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As one third of the incredibly successful production team Stock, Aitken & Waterman, Pete Waterman OBE took us on an amazing musical journey and introduced us to an array of larger than life characters whilst producing wonderful music that truly coloured our lives. A larger than life character himself, Pete is often celebrated for his charismatic flair for storytelling and his zest for life yet, perhaps because of the close and protective relationship he nurtured with Mel & Kim who he says he viewed like 'daughters', it was a poignant and thoughtful Pete who took the time to reminisce and to share with us his personal memories of a special relationship which remains in his heart.
Hi Pete, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.
Oh, it's my pleasure.
First off, can you tell us how you came to work with Nick East at Supreme Records and how this led to you working with Mel & Kim?
I had known Nick from the first Hazell Dean record we did. At that time, we were looking for a guy to work with us and Nick had just left his record company. Nick was the best promotions guy. I mean, he was unbelievable! He worked every hour of the day and was very focused and incredibly driven. I had never heard of Mel & Kim, before Nick brought them to meet me. He turned up with them one night (in Stringfellows for the Princess album launch) and introduced them to me and - it was instant!
What were your first impressions of the girls?
The one thing about Mel & Kim was, you couldn't help but like them. They were smashing, so we were sold at the very beginning! The thing that struck me straight away was, they were not overawed by meeting us at all, in any shape or form - at all. It was just like they had met three guys down the pub. I mean, they were totally unconsumed by the whole process - completely. It was just incredible. They just didn't seem to think that we were that special.
Soon after this meeting, Mel & Kim began recording with yourselves. When did you realise that 'System', which was planned as the sisters' début, wasn’t working out and what made you direct the sound towards Chicago House and Showing Out (Get Fresh at the Weekend?
We learned very quickly that there was something very different about their voices. It's very difficult to explain but there was a jauntiness about their 'voice', and it didn't quite fit the techno/RnB thing that we tried with 'System'. We were very heavily involved with Pete Tong around that time with Bananarama, and he played us these Garage/Chicago House tracks, and we just thought that this sound was perfect for the girls. They were the right age and the right attitude, so Mike (Stock) wrote 'Showing Out' and it came together very quickly.
Did the girls express any concerns about this change in sound?
No, the minute we started to record it, we just knew that it worked. It was just so... them! They would be telling us stories about going out on a Friday and Saturday night, and they were funny. Mel & Kim were just incredibly modern girls for their time, so we saw them as the female version of us, because we were, sort of, fighting the major record companies. These kids were like our alter egos.
And were they both excited in the build up to their impending début release?
Oh, they were so excited! That was the thing, I mean, it was literally trying to control them and calm them down because they were so excited. Every time they were in the studio, they were just a delight to work with because they laughed all the way through the session. I mean, it wasn't like a recording session. It was more like a party, every time they arrived.
Was System ever promoted in the clubs before switching to 'Showing Out'?
No. I'll tell you what happened. We actually pressed the record, we did the sleeves – and there are copies of the sleeves about, where it says 'System' But, as soon as we recorded 'Showing Out', Nick and I knew that it had to be the single.
Did you believe it was going to be such a major worldwide hit?
We knew the moment that some of the bigger DJs started to play it. You know - the trendier DJs! Not the DJs we thought - we knew then that it was going to go. Then, as soon as Kate Farmer dressed the girls up with the hats, we just knew that they were a little bit special!
Each artist brings something unique to the table. What did Mel & Kim bring and how did they compare to other artists you worked with?
Well, I always say that without Mel & Kim you wouldn't have had Stock, Aitken & Waterman, because they were perfect. They were modern and they had a very modern outlook on life. Everything they did, they did full of joy. They literally could not believe that they were making records. It was just the perfect, perfect match. When you have an artist that loves everything they are doing and doesn't sit and spend hours thinking about what they are doing, but just gets on with it - that's a joy for a record producer!
Sonically, the tracks that make up the F.L.M. album seem more in the vein of System, with an RnB vibe, than the three singles released from it. Was this a conscious decision by you and the girls?
Yes, well that was down to the girls. They wanted to try something slightly different and their real passion was for RnB. The House thing was great, but I think the girls really wanted to be soul singers as opposed to a House music band.
So, Pete, do you have a personal favorite Mel & Kim track?
Oh, it's 'F.L.M'! That song sums up Mel & Kim because it was their attitude to life! 'F.L.M.' actually stands for 'Fucking Lovely Mate' and that really was their attitude to life. They were larger than life girls. They didn't care, they were living the dream! Kim had worked in a knicker making factory... Mel had been a topless model, and had had a really rough time. We hadn't known at that point that she had already had cancer once, and they were living life absolutely to the full! They couldn't believe they were traveling abroad and being paid! It was a joy just to watch them! You can hear it in their records, the girls were just joyous! They just wanted to make records, and both the girls were just so right! I mean, looking back at the second single - 'Respectable' - if you put 'Respectable' out today it would still be a hit!
Mel & Kim F.L.M. performed at the Montreux Rock & Pop Festival - May 1987 (Exclusive melandkim.com Edit.)
Yes, absolutely! We agree! Have you ever considered commissioning a current remix of Respectable?
No, although it is an interesting idea, but EMI now hold the masters. Maybe, in the future, someone might say 'maybe we should look at the Mel & Kim catalogue?' I personally think that Mel & Kim are underestimated!
We understand that Respectable was re-recorded as there was a concern that the sisters' unmistakably British/Cockney accents may confuse an international audience. Can you shed some light on this for us?
Nick was worried that it was too 'London', at one point. I mean, with Mel & Kim, if people don't think they sound like Cockneys then they are listening to a different record. That, to me, was the charm and why they broke in America. They were so obviously British!
The sisters recorded both Respectable & F.L.M. soon after Showing Out was a hit. What made you decide to release Respectable as the second single?
Well, we knew, or certainly I knew that it was a hit! It summed up Mel & Kim, it summed up the period in Britain at the time, and it certainly summed up Stock, Aitken & Waterman. The song was based on an article I had done for the New Music Express (NME) and an advert we had taken out in a trade magazine called Music Week. We had been taken out of the running for all the awards in 1986. We had been completely dropped, so the advert read, 'you can love us, you can hate us. You ain't ever gonna change us. We ain't ever gonna be respectable!' That was the advert in Music Week, and the lines like “We're a dancing nation” came from an article I had done in the NME. Mike just took those quotes and put them into the lyrics for Respectable.
Sadly, it is often only in retrospect that people are awarded the respect and recognition they deserved at the time, and that can certainly be attributed to yourselves!
Yes, well maybe we were successful because we were so loathed. Maybe that was the driving force because, like Mel & Kim, we were from very humble backgrounds and we didn't take our success lightly. We saw it as a privilege and we were always trying to make records that people wanted. We weren't interested in 'the trappings' but we wanted the success.
Speaking of Respectable, it has been claimed that the song was not originally intended for Mel & Kim but had, in fact, been written for the group Dead Or Alive. Can you clear that one up for us?
No, that is purely just a rumour!
The sisters came to you pre 'The Hit Factory' and their stable mates, such as Dead Or Alive, Devine & Hazell Dean came from the edgier gay underground club scene as opposed to the more family friendly pop audience that came after you began working with Kylie, Jason and Sonia, to name a few. Had things been different, and Mel & Kim had come to you a couple of years later - do you think the ballsy, rebellious nature of their personalities would still have been the focus of their tracks?
Oh no, they were before all that, and they were absolutely a 'moment in time'! Mel & Kim were the patrons of cool! Obviously, history is a strange thing, cause you can look back at history, but Mel & Kim were not a 'pop act'. I mean, we never saw them as a 'pop act', and that's the difference. Kylie was a 'pop act'. Mel & Kim were a Garage/RnB act – that's what they were! We weren't trying to make pop records at all with them. We were trying to make dance records and that's what Mel & Kim were listening to, that's what they were buying and that's what we were doing at that time. What you have got to understand is Mel & Kim gave us our first real pop number one with 'Respectable' and after you have had a number one, everything changes. Suddenly, everyone knows who you are. Everybody knew who Mel & Kim were, it was a hit all over the world, and everybody wanted them. Where Princess had been number two, Dead Or Alive had been number one - but they were seen as a rock band. Suddenly you saw two young girls, and the videos that Nick did were very good, I mean, they were brilliant! We had not ever thought of having number one records. That was not what we were doing. We were looking at number one dance records, and would have been ecstatic with that. Suddenly, there we are at number one in the pop charts with an act that we had made as a sort of, House music band. Suddenly, there the girls are on kids and prime time television, every day of the week, and suddenly we were selling 800 000 singles when, at that point, everyone thought that the format of 'the single' was dead. Suddenly, here is Mel & Kim selling 800 000 singles!
The lead track on the demo tape, which won the girls their record deal with Supreme, features the sisters singing their parts separately. Who decided that Mel & Kim sing together rather than separately on the tracks they recorded with yourselves?
Well, I think that is down to Mike Stock. Mike was in charge of vocals, and Mike is a vocalist, so Matt & Mike were excellent at getting the best out of the singer. That's what their job was, and they were excellent at it! In the end, they decided between themselves and the girls. They were 'Mel & Kim'. They were two sisters against the world. That's what they were, and they were very proud of that! Their voices harmonise together perfectly. That's the amazing thing. Maybe it was because they are sisters, but when you recorded them, they were the perfect match. Mel was the most 'Cockney' and Kim was more refined, but they worked perfectly. I mean Mel was a natural singer, both the girls were brought up singing pop records, that was their background.
Though both naturally gifted vocalists, Kim has said in interviews that of the two of them she felt Mel was more of a singer....
That's correct, but Mel never took herself as 'the singer' in the band - ever - and that's something that people don't give her the credit for. Mel was so happy to be singing with her sister, in fact, at the sessions, you had to calm Mel down because she was just so bubbly and funny. Sometimes we did no recording, but we just stood laughing for hours. Mel was such an amazing, amazing person!
We have spoken to many people for this website, including people who perhaps only met Mel & Kim for a short time, yet the sisters made such a lasting and positive impression! It's amazing how much love remains for Mel & Kim after all these years.
Well, you know, I think that in life you get some very special people, and certainly Mel was one of those very, very, very special people. If we are lucky in life, we meet one person like Mel. I've certainly known one or two, but Mel to me was the most amazing. She was beautiful! As a young lady, she was beautiful but as a personality, she was just amazing! The great thing for me was, because of my age, these were like my daughters. It was fantastic! Where every other guy in the world was lusting after them, I was there trying to protect them. It was fantastic!
What seems really rare is that we hear of people who have come from nothing and reach success very quickly only to lose themselves!
Not Mel & Kim!
Yes, they truly stayed so grounded and true to themselves.
Yes, yes, they never... I mean, when Mel was ill she still lived with her mum. She could have afforded her own flat by then but no, it never went to their heads at all!
The sisters' popularity literally exploded very quickly worldwide. Did the speed of their worldwide success surprise you?
Well yes, but at that point, you have the problem of making the follow up and to work on a lot of other things that are involved and, unfortunately, Mel fell ill really just as the worldwide explosion happened. I remember Mel was in Japan promoting, and she fell ill. and that's when we knew something was seriously wrong, and we had to fly her back. Unfortunately, we never really ever saw their success explode the way it was exploding because we were too worried about Mel. The success and the euphoria that we were feeling was soon dampened by Mel's illness and, at that point, Mel's recovery was the only thing that we cared about!
You accompanied the sisters on some of their promotional trips. Can you share a funny story or memory from any of these trips?
Yes. Well, we were in Amsterdam, at a big awards festival – Mel & Kim, Rick Astley, Mike Stock, myself and Nick East – and it was a wild night! It really was a wild night because we won everything, and we ended up back at this very, very, very posh hotel where, at about four in the morning, Mel jumped into the swimming pool - fully clothed - and about 900 men jumped in after her! (Laughs)
(Laughs) that is amazing! Being new to the business was there any advice or reassurances you gave the sisters?
No, I didn't need to. They were so confident. That was the great thing, we didn't have to talk to them about anything. They knew what they wanted and they knew where they were going. They were fantastic! Unfortunately, it was such a brief career that there was no time for advice. We were so busy trying to catch up with their popularity and unfortunately, who knows what might have happened, I mean we will never know!
What do you think would have surprised people about Mel & Kim if they had meet them, and what surprised you most about them?
Oh, without a question - their attitude! They had no doubts about being successful. From the very, very beginning, they never had a doubt. They weren't shy. They knew exactly what they wanted, they knew they could do it and nothing was going to stop them! Unbelievable!
How would you compare the sisters' personalities?
Very different, oh very, very different! Kim was the more level-headed and more grounded. Mel was just a bundle of fun; life was just a game to Mel. Obviously, Kim took things seriously. She had worked hard, she had had a tough beginning and this, for her, was unbelievable! Mel didn't take any of it seriously at all!
The UK press, in particular, ran many stories on the girls during their career. Did the sisters ever express any worry about the tabloid tales to you?
No, they never worried about anything. In fact, the worst thing we ever did, which was where the criticism towards them came from, was this: Mel & Kim did an interview and instead of just letting them do it, Nick East went along with Kate Farmer and interfered. Nick and Kate tried to have the journalist ask the questions that they wanted, and the journalist absolutely ripped into Mel & Kim! It was nothing to do with the girls at all. It was purely down to Nick and Kate! After that we never allowed anyone to attend interviews with the sisters. They didn't need anybody!
Was there a lot of pressure on Mel & Kim to continue promotion for the F.L.M. album, following Mel's diagnosis?
No. Unfortunately there just wasn't long enough. I think, if there had been another year then maybe it would have been a different situation but, in the short time that we had, it was still so novel and new to the girls that they never had time to tire. It was too short! The last single, 'That's The Way It Is', is, to me, the best track we ever did. We didn't want to do that, but Mel insisted. Nick didn't want her to come back into the studio yet but I said to Mel, 'If you wanna do it, then I'll do it!'. I said to everyone, 'Mel wants to record and so we are going to do it. If she feels that she's got enough energy, then we are gonna do it' - and we did!
Did you remain in contact with Mel throughout her treatment?
Oh, blimey yes, almost every day! She would call or we would go around to see her. I mean, yes – we were mates! We weren't just producers and writers; we were all mates!
As I have said in many interviews – without Mel & Kim we (Stock, Aitken & Waterman) wouldn't have happened! These girls gave us our career. There is no question about that, but we also all loved each other and we were great, great mates. We would have done it (recorded with Mel & Kim) even if we didn't have hits. It was an amazing experience and an amazing time!
The Mel & Kim story is an incredible one and, despite its tragic ending, the love for them remains strong in people's hearts and memories. Don't you think their 'story' would make an amazing movie, or perhaps even a musical, someday?
Yes well... maybe three or four more singles and it would be a musical. I mean, the thing about Mel & Kim is that everything was against them, you know? They had come from such a poor background. Mel had had a tragic relationship before we had met her... she had been this amazing topless model. I mean, that was the eighties... and she was up at the top - and suddenly, she had to have an operation and her modelling career was over - and the next thing you know, she is a pop star! Amazing!
The recording of That's The Way It Is required Mel & Kim to record in the studio without drawing press attention, and from all accounts, Mel went out of her way to put those present at ease. How were the girls during the session and what are your memories of the night?
Mel didn't want to stop. She thought she could beat the cancer, she really did. She had already beaten liver cancer and she believed she would beat this cancer. Mel checked herself out of the hospital to come to the studio, and she was in a pretty bad state. She had got the wig on, because obviously, with the chemotherapy, she had lost all her hair. I mean, everyone in the studio was literally shocked! Mel was only in the studio for four minutes and then off comes the wig... she chucked it on the floor, stamped on it and said, 'come on, have a laugh. Let's all have a laugh and then let's get on with it!' That summed up Mel! I mean, they were shocked when she took her wig off but, within ten minutes, everybody was laughing and joking! Mel made us laugh and put us all at our ease. She never stopped laughing, she had us in hysterics throughout the whole session.
We heard that, while Mel was undergoing treatment, you encouraged the girls to write their own songs and to plan their future career. Is this true?
Oh yeah, yeah! I set up a studio at Mel's house. I took keyboards down, and if they wanted anything, we sent it down. We wanted them to... you know? I wanted... I wanted Mel to live! I wanted her to get better! At this point, we didn't know... they knew but we didn't know that it was terminal. I don't know whether Mel knew but, certainly, Kim knew that Mel was not going to get better. We wanted to try to help Mel through. I mean she just had that attitude of, 'come on, let's get on with it'. They didn't talk much about their future career, or at least I don't remember conversations about that. I was just more worried about getting Mel back... back with us!
When you look back now, what is your strongest and most lasting memory of the girls?
For me... Mel's laugh! I can still hear Mel laughing. At the start of 'Respectable – that's Mel laughing. We put that there because that was her. That was Mel!
Finally, Pete, it's been many years since their four singles and album were released, yet Mel & Kim form an integral part of both PWL & Pop history. Why do you think the memories and love for the girls have endured?
Because it was a bright light that has never been extinguished! It burned brighter than anything else! It really was a bright light at a point when pop music had lost its way. Fate dealt it the deal that it stayed so bright because it never had time to diminish... it never did!