Monday, October 27, 2008

Midnight at the Oasis (3)

I have paused long enough, drinking in the external history while imagining the internal.

There is a soft click as the catch releases and I press the heavy door inwards. Am I really expected or… is this just some kind of mad figment of my own imagination? It seems that I am. Could I wait a few minutes as Chris is completing a mix for… the voice trails off and I’m left wondering what sort of magic is being brewed up in a room somewhere above my head.

Basing Street’s a strangely incongruous place… in that studios never really feel like what one imagines they should do. They’re places of work, thus - in a sense just musical offices. Abbey Road – as one example – looks quite amazing from the outside, all white portico columns with that big black heavy door just across the street from London's most legendary pedestrian crossing upon which the Fabs were so famously photographed. Yet, inside… its quiet with a vague air of reverence; the studios where they recorded are… big, big, big… but… while they do exude something special, they’re still just... work places.

Nestled deep within an all-enveloping sofa, I start to wonder who else has sat here; which lyrics have been written on scraps of paper as the author (or authoress) has relaxed, seeking wisdom in words while watching someone’s guitarist shoot pool with another band’s drummer on the table opposite. I’ve never – from then to now – quite got the hang of pool; bar billiards yes, pool not quite.

Perhaps, I muse, this is the sofa on which Bob Marley sat; maybe it is just here that Jimmy Page reclined, working out the arpeggios to his solo for Stairway To Heaven that was recorded at Basing Street with other parts of Led Zep’s magnum opus recorded at Headley Grange in Surrey during 1970… did he, did they know at the time that they were recording history… or, for that matter, does anyone?

I think, at the end of the session, when the engineer and producer have that first rough mix assembled one knows if track X is special. But, that’d be about it. Historical – no… how could you? Besides, its but time that informs that.

For instance, its not as if one marches in through the door and strides to one’s place of work with that thought in the back of one’s mind… is it? A little like a Steinbeck or a Voltaire, an Aristotle, or a Hemmingway, and what about Dickens or Shakespeare..? You don’t consciously sit down, pick up pen and paper, dip one’s quill into the ink stand of imagination with an over-riding first thought of… ok, here I go, I’ll be creating a bit of history today just as soon as I start to write. Nope, you write what’s in your head, what’s on your mind… you can’t do any more than that.

Yet, here I am in a place where history has been made (recorded in this instance); just the same as being at – say, Sun Studios in downtown Memphis… the literal birth-place of Rock and Roll. Where Jerry Lee Lewis inflamed a piano – was it ever meant to sound like that? where Elvis told studio owner Sam Phillips – ‘I don’t much sound like no one else, really’ while being met with quizzical looks until he opened his mouth and sang, where Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Rufus Thomas and dozens of others created music that, in time, has become a cornerstone of all of our lives that can best be dubbed… living history. None of us – fans or workers at the mill of music – would be here today if it wasn’t for those… pioneers.

The receptionist pulls me from my reverie and tells me to go up. I ascend the spiral staircase and enter a darkened room. There at the console (mixing desk) is CB, hunched over in full-on concentration. The engineer – the late Alex Sadkin who, tragically, later died in a car accident during 1987 (justifiably famed for his work at Compass Point Studios as much as his production work for Grace Jones, Joe Cocker, Duran Duran and former Josef-K, Paul Haig as much as mixes he did for Neil Young and Talking Heads) , is hovering nearby.

They’re working on a new record. Memory-lapse from then until now precludes what exactly but, given that this would have been mid-to-late seventies it might well have been something from one of two Marley albums – either Rastaman Vibration or, more probably, the mixes for Survival that was ultimately released in 1979.

I stand and wait. The mix – and for the life of me I can’t remember what it was, is played back a couple of times before Alex leaves the room and CB and I sit opposite each other. We talk for half an hour or so during which I’m asked if I have any leanings toward working in A&R – this comes as a bit of a surprise since, while I’ve always considered I had a decent set of ears, becoming part of that coterie has never been anywhere near my agenda; after all, that sort of job is for people other than myself.

CB’s opinion was a bit different and he told me that he felt that anyone who worked at Island was some form of A&R guy… it didn’t really matter what you did or where you did it, we all had ears and that, so he reckoned, was the most valuable thing about any of the staff employed.

Our chat – nice as it was – ends and I leave wondering what, if anything has been achieved.

A couple or three weeks later and I’m back in at St Peters Square HQ on a Friday evening. Knocker and I meet up and he tells me that I’m to have a new job; if I want it, that is. I’ll be out on the road working the length and breadth of Britain with the occasional foray into Europe – advancing all of the touring acts that we have on behalf of the record company and… if I come across any record or unsigned act that I think is worth HQ knowing about, be sure to bring the details back with me.

My first tour is actually two-in-one with both acts out on the road at the same time; 20-something dates across Britain and the Low Countries with Inner Circle who are about to have a bit of a hit with ‘Everything Is Great’ and 30 or so shows with Eddie & The Hot Rods who’ll be out on their own, headlining British tour with their own big record Do All You Wanna Do more or less at the same time; my role is to drop in and out of both of the tours – and this’ll be how my life will be for the next X months.

Inner Circle’s own tour starts the day after tomorrow in Scotland…

‘Better get ready, Corey’ Knocker tells me… ‘it’s a long drive to Glasgow’.

1 comment:

Drew said...

And the sharp-end of the adventure truly begins.

Eddie & the Hotrods track.
What a seminal, classic piece of sweaty pub-rock that still is. Ooozes rebellion equal to 'My Generation'.