Interview with the Coventry-born king of pop Pete Waterman

Pete Waterman with just a few of his golden disks
By Ben Glass
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Coventry pop magician Pete Waterman is one of biggest selling songwriters of all time.

But he still has space in his busy timetable to give a tip to local bands - don't hang out in bars listening to rivals - go trainspotting.

Songwriting and trainspotting are natural bedfellows, says the artist who has had 22 number one hits and sold an estimated 500 million songs worldwide.

"They're both about attention to detail," he said speaking from his London studios.

"It's about an emotion. It's exactly the same. Nearly all train spotters are music fans."

Waterman, estimated to be worth £30million, has been fascinated with trains his entire life.

In 1974 he even took Chris Rea trainspotting before signing the musician to record label Magnet.

And last September he released A Train Is For Life – a book celebrating his love for locomotives.

He was born at 94 Burlington Road, Stoke Heath in 1947, one of the coldest winters in recent history.

The son of an aircraft fitter he began his music career at The Locarno – the city centre club that once stood where Coventry Library (right) now is.

He says: "I was there for 12 years.

"I did lots of jobs in the beginning. I was a gravedigger for about half a day. No one wanted to be out of work."


Throughout the 1960s Waterman worked as a DJ but by the seventies had become a record company scout and consultant.

He signed disco pioneers Silver Convention and was a music consultant for John Travolta on Grease and Saturday Night Fever.

In 1979 he began working with Coventry band 'Up The Automatics' - later becoming The Specials.

Eventually there were 'creative differences' and management changed although Waterman remains friendly with singer Neville Staple.

He even penned the foreword to Staple's forthcoming autobiography Original Rude Boy.

So how does he feel about the band's reunion tour?

He said: "I managed them for two years and still see them. I think it's fantastic."

It was not until the 1980s that Waterman enjoyed widespread songwriting success.

Having set up Pete Waterman Entertainment Ltd in 1984 he signed songwriters and producers Matt Aitken – also born in Coventry - and Mike Stock.
Pete Waterman was born at 94 Burlington Road, Stoke Heath

The trio – under the infamous Stock Aitken Waterman title – went on to be one of the world's most successful song writing teams.

In the 1980s they churned out more than 100 top 40 hits, 40 million records and earned an estimated £60m.

In 1989 alone they wrote 19 top 10 singles – including six number ones.

It's arguable they had become so successful at writing songs that sold well that by the 1990s the British public had become overexposed to their pop style.

In fact in one 2004 survey they were voted the second worst aspect of the 1980's – narrowly losing the number one spot to Margaret Thatcher.

The seriousness of the survey is probably questionable though as the trio were voted worse than the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.

Did Waterman know when a song was going to be a big seller?

He said: "You write a song thinking that all are going to be hits. If you didn't think they were going to be hits you wouldn't put them out.

"I remember there was one written for Bananarama. I can't remember what it was called.

"It didn't go anywhere but it went to number two for Steps."

And with so many sales does he have a favourite?

He said: "It changes. At the moment it's Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up.

"It's one of the most listened to songs on the Internet. It has a lot of fans.

"But if you'd asked me two years ago, it would have been something completely different."

In May last year Waterman was bestowed a place on the Coventry Walk of Fame in Priory Place.

"It was a fantastic honour," he said. "It really meant something to me."

And how does he feel about Coventry?

He said: "My grandfather was from Leicester and he used to say all you've got to remember about Coventry is 'Three spires, bicycle tyres but bloody great liars.'"

It's a curious thing to say for someone with so much affection for the city.

Then again perhaps this is an insight into Waterman's success – it's not really what’s said that matters but how catchy it sounds.
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