Neneh Cherry, singer and songwriter
I saw Cameron McVey [producer and now husband] and one day he suddenly asked me, “Why don’t you write songs? You could totally write songs! Â»I had been in Rip Rig + Panic, whose songwriter Gareth Sager had such an inventive way of writing about everyday things. Manchild was one of the first things I imagined.
The first verse came to me as I was walking up the stairs of a double-decker bus. “Is it the pain of drinking / Or the sinking feeling of Sunday?” I think I had a hangover. When I got home, I started working on the music on a small Casio keyboard using the âauto tuningâ setting. I didn’t know what I was doing. When my father [late jazz trumpeter Don Cherry] Heard he said, âWow, that’s a bit of jazz. You have seven chords in the verse!
The person in the song exists, but it’s not about her as such. âThe car never seems to run / When it’s late your girlfriend has a date. I just imagined a guy who worked nine to five in a garage or something, but had dreams and feelings, and a cheating girlfriend. I was exploring the most vulnerable aspects of manhood from a woman’s perspective, the way some men come to terms with sensitivity while others put on three layers of facade.
Manchild was a very important song for me: that’s where I found my style. I liked the simplicity of a raw hip-hop rhythm with orchestrations. When we finished recording it at Eastcote Studios, Bomb the Bass’s Tim Simenon scratched and found a really good electronic hook.
Our way of working was very domestic: a lot of work at home, children in the studio, a baby under our arm. We walked into radio stations like that. Before discussing ideas for the video, director Jean-Baptiste Mondino sat outside our house in our little Fiat Panda listening to Manchild as he watched my fabulous Jamaican neighbor sweep the front of the house with gold chains. My other neighbor was hanging out the laundry. Then I answered the door with a towel over my head and a baby under my arm. And John the Baptist said: âThat’s it! This is the video.
Cameron ‘Booga Bear’ McVey, producer
I grew up in punk but ended up working with Stock, Aitken and Waterman on the PWL label. We were playing Trivial Pursuit with Kylie and people like that. All of the PWL artists were cool, but none of them were really musicians – unlike Stock, Aitken, and Waterman, who really knew their shit. The music press saw them as the enemy, but they were more punk than the punks.
My buddy Jamie Morgan and I did an embarrassing single as Morgan McVey called Looking for a good dive. I had just met Neneh, so on the B side was a first version of Buffalo Stance, with a different title and rap by Neneh. A year later, an appropriate version became her first single. It was a truly iconic song. The easy thing would have been to do five more Buffalo Stances, but that would have been contemptible, so Neneh did something completely different with Manchild. That’s why his career really took off.
I remember transcribing his chords from the Casio. It turned out that she had used all the chords available on the machine. Producer Nellee Hooper had just taught me how to sample, so I added a snare drum. Nellee then got 3D from Massive Attack to write the rap part for Manchild. Will Malone did all the strings on one Fairlight but we left the Casio on the finished check-in. It felt like you had your leg sawed off, but it was really good in the background.
Everyone loved Manchild – except Neneh’s American record company, who refused to release him. They wanted another Buffalo Stance, which had reached number 3 in the United States. They said Manchild was not white enough to be white, or black enough to be black, and not left field enough to be left field. We met all of these corporate thugs who were so heavy with us, because if you fuck up in America, they will declare war on you. When I was on the plane for the first meeting, the plane developed a rift over Greenland and we had to turn around. I took that as a sign. Manchild was a huge success everywhere except America.