The Time & Matter interview series...
(Engineer on Another Kind Of Blues)
(Engineer on Another Kind Of Blues)
"A timeless little gem!"
By Mark Chadderton
As well as being one of the ‘Curators’ of this ’ere Subs website, I also founded and ‘run’ the Facebook U.K. Subs Fan Club Group – which has nearly 1,900 ‘members’ at present. One of the most popular discussion board topics on the Fan Club is what is your ‘Favourite UK Subs Album?’ There are plenty of other discussions but this one, started back in November 2008, has had the most posts on it at the time of writing.
Without question, the most interesting post so far came in June 2009, when Bob Broglia left the following message: “I'd have to say Another Kind of Blues too, but then I'm a little biased as I had the pleasure of recording that album with John McCoy nearly 30 years ago. Many fond memories and a timeless little gem.”
Now here was a not-to-be-missed opportunity to contact the person who had ‘engineered’ the Subs’ first long player. Never one to pass up an opening, I immediately contacted Bob and he gladly agreed to share his further thoughts on “Another Kind Of Blues” as well as on his other work and experiences in the music biz.
I firstly asked Bob to give Time & Matter website some background detail about himself. He certainly seems proud of his roots, enthusing that “I'm 52 now and was born in Hackney, North London - so I’m a true cockney. Staying in North London, Islington to be precise, till the family moved to Streatham in South London, when I was about five. And basically I have lived in the area ever since.”
Most dedicated Subs fans will know the name of Bob Broglia, as he is credited with ‘engineering’ the Subs’ most successful singles “Stranglehold” and “Tomorrows Girls”, as well as the aforementioned “Another Kind Of Blues”, however, I thought it a good idea to ask Bob to explain exactly what the role of (sound) engineer involves for those who are unsure, like I was?
“I always considered the job of the sound engineer simply to capture the performance and to make the whole process of getting the tracks down on tape as effortless for the band as possible. Keeping a relaxed atmosphere and building up a relationship with the band and the producer - some of whom you may have never met before - is always very important. Keeping a clear head is essential, it’s always easy to get just a little too relaxed, if you get my drift, and serious mistakes can happen.”
Well, without drifting off our main subject too much, we will come back to some of Bob’s experiences later in our little chat.
Did Bob have much experience before he came to work with the U.K. Subs then?
Bob reveals not. He also elaborates on some more of his own earlier life which would lead him into the music industry: “Well, the debut album for the U.K. Subs was actually also a debut album for me in many ways. I was very fortunate to get a job at Kingsway Recorders Studios in central London after having left school in 1975 with a bunch of ‘O’ levels - but having failed all my A's.
My cousin Aldo Bocca was working at Eden Studios at the time and heard that there was a vacancy there and put me in touch with the manager, Terry Yeadon.
I remember the interview taking place in the darkened control room, with Terry and Louie Austin, the chief engineer, and Chas Watkins, the assistant engineer.
So was Bob nervous? “I probably didn’t appreciate how sought after this type of job was at the time – most people would probably give their eye-teeth for such an opportunity.” Too true, too true!
So let us know a little more about your ‘formative’ time at Kingsway Recorders?
“I recall that it was one of the first 24 track studios to open in the United Kingdom and was owned by Ian Gillan of Deep Purple. As a consequence, it did attract a lot of rock bands from both the UK and abroad. My first day’s work was actually with Steve Hackett of Genesis who was half way through his solo album “Voyage of the Acolyte”. Phil Collins was in recording some vocal tracks as well. Next in was Leo Sayer who recorded the album "Another Year" which included his hit single of the time called “Moonlighting”. An assistants’ role was certainly not a glamorous one and generally involved lots of fetching and carrying, making cups of tea, and moving microphones about.”
It certainly sounds like you were gaining valuable experience from a variety of different sorts of musicians though, it’s not everyday you hear mention of Steve Hackett, Phil Collins and Leo Sayer in quick succession!
Bob expands on just how versatile you had to be, “Yes, fortunately my musical tastes were very broad – and they had to be. We recorded everything from talking books, to radio and TV commercials, to lift music. And it was on these projects that I eventually worked my way up to become a sound engineer in my own right.”
So what eventually brought you into the sphere of the U.K. Subs Bob?
“It was through working with John McCoy (*1*), bassist with the Ian Gillan Band, that we were introduced to the U.K. Subs. Their then manager Mike Phillips (*2*) also managed Samson, who John and I had worked with on various projects. He invited us both along to see the Subs play at the Marquee Club in Wardour Street.
Punk was in its infancy and I don’t think John and I were really prepared for what we saw. It was total chaos – with Charlie Harper seeming to spend most of his time on his back in amongst the audience. But the crowd was ecstatic and when asked if we thought he should offer them a contract there was no question in our minds! (*3*)
Shortly after the Subs signed to GEM Records, a subsidiary of RCA Records on 16th May 1979, and studio time was booked for the recording of a single and album. The recording started on May 29th, less than two weeks after signing to GEM. So can you let us have some of your memories of that time recording “Another Kind Of Blues”?
“I remember the budget was fairly tight so we only had about two or three weeks to record and mix the whole album – which eventually consisted of 17 tracks.”
Bob then reveals that there were some initial reservations about capturing the Subs’ sound on record, but this soon dissipated once the session got going: “
“After the extraordinary ‘spectacle’ at the Marquee that we had witnessed, we were a little concerned as to how the band would perform in the studio to be honest. But they were very professional and seized the opportunity that was presented to them. As you know, the hard work brought dividends and the first single “Stranglehold” did very well and got them onto Top of the Pops. (*4*)
I recollect them following Pans People in the line up – and I think the radio DJ David ‘Kid’ Jensen was the presenter on the night. It was my one and only visit to the BBC studios – quite an experience.”
I then enquired of Bob, did he recall much else about the recording, does anything stick out in his mind after the passage of three decades?
“I have to say that the “Another Kind Of Blues” album really was a pleasure; the lads worked really hard and were happy to take direction from John McCoy. The biggest problem we had was trying to find a different way to end each track. Most of the songs didn’t really lend themselves to a nice gentle fade, so lots of time was actually spent rehearsing an original ending than fretting over the songs themselves.
‘Tomorrows Girls’ was probably the track we spent the most of time working on – and was the obvious follow-up single.”
Despite Bob having such fond memories of working with Mr Harper, Garratt, Slack and Davies, the recording of the album also carries a sadder association for him:
“We were half way through mixing the album when my father was taken seriously ill. Chas Watkins finished off the remaining tracks and did a fine job. Sadly my father didn’t recover and died shortly afterwards.
Does Bob have a favourite track off “Another Kind Of Blues” and why?
“Indeed, I particularly enjoy “Tomorrows Girls” - it really chugs along and is a little more restrained than the other tracks. The backing track is really tight too. It was considered to be probably the most commercial track on the album and was the natural follow up to “Stranglehold”.
Harking back to earlier in our conversation and some of Bob’s ‘experiences’ as a sound engineer, he delights in recounting the following story:
“I remember a disastrous incident with Scott Walker of the Walker Brothers, who had come to Kingsway Recorders to record the vocals on his hit single No Regrets.
I was the tape op and it was very late, and I was extremely tired. The engineer on the session left it up to me to "drop in" and "drop out" various bits of vocal that Scott wasn't happy with.
Now this is a very responsible job and I was very nervous about doing it at all. Anyway, we'd spent about 45 minutes trying to get this one line right, constantly going over the same bit of the song. Eventually we got one that he was happy with. He came into the control room to listen to it - and when it got to the line in question - I promptly erased it. I'd gone into autopilot and totally screwed up. If the ground could have opened and swallowed me up I'd have been a very happy lad.”
A scary moment indeed, and it leads me, obviously, to ask about any other amusing stories that Bob can recall, but about the Subs?
“Fortunately there were no such Scott Walkeresque disasters on the Subs album. But I do seem to recall a funny incident with Nicky and a spliff!”
Now this is very interesting as Mr Garratt has always pretty much professed a lack of interest in the usual rock ‘n’ roll fare of drink and drugs, carry on Bob…
“I remember that Nicky was always intrigued by all the paraphernalia and ‘technique’ in rolling a good spliff and would often look on in awe at John McCoy skinning one up.
One evening he asked John if he could have a go and John handed over the stuff. Nicky proceeded to build the biggest, most ridiculous looking joint you'd ever seen - and used a whole week’s worth of gear. If John wasn't so stoned he would probably have been quite annoyed.”
And so ends our first Time & Matter Interview. Many thanks to Bob Broglia for agreeing to share his thoughts on such a classic work as “Another Kind Of Blues”.
In the earlier quoted words of Bob, to have had a hand in the recording of that album would be something that the vast majority of those reading this piece would have given “their eye-teeth” to have done. He is rightly very proud of his involvement.
*1* John was a huge man with a shaved head and a goatee beard, who had a off-beat sense of humour (according to Nicky Garratt's account of the sessions - read more here)
*2* Again, from Nicky Garratt's excellent history of the Subs:
"The old marshall P.A. system was on permanent loan to another band by this time and was, besides, way too small for the venues we were now playing. So, instead we took to hiring P.A. systems from a music store in Tooting which sometimes came with a Sound man. Mike Phillips, the manager of the store, caught one of the Battersea Arts Center shows when his brother-in-law was operating the P.A. system. Shocked by the energy and huge turnout, Mike tipped off Alister Primrose who had recently started his own management company and used Phillips P.A. system for their bands ‘Trade Mark Newman’ and ‘Samson’. Primrose and Phillips attended the next show and immediately offered the Subs a management contract.
*3* The U.K. Subs signed to Ramkup on March 25th 1979.
*4* Stranglehold was to be the UK Subs biggest hit. It was released on red vinyl. It reached number 26, in the British charts in June 1979, selling 75,000 copies
Interview conducted July to October 2009