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.

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Depeche Mode “Black Celebration (Black Tulip Mix)” 1986

I always hoped Daniel Miller would turn up at Guerilla and so it happened when he booked in to mix some live Depeche Mode tapes with producer Gareth Jones.

Like Ivo from 4AD, I knew Daniel from the old post punk trenches of the late 70s-early-80s. The Lines drummer Nick Cash also played with founding Mute Records act Fad Gadget. We got on well and Daniel entrusted some of the mixes to me, and obviously liked them well enough, because my next assignment was to do a remix of this mighty track.

By this time Depeche were massive in Europe, their big push into the US would come the following year. Their album Black Celebration was a big leap forward in production and songwriting, and the title song in particular seemed designed to propel them into the stadium-cramming entity they would soon become.

This wasn’t mixed at Guerilla, it was done at a big fancy studio in the West End of London, on the graveyard shift. Imagine some red-shirted yeoman from Scotty’s engine room having to take over control of the Starship Enterprise in the middle of the night and you might understand how I felt sitting before the 30 foot wide SSL desk with two 24-track machines chasing each other back and forth.

Luckily I’d already built up a method of remixing at Guerilla which could be applied in any situation, because it involved running the desk manually, taking numerous sections “on the fly” and snipping them together as I went along. Thus a mix would only roughly be planned, it would rely very little and often not at all on automation, and there was plenty of scope for following strange side roads spontaneously. A good example of this is the hilarious section where I “scratch” the vocal by disengaging the sync between the multitracks.

This mix was the beginning of an interesting couple of years working on Mute and related projects, of which more will be written anon.