The HELDEN Project interview is now published on ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK at https://www.electricityclub.co.uk/zaine-griff-the-helden-project-interview/
In order to tell the story of how Helden came about, I need to go back, well before Helden. It was at Utopia Studios in March 1979, where I first met and worked with Hans Zimmer. I had just signed a recording deal with Warner label Automatic Records, and at a pre-production meeting for what would be my “Ashes and Diamonds” album, MD Nick Mobbs introduced me to an up-and-coming record producer, Colin Thurston.
Colin and I discussed session musicians and Hans was mentioned to play keyboards and Synths. I was instantly drawn to Hans’ way of thinking and intrigued by his ability to create heavy pumping synths and to counterpoint the top-end with string orchestrations, and piano vamps. Although the sessions with Colin never saw the light of day, (he went on to produce Duran Duran’s albums), there began an amazing collaboration and friendship with Hans, that has lasted to this day.
Nick Mobbs then suggested Tony Visconti to produce the album and I went and stayed a few nights with Tony and his wife, Mary Hopkins, at their country estate. Tony got me to play him acoustically all the tracks I felt were candidates, as he needed to hear the bare bones of the songs even though most of the tracks were roadworthy.
As for the players on the album, I chose Hans on synths, Steve Bolton on guitar, Andy Clark on keyboards, Andy Duncan on drums and I was to play bass. Andy Duncan was a busy session player and when I needed a drummer for the Reading Festival, my regular drummer, Clive Edwards, was recording and touring with his band Wild Horses, meaning I was without adrummer. One night whilst listening to the John Peel radio show, I was mesmerised by Warren Cann’s drums on a new album, Systems of Romance, by a band called Ultravox. I called Chrysalis Records and they gave me Ultravox’s manager’s number. Explaining who I was, I asked for and was given Warren’s telephone number – easy back in those days. He invited me over the next day. I arrived at 2 pm as arranged, only to find him still asleep. I asked Warren if he would be interested in playing drums for me at the Reading Festival and Hans and Warren first met at Lillie Yard Studios, rehearsing with me for the Reading Festival.
In 1982, Hans and I co-produced my Figvres album together. Warren came with us to Rockfield Studios in Wales where I recorded my vocals.Then we flew to Munich in Germany to mix the album. We stayed at Hans mothers apartment not far from the studio. When we all retired to bed Warren said he would have a bath. In morning there he was blue, sound asleep in the bath.
When we got to the studio the next day, we realized we had left the reel to reels in the taxi from the airport to Hans’ mother’s apartment and Hans had to track down the driver to retrieve them – half a day of studio time wasted. I recall Hans’ mother took us to King Ludwig’s grave as I was asking her so questions many about him.
After the Figvres album was released, Hans and Warren started recording what would become The Helden Project. I was intrigued by the concept of a mystery, spies and counter-spies musical adventure – a modern-day opera.
At the time the backing tracks were being recorded for Helden, I was busy promoting Figvres. When Hans called me to sing on the project, a lot of the groundwork had already been done. We recorded at Snake Ranch, the same studio we used for Figvres. Engineered by Steve Rance who had also engineered Figvres, Brian Robertson on guitar (Ashes And Diamonds), Linda Jardim (Figvres), Ronny recorded her speaking voice to create mood and atmosphere and Eddie Maelov (Eddie and Sunshine) sang on Young and Scientific. It was a family of friends all collaborating on a new venture. I sat behind Hans to be his conscience and to hum counterpoint lines, then lay down guide vocals, both lead and backing. Warren Cann arranged drums and Linn drum machines. Lyrics and themes were constructed by Hugo Vereker, Hans and Warren. There were so many sessions recording Helden ,where Warren would fall asleep because of his busy Ultravox schedule. I remember going to the premiere of Star Wars movie with Hans and Warren the conversation was all about Helden. Some days on my walk to Snake Ranch studios, I would pop in to see Hans on the way. He was always in the bath with Wagner playing at full volume. I used to sit there listening to his ideas he was going to try that day.
Hans and I did a radio promotions tour up and down the UK, talking to DJs when “Holding On” was released as a single. Hans and Warren went on to perform Helden at the London Planetarium performing a live instrumental adaption. However, by then Hans was involved in writing movie scores and the Helden album was put on the shelf.
Thirty-five years later, while we were recording my album Mood Swings, Helden came up in conversation with my co-producer Hugh Nettar, with a passing comment of “do you think it would be interesting to revisit Helden?” Five years later, having collaborated with Stephen Small, Hugh Nettar, Clive Edwards, Debbi Doss, Dave Johnston and Julian Mendelsohn, we have Helden Spies Revisited, just released by Sony.