The Lines “House of Cracks” 1981

Big news from Acute Records today: the countdown to The Lines third album hull down has begun and orders are being taken. I will soon be posting more information about this project, in its chronological place of course. Meanwhile I have started a Facebook page to help handle the massive upsurge of public interest. I hope all of my readers around the world will stop by to visit and befriend. And if you haven’t already you should visit the official The Lines Facebook page, curated by the goodly Mr Cash.

Meanwhile, back in the late summer of 1981 we reconvened at Blackwing Studios to record our last single. Technically speaking, one of the main points of interest is the method used here to produce the groove. Instead of playing along to a click track as per usual, we built up a few layered bars of percussion and constructed multitrack tape loops out of them. What now can be achieved in Pro Tools with a couple of clicks was then a much more complicated affair. The cycling of a 10-foot loop of 2 inch tape requires some careful ergonomic planning and finagling of pressure on tape capstans and the like. Most engineers would flat out refuse to attempt a stunt like that, but luckily we had the crack team of Eric Radcliffe and John Fryer, who were used to such shenanigans.

The rhythm constructed for House of Cracks was a straight ahead four-on-the-floor, what was then still known as a disco beat but would soon be recast as house. The backbeat is provided by a Simmons Claptrap borrowed from Laurie Mayer. The track layered over the rhythm was a slight return to the febrile funk of 1980, but more stretched out, and with added sound design. The song layered over the track was a sort of sea shanty about a bad night in Stoke Newington circa 1978. Those who were there at the time may recall how bad that could get, although any recollection is in itself a minor miracle.

 

The Lines “The Landing/ The Gate” 1981

The Landing and its coda The Gate make up the central section of the Therapy album. I think the production here is about as widescreen as we ever got, the tale of a futuristic River Styx (yep, those Gates of Hell again) set in a cavernous mix of percussion, bowed guitar, whirling tubes and sound effects, including beloved Manor Road dog Cicek. Listening back, the blend of delays and reverbs reminds me how much I learned from the great Eric Radcliffe.

The Lines “Transit” 1981

It was a busy winter. We played more gigs during that season than at any other period. We also jettisoned most of our repertoire and wrote a new one. I became a father and was promptly evicted from my home and exiled from Stoke Newington, ending up with infant son Tom and his mother in a semi-derelict flat in Southwark. Soon after that the Brixton riots began.

A John Peel session from January 1981 catches us in transition between old set and new. One of the new songs was the appropriately titled Transit, which underwent something of a rewrite between January and its recording in April at our first session in Blackwing Studios, engineered by the estimable Eric Radcliffe and John Fryer, who were to curate most of our subsequent releases of that era.

All kinds of amazing music was being made at Blackwing by artists from the fledgling Mute and 4AD labels. One day we arrived at the studio to find Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet finishing up a song called Only You. Not the kind of thing you forget. The 4AD version of Song To The Siren sung by Liz Fraser was recorded there…gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. And I have previously mentioned my obsession with Dome, a project by Graham Lewis and Bruce Gilbert…my quest to discover their secrets led me to Eric, who schooled me in the art of the externally triggered noise gate.

Happy as we were with Blackwing, it has to be said that once again the John Peel version has a certain extra intensity. However I still feel that the rewrite is the better song. At the time, not everyone agreed with me.

 

Wire “Eardrum Buzz” 1988

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 154I 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.

This contemporary interview also includes the Eardrum Buzz video.