Believe it or not, today marks the 40th anniversary of the recording of White Night, the debut single from my band The Lines, which I have written about a couple of times. I don’t know where all that time went, and so very quickly…I just looked around, and it was gone! A lesson for my younger readers.
Here’s another significant anniversary: although I have dated this entry according to the session date, as is my custom, we have just passed the 20th anniversary of the release of Madonna’s finest and best-selling album.
Back in early 1997 I was in London, during the last days of the Crouch End version of Guerilla Studio. It was a creative time. Some excellent Blur mixes were done, later included on the compilation Bustin’ and Dronin’. Mainly though, William Orbit was trying to finish an album called Strange Cargo 5. I thought the album sounded fantastic, but Warner Brothers somehow didn’t share the enthusiasm and a release date was not set.
When William heard that Madonna was looking for songs he sent the album to her. She loved it, used pretty much all of it…and so Strange Cargo 5 became Ray of Light.
Madonna was in superb voice at the time, having recently completed the quasi-operatic Evita. I’ll never forget first hearing her singing on Substitute For Love: the blend of her vocal and William’s instrumental style was truly a match made in heaven. Never that much of a fan (apart from Holidayobviously), Madonna really impressed me with the strength and depth of emotion she brought to these tracks.
I personally didn’t have much to do with the album, apart from cheerleading William and trying to help him keep his aging equipment operational. I seem to recall doing a glockenspiel part on To Have And Not To Hold. It didn’t earn me an album credit, but I got a platinum disc, and here it is.
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 Haberdasher. Raffle 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.
It occurred to me that I should be doing more to promote my band The Lines, soon to release our first “new” album in 33 years…although the material is itself 33 years old, stitched together from archive cassettes. More of that anon.
So I decided to start a new thread within this blog, to re-examine all of our releases, in a strictly chronological order.
White Night materialized in my brain during the frigid winter of 1976-77. A severe bout of ‘flu had me bedridden and feverish to the point of hallucination. A spiral-shaped riff revolved in my throbbing cranium, with a simple 4-note motif threading through. A somewhat wafting melody, which crucially went up as the riff went down, had me realizing, as I awoke from the fever, that I had something quite good.
For a few months me and Jo Forty just played that riff round and round. Sometimes our drummer of the time, Bill Cran, would clatter along. We won some studio time in a competition thrown by Sounds music paper and recorded the first version down in Battersea. It was bad.
Then a character named Hywel Phillips moved into the building (in Highbury, North London). Hywel was rather a good guitarist, certainly by our standards. He was one of those Randy California fanatics you come across from time to time, and hell, I like a bit of Spirit myself. He started playing along to White Night and even added a guitar solo, which I was never totally sure about, it being stylistically perhaps a little backward rather than forward looking, but it undeniably worked well within the context of the song.
When Pete Harker replaced Bill on drums the song started to sound almost tight. At that point, in the spirit of the times, we decided to pool our money and sling it out ourselves. One day in February 1978 we booked a studio called Clubland out in West London that had a combination deal: 8 hours in the studio and 1,000 seven inch records for 300 quid.
And so White Night was born. We hauled that first pressing around every indie record shop in London, and in the process met lots of interesting people. The week it came out Tony Visconti was doing a “celebrity reviewer” gig in the New Musical Express. “The singer is double tracked but he sounds side tracked” he opined, astutely. He complimented the guitar solo and finished by calling it “shunky punk”.
Other reviews were less kind. Sounds called it “crib death”, rather coldly.
Despite such brickbats, this song has remained fairly popular. It has been covered a few times and also re-released, first in 1979 on Miles Copeland’s Illegal label, and most recently this year on the excellent Cherrystones compilation Critical Mass, from Belfast label Touch Sensitive.
In 1979 Step Forward Records refugee Steve Brown started his own label, Red Records. The first releases were the album Half Machine Lip Moves by Chrome, the single On The Airby The Lines and the 12″ EP Temporary Music 1 by Material. I was present at the mastering of this EP at the Townhouse in Shepherd’s Bush, London. I was mightily impressed by the maturity of sound and playing that these young New Yorkers were capable of.
Fast forward 8 years and a compilation of Material’s output was being prepared. Steve brought the Temporary Music multitrack tapes down to Guerilla and I had a chance, not to remix, but to add a little sweetening, as we say in the trade. A bit of that ol’ fairy dust.
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.
Let’s jump on a number 73 bus and take it to the end of the line…Stoke Newington, London N16.
Jowe Head, of the equally fabulous Swell Maps and TV Personalities, was an early supporter of The Lines, and when he moved down to Stoke Newington he became a good friend. He started a band called the Palookas with local brother and sister Wall of Sound merchants Paul and Trudi Holt. With guitar and Roland Juno 60, their amps on each side of the stage, these two put out a head spinning barrage of strangely melodic noise. This was underpinned by the angular bass of James “Elvis” Rowbottom and the pounding drums of Richie Rich.
I started working with them in 1984 but it took a couple of sessions to capture them on tape; well, I’m not sure we ever really did, certainly not the raw power of their live presence, but we did our best. I’m happy to say that I’m still working with Paul Holt, and betimes Jowe Head, to this day. Here I present the Palookas debut single.
In 1982 after completing the second album by my band The Lines I began engineering in a small electronic music suite called Guerilla Studio (pictured above circa 1984). The studio had been put together by my friends (and colleagues to this day) William Orbit and Laurie Mayer, who had started a band called Torch Song.
At first a modest 8-track, after the band got their record deal a bunch of high-end gear was leased and the 24-track Guerilla Studio was born. With the equipment upgrade a new class of clientele began to frequent the studio.