To anyone who owns a Minogue record, Terry Ronald needs no introduction. His production work features on everything from Kylie Minogue's seminal work Confide In Me to Dannii Minogue's excellent Neon Nights album. His name also appears on Girls Aloud releases, Sheena Easton cult classics and Le French pop princess Lorie amongst many others (including his own solo albums). Come 2011, Terry is the verge of releasing his first ever book called Becoming Nancy (Bantam Press) and is involved in not one but two pop orientated shows in London's West End. So it seemed about fucking time to chat with Mr.Ronald on all things pop, books, friendships and burly lumberjacks.
Hello dear, how are you!!!! You've got so much going on at the moment. Can you see the wood from the trees? Or you do you need a nice burly lumberjack to...er clean it up somewhat?
I suppose a burly lumberjack will always be a boon, but yes, it does seem to be silly season for me, work-wise, at the moment!
Do you secretly actually love it?
I really do like being busy, yes, but only with stuff I love doing. Sitting in a TV studio for hours waiting around for various artists and bands to get their hair and make up done.. to get their hair done is not my idea of fun anymore.
You've got two shows that you've either written or helped create now both appearing in the west end, a novel, plus you're supporting the new artist DeeDee Loves Me.
Yes there's lots of good things happening so I'm happy and grateful. People say that being a jack-of-all-trades isn't a good thing, but in my case it's what keeps me fresh. It's also keeps me employed. I do find it's feast or famine, though. The big projects all come at once and then I get stressed that I'm missing all my favourite TV shows. DeeDee Loves Me is the one pop project I'm working on at the moment. She's a super talented writer and fabulously quirky performer. I adore her songs and we're putting together live shows for her now. She is going to have a great career in music. We also found a great talent called Rudi Douglas who's a singer/ songwriter. I'd like to spend some more time developing his project too.
Do you have moods for each thing? Do you have like "a deedee day" and then "a little belter" moment in the shower and then perhaps a "hurly burly evening"? and then a "becoming nancy weekend?" And after all of that a "fuck off-i'm on holiday" month?
Pretty much. I have to know what I'm doing each day. I can't blunder around from one thing to another. The other thing is when you're self employed is that you have to do all the admin, which takes up loads of time. I can't afford assistants or obliging house- boys to do that shit for me.
Little Belter. How has that come about and what's it about?
I've known Elouise, who is the star of the show for a while. She has an incredible and special voice- it's timeless. The show is a set of classic songs, which Elouise performs, and the stories around why she sings them and what they mean to her. It's dramatic, camp and funny all at once. She is a lovely, tiny northern gal with an immense voice- and I guess that's the crux of the show. When I saw her last show I felt that we just didn't get enough of her personality, so Elouise asked me to help her bring it out in the script and Little Belter was born.
You've also written songs for the performer in the show. What was it like hearing Elouise perform, what seem to me, as incredibly personal songs in front of you?
I wrote Pretender ten years ago. There are very few singers around that could do it justice, i think. It's a joy for a writer to hear their songs performed brilliantly.
Another Day is incredibly James Bond. Was that your intention when putting that together with Steve Anderson.
Steve and I wrote it for Shirley Bassey but it never made her record. Once again, it fitted Elouise like a glove. It was Shirley's loss.. Haha!
It had a huge response in the States and incredibly good feedback from around the world. Some heralding Elouise as the next Dusty. Are you both intending to write more massive songs for her studio album?
I'd love to make an album like that with Elouise. It's so rare you get to do it in pop these days. When Ian Masterson & me did 'Fabulous' with Sheena Easton, we had huge budgets for orchestras on every song. It was great. No one bought the fucker, but we had a marvellous time.
I think your work with Elouise really punctuates your massive versatility (and glorious skill) as a songwriter. You can write some of the slickest dance tracks on Neon Nights by Dannii Minogue which was totally made for the coolest clubs of Ibiza and then give us a song like Another Day...which is like a song written for the Royal Albert Hall. Where did this come from?
I have no real idea. I just love good music, whether it's Dusty Springfield or Arcade Fire; Stephen Sondhiem or Bowie. It's all about great melodies for me. I'm self taught. I can't read music. I listened to Blondie, Abba, and Burt Bacharach when I was a kid: the best pop writers. They were my inspiration. I found Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin, Dire Straights and the like fucking boring. I was also into new wave and punk, though, so I always like that little left of centre or alternative edge in a pop tune. My other passion is collecting 70's and 80's disco music, especially the rarer, lesser known tracks.
Did you inherit it perhaps from your parents. I vividly remember dancing with my mum to Stevie Nicks. She'd drape me in shawls and we'd parade about in the living room to Donna, Kate Bush, and Motown and Doris. I think I must get predilection of songs by Dannii to Judy to Edith Piaf from these many childhood moments. So where am I going with this? I suppose..where did you get that sense of melody from? Do you think... you could trace it back to your childhood?
Yes. As I said it was the music I listened to. My nan gave me a Judy Garland record when I was seven and my mum was mad on Elvis. I developed my own tastes fairly early, though. Seeing Roy Wood & Wizzard on Top of The Pops doing 'See My Baby Jive' changed my life. I stood there agog in my nan's lounge thinking: I wanna do that! The first record I bought with my own money was Bowie's 'Life on Mars'.
Ah so to Becoming Nancy. What inspired it and where did it come from?
Becoming Nancy is the story I always wanted to tell. Although the characters in the book are fictional, much of the story was based on true events. It's set in South East London in 1979 and it's about a 15 year old music obsessed boy who gets the part of Nancy in the school production of Oliver! It's a love story really.
How much of you is David Starr?
David is much cleverer than I was, but I was definitely more worldly. He is the best and worst of me at that age I guess.
Frances Bassey. Is this like the best name that there ever was.
She's a great feisty character too. My best friend when I was 15 was Kenny Stanton. We're still like brothers now. Although Kenny was a white boy and Frances is a black girl, David's friendship with Frances was definitely based on Kenny and me. We were always hanging out together at the local record shops- obsessed with pop music- and we had smart mouths that got us into trouble, just like David and Frances. My husband, Mark, spotted it straight away. "Frances is Kenny!" he announced while he was reading it.
Reading the Dannii Minogue biography that you helped Dannii write, it was clear that friendships are important to her (and you) and how that is interwoven within life in general. So Friendship. Do you think Becoming Nancy is a celebration of that bond in as much as a hilarious journey back in time to the 1970s?
Definitely. Friends are the most important thing in life. In some cases more than family. I'm very lucky with both and I discovered just how lucky when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2001. You find out who your real friends are then I'll tell ya! Becoming Nancy is most certainly about friendship and family. And also shagging, cross dressing teenage boys.
What was it like embarking on writing your first novel? Did you find out stuff about yourself that you hadn't imagined before?
I'm not sure what I discovered. It was a scary prospect doing a whole novel when I'd only ever done short stories, but when the publisher said they loved my work I knew I had to have a crack at it. You don't get that sort of chance twice, do you? One thing that dawned on me recently was the fact that i've now done three of the things I always dreamed of doing: to release my own, self penned, album, to produce a show in the west end, and to have a novel published. It's taken 20 years to achieve all three but there you go. Even though they might not set the world on fire, they're all out there. It's a nice feeling.
When writing the Dannii autobiography where there aspects that you'd wished you'd included but couldn't because of space?
Not really: I think we got it all in. It went on and on. Haha! That woman has packed it in I'll tell you. She actually thought she had nothing to tell. Hilarious! However, there is a paperback version coming out-that will include extra bits!
You've been incredibly central to a series of Dannii's releases over the years. What was that like and what is your favourite all time Dannii Minogue record?
Dannii has literally helped me keep a roof over my head and that's the truth. I've worked on virtually everything she's ever done since 1993 in one capacity or another: from producer & songwriter to The X Factor & then the book. It's a pretty relaxed environment when we work togethe r- especially when you throw Ian Masterson into the mix. We work hard but laugh a lot too. I used to make her smoke cigarettes to help give her voice the soulful rasp we liked. She'd be coughing in the control room and I'd be saying, 'It sounds fabulous, dear, trust me.' Obviously 'Neon Nights' was a personal highlight. I love all the songs we wrote on that, and I was very happy when 'Don't wanna lose this Feeling' went Top 5. Dannii is a real old school hard working professional, as is Kylie. Both very loyal to the people that work with them. We've been friends for almost 20 years now so it's like family. As for my favourite Dannii song, it's 'Who do you love now?' I love the dark melancholy vibe of it. Such a gorgeous sounding track.
Are they're any Dannii songs in the vaults that you'd love to be buffed-up and released perhaps for her multitude of fans. Songs such as The Sounds and Devil On My Shoulders?
No. I don't really understand that obsession with some fans who want to hear every single cough and sneeze their favourite artists ever make. Yes, there might be a few lost gems but many songs don't get released because they just turn out shit. There have been so many Dannii Demos commercially released: some really great, some not so much. Enough already! For the record I co- wrote both those titles you mentioned and they were minty.
Does writing a pop song stem from the same creative space as putting together a book like Becoming Nancy? Do you start with a skeletal story/narrative and start from there and just let it build. Or is the melody usually the first thing that's required?
I don't know how other people work, but when I write prose I have to have the story all mapped out. I need to know where I'm heading with it or there's a danger of rambling. With songs it's always melody first for me. It's what people hum even if they don't know the words. I'd let myself be led more by a song than I would with a story I think.
Yes! The song Its Not about The Tits in the Hurly Burly show is a great example of how a small 3 minute ditty embodies the entire show that yourself, Polly Rae, Steve Anderson and William Baker have crafted.
Yes! It's about what being a burlesque artiste means to Polly Rae, the show's star. It's more of a musical monologue really, and it's quite rude in an old fashioned 'Carry on film' way. Polly, William Baker and I talked it through and then I put it all into a lyric. Steve Anderson then arranged a brilliantly cheeky arrangement around it. I'm very proud of 'Tits'.
And, now its returned to the west end under the glorious auspices of the Garrick theatre in central London...standing back at it all, what do you make of the show and why do you think its become such a sell-out success?
The Hurly Burly show is different. It's Pop songs in a burlesque style with the brilliant arrangements of Steve Anderson. 'Tits, tassels and tunes.' Some of the song mash-ups are hysterical and Polly is amazing. William Baker is so great at iconography, too. He knows what's going to work and he isn't afraid to toss something out that isn't working. It's rude, funny, sexy, camp, glamorous, exciting... what's not to like?
What was like working with Polly Rae, the worlds first burlesque singer?
Polly works so fucking hard it's ridiculous. She wants everything to be perfect and I adore her because she listens to what you suggest and then makes it even better. We have a lot of fun working out things like how a German, dominatrix stripper should sing a Britney Spears song.
Now that the show has begun to soar, I'd like to ask a very deep question. How much boobage have you seen this month?
Oh too fucking much. Because I'm gay the ladies don't cover up anything when I'm in the dressing room. There's one particular girl in the show, Sophie, who is so sexy that I sometimes think I might be 'on the turn'. HA!
Do you think our David Starr would end up backstage working for shows like Little belter and The Hurly Burly Show? Or do you think his destiny is under a different star?
OH yes! I definitely think our David would love to work on Little Belter AND Hurly Burly: though he'd probably rather be in Hurly Burly truth be told, as would I!
Talking of which, are you considering writing a second part of Becoming Nancy. Maybe Flourishing Nancy? Davids life a year or so later?
Absolutely. I have four more David Starr stories up my sleeve. If Becoming Nancy takes off, there will certainly be another book or two. The next one would be set in the era of the New Romantics.
If you could say anything to the young Terry Ronald what would it be? And any advice? To the boy that became Terry?
Oh, so, so many things. Stay away from stonewashed denim; don't shag the drummer; no, that's not just a cyst! Loads of things. Mostly I'd tell him to go for it faster and with more confidence than I have. I spent too long thinking that other people around me were better at what they did than I was; not having the confidence to push myself. I'd tell the young Terry to do all the things I'm doing now fifteen years earlier. And not to be afraid to say 'no'. That's something else very valuable I've learned.