Paul Hardcastle ’19’

A Vietnam documentary, revolutionary sampling kit and a young musician who needed to kickstart a new career. In 1985, Paul Hardcastle shook up electronic pop with ‘19’

“In the early 80s I’d been working as a hi-fi salesman in Sloane Square and I was doing OK, but it wasn’t giving me enough time to do music. I could play guitar a little, but I was very into synths and good at percussion. I’d been to see [Radio London broadcaster and journalist] Charlie Gillett and he’d said, ‘I’ve never seen anyone in the music business as determined as you. I’m sure you’ll make it.’ I gave up the job and joined a band, Direct Drive, as keyboardist. It was a bit of a risk as I’d just got a mortgage so it had to work.

“The band put some 12-inches out that got club plays, then the singer and myself left to form First Light and we had a couple of minor pop hits on Polygram. Before long, we were going our separate ways.

“The first solo track I recorded was called ‘Rain Forest’, done as music to accompany a hip hop video. I’d been listening to what was going on in New York and I fused a ‘Planet Rock’/Soulsonic Force-type thing with a really jazzy melody and it just sort of exploded. It was Number One on the Cash Box chart, relieving Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’ of its place. It then went into the soul chart and Billboard Top 100. I had my first hit.

“That’s how I met Simon Fuller. He was a publisher at the time and had signed Madonna. Then this little British guy goes and knocks his artist off the top spot! He got in contact with me and asked if I had anything else. He was doing A&R at Chrysalis, so he invited me to come in.

“I did have something: ‘19’. I’d been looking through the newspaper and I saw that this programme called ‘Vietnam Requiem’, the story of young kids in Vietnam, was on TV. I wasn’t gonna watch it straight off so I taped it. When I did watch it, I thought, ‘I could make a record out of something like this.’ I bounced all the stuff from the video onto a quarter-inch tape and started using some of the audio on the master track. I’d just got a new sampler, the Emulator II. It had two seconds of sampling time. I just about fitted in ‘In Vietnam he was 19’. I played that, cut up the ‘19’, then hit the keyboard a few times for ‘N-n-n-n-n-nineteen’ and thought ‘Shit! There’s something here!’ To get the orchestra stab I had to sample that into a delay and press the button whenever I needed it. My first synth had been a Korg 700S, so experimenting with that had made me more innovative, I was primed to making electronic music by trial and error.

“I took the first demo version of ‘19’ into a meeting in this massive boardroom in Chrysalis HQ and it went down like a lead balloon. Everyone just looked round and went, ‘What the hell is this guy on about, people’s heads being blown off and n-n-n-n-n-n-nineteen?’ But the promotions guy, Ken Grunbaum, said to me, ‘I think it’s one of the most exciting records I’ve ever heard,’ and Simon Fuller said, ‘Sod this lot, why don’t I just leave the company and become your manager?’ I was 25 and so green, I didn’t know what a manager would do. I’d been pretty self-sufficient. Just before ‘Rain Forest’ I’d done a cover of D-Train’s ‘You’re The One For Me’ and sold that out of the back of my Cortina as well as distributing it myself to shops around the UK. I’d even got it to 41 in the national chart.

“I said to Simon, ‘What would you do?’ and he said, ‘I’d just take all the crap for ya.’ After meeting people at the label I thought there could be a lot of that. Afterwards Chrysalis still wanted to be involved because of ‘Rain Forest’ but weren’t so convinced about ‘19’. Someone told us that in two months’ time it would be the 10th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. It got us thinking that something could happen, and then the label machine switched on.

“On the release date I appeared on ‘News At 10’ talking about the record with Alastair Stewart. ‘19’ went to Number 4 then stayed at Number One for five weeks. After the first week Duran Duran were at Number Two with ‘The Living Daylights’. They were the biggest band in the world at the time and they had the Bond film behind them. Ken said, ‘I think we’re gonna get knocked off next week’. But I had an idea. I went back to the mix and changed the story a bit, called it the ‘Destruction Mix’. People liked that version better and they went and bought that. The Durannies were still on our tail, so on the third week I thought I’ll do ‘The Final Story’.

Bam! Kept ’em off for five weeks. The only reason we got knocked off Number One was because of The Crowd’s song for the Bradford City stadium fire disaster. I was more than happy to relinquish my place for that.

“‘19’ opened a lot of doors for me, and Simon named his management company after it. I had kids writing to me about it and I was part of one school’s curriculum, they were studying the lyrics of the song. I also had so many letters from Vietnam vets, maybe 2,000. They’d say, ‘Thank you for highlighting our plight’. The post turning up at Chrysalis at one point was sacks of letters just for me.

“Three weeks after release in America it outsold every other artist and the only reason it didn’t get to number one is because their charts are made up of record sales and airplay. Some stations thought it was having a dig at America so wouldn’t play it. Years later some of those stations apologised and started playing it.

“Three years ago, on the 30th anniversary of ‘19’ we released a version called ‘The PTSD Mix’. We had Afghanistan and the Falklands in mind and gave the money to people with post-traumatic stress disorder. For me, ‘19’ ended there years ago with that, helping people.”

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