Jazz keyboardist, producer
In an industry where egos run wild, where individual talent is often dwarfed by individual vanity, Paul Hardcastle stands out as the rare musician who is more comfortable behind the scenes than at center stage. From his dance club hits of the mid-1980s through his current popularity among adult contemporary jazz listeners, Hardcastle has maintained an intentionally low profile, while at the same time exhibiting a level of technical wizardry—both at the keyboard and at the studio console—that has produced numerous hits for himself and for others.
Hardcastle was born on December 10, 1957 in London, England. While he is unquestionably a talented keyboardist, Hardcastle’s first love seems to have been studio equipment. As a teenager, while most of his peers were imitating the licks of their favorite electric guitar heroes, Hardcastle was tinkering with tape recorders and other gadgets. His love of sound equipment eventually led to a job as a stereo salesman. In 1980 Hardcastle acquired his first synthesizer. He quickly landed a spot as keyboard player for the band Direct Drive, effectively ending his career in sales. With Direct Drive, Hardcastle got his first taste of dance club success, scoring a handful of minor hits on the British underground dance scene, including “Time’s Running Out” and “Don’t Depend On Me,” both released by Oval Records. Direct Drive also provided his first contact with vocalist Helen Rogers, with whom he continued to collaborate well into the 1990s.
Following the breakup of Direct Drive, Hardcastle joined forces with vocalist Derek Green to form the funk band First Light in 1982. Signing with London Records, First Light quickly produced two hit singles. Both “Explain The Reason” and “Wish You Were Here” cracked the Top 20 on the U.K. dance charts. In spite of this success, Hardcastle grew frustrated with his lack of control over his projects. Of his experience with London Records, he recalled that “it was a total disaster. It was a constant battle of ‘do this, do that,’” according to a 1985 Billboard magazine article. Hardcastle’s solution to the control problem was to start his own label, appropriately named Total Control. His partner in this endeavor was the popular club DJ Steve Walsh.
With full power over his own product now in hand, Hardcastle continued to crank out dance hits in his native England, including the singles “Guilty” and “You’re The One for Me.” Two instrumentals released during this period under the Total Control banner, “A.M.” and “Daybreak,” also gained Hardcastle a following among the electro-funk crowd. The success of these minor hits paved the way for the release of “Rainforest,” the single that made Hardcastle a genuine force on the international
Born on December 10, 1957, in London, England.
Keyboard player with Direct Drive, 1980-82; member of First Light, 1982-84; formed Total Control label, 1984; recorded dance hit “Rainforest” on Bluebird label, 1985; signed with Chrysalis and recorded no. 1 hit “19,” 1985; produced and remixed records for several artists, 1985-89; composed music for films and television, including British series Top of the Pops, 1985-90; formed Fast Forward Records, 1990; recording artist, JVC Music, both as solo performer and with Jazzmasters, 1993—.
Addresses: Record company —JVC Music, 3800 Bar-ham Blvd. #305, Los Angeles, CA 90068.
dance music circuit. Initially recorded as the theme song for a television special about the British hip hop scene, “Rainforest” eventually rose as high as number 41 on the British pop charts. The song was released in the U.S. in early 1985 by Profile Records, and was soon a dance hit on both sides of the Atlantic, selling nearly half a million copies worldwide.
The success of “Rainforest” created a lot of demand for Hardcastle’s services as a studio technician, and he mixed or produced tracks for, among others, the groups Third World and Pigbag. He soon signed with Chrysalis, and within a couple of months put out the recording that would make him a household name. After watching Vietnam Requiem, a television documentary about the Vietnam War, Hardcastle was deeply moved by the fact that the average age of a U.S. soldier in that conflict was 19, compared to 26 during World War II. The program inspired him to create his biggest hit, “19,” which made use of samples from the documentary’s soundtrack, though well-doctored with all manner of electronic effects and scratch techniques.
In 1985, “19” rocketed to number one on the British charts, and also reached the top spot in Germany and Ireland. Despite the subject of the song, Hardcastle insisted that his motives in making it were not political. Rather than railing against the war, he maintained that he was merely trying to point out the tragic situation of the young men who fought it. He nevertheless incurred the wrath of executives at television networks ABC and NBC, who felt that his use of network footage in the “19” video was improper, and that dancing to it trivialized the war. He eventually cut the network footage, and the video saw substantial airtime on MTV.
On the heels of “19,” Hardcastle released two more singles, “Just for Money,” featuring the voices of acting superstars Sir Laurence Olivier and Bob Hoskins; and “Don’t Waste My Time.” Both singles reached a wide dance-oriented audience, but neither achieved anywhere near the smash-hit status of “19.” All three singles were included on Hardcastle’s album Paul Hardcastle, released on Chrysalis in November of 1985. Although this album performed reasonable well at record stores, a certain amount of critical backlash from “19” had set in by this time. Many reviewers felt that Hardcastle’s studio gimmicks—the tape loops, samples, machine-generated beat—became monotonous in an album-length product. Melody Maker’s Colin Irwin complained that “Paul Hardcastle is a clever bastard, but he seems to have no grasp of transferring true warmth and human emotion to record.” People magazine seemed to concur, judging that “by the time the record has ended, Hardcastle’s music has begun to seem like a dry, unadventurous science project repeated with predictable results.” Response to his second Chrysalis album, No Winners, was similar, though it again spawned a handful of Top 20 hits.
During the second half of the 1980s, Hardcastle concentrated his efforts on behind-the-scenes studio work on other musicians’ projects. He produced records for Ian Dury and the Blockheads, and worked on remixes for a number of artists, including Barry White, D-Train, and Five Star. Hardcastle also remained active as a composer, writing original scores for several films and television projects, including a new theme song for the British TV series Top of the Pops. In 1990 Hardcastle took another stab at forming his own label, Fast Forward Records, on which he released the single “Swing” by the Def Boys. That record eventually reached the Billboard Top Twenty, and was a major hit in Europe.
In the 1990s Hardcastle reinvented himself as a light jazz composer and keyboardist, a big jump musically from his days as a scratchmaster. The first step in this new career phase came in 1990, with the release of an album on Motown by his new group Kiss the Sky. Next, Hardcastle collaborated with his old cohort Helen Rogers and with saxophonist Gary Barnacle, who had recorded with the likes of Tina Turner, Elvis Costello, and Phil Collins, to form The Jazzmasters. The trio released the album Jazzmasters on the independent JVC label in 1993, and it quickly gained substantial airplay on both contemporary jazz and R&B radio stations. The video for one of the album’s songs, “Sound of Summer,” also saw much exposure on VH-1. Jazzmas-ters eventually spent more than a year hovering near the top of the Contemporary Jazz Albums charts.
With the release of a solo effort, Hardcastle, in 1994, the artist cemented his position as a major force in urban contemporary jazz, with his unique hybrid of light jazz and soulful R&B. Like Jazzmasters, Hardcastle spent weeks among the top sellers in its genre. Hardcastle continued to capitalize on his renewed stardom with follow-up albums in the mid-1990s, Jazzmasters II and Hardcastle 2, as well as ongoing projects with Kiss the Sky. With three separate outlets to suit his varying creative moods—Jazzmasters for contemporary jazz with an R&B groove, Hardcastle for his slightly more experimental work, and Kiss the Sky for the rougher, more urban end of his output—Hardcastle seemed to have escaped the perception of monotony that plagued him in the 1980s. His predictable science project days were clearly over.
“Guilty,” Total Control, 1984.
“You’re the One for Me,” Total Control, 1984.
“A.M.” Total Control, 1984.
“Daybreak,” Total Control, 1984.
“Rainforest,” Bluebird, 1985.
“19,” Chrysalis, 1985.
“Just for Money,” Chrysalis, 1985.
“Don’t Waste My Time,” Chrysalis, 1985.
With Direct Drive
“Time’s Running Out,” Oval, 1981.
“Don’t Depend on Me,” Oval, 1981.
With First Light
“Explain the Reason,” London Records, 1982.
“Wish You Were Here,” London Records, 1982.
Paul Hardcastle, Chrysalis, 1985.
No Winners, Chrysalis, 1986.
Jazzmasters, JVC, 1993.
Hardcastle, JVC, 1994.
Jazzmasters II, JVC.
Hardcastle II, JVC.
Billboard, February 16, 1985; June 1, 1985; August 21, 1993; July 2, 1994; July 16, 1994.
Los Angeles Times, June 8, 1985.
Melody Maker, February 23, 1985; May 18, 1985.
Newsweek, May 27, 1985.
People, February 3, 1986.
Additional material was obtained from promotional materials provided by JVC Music.
—Robert R. Jacobson
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