’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.
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.
In his very readable autobiography Wobble describes the mid 80s as his dark period when the booze took over and his music career suffered. This era ended with him being forced to take a job at Covent Garden underground station.
Well I’m here to tell you all that a lot of good work was done during this time, even as the bourbon bottles were emptied like school milk at playtime. This track is a good example, and I well remember the day Harry Beckett came in to play; as a recorder of sounds, you don’t forget the sweetest ones.
Also Wobble had Ollie Marland, a musician’s musician who could pretty much handle anything you threw at him.
I remember seeing Wobble down at Covent Garden tube, looking cool, holding court, and I knew he wouldn’t be there for long.
After a year of recording bad singer songwriters and crazed all night library music dudes, one day in 1983 I found myself in a brand new refurbished 24 track studio with Alan Rankine, Dave Formula, Jah Wobble and Winston Tong. And they were looking to me to record them.
This was the first solo effort by Tong, singer with Tuxedomoon. It was also the first time I recall that a cool record label (Les Disques Du Crepuscule) booked time in the studio.
Although I was pretty star struck and nervous this session was really a blast. The buzz of watching Wobble play and recording him to tape cannot be underestimated. Rankine was a musician for whom I had the most massive respect, based on his recent work with Billy MacKenzie in The Associates. This was an overdub session and I’m not sure what was used on the final recording, but I’m pretty sure they used the bass from this session and quite possibly the vocal too. The final release also featured Steve Morris of New Order and Simon Topping of A Certain Ratio, both from Manchester label Factory Records.
Alan Rankine and Jah Wobble would both subsequently return to Guerilla to work on their own projects.