Q Magazine (1996)
In the gloomy, wood-panelled, family portrait festooned grandeur of a neo-Gothic mansion gathered 15 pan-generational song smiths engaged in EMI Publishing’s annual Huntsham Writers’ Week, among them Suggs, Kirsty MacColl, Chris Difford, Graham Gouldman and Lamont Dozier.
Afternoon tea break terminates rather abruptly and, in moments, the exploratory poking of pianos and composerly thrumming of guitars resumes in every corner of the building. Huntsham Writers’ Week began in 1994, when Chris Difford returned from a similar, ground-breaking event organised by Sting’s manager and IRS label boss, Miles Copeland. Difford recommended it to EMI and when they saw his suggested venue they were convinced. Huntsham Court is a 19th Century pile a few miles from Tiverton, Devon. No TVs, no telephones, but an “honesty bar”, where you itemise your intake in a ledger.
The week is strictly programmed. After breakfast, the 15 split into groups of three, the line-ups of which are changed daily. The day’s new compositions have to be performed in the evening. It sounds like peer-pressure hell, but experience shows that all this creative discipline and cross-pollination sweeps even the most inhibited into what the more gushy call “a religious experience”.
For instance, on day one, Kirsty MacColl was eyeing the exits. In recovery from crippling stage fright, she hadn’t written a thing for two years. But that night she took lead vocals on I Don’t Miss You (co-authors Henry Priestman and Michael Fotoohi) and it was “pretty damn good” even if she does say so herself. A little later, her team equalled the Huntsham aIl-comers’ record with four new songs between breakfast and dinner – written with people she’d never otherwise have met: brilliant black LA classicist and funkster, Kenneth Crouch (Prince and Tom Petty associate) and Claudio Guidetti (Eros Ramazotti’s co-writer)
Suggs, who reckons he pulled out a couple of first-day crackers himself with Difford and Gouldman, concedes, “Even for an old cynic like me, that first night was tear-inducing. Just hearing a song that people have written that same day is brilliant and strange. They put you with someone who you think you’ll click with and it’s all pacing around, fuck-all happening. Then they stick you in with someone bonkers and a banjo player and you’ve got 19 top hits in an afternoon.”
Demonstrably, Huntsham delivers – if more, so far, in terms of uplifted spirits than hits. At the end of this, the sixth day, the writers troop from room to room to hear each group’s new songs. “You could say we’re all just sitting around getting pissed, slapping each other on the back, saying, Aren’t we great?,” says MacColl. “but so what? We’ve made a connection. It’s the international music of lurve.”
Not much else in the way of new material from this period, but Goldmine magazine (an American equivalent to the UK’s Record Collector) ran a major article about Kirsty’s career, detailed on the Career Summaries page. Also Pete Waterman and Billy Bragg both brought out autobiographical books including some recollections of the early 80s.