Websites have no lack of fringe benefits. One of the most obvious is a chance to showcase material that never saw the light of day, or kissed the cutting room floor. In November 2005, I asked Darryl Read -- via the magic of email -- to contrast the recording approaches used toward Crushed Butler, his original London proto-punk trio out of time, with today's digitized world.
I first used an extremely abbreviated version of Darryl's comments for a TAPE OP review of Crushed Butler's UNCRUSHED CD. However, this piece contains quite a few relevant insights for those of us who like to play around with sound, myself included...as well as the nature of the music industry...and how it collides with the goal of trying to capture a raw sound. So, without fanfare, here are Darryl's thoughts on the subject, as he sent them to me. Compare and contrast for yourself.
CRUSHED BUTLER: THE OVERVIEW
All of the tracks were never mixed properly, in fact, they were recorded (mostly) in a very short space of time (hours, not days), and left as they were recorded with swift rough mix off the board, followed by a quick: “See ya later!” from the engineer.
“It's My Life” (mono: recorded at Regent Sound) was, however, mixed, to some extent, by Neil Sedgwick, who compressed the track at the BBC – and this one shows a little of what could have been achieved with Crushed Butler, in terms of a lively, raw production that had been worked on a bit.
“High School Dropout” (recorded in basic stereo at Marquee Studios, London) works well, but again, could have been compressed and tweaked – to amplify the sheer live rawness that Crushed Butler sought to be enhanced and maximized.
The conditions that Crushed Butler worked in were mainly intensified by the lack of time, money and belief from most of the companies/engineers that we were trying to work with; that Crushed Butler were viable; as the group weren't following any of the current trends of the time. The studios were sometimes cramped and uncomfortable, and I always got the feeling that the engineers always wanted to get our sessions over with as quickly as possible.
I can't remember what microphones they were using in the studio, but I think they were Sennheisers and the likes of – which always gave a sharp and edgy atmospheric quality to Crushed Butler's unorthodox way of going about things.
Ray (Jesse) Hector used a red Vox Stratocaster copy guitar on “It's My Life”, and the bridge was made out of an old thick six-inch nail, with the string grooves crudely cut into it (because he'd broken the original bridge). When we quickly got backing for equipment, et cetera, from Graham Breslau (our first manager), Ray bought a 1966 Telecaster and immediately sprayed it dark green, then acquired a red Marshall stack (from Sound City, on Shaftesbury Avenue), and used these on most of the other recordings.
Alan Butler played a great-sounding old semi-acoustic Epiphone bass and acquired a Marshall stack (again, from Sound City) for some of our early gigs. I used a silver glitter Rogers (jazz kit) on “It's My Life,” and then, when we got backing from Graham, I bought a brand new silver Hayman kit from Drum City, on Shaftesbury Avenue – used on “Love Is All Around Me,” and “Factory Grime” -- which fell apart (the fittings broke, etc., etc.). with the heavy-handed treatment I was giving the kit on live gigs and rehearsals.
So the Hayman kit was luckily and quickly traded for a used silver Ludwig kit with a cat called Bryston – who was drumming with a group called MAN. On “High School Dropout,” I played a red glitter Premier kit, as by then, Graham no longer managed Crushed Butler...and took back all the gear, including the silver Ludwig kit.
After a couple of months in the beginning of gigs with Crushed Butler, Graham was advised to get a better PA for the group by Terry King (a well-known rock impresario), so Graham purchased a brand new WEM PA, and that worked quite well for us for awhile! In any case, I think that, miraculously, the tracks Rock Out – despite all the above given circumstances!
CRUSHED BUTLER: THE STUDIOS (PART I)
I personally liked the old valve boards and audio equipment, of the likes that Regent Sound used, as these old four-track and eight-track machines could throw up a raw and edgy ambient sound, and sometimes, as you will hear on Crushed Butler tracks, the near zero separation – would work to our advantage, in creating the sort of sound we were achieving live.
Hector and I would always break the rules in a studio – not caring about convention, which is why we were thrown out of the demo studio of Dick James Music (DJM), and after a day or two of recordings at the brand new De Lane Lea Studios (Wembley), we were also asked to finish earlier than anticipated – having recorded three tracks at DJM, and around six tracks at De Lane Lea, all of which have never, as yet, been found or resurrected.
The main point being about the simple valve mixing boards, amps and loosely separated studios of that time – was that the tracks would lay natural harmonics, and let the music breathe. In this modern digitalised era, things are OK for multi-layered stuff, but I find that everything is too separated – thus stifling any pure and vibrant liveness – and a hot and raw recording can easily be dampened down into a pathetically tame and ordinary dirge by over-separation, combined with an overdose of technicalities.
In any case, hardly anyone I know seeks to record in a live fashion, but I still do! A lot of mainstream, and I must say, boring artists, are overproduced and lack any shred of unique and energetic spontaneity. Producers manufacture a formula-type attitude of technicality being correct in what they feel is quality – disregarding the factor that the public (especially in a new teen rock generation) – may want a more sincere and spontaneous performance captured in a recording.
Another way I could describe this is, if you film on 35 mm, then you can achieve some cool and stunning effects when the film is processed and the chemicals mix in. Now people spend hours mixing and digitalise film and sound recordings to get a 35 mm-looking film or '60s sound in the recording studio.
Modern high-tech equipment can work to all of our benefits, but somehow, you will never achieve the original film/sound recording formats of the mid- to late-'60s purity which reversed a golden age in breaking through, never – as yet – to be repeated in quite the same way.
Hector and I knew we were ahead of the scene, in that what I termed and named “Council Estate Rock” at the time, and that we had something very new, and it was frustrating all around – to be held back, as we were, by the logistics of the fast-becoming manufactured sound, and acts – that were to prevail in that turn of the era, into the '70s.
CRUSHED BUTLER: THE STUDIOS (PART II)
In a way, I enjoyed Regent Sound Studios – I don't know the brand name of the board they had, but I remember, we made the engineer stick all the small rack of faders up – well onto the red limit markers. The Stones, The Animals and The Who, and many others, had recorded there on the same board – don't forget, this was 1969 – and Hector and I wanted to get that type of blasting-out rawness and excitement created years earlier by these type of great groups.
A point to add is that Regent Sound, in 1969, was very much classed as a demo studio, but had mastered great hits like “The Housing Of The Rising Sun,” by the Animals. What Crushed Butler realised, and knew, that – in trying to compete with an already-passed sound – that we were taking all of these root elements and transforming them into creating our own sound!
The old Decca Studios (West Hampstead, Broadhurst Gardens, London) were probably my favourite – because the studios had great ambiance and a great history to it. Certainly the feel of the place reeked greatness, and had a very warm quality, that got you down to serious business.
I remember the old pegboard walls, and half-cut sound bafflers on wheels – that, at some time, Brian Jones must have sat behind, strumming a sitar to “Paint It Black” or some equivalent track, and I remember thinking that some conservative technician would appear in a white coast and make adjustments to equipment, like they used to at Abbey Road Studios, in the early days of the Beatles.
Decca Studios produced many a great artist and hit record, I only wish that we had had more time and more sessions in there, also – a proper mix would have been good. However, “My Son's Alive” and “Love Fighter” rock rawly to the point of hearing the snare drum rattle to the loudness of the amps, and Barry Wyles's magnificent Gibson bass guitar work in the rhythm section's attack on both recordings still stands up masterfully.
Decca's famous studio was used up until quite recently, for orchestral productions, and that very formal studio had great acoustics and a charm all of its own.
RECORDING FRESHLY DUG
FRESHLY DUG was recorded in a very funky studio called Black Ball Studios, in Hollywood, Los Angeles. The studios were situated over a junk shop, called The Wonder Shop – which was also owned by the studio, and I think are still located on the edge at South Central LA, and run by black people; mainly for recording (at that time) rap music.
The main reason I chose it was because they had an eighty set of keys, which Ray Manzarek required to record with, and also, I figured that if they were recording rap music, then the vocal sound would be good. The studio was small and up some stairs, and had a little glass-windowed recording booth, and this was cool to have – enabling me to watch Ray and communicate, whilst in the throes of laying the live tracks.
Ray and I were made to feel at ease in the funky little studio and things were set up quickly – before we got stuck into very serious and intense recordings. Our engineer, Dorian, was very good – he attained a cool and warm vocal sound, plus a majestic-sounding set of keys, and didn't talk too much. The format of recording tape was ADAT, and I do not know what the [recording] desk was called: but it was tweaked up in the right way to achieve a maximum performance, and was masterfully handled by Dorian, who seemed to immediately cotton to to where Ray and I were coming from.
We recorded a total of 32 tracks (doing two takes of each poem with music), 16 of which were used on FRESHLY DUG. All the tracks were performed live, with no overdubs, and I was happy with the ambient epic sound that Black Ball Studios had achieved. The session was no easy ride, in terms of a relaxed-type atmosphere, and the concentration factor for all involved was at the point – almost throughout – where you could have heard a pin drop after each take.
After completing the sessions in LA, I took the ADAT recordings back to my home in Church Row, Hamsptead, London (NW3), and turned my apartment into a mixing room, hiring an ADAT machine, along with monitors, et cetera, then got the expertise of Martin Randle (a cool I had recently worked with), and my cohort in the Arts, Clive Zone, to help me finalise the mixes and select the best versions of each track.
The process at Church Row Studios (as I called it) took a couple of days, as we all checked and made sure that there were no glitches, and we were all sure that the best quality and mixes were mastered to our best of perfection. Assimilating the whole FRESHLY DUG recordings, in terms of getting what we wanted, the digitalisation didn't get in the way, and on reflection, I think we recorded and mixed with the old-route attitude, and content-wise achieved a modern and at the same time classical utility, on (for the time) very modern equipment.
Best to rule the equipment at all times, and not allow the equipment or over-fastidious engineers (coming from the wrong direction) rule the Artists or the product!
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