Tonight, Friday 7th January 2011, I will be in the studio with the Eva Jay Fortune band producing two songs for her third album. Eva Jay Fortune is a singer songwriter perhaps somewhere between Joni Mitchell and Alanis Morissette in style. Below are some pictures from the winter 2010 sessions, courtesy of Richard Gee... (click images to enlarge)
For this particular 'Guitar Notes', I thought I might write about some of my other production jobs that I have undertaken over the years.
U.K. Subs - 'Endangered Species' LP. 1981.
By the time we'd finished Diminished Responsibility I was a bit tired of "name" producers. Gary Glitter’s producer Mike Leander was a disaster on that album and barely put in an appearance. Charlie's idea to get that big Phil Spector type sound backfired, leaving me to try and salvage the record. Prior to that, we had dabbled at self production. Charlie and I produced Brand New Age together and I had already produced the She's Not There EP. Again, I teamed up with Charlie to mix the Crash Course LP live tapes. However, it wasn't until Endangered Species that I really got to go it alone. We had some songs in place; I had written the music for the song Endangered Species which had been previously demoed with different lyrics (Shoot You Down). Alvin had also written Living Dead and the music for Countdown, which again was already recorded on a demo. Originally, I had envisioned side two as side one. I was tiring of the hardcore race that was emerging in the UK between the likes of GBH, The Exploited, and Discharge etc. Each band was trying to outdo the other in the tough department, and we were certainly part of that merry-go-round earlier on; mostly due to me... Anyway, I thought we'd step off the treadmill by making the whole of the first side an atmospheric encounter. We had already made demos of Ice Age, Divide by 8 Multiply by 5 and Sensitive Boys. With the addition of Flesh Wound; which developed in the studio from a riff I'd been messing with, and Charlie's I Robot, the “atmospheric” side was complete. Despite my original vision, we ended up compromising and switched the sides to open in more familiar territory. Jacobs Studio was an excellent facility in the Surrey countryside, surrounded by fields, and was the inspiration for the lyrics on Down On The Farm. It boasted residential amenities, catering and a swimming pool. (See photo right, of me diving into the pool. In the background are Steve Roberts and roadie Chutch goofing around). The open studio space had rough wood barriers and was built in a split level, and was indeed reminiscent of an animal stall, while the control room was elegant with a large window looking onto the back garden. I recall us taking a break in the garden during a meteor shower and laying back on deck chairs. It was quite funny because we were spotting bright streaks ripping through the dark country sky, but each time Charlie was looking the other way, and for the most part missed them! It broke down into laughter before I got back to work. Engineer Kev Thomas proved to be first class, and the final recordings are perhaps my favourite result as a producer.
Three Times A Day - 'I crave to be a hermaphrodite' 7”. 1981.
This project came through Edward Christie at Abstract Records in 1981. Edward worked for GEM with the U.K. Subs and continued when he started his own label, releasing the Shake Up The City 7” EP and the compilation LP Recorded 79 - 81. I knew little, and frankly still know little about 3 Times a Day, they were a three piece, well rehearsed outfit who really had all their ideas and parts in order before they came in. The three tracks were quirky and offbeat and I suppose new wave in the way Devo were, although they didn't sound like them.
My part in the 7" was somewhat passive, as the arrangement and rehearsal stage was already concluded.
The title track was perhaps the most peculiar, with its angular vocal jumps, the second song X-ray was a little more orthodox but still interesting. On the B side was a track called Storm. (Not to be confused with the great beat poem of the same name by Tim Minchen; I urge you to watch/listen to this on Youtube).
Storm was about a superhero woman who shoots lightening from her eyes. I liked the songs despite my limited input in the session, when we started mixing Storm someone came into the studio soaking wet. There was a huge thunderstorm in south London, so we decided to run a couple of microphones into the back yard and recorded the thunder on the track live. We also used pre-recorded storms, but some at least was live thunder.
Sex Gang Children – 'Beasts' 12" EP. 1982.
I was an early advocate for Sex Gang Children, back when they went under the unlikely name Panic Button. I campaigned within the Subs organization for their inclusion on a number of bills opening for us, as I had previously done with The Pack and Crass. Panic Button were around at the birth of the Goth movement, but seemed to me to be more like Kurt Weill at times. Andy was a diminutive front man, brimming with ideas, who wore his influences on his sleeves. He seemed interested in all sorts of music and was equally quick witted. We then lost touch for a year or so before we bumped into each other, I think on the Kings Road in London. The band, now called Sex Gang Children, had signed an indie deal and were going in to record a 12" EP. He asked would I be interested in producing it. I think he had perhaps heard my production on Endangered Species, because he told me years later that he loved the guitar solo on Countdown. Regardless, I accepted the challenge and in due course we found ourselves in the Denmark Street studios to record four songs. The result was, for me, less than satisfactory. I have to take responsibility for my part in Beasts. At the end of the day I was the producer. I had come from working at the top notch Jacobs studio and Denmark Street Studio was significantly inferior, particularly where it counts, the basics. The songs were interesting enough; the 6/8 time signature of Times of our Lives, and Sense of Elation were structured with powerful grooves and had the potential of becoming classics in the vein of the early Pack. The title track Beasts really didn't get off the ground and suffered the most from a distant sound. While Cannibal Queen strained under the weight of Andy's endless ideas. This syndrome is the musical cousin to the literary trap of putting all your influences into your first book. Each line is embellished with flamboyant falsetto overdubs and suffers from excessive flat notes. I shouldn’t have let that pass, but money, therefore time, was short. While writing this I am listening again to Beasts from a compilation of early Sex Gang Children. By the time of their next releases, produced by Tony James of Generation X and Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Andy had grown as a singer and his approach was more instinctive and less affected. His pitching had greatly improved but the sound was only marginally better. At the end of the day Beasts turned out to be quite influential, topping the UK's independent charts and, according to the blurb, charted there longer than any other single except for Bela Lugosi's Dead or Love Will Tear Us Apart. Perhaps, like the Subs’ Live at the Roxy recordings, some innocence was lost as the band moved on.
The Ejected - 'Spirit of Rebellion' LP. 1983.
I was approached to produce the second Ejected album sometime in 1983. I had quit the Subs and was living in the east end of London. Scarf studios was a local operation so I decided to do it. I hadn't shaved or cut my hair since I left the Subs, as can be seen on the rear of the album. Also, on the back Kev Pallett can be seen playing my Natural Fender Stratocaster. The Ejected were a crazy mix of politics and influences, which seemed unlikely to work. I recall one guy was kind of right wing, another left and the lyrics were very naïve or politically incorrect. I'm not an Oi fan and reggae is not normally my cup of tea, but for whatever reason the album is very listenable. The sound is surprisingly good for a small independent studio, and engineer Nigel Palmer deserves recognition for his contributions. For this post I was quite active with arrangement ideas and, if I'm not mistaken, I played one or two guitar lines. Highlights for me are the two reggae songs, which I believe might be the only reggae I've ever produced. I had fun dubbing out Greenham Woman and Gary Sandbrook's voice is very strong on Stop Look 'N' Listen. The Ejected did a couple of covers on the album. Go Buddy Go by the Stranglers, and the U.K. Subs’ Enemy Awaits, which at the time was only recorded by the U.K. Subs for the original A.W.O.L. single, remaining unreleased until many years later. Along with the kind of post punk Public Image style Mental Case, I found these covers felt forced and the low points of the album. I recollect that Riot City had rejected the dreadful cover art submitted by Jim Brooks until he persuaded them otherwise, saying Nicky Garratt likes it. This couldn't have been further from the truth. An opportunity to redress the cover came in 1995 when Captain Oi reissued the album on CD, but alas, it is still the drawing, which looks like it was produced by a rebellious 8 year old.
Ultraman - 'Non-Existence' LP. 1990.
I produced the second album from St Louis' Ultraman at Peter Miller studios in 1990. Singer Tim Jamison had plenty of power but I felt the band could afford to expand its reach a little with its arrangements. The music on the album had multiple writers, with most of the lyrics by Jamison. One song, Messages, I co-wrote with Tim. I feel we struck a nice balance between US hardcore and a more mature sensibility. Matt Smith played a couple of nice solos over pretty solid backing tracks. The sound always remained solid, the vocals raspy but never too harsh.
The band have actually just posted a video (see below) from the recording at the infamous Peter Miller studios. The second engineer is Kevin Bertness, with whom I currently play with in Something Big, in fact this is where we first met.
Ten Bright Spikes - 'Astro Sutkas', 'Blueland' and 'Crime Map'. 1991 - 1995.
Experiment, success and failure. In 1990 I moved from New York City to Los Angeles where I re-encountered violin player Lovely Previn, whose father is the leading orchestral conductor Andre Previn. I'd been swapping musical ideas with Social Unrest Singer Jason Honea up in San Francisco which resulted in the 10” EP Vertical Brando. We built on that interesting start by firming up the line up with Lovely and I in LA and the rest in San Francisco. We made two further 10" vinyl EPs which combined with a new session at the Music Annex to make the first CD Astro Stukas. Each of the sessions for the EPs were recorded at Peter Miller Studios with Peter Engineering. Peter was the guitar player for Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers in the 60s and IS Big Boy Pete. Peter Miller Studios was a pivotal spot for independent music in San Francisco. Despite its limitations, many great artists from the Avengers to Samiam turned out some of their best work in that little cottage on Union Street. Astro Stukas got exceptional reviews but it wasn't an album with a consistent feel, rather a collection of interesting experiments. Blueland was different altogether. I had written a number of parts which were longer and more expansive musically, while Jason was drawing lyrics, albeit in his abstract manner, from a more personal place. We recorded at CD Presents whose record division, if my memory serves me, was in trouble and owed money to my New Red Archives label. I think I took part of that receivable in studio time. A number of things were in place for this recording previously absent, least of which was a line-up present for the entire album. Additionally, I'd relocated to San Francisco to work on the band. Inadequate though my piano playing is, never-the-less the album featured it more perhaps than my guitar playing. All in all, the album was again very well received, but this time held an aura throughout; still a little experimental but flushed out. Crime Map was ill-fated from the start, drummer Hans Kronkeit was replaced by drummer and multi instrumentalist Neil Staple, but scheduling troubles and abandoned sessions left a trail of half finished recordings. An early attempt produced a few finished songs, and then a final more serious attempt at finishing the album really stalled out. On this session, from about forty pieces of music I had written, only four were recorded with lyrics. Still, like the first album, Crime Map was pieced together from these songs, a few instrumentals and a number of tracks from the earlier session. It sits in my master tape cupboard unreleased. Jason is on record in a recent interview saying he considers it the best of the Ten Bright Spikes albums, but for me it sounds more dated than the earlier albums. It will probably come out as an MP3 only release.
Below: Previously unpublished (unfiltered) photos from the Crime Map sessions, 1995. Click images to enlarge