Pub Stories – Under the Gun in the Studio

It’s been well documented that the sixties was the time when recording studios came of age, when the innovations came thick and fast, when the studio itself evolved into an instrument. I cut my studio teeth during that revolutionary period, at first in bands, then gradually working my way into the session game.  At first, my only ambition was to set foot in Abbey Road, and once that had happened, rather quickly, I’m glad to say, I found myself drawn more and more to that side of things.  Initially, the rarified world of the session musician wasn’t even a consideration.  They were an elite apart, older than the rock upstarts, and protective of their hard-won turf.  The string and brass players were particularly scornful of the long-haired interlopers, showing their disdain and lack of involvement by studiously poring over their reading matter, whether it be Amateur Photographer, The Racing Form, or the daily crossword, keeping one eye on the chart until seconds before their written entry, then nonchalantly hitting their marks on time.  It was their way of letting us know that they were members of a club whose membership rolls were closed.  The openings, though few and far between, came about when some of the new maverick producers started to realize that the stalwarts, especially the rhythm sections and lead guitarists, didn’t really sound authentic playing a lot of the new music, so those producers, god bless ‘em, began looking farther afield for appropriate musicians.  It certainly wasn’t for everybody, as discipline, punctuality, and grace under pressure were just as important as the ability to deliver a good part to order.  I got my first little tastes of independent studio work through Simon Napier Bell on the Diane Ferraz and Nicky Scott project, working with a very impressive multi instrumentalist named John Paul Jones, who, along with Jimmy Page, was in the vanguard of the new type of session guy, closer to the street, closer to rock.  Those two were still ages away from Led Zeppelin, but were already making a mark in the studios.

I’d been able to get a great deal of studio experience during my time with Ferris Wheel, not only on the band’s own albums and singles, under the guidance of “young veteran” producers John Schroeder and Ian Samwell, but also on the outside projects that came the band’s way due to the fact that our musicianship was high quality, and we could handle ourselves in the studio.  My first film dub session was with the Wheel, at a time when a film dub involved a big screen, on which the scenes were projected while the musicians synchronized to the action.  The film was a “Swinging London” artifact called “The Touchables,” and the episode in question was a nightclub scene (of course), in which the action had been shot and edited to Aretha Franklin’s version of “Respect.”  After they’d finished the movie, they found that they couldn’t, for whatever reason, license her version, so we were summoned to reproduce it in every detail, every nuance … a pretty tall order, if you think about it!  The session was called at De Lane Lea Studios in Holborn, one of the very few facilities in Central London with film-synch capabilities, and we arrived and set up facing the big screen, as instructed.  Ken Thorne, a well-known composer/arranger, who had served as M.D. on “Help!”, was the musical director for the film, so he was there to conduct us … basically, he had the synch stripe in his earphones, and we had just the band in ours, so it was his job to keep us in exact frame time.  Now, soul music, by it’s very name and definition, wasn’t intended to be played to a waving baton, and Ken knew this, so he was very accommodating, knowing we had a very tough assignment.  We also figured that Diane would be good for about five passes, tops, before her pipes gave out (she was singing live with the band) so it was pressure all around.  The temptation to look at the nubile, half-dressed beauties writhing on the screen was intense, but we had to keep our eyes on Mr. Thorne, while he got to eyeball the screen … some guys have all the luck!  That was my first experience of really being under the gun in the studio, and it was a real confidence builder when we nailed it on the third take … our version also appeared on the soundtrack album on Stateside Records, so it was a satisfactory day’s work that stood me in good stead later on when I was in the pressure cooker on a regular basis.

Excerpt from Mersey Me! A Liverpool Lad On The Loose In The Swingin’ 60s