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In Conversation with Pete Waterman

Armand Beasley
By Armand Beasley on

In Conversation with Pete Waterman

Pete Waterman OBE may be one third of the team responsible for the majority of hits in the mid to late 80s but this Cheshire resident has another passion other than music: trains. This month Pete and his Railnuts team are bringing Making Tracks 3 to Chester Cathedral for a limited time only creating a truly immersive and interactive experience for all the family. I sat down with Pete at his home in Whitley as we talk about the exhibition, his entrepreneurial childhood, favourite Cheshire haunts and his favourite artists that he’s worked with.

Tell us about your childhood

I was born in January 1947 in Coventry where me, my mum, dad and sister all lived with my Grandad ,who was a grumpy old sod. I loved him though, in fact he bought me my first train set back in 1948 and I’ve never been without one since.

Was it your Grandfather who triggered your fascination with trains?

We lived next to a train line and my grandad would walk me up to the bridge to watch them go by. He had served in the war but had been pensioned out of it as he had been injured so he got a decent pay out. Me and my mate Keith would walk everywhere with him for 3 or 4 miles , always walking behind him , he would never let us walk next to him. By 1955 I had a bike and would cycle to the station and by the age of 9 I would travel alone on the train visiting other stations like Rugby , Wolverhampton, Banbury or even Euston. I loved the experience of traveling on the train and also the hustle and bustle. I even wrote my first lyrics sat on Rugby station because I was so inspired being there.

Where did the love of words come from?

Well my dad was obsessed with poetry! In fact he would read poetry to me every single night of the week. In fact , I couldn’t go to bed until my dad had sat me down in front of a poem and read it to me.

You left school at 14 and your first job was for British Railway. Was that a dream come true for you?

Yes it was. In those days you would leave school at 14 and go straight to work doing a 45 hour week . My dad was in the aircraft industry and I was quite interested in planes but for me it was always trains. So when I got offered this job with British Railways I jumped at it because I’ve always thought that if you’re going to work somewhere, you have to do something that you love no matter how many hours you work.

What was it like leaving school at that tender age and going straight into a full time job?

Well, schools don’t prepare you to go to work, you learn from the older people around you. I mean, one minute I'm putting my hand up to ask the teacher if I can go to the toilet, the next , I’m in a noisy factory asking the man in charge, Burt , I think he was called “excuse me sir , but can I go to the toilet?” He said, “Don’t call me sir…you don’t ask , you just go but don’t be long. Also, there was a point where I told this bloke that I couldn’t read or write properly and he asked if I could do maths, which I could and so he did the writing down and I did the adding up of the overtime. So ,my philosophy in life is form a team and surround yourself with people that can do the things that you can’t. That’s what I did with Mike ( Stock) and Matt ( Aitken)…they could do fantastic things that I couldn’t and viceversa.

When did you develop your passion for music?

I was a chorister from the age of 5 until 18 at the local church called St Albans . The songs we would sing, were from the ‘Ancient and Modern Hymn Book’! But the problem was I couldn’t read! But the choirmaster would play me the song and I would memorise it really quickly and then teach it to the other boys and girls. At the age of 7, I remember having an argument with the vicar about a particular hymn he had chosen as I thought it was rubbish and that nobody would sing it. He put me in my place and Sunday came, and sure enough NOBODY was singing the hymn. Later, the vicar said to me “Waterman. You were right…from now on you’re choosing the hymns!” So every Friday night I would sit down with him and choose the hymns for the services.

When did you start your first business?

We would have lots of weddings at the church and when I was 10 years old I realised that there was money to be made from helping the grooms choose hymns and we would sing them , so I formed this little choir and I charged 10 bob 6 pence between the boys and 2 and 6 for me. There were a number of churches around the area too so I thought that we could all have bikes and do the same thing for all the weddings in the area and be known as The Flying Choir! I got in touch with the local bike shop and arranged a deal where I could pay in weekly instalments for the 6 bikes for me and the lads and I would make a bit of money from each of the boys charging them interest for the bikes! That was my first business.

When did you start dj'ing?

Well I was always playing the records at the Church Socials as I knew what new artists were up and coming by listening To American Forces Network . In 1962 at the Matrix Ballroom in Coventry I introduced the The Beatles as I was what you would call an Announcer, which meant playing records before the acts came on and also during the tea breaks of the acts then finishing off with God Save The Queen…they didn’t have DJs then. The Beatles were phenomenal, they were the only ones that did two 45 minute sets!

How did your music career progress?

With the rise of radio in 1966/67 I was building up a bit of a reputation and people started asking me what I thought about artists and mixes which led me into A&R , a department that’s responsible for artist scouting and development. I got a job with Magnet records and signed Donna Summer & Chris Rea but I gained loads of weight and it all became too much for me, so I gave it all up and got a job mixing concrete on a building site which certainly got me fit. But I missed the music business especially when I was hearing artists that I’d signed like Chris Rea on the radio and so I bumped into an old pal of mine in the industry who offered me a Consultency job which eventually led me forming a company with Pete Collins to signing Magical Youth and we had a huge hit with Pass The Ducie as well as hits with Nik Kershaw. But Pete wanted to do more rock acts but that wasn’t for me, so we parted ways and I then set up All Boys Music and PWL.

How did Stock, Aitken and Waterman begin?

Well, Matt and Mike came in with a track that they’d created but it wasn’t great and I suggested that we could do better as a trio and so we put our names in a hat and came up with our company name: Stock, Aitken and Waterman. I already had enough work producing and mixing in the studio to keep us going for a little while. We had a hit with Divine and then Hazel Dean which brought us to the attention of Pete Burns from Dead Or Alive who was looking for producers for his band’s new material. They’d already had a top 30 hit so Pete and the band brought us a few tracks in to work on but it was Spin Me that I knew would be the big hit. You Spin Me Round ( Like A Record) was our first number 1. After that we were inundated with bands that wanted us to produce them but we wanted to release our own songs that we had written AND produced . So I got us a loan for £30000 because we were so far in the red and we had our first selfpenned international hit with Princess Say I’m Your Number One in 1985.

Dead Or Alive were my favourite band and the soundtrack to my youth. The first album that you did with them, YouthQuake is still such a fantastic soundscape.

Absolutely! There was only one problem with Pete Burns and that was keeping him focused- but I absolutely loved him. In fact, he wrote a song - I think it was called Cowboys and Girls and it was the best Beatles song-they’d-never-wrote. As soon as I said to Pete that song would be bigger than Spin Me Round, he stopped it. I loved the Youthquake album too. There’s only one that’s better and that’s the Donna Summer album that we did. In fact , my favourite song that we ever did was Donna’s When Love Takes over.

Who were your three favourite artists that you’ve worked?

Rick Astley, Donna Summer and Pete Burns.

In December 2012 you did a special one off concert with most of the artists that you worked with including Kylie, Sinitta, Steps and Dead Or Alive. You then started working on some new material with Pete Burns but it never materialised. What happened?

Sadly, he was going through so much personal problems and he just couldn’t concentrate in the studio. His creative energy was never really the same when he had split up with his wife Lynne and Steve who was the drummer in the band. The three of them had this unconventional relationship but it worked and Pete was a genius and they’re creative energy was fantastic. Very sad that he passed away in 2016.

I have fond memories of The Palace Nightclub in Blackpool in the late 80s when you were filming Hitman and Her. How did that come about?

I had a meeting with David Lidderman who was head of Granada entertainment ,about an idea for a late night live tv show where I would go around uk nightclubs playing music with a female co-presenter reminiscent of someone like Cathy McGowan . So, David introduced me to Michaela Strachan and we recorded the pilot at Mr Smiths and it became a huge success. It was the first late night live reality tv show. Wherever I go everybody mentions Hitman and Her from Primeministers to the Royal Family.

How did the project Making Tracks come about?

I had a call from the Dean of Chester Cathedral and they had had a very successful Lego exhibition but now wanted a model railway exhibition. I agreed to do it but Covid hit so we were delayed for 18 months before our our first exhibition in 2021. It did really well , whilst last years was phenomenal, and judging by the reception I’m getting from my live Sunday blog I think this one is going to be huge. I wanted to make it relevant for all the family especially kids so we got together with sponsors like Hornby and this years Making Tracks is 64 feet long with 247 metres of track and 4 main loops! We have created a scale replica of Milton Keynes station and its 7 platforms , along with 30 trains, so the kids will love it! It took a team of 15 of us 6 months to build it and is the biggest challenge that we’ve done. All monies raised goes to Chester Cathedral.

When you travel abroad, do you make a point to test out the local network?

That’s an interesting question. Not intentionally, but I do tend to use the trains. I was on the Pendilino coming back to Manchester once and I said to my partner “there must be something wrong with this train as it’s too slow.” She reminded me that I’d just come back from Japan after being on the Bullet train everything’s going to feel slow! But Network Rail is still my favourite.

Three favourite places in Cheshire:

Chester, Knutsford and Lymm

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t change a thing when you get older.

Edited version of this article appeared in Cheshire Life magazine.

Making Tracks 3 was at Chester Cathedral from 26th July until 2nd September.

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Armand Beasley is a celebrity makeup artist and beauty columnist. He is a regular contributor to beauty magazines and publications, and appears on TV, radio and podcasts.

Armand International logo

Armand Beasley is a celebrity makeup artist and beauty colum­nist. He is a reg­u­lar con­trib­ut­or to beauty magazines and pub­lic­a­tions, and appears on TV, radio and podcasts.

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