Will Young’s No 1 single may have saved his career, but could just as easily been Gareth Gates’ Christmas song
g White is now renowned as one of the finest professional songwriters around. Having cut his teeth as a member of Yip Yip Coyote and Brother Beyond, Eg has since gone on to write with and for Adele, Sam Smith, Pink and Will Young among others. It’s that last honour call that saw him take the definitive step into the arena of the professional songwriter. With two Ivor Novellos and a Grammy to his name, Eg White is now decorated by success and Will Young’s No 1 single Leave Right Now was the start of that journey.
As Eg explains though, the success of that song was not just born of hard craftsmanship, but a whim, “because it’s impossible to take a decision any other way.”
“I’d been signed to Warner with Alice Temple as Eg And Alice. When the Warner deal went wrong and Alice left, I thankfully got dropped. Then I made three records on the trot, with Emilíana Torrini, Nicole Russo and a girl called Jade Anderson. Jade’s record got snapped up for £1M and my publishing deal came up, so I got signed for £200K and for two years I was on Universal. Then Jade’s record failed and very few things I got out did well.
“During this time Jo, the wife of my publisher Mike McCormack, was working at 19 Entertainment and said that she needed a Christmas song for Gareth Gates and asked if would I write it. So I tried for five days to write a Christmas song for Gareth Gates and got one bad line! I didn’t get anywhere and in abject depression, at 2pm on the Friday, I switched horses and wrote a song. By 8pm, that song was Leave Right Now.
“The verse bears strong reference to I Will Always Love You – the Dolly Parton version not the Whitney Houston version – and the bridge has links to Always On My Mind. It was obviously good because I remember my wife came and said ‘I really like this one, it’s coming through the floorboards’.
“We nearly got a cut on it from Ronan Keating, but he didn’t do it. Then Simon Fuller heard it and was hit by it twice, which was luck. He was played it by Steve Lipson, the producer, who’d asked Mike if he had any decent tunes. Mike played him ten and Steve said ‘They’re all crap, except Leave Right Now,’ and said he’d take it to Simon Fuller.
“At the same time, Mike said to Jo ‘You’ve got to play this to Simon Fuller.’ After four days of Mike hassling Jo, she finally caved in and listened to it. She liked it and agreed to take it to Simon. So Simon was played it by Jo and then a couple of days later by Steve Lipson. When he heard it he stood up and said, ‘It’s a fucking smash!’ And then he said, ‘Let’s give it to Will.’
“Will sung it and apparently didn’t sing it so well the first time. So Simon told him to sing it again, that Will’s career depended on it. Then Will went back and sung it again and sung it really well. Will then came and saw me in despair. We sat at the table and played it and I realised, ‘It’s awful.’ I said we needed to call Steve Lipson and say that it needs more compression, we need the bottom end from the orchestra not the top end, the drums sound like they’re being hit by fleas and the orchestra is not getting you in the gut. So we called up Steve Lipson and I outlined the 12 or so issues that we had. The next time I heard it was on the radio.
“We’d only pressed 80,000 copies, because the press had been saying ‘On the way down Will Young, on the way up everyone else’. But Will did an amazing thing. He went on Parkinson and was so personable, so charming, so warm that everybody who saw it thought, ‘This guy’s the best’. Then he sung it and sung it really well. Then bam, they sold the 80,000 copies in two days! And then they couldn’t get them into the shops in time! On Saturday morning at about 11am they were trying to [get copies out for sale] and the hand of death comes down at 6pm. So there was a charity record that overtook it for a while and then it rallied and just about overtook the charity record to No 1.
“It’s a shaggy dog story but it not’s inappropriate that it’s told, because it’s luck. Chance events decided on a whim, because it’s impossible to take a decision any other way. This is the path that it took. Thank God it was sung by Will; thank God he sung it with real passion. The video was great. Everything all came into focus afterwards.
“Without luck and skill, it could have been any other way. Probably almost any of those permutations would have changed and it wouldn’t have gone on to be a hit. After that, my luck changed.”
Eg White was talking about Leave Right Now to Sodajerker, the UK’s best songwriting-related podcast bar none! Listen to the interview with Eg here, or check out over 50 more Sodajerker interviews here.