Interview with Michael Floreale & Clive Farrington of When In Rome

(This interview was originally published February 9, 2011 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)

When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.

This time that awesomeness is Michael Floreale and Clive Farrington. They are best known as founding members of the group When In Rome. Along with Andrew Mann, they created the 1988 hit single “The Promise”. Farrington and Mann were on vocals with Floreale on keyboard. Unfortunately, the band would only release one album before Floreale was sent his separate way. While Farrington and Mann remained in England, Floreale moved to the U.S. in 1992 and remained in the industry composing for television and film. “The Promise” enjoyed a resurgence after being featured in the 2004 hit film Napoleon Dynamite which prompted both Floreale and Farrington to resurrect When In Rome, interestingly though, only not together. You will find out more about how they originally formed, produced a hit single and how they are moving forward separately now as we get on to some selections from my separate interviews with both Michael Floreale and Clive Farrington...

Q: You both were in another band together before When In Rome. How did the two of you meet and end up forming Beau Leisure?

Clive: Beau Leisure were already a fully fledged working band (lead by David Powell and myself) that imploded one night at a local place called Check Inn in Altrincham, Cheshire. We’d been in and out of each other’s pockets for far too long and had been promised many things by our numerous managers, including that elusive recording contract. My parents were very close to the band and I think that, in the band’s eyes, this was not very “rock and roll” so the inevitable happened just at a point that I think Beau Leisure could and should have made their mark on the music industry.

Mike [Floreale] was in another band at the time and I’d seen them play a few times. The singer was called Andy O’Connell and when Beau Leisure1 imploded, I recruited O’Connell as the new Beau Leisure singer and Mike as the keyboardist. There are some really neat tunes recorded by Beau Leisure2. Andrew Mann supported Beau Leisure1 as a beat poet on many of their latter gigs. Beau Leisure2 just did not gel although we did loads of shows and I really enjoyed being part of both outfits.

Michael: Andrew O’Connell insisted I join [Beau Leisure] with him, as we had a bunch of good, original songs we wanted to perform. Clive and I got on really well; then he and I started to write songs together and so we eventually decided to go it alone.

Q: I read that Corinne Drewery was part of Beau Leisure before she left to form Swing Out Sister. Was Andrew Mann added to the band after she left? What were your expectations and goals when you started out?

Michael: This is where I get to re-write history. Andrew Mann was recruited before we met Corinne. Andrew was a stand up poet who was doing live shows at the time. We thought he looked good, he was confident in front of an audience and he wrote lyrics. Andrew moved to London and that is where he met Corinne, who was shopping for a record deal at the time. We recorded some demos and Corinne sang on them. We wanted to continue working with Corinne but she went and got her own record deal. Our own goals were to do the same, get a major label deal.

Clive: Corinne was not part of Beau Leisure. Andrew, being a friend of hers asked her to help out on backing vocals and we recorded demos of “There’s a Ghost in My House” and “Kites” which were fine examples of pure pop. At the time, Andrew was sharing a flat with Jonathon Ross and his manager Alan Marke (who also would become the When In Rome manager). Andrew, at this point had a 4-track demo of “The Promise” which he took with him everywhere! One night he played the track to Simon Potts, Head of Elektra UK, and a few showcases later we were signed to Elektra. To Andrew, I think that this in itself was “mission accomplished” because we’d signed to the same label as The Doors!

Elektra decided to close their London offices. Unable to deal with the time difference between the UK and the U.S. when dealing with Elektra, the guys decided to change labels and were signed instantly to the Virgin UK subsidiary 10 Records who would ultimately release the band’s self-titled album in 1988.

Q: The new band took the name When In Rome. What is the story behind choosing that name for the band?

Clive: When Mike and I first started going down to London to meet with Andrew and to work on the demos; being Northern lads [from Manchester] in a new land, we’d often do things that we would not normally do at home and our battle cry was always “When In Rome”! The name just organically popped into use as the band name.

Michael: The London lifestyle was different in a cool way to the one we were used to, so we were always saying it. At that time, we were no longer Beau Leisure and were actively seeking a name, so I suggested we go with When In Rome. It was a natural choice.

Q: That brings us to your 1988 big hit single “The Promise.” What is the back story of how “The Promise” was conceived and written? Who wrote what parts? How long did it take to write? Was it personal at all, written about someone in particular?

Clive: We wrote “The Promise” in my Dad’s garden shed. The space was so tight that we had keyboards attached vertically to the polystyrene clad walls. Mike provided the keyboard hook and I provided the vocal melody and lyrics for the first verse and chorus. Lyrics not being my strong point, I suggested that Andrew finish the song by applying lyrics for the second verse. I also programmed all of the drums and bass for the demo and the final studio version using the famous Linn Drum Machine and Roland SH101 for the bass. The song took about two days to complete because the way I write, I go to bed and a melody pops into my head and I sing it directly into a voice recorder. The next day, I apply lyrical ideas to the melody. This is the way it was for all of the songs on the album. I used a Roland 501 loop echo for my voice which added loads of warmth. I’ve got to say at this point that Andrew mimes my vocal in the official video to “The Promise”. I have no idea why we both agreed to allow this and this caused confusion when we sang live.

Michael: One night I was working on the music to “The Promise” in the little [studio/shed]. Clive walked in and immediately started to sing along to it and we recorded the idea to a cassette. It took less than 20 minutes and I think we both knew then that it was pretty good. You will have to ask Clive if it was someone in particular, but I believe he had just split up with his girlfriend at the time.

“The Promise” is one of the more underrated songs of the '80s, in my opinion. It would reach #1 on the Billboard Dance Chart in June of 1988 and go on to peak at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 later that year. The song features an outstanding melody as well as some interesting switching off and harmony in the vocals. The song was featured as the end credits begin in the 2004 hit film Napoleon Dynamite exposing it to a whole new generation, but it's always been one of my favorites. Here is the original music video for "The Promise" by When In Rome...



Q: What role did producers Ben Rogan and Richard Burgess play in making the song a success?

Michael: Ben Rogan originally convinced us that the song would be improved if we recorded everything live. We recorded live drums, bass, guitar and a 16 piece orchestra. The magic was not there. We knew it wasn’t the same song, so we took the original demo with drum machine and sequenced bass to Ben and told him that it had to be recorded the same way as the original. To his eternal credit, he agreed. We used the same drum machine and sequencer from the demo and we got our song back.

Clive: Both Ben and Richard played a massive part in making the song a success, although we must not forget Michael Brauer who mixed the album at Quad Studio in New York which I had the pleasure of overseeing. It was a real pleasure to spend 10 days in NYC watching my work being sculpted by a master producer / mix engineer! Having said all of this, I would most definitely give full credit to Mike’s cousin who went out to live in San Francisco and took a copy of “The Promise” with him. He went to the nearest radio station he could find (which happened to be the biggest on the West Coast) and asked them to play the record. It just snowballed from there.

Q: I particularly enjoy the combination of the fast beat and the slower piano on top of it. Michael, how did you come up with that genius melody?

Michael: Thank you. I’ve always loved the sound of the piano and the way piano seems to work in all genres of music. I also love strings; there is an emotive quality about strings that sets them apart from any other instrument. The combination of strings and piano has always been a feature of my writing, but I wish I knew myself how I came up with that particular melody!

Q: Did you feel you had something special there back then when you recorded “The Promise”? Could you have ever anticipated the worldwide success it would have? What do you think made the song connect with the general listening public so strongly?

Clive: As soon as we had recorded the song, I knew that we had something special but unfortunately, there is no blue print for this otherwise we could have had loads of hits!

Michael: I did feel at the time that we had a very good song, but never imagined that it would still be playing today. What I think connects, are the words and there is also an emotional quality in the song that just gets to the listener.

Q: When you have a mega hit song like that, do you (or did you) ever get sick of playing it? What are your feelings about the song today?

Michael: I am fortunate in that I still enjoy playing the song but I can imagine Right Said Fred getting really sick of playing “I’m Too Sexy”. “The Promise” has enabled me to perform live in the U.S. for the last five years, it has appeared in a cult classic movie and it is still played regularly all over the world. I remain proud of the fact that I wrote the song and grateful for the general public’s continued appreciation of it.

Clive: I cannot play it very often because I am so close to it that I cannot see it. I of course got a little tired of it being the only song that the record company cared for. There is a much stronger song in “If Only” for instance. However, when I see footage of Kelly Clarkson covering the song and explaining that her Mom used to play it in the car when she was a kid, this is magical!

Q: How did things change for you personally and When In Rome, both good and bad, after this song’s incredible success? Were you prepared for all of the attention?

Clive: We were totally prepared, although I think that Mike was the one who was most prepared and did the clever thing in moving out the U.S. to make more of the success of When In Rome.

Michael: Initially bad when the band broke up. I felt When In Rome had at least another album or two to offer, and those albums would have been better than the first. I had no say in the break up, so I had to pick myself up and start again. It was then that I decided to move to the U.S. The song was never a big hit in the UK and so attention was never really a problem.

Q: When In Rome was not able to follow up with another hit song and, in fact, only ended up releasing one album together before breaking up in 1990. Were you surprised that you were not able to have another major hit song (or another album for that matter) with When In Rome? Please describe the circumstances surrounding the break up of When In Rome in 1990. How can a group with a hit song that popular just disintegrate that quickly? Any regrets?

Clive: Not particularly; we had grown apart as a unit and both Andrew and I were so different musically to Mike that the inevitable happened and we asked Mike to leave. Andrew and I carried on with When In Rome and toured Brazil in that same year with Matt Rowe on keyboards. No regrets whatsoever. We were not getting along as a band so a cull had to ensue. I chose to stay with Andrew who I’ve always credited in capturing the two record deals that we have had. I have fired Andrew and I have fired Mike from the line-up and have stayed loyal in the end to Andrew.

Michael: The break up was a result of Clive and Andrew wanting to go in a new musical direction after one album. I had no say in the matter. We had already written a bunch of new songs for the second album but Clive and Andrew felt those songs were not the new direction they were seeking. The record company did not agree with the new direction either, so When In Rome never gave themselves an opportunity to write another hit.

Q: I often say that I don’t look at the term “one-hit wonder” as a negative because it is one more hit than most artists ever get to have. What are your feelings about that moniker? Are you proud of your one big hit?

Michael: I wouldn’t use the word “proud”, but it’s better to have had one hit than none at all, and what a hit!!

Clive: You would not believe how proud! I am writing a book as we speak entitled 'Confessions of a One Hit Wonder' by Clive Farrington – When In Rome. There are many fascinating tales to tell.

Q: It seems that Michael has moved forward with his own version of When In Rome here in the U.S. At the same time, it appears Clive and Andrew are now continuing with When In Rome in the UK. How can there be two When In Rome’s? Are there tensions between the two versions? What are each of your goals/intentions with When In Rome going forward?

Michael: In my opinion, there really aren’t two When In Rome’s. I was approached in 2005 by a west coast agent to reform the band for some shows in the USA. I was back in contact with Clive and Andrew who had both moved on to other careers. Neither had sung in any capacity for over 15 years, and they both lived in the UK. I had remained in the music business as a film and TV composer and welcomed the opportunity to get out of my studio. I had to find a new singer. At the time, this wasn’t a problem for Clive and Andrew. The new When In Rome then toured with Devo, Psychedelic Furs, A Flock Of Seagulls and many other bands.

When In Rome have continued to tour for the last 5 years and have played all over the U.S. and South America and also toured the Philippines. The shows went well and we integrated new songs into the set which received tremendous support, so I set about writing and recording songs with my new singer, John Ceravolo, for another When In Rome album. This was, in my opinion, unfinished business. In 2008, I heard that Clive and Andrew were reforming the band and they decided that I should no longer represent myself as When In Rome. Obviously, I disagreed. At the time of writing, the UK version has never performed live, nor has it released any new material. The goals for my new When In Rome are simple, to release a new album of material for the first time since 1990. We are at present mixing 10 songs that have been recorded.

Clive: Yes, both Andrew and I are still writing together. We have been threatened by Mike in the U.S. that if we tour there, we will be deported, so of course there is tension. We believe that Mike is a little miffed that we may just steal the wind from his sails if the original vocalists tour in the U.S.

Q: Can you ever see reuniting the original When In Rome line-up for touring and/or even creating new music?

Clive: We have offered Mike this option and have been ignored.

Michael: No, I have worked with some extremely talented people over the last 15 years and the present singer/writer of When In Rome has worked with me to create the best When In Rome songs ever. I doubt we could ever write another “The Promise”, just as Sting will never write another “Every Breath You Take”. However, the new material is far stronger than the songs off the first album but the emotion is still there (as well as the piano and strings).

Q: “The Promise” was used in the very popular 2004 film Napoleon Dynamite. I am sure this exposure gave a new life to the song and many people heard it for the first time. First, are you aware of how or why the song was chosen to be part of the film? Second, what effect did you see from this new prominent exposure 14 years after its original release?

Clive: I received a call from Mike in the U.S. about six months prior to release of the movie with the news that they wanted to use the song and of course was absolutely thrilled! I believe that it was Jared Hess (co-writer / director) who asked to use the song because it was part of his growing up.

Michael: I believe he was a big fan of the song and wanted it in the movie. The movie finally got the song recognized in the UK and I was very aware of a lot of teenagers at our shows. I guess the movie was the catalyst for my reforming When In Rome.

Q: After nearly three decades in the business, from your perspective, how has the music industry changed over that time?

Clive: Not at all! There is something missing though… Theatre!

Michael: Drastically. Major label deals are a thing of the past. MP3s have changed the entire face of the music industry and I think that it’s ultimately a good thing. There is more reliance on bands to develop their talents and performing live has much more relevance. In the '80s there were so many recording bands that could never recreate their songs live, it was all done in the studio. There will always be the boy bands, the Pussycat Dolls, etc. but the music buying public has more choices than it ever had and that has to be a good thing. If you are dedicated and talented, you still have a great opportunity to get your music heard.

Q: Some '80s pop stars “run away” from the '80s and some embrace the success and fans from that decade. How do you personally deal with and keep the '80s alive and in perspective?

Michael: As a commercial composer I have to continue to follow the musical trends of the day. There is definitely some great new music out there, but nowadays I’m hearing an awful lot of music that has been done before and I can name the original bands that the ideas came from! What the '80s had was a uniqueness that can never be repeated. Great songs, great melodies and ground breaking synth sounds that had never been used before. I’m nostalgic about the '80s but as a musician, you can’t stand still.

Clive: The '80s was obviously a massively important musical period and I was reminded of how important when I went to see Human League, ABC and Heaven 17 in the summer. All still totally brilliant!

Q: Michael, you have participated in some of the tours with other great '80s pop bands. Is this an enjoyable experience performing songs that bring so much joy to the audience?

Michael: Yes, it is very enjoyable and I have made some great friends. The common thing with all of the bands is our love of the music. The loyalty and enthusiasm of the fans is something I’ll never forget.

Q: What else are Clive Farrington and Andrew Mann each up to now?

Clive: I’ve just returned from a fabulous Christmas trip to New York with my daughter Saskia and have started creating the tracks for the projected U.S. tour. Andrew is organizing musicians for the tour.

Q: What else is Michael Floreale up to now?

Michael: Well I’m trying to get all the songs for the next When In Rome album mixed and finished. When In Rome will start rehearsing for shows in 2011. I’m also writing with, and producing, a Dallas based singer called Neill Skylar. It is a project I’m very excited about. After all these years, music is still my main focus but away from music I still play soccer (yikes) and still follow my team, Manchester City, who WILL win the premier league very soon. I PROMISE. Also, I’d sincerely like to thank everybody who has been to see When In Rome and wish health, love and happiness to all.

I am very pleased that both Michael and Clive took the time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. You can see from some of the answers they gave, that the two still have some differing views, but that does not detract from the outstanding song they created together. If you want to find out more about Michael’s When In Rome, you can visit the official website. If you want to find out more about Clive and Andrew’s version, you can visit their Facebook page.

I want to take this opportunity to again thank both Michael Floreale and Clive Farrington for their contribution to '80s pop culture with “The Promise” and, even more, for taking a walk down memory lane with us here as well.

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