Paul Hardcastle first came to world prominence in 1985 with ’19’, an anti-war musical collage which took the burgeoning sampling revolution to the next level.

The innovative mix of electro, staccato voice manipulation and dance beats was also a precursor to acid house. It was No 1 in thirteen countries, selling 8 million copies and its success led to the formation of the 19 Entertainment empire of svengali Simon Fuller who became his manager having signed him to Chrysalis Records. With its political shock statement about the average age of soldiers in the Vietnam war, the track continues to have poignancy with today’s military interventions.

A lover of soul and jazz, Hardcastle’s mainstream break came with the instrumental ‘Rainforest’ which fused those classic genres to a largely synthesized production, reaching No 41 in the UK and the Top 5 of the US RnB singles chart. ‘Just For Money’ featuring Laurence Olivier and Bob Hoskins followed ’19’ into the UK charts while ‘Don’t Waste My Time’, featuring Carol Kenyon who had sung on HEAVEN 17’s ‘Temptation’, became a Top 10 hit.

Then in 1986, Hardcastle composed yet another iconic recording with ‘The Wizard’, a new theme tune to ‘Top Of the Pops’. It remained the theme for nine years before another synth wizard Vince Clarke took up the mantle. After this imperial period, Hardcastle returned to his musical roots. He focussed on the American market and created the ‘Jazzmasters’ and ‘Hardcastle’ album series while in 2010, he won the Billboard award for Best International Musician.

Earlier this year, he recorded ‘Perceptions of Pacha’ for the famous Ibiza club while a new album ’19 Below Zero’ is set for release in October. Described as “a kaleidoscopic double album of ethereal beats, hypnotic rhythms and sensuous soundscapes of warm electronic artistry”, it features nine brand new compositions and a collection of material previously unreleased in the UK.

As the album title suggests, tracks such as ‘Return Of The Rainman’, ‘Journey To Tranquility’ and ‘Absolute Zero’ each possess a chilled but sunkissed vibe, perfect as an aperitif before the main course of continental nightlife. Paul Hardcastle kindly took time out to talk about ‘19’ and beyond…

What first inspired you to use technology to realise your artistic vision?

I’d always been interested in synthesizers and stuff since I was quite small because I was a big HAWKWIND fan. I guess SPACE started it off and I was in a band at the time called DIRECT DRIVE so we were doing live stuff and I was recording in a little room at home. So technology helped me out.

 What was your first synthesizer?

It was a Korg 700s that was monophonic so what I had to do to make up a chord was to play ‘C’ and then I would play ‘E’ but it would be recorded from one cassette deck to another and so on. I wanted it because I knew Simon House who was in HAWKWIND used one! *laughs*

And which device was the turning point for you creatively?

The Synclavier! That was great, the first thing I did on it was ‘The Wizard’ which was the theme to ‘Top Of The Pops’. Just being able to record everything from a keyboard; it was like a tape recorder inside a keyboard with discs spinning and lots of hardware going, it was like two massive bank computers at the time. What just turned it round for me was how quick it was… I recorded ‘The Wizard’ in like two days because I had a brief of “as quick as possible please”!

Did you feel any pressure writing a new theme for ‘Top of the Pops’, especially with iconic tracks like ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘Yellow Pearl’ coming before it?

No, I’ll tell you for why…because I was on top of the world at that time. I just thought “I’ve been asked for a reason” as I was remixing everything and writing loads of theme tunes so I wasn’t too worried about it.I actually worked with Phil Lynott not long before he died. He was a great guy Phil and he gave me his jukebox for my wedding present. He said to me: “Eh! Where’s me t’eme gone?” *laughs*

Rainforest’ was a great record but wasn’t quite a mainstream Top 40 hit in the UK…at the time, did you think a piece of music generally still needed a vocal hookline for it to be massively successful?

Not after I knocked Madonna off the top of the 12 inch sales chart, no! *laughs*

People had been saying that I wouldn’t get away with doing instrumentals and I was beginning to believe them I guess but then all of a sudden I did that! I mean she’s selling a lot of records and I’m selling more! I was thinking: “Wow! Maybe I’m right in sticking to my guns”. When it comes to sticking to your guns though, there was nothing more guns being stuck to than when ‘19’ happened…

So how did people react to ‘19’?

The record company didn’t want me to put it out. They thought it was going to be the biggest flop ever on radio! But there were two guys at Chrysalis, Ken Grunbaum and Simon Fuller who were thinking “this might just change the face of music” due to the fact of the sampling and that the story was being told to you in no uncertain terms of “this is what happened in the war”, as opposed to being clever with it.

I remember thinking ‘19’ had come straight out of New York before it hit and it was stopping people in their tracks when it was played at discos.

I don’t really understand how it was such a big club record, but it just so happens that it was!

I thought it sounded like Arthur Baker had done it. Which records had been the main influences musically on it?

Y’know what? Nothing really! If you went back to ‘Rainforest’, I would say yes, it was a bit SOUL SONIC FORCE but I took in a different direction where I put in a catchy jazzy melody whereas you had Afrika Bambaataa rapping on the Arthur Baker thing. But with ‘19’, I was on my own and just putting anything in it that I thought was right. Them beats may have been a bit of the New York thing but there was some of the Hip-Hop rap as well. I did try make it my own sound.

What equipment were you using to piece it together?

I managed to buy myself a very cheap 24-track machine called an Aces and it broke down all the time. So I went back to using an 8-track TASCAM which didn’t breakdown as much so I recorded a lot of ‘19’ onto that and took it into the studio and bounced it up. The sampler was only an Emulator I with two seconds of sample time in it! A Prophet 5 did all the bass, chords and melodies, there was an 808 and a few orchestra samples triggered by the Emulator!

The sampling thing opened up the whole can of worms about copyright law. Did you have any idea what you were getting yourself into at that point, especially with the samples of the veteran from the documentary?

We got permission for it…that wasn’t a problem because Chrysalis got permission to use the programme and some money was paid to the programme makers. Unfortunately the guy whose voice was on it, he had a clever lawyer who said “they have permission to use it as a TV thing but not as a pop record”. So they came back and said “we want some more money”! *laughs*

Did the controversy about the ‘Tubular Bells’ melody dampen things for you?

Not really, Mike Oldfield’s main thing was he wanted his name on the record. It goes into the legal side of things but at that time, I could earn more doing a remix than worrying about going to court. In the end, my publishers just said “he doesn’t want too much, just put his name on there for a while and give him a bit of an override” which we said we’d give to the Vietnam Veterans anyway. ‘Tubular Bells’ would have been the last thing I would have sampled… it was a good record in its time but there was no way I even thought of it. When someone said it to me, I was like “not really, not at all”!

Have you ever considered ‘19’ a millstone around your neck?

No, it’s always been something I’ve been very proud of because the fact is, I did stick my neck out and I really believed in what I was doing at the time. It was me against the whole record company. That’s why I’m proud of it because I didn’t listen to them.

It was the same thing with ‘Rainforest’ when people were saying “an instrumental’s never going to be…”! And when it was a massive R’n’B hit in America, they all came back and said “can we licence it?”… I was so pee’d off and bullish, I said “NO!” *laughs*

Come to today, although it’s a different theatre of war, ‘19’ is particularly poignant now…

It has been for a long time. I did do a new version of it about two years ago but unfortunately we released it the week of the election. I was due to have all this publicity on it. The BBC One show was going to run a 7 minute piece on the making of the original in the week of release but they didn’t run it until a month after. Sky News were going to interview me and radio wouldn’t touch it at all because they said “we can’t play this during an election, we’ll get taken off the air!” …we got it so wrong! *laughs*

You can hear it on YouTube, it’s called ‘Boys to War – 25th Anniversary Edition’. It highlights a lot of the stuff about Afghanistan. The strange thing is, when you’ve got a war that’s 20 years old and 6000 miles away from the UK, people are interested in it. But once it’s about your own country, the media are very “I don’t know if we can play this!” and yet it’s their own kids that are going out and coming back maimed or dead. I found it very strange that we shyed away from that version…

Is it on the new album ’19 Below Zero’?

The ‘Boys To War – 25th Anniversary Edition’ version isn’t but at the end of the album, it does leave you with a quote that says UK forces are now in a conflict the size of Korea and history keeps repeating itself…it’s in there to remind people it’s still going on.

How have you been keeping yourself busy in the period since ‘Don’t Waste My Time’ and ‘The Wizard’?

I’ve had ten No1s on the Adult Contemporary chart in the US, while sales of the ‘Hardcastle’ and ‘Jazzmasters’ projects have topped 4 million. My career just seems to have taken a twist to America which I guess is where it all started off with ‘Rainforest’. To be honest with you, it’s been quite nice because I didn’t really like being in the public eye too much. After three years, I thought “this isn’t fun anymore!” And all of a sudden, this chance came up for me to have a great career and not have so much hassle here. And it was brilliant. Obviously now, the generation who knew me have grown up, so it’s not that silly sort of thing where people look at you, laugh and run away!

Now people come up to you and say “hello Paul, how are you?”; it’s pleasant again. Whereas when you have 15 year old schoolgirls knocking on your door, you just think “Jesus Christ, what’s going on here?” or some of the rapper kids at three in the morning going: “Yo Paul! Come down, can you sign this album man?”*laughs*

What I always enjoyed was the fact that people actually liked my music so I sent it all over to America and people bought it for the records, I’ve hardly needed to do any promotion for it.

You have a new album ’19 Below Zero’ which as the title suggests, is quite chilled. Is it advancing years that inspires musicians to become more ethereal and ambient?

Well no, that’s just the idea of putting this album together. But believe me, I’ve done some crazy sort of things and I’ve just done this album for Pacha; if you listen to that, it’s not laid back at all, that’s pretty out there. The age group that it’s actually aimed at, for someone to ask me to make an album for Pacha, ok yeah! And that’s maybe me going back 20-25 years.

So I still can do that but this gives me a lot of pleasure making this type of music because it’s got longevity in it rather than just “bang-bang-bang-boom-boom-boom” and then all of a sudden, everything’s changed within three months which it seems to do. For example, the ‘Jazzmasters 1’ album that was done in ’91, it still sounds like it was done a few months ago because it’s not fashion.

What was the idea behind including new and unreleased mixes of your best known material?

I took the originals and messed around with them to get them sounding the best they can be, they’re all remastered and I’ve added bits. I didn’t want to go back to those tracks anymore so I just wanted to give the best versions you can ever have, because people are always asking me to remix ‘19’ again…no, this is really the last of that.

The mash-up of ‘Rainforest’ with Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On?’ is quite intriguing… how did it occur to you that would work?

This is a really strange one, but my late dad said to me when ‘19’ was out that Marvin Gaye’s track was about Vietnam as well and I half laughed because you never listen to your parents do you? Then I just thought about what he said one day and I found a bit of Marvin’s vocal and put it together with what I was doing and realised my dad had a point. So in 2010, I put it up on Facebook and I had so many people go “you have to do this and finish it”. It took me a year to get permission from his family to use his voice and Universal had to contact Motown and everyone under the sun. But I wanted to do it properly so I could hold my hands up to it, not just bootleg something and go “it wasn’t me”… what’s the point of that? *laughs*

That was one of the times where I come out of the studio and thought “Sh*t, that is really something special” and it was a ‘19’ moment for me. And they don’t come around that often…

Can you hear your influence in today’s producers? The one who springs to mind the most is Stuart Price; the LES RYTHMES DIGITALES ‘Darkdancer’ album sounds like it could have been you…

I do hear stuff, but I don’t look out for that…

And who are your own likes and influences?

I like the guy LABRINTH, he’s one of the only people today who sounds totally different to everyone else. My likes and influences have been PINK FLOYD, ISLEY BROTHERS, THIN LIZZY, BLACK SABBATH, HAWKWIND, LED ZEPPELIN and Barry White… I was brought up on rock, but then there was the influence of D-TRAIN which was the thing that that made me want to get into dance music. What a buzz that was when they asked me to re-do it. It became a hit and I did ‘Top Of The Pops’ with James Williams. They’re great memories them…

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to PAUL HARDCASTLE

Special thanks also to Sacha, Rosie and Rosalia at Impressive PR

‘19 Below Zero’ is released on 15th October 2012 by Universal / Hardcastle Music

Text by Chi Ming Lai
New Portraits by Rebecca Cresta, archive photos from Paul Hardcastle’s Official Facebook page
18th August 2012