Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Alin Karna: In His Own Words

Songwriter, musician and producer Alin Karna has had a long career in the music industry, but he is known to Stock Aitken Waterman fans as the lead singer of Spelt Like This. I approached Alin whilst researching my detailed article on Spelt Like This, and not only was he kind enough to answer my questions, he actually wrote so much material that I felt it would be a crime to only use it for quotes and additional details for my article. So, Alin and I have reworked the Q&As into this fascinating account - in Alin's own words -- which gives a real insight into his career, the Spelt Like This saga, working with SAW and the record industry in the mid-1980s…

Early days…

I was born during the 1960s in mid July in a British military hospital in Old Delhi, the capital city of India. My parents were on holiday visiting my Dad’s parents; my Mum and Dad met at the North London Poly down in Kentish Town. I grew up and went to school in North London and started playing guitar around the age of 8 or 9 years old. In the second year of junior school, we had a really cool teacher who, I thought, looked and sounded like Jesus who played the guitar and taught us folk songs with his Jumbo steel-string acoustic. I became obsessed with the guitar, and soon learned to play a few chords well enough to play and sing alongside the teacher during the sing-song sessions with the children. Some years later, my parents had divorced and I re-located to Cornwall with my mother. I was soon playing in pubs and hotels with older musicians to earn a bit of pocket money!

When I left school at 16, I returned to London in the summer to stay with my Dad temporarily, and by that Christmas I had joined a professional band who had a record deal and a manager.

This was just after the new wave/punk thing. We were rehearsing down in Pimlico and then we just went out and gigged all over the shop at all the circuit venues in London like The Marquee, Dingwalls and the Music Machine and the Hope & Anchor over in Islington, as well as colleges and that. The band was called The News and was fronted by the shaven-headed lead singer, Sal Solo. The News eventually broke up (with the members later forming Classix Nouveaux), and I got into session work playing guitar, bass and singing background vocals on jingles and television advertising music.

I was really very lucky; I was playing pool one night in the local pub up in Muswell Hill and a Scottish bloke said to me ‘You play the guitar, sonny and you’re left-handed aren’t yuz?’ because he‘d noticed my fingernails. He invited me and my girlfriend round to his posh flat above the shops on the Fortis Green Road to meet his wife, Maggie, and we all got well plastered. This bloke was Billy Gray, a jingle producer working for the Jeff Wayne Music organisation which was one of the main production companies who were hired to create jingles for the top advertising agencies like Young & Rubicam (where my mum worked during the 1970s). I impressed Billy by playing his Yamaha 6-string acoustic upside down the way Jimi Hendrix would do!

As time went on, I was in and out of recording studios and soon put together a band of session players; the singer Rick Driscol was the front man, and Lindsay Elliott was on drums (Lindsay was formerly in The News and before that in Cockney Rebel with his brother Stewart Elliott who co-founded the group with Steve Harley). We recorded two A sides and a B side with Steve Harley producing – me and the bass player, Graham Culpin, had signed exclusive publishing with Elton John’s Rocket Music and Billy got us a singles deal at Pye Records with Dick Leahy. However, the record suffered due to publishing and copyright complications, which prevented its release.

The start of Spelt Like This…

The Spelt Like This story starts when I met Russell McKenzie through Johnny Timms (the keyboard player who later appeared in the Stop This Rumour video) around the end of 1982. Being signed to Rocket meant I had powerful backing, so to speak, and I wanted to put together a sort of Motown/Soul band and call it The Motivations. Rocket agreed to pay for all rehearsal and recording studio costs, so Russell and I started auditioning for the rest of the line up at 414 Studios under the railway arches on the Holloway Road in London. Very soon we had a 7-piece line up, including two girl backing singers.

Russell had known Tom Watkins prior to this and he invited Tom down to see the band in another rehearsal place we were using in Camden. That’s when I first met Tom, and this must have been around Spring 1983, as I recall there was a general election going on at the time and Margaret Thatcher won a second term. This showcase led to Tom, Russell and I talking about working together.

In the following weeks and months, The Motivations were rehearsing for live work and recording 24 track demos but it became clear to me that Russell wanted to begin a new band project with the two of us being equal partners. The first idea for a name for this band, I think by Tom, was Danger Danger, which I wasn’t too keen on. Tom and Russell were suggesting a Wham-type act and were strongly trying to persuade me to abandon the Motown idea and do something fresh.

Another issue was to get me out of my Rocket contract so a bit of a canny strategy was required for that too, so that I was free (in contractual terms) to go in a new direction. Despite all that, I’d requested that Rocket book me a 24 track studio to cut two or three tracks that I had demoed on my Revox B77 at home. Those studio recordings were passed on to Tom who then played them to Trevor Horn and Jill Sinclair at ZTT Records and a meeting was set up. However, Trevor was booked up for the following year so working with him any time soon had to be abandoned for the time being. I was immensely impressed with Tom and how quickly he was able to ‘get things done’; as a result, Russell and I were still discussing a new act (like a cross between Wham and Hall & Oates) with the two of us as equal partners, both in the band itself and with the song writing credits too.

During that summer of 1983, I’d also met Geno Washington who quickly became a friend; he asked me to put together a new backing band for him called The Mojo Kings, so in the autumn of 1983 Russell and I started a long British tour with Gino that went on through to January 1984; Russell played bass and I played lead guitar. Both of us decided to quit as we doubted that Geno was going to suddenly become a superstar and we decided to go back to working on some fresh material.

By around January/February 1984, Tom had come up with the name Spelt Like This. Russell had bought a Tascam 4 track and a Yamaha DX7, so we started writing and recording our first demos. As far as I can remember Russell had never actually written a song until he met me. He was a reasonably accomplished bass player but his real skills were in engineering (he was working as the resident live engineer at the Embassy Club in Mayfair when I met him) and he wanted to be a record producer. I, on the other hand, had been writing songs from the age of 9, became a professional guitarist at 16 and signed my first exclusive publishing deal at 18 with Elton John’s Rocket Music.

I recall having to drive from North London down to Forest Hill in South London each day to work long hours with Russell. I also recall our first photo shoot -- at London Zoo of all places (LOL) -- arranged by Tom, who by this time had well established himself with his companies XL Design and Massive Management spread across two floors of offices in Poland Street W1.

It was around Spring 1984 that we signed a management agreement with Tom, and also drafted up a partnership contract for Spelt Like This. There were a few disagreements over the ownership of that name but in the end I agreed to Russell owning that potential brand name; I suppose, thinking back, that I was so driven and ambitious back then, I‘d do almost anything to be successful.

In that summer of 1984, Tom had secured us an exclusive publishing deal with Warner Brothers Music, then by September a major record contract with EMI; the latter followed a bidding war between EMI and MCA that Tom had handled quite masterfully; he was quite capable and formidable, and we were very fortunate to have such strong and creative management.

After all the hard work we had done writing and recording enough songs for a debut album, and being groomed by Tom, we felt proud that we had achieved being signed to Warners and EMI. At this point there was talk about bringing in a third member of the group; I agreed a third member would balance us out and very much strengthen our writing capability so while I was learning dance, mime and stagecraft at the Pineapple and Covent Garden Dance Centres, Russell and Tom began auditioning for a third member to join and contribute to Spelt Like This;  Alan (Lima) Rawlings was appointed and was perfect for us in many ways.

The agreement between Russell and me then, when we started writing the SLT songs, was that we would simply split all credits and royalties 50/50. Once Rawlings joined we then agreed on an equal three-way split as was set up by the limited company partnership agreement between us. I have to add that the recruitment of Alan (Lima) Rawlings substantially improved things and was extremely beneficial to the project as he was, and I imagine, still is a hugely talented songwriter and musician and a wonderful poet and lyricist who came up with fabulous song ideas.

The next task was to find the right producer for Spelt Like This; once we had signed and secured the EMI recording contract, I think we felt as if we could pick anyone we wanted to work with. We felt on top of the world and that our future was assured (of course) but the reality was very different! We discussed a number of possibilities but so much was also subject to availability and schedules as was with Trevor Horn, which was mentioned above; he clearly had his hands full at the time including Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Art Of Noise, Grace Jones, Yes and others -- it follows that all the best ones are the busiest and hardest to book. I really liked Trevor and would loved to have worked with him, I was always a big Yes fan when I was a teenager.

Instead, our first proper recording sessions were with the American producer Stuart Levine, who had big success with Womack & Womack and later had even more success with Simply Red. He was what was described as ‘old school’ with his recording production methods and somehow he was suddenly flown over to work with us. These sessions took place at Townhouse 3 for what ended up being a fortnight to record Contract Of The Heart and Stop This Rumour both as prospective A sides. I think, looking back, Russell in particular was deeply unhappy with these sessions but actually all three of us had soon decided that the direction it was taking was not what we were looking for. Levine had the London Community Gospel Choir booked in for background vocal parts and a live drummer playing a dance beat throughout (a bit like Levine's production on Womack & Womack's Love Wars). No disrespect to these musicians at all; in fact, we thought they were all truly wonderful but it was simply not the style we were looking for.

Working with Stock Aitken Waterman…

At the time, the latest innovations (after drum machines and MIDI sequencers) were samplers. I think the band preferred to go with the latest technological wonders such as the AMS sampling effects on records by Chaka Khan, Scritti Politti and Prince, as well as those used in what was called hi-NRG dance music. Stewart Levine, the genius and very experienced producer that he was, was not what we wanted so I suppose we were then in a pickle and we needed to quickly find a replacement. Stock Aitken Waterman happened to be available and around the corner in Wardour Street at just at the right time; we immediately got on very well with them and the next thing we knew was we were then booked into the Marquee Studios to start recording the same two A side contenders, Contract of the Heart and Stop This Rumour.

I had written Contract of the Heart in the summer of 1983 and I can still vividly remember it because the experience was almost a religious or ‘numinous’ one for me. It is so hard to describe the magic of writing songs; sometimes they take 5 minutes to write when other songs can take 10 years or more to complete. The only contribution to that song that Russell made was a 1 bar rhythmic riff or mid bass keyboard (DX7) figure throughout the track that was featured on the first two demos. When we began recording and formatting the track with Matt Aitken and Mike Stock, we realised we needed to write a third and final verse so this is where Tom came in with a bit of poetry: a few lines of text written at the last minute for the third verse. Russell may have helped him but I’m not so sure about that.

I do vaguely remember some bickering over the credits for the St Valentine’s Day Mascara track (which was the B-side of Contract of the Heart). Typically the band would stay out of it and leave such matters to the management. Russell and I did have a song in mind called ‘Bonkers’ which was one of our demo songs that was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek throwaway tune but I suppose as the release date for Contract of the Heart was set for St Valentine's Day (1985), someone came up with the Mascara idea; it was probably Tom who came up with the title so it was agreed to record a B-side with that theme. I’m just glad they didn’t play it when we appeared on the Saturday Superstore kids’ show! It was a lot of fun to do and also a welcome break from the intense days and days of studio time concentrating on the two A-sides. I remember Matt and Mike had a backing track up within a few hours ready for us to add sampled voices, machine guns and other noises. I think we all had a go at the voice parts, it was a real laugh and we all looked forward to then being creative on the rest of the album.

As well as Mascara, I recall beginning quite a few structures for other tracks (Walking Not Falling, Double Dare and Emocean) at the Marquee Studios before that Christmas, so as well as the two singles we actually got a great deal of pre-production work done in the few weeks we were at that initial studio.

In January 1985, EMI booked us in to the Ridge Farm Studios near Dorking for a week for the specific task of beginning the pre-production stage as described above of many of the songs for our debut album that was later to be named Word Perfect; I think it was Tom who came up with that after he’d got back from a brief trip to New York as I recall.

We resumed recording in SAW's new studio in Sanctuary Street in South London; we were there for weeks and weeks and I recall all the building work that was going on to install the new SSL (Solid State Logic) fully automated huge mixing consoles.

We recorded the following tracks with SAW for the projected Word Perfect album:

Contract Of The Heart;
Stop This Rumour;
Walking Not Falling;
Larger Than Lions;
Lovers Lost No Return;
Out Of Water;
Centre Of Attention;
Double Dare;
Love Surrender & Devotion; and

We also recorded St Valentine's Mascara with SAW for the B side to Contract of the Heart. In addition, there were other songs we wrote as a band – including Stop This Rumour B-side The Alphabet - but these are the ones we recorded with SAW.

I sang all the vocals on the album and one of good things about working with SAW was my close working relationship with Mike Stock who was the musical, piano player member of the production team (whereas Matt Aitken primarily created the rhythms and bass lines). Mike was very good at coming up with vocal parts that weaved in and out of my basic three-part harmony blocks in the choruses and with counter parts. This very much added to the texture of the backing vocals that were all quadruple tracked; I remember with Contract of the Heart there were so many backing vocal channels we had to ‘slave up’ to a second 24-track, 2 inch multitrack tape machine.

When it came to lead vocals, it was Russell who produced and navigated those recording sessions, both at the demo stage and then with Mike and Pete doing the masters. We used a very special microphone called the Calrec Soundfield; I was told only a handful of singers and vocalists had used it before, apparently including David Bowie and Stevie Wonder. I can tell you that having worked for years with different microphones and headphones, this microphone was like a quantum leap for me in recording vocals; for the first time not having to remove part of one side of my headphones, or ‘cans’ as we called them, in order to hear my own voice above the level of the backing track. Singing with the Calrec and using the highest quality studio cans was almost like hearing the full production of the record as you performed live along with it (as opposed to having selected elements of the backing track to sing to in a ‘headphone mix’).

Alan (Lima) Rawlings played the guitars, particularly the lead guitar solos. There was a lot of sampling of guitars too, a technique that was becoming a lot more popular at that time. Indeed the AMS (Advanced Music Systems) sampler became a very useful tool to sample, for example, a block of multi-tracked backing vocals. Then that sample of chorus backing vocals could be ’spun in’ on all the choruses on the track; this way we need only to record one main chorus block of harmonies instead of having to record all the choruses sections in the song from ‘wall to wall’ or from beginning to end.

Matt would start any recording with a Linn Drum basic pattern, then some chords and a bass part were added with a rough guide vocal and it went from there.

When you have the talent, experience and ability that Mike Stock and Matt Aitken had, you don’t really need many more musicians other than obviously singers and vocalists. Most of time, Rawlings and I kept out of the control room but Russell was ever present with the recording production process with SAW because he wanted to learn as much as he could to fulfil his ambition to become a record producer. Most of the bass was sampled but there may have been some real bass guitar which would have been played by Russell. I remember doing some of the pre-production piano parts and some pads as well as some bass sequencing at the early stages as well; I knew the chords of course because I had written the tunes. Often there were sessions with Mike and Matt to go over the basic chords and key signatures of each song also referring to the demo version; I’d have an acoustic guitar or we worked at the piano and Matt would develop a drum loop and we would decide on the correct tempo for the track.

It was very much a joint effort but you cannot take away the speed and efficiency Mike and Matt worked with when starting new tracks right through to final mixes. Having top class engineers working on the project helps too as their input was always being invaluable at that level; Phil Harding was the main mix engineer; this was obviously earlier in his career and he's obviously achieved many great things since then.

Other musicians and specialists were brought in for the SAW sessions, particularly keyboard players and session technicians who knew how to operate the gear they brought into the studios (like the Fairlight) to come up with specific sounds like bass samples and other specific analogue as well as digital textures.

I have heard that Tom Watkins, Phil Harding and Pete Waterman have written about the Spelt Like This sessions, generally taking the view that they were “difficult”; I’m not exactly sure what that means -- I think I do have an idea but it comes from a perspective that was very much limited because I was kept out of the politics, as it were, and the relationships between the band’s manager, the record company and the record producers. I think Rawlings was too, to a large extent. Throughout the SLT project it was Russell who very much had Tom’s ear so to speak, and that was the way it worked. Russell was the band’s key spokesperson and representative and that was quite correct because after all he ultimately WAS Spelt Like This as was agreed within the partnership that was set up for the three members of the group. In retrospect, I can see how this makes a great deal of sense from a business point of view; you see so many groups out there who, years and years later, have huge rows when they split up over ownership and the right to use the name of the ‘act’. This issue was clearly of importance and had to be agreed and settled from the onset. From my point of view I felt I had a job to do, a part to play in the recording process and that was frankly enough on my plate as well as writing new material, studying dance and stagecraft for live work, doing photo shoots and personal appearances and dealing with some of the petty bureaucratic details that come hand in hand with working in the corporate world such as answering fan mail, signing cheques and attending meetings with accountants and lawyers.

You simply cannot have too many people in a recording studio control room during most of the recording process. Rawlings and I knew and accepted this so we respectfully stayed out. As far as Watkins, Waterman and the EMI bosses were concerned, we had very little idea what was happening in their ongoing discussions and negotiations. I think Rawlings and I were unaware of the rows going on between Russell and Tom as well; we just didn’t know what was going on in the background, we were not kept up to date properly as two members of the band, two co-songwriters and business partners -- what should have been two key people in the whole episode. If there were any difficulties during the recording process, it would have occurred between those who were in the studio control room and certainly not with the two members of the group who were treated as no more than session players on the project.

Contract of the Heart was scheduled for a February release, and this was heralded by a brilliant marketing, publicity and promotion campaign Tom and his design team had created for Spelt Like This; this was based on the theme of anagrams and wordplay: for example, everyone who was anyone in the music business at the time each received a personal sweatshirt with an anagram of their name for Christmas (often quite witty as with the playing around of letters on the Fawlty Towers title sequence). I had one but it was lost, either borrowed or stolen, so I have no idea where it is like all the tons of Spelt Like This promotional paraphernalia, some of it no doubt still knocking around out there somewhere!

During and after the release of Contract of the Heart (at which point we were still working with SAW), there was a great deal of hard, 7-day a week work going on (including photo shoots, TV and public appearances etc) and a massive sense of pressure for everyone involved but I think the real moment when things rapidly began to go downhill for the whole thing was when we stopped working with SAW and after that Russell took control over the recording and mixing process.

Our time working with SAW at the Sanctuary Street studios came to an end -- mainly because they had to move on to the very many projects they had lined up and were booked for to do in the future. In other words, they had commitments and the SLT debut album project was well behind schedule and obviously threatening to disrupt schedules. As a result, we had an album that was mostly completed but still needed additional work before final mixes and mastering.

The end of Spelt Like This…

There was a post-SAW period when we worked at Sarm West Studios with Nick Froome; Nick had worked with us at Marquee Studios and PWL Studios. I think he was very much involved with the Stop This Rumour 12 inch and the B side to that record too (The Alphabet). We also worked with Blue Weaver at his own recording studio over in West London; he had worked with The Bee Gees amongst others.

I’m afraid I wasn’t happy with the way the final tracks turned out! Not at all. I can only speak for myself but I can assure you -- and I am confident of this -- that Rawlings was also deeply unhappy with the way the songs turned out in the end as far as any final mixes were concerned. Both of us were unhappy about lots of things...

It’s obvious to me, in retrospect, that because so much money had been invested in the act with little to show for it, someone was bound to point the finger of blame at someone else because the project ended up being one monumental disaster and failure -- and to this day I am still trying to figure it out. ‘It was not our best moment’ comes to mind, and I can only just imagine what was said around certain boardrooms and offices at the time. I was told lots of very nasty things were said, rumours were spread and so on about the band being difficult to work with and worse things than that.

If that was true then it would have been slanderous and very unjustified because I remember just working as hard as possible, doing the best job I could do and as professionally as I could -- and as far as I can recall I got on with most people fine; the only rows I had were with Russell and Alan Rawlings from time to time as would be expected with brothers-in-arms so to speak, being as close as we were at the time.

It is very typical when the so-called ‘powers that be’ (wherever they happen to operate and in whatever circumstances) will always close ranks and join together to point the finger and place the blame on other entities when things go drastically wrong and when it suits them in order to protect themselves from any culpability or accountability. Someone really messed up with the SLT band project and to this day I don’t know why Contract of the Heart didn’t chart high enough to get us on Top Of The Pops back in 1985. Perhaps it had to do with product distribution timing and the actual availability of the records in the shops in time for that week during the promotion. Maybe someone out there can explain to me what exactly happened.

(On this point, Rawlings and I went to see Dave Ambrose (the EMI A&R who signed SLT) over at London Records in 1990/91. We had some new demos we’d recorded in LA to play him. All he had to say about the SLT project was that “there was a lot of bad blood” over it. I didn’t blame him for not wanting to elaborate on that because I respected him very much when others in our camp regarded him in unkind terms).

Perhaps the reader may be able to work it out but for myself and Rawlings (who was dreadfully embarrassed and unhappy about it all, particularly from when we did the Contract promo video), we still to this day have trouble understanding what caused the catastrophic failure it turned out to be.

The failure of Contract of the Heart -- and later on, of Stop The Rumour -- was very hard indeed. It was very frustrating and extremely disappointing. I can only speak for myself here because I lost contact with the other two members and indeed with anyone at the management, EMI, Warners or SAW from about the middle July 1985 onwards. During the period between the release dates of the two singles and things starting to go out of control behind the scenes, I was certainly becoming more and more unhappy and jaded with the situation. I also felt that we’d spent far too much time with the debut album and we should have been moving forward much faster given the situation with the debut single.

I wanted to go out and perform live -- for the band to prove itself as a live act -- and to this end, I had trained and prepared myself as best as I could. However, I had been very much kept out of the loop (as I said earlier), as far as the decision-making process was concerned. To be honest, I was approached by a few highly placed individuals, who I would prefer not name here, who asked me if I had considered getting myself away from Tom Watkins and Russell and do a solo thing or another act completely. I got the impression they were not particularly comfortable when dealing with the people around me but they liked me and would have been happy to work with me if I could get out of the situation. However, I have to admit in hindsight that I was very naïve and blindly loyal to Russell and Alan in particular, so I carried on during those weeks and days that led up to my eventual resignation from the band partnership.

Things really came to a head following the video shoot of the Stop This Rumour single at the Shaw Theatre. This was all happening around the time of the Live Aid concerts and as a matter of fact the last time I saw Russell was the Monday morning following that weekend. It wasn’t that the band was calling it a day, but more of an uncontrolled demolition that happened over a period of weeks as things were disintegrating in slow motion. After Russell had taken over the album’s production process, the atmosphere had become unpleasant and there was bullying, false accusations and threats. On one or two occasions, there was even violence; I remember once, Russell and I had a ‘disagreement’ outside one of the control rooms at Sarm West Studios after which I resumed the vocal recording session with a bloody nose. (You should have seen Russell!). It was like two brothers having a little punch up but things were getting more and more nasty with Russell feeling so under pressure and everything and under those conditions, there was no option for me other than to leave.

Later on I found out that there was an attempt to replace me with another lead singer after the Stop This Rumour video had actually already been released! I don’t know what was going on in Russell and Tom’s minds but the whole video was re-shot and edited with one of the backing singers instead of me as the front man. By this time, I was out of the picture anyway so I really didn’t know what was happening between the band, the management and the record company -- or I should say, I knew even less about what was going on than I did when I was actually in the band. The outcome, as predictable as it would have been then, was that Spelt Like This got dropped by EMI Records as well as Warner Brothers Music Publishing when the options came up for renewal later that year.

After Spelt Like This…

Despite all the disasters with Russell and Tom, the Spelt Like This project did not end my music career. On the contrary, it drove my own personal ambition to succeed even harder. My song writing continued to get better and better as well as my confidence in myself. Most importantly, I had broken free from all contractual ties. Again, with the benefit of hindsight, I think I had every intention of climbing right back to the levels achieved earlier; I had been poised for great success by signing to a major record company and so on, and with strong management I wanted to be in that position again as soon as possible.

A couple of years later, I got in touch with Alan Rawlings and we started writing and recording again together; for us at least, the Spelt Like This / EMI / Massive Management era was very much behind us. Looking back, although we both suffered from some form of post-traumatic-stress-disorder by surviving a fall from a pretty substantial height, we were still very ambitious and keen to move forward with fresh ideas vowing not to repeat the same mistakes as before and remaining true to ourselves in producing work that was of a very much higher quality and authenticity; in other words the intention was to create an act that was quite different from SLT in so many ways.

In 1988 I went out to California and by that autumn, I was living in Venice Beach, L.A. One evening I received a very unexpected call; it was Russell McKenzie. He was very polite, and explained to me that he’d got my Los Angeles phone number from my sister in North London. We hadn’t spoken since that fateful Monday in the middle of July 1985. He sounded very different; I could barely understand him as his speech was slow and slurred but straight away he told me why he was phoning me. He said he wanted to tell me how sorry he was about all that had happened with Spelt Like This. I was a little taken aback and I recall mumbling something along the lines that we both knew what we were letting ourselves in for and we knew how tough the music industry was and so on. He said Tom let us down, he had "taken the money and run" and then Russell asked me would I forgive him? I didn’t know what to say, I just hesitated but then heard my own voice replying; ‘Of course I forgive you Russell, I didn’t write a song called Contract of the Heart for nothing mate!’. I swear I heard him sobbing before we then ended that brief transatlantic phone call in late 1988, the last time I ever heard from him. I didn’t think much of it at the time, I was so busy focused on what I was doing there in Hollywood, I just remember a slight bit of satisfaction and that I had finally been vindicated.

Years and years later (around about 2002-2003) I was again in touch with Alan Rawlings (or Lima, as I always called him). Indeed, we’d stayed in touch on and off, and at one time he came out to stay with me and my then girlfriend/partner in Los Angeles. We were working on new material in our own project studio facility at our house in Burbank. However, by the early naughties I had moved down to Devon and one day casually suggested to Lima that we should try to get in touch with Russell. He agreed he would try to get Russell’s contact details through his mother in Basildon, Essex. A few days later I was extremely shocked to hear from Rawlings that he had indeed contacted Russell’s mum and had found out that Russell had died years earlier (I think it was either in late 1988 or 1989) apparently in a road traffic accident.

It was truly devastating news to me and naturally, I recalled our phone conversation in Venice Beach and wondered how long after that call was it that he died. I was in shock and went into a period of terrible grief and great sadness for weeks and weeks after hearing the dreadful news and I have not spoken to Rawlings since either.

I loved Russell like a brother. I looked up to him and respected him for his intelligence, strong will and tremendous talent. Like two brother warriors, we vowed to make it big in the music business together and to get to the very top. We were young, tough, hard-working, and completely fearless and we had huge ambitions to reach the highest achievements; and were prepared to work all the hours under the sun and to do whatever was necessary to be successful. Our slogan and motto was ‘whatever it takes’ and no one and nothing was ever going to be allowed to get in our way. It was precisely those qualities that were required as well as having a genuine music talent but only if you were absolutely determined and wanted it hard enough…

Looking back

I don’t think there is anything more than this I can add. I think the reader can deduce for themselves from what I have written here but this was part of my experience of the music business in the 1980s and I have to admit that it has taken me many, many years to get over it all. Today, I feel like an old veteran who is looking back, always wondering ‘what if’?

I am grateful for this opportunity to have my say and perhaps set some records straight (no pun intended!) even if it is more than three decades since this all took place!

And if I may add; I learned many years ago that you do not have to be famous, rich and powerful to be loved. All you need to do is just be a good person. When we look at the state of the world today, I have been asked a few times ‘What can we do?’. My answer is you can do your best because if everyone did their very best, the evil in this world would just simply dissolve.

© Alin Karna 2017


My thanks to Alin for his insight, honesty and huge contribution. Alin is still writing, producing and recording via his English Riviera Productions company, and is also promoting the use of 432hz music with Ananda Bosman and others.

Alin’s most recent album Providence is available on CD, plus via download and streaming via iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. It's a terrific album, very diverse and often very moving; I'd urge all readers to check it out, but in particular, I'd like to draw your attention to one track in particular "It's Your Heart".


  1. I do not think my brother was in control at any time. It was Tom Watkins who was in control over the mixing. Russell was in a terrible motoring situation in 1986 and was in a coma for a long time. He regained some consciousness and probably made that call just before he passed away. Thank you for forgiving him and the situation. I notice that in the one of the blogs there is mention that some were re-released in 2015. Is there any chance the other unreleased ones could be worked on and released?

    1. Hi Susan, thank you for your comments and I'll be sure to let Alin know. In terms of the unreleased tracks, I'm not aware of any plans to issue these but given the increasing number of 1980s material (both previously released and unreleased) coming out on CD, there is always a chance :-).

  2. When someone asks for forgiveness - it does not mean that they were 100% in the wrong - they are just saying they want peace and let us get over whatever happened in the past.

  3. HI Stephen. I recall these days when we lived in Forest Hill S.E London. Sadly Russell passed away in 1989 following a road traffic accident. I would love to hear from you. Thank you. Nayna

  4. Hi there, I'm wondering if any of the band members kept a copy of the album, and would share it out on any format. I'm only asking as I know that other bands from the 80s that had an album shelved or cancelled have done this like Scarlet Party so it would be brilliant if they did to.