Ellie-Mae Hammond catches up with Paul Hardcastle to discuss all things past, present and his plans for the future
Song-writer, composer, radio presenter, producer, musician and multi-instrumentalist…Paul Hardcastle’s CV just does not end. Best known for his song 19, which sky-rocketed to number one in the UK charts in 1985, Hardcastle has gone on to have quite the career. But who is the man behind the sound?
“When I was younger, funnily enough I didn’t think about pursuing a career in music,” he admits when we meet up over Zoom. “All I could think about was motorbikes. My dad was a musician, and growing up I lived all over, following him and his music. He taught me how to play the drums from the age of seven, but my heart wasn’t in it to his dismay. I became a despatch rider when I left school, motorbikes were literally all my brain could focus on.
“However, all that changed when I had a bad accident and ended up smashing into the side of a moving car. I landed about 100 feet down the road, and before I knew it, I woke up in hospital with three compound fractures.” For anyone who has suffered a compound fracture, you will know the severity of the accident. “I was in hospital for four months, in traction, and came out on my 21st birthday. I had a video camera at the time, and a friend of mine had a cheap monotonic synthesizer, so we swapped devices one day.”
Sitting opposite Hardcastle, I can see the spark in his eyes light up. “With this monotonic synthesizer, you could only make one note. And from this moment, I became someone that would really look for ways of doing things differently.” The only way was up from here for Hardcastle. “I started doing bits and pieces and tried making some tracks up and one day I looked into ‘Melody Maker’, and someone was looking for a keyboard player to join their band – bearing in mind I had only been playing for a few months, I turned up and got the job instantly. They told me I was exactly what they were looking for.
“My time with Direct Drive was short-lived, and not long after myself and the singer left and became First Light. After a few years, we split, and I went straight on to do this track called Rainforest for a body popping video – it’s safe to say that my inspiration was the New York sound.”
From this moment onwards, this is where everything really started slotting into place for Hardcastle. “All of a sudden, this track went to number one on the dance chart in America, almost instantly. The next day, I get a call from Simon Fuller, Madonna’s manager! He told me that I had knocked her Like a Virgin off the top spot, and wanted to invite me in for a chat. I was working on 19 at the time, so I brought that in with me, and essentially left with a manager! Seven weeks later we were number one in 13 countries, and sold seven million records.”
Looking back at what shaped his music, Hardcastle recalls: “The song D-Train, this is exactly what shaped my want to create sounds. And when I look back, all I ever wanted was for people to love what I did.” Moving his career to America, Hardcastle wanted to leave pop behind and focus more on a new style of music: “I wanted to stray away from pop, more something you would listen to in a jazz bar. Ibiza chill mixed with jazz. I’ve had 34 number ones on the American charts, and after being in the goldfish bowl for four years, I realised I didn’t like pop anymore. I went back to similar sounds of my past, using saxophones and flutes to make new sounds. I went back to my roots and then came my first album, The Jazz Masters, and shortly after I produced Hardcastle One, a half vocal/half instrumental album there was a gap in the market for such an album, so of course, I filled it!”
Lockdown was a struggle for us all, but creatively, Hardcastle could not be put on pause, he says: “I couldn’t actually go into the studio for a good couple of months – I just had no interest. I ran a record label for four years, so I was constantly busy, and for then to be all of a sudden put on pause, it really affected me. One day I went into the studio to just do a drum track. All of a sudden, my brain started again, like an engine starting back up – I came out at 5am with a track that some people have said is the best thing I’ve ever done. Covid made me fall in love with music again – I made two albums in lockdown.
“Lockdown gave me a lot of time to think about my next career moves and what I want to give back to my community,” he continues: “Me and a close friend are thinking about setting up a music academy. I am a song-writer, I’ve worked with Simon Fuller, ran my own record label – all this stuff is in my head and I don’t think there’s much I wouldn’t be able to tell you about this industry, apart from one question, ‘will my track be a hit?’ What people need to understand coming into this academy is two things. The first, what do you want to be, and understand the path of growth within that area.”
The idea for the academy is all very new, however his ambition is to have it up and running by the end of the year. He says: “We will be using the Colrooke Royals Football Hall, with the age demographic being around 15 years and above.” It’s safe to say Hardcastle is no stranger to the music industry, and with his wealth of knowledge and expertise, this academy in the making will produce nothing but the finest musicians in the Essex area.