Pete Waterman talks The Specials, Judas Priest, Pete Burns and Ed Sheeran ahead of Birmingham show
From working with Kylie, to knowing The Specials as kids, seeing Pete Burns’ struggles first hand and recording what he reckons would have been a number one hit with Judas Priest – Pete Waterman has certainly had a varied time in music.
The Coventry-born Walsall FC fan, radio DJ and former Pop Idol judge also has a long-running love for trains, having worked as a fireman at the Wolverhampton Stafford Road engine sheds in the early 60s.
Since then, Pete has built two train businesses from scratch and sits on the HS2 Growth Taskforce, after being invited on to the board by the government.
He will share his many life tales with audiences at Birmingham Town Hall on Wednesday.
Looking back, Pete says one of the most fun experiences in his music career was working with Black Country metal band Judas Priest.
He claims the song they created together was so good, it ‘could have easily been a number one record’ – and as such, the group’s management banned its release.
“Working with Judas Priest was absolutely fantastic. We did so good a job that the management wouldn’t even let anyone hear the tapes,” explains Pete.
“We made what could have easily been a number one record. But once you’ve reached number one, there’s nowhere else to go.
“It was one of my favourite records I’ve ever made.
“We had so much fun working together. It was my birthday at the time and we recorded it in Paris.
“They showed me things I had never experienced before. I had no idea what Cristal Champagne even was before I met them. They were just brilliant.
“Their worldly knowledge of entertainment was well beyond anything I’d ever experienced. We went to this top restaurant and they knew exactly what to order.”
Coventry ska icons The Specials have a special connection with Pete too, who says the band members would pay truant in his record store when they were young.
“I knew Neville way before the time of The Specials. Most of the lads used to play truant in my record shop in Coventry. They used to hide from the police in there,” laughs Pete.
“The band they first formed was called Automatica, which then became The Coventry Automatica.
“They were a hugely talented bunch.
“I took them to Madonna’s manager and he told me to stick to pop music.
“They made some truly great songs. Their material is a window in history – their songs are probably the best social commentary ever. They’re just brilliant.
“I wasn’t in the position at the time to stick with them. I had to say ‘I believe in this’ and walk away.
“I still see Neville. He’s still as cheeky as he ever was.
“We didn’t know what we were doing when we created that whole scene in Coventry.
“I didn’t even realise there was a race thing. To me there just wasn’t. I didn’t see them as any different to anyone else. They were just kids.
“Why wouldn’t we play reggae? I thought calypso was the best thing I’d ever heard.”
After working with pop act Dead Or Alive while with songwriting and production trio Stock Aitken Waterman, Pete also maintained contact with the late Pete Burns, who died in October 2016.
He describes Pete Burns as ‘a very complicated human being’ who ‘was never going to live to an old age’.
“I used to see him regularly,” says the 71-year-old music mogul.
“Pete was Pete. He was just a very complicated human being.
“He had more talent than he knew what to do with and it troubled him, no question.
“Did I ever think Pete would make it to my funeral? No. But he lived his life to the maximum. He lived it to 100 per cent.
“In all the years I knew him, he was never happy with his body.
“Have I ever been happy with my body? No, but I would never undergo surgery for it. He always thought that was funny.
“But that was Pete. He wanted to be somebody else regularly.”
Moving forward into 2018, Pete Waterman now runs a weekly radio show on BBC WM, which the star says he lives for.
“It’s nice I’m still friends with Kylie and go to Rick’s birthday parties,” says Pete.
“But the radio work is exciting – not the same, but great.
“I live for music and the great thing is, the people talk my language.
“When I go home after being at Severn Valley my daughters say I sound like a Brummie again.
“I lived for so long in London that I’ve lost it, but I when I come back I soon regain my accent.
“The kids just didn’t get that. Bostin’ – they don’t get it. They don’t understand why I want faggots and peas. They went to private schools, so they’re like ‘what is that about?’”
When asked about current stars in the music industry, Pete says there are certain singles he likes, by acts including Rita Ora, Portugal, The Man and Jessie Ware, and artists such as Pink are high in his estimations – though he doesn’t feel the same way about Ed Sheeran.
“Ed Sheeran. . . He’s just too formulaic for me. You can hear everyone else’s records in his music. That’s not to say he’s not talented. But for me personally, I just don’t get it,” explains Pete.
“My daughter thinks I’m nuts. She’s raved about him since day one. And Elton John has better ears than most and he signed him.
“But that’s what’s great about music, you can’t like everything. It’s all down to personal taste.
“My view is slightly different to everyone else’s in that if people are buying it, it can’t be rubbish.
“A lot of people hated what I did – and that’s their choice. They may have thought I was overrated; that’s their opinion. Everybody has the right to their own opinion. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.”