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.
Torch Song and Sting did a few sessions together around 84-85, until he decided to ship out to the Caribbean and make his album there. This is the one track that was almost completed, although it lacks the middle eight added to the final version.
It was decided to include this version on the 12″, and I got to do the mix, my first major mix to be released. I can’t take too much credit for it though as William Orbit had practically mixed it onto the multitrack tape.
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.
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.
We started gigging, at first parties at such environs as North West London anarchist squat hideout Centro Iberico, where one William Orbit was residing in the lodge. We soon graduated to supporting better known bands such as Bauhaus, The Cure and Charles Shaar Murray’s excellent blues combo Blast Furnace And The Heatwaves.
A slightly awkward thing was our reluctance to play White Night, which at that time just didn’t feel like something I wanted to play, it seemed from the dim and distant past, and in any case was rather hard to pull off without Hywel’s guitar. Naturally, a lot of people who came to see us were hoping to hear us play that song.
Before long it became obvious that, with or without White Night, we needed another guitar, and so a new member was added in the form of Mick Linehan, Alternative TV refugee and general poet of sound.
We did a heck of a lot of rehearsing, and Mick fit right in immediately, as evidenced by a John Peel session in January 1980 which really shows us gaining tightness and confidence.
Then a couple of months later we checked into Alaska Studio on London’s South Bank, with Pat Collier of Vibrators fame at the controls. In one day we threw down every song we had at the time, one of which was Blisstability. Although the vocal is ropey, and the Talking Heads influence perhaps a tad too obvious, I think this illustrates quite well the heights of tightness we were able to attain by intensive rehearsal.
Of course, having attained that, we soon got bored with it.
Blisstability was re-recorded once, at our second John Peel session. “Cumbersome title” opined Mr Peel, sounding uncharacteristically irritable, not without reason I suppose.
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.
This post was fun to research due to the wonderful proliferation of amateur videos set to William’s music, and quite a few set to this song. I chose this clip but it’s worth researching further. Kudos to all you content creators out there.
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.