Pop music is an art form. The ability to construct a catchy song that doesn’t rip off anything else and fits in tidily under three-and-three-quarter minutes is not one to be sniffed at. Terry Ronald is quite an artist in that respect, having worked in the music industry for over twenty years, producing a wealth of music gems for the likes of Kylie and Dannii Minogue, Girls Aloud, Sheena Easton and Geri Halliwell, to name but a few. And when he’s not bringing brilliant new music into the world like a disco midwife, he’s keeping himself busy with two brand new stage productions and his debut novel, as he reveals:
SSG: Hello Terry! What’ve you been up to?
Terry Ronald: Hello! Well In the last month I’ve been rehearsing and getting ready for the opening of The Hurly Burly Show at the Garrick Theatre, preparing for the launch of my book, Becoming Nancy, and writing and co- directing a new show called Little Belter. It’s been a busy time.
What made you decide you wanted to be a songwriter and producer?
I was – and still am – obsessed with music. Mostly pop when I was a kid, but now anything from Piaf to Morricone to Caruso and musical theatre. I was always writing songs and scripts as a kid, and then performing them with my friends. Then when I was 19 I was literally plucked off of the dance-floor of a nightclub (just like the two girls from The Human League) and asked if I wanted to join a band. I’ve never looked back.
How do you go about writing your material?
I write melody and lyrics, so usually I’ll work with another writer. They come up with some chords or a track idea and I’ll come up with a top line melody. Lyrics usually come last. Sometimes I’ll have something completely written and we’ll work the music around it.
If you had to pick a favourite of all your songs so far which would it be?
Hmm, that’s a toughie! Of my solo stuff I guess ‘What the Child Needs’, but I wrote and produced an album for a band called Dimestars for Polydor in 2001. They had two singles and one was called ‘My Superstar.’ That’s one of my faves. I loved the songs I did with Dannii on Neon Nights too, and ‘Get Here To Me’ by Sheena Easton is all my disco fantasies come true.
You started as a musician in your own right; do you have any plans to release any more solo material?
No. I’m too old. Popstars are virtually foetuses these days, for Christ’s sake! I loved being a popstar in Europe in the early Nineties but I can’t see it now. I’d prefer to be recognised for other achievements these days. If you see me on stage again it’ll probably be in a drag act down at The Black Cap!
As well as the likes of Dannii Minogue, Girls Aloud and Bananarama you collaborated on French pop starlet Lorie’s last album 2lor en moi? What was it like writing in another language?
Well, we collaborated with a French writer to translate the English lyrics to French lyrics, so I didn’t actually write in French. It was interesting producing a singer who sings in a different language, though. I just thought everything Lorie sang was lovely because the language is so beautiful.
How did you first end up working with Elouise on her brand new show, Little Belter?
I’ve known Elouise for a while, and when I went to see her last show I loved her vocal performance but felt her personality didn’t shine through enough in the dialogue. She asked me to help her bring it out in the script.
Are you going to be involved with her any more in the future?
I hope so. You don’t get many voices like that to the pound.
What first led you to work Dannii Minogue?
Dannii and I were signed to the same record label, and I guess I was her first proper friend in London. When I got dropped from the label, Dannii was one of the very few people who called me up when I was down on my luck. She asked me to come and produce her vocals on her next album, and eventually got me working with Kylie too. Twenty years on and it’s more like family. We even share the same birthday.
Tell us something about Dannii that not many people know about her.
In truth … she is a gay man in a really fabulous wig.
I know she’s sitting on a couple of tracks with the Freemasons, but is she definitely planning on full-return to music? The world needs her!
It does, but, honestly, I don’t know. There was talk but Dannii is a perfectionist. She’d only do it if she was able commit the time to do something really great. She has so much going on, not to mention a young baby. The woman doesn’t stop.
You’ve written a book, Becoming Nancy, about growing up gay. Tell us a bit about it.
Becoming Nancy is a coming-of-age story set in south London in 1979. It’s about a boy who gets the part of Nancy in the school production of Oliver! Then he falls in love with the boy playing opposite him who is captain of the school football team. It’s about how this impacts on his life, his family, and his friends. It’s funny, camp, sad and a little bit rude – all my favourites! So much has changed for young gay people since the Seventies and Eighties, but it’s still scary coming out, and gay kids still get bullied. Nancy kind of demonstrates the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m so lucky to have had some great reactions – and some wonderful quotes for the cover – from people like Kylie and Jonathan Harvey,who really loved it.
I didn’t write my book for anybody but myself and I think, or at least hope, that’s why it works. I had a story I wanted to tell and I told it in a way that I found entertaining myself. Often in pop music I find myself worrying about what other people might like and trying to do that. In that way it was definitely a different process for me.
The hardback is out on 14 April. I’m more excited about this than I have been for years about anything. It’s available for pre-order now on Amazon and all the online stores!
Any upcoming songwriting projects you’re allowed to tell us about?
I’m mentoring and producing a fantastic artist called DeeDee Loves Me along with Ian Masterson. DeeDee is a fantastic, quirky pop writer and a breath of fresh air amongst so many of the kids I see who think the only way to become successful is to audition for a talent show, or be cast in record label manufactured band.