Music biz….nothing to do with investing

January 23, 2014

This is a discussion topic or guest posting submitted by a Stock Gumshoe reader. The content has not been edited or reviewed by Stock Gumshoe, and any opinions expressed are those of the author alone.

By some strange route, one thread I’m following on GS went from Biotec, to tinnitus, to Rock and Roll. I mentioned that I suspected the tinnitus was due to my working in the music biz as a tea boy-producer, and some ’fools’ wanted to know more….well here it is and I warn you now that it has absolutely nothing to do with investing. Its just a story which you may, or may not, find interesting as a diversion.
I know that being around Beatles, Stones, Floyd etc sessions will sound like a glamerous life filled with music, drugs and groupies. It wasnt….well not glamerous anyway. It was the hardest job Ive ever done. People generally get one shot at fame and they enter a recording studio to WORK their nutz off. There are no superstars in a studio, no serious drugs and the super model girlfriends usually fell asleep on the couch with their skirt round their neck, bored out of their minds and snoring. Theres lots of high jinx vibe, but someone like Mick Jagger was just another bloke. If he’d acted superstar with us lessser mortals, it would have been impossible to get any good work done. So many’s the superstar that made me tea while we techies were honing the product.
I have lived and worked in London UK all my life. Like all the people I met in the music biz, I had a strange route in. I have the strange belief that however stupid you are, if you dare to leave yourself open to fate’s wind, fate ventually blows you in the right direction……….. those that try to plan their own route usually end up doing something very boring ! Or maybe I am just a super lucky b’stard coz I have had more than my fair share of employment luck over the years.
I left school at 15 without any qualifications….par for the course in 1960’s. People who went to Uni came from the other side of the tracks. I started work in Soho importing shoes from Czechoslavakia. At 18 I earned an assistant rather than a pay rise (short changed as usual). This guy spent all day fantasising (sorry we Brits use the S not the Z) about woking in a recording studio. Frankly I had no idea that they existed…..I thought those round bits of black plastic grew on trees. But his enthusiasm was infectious. To make ends meet, I also worked for a tobacco shop in Carnaby St on Saturdays . They had a ciggy vending machine sited at Trident Studios. For the first time I was sent to fill it. I asked the v pretty but bored girl on reception (probably Patti Page) where it was .She never looked up from filing her nails and said ’ ’Down the stairs, thru the studio, in the toilet, out back’. So in I went. As I entered, I spotted a familiar face strumming a guitar….Oh, hi George (Harrison) Dont mind me, Ive just come to fill the…..AARGH! Suddenly my collar was grabbed from behind and I was dragged outside. DONT YOU KNOW WHAT AN EFFIN RED LIGHT MEANS, YOU MORON. Nope, no idea (why would I?)…What DOES it mean?…. This is a recording studio !. Really? Ive always wanted to work in a studio ( I lied….but it had to be better than filling cigarette machines) Can I have a job? Can you make tea? How many sugars d’ya take? I left Trident ~3 years later.
My first session was very nearly my last. Tea was made in a basement room directly behind the main studio and below the control room, where they also stored old instruments like drum kits, master tapes and echo plates (whatever they were). Now, no little boy can’t resist a drum kit can he?, so, Kbahh Kboom, Tishhhh Tishhh Tishhhh, para diddle para diddle. Suddenly this engineer came rushing in….WHAT THE MUCK !!. Apparently he was mixing a track upstairs called A Little Help From My Friends, for some window cleaner called Joe Cocker. I swear when I listen back v carefully, I can still hear some mad drumming in the echo…perhaps its tinnitus?.
When the the cats away the mice will play…..
It was normal procedure that once the band had gone home after a sessions, the trainees would load the days tapes and start playing with them (learning the trade). This day the Beatles entire days worth of master tapes was fair game. Having smoked a bit too much, I carelessly spilled coffee all over Abbey Road (?) ….oops ! Imagine what those very rough mixes would be worth now days, let alone the master tapes?…. I hear EMI later built a nuclear bomb shelter to protect them coz they are considered invaluable. Those were the days. Being a disaster as an assistant engineer, I was ’promoted’ to being an assistant film projectionist. I was equally successful at that ! So then promoted to disc cutting engineer….the guy that puts the grooves on a record…if anyone here is old enough to remember what a vinyl record was? I remember Elton Johns album coming up and stripping a copy of Your Song off as a 7’’single as a valantine prezzy for my girl (later wife) She sold it recently but wouldnt say what she got. Hmmm. I gained music industry fame for using Polo mints (the mint with a hole in the middle….you may have a different name for it in US) as spacers (we were always short of plastic spacers) I got a call from the presser saying’ Your acetates are smothered in white chalky stuff!’ LOL ..Of course as you tighten the screw on the lid, you crush the mints……Derrh!
During Trident days I worked on sessions for the Beatles, Stones, Procol Harem, Elton John, T.Rex (Marc Bolan), David Bowie and tons of others who you’d never remember. My favourite day was with a band called Genesis. They needed a new singer so had auditions. Their own drummer, Phil Collins, applied and did his bit. He and I paced up and down while the band conferred. A voice came on the speaker…. ’ Phil, youve got the gig ! We hugged and danced around the room like two drunken gypsies.
Then I moved to AIR studios. Air was created by George Martin….the Beatles producer.
What people dont realise is that George worked with the Beatles for miserable wages until aprox the White Album and EMI certainly weren’t going to give him a % . So he left EMI and joined with the three other ’most successful’ UK producers to form AIR. Naturally, every major artist wanted to associate themselves with George, so the best artists in the world booked our studio. I was one of 4 or five staff engineers, so I got to work with the creme de la creme purely by rotation….not skill…..which is why you wont find anything about me on Wiki.
I remember Stevie Wonder’s sessions on Talking Book. He played most instruments himself. All was well until the drums. He kept missing and there was an almighty CRASH as he collapsed into the missing kit !!! Hes a wonderful man, but I assume (to judge distance) he shakes his head to and fro quite violently. Its hard to converse with someone who is eternally shaking their head at you.
You also need to understand studio culture. Rock artists tend to get up for 2pm sessions and work thru till 2 am. This creates a huge problem for studio staff. None of their former friends can keep such stupid hours, so you rapidly lost all your former friends. So when you had some time off (rare if you were successful), you had no choice but to go back to the ’club house’ ….ie the studio. I didn’t WORK with the Pistols, but it was de riguer for the ’in crowd’ to wander into any session that was going on, sit down, roll a spliff, play tamborine, do hand claps, sometimes sing backups and say, Yeah man that’s great. So did I meet Malcom Mclaren ? …probably….was he a mate….v definitely not. In fact he was a difficult/tricky b@stard. The two possible producers of NMTB wanted to know who was due what %. In trying to get out of paying, Malcolm wouldn’t tell them which mix he had chosen (they both did a mix). In the end they countered this by sending a combined bill and splitting it between them like the good mates they were. Consequently you will see the Pistols ’producer’ credit uniquely says Bill Price OR Chris Thomas.
You should also know that very few tracks/albums are recorded by a single engineer at a single studio. They are stitched together seemlessly. Some studios were ’famous’ for drums, others were the nutz for orchestras. Ours was the latter due to size. So if you hear a 70/80’s track that mentions AIR studios, the strings were prob recorded there. I did some work with Harry Nilson and Carly Simons’ brass section. I mostly worked with Tony Visconti. His big acts were Marc Bolan (T.Rex) and David Bowie. I also made 2 platinum albums (wrongly creditted to my friend Bill Price) with Mott the Hoople (of All the Young Dudes fame). My great mistake was working with Cat Stevens. I was asked to do an album with a new band. All puffed up I said, sorry I can’t Im working with Cat. (It didnt end well) ’Why not give my apprentice a try? Cat S was a difficult but lovely man. Like his music he was chilled one moment, then frantic…it was hard to keep up with his moods. I made Buddah and the Choclate Box….not his best album. Meanwhile my apprentice made Breakfast in America …….at the time the biggest selling album of all time ! To rub salt in the wound, they got on soooo well he was given a %…….which he’s still retired very comforatably on.
So when I say ’I worked with the Beatles’ please remember….I made tea! But which of you wouldnt give your left leg to have got that close to history in the making. Of course at the time we thought they would be forgotten in 6 months……Mozart should last as long!!

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22 Comments on " Music biz….nothing to do with investing"

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gummydave
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299
gummydave
January 23, 2014 6:30 pm

Great story Alan. Thanks for sharing. Things now seem much more polished and professional – though I’m not using that in a positive sense. It makes me sound old of course but there seems more character and spontaneity in the more analog recordings. I’m sure my dad used to say similar things about my Clash, Jam and Sex Pistols records.

Alan Harris
Guest
0
Alan Harris
January 23, 2014 6:44 pm

I think things seem more polished coz they are done on the home computer….so one has lots of literally ‘free time’ to go over and over. In those days you were charged £100ph so you accepted what came out in the time available. Clash was another band I sat in on. I had come from an age of ‘melody’ so I had a lot of difficlty adapting to so called ‘punk’. I got it later….but too late.

lskulow
Irregular
66
lskulow
February 25, 2014 11:00 am

What great memories you have! I am a child of the 70’s and huge music lover, so am duly impressed with your tales. Also, enjoy your comments over on the Biotech thread, which I also read obsessively, checking in several times daily. A lot of excitement going on over there. Good luck with your investments (getting back into Benitec should be easy with dips coming up -no sweat -hopefully(fingers crossed) cause I want to buy more as well!) and thanks for sharing.

Alan Harris
Guest
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Alan Harris
February 25, 2014 11:12 am

How nice of you…who was your fav act?
Good luck with the Beni dips.

lskulow
Irregular
66
lskulow
February 26, 2014 10:28 am

My favorite act now is Dr. KSS ha! But as far as musical acts well from the old days the Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton (and all his bands :)) Stevie Winwood and the Pixies, just to name a few. You mentioned Phil Collins. I have always loved him too- he seems like a nice person, though I have nothing to base that on just a hunch.
Time to get back into Beni …$1.65 dip today!

Alan Harris
Guest
0
Alan Harris
April 27, 2014 5:59 pm

OK. So you would like to have been at the recording of some mega hit record. Well heres your chance to take a front row seat. The levels are all over the place so I suggest headphones …….and a double scotch seeing as you dont smoke grass.

Alan

http://www.openculture.com/2013/02/the_troggs_tapes_put_a_little_bit_of_fing_fairy_dust_over_the_bastard.html

hipockets
Irregular
1001
April 27, 2014 8:41 pm

Following . . .

hipockets
Irregular
1001
April 27, 2014 8:42 pm

ARGH . . . Check the darned box, dummy !!!

omcdac1
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449
omcdac1
May 4, 2014 1:26 pm

Logged in

$$ViaTheHelix
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$$ViaTheHelix
May 4, 2014 5:29 pm

Alan,
Great story.
What a damn small world and how cool is it that my 12 year olds walk-up song, when he goes to the plate to bat is- Bang A Gong!

Dan
Irregular
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Dan
May 4, 2014 7:58 pm

Thanks for that, Alan. Can’t even imagine having memories of actually interacting with greats like the Beatles, ELO, Troggs, etc. That is just too cool!
Closest thing I would have to compare is being in the same auditorium with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a couple years back.

justirregular
Guest
0
justirregular
May 5, 2014 11:50 am
Wow, your mentioning of ELO just brought a flashback. I was 16 and was lucky enought to have a brother that was a Ski Patrolman at Snowbird Utah. I got to visit him one christmas vacation for a week. I slept in the closet of the employees dorm room style apartments. The closet was outside the apartment on the otherside of the hall. I still get a kick out of it because I had to slide into the sleeping bag like sliding into the units you can rent to sleep in Japan! Just a long box. These apartments were on… Read more »
Alan Harris
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Alan Harris
May 5, 2014 5:45 pm
I know it will sound extraordinary with hindsight, but we honestly didn’t imagine that this stuff would be remembered in 2 yrs let alone 40+…..there was really no precedent other than classical music and Elvis. If I had realised, trust me, Id have kept better diaries and all the out takes to sell on ebay. Jeff Lynne, if I remember correctly, was not a trained musician nor could he write music scores, so he had to explain all these arrangements in language and by strumming to the arrangers/musicians etc. Its also interesting that Marc Bolan plays guitar on certain tracks… Read more »
frank_m
Irregular
7
frank_m
May 16, 2014 2:15 pm
Alan, thanks for the memories. I’m about the same vintage, so I remember those groups, we called it the British invasion. My kids now listen to some of the same music I did way back when. I am curious if you ever ran into someone who became a friend of mine here in Vermont. He is quite a character, claimed to know Clapton, Stewart, Fleetwood and more. Designed clothes for the stars, had his own shop on Carnaby. Colin Bennett by name. Has had some struggles, but has managed to outlive a lot of those from the London of the… Read more »
Alan Harris
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0
Alan Harris
May 16, 2014 2:59 pm

Regrets I dont know him by name…..having no memory for names, nearly everyone I met was called Mate. I used to work in Carnaby St on Saturdays for (genuinely) the oldest tobacconist in England. That’s how I got into the music biz……I went to fill their ciggy machine in the studio and busted into a George Harrison recording. If he worked there, he will remember Inderwicks….it was a Dickensian shop full of wooden barrels. Happy daze.

jer_vic
Irregular
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jer_vic
May 16, 2014 3:11 pm
arch1
Irregular
5243
September 17, 2014 6:14 am

jer_vic Thanks for link I like Stewart and his later standards.

arch1
Irregular
5243
September 17, 2014 6:29 am

Alan I do not know if you are aware that Hugh Laurie has been stateside pursuing blues
and is a credible blues artist, Triangle from Memphis to Baton Rouge to Pascagoula has been a place of ferment for blue,s jazz, rag, folk, western, country, and bluegrass music.
Combination of Celtic melody African Rhythm, Creole, Cajun, all sung to the beat of the human heart has transformed music. The truly international language. I am older than Elvis and love music.

arch1
Irregular
5243
September 17, 2014 6:32 am

Also Rhyhtm and blues which spawned Rock

SoGiAm
Irregular
4810
October 27, 2016 12:54 am

One of the few pictures of the whole Pink Floyd together
#PinkFloyd
Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Pink Floyd and SydBarrett-PinkFloyd via Pink Floyd ‏@Just_pinkfloyd https://twitter.com/Just_pinkfloyd/status/791489597666578432

SoGiAm
Irregular
4810
October 27, 2016 5:57 am

Thank you for sharing, Alan. 🙂
Kick back, listen to some tunes and share your favs: http://www.stockgumshoe.com/2016/05/microblog-magical-music-mystery-mining/ Best2All ~ BenJammin’

joe
Irregular
1421
joe
October 27, 2016 8:34 am

Ben- Good times. Good times. Thx for posting- Joe…. aka viathehelix

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