It was a pleasant surprise when Martin Gore asked for a meeting. He’d been working on some demos and bloody good they were too, all of them cover versions.
Most interesting to me were the songs he picked that were of early 80s vintage. The biggest revelation was Joe Crow’s Compulsion, a wonderful song I hadn’t previously heard. In a Manner of Speaking by Tuxedomoon was a brave choice considering the intensity of Winston Tong’s original performance. I could only stand up and applaud his choice of Smile in the Crowd by The Duritti Column. Gone was a great song by the underrated Comsat Angels. Each of these songs Martin brought something new to and made his own, of course without negating the superb originals in any way.
He also demoed three older songs: the gospel standard Motherless Child; the beautiful Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth by genius composer Ron Mael of Sparks; and Hey Bulldog, a fab four song that I personally like a lot, but it didn’t sit all that well with the others and wasn’t completed.
So we found a loft studio by the canal, just up the road from Mute, and got to work. A lot of the recording time was spent on vocals, as I believe Martin to be a unique singer and I wanted to be sure to present his full range. Instrumentally we didn’t build much on the demos, and in retrospect maybe we should have. But for better or worse, what you’re hearing on this EP is Martin Gore with his guitar and cranky BBC computer, singing his heart out.
Martin’s nifty guitar playing was a major revelation. He’d often turn away from the cranky computer, pick up his acoustic and launch into an Everly Brothers song, or even John Denver, and I’d happily join in on harmony. I managed to record one of these jams (without my harmonies), the old Billy Joe Royal classic Down In The Boondocks (written by Joe South). We thought this was great until Fletch came down for a visit and opined “sounds like bleedin’ Dave Edmunds”, so that killed that one. Somehow though it has found its way onto YouTube.
I don’t know why, but this B-side remix, the last I did for Erasure, is the one of theirs that I love the most. It certainly isn’t the most ambitious; I liked the song so much I mainly just dubbed it up and grooved it out, and as always I am firmly of the opinion that my mix kicks the original’s ass.
A funny thing happened during this session. Realizing I’d left something important at home, I flagged a cab and ran back there, to find a gang of youths in the process of burgling my apartment. The element of surprise was on my side and they all jumped out the window as I burst in (it was a ground floor flat). With no time to assess the damage I battened down the hatches and returned to the session. Coincidentally this song seems to feature the sound of a window breaking.
It had been a while since I’d done much for Mute but in the second half of ’88 Daniel rolled out some big guns for me. The first assignment was 3 tracks with Wire.
Wire…holy shit! No pressure, right? Their first 3 albums had been a huge influence in the late 70s, in particular the amazing 154. I never worked with too many “real” bands, and never with one such as Wire; four gifted individuals collaborating in a free ranging creative landscape, they were a band to the power of ten. If they were a chemical reaction they’d be one of those mad fizzing things that expand all over the place and make a weird sculpture.
Graham Lewis and Bruce Gilbert…what a pair of geniuses. A bass player and a guitar player who can create any sound that could be imagined. In 1980 I became so obsessed with their Dome and Cupol projects that I sought out their recording engineer (Eric Radcliffe) and picked his brains.
Colin Newman…I have to admit I was somewhat intimidated by Colin, not the kind of guy to “suffer fools gladly” as they say. Always a challenge for a fool such as I. On the whole I felt we got on fine though, my enormous respect must have won the day. Colin has a certain finesse as a songwriter and player that is truly unique.
Robert Gotobed…well, he’s a drummer. The tightest drummer I ever recorded. This guy could phase out the click track. I once saw him send a Linn Drum rushing out the studio to weep uncontrollably in the corridor. May have dreamed that last bit.
So we had three great songs to record: two A sides in Eardrum Buzz and In Vivo, and one of the most gorgeous B sides ever in The Offer. We also managed to throw down a quick Dome track during a lunch break. The whole recording session was a dream, all I had to do was set up the mics and sit back while this amazing creative machine did its thing.
They then left me alone to mix, which I really appreciated, especially as the new Mute Studio was having some teething problems and progress was sometimes tortuous. I really badly wanted to give Daniel Miller a hit single and went all out on Eardrum Buzz. The arrangement is as detailed as a Vermeer painting and I wanted to make every sound as clear as possible. I’m still proud of the mix I did, one of my most polished. It wasn’t a hit single though.
I did rather run out of time on In Vivo and they decided to mix that one themselves. It was OK, but Paul Kendall and Flood later did a fantastic mix that was closer to what I had envisioned.
In 1979 Step Forward Records refugee Steve Brown started his own label, Red Records. The first releases were the album Half Machine Lip Moves by Chrome, the single On The Air by The Lines and the 12″ EP Temporary Music 1 by Material. I was present at the mastering of this EP at the Townhouse in Shepherd’s Bush, London. I was mightily impressed by the maturity of sound and playing that these young New Yorkers were capable of.
Fast forward 8 years and a compilation of Material’s output was being prepared. Steve brought the Temporary Music multitrack tapes down to Guerilla and I had a chance, not to remix, but to add a little sweetening, as we say in the trade. A bit of that ol’ fairy dust.
The Renegades left Rhythm King and were beamed up to the Mute mother ship, fitted with Flood, set for stardom. I still got to do the odd session with them though, and one of the first in the new Mute Studio on Harrow Road was this fab floor filler, which did the rounds as a white label for a while before its official release on the B side of Space Gladiator. A Rico personal fave.
An earlier Rhythm King session from the end of ’87, this featured the late great Matthew Ashman of Bow Wow Wow on guitar*. An interesting mashup of influences, perhaps not altogether successful but I think you’ll agree that an entertaining video came out of it. And who can forget the immortal couplet :
It is the sound of the inner city…it ain’t The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
*The linked Bow Wow Wow clip is, in my opinion, the best music video of all time.
When I got back to London, after the long stint in France and Belgium in the first months of 1988, it was a different place.
To begin with, after 6 years Guerilla Studio had moved out of Maida Vale and into temporary digs in Hampstead, en route to a 10 year spell in Crouch End. More significantly though, there was a full blown revolution going on, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in over 10 years. I went down to Heaven in Charing Cross, just a few weeks previously a hangout for hipster funkateers. Now the scene was like some futuristic Satyricon, a nightly bacchanal. Most significantly, exclusivity was out, inclusivity was in, and the punters were lining up around the block.
And the music, of course, was amazing. I doubt anyone ever forgets their first blast of Acid House on a big sound system. That shit is so powerful you don’t even need the drugs.
Rhythm King Records weren’t releasing much Acid House but they had already scored a number one hit with the fabulous Theme From S’Express. When I got back to London I wasted no time renewing my acquaintance with label boss Martin Heath, and the first assignment he gave me was with whiz kid DJ Tim Simenon and rapper MC Merlin.
I can’t remember exactly what I did on this session, it may just have been an edit, but a couple of memories have stuck with me. Firstly, this was the first time I felt any kind of generational divide, me having reached the grand old age of 30 and my two clients being in their teens.
My son Tom (who some readers may know as Verb T), 7 at the time, was already a massive hip hop fan. So it was good to show him that daddy-o was hip to the scene.
My second memory is that this was the first time I ever used an Apple computer. I was impressed.