting doing so for years, some of what I am writing here is from this work. You must read it one day if it is ever published and I am not wearing concrete boots somewhere. I haven’t even mentioned ‘The Mob,’ have I?
*Nicky shudders* No, you haven’t! *Whispers* Are you sure you want me to publish this? Moving on swiftly, LOL ~ let’s talk about recording.
Recording is wonderful, my favourite part. I love being involved in creating something from nothing and watching it all take form. From a scrap of paper with scribbled lyrics and a few strums on the guitar or tinkles on a keyboard to a full blown record, the whole process never ceases to amaze and fascinate me.
Apart from working in the studio back here with our artists, we have been very privileged to work with some of the top producers and engineers in the world, in some of the most amazing studios in the world. It is hard to recall all of them here – another glass of ‘vino collapso,’ to whet my whistle would be most appreciated at this juncture.
*Nicky obligingly pours….*
Lovely, thanks. Have we seen off two bottles already? Goodness. Now where were we? Oh yes, recording. As with anything in life, producers work in different ways. Some are musicians, songwriters and engineers as well as arrangers so they are very well-rounded and almost a self-contained unit. Others concentrate on production and may even specialize in a particular type of musical genre or style.
The artists and record producers we managed covered all genres from Rock, Thrash Metal, Pop and Dance, to R&B, Opera and everything in between, so recording their material has always been a fascinating and exciting experience involving their own production as well as that of outside ‘name,’ producers who can bring their special ‘star-power’ to the project.
And recording can be subject to all sorts of power-play. To give you an idea… let’s see. In my article on songwriting for Morgen Bailey’s Guest Blog, I mentioned working with a 14- and 17-year-old duo that not only wrote and performed their own material, they produced it too. We obtained a recording contract for them in America using the album they’d worked on without outside producers. Next thing we know, their label wanted the Vice President of A&R (Artiste and Repertoire) to fly to the UK to supervise final mixes on some of the tracks and to generally ‘stick her oar in.’
This VP of A&R turned up completely unprepared for our freezing weather and the food. She was not a happy woman but she had big ideas and… some….power issues, shall we say. She decided to put her mark on the tracks being mixed and declared that she didn’t like ‘the horns,’ and that they needed to be changed. ‘Which horns?’ we asked, to which she waved her hands around and repeated, ‘the horns.’ We agreed that whilst she went for a long walk in the ‘God awful, freezing f****** village where there wasn’t even an Italian restaurant or decent coffee,’ we would work on fixing ‘the horns.’
Two hours later she returned frozen and grumpy and we put the ‘new’ mixes up for her. She sat solemnly listening and told us that they sounded much better. She accepted the mixes and took the Masters back to Los Angeles with her the next day. We couldn’t stop laughing because nothing at all had been done to the tracks and ‘the horns’ were as they had originally been. This tells you something about the type of mentality we had to deal with.
I think I have possibly gone on too long here – another glass of vino would be nice. I think that your readers can find out more when I publish my book – do you think they will be interested?
Jane, are you kidding? They’ll love this! I know I do!
That wine is delicious, thanks and these Twiglets go down a treat. Nattering is hungry work. Ask away, what next?
What was the highest point, the fondest memory, the best occasion ever you can share with us?
This is so hard to answer as there have been so many. Filming Baywatch, with our artists writing and performing the music for the show and appearing in the series, was amazing because at the time it was the most successful global TV series ever and had over 2 billion viewers a week in 200 countries. It is still on TV somewhere in the world every minute of every day!
Having American Chart hits with a British artist when for years none had been in their charts was a thrill. Finding out that one of our bands was the most-played record on American Rock stations and beat Metallica to the Number One spot on syndicated College radio was especially exciting and satisfying.
Sitting in a cinema and hearing our artist’s songs on a movie soundtrack is awesome, and hearing my own voice doing the narration for In-flight long-haul airline entertainment where our artists had songs played on video throughout flights was a bit strange for me.
We have had some of our artist’s record duets with super-stars from time to time and have toured with them as well. This was exciting and unreal; especially when we have been fans of theirs in the past.
Going to a record company convention on Alcatraz with so many famous artists was awesome. Faith Hill, Stevie Nicks, The Bare Naked Ladies, Michael Peterson, Chris Isaacs – dozens of famous names were there, including our acts. The whole island and prison was closed to the public for the event, ice sculptures with shrimp and oysters held in them, a champagne fountain and all manner of things I forget. A private tour of the cells and a talk by one of the ex-inmates and ex-warders was wonderful. Seeing Al Capone’s cell was fascinating, especially as many years ago my husband had met his get-away driver, Blackie, on a cruise of the Mediterranean and spent a lot of time with him.
Hearing my husband and his band played on Radio Luxemburg, British Forces Radio and Radio One whilst living in Germany was amazing and totally out of the blue. I put the radio on and there they were almost every time I tuned in. His band charting in the UK for the first time was something special too.
Nicky, I cannot think of any one of these which is more special than the other, really – don’t forget I have many years to trawl through!!
I know from our offline chats and your many interviews on other blogs that you have met pretty much every rock star under the sun, and what I wouldn’t have given to be with you at the time! Can you tell us a little bit about what these stars are like behind the scenes? Do the rock stars really paint their hotel rooms black and pour champagne out of the window?
Not wanting to get sued by any artist or hotel chain which may be reading this, I have to be careful. There are tales I could relate about quite a few well-known names but perhaps I will get the nerve to do it another time, or in my book. Bands these days are a lot better behaved, unlike the bands from my era. No more Rolls Royce’s in the pool or wrecked hotel rooms…
But if it’s an anecdote you’re after again…I mentioned the Thrash band earlier. They had an American record and publishing deal and they recorded in the USA and toured Europe and the USA mainly. In one New York hotel where we stayed, we were on about the 17th floor; every day for two weeks without fail, the band would get in the elevator and they would all jump up and down, because as the floor moved away and they rose in the air they were sort of weightless. On the Sunday we were due to fly to Los Angeles, we all got in the elevator with the record company executive and off they went, jumping again. Only this time there was a dreadful creaking and groaning and suddenly a snapping noise, and the elevator started to fall, but at an angle. It came to a sudden halt and we swung around a little and then it went silent and still. The band were in shock, the record label guy looked as if he were going to pass out, and I expected us to crash down the remainder of the floors any second.
The intercom in the elevator sprang to life with anxious voices asking if we were all right and was anyone hurt. After several minutes of conversation it was made clear that, it being Sunday, they had to find an elevator technician to come out and repair it while we had to sit tight and wait. Meantime the record label guy was becoming claustrophobic and having a panic attack, the band was getting scared and too hot, and I was trapped with the lot of them.
Five hours and a lot of sweat and loss of oxygen later, there was movement beside our elevator and a hole was cut through from an adjoining platform, which was lower than us. There was a massive gap with a view of about thirteen floors below. ‘Come on down,’ seemed to be the general idea. No-one wanted to go first. After a lot of discussion I took the lead – I cannot describe the terror as I stepped down and across that deep void as both the platform and the elevator swung around. In the end, we all got out and had a fawning hotel manager and team kissing our backsides trying to prevent us suing them, while I was constantly shutting the band up as they felt the need to explain what they had done. We didn’t need the hotel suing us!
I could go on with more examples……but you need to read my book for the rest.
I certainly shall! What about you, while all of this was going on. Wife and mother ~ how did you combine all of that with the rock-star life? What was the toughest challenge the Risdon family faced?
When my husband was in his band, we had long periods of separation, and after our son came along that could be especially hard for us all. I guess being away from our home for long periods, sometimes years at a time when we were on the road or working over-seas was hard. At the time we were too busy to notice that we lost touch with friends and family. Often our son came with us as he worked with our bands too; he toured with them and other bands when he was older. It has helped him no end in so many ways.
Finally, writing. At long last, I’ve heard you say, I have the time to write. You are in one place, settled, you can focus on that dream of yours. Why crime? Why not… romance? Or biography? What drives you to your desk every morning?
Well, Nicky, I am not really settled but I am going to be here for a little while longer. We shall see what happens later this year. Why crime and not romance or biography? Well, our biography is being worked on by me as I have mentioned and this interview contains some excerpts from it, so that is now a reality.
*Nicky squeals with glee*
I don’t think I’m a romantic person in the loved-up sense of the word. I’ve worked around men all my life and I guess any romance attached to the opposite sex has been well and truly killed off by the little buggers….not counting my husband of course! I know he will read this.
I can do romance if it is like the romance of Du Maurier and Frenchman’s Creek, Jamaica Inn and Rebecca, but I cannot write (or read) ‘our eyes met over the operating table,’ or ‘his muscles rippled like the start of a sexual tsunami,’ type of romance. I am not a pink and fluffy person though I do think I am warm and caring, just not that girlie….not butch either in case you are wondering!! So writing romance has never crossed my mind…..but you never know.
Crime excites me because it is what I have always been drawn to for some reason. When I was little, I used to read adventures like ‘Biggles,’ and ‘Kidnapped,’ – that type of book, and later Leslie Chartres, Mickey Spillane, Frederick Forsythe and Le Carré. I love all the forensics and research and the deviousness of the human mind, so writers like Kathy Reichs and Tess Gerritsen inspire me and get me to my desk. I want to be that successful and write books that change lives, like their books changed mine.
I love solving clues and putting twists in a story to mislead and confuse, and I love being misled and confused by other writers. I may well have been a forensic pathologist or a profiler if I had my chance to choose a career again!
Wow. I had no idea! I’m with you on the loving-solving-puzzles front but I couldn’t handle the blood and the gore. So, nearly done. Just the fun bit now….quick-fire questions….
Bon Jovi or Queen? Hmm….there hangs a tale…..I would say both.
Wine or beer? Wine, never touched beer; hate the smell.
Crisps or chocolate? Neither Alright, Twiglets all the way then.
Tree book or ebook? Both
Car or plane? Both Really? No preference?
Writing by hand, or typing? Typing
Plotting or pantsing? Pantsing
Mountains or sea? Both. No way! You have wrecked my life-long theory that everyone is either a ‘sea’ or a ‘mountain’ person!
Sex On The Beach or Kir Royal? Both *Nicky stores this detail for future reference*
Jane, thank you so much for being here today, it’s been such fun and I hope you enjoyed yourself too!
Thanks so much for having me here, Nicky, and I do hope I have not over-stayed my welcome (you haven’t!) and driven you all to drink (well, we did drink quite a lot but it was fun!). I did warn you, but you said go for it and I – well, went for it! How is your head? Three bottles of wine is not bad going I think. It was ace!
Well, ladies and gentlemen, what a scoop! What an article! I say, hurry up and publish that biography, Jane! If you want to find out more about Jane, visit her here:
Copyright for all content of this feature, specifically including all photos and extracts from upcoming work, remains with © Jane Risdon 2013. No unauthorized copying, sharing or distributing of any material in this feature in any form or by any means is authorized without prior written permission from the author.
Please drop in on Nicky’s blog to read the comments I received and also to read about her books and other guests.