The blossom is on the trees, luminescent Cherry-Vanilla at its best.
Yet the studio in which we’re ensconced during this period of self-imposed confinement hides behind a couple of struggling trees of uncertain genesis. Neither of which appear to have known blossom once.
They stand like a pair of forlorn, Kevin-The-Teenager saplings; their leggy, Eyeball Paul, branches windswept by the diesel-breeze-rush of a speeding bus every twenty minutes of so.
It’s a surreal yet short walk from the bus-stop; past where Reginald Iolanthe Perrin hastened the demise of CJ and Sunshine Deserts, along the crumbling pavement to the studio door – tucked away in this downtrodden backwater of a demoralised north-west London trading estate
While the setting may be unlikely – neither does this place much look like what one’d imagine a studio to appear as.
The facade is about as far removed from the Fab-Four graffiti-scrawl of Abbey Road or the Edwardian splendour of Olympic in Barnes where Procul Harum recorded A Whiter Shade Of Pale; in which Jimi Hendrix reconstructed All Along The Watchtower to turn a Dylan masterpiece into his own magnum opus or where The Rolling Stones laid down six consecutive albums between 1968 and ’72 as is possible to get.
This space – our space for the duration – is decidedly more warehouse-veneer and on the utilitarian side of functional. It is what it is and does not pretend otherwise.
Inside is what counts and progress is such that we’re heading toward the sharp end. Upstairs is where we completed all the digital work on the ¼” tapes… now we’re downstairs and starting to delve in to all the crates that contain the 2” multi-tracks.
These, unlike their country-cousins, the ¼” tapes, come in a variety of configurations – many are 24 track but we’re also encountering their step-brothers – the 16 and 8 track variants.
And, in the middle of that lot, we’ll be returning to those tapes that are currently sitting in a temperature-controlled oven a little way down the corridor… baking away ever so contentedly in a Julia Childs’ styleee.
Baking..? Yes indeed – because they’re elderly (in tape-terms that’s 30+years old) and, frankly, they’re in pretty dodgy shape.
And, the only way to remedy this level of tape-degradation and all round dodginess is to bake the blighters for between 24 and 72 hours.
Crikey – am I starting to sound like a bit too Gordon Ramsay here..? I sincerely hope not, because, trust me, I’m no expert – but I do have a very good teacher.
Ladies and Gentlemen… may I introduce my newest best friend; a raven-haired Goth, who sits in front of rows of blinking lights, manipulating computers, software and ten dozen other gadgets all of which require an advanced degree in pure Einstein before they’ll even spark into life.
He can tell a tape’s age just by looking at it and can hear things coming through the mix that are inaudible to mere mortals – hmmm, that sounds about 2db out to me…
It does? I look over his shoulder at a bank of intermittently blinking lights, our very own studio aurora borealis. The lights appear – to me – to be lined up in a pretty satisfactory line but equally I’ve learned to trust the set of ears beside me. If he says its out, chances are that it is – and very probably by exactly 2db, whatever that actually means in plain English.
Yeah, I’ll just check via this gadget. He peers shortsightedly at yet another set of entirely mystifying flickering lights (obviously I’d been looking at totally the wrong set)… and, flicking his pony-tail out of the way, he leans over and makes a microscopic adjustment with an equally minute screw-driver and… sure as eggs are eggs, the lights (that he’s been studying) all line-up as they should… he’s correct.
Me – I heard nothing wrong at all. Matron – the earwax candles, please.
I stand and stare in constant admiration as one would at anyone at the top of their game. Occasionally, I am allowed to make the coffee… but only after having to be shown how that machine worked three times.
The advanced being-Delia stage in this entire process has been critical.
Because, without this tape-baking exercise, what’d happen is this: when the tapes roll through long-out-of-date (tho’ state of the art in the sixties and seventies) Studer machines, the tape would start to shed a very fine layer of oxide… meaning the play-back-heads would (in layman’s terms) eventually clog up. And eventually there would be a tragic outcome – what was recorded long ago would be lost forever.
This, therefore, is last-chance saloon for these tapes… fuck it up and… that’s it, gone for all time. Which is why, when the mane of hair in front of me nods sagely and says, off to the oven with you my boy… there’s no argument brokered.
These are precious commodities found in amongst a myriad of other jewels hidden away in dusty boxes in a dirty warehouse presided over by youngsters who simply have no idea what they’re custodians of.
There is no real criticism implied there, it’s simply that they don’t – by and large – have a clue about The Hidden Masters that they’re looking after.