William Orbit “The Story of Light” 1991

A trip back to the UK to sort out my visa proved fortuitous, in that I got to join in the sessions for the classic William Orbit album Strange Cargo III, then in full swing up at Crouch End.

Of course, the best known track from this album is Water From A Vine Leaf, featuring the very wonderful Beth Orton, back when she was just a slip of a girl.

I played on three songs: A Touch Of The NightTime To Get Wize and this one, featuring the classic Roland JD800 in all of its glory.

This post was fun to research due to the wonderful proliferation of amateur videos set to William’s music, and quite a few set to this song. I chose this clip but it’s worth  researching further. Kudos to all you content creators out there.

Dusty Springfield “Born This Way” 1989

I got to work with two legends on this assignment, two legends who are sadly no longer with us: Dan Hartman and the immortal Dusty Springfield.

Dan Hartman started out in the Edgar Winter Group in the early 70s, a magical time when heavy bands were also allowed to be funky, and their big hit Frankenstein is a good example. Another chart topper was the super catchy Free Ride, penned by Dan himself. In the late 70s he was big in the disco world, and coincidentally at the time of this session a sample from one of his disco hits (Love Sensation by Loleatta Holloway) was all over the dance floors once again. In the mid 80s he produced James Brown’s last hit Living In America, in fact I think he did a mix of that at the Guerilla Studio in Maida Vale; I seem to recall some excitement back in ’85 when the Godfather’s multitrack tapes turned up.

I’d been doing some mixes for Dan at the Virgin Townhouse in Shepherd’s Bush. He’d been working with an interesting outfit called The Fabulous Pop Tarts, two highly talented chaps, Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, who later became film makers and reality TV pioneers. I don’t think any of my mixes were used but Dan seemed to like me and asked if I’d be recording engineer on his next gig, which was to record some tracks with Dusty Springfield for her Reputation album.

I probably shouldn’t have taken the job, because although a nifty mixer, I am not the world’s best recording engineer, particularly on those big-assed SSL desks…but come on! Dusty Springfield! Even as a nipper back in the 60s, her voice touched my heart like no other. No other white girl, anyway. This was a job I had to do, and although ensign Rico did have a couple of close calls on planet Dusty, he got through it and all was well.

The Townhouse was buzzing at that time. Prince was gigging in London and every evening after the show he would come down to Shepherd’s Bush and jam for hours into the night. Quite something to go to the bathroom and hear The Revolution blasting down the corridor. Every studio was booked solid; Bob Clearmountain was mixing a The Who album in one of our vocal rooms.

Dusty was charm itself, her instinct and attention to detail supernatural, her voice as shiver-inducing as ever. Memories of recording her, kidding around, listening to her and Dan reminisce in the canteen…this stuff fills my head like a corny tableau, but it’s my corny tableau, and nobody can take it away from me!

E-Zee Posse “Everything Starts With An E (Sir Frederick Leighton Remix)” 1989

The advent of “rave culture” propelled Jeremy Healy into that top tier of superstar DJs, where he has remained to this day. He also had a record label called More Protein, in partnership with his old mate, the estimable Boy George. Their first release was Everything Starts With An E.

You won’t see this one listed on my Discogs resumé; it was done under the alias, given to me by Jeremy, of Sir Frederick Leighton. Truth be told, Sir Fred was a bit of a lost soul: somewhat above it all, but also an outlier; forced, despite his heightened sensibilities, to grub around with the salt of the earth to earn his crust. And yet more truth be told, Sir Fred was somewhat appalled by Everything Starts With An E. In fact he thought it was a fucking nightmare, MC Kinky’s fierce performance seeming to convey the sensation of being dragged into a parallel universe by a yellow DMT goblin of questionable intentions.

Obviously this impression informed the musical parts I added to the track. There is a pervasive atmosphere of doom, and at one point the gates of hell open up, with deep droning synths and apocalyptic choirs ushering sinful partygoers across the stygian divide.

Now here’s a funny thing. As a result of this remix I became the secret co-author of a Renegade Soundwave classic, a fact they probably aren’t even aware of themselves.

In 1990 RSW did their own mix of Everything Starts With An E. As usual their mix has the best bass line. They also used quite a few of the elements I had added to the track. Two years later they released their own Women Respond To Bass, which itself included some elements of the E-Zee Posse track, including, bang in the middle, the “gates of hell” section! Those mischievous magpies…

Pankow “Germany Is Burning” 1989

You might not expect a hard-hitting electronic band like Pankow to emerge from the historic city of Florence, Italy. As I discovered though, there are two sides to Florence. The incredible old town is practically unchanged from the days of Leonardo, but sprawling off down the valley is an industrial new town.

This genial and dedicated collective had done a lot of good work with the estimable Adrian Sherwood, and it was an honour to do some mixes for them. The enchanting environs and friendly company made this project memorably pleasant.

Les Rita Mitsouko “Tongue Dance (William Orbit and Mark Moore Remix)” 1989

The temporary Guerilla Studio digs in Hampstead soon became party house central. It was one of those charming old London town homes with wonky passageways and a blue plaque on the front to denote a former occupancy by the great and good, in this case the painter John Constable. There was always a session of some kind going on, generally William Orbit or Laurie Mayer projects, but there was also a retinue of sound designers including Simon Fisher Turner and my old pal Nigel Holland, who could regularly be found attacking pig’s heads with hammers and imbibing alarming amounts of alcohol.

What with all my travels I hadn’t done so much with William for a while. He had released the first of his excellent Strange Cargo album series and had also been going from strength to strength as a remixer. His stupendous remix of the S’Express show stopper Hey Music Lover had resulted in a partnership with Mark Moore that was to produce a lot of great work, starting with this mix for the fabulous french duo Les Rita Mitsouko.

When I was in Paris in early ’86 I saw Les Rita’s Marcia Baïla video and was absolutely blown away. Fred Chichin and Catherine Ringer had made their debut album with german legend Conny Plank and it was superb. Their follow-up with Tony Visconti didn’t disappoint. So I made sure I was lurking around the studio when William and Mark were working on this, and in particular when Fred and Catherine came to visit. That’s me on the funky Juno 106 in this slamming remix.

Renegade Soundwave “The Phantom (It’s In There)” 1988

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.

Three Wize Men “Cruising For A Bruising” 1987

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.

Bomb The Bass “Megablast Rap” 1988

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.

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.