THE STAGE OF HISTORY
THE ONLY ONE WORTH PLAYING
Part 1 Movement of The Action Fraction
There are a few things you should know.
These are the ground rules…
From the start we adopted rules that were considered to be a necessary form of discipline to prepare for the journey. It was going to take time, dedication and relentless belief as there are no overnight sensations.
Everything else is just down to the sum of the parts and part of the ride.
Before anyone outside of the UK ever heard of Re-Flex, we had already been working together for quite a while, rehearsing, playing gigs and recorded a lot of our early material. Some of these tracks helped to create a buzz and get the attention of the music press and radio, featured as cover mounts or performed on radio sessions but never officially released.
I had for a while been looking for musicians to work with and after returning from America things really started to come together. Tape One was just off London’s Tottenham Court Road and known as a respected mastering and cutting room but in the basement they had a little studio where I first met Nik Launay. Although he could not play any instruments it was never an issue and fuelled by his regular intake of 6 sugars in tea, possessed a frantic enthusiasm for making music. I was on a quest and he was up for the ride and a brew. Nik was responsible for introducing me to singer and guitarist John Baxter as they had previously done some work together. He gave me a tape and I was immediately struck by his unusual voice as he had a ridiculous range. I called Baxter and we arranged to meet, then he contacted Francois Craig who lived in Brighton. The three of us became the core of the band. It was game on.
We had left the station and the journey had started.
Tape One became our first base and where we spent many long weekends experimenting with different line-ups. We initially worked with drummer Phil Gould who lived on the Isle of Wight but as he had just become a father and was finding it tricky to make rehearsals, suggested his friend who also lived on the island. One day Mark King appeared at Tape One and instantly we knew we had just met someone who would make a huge impact on the group. Now well known as a bass player, Mark was and probably still is an even better drummer, phenomenally powerful and often completely over the top. He would hit his drums so hard that regularly bits would fall off and much to everyone’s delight, his finale was often to stand up and walk through his kit. Mark possessed a relentless sense of humour (“your keys”) that was frequently responsible for rehearsals grinding to a halt. Before we met he had developed an obsessive interest in the guitarist John McLaughlin and at times could be seen walking around the island wearing a white sheet. Our weekends were like being locked up with Keith Moon, Buddy Rich and Tommy Cooper.
Our first line up also included guitarist John Hodjes who looked like a weedy version of Lydon and he adopted Mark as his spiritual leader. He then upgraded, found God and had to leave rehearsals early as they clashed with Sunday meetings. Both required commitment and unlimited amounts of faith.
Each time we rehearsed Mark and Francois had to travel to London, so we decided from the beginning to devote entire weekends and as neither could afford the fares, navigating the trains and ticket guards became a skill in which both were highly competent. We would meet on Friday night, set up the equipment and then spend the next 2 days rehearsing and by Sunday evening, leave exhausted and unable to speak. This became a way of life, sleeping on floors and sofas in Belsize Park or Primrose Hill. Anne Marie was then UK head of the highly respected classical record label Deutsche Gramophone but on weekends she kindly ran a guest house for the band. Over the next few months we developed an obsessive need to create music that we believed was different.
The first song Re-Flex played together and recorded was “Mindless Dancing”. It was our starting point, a cathartic workout performed at every rehearsal, mission statement, anthem and Francois’s personal choreography.
The intense rehearsing made the band musically very tight and soon we had a lot of material that we wanted to record. The first opportunity was at DJM studios but without much time and no previous studio experience as a band that hadn’t yet performed live, not surprisingly these tracks turned out pretty rough. A few months later we began working late nights at another studio in Queensway called Marcus Music. At the time it was being used by The Clash to record “Rock The Kasbah” and by Marvin Gaye who during this period was sometimes seen walking around in a dress – these were not his best days. Marcus was a friendly but weird place, owned by a Swedish ex pop star Marcus Osterdahl, who it was claimed didn’t get spots because they slid off his face. At the time it was being managed by a friend, engineer Richard Goldblatt (ELO etc) and he kindly let us use some of their “dead time”. In exchange I agreed to play on some extremely strange sessions involving an African Prince. Tribes of musicians, relatives and friends would descend on the studio from midnight onwards and disappear under a fog of Ganja. Apart from Marvin, the delightfully wonderful Charly Spry was the only person who really had a clue about what was going on. After one too many slippery encounter and surreal events she left to run Stringfellows and helped start the Hippodrome club. Charly can probably now be found at Ascot.
Over time Re-Flex's music had evolved and at Marcus with the help of engineer Rafe McKenna, Nik, Femi Jia, Richard and the sarcastic wit of Tim Hunt, we started to capture the sound we wanted - a fast blend of rock and electronic pop music.
“Ladies and gentlemen, take your partners for mindless dancing”.
Within a few months we returned again to Marcus to work with Rafe on more tracks but by now Mark was also playing bass in Level 42 and soon after we finished mixing he walked through his kit for the last time and headed for the exit. Although understandable and in many ways inevitable, we were surprised by his departure as it wasn’t funny.
This was the start of a new chapter for the band as around this time we discovered Redan Recorders which became our home. Situated around the corner from Marcus, almost underneath the Indian restaurant Khans, Redan was a special place, where so much happened. Thanks to the kindness, trust of those who ran it and also a set of keys that we had made, we soon felt like we lived there.
We spent many long hours with the waft of Tandori from the local restaurant. The studio was run by John, Roger and Rodney, an unusual musical trio. Apart from Derick who was a saint sent from Newcastle and helped us with our early gigs, the Redan crew was completed by the lovely Linda and their house engineer Johnny. He had perfected the look of having just got out of bed, irrelevant of the time of day. Down one end of the basement was a 24 track recording studio and despite the amount of time we spent working at Redan, we only once used it to do some recording. Our territory was a separate isolated room, where the PA worked and so did Re-Flex.
Redan was where we first played with drummer Roland Kerridge. He had been in various bands and was completely different to Mark. Roly brought much more of a groove to the music and was very interested in exploring electronic percussion. From the beginning this had been a feature of the band as we tried working with early drum machines, CR78 named by Mark as the “rythmo litmo” but Roly was up for going much further. He was into Kraftwerk and some of the electronic music that was coming from Japan, particularly YMO and this began to have a big influence upon the direction and how we went about creating music.
For a while we had been trying to find a manager and weirdly one of the first to approach was former pop legend, Dave Dee. Although he was still occasionally getting the whip out with his band on German music galas, he had moved on and during the 70’s worked at Electra Records in the UK. He then decided to leave and when we bumped into him he was now managing acts. After getting hold of an early tape, he turned up at quite a few of our gigs. We all liked him but I can’t remember why he never became our manager, maybe we were afraid that he would get his whip out.
I suggested an old friend Tony Simons, a warm wonderful guy who laughed a lot and who I thought was a good young music business hustler. His father Cyril was a Tin Pan Alley legend. Tony was then managing Thomas Dolby. He heard some of our tracks and after a meeting we all agreed to work with him. We would gather at his flat in Fulham to discuss how the job was to be done. They would start as relatively constructive events but soon descend into total disarray, on one occasion we were interrupted by his downstairs neighbour when Tony’s waterbed burst.
We soon began looking for gigs and the first was on a wet Thursday night at a club in Soho. A former historical venue which was then called Gossips. It wasn’t brilliant but was a start. It felt like Re-Flex had just lost its virginity. Gradually over the next year the group began to play pubs and clubs around the London area and build a small following of fans. We targeted potential supporters within the media and radio, as we wanted to let them know
RE-FLEX re-fused to go away.
There are numerous references to graffiti within many of our songs and when the band began to look for gigs London’s billboards became the target for our initial promotional campaign.
I first met with artist and graphic designer Will Riley at a print studio in Chelsea and we shot some pictures of a small wooden artist model which due to lack of ventilation and toxic amounts of developer that were accidentally used, turned out rather strange but we immediately liked. These became the basis of the logo and a series of posters that appeared with only the group’s name and a statement. The first said “Movement of the Action Fraction”, a few weeks later another followed with “Music Re-Action in Action” and after that, “This poster is Hyping Re-Flex”. They were not selling anything as there was nothing to buy, just communicating ideas that made some people stop and look. There were billboards where all 3 posters appeared duplicated in rows and looked truly impressive. A few months later around the time we started to regularly play live, a large wall near Redan, under the Westway, was covered with the Re-Flex logo and the words “This Wall is Hyping Re-Flex.” It remained there for a few years and was seen everyday by thousands of people as they entered central London. The campaign was spreading, RE-FLEX started to appear on London’s pavements.
Having quite a lot of equipment and often no sound check, it was always risky knowing if everything was going to work, particularly as most of the early gigs we played supports. Like all musicians when they start, we were dependent upon a road crew of well intended unpaid friends. The introduction of the extraordinary Malcolm Gardner was due to Roly as he was part of his regular crew of Harrow party goers and he became the first of many odd/wonderful components of our crew. At times he possessed a disturbing amount of energy which sometimes would be put to good use but he also had an amazing ability to piss people off. Rumour has it that Malcolm became a parking warden and more recently has found his way into politics. I don’t know if it proves a connection but may be worth considering. As for Jingles, I never knew his real name but he was a friend of Malcolm’s and up for pretty much almost anything, which probably explains why he is now deceased. On many occasions, we were also joined by Gary Trainer, who was a recent arrival from New Zealand. He had been on a spiritual journey until he bumped into Re-Flex and then decided to become an acupuncturist - figures! Needles and musicians do not have a particularly good historical association but the times were changing. The sight of our dressing or rehearsals rooms with people covered in needles, lighted candles poking out of their ears was not unfamiliar. One candle was acceptable but two would be stupid. This helped to initially gain us a fairly bizarre reputation.
Mark Redgrave was “looking to get some experience working with live bands” and joined us for the full ride! Also known as “Ronnie” because of his likeness to Ronnie Wood, he possessed during daylight an astonishing low voice that made it almost impossible to decipher what he was saying. It was believed that he suffered from a lack of treble but rolled off some bottom end as the day went on. When we later started headlining gigs, we were often expected to bring a PA and were accompanied by Derrick who worked at Redan. Derrick was from Newcastle, a “canny lad” and an absolute saint, joined us on some of the bleakest gigs and first mixed our live set, “A cracking sound for three men and a sleeping dog”.
“Who’s supporting us, bleeding Genesis”? This was the comment we received as entered the venue to support UK artist Wreckless Eric and his band, no doubt prompted by the amount of equipment we were struggling to carry. It was a very cold Monday night in a pub in the East End of London and the place was empty. The only reason we stayed was because when we arrived it started to snow heavily and soon everywhere looked like the North Pole. We were now marooned so both bands just went with it. The audience consisted of a sleeping dog that remained spread out across the middle of the floor for almost the entire evening and an elderly drunk who had parked himself on the edge of the bar as soon as the doors opened. He was not a fan of either band until we bought him a drink and gave him a T shirt then we instantly became his best friends. As it was not ideal conditions we convinced him that crowd surfing was not advisable and instead both bands and road crews took turns as audience and those capable of mounting tables by the end of the evening, gave each other standing ovations.
The next recording session took place in Kings X at Mount Pleasant Studios, owned and run by musicians Jon Astrop and Phil Saatchi. It had a distinct hint of sewage and you could smell who had been in the month before. Mount “Un-Pleasant” as it was also known, was often used by UK band “Gang of Four” and was the first time we recorded with Roly. Compared to the luxury and facilities available at Marcus it was pretty basic but the studio possessed a distinctive hard sound and with the assistance of Rafe and Nik, we produced our rawest recordings and took compression to a new level.
Our manager Tony suggested making a video but despite lack of money, camera crew or knowledge, we thought it was a good idea. He arranged for us to film it at a place in Luton owned by “Big” Don Larkin who became a good friend of the band. Don’s Lancashire accent was not always easy to understand and you didn’t want to get caught in the middle of a conversation with him and Mark. Don gave us the space, equipment and a few technical manuals all of which started with the words “congratulations”, showed us the electricity points and kettle and then let us get on with it. We managed to convince a couple of friends, artist Ian Sugar and Paul a photographer to give us a hand and thought the simplest thing would be to film a live performance in front of an invited audience. Although neither had any previous experience they immediately became directors of our first epic. There was a large loft room but the top of the stairs was just an open hole and waiting for an accident to happen. At some point while setting up we suddenly saw Francois disappear and he was now lying on the floor below looking somewhat dazed by his unexpected descent, thankfully nothing that a few pins and a candle couldn’t fix. We had a party, loads of friends turned up and the band played a short set and filmed three tracks but as we only had one camera it was necessary to edit different takes together and became an absolute nightmare. At 25 frames a second, we relied on Roly’s almost immaculate timing skills to accurately hit the buttons to copy each section. By the last session, things had started to get very strange as it went on continuously for over three days and we all agreed that it was the latest any of us had gone to bed. Desperate to stay awake, the only available stimulants beyond instant coffee were Feminax, which I dare say may be of assistance if used for the original purpose but we had been consuming them in large amounts and by the time we left were hallucinating and convinced that we would wake up permanently damaged.
We were playing regular gigs at venues like the Moonlight Club, Rock Garden Marquee and others around the London area and starting to get mentioned in the press until we got banned from performing in London due to an unfortunate incident at the Hope and Anchor pub. We’d played there a few times before but on this occasion it involved some redecoration of the dressing rooms. Our road crew also worked as decorators, unfortunately they were not very good or employed by the management of the Hope & Anchor. The dressing room was pretty much an extension of the urinal an we thought it could benefit from a lick of paint but the manager didn’t approve of the unexpected colour change. What was initially thought to have been a brilliant white room had during the night evolved into an unknown colour. Regrettably little research had neither been done into the drying times or toxic content and by the time we walked on stage the place was packed and band and audience were completely gone on the fumes. I went to see the manager the next day to apologise and could tell that he was not impressed as I attempted to lie my arse off but badly suffered from the Pinocchio effect. We offered to do another gig to pay for it, “Re-Decorate” but as he was a huge bloke and we really had pissed him off, despite being painfully sorry he decided to cancel our career. He put the word out to various agents and venues and we now had a reputation as shabby decorators. As Re-Flex could not get arrested we returned to Redan to work on a new batch of songs and among these were “The Politics of Dancing”, “Hurt” and “Flex it”. We were still able to pick up occasional gigs outside of London but then one day Mike who ran the Half Moon pub in Herne Hill called. He had finally listened to the tape we sent him liked it and wanted to give us a gig. Although he’d also heard about our reputation he was not put off and said he fancied getting his place done up. This never happened because over the next couple of months we started to sell the gig out and he now had enough money to get the job done professionally. As the word spread Re-Flex were now off the hook.
We were getting ready to do some more recording when Roly introduced engineer Graham Dixon to the band and soon after together we recorded three tracks at Maison Rouge studios, in west London. These sessions included an early version of “Hurt” and the version of “Flex It” which appeared on the B side to “The Politics of Dancing”. After Mount Pleasant, it was nice to be somewhere that had a working toilet that was not next to the recording area. Graham had been regularly working with legendary record producer Gus Dudgeon and while we working Gus often dropped in and hung around. Here was somebody who we used to read about in the music press and whose name appeared on many classic records, John Mayall, David Bowie and with Elton John, he was truly a legend. Gus became a great fan and close friend, regularly turning up at gigs and was one of the many who helped to spread the word – what a bloke!
Over the past 2 years Re-Flex had recorded a lot of material but remained unsigned. We were almost at the end of this phase of the band as we were about to undergo a change that would have the greatest impact on the direction of our music. Everything is down to the sum of the parts.
To be continued………
Part 2 - The Politics of Dancing
Re-Flex had been together for more than 2 years, during which we had performed a lot of live shows and as part of the ride, been through a few line-up changes. Following completion of the Maison Rouge sessions and a memorable last gig at the Moonlight Club, in West Hampstead London, where our bass player Francois Craig accidentally disappeared off the front of the stage, he unexpectedly quit the band. The mixes didn’t sound that bad. We were all a bit stunned. Even Gary couldn’t fix him! Apart from being a really unusual musician Francois had become a significant contributing writer. We had been through a lot together and as a result his departure had a big impact on the group.
Having gone from a 5 piece line up, it was just Baxter and me left from where this journey had begun and with Roly we were a 3 piece. So we retreated back to Redan to figure out what we wanted to do and in that room or maybe it should be womb, so much took place. We thought about it for a while and the music just started to develop as we began to experiment more with using sequenced rhythms, patterns and bass parts and it inspired the writing of a lot of new songs. We had always been interested in using any new available music technology and recently Roly and I had been messing about with a DSX sequencer made by Oberheim electronics and a Linn drum machine linked together. This combination became known as “The Boys” and was like having 2 band members who were never late, didn’t need feeding or complained. Their arrival allowed us to develop an idea which is to be found in many of our songs called “pulsing”. The beat goes on and so does the pulse. We had previously used this idea but The Boys gave us the ability to really sit on it. The thing is, we were never quite sure how they were going to get on and so were a liability when we played gigs but because it was all happening “live”, there was a sense of being on the edge and real.
We were jamming with them or were they jamming with us?
After a while we began auditioning different bass players and it was Thomas Dolby who introduced Nigel Ross-Scott. Nigel was very different to Francois, much more into funk and this appealed to us as we loved Sly and the family Stone, Prince and records like Chic’s “Good Times”, Chuck Brown’s “Busting Loose” and Wild Cherry’s “Play that funky Music” etc. there was an element of being white soul boys.
Around this time we had also been looking for a new manager and thanks to friend and Re-Flex supporter Sandy, we met Jeremy Pearce and his partner Miles Copeland. I had met Miles before although I doubt if he knew. Miles liked to bang tables and shout a lot, both of which he was very good at doing. Jeremy in contrast was much more down to earth and we liked his straight talking approach to playing the game. We believed he understood. He really liked our songs and by now we had acquired a lot, far more than needed for an album.
Re-Flex were becoming regularly name checked in the gig listings around London and was beginning to get the attention from record companies. We had made the decision that we wanted them to come and find us and gradually by our ability to Re-Fuse to go away and getting on with making music, they started to show up.
This was a time of legends, where we encountered a lot of people that we admired and remain truly grateful for those who showed their support. There are many legends within music but not all are the artists. Some are record producers, such as Gus and Punter and others managers or employees of record companies.
A&R is the frontline of every record company as here people are employed to seek out new talent and discover the next sensation that will earn their company tons of money. They get paid to listen to music, go to gigs, get drunk and take drugs – what a job! It’s a funny old world but some people get to laugh more than others. There are in reality very few who work in this field that can claim to have any real musical talent beyond the occasional ability to utter the words “we need a hit”. The question is not “how many A&R men does it take to change a light bulb” but if required, could they?
When Francois was still Re-Flex’s bass player our original manager Tony Simons arranged for the A&R legend Muff Winwood, the brother of musician Steve to see the band. During the Sixties he played bass with the Spencer Davis group but since then had become head of A&R at CBS and with such credentials, he was regarded to be important and worthy of a valid opinion, if there is such a thing. We played about five songs and then he stood up and gave a speech. “Well boys….”. He liked the band and thought the singer was really good but he didn’t like the songs and soon after departed leaving us feeling like shit. Muff had spoken and not responded well, he did not want to offer us sacks of cash or even the bus fare home.
Just as pointless it would be to dream of being a mountain climber if you were afraid of heights, if you can’t handle “No”, then it would be best advised to forget attempting a career as a musician. Nearly every successful band was turned down by everybody, including The Beatles – so much for A&R!
By the time Nigel joined the band we had also changed our management and one day much to our surprise Jeremy brought Muff Winwood down to Redan. This was where he had seen us perform about a year before but didn’t appear to remember. We played about 5 songs, including a few he had previously heard and at the end he gave us another speech. “Well boys…”, His opinion had somewhat changed as we had great songs but he didn’t like the singer’s voice. Having just told us the opposite of his previous advice we couldn’t let him go without refreshing his memory. Looking embarrassed by the confrontation Muff just stood up and walked out the door. Several months later, Nigel bumped into him at a football match. Muff enquired what Nigel was doing, he explained that he was with Re-Flex and reminded him of their last meeting at the rehearsal. Muff replied that as the band would never get anywhere Nigel would be better off finding another group. This was rather good timing as the previous week our album the “Politics of Dancing” had just gone into the American top 100 and obviously Muff knew nothing about it. Nigel gave him a brief career update but instead of the expected congratulations there was no response and Muff just walked away. It solved the mystery of how this particular legend gained his name.
Producer John Punter first heard of the band through Nigel and when he arrived at Redan we were all struck by the amount of jewellery he was wearing, as he jangled as he walked and when caught in the right light glistened. Apart from his dress sense we soon realised that we could learn much from this man. He trained as an engineer at Decca studios, which coincidentally was next to the Moonlight Club and was where many other classic UK record producers originated. He then worked as an in house engineer at George Martin’s new studio, Air London. Punter was in many ways an old school producer and in no way is that meant as a comment about fashion or style but instead about his knowledge and experience. His approach suited the band as we were attempting to create a sound with both old and new musical elements and felt that he seemed to understand. He had previously produced bands like Japan and Roxy Music. He didn’t do it for a hobby.
There is much to be said about the art of making records as opposed to performing live, for they are very different and one of the wisest comments on this subject was Punter’s explanation, which is that the goal if at all possible, “is to make it sound like a record”.
Around this time Dave Ambrose who worked as an A&R man for EMI entered our lives as he came to see us at a gig and then at Redan. Dave deserves an entire book written about him and is a true British music industry legend. There are just so many wonderful stories that will never be told, known to the few. Dave was the original bass player in Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll’s Trinity and played on their classic hit “This Wheels on Fire”. Another bass player who had wound up in the A&R department and as there could be a pattern, we were initially cautious. .At EMI he been responsible for signing a string of successful bands but this always seemed much to his amazement. It really is impossible to find words to truly describe him. Our meetings could be a very surreal experience whereby you were never actually sure if it they had taken place but it was thanks to Ambrose that Re-Flex signed to Parlophone. By the time we were about to record the album we had enough material to make at least a double album but thought we would let Punter pick and get to the rest later. Little did we know how long it would take……..
We started recording the “The Politics of Dancing” album in September 82 at a studio near Primrose Hill, London called Utopia owned by producer Phil Weinman. Punter had decided to work with engineer Pete Smith, a cheeky lad from “Sarf London” who had great enthusiasm for recording music combined with taking the piss out of clients. Also known as Smudge but not Smudgy Baby he later co produced Sting’s first solo album and loads of other successful records. Re-Flex was the combination of many different elements and not just about the music. When we arrived at Utopia to start work we were very aware of being in a strange place and without our usual team, then something just clicked, everybody got it and we were on a roll.
Although there has been much said about the association of music and drugs, little reference is made to the vast quantity of tea that is consumed, particularly by English musicians who suffer from considerable dependency and a need to brew up. Shamelessly, The Beatles, Stones, Who, Led Zeppelin were all heavy users and so was Re-Flex but Punter’s consumption was exceptional. In a recording studio, this task is generally assigned to assistant engineers, as it is believed it will provide them with great experience. During our stay at Utopia we were initially accompanied by Chris Sheldon but after a few weeks he left and became a very famous engineer and producer, which is a pity because he could have learned much from Punter’s immense consumption. We were then joined by “Carb”, who had a face that made him look like he was 8 years old, so he fitted in well. Following years of studio existence Punter perfected a personal cry by which he would demand tea. “Grout” was an almost Tarzan like guttural call and when uttered would send Carb scuttling off to the kitchen. Within a matter of days his skills evolved and he became known as a “self grouting Carb”. By the time we left he was exhausted from brewing and could get a job as a tea lady anywhere in the world. He probably now owns Sony.
There is an old joke to which the punch line is “tea break over back on your heads” and involves a lot of people sitting around in shit drinking tea. Well we certainly consumed a lot of tea but we also metaphorically got back on heads and spent a lot of time in this state.
The album took about six weeks to record before we moved to Air Studios in Oxford Street central London to finish off overdubs and mix it. Set behind enormous metal doors that for years had remained open, Air was bizarrely situated on the top floor of a building on the corner of Oxford Circus. In its lifetime it was famous for many records but also was a historic place. During the war, the area where Air had been was Winston Churchill’s council room. There were tunnels in the basement which he used to get to the BBC’s Broadcasting House to make his speeches. Many years later it was converted by the Beatles producer George Martin into 4 recording studios. On the first day we met Punter in the upstairs café and Paul McCartney sat down next to us playing on a Space Invaders machine which caused Baxter to completely lose the power of speech. We were hardly going to tell him to fuck off. Apart from McCartney, while we were working on the album regular clients were the Pretenders, Elton John, Squeeze, The Human League and Wang Chung. A lot of classic records were produced here, it’s now Nike Town and you would never know about its amazing former history.
Punter wanted to work in his favourite room, studio 3, as he loved the monitoring and felt comfortable mixing here. He was engineering and truly in his element. He liked to work hands on and is generally a sign of somebody who knows what they are doing. Punter really knew how to listen. He possessed an extraordinary ability to hear the slightest changes in the balance. Once a week his father would visit the studio. “Pop” was a wonderful mischievous rogue and much loved by all at Air, even when he arrived without teeth. An ex soldier who had fought for Queen and country in a couple of wars he now spent most of his life working down the markets. When Punter did the live sound for Japan, Pop was to be seen dancing at the front of the crowd. We had plans to use him within our videos as a regular cameo character.
We never liked to listen to the monitors particularly loud but when Punter put down his final mixes he liked to turn it up which brought a new meaning to the studio term PFL. The building was almost bomb proof but was now under threat of being demolished by bass. I was upstairs in the café when he was finishing “The Politics of Dancing” and noticed that there were ripples in my tea, the entire floor of the room including the screen on the Space Invaders was shaking.
Compared to Utopia, studio 3 was fairly cosy as there was not a lot of space so we would often escape to the café which was situated on the top of the building. It had windows that provided an amazing view as they overlooked all of central London. On one occasion when we were about to redo some vocals on “Something about You”, I went upstairs to work out a few remaining lyrics in the verse. I was a bit stuck and as it happened there was an ex-Beatle in the room and thought it to be too much of an opportunity to miss. To my amazement he willingly had a look and suggested a few lines but I can’t tell you how crap they were. In hindsight, I should have used them as it’s been the closest I ever got to writing with him.
We felt confident that the album contained a lot of possible singles although not intended it was just how it turned out. Nearly all our songs had big choruses as we liked a good hook and there were many more but we thought this would do for now. The band was keen to play live again as we hadn’t performed for a while and so when the album was completed we went back into rehearsals and let the record company debate about what tracks they wanted to release. Copies were sent out to various international companies and considering we had only ever performed in the UK the response was surprisingly good and as a result Capital Records in America became the first to release the album.
We started to realise that things were coming together because at rehearsals new paid members to our road crew joined the circus. Mark Redgrave or “Ronnie” as he was known had been with us pretty much since we first started playing gigs and could not believe that he was finally being paid. The first new addition was Ian Harvey, a Scottish well experienced man of the road. Seen it, snorted it and shagged it, well you would if your CV included Hawkwind and Motorhead and eating the worm in a bottle of Mescal was regarded to be a skill. Through our new management came Steve Botting from Brighton, now available for comment in L.A. Previously he had worked with “The Lords of The New Church” and punk group “Peter & The Test Tube Babies”. Botting was a great guy and brought some much needed sanity to the team. He would mix our live sound or as he announced before the start of every gig, “going out to mount the board”. As a musician performing on a stage it’s almost impossible to judge the sound of the P.A. because you are facing the wrong direction. You have to trust someone else’s judgement and Botting was a reliable man for the job well at least that’s what he told us. We never really know the truth to the question “What did it sound like?” as the answer was nearly always “Great”.
One day soon after the US release of the album, we were rehearsing at Redan and “we got the message”, both album and the single “The Politics of Dancing” had just entered the American top 100 charts….. we could not fucking believe it!
We had never thought America would be the first place to pick up on the band but we didn’t care and just revelled in the satisfaction and sense of achievement as the virus was spreading beyond the nation.
Re-Flex began to play again in the UK and then were asked if we would like to tour America with The Police. At this time, they were regarded to be the hottest band in the world and this was going to be their last tour together. It was an opportunity not to be missed and nice work if you can get it, and Re-Flex could. Before we left, the band sold out a final show at the Venue in Victoria London where there were queues around the block. The place was packed with over two thousand people and was then the largest audience we had played. About a week after we played one of the first of many gigs in America, at the Syracuse Carrier Dome to an audience of over 78,000. It really doesn’t matter which direction the P.A. is facing.
To be continued…….
Part 3 - Humanication
On the way you get to see a lot of things and meet a lot of people, with or without firearms………..
The success of “The Politics of Dancing” brought Re-Flex to the attention of many people and a sense of satisfaction for the band. We had been pushing the ball up the hill for a long time and for those who were with us on this part of the journey, comparable to your team winning a game. With it came a lot of touring of America and Europe that took us to some very strange places. Germany had been one of the first countries outside of the UK to really get into the band and was where we recorded our first European TV show. The WWF club was a live TV programme screened mid evening on a Friday night and had big audience ratings. The first time we appeared we had to ask the dancers to refrain from goose stepping behind the band, the next time we were on they had a giraffe, clearly they had failed to understand our lyrics.
Things hadn’t got off to a great start with the record company in the UK as soon after we signed, Baxter and an employee managed to turn a company car over - great! Within a matter of days we disappeared to New York. Capitol Records made us feel welcome and Nancy made me feel like I had just met my long lost sister and introduced us to anybody who came by. Todd Rundgren walked in and Roly & I were described as musicians from England who had just made a great album and he left with a copy under his arm. I don’t know if he ever heard it but we could have got back on the plane and been happy as he hadn’t thrown it out the window.
We played a few warm up gigs including our first in New York but Nigel was not too well and while coming out of the toilet and just before we went on stage Roly managed to give himself concussion. Having ignored the “mind your head” sign he was now flat out on the floor. That night in front of a packed house which included quite a few press and record company executives, Nigel gave his all and gained his nickname Greeney. Recognising the danger, signs Mark placed a bucket behind his amplifier believing Nigel could have been the first musician to potentially be electrocuted by his own vomit. He peaked in the song “Couldn’t Stand a Day” but still managed to keep playing which was impressive. The audience probably thought it was part of the set and that Re-Flex was like Alice Cooper but surprisingly the gig went down well.
Our first American tour was supporting the Police who were at the height of their careers and at the time probably the most successful group in the world. Although having sold millions of records Sting once admitted that he received more income from T shirts. They planned for this tour to be their last and to quit while still successful and get out of the clothing industry. We watched every one of their gigs as in many ways they really were an education.
The Copelands were a family business. Big daddy had worked for the CIA and as a result brought up his three sons in some fairly hairy places. The eldest, Miles was manager of the Police and with his UK partner Jeremy Pearce, co managed Re-Flex. Stewart was the only musician and previously played with Curved Air and was now the drummer with the Police and Ian ran their booking agency, FBI. Ian was the easiest to get on with, a really nice person to have around when he occasionally joined us for a few dates. Some time during the tour, Stewart had been interviewed on a radio show and having spent time as a child living in the Middle East, commented on the conditions. Unfortunately his views didn’t go down too well with a couple of listeners who phoned up and threatened to “blow his white arse away” later at the gig. We only found out about it when we happened to pass the dressing room and noticed he was being fitted with a bullet proof vest. That night knowing that we were potential warm up targets we played a fast set and were not bothered about an encore, just in case they were getting itchy fingers.
The first part of the tour involved a lot of travelling as many of the gigs were far apart from each other. The Police had their own plane but we had a rented bus and a van and for most of the tour followed their vapour trail. All of the members of the Police and their crew were very good to us considering……everything.
One of the first gigs was at the Syracuse Carrier Dome, in up state New York, - the equivalent of Birmingham being upstate Hampstead. The Dome was so large you could comfortably park a jumbo jet in it. They have to keep the air conditioning permanently running or clouds form but that night it was filled with over 78,000 people! Andy came by to see us noticing some signs of strain, reliably informed us that it was a small club gig. “Shitting a brick”, well that night it was more like an entire housing estate, including driveway and swimming pool!
While we were recording the Politics album, our management sent us an assistant in the form of Trevor Sydney, who looked like he had just walked out of Starsky and Hutch but without being cool. He was our equivalent of the Goons character Bluebottle. We were told that he promised big things and this was indeed true but not always in the form that we or others always desired. Dedicated to the band, he would visit the studio and within minutes demand to hear the music on the big speakers which became known as the “Trevors”. But I had already seen the signs before the tour began as one night he phoned up at 4.00am to tell me how much he loved the band. I told him to go away. He then phoned back at 4.30am to say that he was sorry for calling so late! When we went to America Trevor joined us on tour. During one of the concerts he managed to kick the entire feed to the Police’s PA out while they were on stage.
The tour ended in Buffalo with some unexpected guest appearances in both sets. Stewart in front of 18,000 people managed to remove Baxter’s underpants and throw them into the audience. It was an unusual exchange. I remember looking across at Sting who was almost crying and thinking “this is wrong” Somebody went home with a special souvenir of the gig.
There is much that has been written about road crews and probably most of it is true and on the journey we met many hardened travellers. On our first visit to America we were accompanied by the experienced Ian Harvey who was a magnet for his past, which consisted of pretty much everything. He had a notebook which was his bible and according to him, guaranteed a party in every town but what with was always a matter of doubt. We soon realised that his personal speciality was a post gig freak show.
Touring is very much like being part of a travelling circus that comes to town for only a day and then is gone. Nowhere in the world is quite like America, and when a big tour arrives everything comes out the woodwork and then they follow you back to your hotel. Visitors tend to think of the country as being like New York or LA but the Mid West is the big strip in the middle and we quickly found out that there was a massive difference. On one occasion we checked into our hotel rooms and got the lift down. Two local men were already standing at the back and after the doors closed and staring at us for a few moments one of them announced “the things you see when you don’t have a gun”. Welcome to the real America.
One day in desperate need of clean clothes we visited a laundrette in the local mall. Despite bearing no similarity whatsoever to the Police, our bass player Nigel who also possessed no hair and was at the time in the process of drying his socks and underpants, was asked by quite a few people if he was a member of the Police. Surely they had television in this part of the country.
When the tour with the Police finished Re-Flex continued to play gigs and then we headed for our first appearance in Canada. Up until now we had been accompanied by Tony Brinsley who for many years had worked for Miles. He was along for the ride to ensure that we didn’t get into too much trouble but when we finished playing the big arenas had returned to the UK. Despite the known laws of probability, common sense and knowledge that all power corrupts, Trevor decided to appoint himself as the tour manager. Within less than a few hours he started bossing the crew and band about which was not appreciated or necessary, particularly as we were paying his wages. Having just arrived in Canada we were heading towards our first gig in Toronto, to be broadcast live on radio that night. On the way although not of Trevor’s request, we insisted on stopping to see Niagara Falls because you can hardly miss it when you are just down the road! After the sound check we all went to the hotel to get some rest. Trevor remained in the bar talking with Bax & Roly but at some point during the conversation totally lost the plot and with not long to go before the gig, we discovered that he had disappeared. There was at first an initial sense of panic as he had taken all of details about the tour, the money from the previous gigs and the required papers for getting us and our equipment out of the country. A more imminent concern was that we could not remember the address of where we were playing - somewhere in Toronto in less than an hour? We pooled any remaining change and had enough to pay for a few cabs and our concerns soon turned into a joyous celebration. There were a few places with the same name and we arrived almost on time but still unsure if it was the right venue. Greeted by a full audience that included a lot of record company executives, the band played a pretty good set and later returned to the hotel to celebrate freedom and mutiny. There was a stunned silence when we phoned Jeremy to explain the situation and that without a ringleader we were taking control.
When we finished playing in Canada we managed to get ourselves back into America without too much trouble and this was achieved with the assistance of FBI, our agents as opposed to the other guys. It’s times like these that a name can be important and the Copeland sense of humour works to your benefit. Soon after Brinsley returned, although when we first met him we were aware that he didn’t really get Re-Flex but soon after he joined us again things changed and he cracked and the circus went on.
All of the band and crew wore digital watches which at the start of the tour we set to be synchronised so they would emit a single bleep at exactly the beginning of every hour. After a few days they start to lose sync and create some surprising rhythms. With one person the signal is barely noticeable but when we were all together the effect can be very impressive. It is a very quick event and for people around us, provided some very confused looks, as nobody was sure if it had actually happened. Hotel lobbies and restaurants were favourite locations as was a bank when it occurred – Botting, claiming that he wanted to make a large deposit had for some unknown reason also decided that it would be a good idea to expose himself. Combined with the sound it almost looked like a piece of performance art.
After 3 months and two back to back tours we were totally exhausted and returned to the UK. We flew back from Los Angeles and accompanying us on the flight was the famous restaurant entrepreneur Peter Langham and he made a beeline for the band, possibly because we looked equally dishevelled. He was a very large man and really should have been charged excess baggage for the amount of room he took up but apart from food it was also apparent that he was pretty keen on alcohol. When he got on he had more fuel in him than the plane! Although we advised him not to, during the flight he made frequent and not always successful attempts to stand up and give speeches to the other passengers. We managed to prop him up for most of the journey and then finally he passed out which was a relief to everyone. On arrival at Heathrow we carried him off the plane.
Up until now Re-Flex had been far more successful almost everywhere else outside the UK and this was getting to be an embarrassment for EMI, so soon after we got back we started another UK tour. Despite being exhausted, somehow we managed to complete it. Within a few weeks we commenced a tour of the UK and almost directly after, the band found itself on the way back to America to do another 3 month tour. Somebody thought that this was a good idea? This tour was with the Thompson Twins and would be covering a lot of the country and many places we had never been to before or heard of. We would also be playing the Mid West and revisiting our old friends with the guns and the disturbing sense of humour. I was now ready for a snappy reply.
It was a collective decision based on hygiene and sanity that it would be best to leave well experienced road member Ian Harvey at home. Nobody wanted to share a room with him. I had this experience only once and spent most of the night pretending to be asleep although it did sound like it involved a pig. We had now been joined by two new additional crew members, tour manager Simon Watson and also Stevo Glendening who was an old friend of our sound engineer Steve Botting. They were in many ways the perfect addition but things didn’t get off to a great start. Soon as the tour started Stevo became ill and spent the next ten days being paid to stay on the bus while we drove him around America. Simon Watson first joined us on the last UK tour and was suited to the job as not only did he possess a fantastic dry wit but soon after the tour began much to everyone’s amusement he got crabs. When we later visited Italy, during an interview on Italian television he became famous for his shark impersonation which following our insistence he performed. It became the station’s most selected video that year, it was that good!
Life on the bus can be a very strange experience, particularly when visiting some of the more remote areas of America. For this tour we had upgraded our transport as we would be spending a lot of time travelling on the tour bus which was supplied with a driver. David was from down south and there was no doubt about his origin. He had spent a long time on the road and even longer on his CB radio, where he inhabited a strange world of hardened truckers with a language entirely of their own. He would often drive through the night fuelled by his consumption of coffee and pills and for almost the entire journey talk on his CB absolute rubbish. We must have seemed pretty weird to him but I figure after a while we managed to get through, as it’s always just a matter of time. The bus was split into three areas, front lounge, mid section with nine bunks and rear lounge, nevertheless it was still a bus and during the tour we inhaled a lot of diesel fumes, pumped into our bunks while we slept. Gradually, as the tour went on we began to realise that we were being gassed. In the rear lounge Spinal Tap was on almost continuous rotation and became an obsession equally shared by band and crew. It may have been just a film but it is often painfully close to the truth, particularly when you are living the dream! Nearly every town had its own Artie Fufkin.
Touring with the Thompson’s was very different than our earlier tour with The Police, as we were visiting a lot of University and college campuses. The Thompson Twins had quite an elaborate show and as we travelled together it was quite a big convoy, stopping off at truck stops and sunrises on the way. The things you see! During the tour their song ”Hold Me Now” went to number one in the US charts and was obviously good for ticket sales. The tour visited places we could barely remember the day after, so it’s no wonder that after so long it’s hard to recall them now. When you spend three months living out of a suitcase, continuously intoxicated by fumes and wake each morning in hotel rooms that look identical, it’s easy to forget who you are and where the dreaming stops.
Both Bax and I had been writing on the bus as we carried little tape recorders and notebooks almost everywhere we went just in case. These became a record of our journey and the source of much of the next album. Throughout both American tours we had been working on some new ideas. I had a portable keyboard and combined with Baxter’s guitar we would set up and work in the hotel rooms. By the time Re-Flex returned to the UK we had written a lot of new material and still had many other songs from the past. “Humanication” came together very quickly in rehearsals, with the title inspired by our visit to America where it was written on a billboard - the writing’s on the wall.
The last gig we played was in San Francisco and the crowd was really into it but towards the end somebody kicked the power out and we ended up finishing almost acapella – Trevor? With no mains, the “Boys” were dead! The crowd thought it was rehearsed and loved it but it was a strange way to end the tour as this also became Re-Flex’s last ever live appearance in America.
Just before we were about to record the album, the American record company started to make noises and decided that they should dictate who we should work with. They were very keen on a US producer but didn’t bother suggesting anybody that we thought was vaguely interesting or relevant to our music. Although America was where Re-Flex had achieved its biggest success, we didn’t really want to make American sounding records – just our own. We liked Punter and engineer Smudge and together we had made a good record that a lot of other people liked. Forgive me if I misunderstood but I assumed this was the reason they bought it, so why would anyone want to break up a great team that had only just started to work together? This sort of interference is not uncommon in the record industry. It is insulting to people who don’t make music for a ‘hobby’. So we explained we weren’t interested in the form of an outburst of Tourettes and then returned to the studio with Punter and Smudge to get on with it.
“The Boys”, our additional electronic musical assistants were with us and we were also joined by the very tall assistant engineer Paul “sorry”. Rabiger. He would be asked to do something and then frequently he would disappear “sorry” or be late for the start of sessions, “sorry”. When we could find him, the best way to keep hold of him was to tie a long rope around his leg so he could almost get as far as the door of the studio but not quite. “Sorry”.
We very much wanted the sound of the band to evolve and this was very apparent by the time we reached recording this album. We were never interested in more of the same but with a shinier production. I had been exploring digital synthesis before we recorded the last album, as a German company called PPG made a unique synthesiser keyboard that became an important part of Re-Flex’s sound. Combined with the arrival of sampling instruments it became possible to produce far more complex and interesting sounds. We were entering a highly sophisticated age of technology well that’s what it said on the box.
Recording went well and despite some initial concerns from Punter, we ended up staying at Utopia to mix the album and to listen to tracks on the “Trevors” even if he was no longer around to share the joke. Like most recording studios, Utopia didn’t have any natural daylight and so it’s easy to lose track of time, day and sometimes season. It’s like being jet lagged but without the flight.
Once a week we would receive visits from our legendary EMI A&R man Dave Ambrose as he bravely had to deal with his roster of bands and employers, which at times he found clearly demanding. You were never quite sure if Ambrose was in the same dimension, let alone room. He could be easily confused and appear to lose all sense of direction. On one occasion, Sting had joined us and at some point Dave got up to leave but by mistake walked into a small store room where he remained for quite a while. We all sat there waiting for him to come out as if he was about to return from Narnia, then slowly the door opened and he appeared with a big grin on his face, said nothing and headed for the exit. This as I explained to our guest was our mighty leader.
The recording of Humanication was coming together well and we were all excited or as Punter put it, “donkeys knob” and “sounding tits up”. We had a new anthem and wanted ‘the world and his mother’ to sing on the chorus, instead we got Sting, Pop and everybody we could find at EMI and Utopia who was willing to sing. It was a protest song titled “How Much Longer”, a stomping groove that later would receive some objection from the American company due to its lyrical content. They advised us that people didn’t need to hear stuff about social comment or politics, but failed to notice that we had just had a hit with “The Politics of Dancing”. I wondered if they had ever listened to the lyrics of Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye or Bob Marley etc. They also said that with the Police gone, Sting wouldn’t have much of a career. Where do they find these people? The cracks were beginning to appear!
Re-Flex was an English band and we weren’t ramming our politics or ideologies down peoples’ throats or for that matter standing on soap boxes, we were just writing songs and discussing the world we were living in. With the album completed, Re-Flex, Punter and Ambrose were happy and that was all we really cared about. “Humanication” was ready to go.
To be continued……….
Part 4 - Music Re-Action
The idea of an extended version of songs has been around for a while, the classic Ray Charles song “What I’d Say” was probably the first but now with the arrival of 12” vinyl that played at 45rpm it quickly evolved into a new genre. You could get a fuller sounding bass and a louder track as it would allow the cutting engineer to cut a deeper and wider groove. The extended mix was generally only to be found with soul and disco records from America and not with rock bands from the UK. The point is, “the beat goes on”.
While I was studying music at college, I was introduced by my tutor, composer and musician Dave Smith to the concept of repetitive music, Systems Music and now inappropriately known as Minimalist. It uses patterns and repeated sequences that gradually change in timbre and pitch to create music that is often very hypnotic. Among its pioneers were Terry Riley and Steve Reich, Michael Nyman and Phillip Glass etc and in many ways they were the founders of techno music. All were creating hypnotic trance like music that was “in the groove” but none of them thought about adding “four on the floor” and a heavy beat.
As much as I liked this music, I could never conceive that it would eventually mutate into a popular dance form and something that would dominate pop music on the radio.
Their ideas were the foundation of many of my early experiments in electronic music and would inspire artists like Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Can and later, Underworld and thousands of people who started to make music based on these ideas.
In the 80’s record companies started to demand that for almost every single released there should also be a 12” extended club mix and this decision has since ensured the employment of many DJs.
Early 12” mixes were very different to how they might be done now. They were more like playing live in that the intro and middle section may be extended and the end chorus goes on for ever but ultimately and this is the important thing, the song manages to survive intact. Comparable to when stereo first arrived, these were early days and nobody was quite sure what to do. Where you place the bass drum or hi hats may be just a matter of taste but when you have spent an intense period writing, recording and mixing, it’s not easy to understand that “they now want it longer”. Frequently when writing, some songs have an extra verse, an extended middle section or ending that gets edited out. This is part of the tightening up process which occurs during recording and happened to quite a few Re-Flex songs but making an existing track longer requires a very different approach and compared to what you can now easily achieve on a lap top, was then technically very complicated to do.
During the time with EMI, they released quite a few 12” extended versions of our songs. When we arrived in America we were greeted with the news that the 12” version of “The Politics of Dancing” had just topped their dance charts and were the first UK band to achieve this accolade. These were un-chartered waters.
Nik Launay helped form Re-Flex and was responsible for a lot of our early recordings but around the time we met had also created the 12” mix of “Pop Music” by “M” which became a massive hit. The thing is nobody asked him to do it. He took the original mix for the single which had been mastered at Tape One, copied the tape many times and then proceeded to cut it up and sew it all back together again in a way that he liked. The Nik Mix impressed not only the artist and record company but the public who went out and bought loads of records. To do this today would be easy but then, “cut & paste” really did mean “cut & paste”. The art of editing tape was a serious skill, especially when attempting a 24 track tape. You couldn’t see what you were doing and relied entirely on your ears. Some people gained reputations for their editing skills and would use their abilities to cut up what had just been recorded without fear. Our producer John Punter was very competent with a razor blade…..
Although there may be various reasons why producers may like the sound of tape, it’s easy to forget about the many physical limitations of this medium. The common standard during this time was 24track analogue tape recording, a 2 inch wide strip of brown tape that said nothing about its content and held its secrets deep within its oxide coating. It was not simple to make tracks longer and as a result these limitations were responsible for inspiring musicians to experiment and find new solutions. By using new affordable musical technology they would create a genre of music that dominated following decades and became a musical art form and the saviour of vinyl records. It would also lead to a lot of stupidity.
“How many remixes does it take to make a record?” is not meant to be the opening line of a musical joke but it is. There is an old expression which is that “you can’t polish a turd”, well the music industry have certainly tried to prove this to be wrong. The other mistake is to try and make a version to please everybody. What are you doing you idiots? Some remixes entirely obliterate the song where the only thing that remains is the title and one of the reasons why musicians began to lose their identities. 3 or 4 mixes of the same track all remixed by different people ……err why? Was it really that bad to start with? The cost of these can be far greater than that of recording and mixing the original version of the track. This of course also has a serious impact upon the recording budget, which if the artist ever achieves any success is expected to be repaid. Things have got a little out of hand when the DJ’s are more famous than the records they play.
You may be aware that Re-Flex had 2 non human members. “The Boys” were a sequencer and drum machine combination that joined us soon after we moved to Redan. They arrived directly after Francois our bass player left and then played on every gig, travelled the world, never got laid but did occasionally go down. A pretty reliable team, considering that we were flying by the seat of our pants, never really knowing what was going to happen when you hit the play button. Whatever they were doing was happening live and gave things an edge if not a crease in your shorts when they went wrong. Linked by a single cable, an umbilical cord that stretched around the rehearsal room or stage, it was their lifeline as it kept them in sync. At the end of each song they just sat there and Roly and I had to set them up to play the next. Generally this worked as we had perfected a knowing glance which meant so much to both of us but there was also the other look of surprise and panic when it didn’t. We once played in Texas at a venue next to a bowling alley and every time the pins reloaded and somebody got a strike, the power dipped and neither of the Boys had a good night, as they got spiked.
In the studio their sync depended on a code track recorded on the multi track tape and was the first task when we recorded and therefore it is not really advisable to take a razor blade and cut up the tape but this didn’t stop Punter. It takes a lot of balls to do this but he was busy hacking away splicing different takes together and despite all odds, still managed to make it work and “the boys” rocked.
Around this time some groups were starting to play gigs using a lot of the music already recorded, miming to much of the sound that came out the PA system. It was like Top of the Pops, pretend. I once saw Prodigy headline at Glastonbury, their set totally ground to a halt when coincidentally so did the DAT tape player. There are now a lot of groups whose laptops’ are a major feature of their live show. As for DJ’s, most of what they play is mixed in their bedrooms before they get to the gig.
Every note Re-Flex played live, happened live.
It’s always a good sign if you like your own music and can get off on playing it. Our rehearsals could be intense, exhausting and fun as we liked to play, even if there was nobody else there. Undoubtedly Redan was the place where we played some of our best performances. Many artists are guilty of making the fatal mistake of not continuing to write more songs for their next record. Having spent years working on the material that made up their possibly successful first album, it is no wonder the follow up often lacks a certain vital ingredient, called “time”. They don’t have enough time and are so far away from the things that had inspired them to write music, it’s not surprising that what follows is often a disappointment.
Re-Flex always experimented with new material whenever we rehearsed. We would each record them on Walkmans to learn arrangements and get ideas and it became essential to our creative process. Somewhere there is a box full of them. They sounded shit but great, as the microphone had a built in limiter to stop it overloading and so we ended up with some amazingly squashed recordings. While listening to even the early ones, I remember thinking that we didn’t sound too bad, almost like the real thing.
Soon after work on “Humanication” was completed Re-Flex decided to return to the studio and record some extra songs for possible B sides, 12” mixes and maybe an EP. We used some tracks as an opportunity to get some remixes by different producers and contacted Bob Clearmountain who had been responsible for many great sounding records during this period, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Simple Minds etc. Compared to a lot of the people suggested by the record company, Bob knew what he was doing and it wasn’t his hobby.
We returned to Utopia studios with producer John Punter and Smudge (Pete Smith) to record “Cruel World”, “What You Deserve”, “True Lust” and “Cut it”. With the album finished there was less pressure and we wanted more time to experiment.
“Cut it” was one of the first new tracks we worked on after “The Boys” arrived. It soon became a great favourite live and was often played as an encore. On a good night it rocked and on a bad night it still wasn’t too bad but we never imagined how successful the song would become. Re-Flex had previously provided music for a film starring the motorcycle stunt rider Eddie Kidd entitled “Riding High” and were always looking for other ways in which we could get our foot in the door of the cinema. In London I met some Hollywood producers who were working on a new film and managed to talk them out of their original plan and instead to base the new movie around street dancing. The band then went away on tour and the next thing we knew was that they had featured “Cut it” in the film “Break Dance” and also on the soundtrack album. Released by Polydor the album topped the charts around the world and became a multi-platinum selling record… needless to say, we could not fucking believe it….and nor could EMI, who had only put the track out as a B side.
There is much bullshit within the relationships of artists and record companies and not all of it appears in the small print of the contract. They possess an almost compulsive need to change whatever is signed by the A&R department and often in their attempts to construct, mould, brand and market their artists, they forget what it was they originally liked. It starts with messing with the music and then when they are done with that they move on to how the artist looks. When we were about to sign to EMI someone said “your bass player has lost his hair” and we replied “we know”.
They had implied that maybe we should find someone else and although it was a stupid comment and totally irrelevant, they wanted us to take it seriously. I really could say a lot more about this as In view of the history of music it is obvious that the ability to grow hair has nothing to do with musical talent. Possibly due to the pressure of the notes, a side effect is eventually they make your hair fall out. The problem is they turn their artists into this week’s haircuts and didn’t know what to do with baldness. Ultimately “the image” is their only goal, for this is what they sell, not the music, as sexy, young, virile are considered to be good brands, with musical talent being optional.
Fashion and pop music have always had an interesting relationship but things really began to get out of hand when record companies thought every artist needed a stylist. Their skill so we were told is that they can take you shopping but then so can your mum. Unlike your mum, they tend to buy expensive clothes that they would not normally dream of spending their own money on but will later be charged to the artist. Styling can be a fun visit to the shops but frequently is a disastrous attempt to hi-jack how the artist looks. This relationship can also extend to the involvement of fashion designers, as stylists have lots of friends with lots of strange ideas. We once turned up at EMI and were greeted by the latest suggestion produced by a young fashionable designer. Irrelevant to amount of arms each of us had, therefore no more than 2, his shirts had six sleeves! We had to try them on just to be satisfied that they would be good for fancy dress as we looked dressed for Timothy Leary’s Bar mitzvah.
If video killed the radio star, then the arrival of MTV was the moment it happened.
Launched in August 81, MTV quickly became a success and a vital tool for the American music industry. The power of television cannot be denied and the impact MTV had upon music in America and later around the rest of the world was immense or as they say “awesome”. You could tour and tour and tour but more people would get to see you with one play of your video and this became very apparent as soon as we arrived for our first tour of America.
After the 60’s invasion, apart from artists like David Bowie, Elton John and bands like Led Zeppelin, Humble Pie and Genesis, America had showed little interest in British music and remained pretty much oblivious to the events of the late 70s. After such a noticeable absence the arrival of MTV opened the doors for many UK musicians who then started to have a major impact in the American music charts again. It was referred to in the media as “The Second Coming”. It did mark the arrival a new era in music as the age of video had arrived and music video stations began to appear in every country. Now all record releases were expected to be supported by videos and record companies were spending thousands of pounds on producing 4 minute promotions in hope that they would receive airplay. As far as the television companies were concerned this was groundbreaking and a gift from the heavens, as they no longer needed to spend money paying artists to perform or produce programs as the record companies would do this by making a video and then charge the artist for the cost. It’s almost a perfect plan – not. They created an entire industry of film school graduates, all “wannabe” film makers who were at best heading towards trying to get jobs within advertising. Most were crap but nobody told them as they just gave them more money.
Common sense has never been a matter which troubled the music industry and this was particularly noticeable during this time. The economic truth is that videos cost a lot of money to make and by comparison, far more was and probably is still spent making them than recording the music for an entire album and 12” mixes. So with the arrival of the video era came a weighty expense which at some point was expected to be repaid. Every penny an artist might earn from the sale of records could be consumed in paying for the videos they made and that meant they had to sell a lot of records. It would force the music industry to be driven by disposability and eventually lead to its collapse.
Generally most musicians or composers have an intense relationship with creating their music. For those who are unfamiliar, it is an obsession that demands unlimited amounts of time and can be very much a hands on experience, as every sound, note, part, lyric, dynamic etc is something that has been considered. In total contrast, making videos is for most artists a very different experience, in that they are entirely passive and in someone else hands.
EMI initially suggested a few directors and was our first time that we worked with anyone who had the balls to call themselves by this title. I knew we were in for an expensive bout of stupidity and that things could only get worse…..Having taken their recommendation, I asked what he thought the song was about, “Well errr politics and errr dancing?” was pretty much the depth of the reply. Brilliant, lets all do the “funky goose step” or Pythons “silly walks”! The band was only allowed to attend the end of the final edit, during which the director played the video and said “there you go” and I said “there you go what” and he replied “well that’s it”…………and there followed an awkward pause and a moment of revelation. As far as I was concerned I was aware of that feeling, the one where you feel like someone in the audience in the story of the Emperors new clothes, where you realise that you really can see his willy. As far as the director was concerned he had just gone “tadaa” and nobody applauded. Great, thanks for making a video that is so boring, so lacking in any attempt of artistic inspiration and by the way makes the artist look shit, all for the price of £20,000 because that’s just what we fucking wanted. Much to my surprise MTV sort of agreed with this view but not in so many words, so EMI suggested we make another at our expense as unfortunately it wasn’t two for the price of one. Next…
We were now urgently looking for another director and while away with Spud (Michaela) on the coast of England ran into a friend of hers from work who was not with her husband but had slipped away for the weekend with a guy called Chips Chipperfield. He was at the time hiding behind some binoculars indulging in his passion of bird spotting. This was our first meeting but we soon discovered that we had many mutual connections and it marked the start of our friendship and working relationship. His family was related to the famous circus but Chips managed groups and was producing videos. Chips was well known in Covent Garden as late into the night he could regularly be found holding court - there really should be a plaque for him. He had been working with a young director called Vaughn Arnell who looked like he had just hit puberty but despite concerns of age and looks as he was actually over 12 years old, we were impressed by his show reel. Vaughn was undoubtedly a talented and whacky young guy who confronted you with his enthusiasm and with Anthea whom he worked with. She provided a dominatrix element to their relationship, which was at times rather interesting.
Barry Wasserman was from the Bronx but moved to London to study at the LSE. He was a bear of a man and possessed amazing low gravel like voice and for this reason sometimes did voice-overs for radio stations and commercials. We had met before on another journey and as a result become good friends. He wanted to get into films and when Re-Flex started to make videos this helped get his foot in the door. I introduced him to Chips, who loved his Zen comments, humour and ability to shout and then he introduced him to Vaughn who also agreed that he was very loud. By the following summer Barry had just finished working with David Bowie and Mick Jagger. He is now well known within the UK film industry and has probably worked with almost every major recording artist and advertising director. Although the impact of this is disturbing, it is understandable.
There were a few other directors that Re-Flex worked with but certainly the most out there was Tim Pope and given the opportunity we would have liked to have done more with him. He had his own unique perspective and was responsible for some of the most creative videos during the 80’s, including those for The Cure and Talk Talk. Other directors who we liked were Kevin Godley and Lol Crème, former members of the group 10cc who in the beginning of the 80’s miraculously transformed themselves as masters of this new art form. They produced a bizarre television programme called “The Rebellious Jukebox” in which Re-Flex appeared. It was total and utter chaos but during the recording they said they would really like to work with us and loved our stage set which was constructed from white dummies and we talked about our ideas of animating them. Soon after, they directed one of their most famous videos for the song “We close our eyes” by “Go West” and it was not an incredible coincidence that the video features our good friends!
At some point I heard that the head of EMI’s video department was leaving and mentioned it to Chips, the next thing I know he has got the job and is running their show. He eventually left and went on to produce documentaries on artists like U2 and for Apple, the highly acclaimed Beatles Anthology. Years later he abandoned London and retired to Ireland and settled for bird watching and married Spud…. Spud & Chips, priceless!
Reality and Spinal Tap crossed over very early on in our career as we had on the way met a considerable amount of “Artie Fufkins”. We were living the dream! Unfortunately most of the time musicians spend on the road they don’t get to spend it playing music. They call it “promotion” and it means that you hang out with a lot of Arties and his friends who are more interested in chicks, celebrity, bullshit and the promotion of narcotics, rather than music.
We were fortunate to find some very kind people who liked music, got Re-Flex and some even understood that there was more to it than just the music.
During one of our initial visits to EMI we were introduced to the radio promotion department. Jackie had just returned to work following an accident involving electrocution as she had attempted to take a plug out of the wall with her mouth. Clearly not a wise move as she ended up giving head to the mains!
Their team had also been recently joined by Jimmy Devlin who I already knew because my girlfriend Spud worked with him at another record company called Magnet. Jimmy was an ex-shipbuilder from Glasgow and an ex-pop star, a former member of the group Bilbo Baggins and we will leave it there. Possessing an almost permanent grin that made you instantly like him, he had an endless collection of stories that were delivered in a heavy Glaswegian accent. Jimmy could be painfully funny and was an ideal companion in the pub.
Brian Munns was now running EMI’s press department but we first met when I signed to Warners as he use to be the assistant to press guru Moira Belles. We had worked together when we were both fresh to the music industry and so it was a pleasant surprise to run into each other again at EMI as he was truly one of the nicest people on the planet. He had already heard our record and was a real fan of our music before knowing that I was involved. Although there are lots of Fufkins in record companies who tell you how great you are but have never really listened to the music, Brian knew every track. Although it never happened, it was his idea for us to release an EP with “Cut it” and some of the other tracks that were not on albums. While we were touring in America Brain became ill and by the time we returned we had heard that he had died and was the first person who I knew who had Aids.
Beyond the guidance of our mighty leader Dave Ambrose, who was an inspiration to many artists and his colleagues, we wanted to thank many people at EMI UK who helped to push the ball, including John Cavanagh, Jill Wall, Jane Potter, Moira Belles, Chips Chipperfield, Ray Still, Suzy Rome. When we visited Germany we were shown instant friendship, hospitality and mothered by Gabbi, Elsa and many others and in Spain we met Jesus, really! New York, Nancy instantly felt like I had just met a close member of our family and Bruce a brother, and in L.A. Michelle became Mrs Baxter, so that really did make her family.
As a sign of gratitude to our friends, crew, management etc we have attempted to find any available photos to assemble the collage for the cover and therefore apologies for any omissions. We are eternally grateful for their support and for sharing the ride.
To be continued……
Part 5 - Jamming the Broadcast.
Caught between the cogs of the record company and management, Re-Flex was in a state of flux as there had been a lot going on that was having a dramatic effect on the future of the band. It’s hard to take people seriously when you don’t respect what they have to say. Ground rule, never suffer fools. We were living in strange times.
Music can become an obsession that almost requires to be excreted from the mind of the composer and great relief when passed as it creates space for something else.
The jazz musician Sun Ra claimed he received his notes from outer space and would suggest that he was just re-hashing another civilisations back catalogue. There are many theories that might explain where music comes from but whatever the source, everything goes in the melting pot as songwriters are like sponges, absorbing the ride then squeezing it out in music or hotel rooms. Inspiration is fuelled by experience, good, bad, pain and pleasure. If you did nothing with your life, never went out, met nobody, saw something funny, got pissed off or fell in love and then had your heart broken, you really wouldn’t have a lot to say. It would be terrible if it all happened on the same day but one hell of a blues. There certainly would be less music in the world if there wasn’t any prejudice or pain. This also explains why it’s difficult to sing the blues or be down and out in the hood, when musicians are sitting in a large mansion with a hooker and a pile of cocaine in front of them. “Woke up this morning…and things were great”, is not much of a starting point.
I was going through a tricky end to my relationship with long time girlfriend “Spud” - Michaela Connolly and soon after we returned from our second tour of America she moved out. Things weren’t easy in the following months after Re-Flex returned from tour and soon after we separated. Then, her sister was murdered by her husband and a month later her dad died. It was not the best of times for a family of devout Catholics who couldn’t figure out where they had gone wrong. The band was now on shaky terms with the record company and our management was also starting to get on our nerves.
Somehow things had got out of control, Capitol Records our American company had been trying to interfere as their A&R department was full of Muffs. Miles Copeland who co managed Re-Flex just wanted us to keep on touring and play endless gigs in America. We wanted to visit Japan and Australia where we had some success but never played live. More than anything, we just wanted to make music and didn’t want to be part of the bullshit that was going down.
Baxter moved from Primrose Hill to Los Angeles and compared to our first rehearsals this was a lot further than Brighton or the Isle of Wight, neither Francois nor Mark ever claimed to be ferry lagged. Soon after he moved, we were both sent messages by the American company asking us to go to New York and work with a NY DJ producer team. At the time, I was on holiday but it sounded potentially interesting so I flew to meet Bax who a few days before had just got married. Tired after a long flight and in need of a shower, I checked into the hotel room we were sharing and noticed some clothes already hanging up and thought Bax had probably gone down to the bar or restaurant. So I decided to have a quick shower but as I came out was rather surprised to find a strange man entering the room as no doubt he was to find a naked man in his. Apparently another Mr Baxter was also staying in the hotel and I was now sharing with the wrong one. Although it was not much of a honeymoon, the best thing was that we got to work in Electric Ladyland studios. Jimi was long gone but the studio was still standing and we were impressed to be allowed through the door. The worst thing about the visit was that we got to listen to some very average mixes that were later completely re-done. There’s a lot of bullshit in this remixing game, “it needs more midi”.
After returning to England, Re-Flex agreed to try an experiment recording with another UK producer. “This Beat” was a stomping song that we played as the last number for most of our early gigs and was featured in an early video. This resulted in a very bizarre recording session with English musician and producer Tony Mansfield who produced a track that had little in common with the original or Re-Flex. We were used to working long hours but Tony was an insomniac and took it to a new level. Days ran into nights as he played with his Fairlight. Everything got very surreal when we moved to Pete Townsend’s studio Eel Pie. One morning we found Tony passed out face down on the floor of the control room and thought this has got to stop. It’s amazing how many get it wrong but the role of a producer is to produce the artist and not about making their own record or burying their face in the shag pile.
Another theory which was passed on to me by the English musician Dave Harris was that musicians were each apportioned only so many good notes that could be used within a lifetime. As ridiculous as this may seem, if you think about it, it might explain why so many great musicians appear to run out. Nobody seems to really talk about it but why do they stop making great records or writing good songs? Artists like Stevie Wonder, McCartney, Prince, The Who, Steely Dan etc etc.
What the fuck happened?
It is of course true that the brightest flames are not always the longest lasting and many burn themselves out on drugs or alcohol, as musicians do have more than a fond association with going to the edge. Obviously dying young is a great way to become a legend and precludes many from being added to the list, as we will never know how great or crap their next album would have been. If only I had thought this through when I was younger! It also helps if they do it when their record is high in the charts as opposed to when nobody wants to know but generally those who go for this option tend to when things are not going too well.
This raises numerous questions which I have absolutely no intention of explaining further but.
Do they forget how they did it?
Having done it, do they need to do it again?
Maybe they just got lucky, right time, right place?
Is it an age thing?
Maybe they discovered the lost chord, this week’s hit sound, Pete Waterman’s cowbell or just accidentally fell on all the right notes just at the right time?
Would Beethoven’s 10th been a bitter disappointment?
Had Debussy, Stravinsky and other celebrated classical greats, along with Miles Davis, Ellington, Mingus and the founders of jazz also suffered from a similar affliction or is this condition just associated with contemporary pop music?
Could it be due to the music industry that pop music has grown up in?
Are musicians and composers only good for a limited period and then past their date of sale?
Or do they just run out of notes?
Something happened in the early 80’s as this was when technology and music really came together. We were about to enter a new age and the word was “Digital”. Over the following five years they would begin to change how many musicians made music. Coincidentally during this time we would also see the arrival of the CD. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it happened, although it might have been a Thursday afternoon but this was the start of what is now known as Music Technology.
Briefly, in looking back at how we got there, the journey begins with the invention of electricity. Sometime later music and electricity bump into each other and some musicians thought this was a good idea. The first instrument to really take advantage of this new source of power was the electric guitar. Then the tape recorder arrived so we could capture performances. Although things continued to evolve and get bigger and better, there was a sort of break until Robert Moog had a great idea. There then followed a lull, a sort of calm before the storm. Something big was brewing. A bunch of hippies in California invented an operating system and some spreadsheet software to go with it before moving on to word processor, graphics and eventually they got to music. As a result quite a few became exceptionally wealthy, thus proving that not all the effects of marijuana were bad. At the same time the idea of using technology to create music was also occurring to quite a few other people.
We had been trying out some ideas at Redan when we acquired a new addition to our equipment that was to have a dramatic effect. The arrival of the Linn 9000 was greeted by applause when it was first brought to our rehearsal studios, for at the time it was regarded to be state of the art and by us, the mother ship. We had previously worked with a separate sequencer and drum machine, lovingly known as “The Boys” but this could do the job of both and was effectively the “Big Boy”. Designed by Roger Linn who invented the Linn drum and put a lot of naff drummers out of business, the Linn 9000 was named after the computer in the film “2001 A space Odyssey”, famous for going wrong and probably on reflection, not a good idea.
We were ready to record some more tracks and were using the Linn 9000 when the shit hit the fan. It was the first incident when we discovered.
This message, proudly displayed, meant it had just dumped all of your work and was now frozen. Not a facility that you would reasonably need! It would be followed by a “beep” that both Roly & I can still recall. It really messed us up and others who had started to use it. I later got in contact with Roger Linn, providing feedback and abuse. I believe that producer Quincy Jones ended up suing Roger Linn, having given Michael Jackson’s latest album a big “Error TN…. Beep”.
Re-Flex had originally gained a reputation as being a bit of an early techno band because we liked the idea of jamming with technology and used whatever was available. I had developed relationships with the people who designed electronic musical instruments. The most successful of these partnerships were with those who were also musicians and understood what might be a useful tool as what makes musical sense is not always obvious to manufacturers. Many companies were beginning to use computer processors in their designs and this meant that if you wanted their equipment to do something it didn’t already, then you had to get hold of the guy who wrote the software. I had known the American company Oberheim Electronics for a while but our relationship seriously developed when I bought their DSX sequencer which became one half of a partnership, “The Boys”. Marcus Rylie worked for Oberheim, played music and wrote code. We would regularly discuss new ideas together and then I would receive a chip in the post with the latest updates.
UK musician and designer Dave Simmons during the 70’s invented the electronic drum kit for his company Simmons Electronics and because we had met, even before Roly joined we used their equipment to create electronic percussion. Famous for their hexagonal shaped drum pads, Simmons produced many ideas that were way ahead of their time. The SDX electronic drum kit was then the ultimate and the first to use high quality sampling to authentically recreate the sound of acoustic drums but it could do a lot more than that. Every sound was a possibility, a source that could be manipulated and assigned to a drum kit. If you didn’t like the sound of the drums after you had recorded them, it was easy to entirely replace them. Any producer who has ever tried to record an acoustic kit will know that this is the hardest task to get right. The drums are generally recorded first and therefore it’s not always easy to tell if the sound works until you put all the other stuff on top. We were starting to realise that the combination of the SDX and our “Big Boy” was a very powerful musical tool.
“Did you save it”? The “you” being either Roly or myself. It was a question that was regularly asked because you were never sure when “it” would happen. Technology can be a wonderful friend when it works but when it doesn’t, it is an utter pain in the arse and “a useless piece of crap”.
People are now far more accustomed to their computers freezing and familiar with the feeling of grief when you lose some work or acquire a virus but these were early days and many musicians were on the front line of this type of experience, which is probably now recognised as a psychological disorder known as “Error TN….Beep”.
It really is quite amazing how much Germany has contributed to the development of electronic music, it also managed to produce some of the most praised microphones and the tape recorder. One day while rehearsing at Redan some German friends came to show us their latest invention called Cubase. It was one of the first midi sequencing software programmes and ran on an Atari ST computer, soon after another German company produced similar software for this computer called Logic. Over the last 20 years both of these programs have dominated the making of music and are regularly used in recording and even taught to children in schools. Without them, most dance music wouldn’t exist, as music would still be out of time!
I had met some of the people involved in the rather esoteric German company PPG before. Run by Wolfgang Palm who was completely out there, if Thunderbirds had been made in Germany he would have been perfect for “Brains”. Palm was an inventor who designed the first digital synthesisers and these used far more complex waveforms to produce sounds. I was a big fan of anybody who could see into the future and he certainly qualified as a mad visionary. He once showed me his new secret box “The Realiser” which was capable of reproducing the sound of a Mini Moog and a Yamaha DX7 but I really didn’t get it. What was the big deal about being able to make retro sounds, and I thought, “what a twat” but he had just invented the first virtual instrument as it was capable of emulating physical equipment, purely by using software. Musicians who use computers to make music will be familiar with plug-ins which can do exactly the same thing. “What a twat”…I was. Sometimes you don’t get it, even when it’s staring you in the face.
The arrival of sampling had a huge impact on the way musicians went about making music and Re-Flex really started to get into using it during the recording of Humanication. After we finished the album, Roly and I struck up a relationship with the Japanese company Akai. Surprisingly the guy who designed the software for all of their music products didn’t live in the Far East but in not so far away Kilburn, London. David had been responsible for starting and designing all of the products for Electro Harmonix but was now working for Akai, a company more known for Hi-Fi equipment rather than musical. He was a quiet but very tall man, a boffin and on a similar level to Palm, both mumbled. While recording the tracks on “Jamming” each week we gave him notes and ideas and a few days later he would return with everything implemented. Soon after Akai produced 2 new samplers, the S950 and S1000 and these pretty much changed the face of recording music. They made sampling available and affordable, and were directly responsible for putting an end to other manufacturers who were demanding exorbitant prices for their equipment. Owners of Fairlights and lets not forget Synclaviers needed to be very wealthy or had just taken a second mortgage on their homes. “It costs how much!” Akai sold millions and made a fortune, Roly and I just made some tracks.
The idea of working in a studio and the ability to produce good recordings “that sounded like records” is something that in the past was not available to most musicians. Painters can always find a canvas or something that can be used but it has not always been so simple to record music. Artists would beg for the attention of record companies as they just might give them a chance and record demos or even masters. They needed permission and somebody to pay for the costs of making music. AND THERE LIES THE PROBLEM.
For a fraction of the price, now on a laptop you can have more tracks, plug-ins, effects and instruments that could ever have been imagined or for that matter needed! For the craft of recording music has evolved dependent on the technology. Sergeant Pepper (4 track) Pet Sounds (8 track) both masterpieces of recording and revered today for their production. Soon after these records were made recording technology started to make quantum leaps, 16 and then 24 track tape recorders quickly followed. Politics was recorded on 24 track but by the time we got to “Humanication” we used 48 track analogue and was achieved by running two 24 track tape machines in sync. Like all previous formats, everything in the final mix was recorded but now by using midi sequencers and samplers it meant that lot of things could be run live. This was a totally groundbreaking idea and was starting to occur to musicians and producers around the world.
Until now all recording had been analogue but this too was changing. Re-Flex began using digital recording to master tracks from “Humanication” onwards. The early machines were tape players developed for recording video but nevertheless capable of very impressive results. If you wonder whatever happened to the Sony Betamax video format, after VHS won the dual it became known as an F1 and until the arrival of the DAT player almost all digital recordings were made in this format and mastered on Betamax tape recorders. Finding a machine that still works, I would imagine is slightly further down the list after the Grail.
What was becoming apparent to many musicians was that they no longer needed expensive recording studios or permission from record companies to make demos and records. I had always liked the idea of being able to record at home and without the availability of a mobile studio it was becoming possible to achieve really good results within yards of your own fridge, toilet and bed.
Combined with two AKAI 12 track tape recorders we were tooled up and ready. It was hands on. Unknown to Richard Goldblatt, we borrowed a lot of equipment from his company Audio FX and assembled it in my flat in Denning Road. Oh how we laughed when he came around to visit.
Roly set up his electronic drum kit in the lounge and the two of us began recording some new tracks intended for a Sylvester Stallone film, “Over the Top”. We spent a few days messing around and got some really good results. Somehow what we had put together not only worked but rocked, so when we finished we just kept on going and were on a roll.
“Error TN”......... Beep. What the fuck!
Bax was now living in Los Angeles and by the time he arrived we had already put down quite a few initial drum tracks. We got straight into writing and began recording some more songs. My neighbours would drop not so subtle comments enquiring exactly when the “Revolution” would actually arrive, so I sent them a note informing them that it would not be televised. It was too early to discuss the existence of the Internet, as electricity had only been invented relatively a few weeks before. With a return flight booked we had a deadline but with so many tracks to finish, time was evaporating fast.
During recording I started work on some songs for the new Superman film “Quest for Peace”, produced by the same company who had made “Break Dance” featuring the Re-Flex track “Cut It”. They were up for more and wanted at least a couple of our new songs. And I tell you now, I could not believe it when I first saw the rushes of Superman dancing in a club to “Revolution Now” and nor could my neighbours.
We asked producer John Punter if he would like to drop by and have a listen and he ended up staying to mix almost everything we recorded. Packed with even more equipment, the small room was now crowded without anybody in it. Over the next couple of weeks he spent the entire with his head buried between the speakers, staring for hours at the corner. He was “up for the crack”, as he got to know every detail of the wall which he was still able to see when he went to sleep.
As Baxter had now returned to LA, I finished off some backing vocals with the assistance of Smudge (Pete) and Dave Harris and was the first time we had worked together. We first met while we were recording at Utopia Studios and immediately recognised that we appeared to share a strikingly similar sense of toilet humour, which we both considered to be a good start. Formerly the singer and guitarist in the band Fashion, he had just made an album with Rick Wright of Pink Floyd and was writing and producing other artists, which we later did together.
A couple of weeks after, Smudge and I met up to remix a few things and finish the project off. We had a great time.
With all the mixing completed and with Bax gone, I started playing on some other albums as I got a call from a friend, guitarist John Mcgeoch asking if I would like to play with PIL (Public Image Ltd). Then Gus called and wanted to know if I would like to join him and Graham Dixon to do some work with Elton, I could hardly RE-FUSE. On returning to London I heard that there had been some major cuts to the Superman film and large chunks of our music were now lying on the floor. Well that’s show business!
Over the past few months Re-Flex had recorded and mixed about 20 new songs and believed that we had just completed some of our best work. Most of the tracks from these sessions are included on this album but others appear on the RE-FUSE album. We had no idea of who would release it or that people would eventually get to hear it more than 25 years later or that these would be the last tracks that Re-Flex would record together.
To be continued…….
Part 6: Re-Fuse
The Stage of History
The only one worth playing
There are many references to graffiti within Re-Flex songs, this is probably because it is the earliest form of art and evolved from our need to communicate. Before the existence of language these permanent post-it notes, carved and painted on the walls of caves were the tags of early “Graffers”. Their messages survived long after they were gone, left for visitors and future generations to read and scholars to interpret.
Despite its origin, traditionally Art is something that hangs in museums and galleries or hotel rooms but in more recent times it has been liberated from these confined environments and has found its way back on to the walls and sometimes pavements of cities around the world.
Once regarded as a nasty stain, graffiti has become a respected and valued art form. “Banksi” is famous for leaving his mark on the cities he visits and obviously is a very good painter and probably a skilled decorator, which may be a clue to his identity. His work is defined by the messages he leaves but unlike his art, he makes himself invisible and does not play the usual game of celebrity. He is neither available for chat shows, awards or supermarket openings, which adds to his mystique and provides more time to think about creating good art. This qualifies him as an honorary member of the Action Fraction.
One of the ground rules was that we had to be “it” before we could name “it” and so “it” remained undecided. “It” was a subject that was sometimes mentioned and there were a few suggestions. Mark wanted to call it The Mark King Big Band but we didn’t.
Traditionally band names have little to do with music and it is no coincidence that some of the most known are completely unrelated and often completely stupid. The name of the greatest contributor to popular music was a pun. It was not particularly funny but it didn’t matter because the meaning was soon forgotten and replaced by the music or image of the performer. The joke wore off but the music lives on.
One Sunday evening having spent yet another weekend rehearsing at Tape One, we all got in my car and set off on a journey……. it was time and the writing was definitely on the wall.
Our destination was a place in London called Swiss Cottage but nobody else knew why we were going there. Although I doubt if any lay lines exist running down this intersection, it had been a site of much musical inspiration. At some point I discovered the library possessed a small record department and this became a portal to a considerable amount of my knowledge of music. If you browsed the racks, rarely there was anything interesting unless your quest was music created by men wearing kilts and women sporting knitwear. Then a friend Phillip Saatchi, found out if you had a catalogue number or title and ordered a record they didn’t already own, they would buy it. Every week, for quite a few years we picked up brand new records. This service cost the impressive sum of 10 pence and included posting a card to let you know it was waiting. You could then borrow them, tape the bits you liked and return them a couple of weeks later. It was amazing, a gift from the Gods, well actually Camden and so between the two of us we absolutely caned it. We regularly received 5 or 6 cards a week and estimated we were responsible for spending almost their entire budget on our personal taste. Shamelessly, we considered it to be educating the masses, as along with kilts and knitwear there now were May Blitz, Free, Gentle Giant, Art Tatum, Captain Beefheart, Zappa, Miles Davis, Free, Todd Rundgren, Mountain, Joe Walsh and Stockhausen’s Greatest Hits and thousands of other great albums.
One day while on one of my frequent visits to collect another pile of records, I noticed that a large wall on the outside of the building had been covered with some text and was signed RE-FUSE. It was the first time I had seen this tag anywhere in London and for some reason it made me stop and think. It was a message, a comment written during a time when the country had been run by a government lead by Margaret Thatcher. Once described as “a perfumed fart” but as she managed to shit all over the country, I personally thought something much stronger would have been appropriate.
The word was on the street and the writing was certainly on the wall but the Council weren’t too impressed and quickly removed the first message but within a few days it was replaced with another. RE-FUSE struck again and had a lot on his mind that he wanted to share. In following months the campaign continued and more of his messages appeared around London. Some covered big walls and with lots of questions. They would change, disappear, then be updated, he would provide new instructions. It was relentless and Re-Fuse refused to go away. “Things to say while at a bus stop”……..How much longer must we wait? Isn’t the weather depressing, has it anything to do with the government. ……The council don’t like it …….. Praying to the beat?…… I’m late for the dole office. …….. Nice graffiti isn’t it? “.
With the council now continuously monitoring his favourite target, RE-FUSE changed his site to that of the nearby Hampstead Theatre, a much respected small venue and this was to be our journey’s destination. All of us, Baxter, Francois, Mark and John Hodges had piled into my car and were heading to the theatre, not to enjoy a night out but to find out our name. When we arrived I drove the car on to the pavement and shone the headlights directly at the wall. Everybody got out to take a better look. Across the entrance to the theatre in big letters were the words “RE-FUSE: The Stage of History……….The only one worth playing”. It remained there as the council couldn’t remove it and the theatre was proud to have it displayed. Well it made sense to them and to me.
RE-FUSE transformed into RE-FLEX but remained RE-FUSE. If it was the music that was in control, then we were just “praying to the beat” and pushing a large ball up a hill that was gradually gaining momentum.
Soon after Re-Flex moved to rehearsing at Redan, a nearby wall situated under the West Way flyover in Paddington London became the target of a carefully planned mission. For a long while it had been painted with a Motorhead logo but it was time for a change and a lick of paint. As it was big and to avoid suspicion, the wall had to be painted during the day and we estimated the job was going take quite a few hours. It was very exposed and so we would be witnessed by thousands of passing motorists and police, as just down the road was Harrow Road Police Station. Although not the Great Train Robbery, the mission nevertheless required an element of psyching but we had a cunning plan for we were going to be invisible.
We assembled at Redan, got equipped and dressed for the part. The secret was to be obvious and boring as if you look and act like you are meant to be doing something then generally nobody takes notice. For the 5 hours we were decorators and to make us look convincing we had a few ladders and kept 2 guys standing around doing absolutely nothing. Having learned from past experience the wall was prepared with a solid, fast drying undercoat, a reliable sign of a professional. Our overalls were magic cloaks that made us invisible as we stencilled a huge version of our logo and the words “This Wall is Hyping Re-Flex” across it. When finished, everybody took a moment to admire as it really did look impressive. The wall remained intact for years after we had departed. Nobody touched it as it was meant to be there. Everyday as they went to work, thousands of people saw it and maybe because they couldn’t buy it, some thought about it.
Radio has always been crucial in the development of Pop and Rock music and had an amazing impact on our culture. When I was very young and first started to be interested in music the only source in the UK was Fabulous 208 - Radio Luxembourg. Their signals which were beamed across Europe, were often so weak that they were interspersed with “distant words from Russia”. Despite not always the best reception, large audiences listened each night and a network grew across Europe of people hungry for music.
Very few people appreciate Luxembourg’s significance but briefly, it was the first station ever to broadcast advertising in the UK. In many ways it was also the original Pirate station, although technically totally legitimate as it was broadcast from outside the UK. After the station was taken over during the war it was used to transmit propaganda across Europe and to the UK but when the not so welcome inhabitants fled they left behind one of the first ever tape recorders and some of the best microphones ever built. Significantly, All the UK musicians who became famous in the 60’s listened to Luxembourg as it was where they got their music education from. Then the arrival of Pirate Radio brought a revolution that would not have been possible without their existence, as these were the first stations in the UK to be totally dedicated to playing music. Due to their enormous success and pressure from the BBC, despite protest the Government decided to kill them off and all the ships from where the stations broadcast stopped. Their signals were dead....
The Pirates continued to find new ways and during the 80’s an underground scene of many radio stations began to emerge. This developed into UK dance music and again without radio it wouldn’t have happened.
A few years ago I met Ed Baxter, no relation, who runs a radio station called Resonance 104 FM. Although I am not a great believer of numerology, I noticed that this was half the frequency of 208, so I thought I ought to check it out and will provide further instructions later inside the Universe.
Re-Flex appeared on many television shows in the UK, Europe and America. Most were a fairly mindless experience but one of the more memorable was during a visit to Italy, where we had already achieved some success. On arriving in Rome we were staying in a hotel not far away from the Pope’s house. Although we were not aware if he was at home or a fan, we regretted not bringing a stencil and a few T shirts. Like everywhere we travelled, on entering the hotel room the first thing was to turn on the television as if available it’s a good way to orientate yourself, even if you can’t understand the language. Italians are driven by phenomenal amounts of caffeine and many are speed freaks, so their television is influenced by this intake and was unlike anything we had seen. Apart from the unlimited amounts of game shows, topless chat shows had become all the rage. The country had been going through a rather interesting phase of electing porn stars as politicians and showing your bosoms on national television could also be considered to be a political broadcast. If there was a swing to the left or right, it was a way of defining their policies. I believe that one station had a topless newsreader and weather forecaster and all of this was being broadcast on primetime national telly. Surely the Pope channel hopped? It’s no wonder this country also gave us Fellini. The Italian media has a notorious disrespect for women, unless they are covered in make up, filled with implants and pumped with Botox. In more recent times, things haven’t got any better.
So while flicking through the channels we came across a local MTV type station that was playing our video. What was fairly bizarre was that a large chunk of this station’s daily output was two English presenters who spoke really good Italian. They hadn’t been doing it for long but already had acquired a big cult following and were known for their sharp improvised style of comedy. The next day, among the many bizarre TV appearances Re-Flex recorded, we were pleasantly surprised to find that we were guests on their show and met them for an interview. Having watched the night before it was instantly obvious we were going to get on as we were on a similar wavelength. The event had not required people in the background goose stepping to our music or the attendance of live animals and so was enjoyed by all.
Later that night we were performing in a major live broadcast on national television, an Italian music gala that turned into a surreal experience. When we arrived at the studio we were impressed to find the presenters from the other network standing outside the gates. They had been turned away and were trying to gain access to some of the artists to get interviews, so we thought they could do with a lift. We managed to cram them and their equipment into our car and they kept the camera running. We told the security guard that they were making a documentary about the band and thankfully the guards bought it, so they were in.
As similar events often were, the show was a shambles where the surreal merges with humour, so we decided to add to it when we later played live on air. The cast included many Italian artists and also some from other countries. Representing the UK was Re-Flex and from the USA, the legendary blues performer John Mayall, what a line-up! Although he had lived in LA for many years he was actually English but nobody from the television company seemed to be aware of this minor detail. We were great fans and had listened to his records for many years but this was not how we wanted to see him or for that matter him to see us. I have never liked miming to performances but accept that it is frequently the only available option when appearing on television. We looked like we were in an episode of Thunderbirds.
That night while on stage we were joined by two new backing vocalists dressed as nuns – when in Rome. It’s amazing what you can do with a few black bin liners and a family history in tailoring. They appeared from nowhere with full choreographed dance routines but were still instantly recognisable as the presenters from the other network, particularly when they both revealed their chests and were wearing plastic breasts. Transmitted all over the country, it was probably quite a big break for them and their first entrance into politics. That’s show business! In the presence of topless dancing nuns, it was one of those moments when you think that you are blessed. We left a somewhat confused audience and director, considered it to be a good night’s work and returned to the hotel to celebrate, catch up with the news and see if the Pope had called. There was a chance he might have caught it.
The following night as a departing gesture for our new backing singers, we met for dinner during which we recorded a farewell interview. Most of the meal was filmed and was possibly one of the best interviews Re-Flex ever recorded as at times it was very funny. There are good reasons why eating and talking are not recommended. Despite some resistance, during the meal our tour manager Simon Watson performed his famous shark impersonation, which was so impressive that it got voted as their most popular video of the year. Simon now manages the Human League, who obviously had an eye for talent and needed a good shark impersonator.
Re-Flex’s last European appearance was also Phil Lynott’s. It was at a festival in Belgium and on reflection it’s a great pity that we didn’t play more outdoor events but during this time festivals were places for hippies and Dave Ambrose. A couple of days before we were to leave, Nigel our distinct looking bass player was taken ill and in hospital with something that looked suspiciously like a third testicle. It would be an unwelcome arrival in Belgium and so the pair of them were advised not to travel. We promised the record company that “the show must go on” and so it did, as thousands of people came to see us and other UK artists who had flown over and were on the bill. I have never liked the idea of lots of musicians together on a plane, as historically this does lower the odds of survival.
Fortunately, on this occasion our appearance was not a totally live performance but was being broadcast live across European television. We were accompanied by the wonderfully understanding Jane Potter from EMI who met us at the airport. After she recovered from the initial shock, we were ready for a Spinal Tap moment. We had found a stand in and told the record company that with the dark glasses Nigel always wore on stage, he was almost identical. Nigel was tall, fairly thin, white middle class kind of guy. Billy Vanderpuye, the stand in was short, stocky, a south London lunatic and black. He was best friends with “Smudge” Pete Smith, our engineer and a regular visitor during recording at Utopia studios. When apart, they both had the ability to put the “C” in “Cheeky” but when together, they could put the “C” in “Cunts” and were a dangerous combination. A talented actor, well that’s what Billy told everybody and this explanation was good enough for him and us as it did seem plausible. Having been informed of our plan, Smudge insisted on witnessing the “for one night only” event, bought a ticket and arrived at the airport but unbeknown to us also had plans to make a guest appearance. I can confirm that this did occur. Having been to our gigs, Billy was already familiar with Nigel’s distinctive stage movements and combined with his own form of method acting techniques, was able to transform with only the assistance of a stick on pony tail and glasses. If nothing else, this was the closest we got to looking like Sly and the Family Stone.
When we arrived, we were hanging around for a while at the site and so they organised a game of football with some of the other artists, including Aztec Camera. Phil Lynott was appearing with Gary Moore but before achieving fame with Thin Lizzy he had been a professional football player. Nobody imagined that this might be his last appearance or game but a couple of weeks later he was found dead. Although he was now a smack addict he could play a pretty good game and that day scored most of the goals. It might have killed him but he could still shoot!
One of things that soon become very apparent to anyone hoping to be a professional musician is that you have to be prepared to ring a lot of door bells and deal with “No” and “go away”. It’s a game not always easy when you are playing with people who don’t know or care about music. They are the cogs of the music industry, some are great and some are not so great. Some help you and others get in the way. But some get it and that it’s just a game.
While I was studying music at the Guildhall in London and 19, I was signed to Warner Brothers in the UK by the truly amazing Derek Taylor. Their London office was in a very old building in Soho and as this was my first experience of being involved in the big corporate world of music, there was much to learn and he was a good guide. It was once said that when people met Derek in his office, which was on the top floor of the building, they left via the ceiling. One day a pretty girl called Cherry who was blessed with an exceptional cleavage and worked for Warners, pulled me aside as she wished to make an enlightening confession. She told me that if I slowly looked around the office I would see some of the best looking and trendiest people in this town but what was significant was that there was hardly a brain cell among them. When I finished staring at her cleavage I realised there was probably a lot of truth to this as nobody apart from Derek asked questions or talked about the past, which probably explains why they kicked him out. I was always aware that behind the thin corporate wall there had been an association with a world of gangsters and crime, as it was no secret of Warner’s previous connections with the Mafia. It is significant how the world of crime and of music ended up becoming so closely linked and such good friends, as what really brought them together was prohibition. Here was I fresh out of Music College and now working as an errand boy for the mob, collecting a few pennies from the music I made and most of which they would keep. I recently read yet another great book by musician and author Bill Drummond where he made a similar reference to his own experience as an employee of Warners and felt somewhat comforted as I could now let go of the guilt.
I have noticed that as yet I have not made any reference to my father Jack who probably needs an entire book devoted to him. He was quite an extraordinary character and certainly a paid up member of the Action Fraction. For those who don’t already know, a very accomplished song writer and author. Aside from the genetic connection, we were good friends and Jack was around and involved in many things to do with Re-Flex.
There are too many stories I could share but I will provide one personal example. When after struggling for so long Re-Flex started to gain some recognition, the UK music journal Melody Maker published a photograph of the band on the front page and so I phoned to tell him the good news. He asked if under my picture the caption said “Cunty Bollocks”, to which I replied “No, it says son of Cunty Bollocks”. There followed a long pause during which I could hear him crying with laughter. He couldn’t continue the call and eventually had to hang up. Priceless!
This album includes material from Re-Flex’s entire catalogue of recordings that didn’t find its way onto the other records. Rare gems or whatever you want to call them. Some songs were recorded during the very early period when both Mark and Francois were still in the band such as the version of “Mindless Dancing”. Some are alternative versions, different arrangements of songs that appear on other albums. “The Politics of Dancing” and “Praying to The Beat” were recorded with producer John Punter just before we signed to EMI. Some tracks were written for films, the earliest being “Wiz Kid” featured in the film “Riding High”, starring the stunt bike performer Eddie Kidd. Just before we began the recording sessions for “Jamming the Broadcast”, we worked on a track for the Sylvester Stallone movie “Over the Top”. When we had almost completed recording the rest of the album I got a call asking if we wanted to submit a few songs for Superman IV “Quest for Peace” and “Life’s Too Dangerous” appears on the soundtrack album to the movie.
Everything takes longer than you plan and sometimes you just run out of time. After Bax returned to his new home in LA we realised that we had forgotten to record his vocal in the middle section of “Life’s too Dangerous” We had an idea that it should sound like someone on a phone, so when he got home we gave him a call and it was just like the real thing. There was some pressure to get the track finished for “Superman IV” and as it also needed some additional guitars, with Bax gone it was time to phone a few friends. Having just met musician Andy Gill again, as both Re-Flex and Gang of Four had been touring in Canada, I invited him to come over to my flat in Hampstead for some tea and noise. For a man who speaks so politely, with the assistance of a guitar he can make a dreadful but welcome row, although not all of my neighbours agreed. We also had some help from Anthony Oliver who played guitar with London R&B band The Inmates, cos we wanted it to rock! We had known each other for a long time and he had come over to visit his sister Mandy and he now comes to see his nephews.
During the time we were working on the songs for “Jamming the Broadcast”, the relationship with our management and with EMI had been gradually falling apart and now was on its last legs. Bax bumped into a big wheel from Capital records in LA, who wanted to pass on a message to us to get off the soap box. He was clearly missing the point! He suggested that we should find an American producer and also knowing that we had just recorded a track with Sting, said that he was finished after the Police. After listening to him spout rubbish, Bax had enough and stopped him to explain that the reason he had this view was because he was a deaf cunt. Although I was not there at the time, I really wish I had been as I would have gladly paid for a ticket just to have been a witness. Things were beginning to get messy and we found ourselves caught up in the Politics of EMI. We stopped trusting their judgement so we opted out and Re-Flex went on strike and decided to wait……
Before the end of the decade there would be two major events in music, the arrival of dance music and that of Hip Hop. In America, this was similar to when punk had emerged in the UK, as Hip Hop made protest and fashion fashionable but soon grew to be a much greater force. It confronted American views of censorship and morality, it was up for the fight and maybe because it became a far bigger earner, there wasn’t a senators’ wife who could stop it.
Although the intention might have been to Fight the Power, it didn’t suggest any ways to actually do it and instead got on with feuding and getting down with a few friends and insulting each others mothers.
I have made various references comparing our experience to a journey, in that it has a starting and an ending point and on the way a lot of people get on or off. Similar in ways to travelling on the tube, when you get on the train the carriage is often filled with people and probably all of them are strangers.
Where did they come from and where are they going?
How have we managed to avoid each other or have we met before?
Everybody is of course on their own journey but sometimes people get together and share the ride, even for what can be relatively a few stops.
Soon after we signed to EMI, among the initial buddies we made was a young girl called Maddy who worked in their promotion department. We met her a few times and instantly got on as she was a lot of fun and very down to earth, which was an unusual combination for the record industry. One Friday we went with her and a few other people from EMI to the pub around the corner from the Manchester Square office. She mentioned that over the weekend some friends and her were going to drive up the M1 motorway to a party and maybe we fancied joining them. About an hour later she left to go home but forgot to give us the address. It wasn’t her round but it was time as we never saw her again. On the way to the party a lorry travelling in the opposite direction lost a wheel and in a freak accident, it bounced over the barrier into the on coming traffic….What can you say, we were all shocked. It was hard to understand how it could have happened. There is nothing to predict or worth crediting as divine intervention that can explain such unlikely and tragic events. “Shit happens” would make a very fitting epitaph for many people. Maddy may have never got any credits on a record so this is a somewhat belated one for her and those who knew her.
There are many things that are completely obscene about the relationships between musicians and record companies and why every one who achieves even the most minor success eventually employs a lawyer to sort it out. Often they find that their performances have been signed away and end up with nothing. This type of theft is in many ways pretty unique to the music industry. By comparison, if you borrowed money to buy a house and then paid it back, you wouldn’t expect the bank to still own it. Recently things have begun to change and what was, is no longer what is. The industry that has handsomely benefited from the talents of musicians is undergoing a defining moment of evolution – “Revolution Now”. Musicians will begin to own their recordings and will not need to sell their souls. No longer will they be as Prince once described “Slaves” to the machine.
Over the past 30 years large record companies have dominated the music industry and raped it, by gradually consuming everything within it including themselves. Originally inhabited by people who possessed passion and faith, risked their own money to start record companies, they were responsible for giving many musicians a chance. As the record industry grew so did the control of the major record companies and the mavericks and entrepreneurs were replaced by lawyers, accountants and marketing departments. Decisions were made by committees and A&R became Umm & Errr, where people lost the ability to have an opinion, “what do you think?” Success was celebrated by shareholders not because of the quality of music produced but by profit. Investing in the development of artists was something that was gone because it didn’t matter what they sold as long as the shareholders went home satisfied. So their goal became anything that made enough money.
These were big companies who now had their fingers in lots of pies. Many had originally been manufacturers of hardware such as radios and televisions or were film companies and most of the independents were now gone. Because Sony wanted to ensure people would use their products, realising that without control of the software the hardware they manufactured was useless, they took over CBS and bought their way into the music industry. Since the 80s and the advent of the CD, they were joined by other large industrialists who wanted to own more.
When Re-Flex was signed to EMI, there was an announcement one day as the technical department of their UK parent company, Thorn Electronics had recently made a major breakthrough and invented ultrasound image scanning. It had nothing to do with records or the charts but enabled doctors for the first time to perform foetal scans. Pretty impressive! People were talking about it as if the company had just got a number one record, not that anybody in the record company understood the implications. The reason for the celebration was that Thorn had just done a deal that was absolutely massive and over the next 5 years it would make them far more money than their entire income from everyone who had ever been signed to their record company including the Beatles!
The writing was on the wall. The money they made from musicians was used to fund the development of other industries but they paid no returns. In following years the success of the scanner had an enormous impact upon the medical industry, Thorn’s bank balance and the future of EMI. Considering the profit they made, it’s a pity that it didn’t occur to them to put some of it back into the development of the music industry and support music education.
They just wait for the doorbell to ring again. “No”.
It’s been a long time coming but something had to change.
The revolution would not be televised but you could download it!
Who would have thought that a bunch of geeks armed with the latest technology could start a revolution?
The internet, well there’s a handy invention! It is the key to the fate of the music industry. The writing was on the wall, well actually it was on the screen as it certainly didn’t see it coming but there were lots of clues.
Over the next few years a series of defining events would occur:
The day BMG bought Napster was the day the music industry officially ended. Napster was the first music file sharing service and became hugely successful but within seconds of being taken over was almost worthless.
The day people decided to abandon Hi-Fi in preference for compressed mp3 audio.
The day Apple released the Ipod and Itunes who became the largest source of music in the world.
The day it became possible to record and mix an entire album on a laptop.
The day broadband became a standard.
The day I first saw a virtual instrument that was capable of reproducing the sound of the keyboards I owned.
The day when almost all the record shops on all the high streets had vanished.
The day I mixed a track and within an hour of finishing people were listening to it on MySpace & Youtube.
The day someone introduced me to Resonance Radio.
The day EMI released a re-mastered version of their most valuable catalogue and forgot to produce enough records.
The day record companies decided that for most of their catalogue, they would no longer physically manufacture records……
The day Vera Lynne got to No1 in the UK charts in 2009.
It was a hell of a day!
Often triggered by a mid life crisis, artistic nostalgia is a common condition among musicians. Just as every performance is a unique moment in time, it is not possible to be who you once were but this does not appear to stop many artists trying. Possibly because they are too busy remembering how to play their hits, rarely do they produce any new music of value. I suspect that this may be due to their original motives to create music having been replaced by money or ego and sometimes both. For fame is a drug and it’s no secret that quite a few musicians are addicts and suffer from a desperate need to be wanted. “You are my public and you make me what I am” is a hell of a responsibility but often it’s the price of fame and a guaranteed employment of a psychiatrist. It’s no wonder why so many have turned to alcohol and drugs, as combined with fame they are a potent if not deadly combination.
My parents liked music and my father was a songwriter, so when I was young I received quite a lot of exposure to artists like Ray Charles who made a big impression upon me but generally when I heard them playing records I didn’t think it sounded like the sort of music I was going to be listening to. I am aware from having spent a lot of time around my kids and their friends that much of what they like and know are the same records that I bought when I was their age. This is rather weird, not because I doubt my taste or expect them to like what I like but because artists such as The Beatles, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin etc were all recorded a long time ago. They didn’t sound dated to the following generation’s ears and for those who could play, these were often the songs they wanted to learn. This is also true of more recent artists like Nirvana, Radiohead. “Cross Town Traffic”, “Communication Breakdown”, “Head like a hole”, “Strawberry Fields” etc sound just as potent to my ears as when I first heard them. Although it is impossible to guess how music of this time will be remembered, I think these may be a fair indication that something is going on.
It’s very difficult to be objective about what is considered to be good music but if made available, an indication must be its ability to last. There is of course only so much you can hear during one lifetime and through the internet more than you could ever want. Music that was composed hundreds of years ago can only be played because the composers wrote it down on manuscript but it has proved capable of standing the test of time, long after they are gone. This will also be true of some music that has been written since but unlike classical music which was not available to the masses, we now live in a very different world. The key to the success of Pop music has been its exposure. Performances of musicians have since been captured on records or on film and exist in archives and many rare moments can be now found on the internet.
Your great grand children may not know of Madonna or Britney but America can rest assured that they will possibly be able to find Michael Jackson for quite a while and ironically Zappa for even longer. In looking back at the 20th century there are certainly no other musicians or composers that achieved the level of success and popularity as The Beatles. Maybe it was a good joke after all but their longevity is more likely to be down to the music.
We had recorded a lot of music and performed many gigs, met some truly wonderful people on the journey, many who are now sadly no longer available for comment but all of that happened a long time ago.
Some bands have big arguments or just call it a day but Re-Flex never really broke up. There were no big punch ups as such, we just started doing other things in different places. Re-Flex never appeared together again or recorded but we still knew each other and have remained in contact. For many years after, we thought the journey had stopped and was long forgotten but it appears even without us Re-Flex kept going and the music had a life of its own.
An archive exists where all of our master tapes have remained undisturbed, a diary made of music. A few years ago I decided to disturb some dust and started the process of transferring all of Re-Flex’s analogue and digital tapes onto a hard disk. There was a lot of good music that had been sitting on the shelf and it was time to give it a listen. We had recorded loads of songs which only a few people had heard, including various different versions that I had forgotten about. One evening some music producer friends came to visit while I was working in my studio, so I decided to play a couple of tracks but didn’t explain anything about the music. Not knowing who it was or when recorded, I was surprised by their reaction. Apart from really liking it, they thought it was a new band and had just been recorded. “You’re kidding” was my initial response.
Further inspiration came down the line as over the past few years I have begun to receive regular emails from people all over the world about RE-FLEX. The internet is an amazing resource for everything including Re-Flex, as it enabled fans to share what I initially thought was an obscure interest. I met people who had heard of us through MySpace or YouTube and wanted to know more. So I posted a holding page, contact was made and messages arrived from all over the world. I was fascinated to know who was out there. After all this time could they really be interested?
Some came from people who had been to our gigs but then I started to realise that were also quite a few from people born long after we were together. Many wanted to get hold of CDs and some even knew that more music existed.
How would we respond as it’s been a while?
Maybe Sun Ra was right?
Keep in touch