Artist / Spelt Like This
Spelt Like This was a three-piece band comprising of three talented musicians, managed by Tom Watkins (who would later manage Pet Shop Boys, Bros and East 17) and signed to EMI Records. The band, as with many of that period, was promoted with an elaborate marketing campaign and boasted production from the hot production team of Stock Aitken Waterman.
The story of Spelt Like This starts with Tom Watkins. Watkins was, by the mid 1980s, an emerging music industry figure, though his focus at that time was on design, branding and marketing. His XL Design company enjoyed great success with its design and promotional work for Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Kim Wilde and others, but Watkins was also developing a parallel career in music management and was keen to create his own hit pop act.
Some years earlier, Watkins had managed a band called Portraits and had used the bassist of that band, Russell McKenzie, for an album cover photo shoot for another of his acts, Grand Hotel, who were signed to CBS Records.
By the end of 1982, McKenzie had met a vocalist called Alan Richards (later known as Alin Karna), who was signed to Rocket Music, and became involved in Karna’s new venture, a seven-piece soul band called The Motivations. McKenzie invited Watkins to see the band, which led to Watkins discussing spinning Karna and McKenzie off into a new two-piece pop band.
In his fascinating Let's Make Lots Of Money autobiography, Watkins says he took Karna & McKenzie out of The Motivations and teamed them up with guitarist Alan Rawlings to form what Watkins termed as a “manufactured act like Frankie”. Given Watkins’ close working with Frankie Goes To Hollywood, ZTT Records and genius producer Trevor Horn, he must have seen the opportunity to take a group of musicians and wrap them up in a controlled production and marketing package. Like at least three members of Frankie, the members of Spelt Like This were musicians so one wonders what they would have thought of Watkins’ intention, whether they were fully aware of it or not.
With this newly-formed band commencing work on writing material and recording demos, Watkins set to work on developing his masterplan.
Watkins states that the name Spelt Like This was devised as a promotional gimmick, “a punchy, Scrabble-inspired moniker. It could be jumbled up into anagrams to circulate to the press to generate the maximum buzz”.
Watkins would eventually sign the band to EMI, after negotiations with EMI’s A&R manager Dave Ambrose. Ambrose is a legendary music figure, having been a former member of influential progressive rock band King Crimson, and had signed both The Sex Pistols and Duran Duran to EMI Records.
It then came to pass that Stock Aitken Waterman were approached to work on the Spelt Like This project in late 1984; by this point, the trio had scored two big hits with Divine and Hazell Dean, and whilst the follow-ups for those two acts had just missed out on Top 40 placings, it was clear that they were a production team in the ascendant. (Indeed, Watkins was at this time also keen for Stock Aitken Waterman to produce the first Pet Shop Boys album, Please).
By all accounts, the recording sessions for the SAW-produced SLT sessions were very frustrating for all concerned. Aside from the fact that recording was taking place in Waterman’s new Borough studio which was still in the process of being fitted out (with additional recording taking place at Ridge Farm Studios in Surrey), tensions were rising between the act’s manager and the producers.
Phil Harding, who engineering and mixed the SAW-produced SLT material, notes in his excellent PWL From The Factory Floor book that “we just couldn’t please Tom Watkins or the record company”, and adds that Stock & Aitken were frustrated by the fact that Waterman was not present for much of the recording process, which suggests that they were left to deal with the exacting demands of Watkins and EMI.
According to Karna, Spelt Like This recorded 10 tracks (all written by the band) with SAW for inclusion on their projected debut album, Word Perfect: Contract of The Heart / Stop This Rumour / Walking Not Falling / Larger Than Lions / Lovers Lost No Return / Out of Water / Bonkers / Centre of Attention / Double Dare / Love Surrender & Devotion / Emocean. (A further track would also be recorded for the B-side of their debut single.)
"Contract Of The Heart" was decided upon for the debut single, and despite various promo's and videos the best the track could manage was a #91 placing in the UK Singles Chart, which must have been devastating for the band, for the label and certainly, for Watkins. This chart position must have given all parties pause for thought. Especially, it appears, Stock Aitken Waterman. If Mike, Matt and Pete were utterly frustrated by the difficulty of the recording sessions with Spelt Like This and Watkins, then the commercial failure of the first single must have been the final straw.
The second Spelt Like This single, Stop This Rumour, emerged in July 1985. Whilst production was credited to Stock Aitken Waterman, additional production and mixing was credited to McKenzie and Froome for both the 7” and 12” Lust Mix.
However, Stop This Rumour fared worse than its predecessor, failing to reach the Top 100 UK Singles Chart. Aside from the relative lack of promotion, what didn’t help was that the band effectively imploded at the time of release, with Karna walking out of the band as the in-fighting became too much to take. T\
he band split shortly after the failure of Stop This Rumour.