Monday, April 15, 2013

Amazing Adventures in Time and Spaceward.

There’s been a gratifying response to my last post regarding The World Service and our adventures in The Big Music, to the extent that some folk have expressed an interest in uncovering the actual sound recordings that we made at the time. From a dusty corner of his digital archive, my good friend James Partridge has been kind enough to retrieve and host delicately preserved copies of these artefacts, wrapped carefully in old newspaper and bubble wrap, and I am pleased to be able to offer you, dear reader, the opportunity to hear these things and make your mind up regarding our merits (or otherwise) first hand.
First, a bit of background. The World Service had been in existence for a couple of years by the point we made these demos, although principally in a slightly different aggregation to that on the recording, the former line up’s career having concluded when the self same James had invited our then bass player to join his band and he, Steven ‘Kilbey’ Mears, had agreed. Singer Stephen ‘Wendell’ Constable and I split the band, reformed without telling the drummer and started looking around for suitable replacements, which led us to recruiting one Donald Hammond on bass, his brother Gibbon (later to become a pivotal bass-playing tri-corner of Songs from The Blue House) on keyboards while Gary Forbes, second cousin of Simple Minds’ bass player Derek, became our drummer. Eagle-eyed SftBH completists will have already spotted that this is the line up referred to in the lyrics of Start One of Your Own (still available for digital download 

With a rather overweening sense of ambition we then booked ourselves into Spaceward Studio in darkest Cambridgeshire for a couple of nights to do some recording. As we rolled up in a pair of cars overloaded with guitars and amplifiers the freshly-signed The Bible, featuring Boo Hewerdine, were having their gear loaded out into a considerably larger van. We nodded cheerily at him in the pub while we waited for their crew to finish vacating the premises at which he looked a tad startled and disappeared a bit further into his greatcoat. It probably would have been relevant to mention that Steve and I, in our capacity as fellow employees of Andy’s Records, had spoken to him on the phone on a hundred occasions, but we didn’t think to bring that up at the time.
Here are just a couple of vignettes from the sessions, which were perfectly curated by in-house engineer and recording producer Owen Morris. “I hate doing guitars” he remarked at one point as he nonchalantly swept a palms-width spread of extremely expensive faders up to ten so that Steve could put his coffee down on the end of the mixing desk. Posterity does not record if this is how he then introduced himself to Noel Gallagher prior to mixing Definitely Maybe.

I mentioned in my previous blog that there were shiny prizes on offer in the Rock & Pop Competition and I ended up taking one home in the shape of the ‘Best Song’ award for I’m Sorry. I don’t remember saxophone player Jane Leighton (as was) doing any more than two takes on anything and so that double tracked end solo with the third harmony and grace notes added was in all probability recorded in pretty much the time it takes to listen to it, a feat which I still find astonishing.
The End of The Rainbow is a snapshot of what was happening politically in the mid to late eighties from the viewpoint of a twenty-something singer-songwriter and one which I’m not at all embarrassed to stand behind today although as I point out to myself toward the end there, “You don’t get a medal for watching the news, reading the paper, or singing the blues”. In hindsight, Eric Clapton CBE may beg to differ.

The last song on the session – Danny Whitten’s Legacy - involved Gibbon playing the grand piano in the studio’s live room while we monitored his performance from around the corner in the gallery. After a few fluffed takes, tension was rising perceptibly as we were all well aware we were on a fixed budget in terms of both time and money. It also hadn’t worked in our favour so far that someone had pointed out that the rolling chords he was attempting to string together most closely resembled the theme from popular Sunday night vet-centric family entertainment All Creatures Great and Small. These were the days of rewinding tapes and possibly compiling a serviceable final version from a number of performances, not digitally click-and-pasting them to where they should be on the visual laser display unit, and so we were literally running out of space in which to store his work so far. As another take succumbed to the combined pressures of expectation and performance-related anxiety there was a significant pause, an intake of breath, an exhalation. Finally a voice floated ethereally through the monitors from the other side of the wall. “Don’t shoot me” he began phlegmatically. “I’m only the piano player”.

You can listen to The World Service here;
(Tracks 1-6 recorded at Spaceward by Owen Morris - the Constable Mix of "Far Away" is because Steve didn't like the effect Owen put on his acoustic guitar at the start of the song and so he (Owen) asked him if he (Steve) thought he could do any better. It had been a long night. Tracks 7-10 recorded with the Neale Foulger/Steve 'Kilbey' Mears rhythm section on Tascam 4-track at at The Portaloo, Clarkson Street, Ipswich by James Partridge). 

There is a splendid Spaceward Studios archive online from which I stole the photo of the desk above, and which includes some pictures of Owen, a story about how Iron Maiden’s first demo got wiped, a shot of Julian Cope recording Fried and a list of bands who recorded there which as well as us (“demo”) includes Stiff Little Fingers. They recorded Alternative Ulster, which I’m not sure Mr Wendell realised at the time.


nigelthebald said...

Lovely stuff, Shane - listening to the World Service as part of my post-op steroid-fuelled insomnia therapy at 5:30am here at my Dad's in Bungay.

Been meaning to ask you for ages - did your time at Andy's intersect with that of Wal Callaby, my best mate from primary school right through to Sixth Form at Woodbridge?

All the best,

Do You Do Any Wings? said...

I learned so much from Wal at The Ipswich shop. Not least to always have a pen handy, as he'd never lend you his :-) Also, some of the most erudite toilet graffiti I've enjoyed over the years.

nigelthebald said...

Yep - sounds like Wal!

Saw him a few weeks ago for a jam at our mutual friend Siobhan's on one of my last driving visits to Ipswich prior to the operation.

Love the blog, and seem to have worked out how to comment just the once by now.

*crosses fingers*

James Partridge said...

Last time I spoke to Wal was when he told me when the next train to Liverpool Street was, back in the day when if you rang Ipswich Railway Station you actually spoke to someone who was there.

He was being very precise and helpful and I also thought I recognised the voice. "Is that Wal?" I said. And it was.

nigelthebald said...

I'd forgotten about Wal's time at the station.

(And the first I knew about it was when I turned up there one day to find it was him selling me my ticket. It's a small world...but you wouldn't want to paint it*.)

*©Steven Wright

Do You Do Any Wings? said...

I saw him (shopping) in Sainsbury's late last year. Time for a quick game of "Where's Wal?", anybody?