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rick’s tv debut

Tickets for the ‘Hit Factory Live’ concert in London’s Hyde Park on 11th July seem to be selling like hot cakes.

So by the time you read this, one of pop music’s most unlikely reunion events may well have put up the ‘sold out’ signs.

Remarkably, 25 years have gone by since Pete Waterman’s pop conveyor belt was in full production.

Much has been written in the past few days about the merits or otherwise of the Stock Aitken Waterman approach to songwriting.

But the statistics don’t lie – PWL in its heyday was hugely successful and popular with the people who matter: record-buyers.

That success was only just revving up when in the summer of 1987, I began working as a tv producer on the BBC’s weeknight news magazine programme ‘North West Tonight.’

A few months into my new job, one of the directors, Paul Colbert, asked me if I was interested in a story about an aspiring pop star from the region, who was working with Stock Aitken Waterman.

Which is how, a few days later, thanks to Rick’s then co-manager Dave Warwick, I found myself listening to a cassette of a song called ‘Never Gonna Give You Up.’

The singer? He was from Newton-le-Willows and was called Rick Astley. The record was his debut single.

My first reaction was I really liked the record, but if we were to devote air-time to it, I needed an independent second opinion, so I took it home.

In those days, the radio/cassette player lived in the kitchen, so after our evening meal, I asked my wife to give it a listen, beetled off upstairs and awaited her verdict.

It was a while before the track was played.

Then –  silence.

Not a good sign, I thought.

But I was wrong.

In the days of cassettes, instant replay wasn’t an option. Turned out she was rewinding the tape.

A few minutes later, the distinctive tom-tom synth drum intro boomed out again.

And then a few minutes later, again.

We had both reached the same conclusion.

‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ was a record with qualities learned from growing up during pop’s golden age – you didn’t mind hearing it repeatedly.

Which is how Rick came to make his tv debut on ‘North West Tonight,’ a week or so before the record’s release.

A couple of weeks after that, the record entered the charts at number 32, driven in part by sales from the North West of England, and Mr.Astley’s career was up and running.

As a programme, we then followed Rick through the next few madcap months of instant pop stardom, and were there for all the significant moments like his first ‘Top of the Pops’ presented on that occasion by Simon Bates and Peter Powell.

Some of that footage appears periodically in documentaries about the 1980s – as it did recently on BBC2’s ‘I’m A Pop Star’ where Rick looked back with humour and wit at those far-off days.

For what become a huge worldwide hit, ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ just seemed to happen.

No marketing, no stylists or image-makers, no strategy – or at least none that were apparent to me.

Strangely, in the era of MTV, the record didn’t even have a video to start with.

Which is how Rick ended up in the ‘North West Tonight’ studio one evening, miming to his new song.

It’s a performance, directed by Mandy Winckworth who still works for the BBC, which I hope is made available online in time for the 25th anniversary of the release of ‘Never Gonna Give You Up.’

In it, you’ll see that the studio had been dressed with various tall pot plants – a reference, if I remember rightly, to Rick having worked in a garden centre at one point.

The best ‘take’ we did was great, apart from the moment when a camera collided with one of the said plants – and it wobbled.

This, we learned later, was affectionately labelled ‘The Wobbly Plant’ video at PWL.

Fair play to Pete Waterman – when the official video, filmed at Harrow Boys Club, emerged soon afterwards, he let ‘North West Tonight’ have it first.

A world premiere of sorts, introduced by presenter John Mundy, who became our Rick Astley correspondent alongside reporter Paul Craven.

Rick is, of course, scheduled to perform at the ‘Hit Factory Live’ concert in July.

On what we can only hope will be a suitably balmy summer’s evening, I’ve no doubt he’ll yet again demonstrate his singing talent and ability to work a large crowd.

Plus proving to the doubters that the best of his Stock Aitken Waterman tunes are indeed decent pop songs.

Especially ‘Never Gonna Give You Up.’

 

 

Rick Astley – official website

One Response to “rick’s tv debut”

  1. John Mundy says:

    In the back ref I did following the first TX of the ‘wobbly plant’ video, I said, ‘When that gets to number one, remember you heard it here first’. I don’t know if that helped increase sales, but all in the Waterman camp appreciated the sentiment and always went out of their way to repay us with access to Rick for interviews.

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