The Lines “hull down” 1982-3

It’s here! 33 years after recording, 11 years after the edit was done, with the excellent help of Dan Selzer at Acute Records and our friends at Carpark Records, we have finally marshaled the resources to release The Lines’ album #3. Ladies and Gentlemen, for your entertainment and delight, we present hull down. Here is the lowdown, for those who wish it.

After the completion of  Ultramarine in April of 1982 the chickens came home to roost, financially speaking. Label boss Steve Brown had managed to keep the plates spinning for a while but now they were crashing down. We no longer had our Aberdeen Road squat to rehearse in. Nick was busy with Fad Gadget. Mick went to Thailand, Jo went to Turkey.

Nothing happened for a while. In June me and Jo started the tracks Raffle and Haberdasher at his Old Street flat, and also the first Flat Feet version at the earliest incarnation of Guerilla Studio, in the anarchist squat on Harrow Road. When Mick got back from Thailand we demoed Single Engine Duster and Archway at his place. When Guerilla went 8-track and moved to Maida Vale they offered me a job as engineer, an event which brings us back to the beginning of this blog.

Having access to down time at the studio meant that these demos could now make the transition to 8-track tape, aided by the burgeoning synth arsenal of the super-evolving band Torch Song. Finally, we were in complete control of our sound.

Thus the sessions which make up hull down proceeded through the winter of ’82 and the spring and summer of ’83. We discovered the modern disease of endless choice; with no studio deadlines, we could tweak and redo and then tweak some more. Later in 1983 the studio was upgraded to 24 track and down time became more scarce. We had some good-sounding rough mixes on cassette tape but nothing was finished, and so it remained.

In 1987 there was an attempt to complete an instrumental version of the album for Miles Copeland’s No Speak label, through which William Orbit’s excellent Strange Cargo series was launched. However they weren’t very into what they heard. Material like Haberdasher was a bit too ambient and repetitive for their particular brief. So again, it wasn’t finished. A few elements of the 8-track masters were sampled, which aided in the ultimate construction of hull down.

In 2004, having completed the premastering for the Memory Span and Flood Bank compilations, I dug out the original cassettes from 1983 and flew them into Pro Tools. I made an interesting discovery: in certain cases, by blending the earliest, often improvised demo with the later, almost-finished backing track, I could find some kind of completion for ideas that had seemed hopelessly open-ended. Flat Feet, Raffle, Archway and Haberdasher contain such mixes.

Thus was The Lines’ third album finally finished. Here’s a run-down:

Flat Feet was originally demoed on the 4-track machine in Torch Song’s earliest studio on Harrow Road. What you can hear is that earliest version running concurrently with a backing track recorded in the 8-track studio. Nick’s jazzy drums really took this one to another level.

Single Engine Duster was demoed at Mick Linehan’s place in Archway but what you can hear on this one is a vocal version from late ’82 followed by a coda made from an ’83 remix, when trombone and Linn Drum were added. The trombone was sampled from the multitrack during the ’87 sessions, which allowed me to add it to the ’82 mix. Unusually, Mick is playing both bass and guitar on this track.

Nicky Boy’s Groove came from the purchase by Mr Cash, as soon as he could get it, of a Roland TB-303 Bass Line. Within minutes of unboxing he’d programmed this catchy riff. When recording it he had a play with the filter, and we all agreed that it was an odd but great sounding filter.

Zoko Am3 is a live jam, a staple of our rather rare gigs of the time. It’s actually the last of this set to be recorded, in the summer of 1983. My part is a kind of duet with a Watkins Copicat.  The harpsichord at the beginning is a remnant of some ancient 60s session already on the tape, which was recycled from a dumpster left in front of the old Advision Studios on Gosfield Street.

Where In The World is almost live, it was thrown down in an improvised manner to test out the tape machine and desk connections, and to demonstrate the fab new Roland gear, including an 808 drum machine and an SVC-350 vocoder.

Raffle is from Jo’s place on Haberdasher Street, where he had a cool setup with a Tensai rhythm machine/ recorder, an Electro Harmonics Electric Mistress flanger and a Watkins Copycat tape delay. We used this setup to do the demos for Raffle and HaberdasherRaffle was expanded in the studio with sequencers and gated rhythms.

Archway came from a demo made in the attic of some friends of Mick, who had a Hammond organ up there. The original demo is here blended with Nick’s vibraphones and percussion recorded later.

Haberdasher is the nearest thing here to a remix, as I had sampled some bass parts and Roland Juno 60 arpeggiations into my Akai during the 1987 sessions. The remixed section sits between the two earliest demos from June 2nd 1982.

 

So there it is, dearest readers. Buy it, then tell your friends and relatives, and all of theirs as well, to buy it too. Or else just listen to it and tell me what you think.

 

 

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.

 

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.