Polish-born Basia Trzetrzeleska (pronounced Basha Chechelevska) released Time and Tide, her debut album, on CBS records in 1987. Despite heavy promotion and a string of singles in the UK, the record was destined only for modest success in Britain, but would go on to sell over a million copies in the US and also prove very successful in France.
Basia had worked alongside keyboard player and songwriter Danny White to make Time and Tide. The pair had effectively been two thirds of the latin infused British jazz-pop outfit Matt Bianco (Mark Reilly being the other key member of that band). That Matt Bianco line-up was destined to last for only one album (Who’s Side Are You On) but Basia and Danny would forge a musical relationship that lasts to this day.
Earlier this month Time and Tide was reissued as a two-CD deluxe edition and we recently spoke to both Basia and Danny White about their memories of that period. Additionally, legendary ‘mixmaster’ Phil Harding (best known for his mixing and production work at Pete Waterman’s PWL studios) offers an interesting perspective on Basia and Danny’s work, both during the Matt Bianco period, and afterwards when Basia went solo. Uniquely, Phil worked with them on both the first Matt Bianco album (mixing and recording large parts of that record) and Basia’s Time and Tide (mixing only).
So just how did this young woman from Poland come to be a successful solo artist, signed to a major label in just four short years? Basia takes us right back to the beginning:
The early years
“I worked in a Polish vocal group. But when you’re one of six people, you’re really nobody. I didn’t really have any success in Poland and one of the reasons it was so easy for me to leave Poland – I met an English guy and moved in the eighties with him here [UK] – was because I wasn’t really leaving anything important behind in Poland, I had no career there at all.”
Like most success stories, luck, good fortune, and coincidence played their part and that was the case with Basia. Danny remembers how it started with a band he was in called Bronze…
“One of the guys [in the band] was Warne Livesey who went on to be a producer”, he explains, “and we had a drummer called Jeff Rich, who went on to be in Status Quo for many years. The singer was Tessa Niles, who was married to the arranger Richard Niles. For whatever reason, she left the band and we put an ad in Melody Maker for a singer. Basia – fresh from Poland – was one of the people who got in touch. Her husband actually answered the ad on her behalf, and we said that we needed a demo tape and a photograph, which she didn’t have – well she didn’t have a demo tape. So that was the last we heard from her. Then Warne, who was working in Wave Studios in Twickenham, as an engineer, happened to be there while she went in to do a recording of some demos for the purpose of doing her tape. So he said he’d heard this really good singer and that we should check her out, and that’s how we met Basia.”
The unsigned Bronze didn’t last long and everyone went their separate ways. It wasn’t long before another opportunity presented itself to Danny White.
“Richard Niles happened to be producing a band called Blue Ronda A La Turk, and he knew me from our association with his wife”, Danny remembers, “and they needed a piano player. So he gave me the call to come in and play with Blue Ronda A La Turk, and that’s where I met Mark Reilly from Matt Bianco. We struck up a good writing relationship and I said ‘I know a good singer’. We brought Basia in, and that’s how it started.”
Matt Bianco and Who’s Side Are You On
Phil Harding: “The first time I worked with Basia and Danny was on the first few Matt Bianco singles, which were produced by a guy called Pete Collins. He’s the sort of producer who would push you as an engineer to possibly do more than there is there on the tape. What happened on those singles was that they saw a process where I think they’d come out of the recording process with Pete a little bit concerned [laughs] and they saw him bring the recordings to me and keep both him and them happy, and actually take what was recorded even further than what was there on tape, using effects and we did a breakdown in the middle of one of the tracks. Seeing a creative engineer, like myself, at work gave them the confidence to go back to Warners and say ‘We want to produce the rest of the album ourselves and we’ll work with Phil Harding”. So then, going through the recording and mixing process with what must have been around another 10 tracks, by the time we got to mixing Time and Tide, we already had a good working relationship, even though Mark Reilly wasn’t involved. Very little needed to be said.”
Basia: “During the recording of the first [Matt Bianco] album I wasn’t involved in the writing, because I wasn’t really a proper part of the band [laughs]… it’s quite difficult to explain.
“I’m sure she’d say it herself”, remembers Phil Harding, ‘but Basia almost did what she was told. She had a free reign to do what she wanted to do vocally, but Mark and Danny were determined producers and wanted to be in control.”
Despite Mark Reilly, in particular, wanting to keep Basia in the background, Warner Bros., the label Matt Bianco were signed to, recognised what she brought to proceedings.
Basia: “The record company thought I was quite an important part of the sound of the band, so they insisted on me being part of the group, although I wasn’t contractually obliged to do that, because I didn’t have a deal with the record company. I just had an agreement with the two guys, Danny (White) and Mark Reilly, that I would promote this album with them.”
Although the first Matt Bianco album, Who’s Side Are You On?, was very successful, tensions within the band increased.
Danny: “Basia and I started to go out together at that time and I always knew that Basia had more to offer than just being a backing vocalist. Mark wanted it just to be me and him, as the creative force in the band, and fair enough, you don’t want too many cooks, but I was always trying to get Basia involved in the writing and he was always resisting, so there was a problem there.”
Phil Harding: “I think the biggest difficulty was between Mark Reilly and Basia. I think it’s well known that Basia and Danny became a couple. Imagine that in a three-piece band, if you’re the guy in the middle! None of them were so fiery, or ego-driven that they weren’t talking to each other, or if that did happen for a little while, it didn’t happen for long.
Basia: “When it came to second album, Danny wanted me to be more involved, because he thought that I had something to offer [laughs] and we started to write songs together and showed them to Mark, and immediately there was a problem, because the songs started to be a little bit different and maybe [they] did not suit the style of Matt Bianco too much. We went maybe too poppy. One of the songs we recorded was called Undercover.”
Danny: “We presented the music [for Undercover] to Mark and he wrote the lyric for it. But Mark never turned up in the studio when we went to record it. What happened was, we went to the record company, with two demos. One was for Undercover and one was a cover of Light My Fire [laughs] which was Mark’s idea. The guy at the record company liked Undercover, and that didn’t go down well with Mark!
Phil Harding: “They wrote Undercover and, driven by Basia, wanted to get a real drummer in. Danny was willing to give it a go, but Mark Reilly was clearly dead against it. We were working at The Marquee at the time, in the downstairs studio, and the session had been booked in for Warners/Matt Bianco to do one song. I must have got a call from Danny saying ‘Phil we’re just going to come in and experiment with one song, and we want to try a drummer, who do you think we should book? Have you got any recommendations?’ I recommended Tony Beard who was just a brilliant drummer. So of course, they turned up, and Mark wasn’t with them! I can’t remember whether Danny played piano with the drums, or whether we overdubbed the drums to what Danny had already programmed, but you know, there was obviously immediately a non Linn Drum programmed track – a very different sound from Matt Bianco. And of course I’m saying to Danny ‘Where’s Mark?’ I’m not sure through the whole process whether Mark turned up [laughs]. So I could see something was going on here – Basia and Danny going one way, and Mark obviously not keen. Tapes exist [of Undercover] and my memory is that we took it all the way to finishing it and delivering it to Warners.”
“He [Mark Reilly] wasn’t very keen”, continues Danny, “So we decided to split up at that point. We spend a year promoting that Matt Bianco album. It was my first experience as a paid musician and I didn’t play a note for that whole year, hardly, because it was all zipping around Europe, miming on TV and pretending to play instruments I didn’t play. So, it was an intense time and I think we’d had enough of each other at that point. We definitely needed a break, anyway.
“When we eventually did use that track for Time and Tide, our friend Peter Ross rewrote the lyric and the title needed to fit, so Undercover became Run For Cover.”
Basia: “Danny enjoyed working with me because he had similar tastes and we thought there’s no point flogging a dead horse. It was fun doing the first [Matt Bianco] album together, although as I said, my role wasn’t that important during the first album, so when I started getting involved in writing and production, it was obvious that three opinions are just too many.”
Phil Harding: “Mark asked me to produce the second Matt Bianco album with him, since he and Danny had produced the first one, and Basia and Danny said ‘we’re recording Basia’s solo album, but we’d love to mix it with you’, which suited me great.”
Looking back now, leaving Matt Bianco – an established, successful act, signed to a major label – seemed like a big risk, but as Danny recalls, that it didn’t seem like it at the time:
“We were young and off the back of the success of the first Matt Bianco album, you kind of think you’re immortal at that stage. It’s easier to take risks at that age. I remember the record company offering us a lot of money not to split up and make a second album, so there was a lot of pressure to stay together.”
From one record company to another
One issue at this stage was that Danny White had a contract with Warner Bros., so he wasn’t free to just walk away and do as he pleased.
Danny: “She [Basia] had never been signed, so it wasn’t an issue for her. It made us easy for us to decide, okay this is Basia – you’re going to be the face, and it’s your name. I’ll just be in the background, doing what I do. As opposed to us being called ‘The Eurythmics’ or ‘Swing Out Sister’ where the two people are the act.
“We did attempt to record a couple of things under the name of ‘White Lies’ with Warner Bros. We did a cover of Walk On The Wild Side, because Ronnie Ross, the guy who played baritone sax for us in Matt Bianco and with Basia, had done the original sax solo on Walk On The Wild Side. So we did that, but it didn’t see the light of day.”
“They didn’t like it” adds Basia, “thank god! Because of that, they let him go. Danny was on good terms with Max Hall from Warners, [so there was no big battle].
“I had my first performance as Basia – a showcase performance for a whole week at Ronnie Scott’s – and the new record company CBS invited lots of people, and one of the people who came to the shows was Max Hall from Warner Bros. He listened to the whole show, got a little bit tipsy and had a go at Danny because we didn’t stay with them. I wanted to sign with Warners, but they thought because I was working with Danny, that I would come regardless and they just offered us the most horrific deal. It was so bad, there was no way I could agree to it.”
Recording Time and Tide
With Basia and Danny now signed to CBS Records they began to work on her first solo album. Basia in particularly was enjoying the new-found freedom and creativity:
“I’d never written any songs before, so it was very interesting for me to write with Danny. He pushed me to write. I’d only spoken English for three years by then, so he was making me write these words, which was very difficult for me. But I did it, and not only that, just making up melodies and writing tunes, it was such fun! I was like a child in a candy store. It was enjoyable, no pressure, nobody knew what we were doing and Danny and I were starting to be together [romantically] at that time, so it was fun [laughs].
Danny: Compared to how we record now, you went into the studio, and the clock was ticking because it cost a lot of money, [so] you get on with it. We spent a lot of time in different studios. I have fond memories of recording that album – I don’t remember it being problematic, but I’m sure it was!
Phil Harding: “For me personally [working on Time and Tide] was a great respite – I’d got to a stage when I was working on Basia’s second album where I was doing nothing but mixing and almost an expectancy of having to mix a hit a day [laughs], five days a week, so the Matt Bianco sessions and the Basia sessions were a nice respite from the rest of the stuff going on.
“We mixed it at PWL [Pete Waterman’s studios in London], in the early days of PWL, and as you can imagine, there was little or nothing else like that going on at PWL.
“I was concerned how everyone else in the building would treat Basia and Danny coming in, but what was really very nice, was that everyone was great. No one walked in and out of the studio, they were very professional and very respectful. Pete Waterman would come in and ask how it’s going. I do have a good memory of working across a couple of weekends with Basia and Danny, and it was that relaxed, that I remember one day talking one of my children in for five hours [laughs], and the assistant looking after them because my wife had gone somewhere else. A pleasant experience and I don’t remember any arguments or any real problems. ”
Danny: “We used very little [real] drums in those days – we did try. I think we had a drummer on [the song] Time and Tide. Being relatively inexperienced at that point, it was easier just to do it yourself on a drum machine. As a result, the album does sound fairly dated. Listening to it now, you can hear the electronic instruments at the time, like the Yamaha DX7. But in terms of the writing I’m still proud of some of those songs we wrote then.”
Phil Harding: Apart from adding the guitar, it was very much the Matt Bianco sound: brass, Moog bass, Linn drum machine, DX7… If I was going to be critical now, I think that that both of the first two solo albums could have been, shall we say, more timeless, with at least live drums and live bass.”
Eagle-eyed fans will have noticed that Peter Ross is credited with writing the words for quite a few songs on the Time and Tide record.
Basia: “He wrote I three songs I think – all the best ones [laughs]. He wrote [the words for] Promises, Run For Cover and New Day For You [he also wrote the words for Freeze Thaw and Prime Time TV]. He didn’t actually write New Day For You as a song. At that time we were all very poor, so Christmas and birthday presents were very often things like ‘oh here’s a poem’ [laughs]. So he gave me a poem for my birthday and it was nice. I liked it very much. First of all I forgot about it, but then when I had to come up with some words and melodies for the backing tracks that Danny made, I found this poem and adapted it a little bit. He was always a bit of a poet. You can tell he speaks English better than me [laughs].”
The new 2CD deluxe edition of Time and Tide has a number of remixes which appeared on various twelve-inch singles at the time, and an alternative ‘band version’ of minimal album track From Now On.
Danny: It was never intended to be a stripped down version. We were just in the studio mixing the band version – which was the only version at the time – and Phil [Harding], I guess he was working on the guitar sound or something, and we heard it with guitar and voice and thought ‘oh that sounds nice’ – it was just a happy accident.
Basia: What we do live [with From Now On], is we introduce the band halfway through – it always causes a bit of applause!
Phil Harding: “Each time there was a single, we’d do some editing and do an extended mix. Very song-based [remixes], Danny would have come in and done that with me, probably both of them, but certainly Danny.”
Reception and reaction to the album
On release, the album suffered mixed commercial fortunes in Europe, performing well in France, but not doing the expected business in the UK and Germany, in particular. Disappointed, Basia and Danny started to make plans for the next record.
Basia: “When Time and Tide came out everyone was telling me ‘It’s too jazzy’, ‘Not commercial enough’, ‘completely different to what was on the radio’, so I didn’t have very big expectations, so I was very surprised when France started to take an interest. We were travelling to France every week, to do every possible TV show. France seemed to take us completely to their heart and I was thinking about it today, how much they liked that first album. The second one, maybe less and then they completely went nationalist and only played French music and we couldn’t get arrested. But the first album they really loved, things like Primetime TV which was very poppy, and Promises and things like that. After the French success really, and the record was quite liked in England – it was a sliver album or something – after those two countries, we thought, ‘well, that’s it. We have to make a new record’.”
Danny: “It was a bit of a reality check. It was a shock. You expected that in Germany, where we had our biggest success [with Matt Bianco] – Who’s Side Are You On went platinum, we went there all the time – you’d think that two thirds of the act who had done that would get some success just based on curiosity. But there wasn’t. We completely flopped in many places where Matt Bianco had been successful. So we were already starting to think about the second album, having sold only a fraction of the records that Matt Bianco sold, with Time and Tide.
Basia: “I think Danny was more disappointed because it’s his country… the situation wasn’t the best for us here. It would have been amazing to have more success [in the UK] but I wasn’t terribly disappointed. I’m quite philosophical about those things. But Europe was a bit of a disappointment especially after Matt Bianco, where we’d been very successful especially in Germany. My god, Half A Minute was a huge hit there. If you compare the amount of records that we used to sell, to what people buy now, then it’s ridiculous – we were enormous successes.”
Phil Harding: “For something to be successful, whether it’s the first [line-up of] Matt Bianco, or Basia – especially a new act trying to break through – the classic industry comment, you’ll get from people like myself, is that every link in the chain, has got to be right and got to work. And those major links are the song and the artist – to start with – a combination of the right manager, the right A&R person and the right label and all the right promotional people around you, and the right studio, right producer and so on. In my humble view, the week link in the chain, that caused Basia not to be successful in the UK, was the manager. What it indicates to me is that probably someone at CBS didn’t like him [laughs]. I’m being really blunt and honest, but a situation where you can’t understand why it didn’t break through to at least top 40 or top 20, has got to have a weak link somewhere in the chain. You could say the songs aren’t commercial enough for the UK, but I don’t know [about that]. I left the studio thinking at least Promises or Primetime TV were good enough to be at least top 40 hits, on the back of a solo artist coming out of a successful band.”
Danny: “We then got a call from America saying it had found its way onto what was then called the NAC stations – New Adult Contemporary, which now I think has evolved into what they call Smooth Jazz. And then it just started to grow. It was not down to the record company or anything like that, it just seemed to have a life of its own, which was incredibly exciting for us, because America it the place where you dream about having success. We were incredibly lucky, since we thought the life of Time and Tide was already over. Then we started to work America which is a huge, vast place and requires a lot of promotion and travelling and touring.”
Basia: “It was a lovely, lovely surprise that Americans liked us. For months I was going station to station, to state to state, visiting these stations and doing interviews. But I always remember this one guy at the record company saying that if we sell 10,000 copies we’re going to have a huge party. They were shocked when suddenly it went to 100,000 and the record then started to sell, without them doing too much promotion. They were completely taken by surprise when the record went platinum and sold so well.”
Against the odds, Basia, with Danny, had achieved something that Matt Bianco had not managed to do, and that was to ‘break’ America. A similarly successful follow-up ‘London Warsaw New York’ was issued in 1989, and in 1994 Basia’s third album, ‘The Sweetest Illusion’ was released. After ten years out of the studio, Basia and Danny surprised their fans by joining up with Mark Reilly for a new Matt Bianco album, 2004’s ‘Matt’s Moods’. Since that time, one further studio album has emerged, 2009’s appropriately titled ‘It’s That Girl Again’. Basia acknowledges that she hasn’t been the most prolific of artists…
“It’s funny, because we’ve only got five albums behind us, when we should have 25, but I’m so slow”, she explains. “We are working on the new album again. I finished a song yesterday and I’m now starting another one, so it never ends really. I think if I was working in a different job, maybe by now I’d like to just to retire, but with music it’s different and the fact that you can work at home – because obviously I’ve got all this equipment here – makes it fun. Of course some of my friends are starting to retire, and take it easy and enjoy the grandchildren. But at the moment singing still seems like fun and I’m relaxed much more. When the first album came out and then the second with the touring, it took so much out of me, the stress of it all, but now it’s completely different. ”
Asked about her partnership with Danny, Basia speaks warmly:
“We’ve been together for so many years. I came here in 1981 and met him around a year later. So it’s 30 years, really. We’ve been through so many things with private lives and separate lives, and all these records. He did try a couple of times with other people when I completely withdrew and didn’t want to do anything for a moment, but he quickly found that it’s not that easy to find a good partnership where you understand each other without much talking. We have the same kind of feeling about things and we can look at each other and know when something is good or bad, without discussing it much. It is a very, very good musical relationship and that’s why it’s survived bad and good. We’ve got completely different private lives, but musically I’ve never met anyone I’ve got so much in common with.”
Danny: “We have a very strong relationship. Although our romantic association didn’t last very long, when you’ve written many songs and worked and been through a lot of hardships – as well as good things – you have a strong bond. Having written so many songs together, they feel like your children.”
Basia, Danny and Phil were all interviewed by Paul Sinclair for SuperDeluxeEdition. The ‘Time and Tide’ 2CD deluxe edition is out now – more details on this release can be found here.