Interviewing Pete Burns is difficult. Not because the Dead Or Alive frontman and Big Brother’s Bit On The Side star isn’t at all times charming, engaging and forthcoming. He really is. But because he clearly subscribes to the Quentin Crisp philosophy of interviews: say what you have come to say. So here’s Pete Burns answering almost none of our questions but being incredibly fascinating and entertaining all the same. Enjoy.
Pete Burns: “You know, I don’t know if I can accept that. But we were absolutely the first ones who put Stock Aitken & Waterman on… obviously they’d had a hit record with Divine before us – You Think You’re A Man. And I’d approached several other producers, one of them was Bobby Orlando who worked with Divine on Native Love, and he was ill. And another was Patrick Cowley who produced Sylvester and he was also ill. So to be perfectly honest, SAW were like a third choice.
“Our record company CBS did everything to obstruct us working with them because they said Pete Waterman wasn’t a producer, he was just a travelling DJ. So basically, it’s like old folklore, I personally took a bank loan to record three tracks with them to start it going. And the minute Waterman heard Spin Me he said to them all, ‘This is our number one.’
“It didn’t make any difference to me because a number one wasn’t anything I really thought about. And when it went to the record company I think there was something like a four month delay before they’d agree to release it, because they said it wasn’t a hit. And then look what happened.
“I think it still holds the record for being the longest time to get to number one. Because at the time the chart people Gallup held it back because it was selling about 82 percent 12”s. One of the reasons why I still feel we took a slight dip in promotion was because at that time nobody at any major labels got any royalties on 12” records.
“So just as we started to take off, Spin Me had finished, Lover Come Back and Something In My House were hits and I just thought this is ridiculous – 82 percent 12”s and they’re saying they’re only for promo purposes (they were selling, at that time, for about two pounds or something). And we took them to court and it was a year-long battle and we set a precedent in the music industry, and from then on acts got full royalties on 12” sales.
“No one knows about that and I’m not blowing my own trumpet but I certainly had some points to prove. Because I was relatively successful as an indie act before I went to Stock Aitken & Waterman and I’ve just bored you to death, ask me the next question…
HM: You’ve answered about five questions in one go.
What I was going to say is, Pete Waterman and engineer Phil Harding have both said that PWL would not exist if it hadn’t been for You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) so how does it feel to…
PB: “I think Pete Waterman himself acknowledges that. But also, at some point during our second album with them, Mad, Bad & Dangerous To Know, I was like, ‘Oh will you right me a song?’ And they were like, ‘No, you can write them yourself.’ And they wouldn’t write anything for me. And I was getting lazy and I really liked what they were writing at the time for Mel & Kim.
“And so I wrote the second album and then I think by 1990 I’d really had enough of it all. And I went on to great success in Japan and that was fantastic because it was highly overpaid for very little work. And then maybe by 1998 I’d kind of had enough of it really. I still do occasional gigs but I do them only because I want to do them.
“I don’t know, I think there’s only a certain amount of time where you can feel creative, and you’re full of youth and optimism. And then all of a sudden all of the corporate interference: ‘Oh this is not the right cover photo for America’ and all that… and I just though oh fuck this I can’t be bothered anymore.
“All I ever wanted out of my career was maybe a Top 20 and then I’d get to make another album and then maybe a Top 10. A number one didn’t even come into my consciousness.
“I had a pretty weird experience the other day. I was doing an interview for a pretty major German TV show that goes out on New Year’s Eve, and there was about six people in the room… hang on, I’m gonna answer one of your questions here… there was about six people in the room speaking pigeon English, and I’m fluent in German, and they said, ‘We want a really honest answer. How does it feel to have got to number one?’ And I answered them, ‘It’s a complete fucking nightmare. Because everything you do after that is deemed a failure.’ The room froze because I was supposed to say ‘Ooh it was lovely…’ But we were having Top 10s after that and everyone was saying, ‘Oh that’s a flop.’
“I’m sorry that Spin Me wasn’t the last single off that album, or something. But I can’t complain as it’s still covered by loads of people, it still brings in money… but I’m focusing on TV work now. This Hit Factory Live gig is like a one off, because Pete Waterman himself asked me if I’d do it.”
HM: Do you feel that having a hit like that is both a blessing and a burden? On one hand everyone wants to have written a song that will outlive them, but at the same time when you die you’ll be the You Spin Me Round guy…
PB: “I really got angry about it at some point, thinking ‘fucking hell let me grow up!’ Because when I’ve been approached to perform it at those Here And Now gigs, which I’ve never done, it’s like being forced to wear your school uniform when you’re fucking 54, which I am.
HM: You’re not, are you?
PB: “Yes I am. It’s hard work, you know. It’s constant exercise and a lot of work with scalpels, but we move over that…
“But what I love about TV work is you’re taken in a lovely car and you’re put in a really luxurious dressing room (that’s if you get a reputation as a diva which I have – which is not true but I milk it) they call you to go on set, 11 o’clock you finish. You get your paycheck and you’re delivered home in a lovely car before midnight. It’s not like having to fly round the world meeting and greeting imbeciles on kids TV shows, talking about your latest video.
“I don’t know how people, when they’re mature and grownup, can actually be in the pop industry.
“I was with Rough Trade and I had my own independent label as well, in the early eighties. No corporate people leaning over me. Because they really did say, ‘This is not the right photo to launch you in the American market. Maybe we shouldn’t put you on the cover in the American market…” It went to fucking number eleven in America; I’d never even been there. And then I followed it with a number one dance single, so I did very well in America despite my pictures.”
HM: You mentioned Divine. What else were you listening to when you changed the sound of Dead Or Alive to what became known as the Stock Aitken & Waterman sound?
PB: “Can I just say that actually was our sound. Actually, I did The One Show maybe last year and it was about Stock Aitken & Waterman and they actually got their hands on the original demo that me and Steve had done and you practically couldn’t tell the difference. That was our sound.”
HM: Pete Waterman often calls you a genius and says you didn’t really need them… but what I was wondering was what informed that sound. What were you listening to?
PB: “Sylvester, Divine – the Bobby O stuff, particularly Native Love, that was the one that moved me. I’d say that they were the records that really jolted me. And there was one that SAW did that had 70s synths on it, Hazell Dean - Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go), I really liked that one. I kind of didn’t pay attention to what was going on.
“It’s like now. My partner, my husband of nine years, he has a 16-year-old daughter and I get to hear what’s current in passing, through his daughter. And you know what, I wouldn’t fucking know one of Girls Aloud if they came up and spat in my face, but I know if I hear their records that it’s Girls Aloud. I have no interest in celebrity culture; I’ve never suffered from media sickness. It’s not me being rude, I genuinely don’t know who most people are.
“Obviously I know of Lady Gaga and Madonna, but I’ve never really been aware of who anybody was. So I listened to Bobby O stuff and Sylvester and that’s kind of where the ball stopped. Other things… you might not have heard of them, D Train – You’re The One For Me, Sharon Redd… they were what I was listening to.”
HM: My first memory of Dead Or Alive is seeing you on Top Of The Pops when you were doing That’s The Way (I Like It) and my father, a very religious man, looked up from his paper and said, “He sounds like he’s having an orgasm.”
PB: “Oh fantastic. Oh that’s wonderful. Why thank you. Give your dad a kiss from me!”
HM: Which is the kind of reaction a popstar should provoke…
PB: “Yeah, you know at that time I agreed. But now, popstars schlopstars. I’m not criticising it, it’s what’s going on now, but I found the last run of X Factor very interesting. There are people who can sing but it seems like they are now the cart is pulling the horse.
“I remember making a stand during our lawsuit over the 12”s that without artists there would be no record companies. It’s changed a lot now, the record companies have got complete control.”
HM: Listening to the songs on Mad, Bad And Dangerous To Know it was real take-no-prisoners songwriting…
PB: “Thank you, I appreciate that. I’m very proud of that one. Recording that was very very difficult because I was writing the tracks in one room while they [SAW] were producing the tracks in another. They were having tremendous success. They’d got Mel & Kim they’d got Bananarama, they’d got Rick Astley. But they were having internal disputes so I didn’t want to go back after that, it was a sour atmosphere.
HM: You didn’t need to go back, did you? Your next album Nude you produced yourself….
PB: “Absolutely. That album is completely raw and it’s over produced but the great thing was we literally had budget to burn, but when Nude was gonna be released in this country they objected to the cover, in all senses. And we had artistic control, which I don’t believe any artist gets these days, so I wouldn’t change the cover. I don’t even think it got released in this country and if it did it was buried… But guess what, you get double royalties in this country so it really didn’t bother me.
“I don’t mean to sound blasé and ungrateful. As I say, I started out as an indie act. My first gig was headlining at a huge festival with New Order, called The Futurama Festival in Leeds. About 12,000 people – that was my fourth gig. I jumped in at the deep end. As an indie band it’s so much less complicated.
“It’s a bit like, the record company view you as though you’re Cinderella and they come down the chimney and give you tickets to the ball. I swear to god, no one came down my fucking chimney. Not only did I make my own dress to go the ball, I pushed my way in on the fucking guestlist!”
HM: And your reward was to be literally chased out of Liverpool…
PB: “Oh definitely. I got a phone call saying, ‘Guess what, it’s number one.’ I thought, ‘Oh fuck.’ I had a really nice home in Liverpool, overlooking one of the parks. I left the building, went over the street to get a cab and this bunch of schoolgirls ran at the cab, kicking the cab and punching it, going: ‘Get out of Liverpool, we’re ashamed of you.’
“It seems strange now. I’m not holding any bitterness but I’m always getting asked to go up there and do a gig and I’d not refuse to go because of that incident, but from the age of 15 I couldn’t wait to get out of there. It had nothing for me.”
Source: Pete Unique