Ian Burden is best known for his tenure in THE HUMAN LEAGUE between 1981 and 1987, contributing songwriting to some of the band’s most iconic songs including the singles ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’, ‘Love Action’ and ‘Mirror Man’.
His releases since then have been sporadic to say the least, but have resulted in one solo album ‘Loot’ released in 1990 and a collaboration with another ex-League contributor Russell Dennett as DEEP DOWN CRAZY in 1995 with ‘A Swim in the Ocean’.
‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ sees Ian Burden adventurously tackling every single musical element himself; from synths, guitar, bass and drum programming through to lead vocals. The album has also given Burden a chance to dust down some of his old League-era analogue synthesizers, but also combine these with some newer Korg equipment including their Minilogue and Volca range.
‘In Those Dreams’ kicks of the album with some analogue synth sweeps before settling into a jangly guitar synth rock hybrid track; Burden’s vocals are very much in the mould of Syd Barrett and reinforces his love of all things English Prog Rock.
Continuing in this vein, the album is mixed as a continuous listening experience with each track having a bridge into the next.
‘Let The Devil Drown’ starts with a filtered sequencer part and some downswept synths and is probably the most catchy earworm track here; the “It’s Raining” vocal part soon lodges itself in your head despite the vocal being mixed a bit on the low side.
‘Stand Down’ showcases Burden’s love of dub reggae with a skanking guitar vibe and a descending piano part. ‘Hanging Around’ (not THE STRANGLERS song) and ‘Where To Start’ reinforce the concept album feel with their repeated “Hey, hey, ho…” lyrics which re-appear throughout. ‘Where To Start’ has an almost waltz feel but combined with a lush atmospheric cycling synth pad which is one of the stronger musical elements here.
Another reggae-influenced piece ‘Another Day’ starts off like a MADNESS out-take before soaring synth pads thankfully take the track into a more stripped down direction with some nice TANGERINE DREAM-style Juno textures throughout. ‘Stay in Tune’ enters with a Floydian VCS3-style synth sequence and some minimal vocals; “Stay in tune, it’s not the end…”
The album ends with ‘Thy Kingdom’ which is arguably the strongest musical track here, Burden’s characteristic bass drives the song along at full pelt with some Gilmouresque guitar gliding over the top.
The main charm (and falling down) of ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ is that exists in a total vacuum; at the album launch Burden admitted that he’s not followed contemporary music for ages and as a result the album doesn’t try to reference any musical trends from the last 30 years, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Burden must be given credit for doing a PRINCE and taking on all of the musical roles here, but with this element of control and lack of an external producer, it has exposed some failings. In the hands of the right producer, Burden’s vocals could have been showcased more, but in most tracks they are buried in the mix. This is a shame as there is an appealing world-weary Englishness to the lyrics and delivery, but this hasn’t hit its full potential here.
There are some nice synth textures throughout, the musicianship is uniformly excellent and much fun can be had in searching out the almost subliminal touches of THE HUMAN LEAGUE. All in all, a brave album, maybe not what you would expect, but certainly worth a listen and investigating if you like a bit of Progressive Rock with electronic textures.
With thanks to Matt Reynolds at Savage Gringo
‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ is released by Rutland Artspace Limited in continuous and tracked CD formats as well as a download
Behind every classic album there is always a diverse set of characters and talents that contribute to its success and there is often a synchronicity involved when the so-called “planets align” and amazing things transpire against all odds.
On paper, certain albums just shouldn’t work and THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ is certainly one of those instances.
Without IAN BURDEN, it certainly wouldn’t have sounded the same due to his synth work and pivotal songwriting involvement on ‘The Sound Of The Crowd, ‘Love Action’ and ‘Do Or Die’.
During the imperial phase of THE HUMAN LEAGUE, Burden was to also have a share in the writing of ‘Mirror Man’, ‘I Love You Too Much’ and the amusingly titled ‘Don’t You Know I Want You’!
Ian has now dipped his toe back into the music industry with the forthcoming release of his new solo album ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ and he took time out to kindly speak to The Electricity Club about his early influences, his time in THE HUMAN LEAGUE and the gestation of his new release.
What first piqued your interest in electronic music?
The very first episode of ‘Doctor Who’, not long after my family got our first TV receiver in 1963.
As well as being musical, you are also into the visual arts and your Pledge Music page has some paintings which are available, how did this come about?
I was always drawing and painting throughout childhood. And also building things with Lego bricks. When I got into music as a teenager I was always intrigued by the artwork on album packaging. I later went to art school, and also studied art history at degree level. It’s a lifelong interest.
You played everything on ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’, how were the songs developed and put together?
Mostly by improvising with the piano or acoustic guitar, and singing along and scribbling words on a notepad. Two songs came from rhythmical ideas and some analogue-synth ‘jamming’, with chords and words being added later.
What were the advantages and disadvantages of working completely solo on this album?
I didn’t need to debate or argue with anyone. And I didn’t have to fit in with anyone else’s template. But sometimes, I had to overcome a lack of self-confidence.
How liberating are the advances in technology now and the fact that albums can realistically be recorded at home without the expense of a major studio?
It’s totally excellent! The same applies to all forms of art. Nobody should be excluded from creativity because of financial limits. And now creative people have greater opportunity to been seen and heard, and to expose their work to a very wide audience. Money is no longer a filter. I make my videos with software bundled into the cost of my hardware. I use expensive music software, but could also make something with free apps.
‘Let The Devil Drown’ with its combination of guitars and synths sounds like a combination of TALK TALK and PINK FLOYD, which musicians had the most influence on you as a musician?
DAVID BOWIE, PINK FLOYD, KRAFTWERK, TANGERINE DREAM were things I latched onto as a teenager. I subsequently became appreciative of much more, of course.
‘Thy Kingdom’ is another superb track, what’s that one all about?
We all live on the same planet. We have the ability to move towards unity. Contemporary politicians continue to apply the medieval concept of divide-and-conquer. The song is a simple exhortation to ignore them, to get to one’s own true feelings and come together honestly. I don’t personally know anyone who thinks otherwise, so I’m just adding my voice to it.
The drums on the album have a combined live / electronic feel to them, were they recorded on a MIDI kit or were they programmed?
They’re programmed, but were constantly revised as the song arrangements developed. I programmed some elements of feel.
To The Electricity Club, your vocals appear to recall those of DALEK I on their 1980 ‘Compass Kumpas’, any thoughts?
I think there’s an Englishness with DALEK I that I can identify with, along with a sense of reserve. There’s no attempt to emulate American roots or to be ebullient, as per Mick Jagger for example.
The album works extremely well because all of the tracks blend together seamlessly in a suite, how much of a challenge was this to accomplish? Would you ever consider touring it?
It wasn’t a challenge because I worked it that way from the outset. I just had to find ways of connecting between songs in different key signatures and different time signatures. Playing it live would mean recruiting a lot of musicians, but not impossible. MIKE OLDFIELD managed it with ‘Tubular Bells’, but for only two shows. Who knows? Anything is possible!
You dusted down some of your old analogue synths for ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’, what kind of condition were they in and do you have a favourite?
They just worked, mostly! I got them plumbed into a MIDI loop and discovered a few problems here and there. I know an electronics engineer who was able to service them. They all have their characteristics, and therefore serve different uses.
In the video promo which accompanied your live album launch there was a Korg Volca and a Minilogue synth, what was it that attracted to you about these newer generation devices?
The newer analogue pieces which Korg have developed use the same filter design as the Korg 770, which I used a lot on THE HUMAN LEAGUE songs – and that was a favourite.
You joined THE HUMAN LEAGUE initially to help complete a contractually arranged tour, how was this experience being on the road in a new untested live act?
I was focused on programming synths between songs, and remembering all the keyboard parts. I also had to start / stop a Revox tape machine that carried the rhythm / percussion track.
Most of the shows were in Germany and the Netherlands, so it was a revisit to my childhood territory. Very nostalgic for me. I hadn’t any thoughts about where it was all leading, if anywhere.
In your website biography, you make the observation: “On paper it didn’t make much sense: two guitarists in a synthesizer band; two schoolgirls with no musical experience; a baritone lead-vocalist; and a producer with a reputation for recording ‘punk’ bands.” This was hardly a blueprint for success, were you surprised when ‘Dare’ started to take off?
Everyone involved was surprised. We all liked what we’d done, but had no idea it would become so widely enjoyed.
‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ (which you co-wrote with Philip) is one of The Electricity Club’s all-time favourite synth tracks, what was its genesis?
Philip Oakey had programmed a very strange rhythm on the Roland System 100. I played some riffs on the Korg 770 and he seemed enthusiastic, so we recorded them. I took away a rough mix and listened again, and got some vocal ideas.
You actually wrote some of the lyrics to ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’, what was on your mind at the time?
I didn’t want to explain the vocal ideas by singing “la la la” etc, so I jotted down some stream-of-consciousness words to demonstrate the ideas to Philip. He surprisingly kept the verse words, and then wrote alternative words for the chorus sections. I hadn’t intended to write lyrics for actual use.
‘Do Or Die’ sounds essentially like a dub reggae track recreated electronically, can you tell The Electricity Club about how this track came to fruition?
Our demo recording of ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ led to Virgin Records being enthusiastic about it as a single release. Vinyl formatting meant we had to have a ‘B-side’ to go on the reverse. I suggested to Philip and Adrian that we deconstruct the song and rework it as an instrumental, as per dub reggae.
Philip was unresponsive, and Adrian just said that he “hated reggae”. But by the time we’d recorded it with Martin Rushent, the idea of a dub version had become the strategy, somehow. ‘Do Or Die’ was put together after we’d already done some dub remixes. Then other songs got the same treatment, and all the dub remix versions were compiled into the ‘Love & Dancing’ album.
‘Love & Dancing’ is now rightly acknowledged as a classic ‘ahead of its time’ remix style album, how involved were you and the rest of the band or was it very much Martin Rushent’s baby?
I was certainly there enjoying the process and being asked to assist with Dave Allen according to Martin Rushent’s directions. My memory is of the mixing console and all the outboard equipment etc etc. Martin was having immense fun with it, and it was a joy to be asked to push a few buttons here and there. Mostly we just watched him get on with it.
How disappointed were you when the partnership with Martin Rushent dissolved while recording the ‘Dare’ follow-up?
Totally! I thought it was all going extremely well with the next album. Even better, to my mind. We’d had another two hit singles, and were advancing boldly into the emerging technology. I took a very rare break from the studio (to buy AA batteries and toothpaste), then returned to our hotel and discovered all the other members of the band sitting in the bar, decamped from the studio. I was informed that we “were no longer working with Martin”. I don’t know what happened.
It is well documented now that the ‘Crash’ sessions weren’t a happy time for you, in hindsight could you see this happening or was it a surprise when it became apparent that this was to all intents and purposes going to be a Jam & Lewis album?
I’ve a box of cassette tapes containing song ideas dating from that time, with ideas from Philip and myself, Adrian and Jim Russell. I listened to them a few years ago. I’m not sure why those ideas were abandoned, or why there was a sense that we needed other writers.
My favourite song on the ‘Crash’ album is ‘Love On The Run’ which was written by League members. I was singing some bits on a track called ‘I Need Your Loving’ and realised that I had no empathy with it. It was certainly a Jimmy Jam / Terry Lewis album, fronted by Philip’s voice. They also added a girl session singer.
So what actually happened during the first ‘Crash’ sessions before that in 1985 with Colin Thurston, were the results really that unworthy of release?
Colin Thurston couldn’t fully adjudicate and keep the momentum. Maybe we were being difficult? I recall an absence of genuine enthusiasm amongst the band, but Colin certainly tried his best with us. I don’t think he was to blame.
Did you gain any satisfaction yourself when ‘Human’ hit the top spot in the US?
I sensed that the band had become a trademark fronted by Philip, Joanne and Susan. I was very happy for them having a number one hit in the USA. I wriggled easily out of being in the video. I maintained my obligations and toured with them, enjoying playing after doing nothing much on ‘Crash’.
Unfortunately there are very few live clips remaining from your tenure in the band, however the one of THE HUMAN LEAGUE on The Tube in 1986 is an interesting one. Is it true that Philip threw a strop right before going on stage?
That line-up was strong in the theatres, but seemed to weaken on The Tube. I recall some contention about being invited to headline the show, but then being supplanted by Alison Moyet. Maybe the performance suffered from that? I’m not sure. But I recall a negative vibe floating around, within a failed attempt to revise the running order of the show.
What is the best memory of being part of THE HUMAN LEAGUE for you?
Recording ‘Dare’ and the various forms of humour that infused the atmosphere in the studio.
On your Pledge Music website it states that you have already started a follow-up album, what can we expect from that?
I’m curious about that myself! Obviously there’s more songs which I’ve been writing, and my approach is much the same. I’ll find out when I get back to it.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to IAN BURDEN
Additional thanks to Matt Reynolds at Savage Gringo
‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ is released on 18th May 2018 by Rutland Artspace Limited in continuous and tracked CD formats as well as a download
For the launch of his first solo album ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’, Ian Burden held a Q&A in the centre of London to chat about his past, present and future.
A member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE during their imperial pop years between 1981-1986, Burden was joined by his former colleague Jo Callis to answer questions put to them by music journalist David Sinclair from The Times.
To begin the evening, there was a playback of ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ accompanied by some specially filmed psychedelic visuals as part of Burden’s ongoing interest for music and fine arts to engage with each other. A seamless of collection of ten songs written, played, programmed, produced and mixed by Burden himself, the album reflects his love of prog and PINK FLOYD in particular, something which perhaps was not so apparent while he was in THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
Talking about his thirty year absence from the music business living out in the English countryside, Burden mentioned how he only got a Spotify account a few weeks before and that the album began when he rescued some vintage synthesizers from his attic. “I thought somebody might have some sort of use for them” he said, “so I thought I’d better check out whether they worked. They were mostly modular synths so you have connect a keyboard and route them through some software, so I just started writing up some parts”.
These riffs and chord sequences developed into an album. ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ also features Burden on lead vocals; “I had to get the ideas down” the bassist told everyone, “no-one has come along and said it’s terrible…YET!”
With a cosmopolitan background having been born in Cyprus and spending a part of his childhood in West Germany, Burden became fascinated with the piano at school in Cambridge before listening to DAVID BOWIE, CAN and PINK FLOYD; the latter’s extraordinary sound template on the ‘Meddle’ album was to become a favourite but he could identify a thread running through his tastes. “If PINK FLOYD was prog rock” he declared, “then I would have said Bowie was as well!”
Asked about more recent influences, for Burden there was none: “I haven’t listened to a lot of music, I kind of switched off a bit during the 1990s, I wasn’t hearing stuff that interested me apart from MASSIVE ATTACK and THE PRODIGY”.
Naturally, THE HUMAN LEAGUE became the next topic of discussion; Ian Burden and Jo Callis between them co-wrote some of the band’s biggest hits including ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’, ‘Love Action’, ‘Open Your Heart’ and ‘Don’t You Want Me?’, but they rarely wrote together except on ‘Mirror Man’… or did they?
“No, Jo put the music together” clarified Burden, “he kept playing these chords in soundcheck”
The song even had a different title then, ‘I Can’t Get To Sleep At Night’, “but that was just to get some lyrics on it as we did it live before recording it” added Callis, “everyone would come up with bits of ideas and someone else would have another part to add to it. You’d have a bit of music and Phil would have some words that fitted, it happened quite organically like that… it was competing and collaborating for the good of the whole… Phil did a song called ‘You Remind Me Of Gold’ which he wrote and programmed up, I thought it was one of the best ever songs by THE HUMAN LEAGUE, absolutely brilliant!”
On the ‘Dare’ album favourite ‘Seconds’, Callis remembered “it actually came out of a synthesizer jam!” but with regards leaving THE REZILLOS to join THE HUMAN LEAGUE, it was a case of “leaving one set of mad bastards for another! I just fancied a change from playing the guitar…”
With a vocals and synthesizers only policy, THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ was to become of a classic album loved by pop fans and electronic enthusiasts alike. “The policy existed already from when Martyn Ware and Ian Marsh were in the original band” recalled Burden, although for the corresponding tour, Roland supplied one of the first bass guitar synths for him to use; “I had to keep resetting everything in between songs and in those days, you couldn’t store any sounds, so Roland gave me this analogue synthesizer controlled by a guitar instead of a keyboard which had foot switches on it, so you could quickly change from one sound to another”.
“Phil Oakey had a vision” said Callis, “but it was good to push at those goal posts as me and Ian were the only players in the band if you like, so we came at things from a slightly different angle”.
“It was interesting to have real restrictions because it doesn’t make sense on paper”, Burden added although the irony was “you’re a synthesizer band and you need help, so you get two guitarists! But what I learnt from Philip and Adrian Wright was because they hadn’t spent years learning to play an instrument, they would play with one finger and that meant they came up with things that I never have thought of…”
Central to the success of ‘Dare’ was producer Martin Rushent; “he understood what sort of sound it was any of us were trying to achieve and improve upon it” Burden recollected, “He really disciplined me and Jo with our playing because the rhythms were generated by computers, so you had to be much more accurate”.
Of ‘Hysteria’, the ploddy follow-up to ‘Dare’, Callis concluded “because ‘Dare’ was such an unexpected success, there was all that pressure to follow and that put a lot of stress on people. I just got really frustrated with how long it was taking, the changing of producers and the lack of direction. It needed a kind of boldness”.
In response, Burden considered the departure of Martin Rushent during the earlier part of the sessions was the main contributory factor: “It didn’t flow… Martin kept the momentum going because he managed the recording sessions and if something sparked a bit of debate, he would put that song away and get out one of the others”.
‘Louise’, one of the few highlights from ‘Hysteria’, proved to be troublesome with six sounds being considered for Callis’ chord parts; “so when you got six people with an opinion on which one is best…” pointed out Burden, “the producers Hugh Pagham and Chris Thomas didn’t know how to deal with us”.
“We started out with Martin before everyone kind of fell out” confirmed Callis, “with the benefit of hindsight, we’d put out the two singles and had an export mini-album called ‘Fascination!’ with six tunes on it including ‘I Love You Too Much’ all produced by Martin. If only we could have kept it all together and done another three or four songs, it would have done a lot better than ‘Hysteria’ because it had two hits on it anyway and come out with a year of ‘Dare’ rather than three! The longer you leave it when you’re on gaps between albums, the better people think it’s going to be, they have great expectations of it, but what you don’t realise is you’ve disappeared up your own ar*e!”
Things indeed had been promising with Burden sampling two bars of himself playing bass guitar for ‘(Keep Feeling) Fascination’, although Rushent left the recording before the song could be mixed.
Callis departed THE HUMAN LEAGUE after the lukewarm reaction to ‘Hysteria’, but Burden remained for ‘Crash’. After sessions with Colin Thurston were aborted, the band were despatched by Virgin Records to Minneapolis to record the album with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
It’s a period that Burden does not have good memories of: “I spent a lot of time playing table tennis, I didn’t play anything although I did bits of vocals…it wasn’t for me. There was a point when I went up to the microphone with my headphones on for a song called ‘I Need Your Loving’ and I just thought ‘why am I singing on this?’…this is no disrespect to Jam and Lewis but it was their record and they let you know that! Although when we went out on tour, I was enjoying being on stage for the first time ever because I was actually doing something…”
After a bit of tech talk to reveal that their favourite synths were the Korg 770 and Roland Jupiter 4 respectively, Ian Burden and Jo Callis chatted informally with fans before leaving to catch up on old times over a drink with Dave Allen, the assistant to Martin Rushent on ‘Dare’ who went on to produce THE CURE’s best albums. It had been a fascinating evening with many fabulous stories.
And with ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ getting unleashed to the public, Ian Burden will no doubt be asked to tell a few more.
Special thanks to Matt Reynolds at Savage Gringo PR
Although he became a noted producer during the height of punk, it was with THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ that Martin Rushent’s reputation as an electronic music pioneer was forged.
Rushent had cut his teeth as an engineer for acts as varied as SHIRLEY BASSEY and T-REX, working under the wing of their respective producers Johnny Harris and Tony Visconti.
His first major production was for CURVED AIR on their ‘Air Cut’ album; it featured Jim Russell on drums who became later became one of Rushent’s engineers and joined THE HUMAN LEAGUE for their ‘Crash’ tour.
He then secured a lucrative role working for United Artists, the company famously founded by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks Junior, Mary Pickford and DW Griffith, as an in-house producer with A&R responsibilities.
It was in this position that he found major success working with THE STRANGLERS and BUZZCOCKS. Meanwhile his freelance clause allowed him to also produce bands like GENERATION X, 999 and THE REZILLOS whose guitarist Jo Callis was later to join THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
It was in 1978 at the height of his punk success that Radar Records, an offshoot of Warners who had Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe on their roster, offered Rushent an opportunity to start his own label and production company. Radar had been founded by the team that had hired Rushent for United Artists and the offer included funding to build what was to become his Genetic Sound Studios complex at his home in Reading.
With his new office based above The Blitz Club and a desire to move away from guitar bands, Rushent became fascinated by the New Romantic movement and its electronic soundtrack provided by their resident DJ Rusty Egan. Egan had started a project with Midge Ure named VISAGE fronted by the now sadly departed Steve Strange. Their demos had been offered to EMI but were turned down…
“Martin Rushent turned punk into pop with THE STRANGLERS and BUZZCOCKS and was the hottest punk producer in 1977-78”Rusty Egan told The Electricity Club, “He had no idea about synths, he was a rock producer but knew ULTRAVOX, MAGAZINE and RICH KIDS were disbanded. But his musical hunch was ‘they must come up with something’”.
Sensing that something was in the air, Rushent invited VISAGE to use his studio to see what they came up with. These sessions, which also featured ULTRAVOX’s Billy Currie plus MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula, the late John McGeoch and Barry Adamson, intrigued Rushent.
“We came with our equipment and no drum kit” recalled Egan about that visit to Genetic Sound Studios which was still being built, “I had the CR78 and the Simmons SDS3 prototype which Richard Burgess gave us; Midge had a Yamaha CS50, Billy had an RMI Electra Piano, Elka Rhapsody 610 and the ARP Odyssey while Dave brought his Yamaha CP30, ARP Odyssey and Yamaha string machine. We ran sequenced drums and layered, we had SMPTE timecode as MIDI did not come in for years, so we triggered and I hit drum pads and we created the sounds… Martin had never seen this type of recording”.
Despite the promising material coming from VISAGE, Warners pulled the plug on Radar and immediate plans for Genetic Records became stillborn. In hindsight, this move was extremely short sighted on Warners part as it was rumoured Rushent had been in discussions with JOY DIVISION, ULTRAVOX and SPANDAU BALLET.
Despite this set back, this experience helped Rushent realise that music production moving towards being more computer-driven, so he bought a Roland MC8 Micro-composer along with a Roland System 700 and Jupiter 4.
A strong advocate of clarity in instrument voicing and as a former drummer, how drum sounds were achieved, the availability of the Linn LM1 Drum Computer in 1981 was the final piece in the jigsaw and the set-up helped Rushent realise his vision. The rest as they say, is history and THE HUMAN LEAGUE scored a No1 with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ on both sides of the Atlantic…
Rushent won the 1982 Brit Award for best producer and went on to produce THE GO-GO’S third album ‘Talk Show’ released in 1984. However, while recording the follow-up to ‘Dare’, a breakdown in his personal life, coupled to deteriorating relations with THE HUMAN LEAGUE led to Rushent leaving the sessions and walking out of his own studio!
Following his divorce, Rushent was forced to sell Genetic Sound Studios to avoid bankruptcy. Despite reducing his workload to more occasional studio recordings with ASSOCIATES, HARD CORPS, THEN JERICO and TWO PEOPLE, Rushent was suffering from depression; realising his heart was no longer in music, he effectively retired from the industry.
Taking time out to raise his family as a single parent, he eventually made a steady return to full album productions with HAZEL O’CONNOR in 2005 and THE PIPETTES in 2010. Buoyed by the huge developments in computer technology, he even presented his own DISCO UNLIMITED project with a track called ‘Itchy Hips’ inspired by his daughter Amy, as well as working with his son James’ band DOES IT OFFEND YOU, YEAH? But just as momentum was returning to his music career, Rushent sadly passed away in June 2011, aged 62.
Remembering working with Martin Rushent, Clive Pierce of HARD CORPS said to The Electricity Club: “Personally I felt overwhelmed when in the studio with him as it did feel at times that your precious baby was being bounced around in a manner you would never dream of doing yourself. His deft production work magnified what we were attempting to do ourselves and that’s exactly what great producers do”.
THE PIPETTES’ Ani Saunders who now makes music as ANI GLASS added: “One of the greatest lessons I learnt from Martin was to only spend your time working on music you believe in and not to be afraid to change / amend / cut parts or songs if they’re not good enough. Of course the production and engineering skills I gained working with him were invaluable but I also learnt about how to create the right atmosphere for and during recording, something which I think is often overlooked. When I’m writing pop songs I always ask myself ‘what would Martin do?’ – it helps to keep me in check”.
Focussing primarily on his work with synthesizers and technology, The Electricity Club looks back at the post-punk career of Martin Rushent. With a limit of one track per album project and presented in chronological order, here is a Beginner’s Guide to the late, great man…
THE STRANGLERS Nice N Sleazy (1978)
Making his fortune producing the key tracks of THE STRANGLERS’ career such as ‘(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)’, ‘Peaches’ and ‘No More Heroes’, the mutant punk reggae of ‘Nice N Sleazy’ saw a diversion into synthesizers with Dave Greenfield’s spacey blast of swirling Minimoog during the instrumental break. At their Battersea Park in September 1978, the band typically courted controversy when they were accompanied by strippers for the song’s visual embellishment!
Recorded in March 1979, JOY DIVISION spent a day at Eden Studios in London with Martin Rushent, recording a 5 track demo with the view to signing to his Genetic Records label. But afterwards, the band headed to Strawberry Studios in Manchester to record their debut album ’Unknown Pleasures’ with Martin Hannett for Factory Records. However, Rushent always reckoned his version of ‘Ice Age’ was better than the speedier version which ended up on the posthumous ‘Still’ collection in 1981.
Available on the JOY DIVISION boxed set ‘Heart & Soul’ via Rhino Records
At Genetic Sound Studios, VISAGE started recording an album. Rusty Egan recalled: “we agreed to use the studio for a weekend with Martin engineering”; the first track from those sessions was ‘Tar’, a cautionary tale about the dangers of smoking. After numerous contractual issues, it was finally released as a single on Genetic Records but within days, Warners closed down his funding source at Radar Records. But encouraged by all the synthesizer technology being used in his studio, Rushent saw the future.
Available on VISAGE album ‘Visage’ via Polydor Records
Released on the relaunched Genetic Records via Island Records, ‘Homosapien’ came about after sessions were aborted for BUZZCOCKS fourth album. Rushent suggested to frontman Shelley that the two of them should work on new material using the Roland MC8 Micro-composer and System 700. Now seen as Shelley’s coming out song, a cacophony of synths and 12 string guitar combined for a wonderful futuristic snarl. However, the lyric “Homo Superior in my interior” got it a BBC Radio1 ban.
Available on the PETE SHELLEY album ‘Homosapien’ via Active Distribution Ltd
When presented with the demo of ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’, Rushent’s response was “Well, that’s going in the bin”. Phil Oakey objected but the producer snarled back: “You came to me, so I assume that’s because you want hits?”… triggering bursts of System 700 white noise from the Micro-composer for the rhythm track, the combination of obscure lyrics from Ian Burden like “Stroke a pocket with a print of a laughing sound” and a screaming chant gave THE HUMAN LEAGUE their breakthrough hit.
While Steve Severin from SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES produced the majority of the ‘Happy Birthday’, the job of turning the title track into the Glaswegian quintet’s breakthrough hit fell to Rushent. Tight ‘n’ bright thanks to his modern production techniques and Glare Grogan’s helium fuelled cutesy vocals and nursery rhyme lyrics, ALTERED IMAGES were denied the No1 spot for 3 weeks by Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s synth cover of ‘It’s My Party’ and then later, THE POLICE.
Combining the precision of the latest programmed technology with live instrumentation, ‘I Could Be Happy’ was close to perfection as one of Rushent’s best productions. Despite being shrouded in melancholy, it was catchy and danceable enough to be a UK Top 10 hit. Rushent produced the parent album ‘Pinky Blue’ but it was given a lukewarm reception by the music press, ultimately causing the original line-up of ALTERED IMAGES to implode.
Featuring Ross Middleton and Gary Barnacle with production by Rushent, ‘Love Cascade’ was the missing link between PETE SHELLEY and THE HUMAN LEAGUE. The vocals were virtually unintelligible as the clattering Linn Drum, pulsing synths, squawky guitar and sax merged together for a cool dancefloor friendly tune full of the decadent spirit of the times. Rushent produced the duo’s three other singles, while Barnacle went on to become one of the world’s most in-demand session saxophonists.
12 inch version available on the album ‘Retro: Active 5’ (V/A) via Hi-Bias Records Canada
“The most creative experience I’ve ever had in my life” was how Rushent described the making of ‘Love & Dancing’, an album of tracks from ‘Dare’ specially remixed and re-edited by the producer. Pre-sampling, the material was remixed from the mixing board using a multitude of effects with vocal stutters created by cutting up small portions of tape and splicing them together with the aid of his custom-made ruler. The percussive dub laden barrage of ‘Do Or Die’ was one of the highlights.
Available on THE LEAGUE UNLIMITED ORCHESTRA album ‘Love & Dancing’ via Virgin Records
Tensions were running high with creative differences during the recording sessions for THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s follow-up to ‘Dare’, with Rushent losing enthusiasm for the album project due to conflicts in the studio with Phil Oakey and in particular, Susanne Sulley. The weirdly catchy ‘Fascination’ was the last track to be recorded with Rushent, but he departed before it was mixed, despite Jo Callis’ attempts to mediate. The eventual ‘Hysteria’ album was lukewarm, audibly missing Rushent’s touch.
With Shelley and Rushent developing on ‘Homosapien’ with a more fierce sound, ‘Telephone Operator’ could be seen as an extension lyrically to the themes of its predecessor. The original parent album ‘XL-1’ had a novel bonus track in a computer program for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum which printed lyrics in time with the music and displayed graphics, there was a locking groove before the code so that its bleeps and squeaks could not be played accidentally.
Available on PETE SHELLEY album ‘XL-1’ by Active Distribution Ltd
When endorsing Korg’s PSS-50 Programmable Super Section for a magazine advert, Rushent was enthusing about a record which “apart from voice” was “all written and performed on one synth” – that album was HAZEL O’CONNOR’s ‘Smile’. From it, the moody single ‘Don’t Touch Me’ was very art school Weimar Cabaret with some very passionate vocals from O’Connor, constructed around a Synclavier with its distinct period bass and brass sounds.
Available on HAZEL O’CONNOR album ‘Smile’ via Cherry Red
Rushent worked with Billy Mackenzie on five tracks for ‘Perhaps’, the much anticipated recorded return of ASSOCIATES. ‘Waiting For The Love Boat’ was one of those songs, but the recording which stood out from the sessions was the epic string laden drama of ’Breakfast’. It is possibly Mackenzie’s greatest single moment, the melancholic piano motif setting the scene for an entire film noir in five minutes with its widescreen dramatics and mournful tension.
Clive Pierce told The Electricity Club: “HARD CORPS, having traditionally self-produced tracks at our resident studio in Brixton relished the prospect of working with Martin on ‘Je Suis Passée’ having been admirers of his work on ‘Love & Dancing’. It was difficult but never the less a total education. That’s the trouble being so close to something it’s difficult to let go. In retrospect I now listen to ’Je Suis Passée’ in awe of what he achieved for the track. The baby was fine”.
Pop rockers THEN JERICO were fronted by the handsome if volatile Mark Shaw; their debut single ‘The Big Sweep’ was recorded with Rushent and some help from his new Synclavier. However, due to the track’s anti-tabloid lyrical subject matter, the band’s label London Records initially declined to release the track. So it was self-released as a 1000 limited edition, although the track eventually resurfaced in its club mix on the 12 inch of ‘Muscle Deep’ in 1987.
Available on the THEN JERICO album ‘The Best Of’ via London Records
Jo Callis told The Electricity Club: “With ‘Heart Like A Wheel’, when The League came to thinking about the follow up to ‘Crash’ (which would become ‘Romantic?’), I thought there might be a good opportunity to try and get ‘the old team’ back together again, which I did manage to achieve for a couple of tunes at least”. With Rushent at the helm again, the result was a tune that recalled the classic pop era of THE HUMAN LEAGUE more than either of the two 1986 singles ‘Human’ or ‘I Need Your Loving’ had done.
GRAFTON PRIMARY Relativity – Martin Rushent remix (2008)
Australian electro-noir duo GRAFTON PRIMARY balanced in the divide between art and science on their debut single ‘Relativity’. Benjamin and Joshua Garden utilised sharp synthpop hooks and solid basslines in a classic Synth Britannia vein not dissimilar to THE HUMAN LEAGUE, which naturally made the Garden brothers perfect for a remix by Martin Rushent.
Available on GRAFTON PRIMARY single ‘Relativity’ via Resolution Music
THE PIPETTES Our Love Was Saved By Spacemen (2010)
From Rushent’s final album production, ‘Our Love Was Saved By Spacemen’ was a celestial Latin flavoured pop tune by the MkII variant of THE PIPETTES, fronted by sisters Gwenno and Ani Saunders. The partnership was to prove inspirational with Gwenno’s next solo long player ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ being one of the best albums of 2014, while Ani recently tweeted a photo of project notes from recording with Rushent as she prepared to record her first solo album.
ZEUS B HELD is the veteran German producer and remixer who has been a key presence in the development of electronic pop music.
Making his name as a keyboard player in the progressive rock band BIRTH CONTROL, he later progressed as a session musician, solo artist and producer. His vocoder layered cover of THE BEATLES’ ‘Fool On The Hill’ became a favourite of Belgian sibling duo SOULWAX.
His production breakthrough came from working with GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 when the single ‘No GDM’ became an underground club favourite.
As a result, he worked with the likes of FASHION, JOHN FOXX, DEAD OR ALIVE and DIE KRUPPS while also remixing ALPHAVILLE, SIMPLE MINDS and GARY NUMAN. Other acts who benefited from his musicality and sound design were MEN WITHOUT HATS, SPEAR OF DESTINY, TRANSVISION VAMP and NINA HAGEN.
Later, Held moved into more jazzy grooves and while resident in Australia, he led a World Music collective featuring Aboriginal musicians and released an album called ‘Digital Dreaming’. He returned to electronic music in 2015 with the release of ‘Logic of Coincidence’ via Les Disques du Crépuscule, a largely ambient imaginary film soundtrack.
Almost simultaneously, he teamed up with former TANGERINE DREAM member Steve Schroyder to form the appropriately named DREAM CONTROL. The pair are releasing their first album ‘Zeitgeber’, a largely uptempo electronic record that could potentially satisfy the headspaces of proggers and the feet of clubbers.
While in the UK on a short promotional trip for ‘Zeitgeber’, ZEUS B HELD kindly stopped for coffee to chat to The Electricity Club about DREAM CONTROL and his vast production portfolio.
You took a break into jazz and world music, what has brought you back into working in electronic pop again?
After I left England in 2003, I did a few different things like working around the ZKM Karlsruhe on more theoretical aspects of music and teaching.
Call this lecturing “transfer of knowledge” which is ok and I still do it, but I am more interested in making music.
In 2013, I had four weeks in Japan where I locked myself away with a couple of synthesizers; I really enjoyed that and rediscovered that it was the core of what I do best and what I want to do. This is what became ‘Logic Of Coincidence’.
Did the improvements in digital technology make your return much easier?
Not really, because the actual physical hands-on experience when you work with sequencers, moving sliders and twiddling knobs is a much more sensual action than if you programme it or do it with a mouse. I think there’s a big difference, like between virtual and real action-response.
I started the album with lots of virtual instruments, a master keyboard and a Moog Source. Then I replaced them slowly and as I was doing this, it confirmed my thoughts about the differences between the virtual and real thing.
I remember a time when I was a bit tired of those sounds, not realising that these sounds were the signature of what I’ve been doing! And it took a few years for me to realise those are my tools! And that’s what happened in the solitude of my Japanese hut…
What synths do you have?
I still have a Minimoog, Moog Source, Prophet VS, Oberheim 4 Voice, PPG wave, Korg Prophecy and through Steve, I got access to the Memory Moog which is an amazing machine.
I also have a collection of rack mounted synths including a Nordlead and an Oberheim DBX1.
But there are some instruments which I sold – that I shouldn’t have, but there you go…
Which ones do you regret selling then?
Oh, the Polymoog and the ARP 2600 which I am looking to getting back, or something similar. I went to this year’s Superbooth in Berlin and I could see there is a new wave of old style analogue synths coming up from all over the world; it’s been a really good experience to meet so many other synthesizer freaks.
What is the direction you are taking in DREAM CONTROL, how different is it from ‘Logic Of Coincidence’?
It was amazing that Steve’s and my life were running parallel without us ever meeting each other and incredibly, he also lives in Freiburg, streets away where I am now. So it happened to be another ‘Logic Of Coincidence’ *laughs*
On our first studio session, we played around with some chords and rhythms – I played various synths and piano, added some sequences and experimented with vocoder lines. It all fitted and we both really enjoyed this new form of jamming and improvising on the spot, sometimes being amazed how our individual music and sound became one… you listen, you play and you answer, you throw a ball in, it’s just playing and responding. And that is something me and Steve can do on all kind of electronic instruments. When you create music, it should be playful.
How would you describe the sound of ‘Zeitgeber’, given Steve’s history with TANGERINE DREAM and your own background?
This album has a lot of energy in it, definitely not just a dreamy ambient album. Steve introduced me to the natural law of the “Cosmic Octave”, which is a different approach to frequency and rhythm definition.
After I experienced the difference to the standard concert pitch, I was happy to do the entire ‘Zeitgeber’ album with this method. And yes, you can hear the difference. Overall it is an instrumental album with a good deal of vocoder. There is also assorted overtone singing and some other vocal elements by two female singers.
Because of our name and history, we decided to rework one TANGERINE DREAM song and one BIRTH CONTROL song ‘Gamma Ray’, although later we dropped the TD track from this album.
Is ‘Kant Can Dance’ representative of the album?
I would say yes and no! It is the existing link to my ‘Logic of Coincidence’ album, but it’s in the spirit of us both. ‘Gamma Ray’ and ‘Kant Can Dance’ are the more accessible tracks of the album. The other tracks, like for example ‘Tomaga’ are deeper journeys into sound and unknown spaces.
Although you served your apprenticeship with BIRTH CONTROL, you went solo…
BIRTH CONTROL was a progressive rock band, doing lots of gigs all over Europe, but mainly in Germany. I was always doing my 15 to 20 minute keyboard solo which actually became my first solo album! *laughs*
Slowly I was moving more into electronics, away from the EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER and DEEP PURPLE thing. By pure coincidence, I became neighbours with Conny Plank’s studio and I realised that you can do different sound work in the studio and that’s how I did my solo stuff; I discovered the vocoder which made me develop my own singing approach – and guess, I was glad not to have to deal with a singer’s ego! *laughs*
With electronic pop producers of the era like yourself, Mike Howlett, Trevor Horn, Stephen J Lipson and Steve Hillage, there appears to be this connection with progressive rock?
I am sure there is a theoretical connection, the spirit of the time. But for me, it was my own development from thinking in chords, melodies and the traditional compositional building blocks to learn how to work with sequencers, machines and multi-tracks; I remember very well when I did this 2 minute track ‘M.P.C.’ on BIRTH CONTROL’s ‘Rebirth’ album, by discovering the Mellotron. I spontaneously put strings, flute sounds and choir together and played an impressionistic piano on top, all in an hour, while the other guys were having lunch. I got so inspired by sounds and multi-tracking, I learned to understand the studio as an instrument.
You became more widely known in the UK for producing GINA X PERFORMANCE and ‘No GDM’, what was the creative dynamic between you and her?
I wanted to make an album with vocoder, drums and only synthesizers and I wanted to make it really cold, no bluesy chords or melodies, no guitar and nothing rocky. I had in mind science fiction inspired tracks, also possible songs for the ROCKETS next album. Gina was an art student and was really into cutting edge art and music.
We became a creative unit and I invited her into the studio, maybe to put some spoken words on the recordings – she developed from this, her own way of singing.
With ‘No GDM’, she wrote the lyrics in the café upstairs of the Cologne Studio Am Dom after she saw the ‘Naked Civil Servant’ film; so when she stepped in front of the microphone she transformed herself as well as the track. She put that particular life into my music, effortless and free of clichés. It was an amazing experience for both of us, but at first, nobody was interested because this was a non pigeon hole-able unheard music.
I’ll never forget when this studio mastering engineer in Cologne put the ‘Nice Mover’ album on the spectrum analyser and said “Look here at the frequencies, this can’t work! Nobody wants to listen to that!”*laughs*
But we found a little label and suddenly people started to like it. It came from three places where we had the best feedback; there was Rusty Egan and The Blitz Club, Austrian main radio where it entered the charts and Canada… this all took about a year to happen.
So this led to you coming to the UK and working with Birmingham band FASHION?
What also led me to FASHION was my vocoder production for a French / Italian band called ROCKETS. I went to the Midem, the annual music event in Cannes, to sell my first solo album and I passed this stand where I saw a video with five silver painted guys playing a slightly futuristic rock song ‘Future Woman’ using a voice box.
I thought “this would be so much better with a vocoder” and I asked to speak to their manager – after he heard my stuff, I was in. A week later, I was in Paris recording a cover of CANNED HEAT’s ‘On The Road Again’ and it became the ROCKETS’ big European hit.
FASHION heard this and also liked GINA X PERFORMANCE – so eventually a guy from Arista Records asked me to listen to their demos and I liked it.
I particularly liked it because Dee Harris, the main songwriter and front man, also played a wicked Roland guitar synth in a slightly jazz-funky way; in those days the only other guitar synth player I knew was Pat Metheny on his group’s ‘Offramp’ album.
The ‘Fabrique’ album was recorded in Cologne, Paris and London, it was nicely developed over six months.
You also worked on the next FASHION album ‘Twilight Of Idols’ which closed with the brilliant instrumental title track…
Well… ‘Twilight Of Idols’ was FASHION Mark 2, it’s OK, but for me it was a compromise. The second version of FASHION with Alan Darby on guitar and vocals and songs like ‘Hurricane’, for me, it was stylistically too close to the overcrowded field of mainstream rock.
FASHION’s first album with Dee Harris was his subtle funk and jazzy chord structures, influenced by American songwriting and this particular mixture of electronics from me applying my Germanic sequencers. Lately, 35 years after its making, I have been asked to overhaul ‘Fabrique’ with Dee Harris, so I can assure that we’ll eventually be working on that.
At one point, FASHION were rated higher than DURAN DURAN on the Birmingham scene but of course, it was DURAN DURAN who broke big, what’s your take on it?
In Birmingham, FASHION and DURAN DURAN were rehearsing in the same building when I got involved. DURAN DURAN were already ahead in the game, having a few singles out with EMI while FASHION were just entering the major pop arena. As much as I like Mr Simon Le Bon, I think Dee Harris was a different calibre as a vocalist – but there you go, the DURAN DURAN guys just went a fair bit faster, were better managed and they administered one hit after another!
Unfortunately after ‘Fabrique’ was finished, some chemical reaction in certain brains caused the ‘Fabrique’ line-up to collapse and the album had to be buried by Arista. Their German and American labels hugely believed in the group and things could have been different, but FASHION didn’t really enter the league they should have been in.
How did working with JOHN FOXX on ‘The Golden Section’ come about?
I was a big fan of John’s ‘Metamatic’ album. He had the same publisher as GINA X who also was his manager. John had been working with Mike Howlett, but it wasn’t working out for various reasons… and he had discovered THE BEATLES! *laughs*
I told John that it should be more about sound and noisy abstract tunes but he wanted melodies with second and third harmonies; we were working in his studio The Garden in Shoreditch and it was his solo album, so I was there to make his vision happen.
I guess our collaboration was not a very successful one as he pulled too far away from his roots, something that he later realised “ooops”! I helped him but I was torn, I had to make the best out of it. I wanted to bin songs and put more sequencers on others as it would have been more suitable and appreciated by his existing fan base, but he galloped into ‘The Golden Section’.
John is a multi-talented, very intelligent artist and we met at an interesting moment in our lives, but we didn’t make the kind of mutual masterpiece which we could have done.
You then went on to producing DEAD OR ALIVE, your work with them had an amazing rhythmic element to it, how did you achieve that?
They loved Patrick Cowley and Sylvester, that uptempo HI-NRG gay disco. I often went to the Heaven club during those days and listened to that music, I really liked this irresistible drive and energy.
They brought many of those elements to the table themselves. We started to work on ‘Sophisticated Boom Boom’ with Wayne Hussey on guitar, thus getting a slightly gothic element which I quite liked.
But Wayne and his guitar were sacked relatively early during the production, you can hear his guitar best on the first single ‘Misty Circles’.
For me, producing DEAD OR ALIVE was a mixture of sound-styling as well as making sure Pete Burns’ mighty vocal performance had the right backing. We got on fine, but there were moments when we argued about what’s best for the arrangement and dynamics. Sometimes I offered ten ideas and they’d take one and a half… I guess that’s part of the producing process…
So in DEAD OR ALVE, had the sequence programming been done by Tim Lever and you were sweetening it for the final recording, or were you redoing it?
It was a bit of both, some tracks came with some basic sequences to start with, others we started from scratch. I brought along my Moog and ARP 2600 to fill up the space.
For drums we used mainly the Oberheim DMX, a Linn Drum and sounds from the Akai S1000. We also had a Korg drum machine but they didn’t like the TR808; it’s funny, when I worked with KILLING JOKE, they hated the 808 as well.
After all these British artists, what was it like to work with a German act like DIE KRUPPS in 1985?
With JOHN FOXX and DEAD OR ALIVE, we had more open ended concepts. DIE KRUPPS were more German, much more “korrekt” and “…it’s all been worked out!”*laughs*
They pretty much had worked out how their tracks should be structured but by playing around with the Fairlight, we found space for new ideas and sounds. In the end, a lot of the ‘Entering The Arena’ album was Fairlight based.
Listening back to it now, I feel we were close to a real classic. And somehow we wanted to hold our own against PROPAGANDA, but this was tricky because PROPAGANDA’s production budget was in a different range
We had a limited budget and the LP was released by the Virgin sub-label Statik, whose claim to fame was MEN WITHOUT HATS who I later worked with.
How did you find the move into the world of the Fairlight and digital in general?
I wanted to master the Fairlight and luckily enough, Octave Hire, a London rental company based in the Docklands, left one with me at my basement flat in Earls Court when it wasn’t being used. I spent days and nights on end to dive into this new world of sampling and sequencing.
I’ll never forget how I once got stuck and someone suggested to phone this guy Hans Zimmer who was also working with one and had a studio in Fulham called The Snake Ranch. He came to my house and showed me a few tricks. When he spoke in his Bavarian accent, I realised there was another “Deutsch Musik Mann” in my London hood! *laughs*
I used the Fairlight on the last GINA X album ‘Yinglish’ and it was here when I met JJ Jeczalik, a real expert on the CMI. We made a deal: I’ll get him a few studio gigs, teach some musical basics and give him sounds and samples which went into his library – some of them ended up on the first record by THE ART OF NOISE.
But at one point, Pete Burns walked into Olympia Studios and shouted “ZEUS! YOU BASTARD, I HEARD MY VOICE ON THE ART OF NOISE, I KNOW IT’S ME!”… I replied “it’s impossible”, but thought to myself “oh sh*t, it could well be!”
You had a bit of a remix period, one was ‘Big In Japan’ by ALPHAVILLE…
ALPHAVILLE used an edit of my 12 inch remix for the normal 7 inch… I mixed it at a studio in Queensway with the engineer Femi Jiya, who later worked with PRINCE. This music wasn’t exactly funky and so we worked with repeat echoes and dropped in a fretless bass sound from a Roland D50. Next door was ASWAD, the reggae band – you could smell it… so I asked them to come in and played the mix to them, they gave it the thumbs down! *laughs*
On your remix of ‘Ghostdancing’ for SIMPLE MINDS, you gave space to the rhythm section…
SIMPLE MINDS then had a drummer I did some studio work with before, Mel Gaynor… he also played on an unreleased track I produced with Ian Burden from THE HUMAN LEAGUE, called ‘She’s Always On The Dancefloor’. I studied the parts and played around with the drums because I really enjoyed what Mel Gaynor did. He was a timing and groove master who beat every drum machine.
How did you feel when you were asked to do the ‘E Reg remix’ of GARY NUMAN’s ‘Cars’ in 1987?
I was a big GARY NUMAN fan, I saw him in 1980 in Düsseldorf at the Philipshalle… guess who was the support act? SIMPLE MINDS and they played on about four square feet of stage because GARY NUMAN had such a huge stage set up!
Beggars Banquet asked me to remix ‘Cars’ and I was already booked and had to squeeze it in. So I worked 20 hours non-stop on it. This was when the Roland D50 came out and if you listen to my remix, it’s full of those sounds! I enjoyed doing it because it’s a great song, I love his voice, the dynamics of the sounds work brilliantly with Gary’s melodies. I saw my job to get more excitement and shape into the track as well as doing an extended version. ARMAND VAN HELDEN actually sampled parts of my remix for ‘Koochy’!
Four weeks later it was out, doing really well and I was invited to a GARY NUMAN concert, I sat next to his dad… I looked on stage and there were five D50s! *laughs*
Your work with TRANSVISION VAMP was fascinating in that you used technology to make an album sound punk…
I worked closely with their label and they wanted a record, like you could have a cup of tea to… well, they didn’t actually say that but it was how I translated it, “pop punk”.
The first album ‘Pop Art’ took nearly two years and the band grew during its making; they had started to work on demos with Duncan Bridgeman who also did most of the pre-production; after a few tracks into the actual recording sessions, I was asked to revisit the production and arrangements.
I got a chance to enrich the sounds and take care of the mixing. A few tracks I did from scratch and started with an electronic song frame. Especially ‘Tell That Girl To Shut Up’, I’ll never forget when I was doing the arrangement, Wendy James walked in and screamed at me “THAT SOUNDS LIKE F*CKING HOWARD JONES, I HATE IT!” and she stormed out of the studio. I yelled “wait, we’re going to stick the guitars on and it will work!” which is exactly what happened. So yes, in the end most of the album sounded a good mixture between electronic versus rough and punk.
Of course, this was in the days before Melodyne and Autotune… when Wendy sang the soul out of her guts and it wasn’t quite right, we would have to record up to thirty tracks of vocals and do compilations of the takes – and in the end it sounded like one convincingly performed take, which would have to grab the listener. She sold that band!
Before that, there was the aborted CLARE GROGAN album that you did, what happened there?
With Clare, we were forced for too much in a little amount of time. I couldn’t really open her up musically, it was like being whacked in with the record company watching… before I could sit back and analyse, it was all finished. It was done in a rush, that was a pity. With her voice, we should have done something a bit more whacky, something more off the wall.
I had the same experience when I was paired with Annabella Lwin from BOW WOW WOW. It could have been brilliant but it was squeezed into three weeks trying to record ok songs. I couldn’t find her best musical language, you need time when you develop something new. With TRANSVISION VAMP, we had eighteen months and it grew. It all started when Nick met Wendy and said “do you want to be a rock star?”, she said “yes” and they worked on it.
This record company pressure would drive any normal person crazy?
Yes, there’s a danger, you’d better have strong nerves and a good sense of humour… and you have to avoid ending up doing paid crap!
Is that why there has been such a big gap in your production work after NINA HAGEN in 1991 ?
It coincided with a breakdown of my private life. Whether it was too much time spent in the studio or a typical mid-life crisis, whatever! It happened!
So I had a desire to be free, travel the world – I ended up in Australia, doing music there with Aborigines and playing concerts in the middle of nature. That’s when I recorded my “audio postcard of down under” called ‘Digital Dreaming’.
All in all I took ten years off and then I didn’t come back easily. I did film and ad music and that didn’t really satisfy me. So I had a rethink, did workshops and coaching, gave lectures – call it “knowledge transfer” – but again, this was not what I wanted to do.
I realised I feel most comfortable doing music in the studio or on stage. And by now, as much as I’m an optimist, I have given up on the idea of immortality *laughs*
I would love to do more DREAM CONTROL concerts, events and festivals. I still want to play and entertain people – their ears, their eyes and their imagination. In the studio I would like to do more songwriting and remixes; in an ideal world I’d always work with new inspiring equipment and learn how to master it.
I always enjoy listening to music but I am a difficult consumer. For pleasure I’m often listening to more jazz based music, but occasionally, a mega exciting track by the likes of JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE or JUSTIN BIEBER will knock me out and I applaud. Apart from a song’s composition, I always want to know how it is done the way it sounds – from the musical & frequency arrangement to the immaculate mastering.
Music doesn’t stop… music keeps me alive
The Electricity Club give its grateful thanks to ZEUS B HELD