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.
Cloudland was the second album released by the mighty Pere Ubu during their “pop phase”; in fact this one is much poppier than the previous year’s The Tenement Year, they really went for it. The roster of producers includes Stephen Hague (Pet Shop Boys, Erasure) who did five tracks including the superb Waiting For Mary. Daniel Miller was asked to mix two tracks and he brought me in to help him.
So we set up Daniel’s jaw-dropping synth rig at Konk Studios in Muswell Hill, a studio much used for Mute sessions. Formerly a working men’s club, it had been bought and converted by The Kinks for their own use. It had the perfect mixture of homely comfort and high-tech desirability.
Daniel got a producer’s credit for Love Love Love and quite right too, this mix is full on Pere Ubu vs The Normal, with Dan’s ARP 2600 sequence running through the whole thing. The other mix we did was Why Go It Alone?, which must be one of their prettiest songs, and most definitely makes the grade as a Rico personal fave.
I’d forgotten how great this album is. I’m gonna dig it out and blast it in my car.
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 154. I 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.
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.
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.
My next Mute assignment was to mix two tracks in one night, the Erasure single Sometimes backed with Sexuality. This was Vince and Andy’s first big hit as a duo, and an important record for Mute.
What a fantastic gig, although I had to work like the devil, as an “alternative” mixer I wasn’t so much bound by the strictures of the dance floor or the need for radio play. My main job was to try to give a new spin on the track, to come up with something different. I was being paid to mess around with the multitracks of the gods.
On this occasion I had a new toy to help me out, an Akai S900 sampler, which I was still getting to know at this point. Here I mainly used it to loop and effect vocals.
As soon as you hear that undulating noise gate matrix, you know it’s a Rico joint.
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.