Up The North (Manchester to Wigan)
When Spaceward shut down, I spent a year working for The Stranglers….an odd time, but Jet Black was a gentleman and made me laugh.
Marcus Russell, who was sort of managing me……he’d been managing The Bible, who I tried co-producing an album with in Loco Studios in Wales (I’ve only just remembered that happened)…..started managing Johnny Marr. Marcus put me in the studio with Johnny. We did a session in The Strongroom in East London, with Johnnys hairdresser best friend, Andrew Berry. Actually, Andrew was a real character….very funny. We recorded “That’s my business” and “Kiss me I’m cold”. It was pretty amazing recording Johnny Marr. I remember being blown away by his playing and ideas. He was very cool indeed. Johnny taught me a lot about good music.
I got asked to do a session for Electronic…..Johnnys new band with Bernard Sumner. We mixed “Lucky Bag”, the b-side to “Getting away with it”, at Johnnys house in Manchester. And I basically stayed there. I built Johnnys basement studio, and engineered the first Electronic album. It was a good time. I loved working with Bernard. Watching him program and build up his music was fascinating. And it was a good time to be in Manchester….the Hacienda was in full swing. There was a fair amount of partying.
I did a bunch of engineering for Bernard on New Orders “Republic” album. That was an interesting time. I enjoyed meeting Rob Gretton: he was a kind and gentle person.
Also, Johnny and I made an album with Ian McCulloch….which never saw the light of day after the master tapes were apparently stolen en route to Liverpool. Oh yeah, we recorded Billy Bragg singing “Sexuality” as well. Billy is a very nice chap. It was nice to meet him.
Then Oasis came along: the mixing of “Definitely Maybe”. And then I met The Verve…….and I stopped working for Johnny and Bernard….and started producing full time.
I remember something Mike Kemp, from Spaceward said to me while he was producing The Stranglers….it was along the lines of “It’s no fun being in the recording studio and having some idiot tell you what to do. The only way to enjoy being in a recording studio is when you are the one who tells the idiots what to do.” He could have been talking about working with The Stranglers…I couldn’t say for sure. But idiots aside…..it is definitely more fun being in control.
Click on the thing below to open…….I’ve written about recording A Northern Soul……as it says etc….
Firstly, I’m quickly copying some of the stuff that’s been said and written about the Northern Soul recording sessions: by journalists and apparently quotes from Nick and Richard. Just so we can remind ourselves of what’s been said in the past. And then I’ll tell what the session was really like and what actually happened.
“I didn’t really get on with him (Owen Morris) and we had a bit of a fall out. Everyone else got on with him and I suppose he did make a really good job of the album. What he does is he lets you go out and get a load of powerful sounds and he doesn’t fuck around with them. He leaves them like that and as I say a lot of people are frightened of that power now. We could just play in a room together and get off on it and that was great.”
Nick McCabe on recording A Northern Soul.
The Verve, those neo-psychedelic thrash meisters, hired Owen Morris to record their latest album, A Northern Soul and got more than they bargained for. Morris, who produced Oasis’s Definitely Maybe trashed a recording studio, causing thousands of dollars of damage. Wielding a chair, he demolished a speaker stack, and then smashed the huge window between a studio and mixing room. Richard Ashcroft, a member of The Verve, revealed that “Owen put the speaker through because he was enjoying a song so much! He’s the best putter-through of windows I’ve ever seen. He was having a bit of a nervous breakdown at the time. But then he’s worked with Oasis–and that would push most people close.” Ashcroft was very effusive, after he found out that the damages weren’t coming out of his royalties. A Northern Soul is due for release on July 3, and features Owen’s buddy, Liam Gallagher, adding his own special brand of nonsense to the track titled “History.” The single, “This Is Music,” will be out May 1. According to Ashcroft, “Oasis came down when we were doing the record. ‘History’ includes Liam clapping his head off.” Ha Ha Thump. Ashcroft admitted he also had personal problem during the making of the album. “I broke up with someone I was with for six years. If I hadn’t had the album I would have fallen down to the bottom. I’ve been everywhere these past six months. But I think everyone has a breakdown once in a while. Now people are just treating me with kid gloves.” Maybe it’s Owen they should be treating that way.
In November the stage was set for the second album. What followed was, to quote Richard, “Four intense, mad months. Really insane. In great ways and terrible ways. In ways that only good music and bad drugs and mixed emotions can make.” The record was produced at Loco studios in Wales – with final touches and an orchestra at Abbey Road – by Owen Morris. “We needed a producer who would be extreme”, said Richard, “Owen brought his personality to the record. He’s the only person I know who can smash a thirty foot window in the studio and then do his job. He admitted he nearly had a nervous breakdown, and I think that’s a commendable performance.”
So, that’s the kind of stuff that’s been said about the recording of “A Northern Soul” in the press and on the internet.
Here’s what really happened:
Noel Gallagher recommended me to Richard Ashcroft after I’d mixed Definitely Maybe. I got a call from The Verve’s manager, John Best, offering me the job sometime around May 1994. I immediately decided to stop working for Johnny Marr. I’d been working for Johnny on various projects for almost four years by then: I think we were both a bit sick of the sight of each other.
I met up with The Verve a couple of times late summer, in preparation for the album recording sessions. I’d drive over to Wigan and listen to them in their tiny rehearsal room. There were no songs, as such….just a bunch of one chord (or very occasionally, two chord) jams. I remember they gave me some really strong weed to smoke, and I veered between complete paranoia (one night I thought that they were playing their entire first album to me….and not new songs), and total euphoric excitement….another night I made very definite plans that we were going to record the entire album in that very rehearsal room: it made perfect sense at the time.
Thankfully though, I decided that we should go down to Loco Studios, near Caerleon, in South Wales. I’d mixed a few of the Oasis tracks there…..and it seemed to be a good, modest, but well equipped residential studio…..and was available at a very reasonable daily rate…..so we could ask the record company for a lot of recording time without spending too much money.
So we turned up there sometime in October. And we worked really hard.
Our routine was that we’d get together and set up on a Monday….spend that night settling in….adjusting sounds and monitors. The band would be jamming maybe half a dozen of the as yet uncompleted songs…..getting comfortable….trying out ideas. We’d probably roll the tape machine a few times, so they could come in and have a listen and think…..and we’d discuss sounds and which were our favourite pieces of music taking shape. We’d usually keep listening until six or seven in the morning.
Everyone would get a good nights sleep. Then get up for dinner in the evening……and then to the local pub for a few pints and some very intense and competitive pin ball games….during which time the assistant engineer would score us some ecstasy. We’d get back to the studio, everyone would have a pill, and the band would start playing and I’d start recording. Richard would be singing live with them in the studio….and magically, the songs would come together: it seemed that just as Richard fused his lyrical ideas into a definite song, that Nick would get his ideas together too. We’d have been recording the process on 24trk. I’d be keeping notes…..so when they hit a peak, we’d keep doing takes until the energy and moment had gone. Then we’d listen through the best takes, and usually edit together a definitive master. Or sometimes (like on “Drive you home”) it would be just the one complete take….lead vocal included.
We’d do this again on the Thursday and maybe the Friday. And in a week we’d have maybe four or five tracks happening.
I remember that Richard took a cassette of monitor mixes to Dave Boyd, who ran Hut Records, after week three, and Dave calling to say how amazed he was by the amount of work we’d done….it was the most recording he’d ever heard in that space of time.
So far from all the rubbish reports of bad, out of control behaviour, we were actually working in an incredibly focused and intense way. Which did take some toll after week four or five.
The story about the speakers getting trashed, is that actually the main monitors, a very old set op Uries, that were falling apart and dying, were being replaced by a lovely brand new set of ATC’s. And at certain times in the wee hours, I had developed a taste for dancing (more like swaying precariously) on the SSL mixing desk. And knowing that the speakers were being taken out and scrapped the next day, in a fit of over excitement, I vaguely hit one of them with a chair. Probably hilarious at the time, in my head. But I can understand why Nick McCabe would’ve thought that I was a bit of an arsehole.
And the real story about the studio window smashing, is that one night, during playback….unfortunately when Dave Boyd and John Best were visiting for a listen….I randomly, slightly drunkenly, chucked a wine glass in the air….and by some dumb luck it bounced onto the window looking out to the Welsh countryside…..and it must’ve caught the window at some peculiar angle (either that or they’d installed extremely thin and cheap glass) and the bloody window cracked….badly. Throwing the wine glass was certainly a dumb thing to do….but there never was an intention of doing anything any damage. No-one else really saw how much of a genuine accident it was though, and the story gathered pace…..
I thought much more interesting and relevant were the stories behind the recordings.
For example, History: sometime, early December…..it was just me and Richard left in the studio…..the rest of the band had gone to bed. And Richard said that he’d got a vague idea for a song. So I put a microphone on the mixing desk….vaguely at a level where he could sing and play acoustic guitar…..so we could record the mic, as a very rough demo, on 24trk. So Richard played and improvised History…..the entire song.
We were both very excited by this, so we woke up Si and Pete and put them back in the studio to play along to Richards “demo”. And we dropped in a few times, as Si learned the changes and Pete tried to follow Richards fluctuating tempo. And in twenty minutes we had a “demo” rhythm track and Pete and Si went back to bed.
And then Richard, for some reason, I forget now why, dropped in the “One and one is two, but three is company”..bit. And then he overdubbed acoustic along in the toilet….again, I forget his logic…..maybe he was multi tasking.
And then I decided that it needed strings. And spent an hour layering up the string arrangement, one note at a time, on my computer and Yamaha sound module.
And then Alan the gardener turned up…….so Richard dragged him in the studio to help Richard put some percussion down.
And that was that. We went happily to be thinking what a cool demo we’d recorded.
Over the next week or so, we decided that we quite liked the demo and we’d go with the recording as was: Nick wasn’t particually into it…..it is true that he didn’t think much of me on the session……I think my bad, piss taking sense of humour rubbed him up the wrong way……looking back I can understand his point of view completely. I had the idea that we should get Will Malone, the string arranger who’d done Massive Attacks Unfinished Sympathy to have a go at the strings and get a real big string section….the whole 30 players on the track. I put this idea to Dave Boyd, and he instantly said that there was absolutely no way that he would pay for that kind of ludicrously extravagant session. So we should all forget the real strings idea and go with my little Yamaha sound module. And then about a week later, he rang me to tell me that it had been decided that I could have Will Malone and the 30 piece string section, in Abbey Road! Apparently….(this is how certain record companies really fucking work…..I’m obviously not talking about the really good, full of integrity record companies out there…..actually there are a few good ones: Mike Smith at Sony, Jim Chancellor, Michael Howe… the list goes on….apologies to those I just missed)…..so, Dave Boyd was playing my monitor mix of History in his office, when the wife of the head of Virgin Records walked past, heard it, and said to her husband and Dave Boyd, that it reminded her of Massive Attacks Unfinished Sympathy and that surely they should get the same string arranger and the big string section on it. And Dave Boyd told her that was exactly what he’d been thinking. I mean, if the wife of the head of Virgin suggested it……
Anyway…..we got our strings. Will Malone copied, exactly, my string arrangement…..infact I use my Yahama guide sound on the mix and they are perfectly together. Will created a new intro piece however….because Dave Boyd wanted something like REM’s Shiny happy people intro on History…..it sounded ok to us, so we were happy enough. And in the third week of January…..while I was three quarters of the way through the final mixing, we all got in a van (except Nick, who moodily didn’t want to come along) and went to Abbey Road Studios….to the Beatles studio…..and listened to the strings being recorded. And then everyone who’d turned up, went in the studio and put down a clap track…..led, of course by Brian Cannon.
We went for a meal next door. And probably got a bit rowdy….we had been in Loco studios for almost 4 months by then….so cabin fever had totally set in. Pusherman turned up….and they were bad boys. All I remember is everyone who needed to, calmly walking back to the van and getting driven back to Wales. We’d had a fine day out and had an album to finish mixing. Things were pretty perfect.
The next morning Dave Boyd rang me in tears. He told me how just as we’d left, the police turned up…..apparently various “substances” had been consumed (er….Pusherman were there!). He said that he was cancelling the album and not releasing anything because we were such a bunch of out of control vandals.
We carried on mixing the album as planned. I think Dave had become more than a little tired and emotional himself. He seemed to be having a grand time the night previously.
So that was History.
We’d put everything we had into that album.
I’m still proud of it. Some of it is completely wonderful. Most of it infact.
And I met and recorded Nick McCabe with the band Lowline about eight years ago, and we got on fine…..it was really good to see him, infact. So everything worked out in the end.