Françoise Hardy “Vibrations” 1988

Sometimes, when life just gets a bit much, I pull myself up and say…dude, you wrote a song with Françoise Hardy

One of the demos I’d given to Etienne Daho a couple of years previously was a song called Days of Heaven. He wasn’t feeling it for himself but when Françoise Hardy was looking for songs for her album Décalages he passed it on to her and she penned new lyrics for it. And that’s how I came to write a song with Françoise Hardy.

During the preparation of Arnold’s album I was invited to the studio in Paris where she was recording. Some readers may not be altogether astonished to hear that I made an ass of myself. I was nervous, starstruck, very probably over refreshed. Françoise, of course, was all elegance and cordiality. She handed me a Fender Stratocaster, casually mentioning that she had borrowed it from her husband Jacques Dutronc, at which point I nearly dropped the thing. Most embarrassingly, I had hardly played guitar for 2 years and was completely unable to play my own song. Luckily the unfailing Xavier “Tox” Geronimi was there, and gave me that look given by natives of Brittany to convey “I got this”.

Arnold Turboust “Let’s Go à Goa” 1988

With the dawn of the New Year it was back to Paris to prepare the first solo album of Arnold Turboust, then on to Belgium to record it.

Arnold had put together an excellent collection of songs and arranged them with the help of then sideman, the late great Jacques “8 Ball” Bally. By this time I had a large library of Akai S900 sounds to augment the percussion tracks. I’d used some of them the previous year on the solo debut of Tess, a lovely song called Les Rizières.

Brussels must be one of the most comfortable cities in Europe and I found working there very pleasant. I remember running into Alan Rankine, I think he was living and working out there at the time. The indispensable Xavier “Tox” Geronimi joined us to fill out the sound. I even played drums on the exquisite A La Frontière de Ton Beau Pays.

All in all I was happy with it. Maybe we’d have been better off mixing in London, as the one track we did there, Margarita, came out very well. But I like the Belgium mix. Right now I’m working on a sequel of sorts, Arnold’s latest solo album, and it’s sounding fab.

I could only find one track from the album on YouTube, Francine’ SongEtienne Daho wrote the lyrics to that one. I’m also including a link to an earlier remix of Arnold’s debut single Adelaide. This remix was done on the night of 26th April 1986, as Chenobyl melted down.

Test Dept. “Terra Firma” 1987

A nice surprise: the lads called me up out of the blue, flew me to Belgium, got me ratarsed on that lethal cloudy brew they have over there, then threw me in the studio to record them for a couple of days. Flew Me and Threw Me…sounds like a Robin Thicke song. Somebody get Pharrell on the phone. Lawyers on standby.

I would say this is an unusual album on the “industrial” scale of things; not as overtly political as their previous output, it delves more into the politics of personal life, the power of tradition, the power of the feminine, the incontrovertible power of bagpipes. I like it a lot.

The song Current Affairs features your loyal servant banging away on the studio grand, while the crew man the drums in laid back mode. Somewhere somebody is watching Panorama…or is it Un Homme Et Une Femme

Irmin Schmidt “Musk at Dusk” 1986

’86 and ’87 were hella busy years, and I’m going to need to backpedal a few times ere the full story be told. Let’s return to the summer of ’86, when Irmin Schmidt flew me out to Zurich to help mix his album Musk at Dusk.

Can. Was there ever a more perfect band? Supremely intelligent, endlessly grooving, infinitely spacious…for me they ticked all the boxes. All of their pre-Virgin albums are masterpieces, but my personal fave is Soon Over Babaluma, 40 minutes of effortless and timeless beauty, made by the core 4-piece of Irmin Schmidt, Holger Czukay, Jaki Liebezeit and the late great Michael Karoli. On this album Karoli takes lead vocals, except for one revelatory track, Come Sta, La Luna, which is voiced by Irmin. Imagine Albert Einstein floating in an orbiting recording studio, doing bong hits and working the mic; that’s what this amazing song sounds like.

Irmin was looking for a fresh pair of ears for the mix of his new album, and of course it was our ubiquitous mate Jah Wobble who put me onto Irmin’s wife Hildegaard, who is basically the boss of Can. So it was with enormous excitement that I journeyed down to their home in the South of France to meet up with them. I felt like a complete idiot next to Irmin but he seemed to like me well enough, and not too long after I found myself in a gorgeous studio in Zurich, marking up Jaki Liebezeit’s drum kit on the SSL with my chinagraph pencil, and slapping myself across the face periodically, lest it all turn out to be a dream.

If any Can fanatics out there have yet to check out Musk at Dusk I would urge you to do so, because all of the core members are represented on this album, and all of them together on the completely Can-like The Child in History, which unfortunately I couldn’t find on YouTube. However this track, Love, has the Dizzy Dizzy snare sound that puts my head in a different place every time I hear it.

Renegade Soundwave “Cocaine Sex” 1987

Mute Records launched a new subsidiary called Rhythm King, a label that was to make a lot of noise over the next couple of years. Their message was loud and clear: DJs are making hit records now and they’re here to stay. As a longtime Jeremy Healy collaborator I was of course down with that.

The first signing was this trio of post punk refugees, three of the funniest and most talented characters I ever worked with: Gary Asquith, Danny Briottet and Carl Bonnie. Their song Cocaine Sex really blew the cobwebs out when I first heard it and I couldn’t wait to work on it. It had already been masterfully recorded by Paul Kendall but a bass sound courtesy of the Roland Juno 106 pulled things into focus.

Jah Wobble “Tradewinds” 1986

I found another great track Wobble did at Guerilla, which gives me a good excuse to write some more about him. For I was thinking about Wobble (as you do) and I had a far distant memory of the first time I saw him, when I was but a lad of 18.

The occasion was a Sex Pistols gig at the 100 Club in May 1976, attended by me and Jo Forty, with whom I had already launched a musical project later to be called The Lines. Like about half the audience at that concert, we were checking out the new gang in town. The other half was mostly the “Bromley Contingent” resplendent in their nascent punk fashions. One man stood out though as being more stylish than the rest, he may have been just a lad himself but it was almost as if Bryan Ferry had decided to join a church youth club. I also noticed that this was the one person in the room to whom John Lydon made a point of paying respect.

I found out who he was when Public Image put out their amazing first two albums, and 10 years later here I was working on this rather excellent track, again with Ollie Marland and Harry Beckett. I suppose I’m the one who should take the blame for the jack hammer snare sound, but that’s just how we rolled in the mid 80s.

Frank Tovey “Civilian” 1987

Back to Sawmills Studio, Cornwall, this time in high summer. “Foxy” the Sawmills boatman waits at the jetty for the latest session to arrive. Knowing I’m the producer, he may well be nervous about the wellbeing of his boat. But those thoughts disappear when his cargo for the day finally turns up in a Uhaul van: not the usual Marshall stacks and instrument cases, but a massive sculpture made of  different lengths of drainpipe, like a plumber’s version of a church organ. This is duly loaded onto the boat and chugged down the river. Wish I had a picture.

The “Batphone”, as it was named, was in fact a large instrument that Frank Tovey and percussionist Mark Jeffery had built. By whacking the ends of the drainpipes with a ping-pong bat, great honking percussive pizzicatos were produced. The lengths of pipe were carefully cut to produce concert pitches. This instrument was the main producer of bass notes for Frank’s new album, all of which, except for the vocals, consisted of sounds that were generated or triggered percussively.

This album was a lot of fun to record. Sawmills in summertime was a very different place from the forbidding days of February. The tidal inlet became a much needed swimming hole. One day when the tide was out Frank covered himself in mud. Within a few minutes he disappeared and Fad Gadget (in negative) lurched into view.

On a technical level this album is notable in my memory as the first use of my first computer, an Atari ST, which I still own and sometimes use.

This work seems to have disappeared somewhat, it isn’t even mentioned in many biographies I’ve read, and I think that’s a shame. I urge you to give it a listen.

It always sucks to write a eulogy for somebody your own age but that’s what many of us had to do when Frank Tovey suddenly died at the age of 45. Frank was a very special artist, unusually humble and unaffected in everyday life, quick to laugh but with a certain steely glint that betrayed his East End origins. He was always moving forward and trying new things. I know my good mate Nick Cash misses him a lot and although I didn’t spend much time with him apart from the making of this album, I think about him often.