Dig the archives (and weep)

I started this project to celebrate my 50th year and do something definitive with all those years of experience. Then it became obvious that I needed to explain what exactly that experience was. And so I wrote a couple of pages which became the bio.

Of course, once I'd written the bio I realised that it needed some pics and sounds to illustrate it, so tonight I've been digging out old photos and tapes to see if I can find some representative stuff.

A terrifying experience.

It makes me think maybe I haven't learned anything: the sessions in seedy little 8 track studios, the hours and days spent on artwork, the boxes of unsent demo tapes, the photo sessions (why oh why did I have to wear shades?) but mostly the desperate, naive attempts at hype to convince some second rate journalist that this was the next big thing.

In particular, I found a review of one of Bernie Hot Hot's demo tapes from a local paper in 1988 which still makes the hair on the back of my neck prickle and blood rush to my cheeks.

We knew the journalist (that used to be called ligging folks), used as a talent scout by the London record labels and we'd even auditioned his then current girlfriend as a potential singer although she didn't fit. So we submitted the demo under a different name to avoid journalistic bile - that was the first outing of the name Jazzrascals. As if he wouldn't recognise my voice!

Anyway, the review:

The Jazzrascals comprise of five people out on groove manoeuvres. Beret, shades and hustle, waiting for the explosion. At least that's the message on the inner cassette sleeve. The bass player is typical of this kind of outfit. All he's interested in is how many slaps he can throw in. The drummer is a clever lad, some nice hi-hat work and he's steady. No showing off. The vocals are weedier than my back garden and the guitar more or less exactly what you'd expect. They're probably only called the Jazzrascals because of the sax player anyhow. This band need some decent songs and a far stronger singer. Oh and the bassist needs a good talking to.

Excuse me for a second, I need to find a comb for the back of my neck.

It may be irrelevant, but the drummer at the time was a DJ climbing the greasy pole at the most influential local radio station of the day. And the bass player was Pete who worked with me for years after in the Jazzrascals proper.

So I dug out the demo after all this time just to compare what I heard with what he described.

Well, first off, the production is shite! How did we not hear what the engineer was doing? The bass and guitar are right at the front of the mix, the bass first. You'd have thought it was a solo demo by the bass player. By contrast, the vocals are mixed way back with little or no compression so the quiet parts are almost lost. The keyboard parts sound like an afterthought.

In retrospect, it has to be said that both of the songs on the demo were groove-based and Bernie Hot Hot were never particularly good at grooves, and maybe I'm not particularly good at writing them, but the real lesson from my experience is - watch out for... the curse of imagination.

Yes folks, imagination is both a blessing and curse. My imagination allowed me to create those songs. In fact, the second song on the demo grew out of a half waking dream where I heard a full Quincy Jones production number on the horn riff and it kicked ass! (I believe that's the American expression).

But my imagination wouldn't let go. So when we recorded the demo in some godawful eight track studio somewhere I could still hear what I wanted to hear, not what was actually there.

The second lesson is more or less irrelevant with the invention of 'nearfield monitors' which are common in most studios now (wee speakers sitting on top of the mixing desk), but don't trust those big FO (fuck off) monitors built into the studio walls. With those, you can always hear everything - loud, powerful and clear. Your mix sounds magical, but it also sounds nothing like what most people will hear.

In fact, I still think the best recordings I've made were the ones produced at home using a pair of domestic hi-fi speakers as monitors.

And I'm sure there's a lesson there for all of us.

By the way, John Slater, wherever you are, thanks (Romans 12:20).