Richard Anthony Hewson

Richard Anthony Hewson, who lent his initials to The RAH Band, enjoyed chart success with space-age stomper ‘The Crunch’ in 1977 and ‘Clouds Across The Moon’ in 1985. He shares some of his inspirations on the road to success

illustration: joel benjamin

HERBIE HANCOCK

“I came to music relatively late in life. I left school and immediately ran away to join the Merchant Navy. But the previous occupant had left a guitar in my cabin, and I used to sit on the deck practising. I listened to Voice Of America on shortwave radio, and I really got into jazz. So when I got ashore, I started playing gigs around London, and I was offered a scholarship to the Guildhall to study composition. In 1966, halfway through my course, my jazz teacher got a job working with Herbie Hancock, but couldn’t do it. He said, ‘Richard, I’m going to plunge you in at the deep end’.

“Herbie was recording the score for the film ‘Blow-Up’. I said, ‘You’re joking, I can’t work with him – he’s far too good!’. I’d followed his career with Miles Davis, and I’d even seen him play live. But I was sent down to give him a hand with orchestration, and when I met him, he was lovely. Suddenly there he was, playing his stuff in front of me. We did the soundtrack, he was amazing, and meeting my hero like that had an incredible effect on me.”

PAUL McCARTNEY’S CIMBALOM

“I formed a little band with Peter Asher, whose sister was Jane Asher – and, of course, she was going out with Paul McCartney. I ran into Paul while we were rehearsing at Peter’s house, and he wanted an orchestral arranger for a new artist he was working with – Mary Hopkin, singing ‘Those Were The Days’. I said, ‘I don’t know anything about pop music!’. But Paul gave me the gig, and he didn’t put any pressure on me. The only thing he wanted was a Hungarian instrument called a cimbalom, which you can hear at the beginning of the song.

“So we recorded my arrangement at Trident Studios, and Paul McCartney and Mary Hopkin hated it. Hated it. I thought, ‘Oh well, never mind!’. But when they took it over to Abbey Road and listened to it again, apparently Paul said, ‘My God, it’s not horrible at all, it’s brilliant’. It went straight to Number One in 1968, on the day I got married. And that song opened the door for me to do orchestral arrangements for big artists all over the world.”

GIORGIO MORODER

“I loved arranging and conducting orchestras, but it was always for other people’s songs. So I came up with the idea of making my own pop record, playing what I could, which was keyboards and guitar. I made ‘The Crunch’ by putting everything through guitar pedals, and people said, ‘That’s a brilliant synth sound!’. But there isn’t a synthesiser on it. I didn’t have one. When Roland found out about this, they kindly gave me an SH-5 and a sequencer.

“Then I heard Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer doing ‘I Feel Love’ and thought, ‘That’s the same bloody synth they gave me!’. It sounded fantastic. So that’s what started me off making electronic music, and I went to town with the SH-5. It completely changed the way I work.”

CLIFF AND ALBERT

“I was busy with The RAH Band, but people kept asking me to do arrangements, which was great. I just love big orchestras, they’re so powerful when you’re standing in front of them. And in 1982, Cliff Richard asked me to arrange and conduct the London Philharmonic for a show at the Royal Albert Hall! Can you imagine me standing on that podium? Oh my god, I was really scared.

“I walked out onto the stage, a spotlight came down and everyone started clapping. I thought, ‘Who’s come on?’. Then I realised it was me. And it was a blast. Orchestras still call themselves ‘the band’, and ‘the band’ were bloody amazing that night. Incredible. It never happened again – but I don’t mind, I’ve done it once in my life.”

THE INTERNATIONAL OPERATOR

“I’d been chugging away with The RAH Band, and I’d written a song that didn’t have a lyric. I was in Hollywood, doing arrangements for Supertramp, and was phoning home through what was called the international operator, who would answer the phone and ask who you wanted to be connected to. And I thought, ‘Right… how about a song set in the future, where she’s the intergalactic operator?’. That became ‘Clouds Across The Moon’.

“I didn’t have anyone to sing it, so I asked my wife, Liz, who’s a brilliant pianist. She wasn’t a singer, but she sang the song with this nice naive quality that really suited the story of a woman trying to connect to her husband on Mars. She was very convincing, so we left it as it is, and the rest is history.”

THE TIKTOK GENERATION

“Last year, a song I wrote in 1982 – ‘Messages From The Stars’ – was picked up by some young influencers on TikTok, who started sharing it. And it blew up! It’s had something like 50 million streams. They probably don’t even realise it was written 40 years ago, but it’s sky-rocketed and that’s something I never expected. Kids are speeding it up, slowing it down and making their own versions. You can promote things all you like, but you can never achieve what they do just by word of mouth. It’s amazing.

“My son, Daniel, played a concert at the Jazz Cafe last summer, arranging all The RAH Band stuff for his own group. I cued in the samples for them and said a few words – the first time I’d performed live as The RAH Band for 45 years. ‘Messages From The Stars’ went down a storm. So he can do a live RAH Band tour now! He’s a really hot musician. We call him ‘Son Of Rah’.”

‘Messages From The Stars – The RAH Band Story Volume One’ is out on Cherry Pop

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