Songs about space and all things intergalactic are fairly few and far between. David Bowie told us about his Space Oddity in 1969 and three years later Elton John became a Rocket Man, ironically both gay/bi-sexual men singing about wives they didn’t have at the time. The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band beat them both with their tale of the Urban Spaceman in 1968. Ten years later two cheesy songs hit the chart in the shape of Dee D. Jackson and her ‘robot’ friend claiming to be her Automatic Lover then a few months later Sarah Brightman fell head over heels and lost her heart to a starship trooper. In 1985 along came another one. The Marmite track that was Clouds Across The Moon. It’s had people cringing but it’s also had people in tears.
The man behind that song was Richard Anthony Hewson who lent his initials to the moniker RAH Band. Hewson studied at the Guildhall School of Music, of which George Martin was also an alumnus a generation previous. Although his education was in classical music, Hewson also had a strong love for jazz and big-band swing, and played guitar in a trio that included Peter Asher, one half of the duo of Peter & Gordon. There was one occasion when the trio were practicing at the Asher family home when Hewson met Paul McCartney for the first time, as Paul was dating Peter’s sister, Jane. In 1968 when the Paul was recording Mary Hopkin’s single Those Were the Days, he decided that the song required orchestral accompaniment and asked Peter, who was by then an executive at the Beatles’ Apple Records label, to bring Hewson in to finish the record, in what he admits was his very first job after graduating from music school. He went on to orchestrate Hopkin’s debut album, Post Card, and her follow-up single Goodbye, in which he utilised a string orchestra of a dozen violas. In 1970 he was hired to arrange several of the songs on the Beatles’ Let It Be album, including The Long and Winding Road and I Me Mine. He recalled in Good Day Sunshine magazine, “It was under Phil Spector’s guidance that I learned about the vast, outsized orchestra sound that completed The Long and Winding Road in a manner that the Beatles hated but which the public loved.”
He turned his hand to film music and his first engagement was the 1971 David Puttnam-directed film Melody which starred Oliver actors Mark Lester and Jack Wild and featured a number of songs by the Bee Gees. He was also the arranger and conductor on the soundtrack to the 1980 movie Xanadu, starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly.
As the 1970s progressed, so did Richard’s work as an arranger, conductor, and orchestrator with acts like Supertramp, Al Stewart, Renaissance, Carly Simon and Diana Ross. In 1977 he had his first hit as the Rah Band when the rocky/dance instrumental track The Crunch reached number six. Two further hits in the early 80s, Falcon and Slide made the lower end of the chart. In 1982 the wonderfully melodic Perfumed Garden petered out at number 45, but should have been much higher. The following year the disco-orientated Message From The Stars also just missed the top 40.
In March 1985 he bounced back with Clouds Across The Moon. It was a song about a wife who is missing her astronaut husband – flight commander B.R Johnson aboard flight 247 and requested the intergalactic operator to put her through to speak to him. The song featured Syn drums, synth brass, saxophones and cascading philly strings. The woman was none other than Richard’s wife Liz.
So where did the idea come from? Richard recalled, “I got the idea for this song during a good long soak in the bath. I leave a notebook downstairs so when I got the idea I thumped on the floor and Liz brought the book up. I have lots of ideas to do with science fiction. There was a film I liked called Dark Star and it was about a talking bomb. Songs about space are very good vehicles to hang words around and I can often visualise the video before I’ve even written the song. With this song you’ve got a space pilot off fighting a war and his wife is desperately trying to get in contact with him. Because of the alignment of the planets she can only make one phone call a year and then she gets cut off because of atmospheric conditions. It’s quite sad really. You see, it’s much more difficult to make these calls since British Telecom was privatised! When asked much it cost to make that call he jokingly replied, “Five million six hundred and fifty thousand pounds and 40 pence.”
The song was recorded at Richard’s home studio and he called Liz in to do the vocal bits. She said, “I’m sure I sound like a pig but Richard seems to like it!
The song was remixed in 2007 with new vocals by Emma Charles. Richard says, “It was remixed in response to the phenomenal demand by fans and DJs, who were begging for a modern mix. The new version has a more jazz-funk feel than the original, but still retains the original synthesizer and drum machine, but there weren’t enough fans and DJs to buy it and so it failed to chart.
Richard and Liz have been married since 1968 and both have the same interests which include snorkelling and collecting tropical marine fish, he said, “It’s very tricky keeping them because you’ve got to get the PH value of the water right.” Liz recalled, “It was love at first sight and we met whilst horse riding which we still also enjoy doing.