Dusty Springfield “Born This Way” 1989

I got to work with two legends on this assignment, two legends who are sadly no longer with us: Dan Hartman and the immortal Dusty Springfield.

Dan Hartman started out in the Edgar Winter Group in the early 70s, a magical time when heavy bands were also allowed to be funky, and their big hit Frankenstein is a good example. Another chart topper was the super catchy Free Ride, penned by Dan himself. In the late 70s he was big in the disco world, and coincidentally at the time of this session a sample from one of his disco hits (Love Sensation by Loleatta Holloway) was all over the dance floors once again. In the mid 80s he produced James Brown’s last hit Living In America, in fact I think he did a mix of that at the Guerilla Studio in Maida Vale; I seem to recall some excitement back in ’85 when the Godfather’s multitrack tapes turned up.

I’d been doing some mixes for Dan at the Virgin Townhouse in Shepherd’s Bush. He’d been working with an interesting outfit called The Fabulous Pop Tarts, two highly talented chaps, Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, who later became film makers and reality TV pioneers. I don’t think any of my mixes were used but Dan seemed to like me and asked if I’d be recording engineer on his next gig, which was to record some tracks with Dusty Springfield for her Reputation album.

I probably shouldn’t have taken the job, because although a nifty mixer, I am not the world’s best recording engineer, particularly on those big-assed SSL desks…but come on! Dusty Springfield! Even as a nipper back in the 60s, her voice touched my heart like no other. No other white girl, anyway. This was a job I had to do, and although ensign Rico did have a couple of close calls on planet Dusty, he got through it and all was well.

The Townhouse was buzzing at that time. Prince was gigging in London and every evening after the show he would come down to Shepherd’s Bush and jam for hours into the night. Quite something to go to the bathroom and hear The Revolution blasting down the corridor. Every studio was booked solid; Bob Clearmountain was mixing a The Who album in one of our vocal rooms.

Dusty was charm itself, her instinct and attention to detail supernatural, her voice as shiver-inducing as ever. Memories of recording her, kidding around, listening to her and Dan reminisce in the canteen…this stuff fills my head like a corny tableau, but it’s my corny tableau, and nobody can take it away from me!

Irmin Schmidt “Musk at Dusk” 1986

’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.