Well, it’s all gone a bit Zager & Evans since my last post, hasn’t it…allow me to recommend the perfect soundtrack for a journey out of darkness. Laurie’s album, which I also had a lot to do with, was first released in 2006 after a long process of completion, then in 2012 we released a remastered version. A while back we were happy to see it featured on the excellently eclectic _O_P_I_U_M_H_U_M_ blog. Update: the album is now available in WAV form on Bandcamp, click here to download!
I hope everyone is keeping well and evading la peste. My esteemed English teacher of the late 60s/early 70s, Mr Graham Wilson, recently reminded me that Boccaccio’s Decameron was written during lockdown under a plague. Let’s hope that similar works of imagination will be one of the signifiers of our age.
This album was a long time in the making, as I have previously mentioned. Laurie Mayer started demoing it in 1988 at a studio called Bedlam in Wandsworth, owned by the Thompson Twins. She was aided initially by one Rik Kenton, a man whose immortality is assured by his short tenure with Roxy Music, and the fact that he played bass on their classic debut single Virginia Plain.
We then developed it for a while in our home studio and at Guerilla in Crouch End. But other projects kept getting in the way, and it wasn’t until 1993 that William Orbit started to mix it, a mix that ended up taking a couple of years. When William landed a label deal with Warner Brothers we finally had the means to finish it and release it, along with William’s Strange Cargo: Hinterland and his first volume of classical arrangements, Pieces In A Modern Style. These albums were unavailable for a long time but Warners have now kindly made them available on YouTube.
I feel that William’s mix of this album is one of his very best, and it still sounds good to me more than 20 years later. Uniquely, there was also a live performance, which took place at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall and can be viewed here. Yes reader, that is me lurking behind Laurie, with the untenably long hair. I’m happy to say that my barber-phobia is now cured.
A fairly simple ode to the ocean blue, and one of our most pleasant songs. Oceanic effects provided by a Sequential Pro One, and Laurie Mayer’s Solina String Machine has also been put to use, as it was on the previous song.
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.
This fun frolic was one of many Crouch End jams that helped launch the short lived but influential Guerilla Records label.
Built on a rather ubiquitous drum loop (sorry ’bout that) the track also features my trusty duelling Roland MC202s, the funky guitar stylings of William Orbit and…well, maybe I should keep quiet about other source material, and simply point out that as always, the vocals of Laurie Mayer take this to a whole new realm.
I mentioned previously that Rhythm King didn’t release much Acid House, but to be fair they did release arguably the most successful UK version of the genre in the form of Baby Ford’s Oochy Coochie. Peter Ford was also a more than respectable white soul singer, as evidenced by this summer stomper, co-produced with Jeremy Healy, with Laurie Mayer, Lorita Grahame and Sonique on backing vocals, and programmer R.Salt’s Roland Jupiter 8 abundantly featured. Also check out the excellent Wiganon the B side.
Back to the spring of 1989, where we’re keeping it furiously and fabulously French with a stomping remix of the excellent Zobi La Mouche by Les Negresses Vertes. This one features Laurie Mayer on backing vocals as well as me on synth and William Orbit at the controls. If this track doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know, you’re too cool or something.
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 Baïlavideo 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.