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Interview with McKenzie & Gardiner

McKenzie & Gardiner were a duo from London, who attended the same school and who had a passion in common: soul and funk music. They eventually managed to record a track of their own and the result was the fantastic 'From Time' on The Sound Of London label. A very funky track that kicks off with phat snares, hardcore claps and agressive synths. The unconventional male/female lyrics and beautiful backing vocals make this record a real pleasure to listen to. Not even listed in the Dave Ford mixing discography (who really did a great job here), giving the record it's extreme rarity status. The flip contains 2 incredible mixes as well. Read the interview with Clive Gardiner below. Listen to a sample of 'From Time'.

I'm proud and happy to do an interview with Clive Gardiner, half of the illustrous duo McKenzie & Gardiner. Hello Clive great to have you here, how are you doing?

Clive Gardiner:

Hi Ed. I'm very well, and absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to talk to you. Thank you so much for your interest in "From Time" and for your support of this single. It is amazing and gratifying to know that you and fans like the song so much after more than 20 years!

The pleasure is all mine. I'm eager to ask all about your 'From Time' record of course, but first tell me a little bit about where you are from and your musical background.

Clive Gardiner:

I'm from West London, born and brought in Southall, a town which has a very mixed community. English, indian, west-indian, black, you name it everybody was here together. A real mix of cultures and a melting pot for lots of creativity. I was involved with music and drama from an early age, learning piano from age 7 and being active in drama and singing. My school Villers High School was an inspiration, giving lots of opportunities to be involved in bands, orchestras, choir, drama productions and so on. I was a regular in the school's music concerts, and by my mid teens was writing and playing my own compositions in bands with school mates. It was a very vibrant creative environment.

Can you tell us about your connection with McKenzie? Who is he and how did you two get together? Were you part of a band or something?

Clive Gardiner:

Earl McKenzie was a schoolmate of mine. Our families grew up with each other and we were always good friends. Unlike me who had music lessons on piano, singing and brass instruments, Earl is totally self-taught, and can play anything he picks up! He had seen me play in a pop band at school when i was 14 and 15, and was interested in doing something. We shared the same love for soul/funk music and we thought lets try to sound like our heroes! We formed a funk band at school called "The Class Of 1978" which was a 7 piece band. This band lasted for a few years with all songs being written either by myself or together with Earl. Later Earl and I went to different universities, but we kept writing and playing together as a duo whenever we got together. We wrote lots of batches of songs which eventually led to "From Time".

We go back to 1983, you must have been a young lad back then. What kind of music were you into and what led to the making of 'From Time'?

Clive Gardiner:

In 1983, I was 21 and at university dreaming of making a career out of music, if i was lucky :) Earl and I shared a love of soul/funk music. I had been a DJ since 1978, and was a mad buyer of 12 inches covering soul, funk and fusion. My musical heroes at that time were people like Earth, Wind & Fire, Teena Marie, Average White Band, Cameo, Kleeer, Slave, Kashif, SOS Band, Change, Johhny Kemp, Al Jarreau, The System, Freddie Jackson, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. We were both aware of a new generation of U.K.talent coming through such as Light Of The World, UK Players, Central Line, Incognito, Freeez and Savannah and we wanted to be part of it. In those days it was not easy to make professional sounding demo tapes. You needed a studio, which was very expensive. But we were determined. Earl and I worked for 1 year to save the money to make our first studio demo tape when we were 18. And nothing came from it except rejections. But we kept trying, and every now and again recorded something new. We were always looking for ways to get into the studio to cut another song and build our experience.

I was a subscriber to "Blues & Soul" magazine which one day announced a competition being run by Streetwave Records, they were an independent label becoming famous for their Streetsounds and Electro compilation albums. Streetwave wanted new bands to send them demos, and they would choose winners who would get a free day in their studio. Earl and I decided to enter, and make sure our entry got heard by the boss, we approached him at a disco we knew he would be at and personally gave him our cassette. Our unusual approach worked, and a few days later we got a phonecall saying we had won a free day! We used that free day to cut a demo of our latest song "From Time" and were delighted to hear that Streetwave wanted to re-record it as a single and release it under our names. The demo of "From Time" had a different style to the final record. The demo was more mellow, a little slower, with male vocals only, and had an overall flavour a bit similar to a mixture of Slave's "Watching You" meets Cashmere's "Do It Anyway You Wanna". For the single, Streetwave wanted to make it more upbeat with more of a Brit-soul sound. They brought in producer Joe Williams, who had just cut two successful singles for Savanah "Never Let You Go" and "I Can't Turn Away". The combination of Joe and us resulted in the single you know and love.

Very interesting! Who wrote the music and lyrics of 'From Time'?

Clive Gardiner:

"From Time" is a true collaboration between myself and my friend Earl McKenzie. When we wrote together, we would vary who did the music and who the lyrics. For "From Time" I wrote the music and Earl the lyrics.

Who did the lead vocals in 'From Time'? And did you play some instrument on the record?

Clive Gardiner:

I play most of the keyboards on "From Time", everything except the bass and lead synths. The lead male vocals are by Earl McKenzie, with backing vocals by Earl and myself. I sing one part of lead vocal which comes in the instrumental break in the 12 inch, the part that goes "You've had my love....From Time, girl I've loved you...." three times. Thats enough of me as a lead singer for anybody hehehe....I can sing, but I've always thought my voice does not suit the soulful music I love and want to make, it's just a taste thing. So I have always looked to write songs with others as the lead singers.

I once received an e-mail from someone who desperately wanted to know who the female singer is in 'From Time'. I remember i had that information but i forgot her name. Who was she and how did she get involved in the record?

Clive Gardiner:

The girl singer on "From Time" is Jaki Graham. Jaki went on to have many hit singles for EMI, some as duets with David Grant. "From Time" was recorded about the same time as she originally signed to EMI, Jaki was brought in by producer Joe Williams to do backing vocals, but when she tried the lead too, she was so brilliant! Earl and I would gladly have let her sing the whole song with us as writers!! But she was newly signed to EMI, and Streetwave were not allowed to feature her name on "From Time" so they used as much as they could of her, arranging it sort of like a duet with Earl, and she remained uncredited. I would like to think the positive reaction to her performance helped build some excitement for Jaki. She was a lovely bubbly lady and a pleasure to work with. Jaki was not allowed to help us with the promotion of the song, so we used another girl singer for our PA's and appearances, who mimed to Jaki's part.

All in all, how much time did it take you from start to end to create 'From Time'? Was it a difficult thing to do? I mean music making today is technically quite easy but i guess back then it was a different story.

Clive Gardiner:

The basic recording of "From Time" took about 2 days at Streetwave. We had cut the demo version shortly before, so we were familiar with everything. Producer Joe Williams brought some top-class musicians; Pete 'Stepper' Hinds from Incognito and Light of the World (bass and lead synth), John McKenzie (bass guitar), JJ Belle (guitar), Jaki Graham (lead and backing vocals). Joe started programming the drums first and we layered everything else one instrument or voice at a time. Everything except the drum machine was played live.

The famous remixer Dave Ford laid his hands on your tune. Did you meet him in the studio or was his mixing done afterwards?

Clive Gardiner:

It was such an honour to have Dave Ford mix our track in a central London studio. Earl and I were new to professional studios and so just looked over this shoulder and tried to understand what he was doing and learn from one of the gurus :)

When the demo was cut, what happened? Was the song aired in London?

Clive Gardiner:

"From Time" was the first release on a new Streetwave label imprint called "The Sound of London". We got great support from local, national and pirate radio, people seemed happy to have a cool new record from a new british duo which sounded a little different. We got radio play including Radio 1 and Capital, and had favourable reviews in Black Echoes and Record Mirror. We were soon involved in normal record promotions such as interviews and personal appearances at events like "The Best Disco in Town" We didn't get Warhol's 15 minutes of fame, but maybe managed 2 or 3 hahaha!

'From Time' is nowadays a very hard to find record and i guess it always has been. Any idea how many copies exist?

Clive Gardiner:

Well Ed you are an expert on the rarity of a rare groove record, and its true to say that "From Time" is definitely scarce! One of the reasons for this is that after the initial 10.000 12" were made and shipped out, Streetwave decided not to continue with the "Sound of London" label, they were worried about being sued by somebody...So they decided not to make a 2nd reprint. This is probably the reason why it's so rare. I have no idea how many copies exist. Just a handful every year I think change hands. I wish I had a box upstairs in the loft! And the song has never been on a compilation.....yet!.

Were you surprised to learn that the 'From Time' 12 inch is very indemand and easily fetches 200-250 dollars?

Clive Gardiner:

It is wonderful to know that "From Time" is valued at such premium prices. Many records are rare...but they only fetch good prices if collectors are willing to pay for them. It is recognition that the music was good, and that some selective and renowned people still like to hear it. That it really rewarding to me both as a writer and a performer.

In retrospective, what do you think of your own record?

Clive Gardiner:

I am really proud of "From Time" as I learnt so much from the experience on many levels. Firstly, it's a big achievement to get a single made and released. We were 2 friends from school with a dream who took a chance and did something thats quite notable. I can feel very proud of that, even if it didn't lead on to other releases with Streetwave. Secondly, it was my first artist & writer deal with a record company, and I learnt lots about how artists and labels should work together, mainly because Streetwave overall did not treat us very well. I used this negative experience positively later when building a career for myself as a record company executive at BMG.  I wanted to know how the business side worked, and promised that I would always treat artists well.

As for the record itself, it might sound strange but I like it better now than I did at the time. The reason is when I was an active musician trying to establish myself, I was always striving to be better and to be different. I was so hungry to learn and to share my songs with the world that I was never satisfied, I wanted to record all my songs and get them released, and make them the very best thatI could be. Anything less was a failure. When I listened to "From Time" back then I always thought of what I wanted to improve. Now I hear it and can appreciate it is not bad at all. The one thing that really bugs me about the single back then and now is the way it stops just before the chorus that wasn't in the demo but came from the producer. Earl and I both thought its better without that 'stop'. But as I said I'm a perfectionist, and if people like it as it is, I'm very happy and grateful. And when I first heard it on the radio...oh my, it was a magical wonderful feeling!

Stop being bugged, your record is perfect :) The little break makes it all the more funky when that beat comes back in. What other records or projects have you done in the 80's? Did you guys record more tunes together? If I am not mistaking McKenzie made a record under the name 'McKenzie & Friends'. And are you still in touch with McKenzie?

Clive Gardiner:

I dont know whether Earl made a record under the name 'McKenzie & Friends'. I lived abroad for 9 years when working for BMG and we lost touch. Earl and I wrote lots of songs together, including several studio demos. None have yet been released, but they may become available one day on a new website which I talk about later. I am sure Earl and I will meet again one day, and I look forward to it. From my side, I had a producer and writer deal in 1988 with Legal Light Records and produced a Pop/Soul single there called "Completely" sung by Michael Mullane. It's a poppier style to "From Time". I also worked as a jingle writer and had some jingles put out by Pioneer Electronics. And in my executive career at BMG, I produced and executive produced several successful albums and compilations.

I would love to hear some of the other material you and Earl recorded. What have you been up to until now? Are you still into music production?

Clive Gardiner:

I am lucky enough to have made music my life for much of my life. As well as a musician, I have been a DJ, a music programmer, a jingle writer, a video producer, a music writer and a record company executive....though not all at the same time :) In 1994 I joined the major record company BMG as a Regional Director in Asia Pacific, and spent a wonderful 9 years working in music for them and successfully building new business whilst living in Asia. After 3 years as Regional Director, I had 4 years as MD of BMG Indonesia and 2 years as MD of BMG Malaysia, combining these roles with head of international marketing and successfully promoting lots of mainstream pop artists for them. When you work in mainstream music, you have to forget what you like, and instead look at what can sell and what is right for your market. But along the way I have worked with and met some personal heroes of mine, including LA Reid, Babyface, Toni Braxton, Usher and TLC.

Last year I joined a new music website called, co-founded by Peter Gabriel. We7 seeks to bring free legal music to music fans by combining mp3 files with short audio advertising, which gets removed after 28 days leaving a drm-free mp3 file which can play and be shared everywhere. My job is to license songs from and to manage relations with labels of all sizes as well as unsigned artists. Its a wonderful challenging job which keeps me very busy. With the music business changing so fast, I am optimistic that We7 can find its own place in tomorrow's digital music business. And maybe we'll get some McKenzie & Gardiner music up there one day!

Clive, may i thank you very much for this interview, it's great to know more about you and your timeless record. Do you want to say something to all admirers of soul and funk?

Clive Gardiner:

Ed, it was a delight to have the opportunity to talk about "From Time" and I thank you very much. For original soulboys like me, we will always believe that the funk and soul of the 70s and 80s was the best time ever for vibrant, exciting music, and your site is a wonderful example of how your passion can keep this connection alive. You perform a unique valuable service by showing and sharing rare grooves and hard-to-get favourites which otherwise might be forgotten. Well done.


UPDATE July 2008:

On the brink of publishing this interview i managed to locate Earl McKenzie, and this is what he had to say about the record and his experience with Clive:

Earl McKenzie:

Hi Ed, I have not a lot to add to what Clive has said about this tune and those times but I look back with great fondness. We were probably one of the few funk soul outfits to emerge from West London at the time. A long time ago now and life has taken the usual different turns but Clive was always an obvious talent and a pleasure to know and work with. We definitely had a mutual respect for hard but melodic funk/jazz based songs. The final 'From Time' cut was a bit too commercial and over produced for our liking, earlier demos were harder and with more obvious funk references. However, listening to this now, there is 'something' about From Time. Although the Streetwave experience didn't end in world domination, it was a valuable experience and quite funny when I look back, particularly the 'live PA' with the Jaki Graham substitute.

Clive was always going to continue to have musical success, either writing and performing or on the business side and I am extremely happy to see him do so well. Since we stopped writing together I have been and am still involved in diverse musical projects from hardcore bleeps to acid jazz, writing, recording and performing live with funk based groups, the most notable being 'Chief Seattle', a Beauty Room-like live outfit. I've been a bit quiet in the last couple of years but have just contributed lyrics to the latest offering by Japanese producer M-Swift. Should be recording again soon but purely for the love of music and with no ambition other than to create great noise with some extremely talented friends. It was a pleasure communicating with you Ed, it's great that people like you exist.

Keep the faith and the funk.


Update 2011: 'From Time' has been officially reissued by Boogie Times Records from France under catalogue number BTR 12-024 so Clive Gardiner and Earl McKenzie have been reunited again :). All the best to you guys!

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