Guy Chambers turned 54 on January the 12th. He has been writing songs for 46 years now. And hit songs for getting on for half of those.
Songs we know from the radio, from the movies and from the dance floor. Songs we know from our parties and our weddings. Songs that half the world can sing along to note for note.
Songs that take us back in time to where we used to be. Songs that carry us forward beyond the everyday to where we wish we were:
’Angels’; ‘Let Me Entertain You’; ‘Strong’; ‘No Regrets’; ‘Millennium’; ’Rock DJ’; ‘Feel’.
It’s a gift for sure, and it’s a rare one. But it’s a craft as well. And though he’s obviously been amply blessed with the former there’s certainly no denying his relentless pursuit of a mastery of the latter.
He was born in Hammersmith and grew up in Liverpool, attending Quarrybank Comprehensive as John Lennon did before him, and then London where he studied piano and composition at the Guildhall School of Music.
His mother Pat worked for Glyndebourne Festival Opera and Decca Records. His father Colin, principal flautist in the Liverpool Philharmonic, was “too busy being a musician to make me into one” but Pat encouraged Guy’s creative expression in every way possible: “Pat’s house was very bohemian” says a schoolfriend, “you felt you could pretty much say and do anything there”.
At 16 his first band, Hambi and The Dance, were signed to Virgin Records but it was at the Guildhall that his abiding love affair with the recording studio really began. And it was there that he made his first “proper record” with Marc Almond, “a friend of a friend”.
Graduating in 1985 he “scraped a living” as a session musician: playing piano at Hamiltons Gallery in Mayfair, touring Europe with the Waterboys, or adding fills to Aztec Camera’s ‘lounge' cover of Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ before joining Karl Wallinger’s much regarded World Party.
Quitting to form this own band, The Lemon Trees, Guy recorded the album ‘Open Book’ in 1992 with a line up that included twin brothers Paul and Jeremy Stacey who would go on to work with Oasis and Sheryl Crowe respectively before joining Karl in a rebooted World Party 22 years later.
Meanwhile although ‘Open Book’ had been critically well received and all of its five singles had entered the UK Top 100, the album stalled and the band’s career with it. The Lemon Trees’ MCA deal was terminated and though a second album had been recorded, in a chateau in France at some expense, it was never released.
“We were all pretty good musicians” Guy recalls “but probably not a terribly charismatic band, we lacked a convincing frontman and none of us was really much of an entertainer”. The experience stung but it also provided a strong motivation for an ambitious and talented thirty-year-old, whose strict work ethic had already earned him the nickname ‘torture Chambers’ among some of his less focused contemporaries.
In any case his need to partner “a convincing frontman” was very soon to be fulfilled.
Though not many at the time, in Guy’s circle at least, would necessarily have cast Robert Peter Williams, once resident extrovert joker to teen pop sensations Take That, and more recently Liam Gallagher’s new party buddy and Britain’s favourite all round tabloid bad boy, in the role.
“Guy was the first person in the business who ever took me seriously” says Williams. “The first person who could see the artist that I knew I could become”.
But spend time with either of them, or better still with both together, and it is the similarities of character that strike you rather than the differences of personality or background. Both talk of each others “work muscles” and of pop music as entertainment: “Sinatra, Elvis, The Beatles, they were all entertainers” notes the piano and composition graduate in his slightly schoolmasterish tone.
Their first work together, ‘Life Through A Lens’ was released in September 1997 and sold slowly at first until its fourth single release: ‘Angels’ and then its fifth: ‘Let Me Entertain You’ propelled it to the UK Number 1 spot five months later in April 1998.
The album remained on the UK chart for a total of 218 weeks and sold strongly throughout much of Europe and Latin America. Guy and Robbie had lift off. In the course of the next five work muscle building years they would go on to write and record a further four hit albums: ‘I’ve Been Expecting You’; ‘Sing When You’re Winning’; Swing When You’re Winning and ‘Escapology’.
All topped the UK album chart and each variously scored number one spots in Ireland, France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand.
There were also the dozen or so hit singles (including four UK number 1s) of course, and the regular tours of Europe, Asia and Australia’s “enormadromes’ on which Guy played keyboards and occasional guitar as well filling the sizeable role of “the entertainer’s” musical director.
Awards were won. Records were sold. And records were broken. Williams became not only the best selling British born solo artist of all time in the UK but also, and perhaps rather more surprisingly, the best selling non Latino solo artist of all time in Latin America.
Following 2002’s smash Escapology, on which the now LA based William’s also worked with other co-writers, both worked separately with other artists and other collaborators for the next ten years. Eventually reuniting for 2013’s ‘Swings Both Ways’ and last years ‘Heavy Entertainment Show’ both of which toured extensively again under Guy’s meticulous musical direction.
For his part the list of other collaborators reads like pop music royalty. Over the years he has written and produced for Diana Ross, Tom Jones, Tina Turner (whose scorching take on ‘Feel’ really has to be heard to be believed), Kylie Minogue, James Blunt, Scissor Sisters, Rufus Wainwright and Mark Ronson among many others.
He has hosted cabaret clubs, presented TV series and gives his time to charities, including the Teenage Cancer Trust, and organisations such as the Hillsborough Families, for whom he produceda cover of The Hollies hit: ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ as part of their campaign for justice.
He is currently working on a children’s folk opera based on the Oscar Wilde short story: ‘The Selfish Giant’ “among other things” he adds with the slight smile of a man fortunate enough to have found his life in his work and his work in his life.
He lives with his wife Emma and their four children in Camden and in Sussex where he enjoys “good wine, good food, cinema and pretty much everything French”.
“And writing songs, of course”.