“To remix or not to remix that is the question…” - well it might be but you can never tell with Ant! Anthony talks to Alan about the recent reissues and current plans. Interview conducted at Vic’s armadillo taming emporium on Saturday 15th October 2016.
AP: Meester Hewitt, now I come to interview you about your new record, you are doing the bossa nova, that right?
AH: Da bossa nova for da tuned warthog … Ees very difficult!
AP: My friend Wart.. How is my friend wart? (laughs) Eet ess a lot of water under the bridge!
AH: Exactly! Moving swiftly on… we are here for a catch up more than anything else and obviously we have all of these remasters so I think the first question is, when you have been putting all of those together what has been the most difficult aspect of that? Were there any tricky moments in the process for any of them?
AP: Well, I think Jon (Dann) was the one who had more difficulty than myself because he was the one was charged with trying to find all the relevant tapes and some of them needed to be baked… they were burned actually! (laughs). And there was that period with the tapes where it was almost like a blackboard scratching with tapes shredding. So then they had to be transferred and so there were quite a lot of complications in the process of that but it all seemed to go well and Jon would then pass on the information in file form and I am not exactly sure how it works and The Geese & The Ghost was recorded in so many odd bits and you would end up with a million things going on that it was a small nightmare to reconstruct so there were huge complications there.
I think there was a point where Simon (Heyworth) was almost going to join the Foreign Legion (laughs) and I think the expectation nowadays unfortunately and it is part and parcel of things, C Ds aren’t selling very much is that everybody has to do things much cheaper and I don’t mean to turn this into a sob story for Simon but the level and the range of equipment that he has to have to cover everyone’s needs and requirements is colossal and he does need to charge a lot to make it worthwhile and the budgets these days have dramatically reduced and so he got to a point… Cherry Red were prepared to do .. To fund it up to a point and to be fair to them, I don’t think they knew how complicated it was and The Geese & The Ghost was like if you take one domino out the whole thing just collapsed and having to rebuild this edifice, and so I then put, there was a point where Simon and I we just didn’t know how we were going to be able to re-erect it and so I definitely felt that morale needed to be boosted and so I actually injected some extra cash myself to get it over the line but it was very complicated and 1984 was similar although a little bit more organised, it did end up on twenty four track but there were reductions an eight and two for the percussion and then the main keyboards were added and all that lot was transferred and we used all of Phil’s (Collins’s ) it was a bizarre album, because it was done percussion first and there was a guide track for the synths but we borrowed all of Phil’s percussion rig and so we had the CR78 then six tracks… no four tracks, my maths has never been very good, FOUR tracks of other percussion and that was all mixed down too on the eight track and my friend Richard Scott helped me with some of that and he was very encouraging and very helpful so it was a pretty bizarre set up.
So, that was quite tricky because it meant that we couldn’t have individual control over some of that percussion stuff because it was all mixed in - sub-mixed and they would have to compromise and it was a real challenge for them. Steven Wilson, who I had never met before, turned out to be quite a fan of the album and he was one of those swathes of people who was a 1984 man and that is what is quite nice about these records, you have got people who are unabashedly The Geese & The Ghost, unabashedly Sides or Slow Dance and there is a definite militant wing of people who are including Anil Prasad, the journalist in LA who says that he has listened to it over 200 times and Steven Wilson was prepared to do it and he is a remarkable all-rounder, front man in a band, composer and player and he is a much sought after sonic man which I think is almost unheard of but he was going to do it but he looked at the track sheets and was off to join the Foreign Legion! (laughs) again, it was too complicated for him and that gives you an indication of how difficult it was.
Where Jon was really strong and you were very kind about the extra C D on the PP 5 -8 and where Jon was very strong was exhaustive research to try and find material that was homogenous and contemporaneous … he was a Roman senator wasn’t he?
AH: That was obviously the thing with both sets of the Private Parts & Pieces albums was the fact that you got so much “new” material and that is to Jon’s undying credit, but I guess this is the advantage you have of having most if not all of your master tapes here, you may not necessarily know what is on them but that is Jon’s job and some of that stuff, especially on the last box set where I listened to them and went wow! Some of that stuff is absolutely stunning and the job that has been done on the albums themselves, credit to all involved it is a fantastic project.
AP: I think the sad thing was at the awards ceremony was not being able to ask a lot of the people involved because Phil Lloyd Smee who did the artwork…
AH: Was the award for the Harvest Of The Heart box set?
AP: No, it was for the entire catalogue, it is called the Storm Thorgersen Award and basically it is for back catalogue and when Fish got it the first year he had Mark Wilkinson accept it with him and I thought that was appropriate and Mark Powell said ’we’re going to win that’ and I said ’you must be joking’ but he was right but he had a good team and Jon’s extensive finding of material and the bibliography was great, you could have done a lot of that, of course, the bibliographical stuff, not the sonic stuff but Phil Lloyd Smee has dealt very sensitively I think, with Pete’s work and how he has adapted it is very tasteful. What he has done with the stuff inside is a real little treasure trove and I felt really sad that I couldn’t ask any of them along and I got the call very late but the table was filled with Van Der Graaf members who were getting the Lifetime Achievement Award and I felt a bit bad really because it was very much a joint effort. I think we gave the fans who have the stuff already, I would hope, enough extra proper stuff as opposed to just chuck aways to justify buying it again. And hopefully some new people, and I think Cherry Red have managed to bring some new people and some lost fans back
AH: The new mixes are amazing, 1984 is a new album again and the mixes for that and Sides are simply stunning.
AP: They found a lot of Morris Pert’s percussion and stuff which we must have felt at the time because they came and went, and they dropped out and he had left it a bit empty so it wasn’t because of what he did but it must have been mixed down a bit and one of the things we did was to push a lot of, not blanket but a lot of Morris’ percussion and I think that adds a lot and there is also more clarity bit I think a lot of the missing detail was Morris’ stuff because he did all that in a day and a bit like Frank Racotti did all of Slow Dance’s percussion in a day, never having heard it before!
AH: The other thing about 1984 is the bass is incredibly powerful..
AP: Moderately powerful but I thought it was too loud well that was thank you very much ARP2600 because it had the fattest sound of the oscillators and some people have still got them. I had to get rid of mine in the end because even during 1984 because I am not a technical chap at all, I’m just a guitarist and an oscillator is basically ne sound source and there were three so you could pair them up and have three great sounds and if you get it right the sound is excellent. The problem was I couldn’t even keep one oscillator in tune! I used to have this screwdriver and the octave would go out of tune so I always used the screwdriver and if you listen to 1984 there are moments where it goes a little bit flat at the bottom and in the end it was unmanageable like a lot of those early synths and they have done “Soft Synths” versions of it which are not quite the same and people are going back to these things and even library companies are getting request for ’80’s stuff and I am going Polymoog/ The Polymoog went all grainy and the 2600 went, all I have got is the Jupiter and that came a little bit later but you are right, the bass sound was absolutely fantastic and I think for Simon it is rather sad actually, because we are mentioning this but Simon can’t afford to keep Andy on and so Andy has had to go and do other stuff … it is pure economics, the business just cannot pay enough now. People are asking to do things for £1500 - 2000 which might take a week or two weeks and with that kind of gear it is not possible. In the old days it would have been £1000 per day! The trouble is if there are not enough people buying it then they are not getting the big orders and Simon was getting the good stuff, he was getting King Crimson and the rest of it but he wasn’t getting enough regular big ones and there are not enough of those huge selling bands doing it.
So, for them to have the review which said that 1984 “was one of the crowning glories of that medium” was a really nice thing for them to have. I would agree because I think \I can be dispassionate and I can listen to the music and when I do I am hearing things I would like to do again but I went down there and I hadn’t heard it for ages and I was just so impressed with what they had done.
The ting about an instrumental album is that is much better for 5.1 because you are ..in a song, a rock band song, you have got to keep all your old information pretty much in the central position because if you start throwing drums around or vocals all over the place so what people tend to do is place the lighter spacial stuff such as backing vocals synths and stuff but an instrumental album isn’t like that and you are not restricted to that hard core centrepiece and you can vary a piece and be much more spectral so I think it was a great job.
AH: The thing was that a few people had had the same idea with 1984, and Rick Wakeman had had the same idea a but his was from the abortive musical which the Orwell estate squashed and so I got this one home and you unleashed this keyboard beast and I remember thinking… bloody hell! And listening to it now, twenty five years later, it is still bloody hell! And for that to happen twice all credit to the guys who made it possible. Even with the PP’s themselves, even on the two acoustic albums, five and six the depth of additional detail in there, they actually …five always sounded spiky and it doesn’t anymore.
AP: .Well, I used …I couldn’t afford to use Simon on the PP’s because, as you know, it is a smaller scale thing and it wasn’t really necessary and I had a fantastic engineer and I was working with him on some library music, called James Collins who is quite brilliant he came to the fore, he is just young enough to come in at the end of the old school CPS, proper old school learning and research and he was starting out in the late Eighties but he was also young enough to be right at the forefront of the computer stuff so he has got everything - he is both old school and new school and so when you play him a mixture of tracks like that he is able to…! I mean one of the key things was that Five was always a bit brittle and I probably didn’t use the right mics and we used good mics on Six but James did a great job on that. Tasteful but he just knows how to roll things off and make them very warm and these guys are sonically very clever.
AH: As we have said before when we have talked about the one prospects for the one album that hasn’t been done yet which I am keeping my fingers crossed for …but we won’t talk about that just yet, but it is the same with the PP’s, how far do you push it before you spoil it? And certainly with those two because they were the ones when I got the box set I thought…. Going to save you until last purely to hear what has been done with them so I listened to everything else first and there are two or three track on the bonus which should have been on albums and they have gone in to my top ten tracks and this is the problem when you have so much stuff …
AP: I didn’t remember half of them! They were done very quickly for an obscure project and I should have remembered them after a while but the thing about that was that they weren’t just sort of out-takes or some kind of remix they were actual proper pieces.
AH: So we shall go on from the PP’s to library stuff… what library music have you been doing lately?
AP: To be honest it is an interesting time because Universal, who took over Atmosphere and I am one of the oldest now, and certainly one of the oldest from the old Atmosphere school, there are a few of the chaps from Zomba there an I have nearly a thousand tracks in the library and they see me as someone whose tracks have longevity, they don’t seem to date, a lot of them which is probably a mixture of good fortune and perspicacious ness and so at the moment we have had a bit of a palace revolution and we now have an Australian phalanx who have come in and they are changing things around a bit and it is always difficult if you have your special person and you don’t have a contract, and some people do have a contract but when your special person goes, then you are released, you are let out of the contract but my contact went off to have a baby and another guy went and that they are looking for these younger guys and I am keen to keep at it because I really enjoy it. So I did an enormous amount of tracks last year and that was just my normal thing, going in and exploring new sounds and I went through all of these with James and we got it down to about 150 and then put them into different categories you know, like pulsey ones, tense ones, sustained ones and so what James has done is he has taken them away, got rid of the bad bits, because the beauty of this system is you can improvise so you are actually very inspired but because you are improvising there are going to be some moments where it goes a bit over the top.
This is lovely because I still work in a very old fashioned way and I just call up lots of different new sounds on different synths and so if you have the same sound over here and you have a lead line over there and a rhythmic thing there and I just go through all the different sounds and occasionally they marry up and you put the machine on and off you go. So when we went through it again and I had gone through it to get rid of nearly all of it, but James felt that there was mileage on a lot of the pieces and he took them away, got rid of the bad bits and edited and topped and tailed but he also added a few more bits to make them a bit more interesting. So we are in the process of punting these around different libraries because they don’t fit the Universal .
What Universal are doing more and more now is themed CDs with a person doing one or two tracks and I was super lucky because I did around seven or eight whole albums to myself and that doesn’t really happen now but I can’t mention any names yet of whom we are in discussion with so at the moment I am in the luxurious position of not having to do anything but I WANT to do stuff but I am waiting for James to catch up if you like! (laughs). I am a year ahead and I don’t feel particularly inspired to go into the studio and do loads more until we actually find a home for these.
AH: So what are the… as you know I try to hunt these things down and collect them, and I know I am probably seven or eight albums behind so what were the titles of the last couple of albums?
AP: Well, there were the orchestral ones from 2008-09 which were called World Film & Drama and a lot of those tracks ended up on Seventh Heaven and you were very complimentary about the sort of medieval suite (Old Sarum Suite) and it is maybe the time to think about doing some of that stuff in fuller form but would anybody play it? You know these modern Classical concerts, the chaps are not very keen on anything that is harmonic.
This is an a enormous source of frustration because it won’t surprise you to hear that Andrew (Skeet) and myself have been battling on about these and we c have gone into countless meetings at Universal and said ‘guys, we know you are really busy with the library and people calling up, but any chance of you being a bit proactive …if you see a series coming up where …’. I mean, Simon Mortimer upstairs in the Synch Department at Universal had a listen to some of these and he had forgotten the names to what was originally called Bloomsbury Set and was then called A Study In Scarlet but he had written down Wolf Hall! As it had reminded him of that and I was thinking that then surely it is good enough to have a go.. It was done specifically to be title music but its finding somebody to put it forward and with a series like that they would get a composer in to do the whole lot so they wouldn’t take an isolated track like that.
We had a lot of nice comments about that but nothing has been used and in fact what you don’t know is that when Universal took over my album publishing as well to try and make a faster conduit between my library and commercial music, they sent out, and this has only happened here, they did a compilation of songs and a compilation of instrumentals aimed at synch and actually things that would not necessarily be library at all because library is more sort of blankety .,. The last minute of Nightmare is very groovy and retro but we had no orchestral music because all the orchestral stuff was in the library so I forked out, and we went to Prague and it was better than last time and we have an eighteen or nineteen track orchestral sampler… no it is not a sampler and I think Andrew‘s orchestration on these is considerably better than on Seventh Heaven because he has done so much in the time, you might not like some of it as much only in that what we did here do it slavishly but we thought if we are trying to get some synch here we need to ask them what they are getting asked for the most so we got a few tracks sent down, and some of it sounded very nice stuff, like the stuff they use on the British Gas advert all the time.
But a lot of this is more rhythmic because they love all this rhythmic stuff and I had a few bits of ostinatos which is just a repeated pattern and not the car (laughs) and this time Andrew did a lot more work and he composed a fair bit and this time there are some really big and dramatic ones as well and they are out there but the problem is that it is out there but it out therein a really big league and we are up against… Universal have so many great composers, we are up against household names whereas I am a big fish in a small pool in the library I am a very smallish to medium fish, and we have got tracks on their playlist and if you go to Universal’s site and you can actually find Golden Bodies on their summer play list. So we are on tenterhooks because we desperately want to get some of this stuff used and I would obviously like to get some money back. Whereas library is blanket use for some lesser things if you are going for that high stakes game where you want something to be used in a major advert or a title music then you are going to get more money but the usage is going to be more rare and it can be tricky.
You see Universal are a big publishing company with money coming in just by doing nothing and they do obviously work hard, but if you are with a jingle agency they make no money unless something gets used and so they are very hungry and these guys, so much of their stuff is being used all the time and so the incentive to go out and push, push, push is not quite a great and Simon has been great and it has been sent to agents all over the world and it is just a question of playing a waiting game but I would love it to be put on an album.
Slow Dance will be done but probably not until early next year. I can’t wait to do it and I want Simon (Heyworth) to do it . One thing I can tell you because this is a remarkable coincidence but I took my nephew to see Steve Gadd recently but suddenly I recognised Ian Thomas who was the drummer on Slow Dance and Ian has risen in the session music world and he was in the support band and he was bloody good. And what has gone on here is we couldn’t use the drums in that fast section and I hope John Gibbons the engineer doesn’t mind me saying this, but he dropped in in a place where he wasn’t supposed to and there was a sort of jagged bit and it just didn’t work and we couldn’t use drums and there was no way round it and this was the days before computers so we couldn’t do anything about it and s for some reason John has sent it to me recently and I can’t hear anything at all! It’s like god has spliced it or maybe we were too critical. It was not quite a train crash but it was a heavy cymbal or something and it wasn’t just me, Simon didn’t feel it worked as well. So real drums on that and I have thought of putting real drums on what we call the Vangelis part at the end of side one but I don’t know really, I’m not sure The danger is in changing these things always upsets people because people have got used to how these things work and I think the drums on the other sections did work and I can remember that bit working because it is a more aggressive section.
Apart form that there is talk about maybe doing some more strings and I think that that way disaster lies because when you start changing stuff too much and what we didn’t do was change stuff, we didn’t add instruments because when you start doing that you get ‘hang on, this is not what I heard…this is my album what are you doing/’ It is dangerous enough doing surround so I think we will keep… well I hope we get the same kind of clarity.
There was a problem with the musicians because some of them were only paid for library and some of them for album and they were paid fees for the album but they weren’t paid for the buyout ones and so there was a worry that if any o that is subsequently used ..that could be prohibitive for a user and as time goes on memories get vaguer and I am not using that as an excuse but…. I have always been incredibly chuffed by people’s reactions to it, everyone liked it but interestingly enough, the US didn’t get it at all, they preferred Slow Waves, Soft Stars and I could never understand that and some people really criticised it quite a lot. Everybody likes different things and I remember spending so long on that and so much time on it that I absolutely could not listen to it at the end! It was literal agony! (laughs) and then you come back years later and it sounds alright.
I think what could be done in the modern medium could be really fantastic
Tarka is the other one and Simon has already done Tarka and it sounds great and that was Cherry red and they wanted to keep their powder dry and look for other things which I respect and I am not sure if they will find anything, but best of luck to them. Andy took strong exception to the drum box on The Anthem but I don’t blame him. Harry hated the drum box at the end but at the time there was only a budget for a drum box! (laughs) and we had already talked about changing that so that hasn’t been done yet but the other stuff sounded really good actually. Slow Dance will definitely be done and I have to talk to Simon before he changes anything.
And with that intriguing thought, we brought this chat to a close as a dinner date with Mr and Mrs Hackett beckoned. Hopefully by the time this edition reaches you we shall have more news on all of these interesting projects. My thanks once again to Ant for putting up with my badgering.