I thought it’d be a good idea to write something typically matey, off the cuff and non-conformist, so back in the mists of time – well, 2011 to be exact – I spent some valuable time putting the first 16 short chapters of this meandering memoir together.
For the purposes of proofing, I’ve had a thorough read through, and it’s actually quite an entertaining tome.
1. The Early Years…
I was born in Coventry, Warwickshire towards the tailend of a rather inclement March 1968, the first child of Patricia and Roger.
We lived in a little village called Frankton for the first 18 months of my life, then, when my sister Julie arrived on the scene in 1969, we moved to Nottingham.
Obviously I have zero recollection of this part of my life, but according to my Mum, I was a happy little chap with a rather short fuse and a propensity to sing loudly and wander off into other people’s gardens, although not necessarily at the same time.
We moved again to the outskirts of Loughborough in late 1970, and my second sister Claire was born on New Year’s Day ’71. So then there were three. What a handful.
From an early age, I was encouraged to be musical. Patricia, my Mum, thought it would be a good idea for my sisters and I to have piano lessons. I started my grades at age 6, tutored by an old lady called Mrs Preston who taught classical piano in Loughborough, which is where we lived way back when. To be honest I have little recollection of these lessons!
I’ve fond memories of early school days which included getting scolded by various teachers for not towing the line, having real trouble understanding the basics of maths, but loving reading and English, where I showed real promise by all accounts. I was still attending weekly piano lesssons, but apparantly I was more interested in improvising once I’d nailed the sheet music. These lessons continued right up until we had to leave Loughborough for the leafy suburbs of Nottingham once again in April 1975.
This time, we lived in West Bridgford, and I do remember my next piano teacher, an affable old guy called Stan Haywood. He was a very good tutor actually; I progressed easily through a couple of grades in the two and a half years he taught me. However, the lasting memories of these weekly lessons is less about the music I learned, more about the nice biscuits my Mum laid on and him laughing out loud at me farting! He really was a great laugh.
I attended the local primary school, Abbey Road and made some good friends in West Bridgford. We spent the long, hot summer of 1976 there, the whole family basking in the searing heat with the sounds of the radio hovering on the air; I guess it must have been around this time that I developed a serious interest in the weekly chart on Radio 1. One of my earliest chart memories was when Mike Oldfield’s ‘Portsmouth’ hit the top five in November of that year, and I also have strong recollections of The Manhattan Transfer hitting the number one spot with ‘Chanson d’Amour’ in early 1977.
My Mum and Dad bought me a Boots Audio CTR500 mono radio cassette player for my birthday in 1977. Man, what an amazing gift! I still recall the excitement of receiving this, it was a truly treasured object and I immediately set about taping all kinds of music [illegally of course] with gay abandon from either Radio 1 or Trent 301, the local Nottingham indie radio station. Various Agfa, BASF and TDK ferric tapes were filled and refilled. I’ve still got one of two of them; they’re almost worn out!
I spent a couple of weeks in early 1977 suffering from a bout of chicken pox along with Julie and Claire. My Grandma came to stay to help my Mum and Dad out, and it was whilst she was there she asked me if there was anything I’d like whilst she was in town. I asked if she could buy me my first single, which was by a band called the Electric Light Orchestra. I’d really been getting into their latest hit ‘Telephone Line’. It still resonates heavily with me now. So it was actually my Grandma who started my vinyl addiction..
I have another really strong memory – the purchase of my second record. Frank Farian, the super-producer of the day had a hit with his studio band Boney M around the same time – it was an infectious cover of the Bobby Hebb soul classic ‘Sunny’. As a 9 year old, I loved that record to death; I had to own it. So whilst on a trip into Nottingham with my Mum, we entered WH Smith together and headed downstairs to the record department, where I asked the assistant to play me a copy of the single, just to check that it was OK and wasn’t warped or scratched. I’ll never forget that feeling as the sound of Boney M played, not just in the record department, but over the whole floor of the shop. It was my choice of record, and everyone in the shop was listening to it!
From here on, any pocket money I managed to save went on 7″ 45rpm singles. They were magical, circular bits of plastic that brought my world to life. Some singles made a real impact on me, and still possess the ability to give me frisson – to the uninitiated, that’s the phenomenon where the hairs on your forearms spring up. One of these was Raydio’s ‘Jack and Jill’, one of the earliest hit singles to use synthesizers for pretty much everything on the track. I bought this as a tenth birthday treat for myself.
In 1978 we moved to a place called Hughenden Valley, just outside of High Wycombe, Bucks. I did most of my formative growing up here, through most of my teens… Hughenden is a beautiful place, right in the heart of the Chilterns, and we lived on the side of a steep valley. My mum found a piano teacher literally over the road from where we lived; Valerie Harris, and I took weekly lessons with her over the next six years. But by this point, I was more than fixated with pop and chart music, less than interested in learning the classical disciplines of Mozart and Debussy. Either way, it was a useful and invaluable skill to learn and I’m forever indebted to my Mum and Dad for insisting that I persevere with my RSM grades.
2. Record Collecting
Around this time, I got my first job ‘proper’ as a paper boy. With my wage of £2.30 per week (bloody badly paid, even back then!) I would buy the chart records that I was really into that week, which meant I could buy three. I bought my first LP in 1979 too; Supertramp’s ‘Even in the Quietest Moments’ which I’d first become acquainted with at my mum’s sisters’ house. Their magnum opus ‘Fools Overture’ which monopolised side two, blew my mind! Shortly after this, I also bought The Police’s second album, ‘Regatta de Blanc’, which, let’s face it, is still a classic.
IBy September 1980 I learned I’d failed my 12+ exams, which meant that supposedly superior grammar schooling sadly wasn’t going to be an option. I seem to recall it being a big deal at the time, but in hindsight, Wellesbourne Secondary was a far better choice, a mixed comprehensive school, where I met some firm friends and received an excellent education.
At that time, electronic pop and new wave were the order of the day, which I was kind of into, but I was always keen to delve a little deeper to find the meatier cuts. Looking back, it appears I’d developed a fondness for progressive music. My Christmas present from Mum and Dad in 1978 was Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’, a glorious concept album of staggering pomp and complexity, featuring one of my favourite singles from that year; the sublime ‘Forever Autumn’.
My album collection was growing! It was followed by Mike Oldfield’s ‘Boxed’ for my 11th birthday in 1979. ‘Boxed’ really was a revelation, featuring quadraphonic mixes of Mike’s first three all-instrumental journey albums, plus an LP of singles and other collaborations, resplendent in a rather nice box with a full size booklet. To this day, a treasured possession. Consequently I think I was the only boy in the school to have ‘Mike Oldfield’ emblazoned on his bag, something I received endless ribbing for. I was still heavily into ELO – for my big Christmas 1980 present I received ‘Three Light Years’, a special edition featuring their first three albums. In parallel to this stuff, I was also enjoying listening to what was going on in the charts – amongst the singles added to my collection around this time included Kate Bush’s ‘Army Dreamers’, David Bowie’s ‘Fashion’ and The Flying Lizards’ ‘Money’.
From a personal perspective, this was the golden age of pop. Of course, music’s all about nostalgia and 1979/1980 hold some great memories for me. Looking at the official chart archive, I recognise most of the singles that made the Top 20; Paul McCartney was on a roll with his experimental electronic album ‘McCartney II’ – ‘Coming Up’ was one of my faves, along with the whole Coventry-centric 2-Tone ska and blue beat scene that was blowing up at the same time.
My Dad had always been a bit of a hi-fi buff, listening to his predominantly classical repertoire on a pretty high-end system, which comprised a Technics SL110 turntable with an SME arm, a Quad 33/303 amplifier and a pair of Quad electrostatic loudspeakers, which my Mum couldn’t stand, mainly due to the sheer size and the fact that they weren’t overly aesthetically pleasing. In actual fact, most of my schoolfriends mistook them for radiators.
Anyway, in 1980, he decided to upgrade his system, opting for a Linn Sondek LP12, which at the time was the holy grail of turntables, a more modern Quad 405 amp and a Nakamichi ZX7 cassette deck. Fortunately for me, he donated his old setup to me, Julie and Claire, so at the tender age of 12, I was the proud owner of an audiophile system. I can’t adequately express how chuffed I was! I had a classic vintage Technics deck, superb Quad amplification and a pair of Mission 700 series loudspeakers to lose myself in!
Anyway, I’m digressing somewhat… where was I? I was conscientiously attending piano lessons, but unfortunately gradually losing interest and focus; sure, classical piano taught me certain musical disciplines, but it lacked freedom – there seemed to be a lot of constraint in general. Looking back, I think I’d have probably been more into studying jazz-based piano, but there again, it probably wouldn’t have meant that I spent an hour or so after I’d finished my daily practice just improvising with different chord structures and making up little pieces using lots of sustain pedal..
So around 1984, my Mum and I mutually concluded that my days of piano lessons were drawing to a close; teenage pursuits like discos and girls were getting in the way of regular practice. By this stage I’d reached the dizzy heights of Grade VI; when I recently looked back at the type of stuff I was learning, I quite surprised myself. I was competent enough to play some pretty highbrow pieces!
My musical interests at this time were increasingly eclectic; I was soaking up anything and everything, finding myself leaning towards the progressive rock end of the spectrum I suppose, listening to a lot of Pink Floyd, Yes and Led Zeppelin, but still feverishly buying as many singles as I could afford to buy. Consequently I have to this day an eclectic aural snapshot of early eighties chart music on 7″ vinyl, which I still play on a regular basis.
In ’85, after a trip out to Morocco for a while, I learned from my Dad that we were relocating to a place called Harrogate in North Yorkshire, which sort of threw me somewhat; I’d laid down roots in Buckinghamshire, had a girlfriend and some close friends too. At the time I was working in the music department of WHSmith, using my wages to buy as much music as I could lay my hands on, discovering artists like Joni Mitchell, Tomita, Vangelis, Santana, Yes… the list was extensive. While my parents and my sisters moved North in the January of 1986, I remained in High Wycombe and finished my contract at Smiths, before rejoining the rest of my family in Harrogate in February.
By this time I was eighteen; I was at that difficult stage of wondering what the hell I was going to do for a ‘career’. I landed a job in Leeds working for Virgin, in their Hi-Fi department. OK, so the commute from Harrogate into Leeds was a bit of a ballache, but it was averagely well paid and I was able to play around with all that lovely audio gear. However, predictably, it all soon turned to shite. My manager turned out to be a class A cretin who enjoyed power tripping; he made my life a misery. I wasn’t hitting sales targets either, I’m simply too honest to be a salesman of any worth. Couple this information with the fact that I’d managed to get arrested for drink driving and had consequently lost my driving licence and it wasn’t really a surprise that after a rather depressing 8 months at Virgin, I was unceremoniously sacked. The manager of the store invited me to his office and told me that ‘I didn’t fit in with the Virgin ethos’.
Man, was I at a low ebb. And I didn’t have any mates, either.
3. My First Failed Career
So there I was, demoralised and on the dole, living at home – well aware of the fact that my folks were concerned about me, and more concerned that I was sitting around doing jack shit. What next? The natural thing seemed to pursue a career in music somehow, so I had the idea of writing around 50 letters to as many recording studios in the UK as I could find. Many didn’t bother even replying, but a few did. The most positive reply came from Keith Herd, the owner of a small recording facility just outside of Kingston-upon-Hull called Fairview. He was looking for an apprentice of sorts to train as a sound engineer, who would eventually become a freelance resident at his studio. After a meeting with Keith and the rest of his lovely family, he took me on! The deal was that I was to be paid a small amount of ‘pocket money’, while the state looked after paying my rent. I’ll be honest; it was a big deal moving away at 18 years of age to a place that I didn’t know anything about, but after spending a weekend there looking around for a place to live, I decided on a little place called Cottingham, just outside of the city centre. It was a single room in a shared flat above the main Cottingham Post Office; my first place!
My main problem was that I’d been banned from driving earlier in ’86, so I didn’t have wheels; I had to rely on a pushbike to get around, which was OK, although the ride from Cottingham to Willerby, where Fairview Studios were based was uphill most of the way! So began my studio career. I was a keen learner, but looking back, pretty shy and arkward at that age; I was ingesting loads of information from my teachers – John Spence and Roy Neave; both experienced engineers and producers, every day, and also having to grow up quite quickly – I was finding life in the shared flat quite trying – you try living with a trainee vicar whose personal hygiene is non-existent, and a trucker upstairs who’s addicted to pornography… not the best homelife!
Anyway, life at Fairview was turning out great! I was learning the tricks of the trade, the 48 track Soundcraft desk, the AMS samplers, the Drawmer gates, how to mic up different instruments, drum mic’ing in the live room, patching, production techniques, cutting and splicing 2″ tape… old school methodologies. I learned pretty much everything under the watchful eyes and ears of Keith Herd, and listening back to some of the cassettes of the work that I had a hand in producing, they genuinely sound pretty good!
When there was any studio ‘dead time’, I got to experiment with master tapes of local bands that had been in, completely remixing and dubbing out demos so I could learn about what equipment did what. I played them all to Keith, who’d sit and listen to my efforts subjectively in his office and then give me constructive feedback which I took on board as best I could.
I also got to meet and work with some very interesting folks in the industry at that time. One of the bands who’d booked some studio time at Fairview were called The Planet Wilson, who’d just signed to Virgin. I was to be tape operator / tea boy for the LP sessions and Steve Nye (Penguin Cafe Orchestra / producer/collaborator with David Sylvian et al) was their allocated producer. Being a massive Japan and Sylvian fan, this was a big deal to me. I recall the Monday morning the band were due to start recording; I managed to get to the studio a little later than I’d wanted to so by the time I arrived, the band and their producer were holed up in the control room listening to demos.
Rather than waiting for a natural break in proceedings, I lumbered clumsily into the small control room, almost falling over myself in order to shake hands with the great man, who didn’t appear to be remotely amused or indeed interested in this rather red faced lad who’d interrupted the session.
Keith was a well connected man who’d been in and around the Hull scene since the 1950’s and as a result, knew a lot of local faces. Over the course of my time at Fairview, I was introduced to a number of musicians. One of the most influential was a guy named Basil Kirchin, one of the founders of the original UK avante-garde, musique concrete scene. Originally a drummer, he’d diversified into writing for film and library music with the likes of Jimmy Page. Keith and Basil had spent time experimenting with tape manipulation, slowing recordings of animals and kids down to a snail’s pace to produce other-worldly sonic soundscapes, some of which were quite eerie and unsettling. EMI and Island records released two LPs called ‘World within Worlds’ in the early 70’s, which, over time have come to be a big influence on the likes of Brian Eno’s ambient work. And my own.
I worked with the Housemartins as tape op on their single ‘Build’ and during the sessions spent a night recording ‘samples’ with the soon-to-be FatBoy Slim, Norman Cook. Even at that time, he had a large record collection and was already into DJing and sampling ‘breaks’ from his collection with a view to making up a library of breakbeats. These were eventually released commercially in 1990 as ‘All Star Breakbeats’.
The Sisters of Mercy recorded some of their 1988 LP ‘Floodland’ at Fairview, too. I was never a big fan of the whole goth scene, so getting to work with Andrew Eldritch and ex-Gun Club bass player Patricia Morrison wasn’t a massively big deal. I like to think that even at that age I was pretty broad minded, but that pair were off the scale fucking wierdos. The music was doom-laden and heavy going, and I don’t think I ever heard Andrew speak, apart from a few grunts and a nod now and again when Roy Neave, who was engineering the sessions, made something sound good. Patricia spent most of her time sitting in the snug drinking coffee and chain smoking.
The Farm recorded their first album at Fairview – Pete Hooton and the other lads were a smashing bunch of lads from Liverpool who were recording quite politically motivated demos around that time, prior to them exploding off the whole baggy & Madchester rave scene in 1989.
And I think I got my first credit on a record, too – Barry Palmer, who’d been the vocalist on Mike Oldfield’s ‘Crises’ LP in 1983 was at Fairview to record a charity track for Save the Children. He and I got along like a house on fire, and I ended up doing some backing vocals on the track, as well as tape op’ing for the session. Barry reckoned I had ‘the voice of an angel’ which was encouraging!
After about 6 or so months working at Fairview, Keith suggested I spread my wings and have a pop at live engineering at the infamous Hull venue, The Adelphi. Live engineering is worlds away from the safety of the studio; you’ve really got to keep your wits about you. My live career didn’t last too long; OK, I had a few gigs that went alright and paid me a bit more pocket money, but I’m afraid the final straw came one night when I had to set up and engineer a live jazz ensemble that were reasonably well known. Theirs was a big band, about ten players, and to a relative novice like me, making sure the levels were all sorted was, in truth, a nightmare. I had very little soundcheck time, so by the time they took to the stage in front of a near-capacity crowd, I was nowhere near happy with anything coming out of the stereo master. Of course, feedback was the order of the night; every time the saxophonist stepped up and blew, a cacophony of barbed, spiky, deafening distortion was delivered into the mix, and I didn’t understand what the hell the problem was… I was in deep, well over my head, and after some of the looks and shouts of disapproval I was receiving from the audience, I’m surprised I didn’t get lynched that night!
Unfortunately I didn’t last that much longer at Fairview, either. After about 20 months there, and no longer reliant on Keith and the state for an income, I simply ran out of money. I’d attempted the self-employment thing, but there just wasn’t enough work to go around. Another lad called Danny Shackleton had also started freelancing at Fairview alongside me, but he had the benefit of being local, and, as a result, knew a lot of the local bands personally – plus he was probably more sociable than I was at that time! Shit, I coudn’t even afford the rent on my flat. I wasn’t particularly happy there anyway; in fact, I’ll come clean – I was genuinely lonely and quite possibly the unhappiest I’d been up to that point in my life.
So something had to give. It was with serious apprehension that I packed my minimal belongings into my car (I’d got my license back by this point) and made the journey west back to Harrogate, back to my parents…
4. Art College – A Fresh Start
With my father working in the higher echlons of the banking industry, my mother doing secretarial work locally and both my sisters having moved away, the pressure was really on for me to do something, anything after the failure of my promising career as the second George Martin. So what did I do? Yes, that’s right, I found a job as a petroleum pump operator.
God, when I look back on this period, I’d sunk to pretty much an all time low; I was working hours on end for very little remuneration, alongside people with whom I didn’t get on, and to cap it all I got fired for allegedly nicking money from the till! I’d always thought that the accountant who came in to tally up at the end of each day looked like a shifty bastard; it turned out that it was he, not I who was embezelling money regularly from the company…
So, come the 2nd Summer of Love in 1988 I was pretty downtrodden, certainly not feeling the vibes that were eminating from the rave culture that was sweeping the country at the time! I was drowning in my own shit; what was I to do? I started art college in Harrogate that September, that’s what.
And it turned my life around. Suddenly I was meeting people of my own age and hanging with people who shared my interests, which if I’m honest was listening to music and getting stoned as often as possible. Of course, I was a keen student; I’d inherited a Canon A1 camera from my dad in 1987 and photography was becoming a real passion for me. The course was a General Art and Design OND, and for the next two years I developed a healthy interest in design and more specifically letterform, whilst being bullied into a fine art direction by my tutor Alice Morgan… Ah, Alice… I recall vividly getting stuck in the stockroom with her whilst she laid into me verbally, telling me that I didn’t have one ounce of artistic ability in me, everything that I did was shit, and if she had things her way, I’d have been booted off the course years ago. Man, was she a vitriolic Northern Irish woman!
I met some seriously good friends throughout the two years I was at Harrogate. I surprised myself by being a sociable and popular member of the year group and left the course with a merit in General Art and Design. I’m still in touch with a good few of the people on that course, including Ed Richardson, one of my best friends and occasional collaborators.
Come the conclusion of the course, it was time to apply for either an HND or a degree. I applied to two places – Bath University to study for a Graphic Design degree and the London College of Printing for an HND in Typography. I assembled what I believed was a strong portfolio of work and over the course of three days, drove from Yorkshire to Bath and then from Bath to London for the interviews. The Bath interview was very nerve wracking – I think I really wanted to get onto that course, and you know how it is – the more you want something, the more likely you are to fuck it up. With the LCP interview, it’s fair to say that I wasn’t really bothered whether I got onto the course or not. Either way, I was offered a place on the spot by the LCP, and Bath turned me down.
Funny old game, isn’t it. My girlfriend Jennifer Plews, who was the star pupil at Harrogate had landed a place at Liverpool Univeristy studying fine art, so we were keen to spend as much time together as was humanly possible. We rented a room in a house in Knaresborough during the Summer of 1990, sharing the house with a drummer and his girlfriend. I took a job working for an independent photo lab called Photo Rapido. This tied in completely with my love of picture taking – I could use the processing equipment to develop my own work, within reason of course.
It was a top, top Summer and Jennifer and I travelled to Scotland on a walking holiday around the Isle of Skye and the smaller Scottish Islands, carrying all our gear in two heavy rucksacks. The long hot days raced by and summer ‘90 was over far too quickly. Before we knew it, it was time to bid farewell to our little place in Knaresborough and move away to our respective new lives in different cities at either ends of the country.
5. Bright Lights, Big Shitty
I was never in any hurry to move into the capital if I’m honest. I’ve always been happier standing on the peripheries of things rather than getting embroiled. That was my reasoning for spending the first year of my Typography course residing in High Wycombe and commuting into Elephant and Castle every day… Looking back, it was a bit of a nightmare, not to mention expensive travelling all the way from Amersham at one end of the Metropolitan line right to the other end of the Bakerloo, but that’s what I did. After all, I had close friends still in Wycombe; I was sharing a flat with one of my best friends and the whole year was really enjoyable – some great parties, trips away, walks in the Chiltern Valley, plus I was getting into a whole new music scene too.
In 1989, I was seeing a girl in Yorkshire and one night I was driving through the lanes to her place, listening to John Peel on Radio 1 when all of a sudden he played a track that I literally had to stop the car to listen to. That track turned out to be ‘A huge ever growing pulsating brain that rules from the centre of the Ultraworld’ by a band called The Orb. For me, it encapsulated everything that I was into at the time, a superb fusion of dub, ambient and electronica. The following day, I went to Leeds and bought a copy of the 12″ from Jumbo. From here on in, this piece of music opened up a whole new wealth of undiscovered artists as the ambient house scene gathered momentum.
Being in London most days, it meant that I had access to cutting edge record shops like Rough Trade, so I used to buy loads of stuff and then take it back to my flat in Wycombe, then sit up late getting baked with my mates, digesting all this beautiful new music.
Around this time, I was fortunate enough to catch some pretty seminal gigs by the Orb in their best incarnation of Paterson and Thrash; I witnessed a mental gig at the Fridge in Brixton – it was absolutely rammed and I remember my sister collapsing and having to look after her; dehydration probably. I also saw Orbital’s first gig – a 2000AD benefit in Camden, they were playing to about twenty people along with a stunning laser show; a few years later they were headlining Glastonbury!
By the middle of 1991 I realised that I had to move into town to make my course cost-effective, so I moved into the Ralph West Halls of Residence on Battersea Bridge Road overlooking the park. What a mad year that turned out to be…
I had probably the best hi-fi system in the Halls, certainly one of the loudest, so consequently my room (#820) was the ‘chill out lounge’; people came along to listen and get high. I met some good people here, some of which I’m still in touch with, others that I’m not..
6. A ‘Proper’ Job
After I’d finished at the LCP coming away after being awarded a Merit, the time had come to go out into the big wide world and find a proper job. By this time I was seeing a girl from Lincoln so spent the Summer of 92 between there and Harrogate at my parents place, frantically applying for jobs as a graphic designer. By September I’d started at Planet Presentations in Covent Garden, a fresh, young and dynamic company who decided to take me on as a junior designer. I was one of the lucky ones; the majority of college leavers at that point in time would struggle for ages to find work in their chosen sector, but here I was in Covent Garden having landed a job in a London agency!
Of course, the money to start wasn’t particularly brilliant, but so what – it was a wage and a foot on ‘the ladder’, so I was well chuffed. It also meant relative financial independence, and money to feed my vinyl and CD addiction, which I fed with gusto. There were a few rocky moments during the first year at Planet, but I managed to avoid being disposed of.. I have a lot to thank MDB and DJH for, you know who you are.
I was going out pretty regularly, most weekends, to places like MegaDog on the Holloway Road, seeing bands like Orbital, Aphex Twin, Knights of the Occasional Table, System 7; there was loads going on musically. Early computer music technology in the shape of the personal computer and Atari Cubase sequencers was just becoming available, and it was during visits to friends houses, friends who owned these primitive PCs that I started to learn what was possible to make music with the minimal amount of kit.
One of my closest buddies at the time was Anthony Beech, who was living just outside of Reading in the middle of the countryside. We shared similar musical tastes, getting into things like the Irresistible Force’s new LP ‘Flying High’ and Ultramarine’s ‘Every Man and Woman is a Star’. He was the proud owner of a very basic PC, but also had a soundcard, a MIDI controller keyboard and a copy of Steinberg Cubase 1.0! During late night visits we’d sit up in the mezanine of his tiny place and jam together, discovering what was possible with this very basic setup.
I was also travelling to Frome in Wiltshire on odd occasions to make music with my friend Crom of the Fruit Salad Lightshow, who was looking after Eat Static’s setup; a ‘proper’ studio with loads of outboard kit. These trips (literally) kind of whetted the appetite, so as you can imagine it wasn’t too long before I started yearning for my own little ‘studio’.
7. Taking the Plunge
In mid 1993, Anthony and I had been walking around Trent Park near Southgate, North London where I was living at the time, talking about music. He’d come up with a name – ‘A Lucid Nation’ that he felt encapsulated a spirit, and also sounded a bit like ‘hallucination’ phonetically. It was and is a great bit of word play, and it was only when I started playing about with the typographical qualities of the name on the computer that I realised it should be one word; and so ‘alucidnation’ was born.
Later that year, against my then partners wishes, I arranged a rather large loan from my bank and bought my first studio setup on Tin Pan Alley in London – Great Russell Street. Initially I was going to go the workstation route; I seem to recall looking at an all-in-one studio solution – a full sized keyboard that contained a GM MIDI synthesizer, a sequencer and a sampler for nigh on £4000. But then after taking some advice from my friend Crom and having worked on bits of outboard gear, I decided to buy separates. I ended up with:
- 486mhz Gateway PC running Cubase 1.0
- Korg 05R/W general MIDI synth module, based on the fabulous M1
- Mackie 1202 micro mixer
- Akai S01 sampler with an incredible 15.1 seconds sampling time
- Novation BassStation analogue synth
- Fatar mother keyboard controller
- Alesis Quadraverb effects unit.
Unbelievably, this kit set me back close to £4500! I also got hold of a studio desk to install all of this lovely new equipment on, then it was simply a case of learning how it all connected up and worked. Fortunately, even though technology had moved on leaps and bounds, I still had my previous studio experience from my Fairview days, so I wasn’t a complete novice..
So, to the detriment of my relationship, any available free time I had was spent on marathon recording sessions, backing up literally hundreds of tunes to cassette tape; live jams over small eight bar sequences in Cubase, some which sounded good, others that didn’t. In fact, I listen back to some of the work that I produced using that minimal amount of kit and it sounds remarkable. I often think that the less equipment you have available to you, the more inventive and less distracted you tend to be. That was certainly the case for me. Most of the time I’d be working on improvisations by myself – chord structures that I’d been messing around with for years on various pianos, but I was also collaborating with Anthony on mellow, contemplative pieces and with me old mate Stuart Nisbet on more house-based stuff.
8. Moving on | The Big Chill Gala
I was amassing a nice little body of work on my own, but my personal life wasn’t working out. It was only a matter of time until I decided enough was enough and I moved out. On Valentines Day 1995 I moved my gear out, taking it up to Yorkshire for temporary storage at my parents, whilst I decided where I was going to live! Troubled times; for a couple of weeks I was once again commuting to and from High Wycombe, sleeping on people’s floors, until a work colleague of mine offered very kindly to put me up while I got my shit together. In actual fact, I’d asked her prior to leaving my last girlfriend if she’d mind ever so much if I could crash at her place if things ‘came on top’.
That work colleague was Nina, my future wife… She had a lovely place up on Harrow Hill about twelve miles out of London, easy commute, into cooking, hospitable, easy going, everything that my ex girlfriend wasn’t, basically. You can understand why I wasn’t in any particular hurry to leave there, but seeing as the offer of a roof over my head had been for about a week, maybe two at the most, she was keen to see the back of me after I’d been there about five weeks or so! By this time, my sister and her partner Derek who’d just got back from travelling Australia had found somewhere in Leytonstone, East London that had enough room to accomodate them and me, plus a room for one more, so I asked Anthony if he’d like to move in; he was having trouble with his lovelife too. Ah, the complexities of the middle twenties!
So there we all were, one big happy family, living in a massive flat with spacious garden, life was good. It was also the first time since my late teens that I’d been single. Looking back on this period, it was pretty debauched actually. We did some wild parties at that house, big house parties, good times… At this time I was very prolific with the music writing, with the encouragement of Anthony, we knocked up the first demo alucidnation tape, which contained some recent improvisations. We did the proper thing of mailing ourselves a copy of the tape, god knows where the other one went! Nowhere, more than likely.
What was strange was that I seemed to be writing more on my own, or with Stuart, which considering I was living under the same roof as Anthony didn’t make sense. I guess we were just drifting apart, there were some misunderstandings as regards the music definitely. Nevertheless, I just kept on writing, acquiring new bits of useful kit; a friend of a friend was getting rid of some redundant studio gear, so I snapped it up, in hindsight it was vastly overpriced, but I was a bit green back then. Karl Bonnie (ex Rengade Soundwave) was selling an old Akai S1000KB sampler, a ridiculous beast of a machine with about 2 minutes sampling time available and also a Mackie 1604 desk. I also got hold of a new Alesis FX unit, so my studio was pretty comprehensive for the time! The one overriding memory of the S1000KB is the neckache that I endured having to program it; the display (in typical Akai fashion) was on the way out and was consequently difficult to read, unless you faced it head on – as it was horizontal you had to bend over it to see what was going on – a nightmare…
By the end of the Summer of ’95 Nina and I had finally got it together and I moved out of the Leytonstone flat over to homely Harrow to be with her full time. I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life before, I was completely smitten. Here was someone who gave me full support without question – to be honest it was something of a headfuck after being with someone prior to her who was completely the opposite. My studio remained over in Leytonstone, I was still paying rent and it was actually quite good to be able to go over there and know that I was over there to work – a dedicated studio space. However, financial contraints dictated that I had to move my studio over to Harrow, fortuitously for me, the flat that Nina was renting had a spare room that with some slight modifications made a lovely music studio! Her landlady had been a keen photographer and she’d used the room as a photography studio, so once I’d ripped out all of her bits and pieces, I moved my gear in.
We’d attended a small music festival that summer called Bracknell Folk Festival, with the specific intention of seeing Ultramarine, and it was there that I met David Hatfield, who ran a small-scale operation called Changing World Records. He recommended a CD called ‘Life Before Land’ by an artist called Another Fine Day, who turned out to be Tom Green, who’d collaborated with the Orb on their fist LP. I found out that he was going to be performing at another small festival called ‘The Big Chill’ which was taking place at the back end of that summer in the Black Mountains just outside of Brecon, Wales. Only about 600 people turned up to Pete and Katrina Lawrence’s first outdoor party, but it was the beginning of something that was to become much larger.. Nina, I and a few others attended, and it was amazing; everything that a festival should be. I’ve never missed one since!
9. The Advent of the Internet
It was around this time that the world wide web was becoming available to ‘the man on the street’ via a 28.8k modem, or if you were really lucky, 56k! I seem to remember that Nina and I got onto the net at home in ’96 or maybe late ’95. Whatever, it meant that I could finally start getting my music out to a wider audience via such sites as MP3.com, a fantastic portal for the amateur musician. 1995 saw my place of work getting a CD burner [2x recording!] too, so I was able to start producing my own audio CDs.
I’d also formulated a way of producing music that has stayed with me until now; to basically get a long loop on the go, and then to jam alongside the loop for about twenty minutes with the DAT/MD recording the live pass. With the advent of digital editing technology, it was then possible to record the take back onto the computer and then edit it, tightening up the loose ends and getting rid of the shit bits. This way, you’d be guaranteed a track that whilst repetitive, flowed in an organic and natural way. I still use this methodology now for most of the tracks I produce.
One particular track that I’d composed seemed to be getting very good feedback, especially on the MP3.com site. In fact, it won ‘Electronic Song of the Week’, which, considering the sheer amount of tracks on the site was no mean feat. It was called ‘Summer ’97’, a meandering, smouldering track that some have described as ‘Balearic’, although I have to be honest and profess that I still don’t really know what it means..
10. Towards the End of the Nineties
In 1998, Nina and I got married, a wedding that some say was the best they can recall; it certainly was a blast; we got married in Pembrokeshire in Wales and then honeymooned in Barbados. Most of 1998 was spent either organising that or working hard at Planet, where I was now design manager.
Fast forward to 1999, I was continuing to amass a nice body of work. I decided to put out as a limited edition CDR called ‘EP99’, and contained six tracks – ‘Jammer’, ‘Summer 97’, ‘My Bollocks Feel Funny’, ‘A Suburban Friday Night’ and ‘Seeking Shelter’. There was also a track called ‘I’m Not Bad’ on there, a throwaway number that caught the attention of all who heard it. I’d been tinkering around with a Ray Conniff sample one night whilst a mate was over who’d been telling me that he was unlucky in love. Once he’d gone, I started improvising with some vocals over the top of the backing track, set the DAT recording and taped whatever vocals came into my head as I sung them. The resulting track was ‘I’m Not Bad’, more of which later…
I sold about twenty copies of EP99 to friends, work colleagues and family, which covered the pressing costs – it gave me some satisfaction just to know that the product was [finally] out there.
11. The Noughties | Getting Signed
The Big Chill’s annual Enchanted Garden festival at the Larmer Tree Gardens in Wiltshire took place in August, and we’d been invited to be a part of the ‘art trail’ as 5ifth Dimension, erecting crazy UV string sculptures that viewers could interact with and walk through. I’d also decided to press up twenty copies of a CD containing recent work from the first half of that year, which I took along to Changing World to sell. I was delighted that all 20 had sold by the end of that weekend!
In the November, the Big Chill organised a trip out to the Greek Island of Naxos which my friend Marcus Bailey attended. He took along his copy of the alucidnation CD, and on the last night there, Tom Middleton, a musician and producer whose work as Global Communication I particularly admired, was playing the last set of the festival. Marcus asked him if he could play a track off the CD; ‘I’m Not Bad’, which he duly did. I obviously wasn’t there, but Marcus kindly video taped the reaction from various people there; both Tom and Pete Lawrence were obviously very into this track that I personally had considered rather throwaway. The following week, I received a telephone call from Tom Middleton out of the blue, which was kind of unexpected to say the least! Then Pete Lawrence contacted me via e-mail to arrange a meeting to discuss potentially signing me up to the Big Chill label. I have to say that the back end of 2000 was a bit of a blur, everything started moving very quickly; a release schedule was drawn up, with a single slated for release in time for the next Big Chill festivals. There were to be two Summer festivals in 2001, one at Larmer Tree and the other at Lulworth Castle.
Of course, at that particular time, the whole ‘Chill Out’ genre was very much cutting edge – looking back on it, I was riding the crest of that wave, but as is always the case, you’re never aware of these things whilst it’s happening! All of a sudden I was being interviewed by various music magazines and appearing on compilations. Pete asked me to mix and blend the new Big Chill compilation called ‘Glisten’ which won awards, I was designing the artwork for my own EP that was being released on CD and vinyl and deciding on tracks for the alucidnation album that was due out that summer. A whole lot was happening.
I played my first Big Chill event in the February of 2001 at the ‘Love In’ at Baskerville Hall, Hay on Wye, UK. I can’t tell you what a buzz it was to perform at an event that I’d been attending as a punter for the previous five years or so! I DJ’d a selection of my work with accompanying photography after Mixmaster Morris and Matt Black had finished and it seemed to go down very well.
‘EP:01’ came out just before the Enchanted Garden in 2001 to critical acclaim. However, I was still umming and arring about which tracks to put onto my debut LP. Having amassed a pretty extensive back catalogue of work made choosing potential tracks for the debut a nightmare! Due to my indecision, I missed the boat that year, and then the following year… ultimately the debut alucidnation LP didn’t see the light of day until 2004…
Still, I kept on writing and recording, in 2002 I released ‘EP:02’, a three tracker with the rather laborious ‘Battersea Park’ as the main track. 2002 also saw me entering covers territory, completely re-working the 10cc classic ‘I’m Not in Love’, which was awarded ‘Single of the Week’ on the Big Chill site and made the cut on the Ministry of Sound Chillout compilation series. During that year, I played a variety of different gigs all over the place in the UK and across the globe, visiting Japan for the first time with Laura B… what an experience that was!
May 2003 saw the Big Chill Recordings posse hit the road for the first time. A motley crew was assembled, consisting of myself, Lol Hammond, Laura B, Pete Lawrence and VJs Adam Seaman and John Rixon. Together we toured a few venues, me driving my campervan and Pete comandeering his car across the UK. It was fantastic fun, some of the venues attracted largeish audiences, others (Manchester) attracting bugger all! Par for the course I suppose.. We also did another tour later that year with the mighty Ralph Myers and the Jack Herren Band, which was, in some respects far more ‘professional’ inasmuch as we had a tourbus! We played about six dates over as many days, and I was exhausted by the end of it all. You can see how performers can lose it when they’re constantly on the road; one tends to overdo it on the alcohol and smoke, there are no responsibilities like driving – you crash out at one place, then when you wake, you’re in another place, usually hungover. Still, I made the most of the whole experience; I was DJing alongside Pete Lawrence, who declined the offer of the bus – “the reek of testosterone” being his reason for going it alone! Got to hand it to the Ralph Myers lads; it didn’t matter how small the venue or the crowd (in Liverpool we played to about thirty people) they gave it 200%!
I played some great gigs during 2003, one alongside Ulrich Schnauss at Cargo, a German chap who was very much on the ascent at the time and another alongside Dave Noble, aka Natureboy – a musician who I especially admire.
I also landed my own monthly night at the newly-opened Big Chill Bar in the fashionable Shoreditch part of London too, I called it ‘Lucid’ and my residency there lasted for over eight years – not a bad run.
13. Finally, The Album!
Early 2004 saw me compiling the debut album. I’d written some choice new material during the previous twelve months, so the tracklisting finally felt right. The LP ‘Induction’ came out in July 2004, initially being released just on-line whilst the label sorted out distribution issues. The reviews were unanimous in their praise, I got some good coverage overall. I really went to town on the artwork too, the initial 3000 coming out in a deluxe gatefold sleeve with 16 page booklet, which meant I could include a lot of my own photography, which is my other passion in life. It looked and sounded great; Laura B did a top job on the mastering of the CD – general production values aren’t my strongest area! Due to there being no budget for any advertising, the LP kind of got lost in the avalanche of releases, so I wasn’t about to retire on the royalties! The LP graced ‘all good record shops’ in May 2005, once we’d sorted out distribution through Vital. The launch party for the release was held at the Big Chill Bar one Sunday, where I got to programme the order of the day. For this, I invited friends and supporters down to play some records, including Tom Middleton, Mixmaster Morris, Stuart Nisbet and Pete Lawrence amongst others. It was rammed in there, a top day actually!
2005 saw me gigging all over the UK again, performing at places as diverse as the De la Warr Pavillion in Bexhill to Chris Coco’s ‘Balaerica’ night in London. My music was being used on all kinds of compilations and I was starting to earn some decent dough from my art, which is an impressive feat in itself, I suppose.
14. Life Changes
In May 2005 Nina and I moved house, moving from the leafy suburbs of North West London to a place out in the sticks, actually quite a remote farmhouse in the Chiltern Hills. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it. In reality it was quite a hard existence, especially in the Winter. Whilst there was central heating, it was all fired from a rather antiquated coke-fired back boiler which wasn’t particularly efficient. Couple this with the fact that the property was draughty and you can imagine a lot of the romantisism became diminished. I have strong memories of Nina and I in the front snug, almost sitting on top of the open fire in a vain attempt to keep warm. The front of our bodies were warm, but our backs were frozen! Having said all this, come the Spring and Summer months, the whole place was transformed with the advent of visitors galore and warm sunny evenings.
I was complementing my music earnings with a part time job working for Tesco. Yeah, I know it sounds strange, but I genuinely enjoyed working as a home shopping delivery driver. I was driving around the country lanes, meeting regular customers and keeping fit at the same time. It was hard physical work – strange that in this country you’re rewarded more financially for actually doing less, isn’t it… My evening regime involved circular-route cycle rides around the countryside, good food and listening to music.
Yeah; I look back to the 20 months that we lived out in Buckinghamshire through rose-tinted glasses. OK; it was hard work to keep warm, chopping wood and feeding the back boiler with copious amounts of coal, but if we hadn’t done it then, then I doubt we ever would have. Plus it highlighted certain things that did and didn’t work as far as Nina and I were concerned; ultimately we came out of the experience stronger.
My studio was based in the back of the cottage, a smallish room which just about accommodated my studio gear and rather large music collection. But I listen back to the stuff that I composed out there and I’m happily surprised at the output. The abiding memory is putting together ‘Pedal Steal’ and ‘Solitaire’, two tracks that made the cut on the 2nd LP. I was learning to try and spend a little more time on each recording, rather than rushing to get things finished as soon as possible, and you can hear the difference. I bought another vintage analogue keyboard around this time too – a Roland JX-3P with the PG-200 controller unit. It gave me a further dimension to my sound; in actual fact the main riff from ‘Solitaire’ came out of this new keyboard. However, it was limited in the MIDI department, only allowing 1 channel of information to pass through it, so I’m afraid that I sold it at the start of 2007. Kind of regret it now, as they’ve escalated in value quite substantially since then.. shit happens.
15. Always Returning
At the start of 2007, we decided that enough was enough [Nina had recently got a job working back in the centre of London] and so we moved back to our place in North West London again. Dave [Nina’s Dad] and I built a new studio out in the garden on my return, freeing up some room in our house. I’m a strong believer that if your place of work is removed from the place where you live, you treat the process of working differently. The problem was that I virtually lived outside!
Throughout 2007 and for the most part of 2008, I decided to attempt to make a living solely from my music. The problem is that unless you’re a seriously commercially successful artist, it’s either feast or famine. I couldn’t have afforded myself this luxury if I’d been having to fend for myself, so I thank Nina for supporting me to all intents and purposes through this rather lean period. However, I did compose a fair amount of new material, some of which will see the light of day at some point in the future. During the early part of 2008 though, I started to suffer from what I can only describe as severe depression – the cause of which was simply not having enough to do and little structure in my life. Little things, including basic integration with others and general socialising became increasingly difficult and I guess I dropped off the radar for a good few months. It’s ironic that 2007/8 was pretty busy as far as compilation appearances are concerned. But things like that don’t matter when you’re falling into the depths of self-flagellation. It was time to do something to attempt to turn things around.
16. Conforming in my Forties
So, I got a job. I started contracting for the same company that Nina had found work at a year and a half before – BrainJuicer. And yeah – I’ve got to admit that it sorted my head out. Sure – it was tricky at first having to meet new people and try to integrate again, but after about 4 months I think I was pretty much back ‘to normal’ whatever that is. I wouldn’t say that I’m a breadhead; far from it, but it’s true that having a bit of dough in your pocket does make you feel a little better, and it definitely helps when you’re in a relationship as you can start to pay for the things that you were relying on your partner to buy – a meal or something as simple as that.
And the music? Well, something’s happened to me since 2009. Yeah, I’m still writing, but the whole process is much more sporadic and the stuff that I’m primarily writing is pretty soporific on the whole. I guess that I am, and always have been my harshest critic, but I just don’t feel the necessity to churn a lot of music out these days. My interests have diversified – I’m experimenting with film more at the time of writing this [Summer 11] and composing long, contemplative pieces on my piano with little electronc accompaniment.
Having said all this, maybe I’m being a bit down on myself. I did release my second LP back in 2009 – I called it ‘Get Lost’ and it came out in Europe on Big Chill and on One World in Australia and NZ. It’s sold well, and got some great feedback review-wise. I’m presently compiling my third album, which I will probably self-release through my own site. These days, the internet has provided tools to enable anyone to release their music throughout the world – with a modicum of knowledge, anything’s possible!