Here’s a brief history of the times between 1985 – 1991.
I met Karl Rick Alf and Bryn first when I was a tape-op at Mayfair Recording Studios in Chalk Farm between 1982 -85 when they were signed to CBS as the band FREUR. Squiggle. Their recording sessions at that time were a surreal experience of what I remember anyway. Encrusting most of studio one, recording booths and AMEK board in tape sculptures of hairy potatoes and an old TEAC 4 track covered in tape and decorated with magic marker drawings bit like the American artist Keith Haring. Kind of surreal looking creatures made of masking in caves (recording booths) from a strange land far away. In my head at any rate. Olly Fitzjones (Low Pressure) got me the interview with Kate Hudson the studio boss. And me Olly and Olly’s brother Jake all went to Chelsea as kids. For years. So cheers Olly anyway for that. Oldest friends from primary and secondary school.
I seem to remember Alfie most vividly with his lunch eating rituals for some reason. Stacking what looked like square white-bread (Nimble?) sandwiches with only tomato ketchup inside? But they were made with such care and pride. And spread on the bread so carefully and precisely. Spiritual.
All the band were dressed in outrageous shiny outfits (costumes?) and hair do’s of long crimped henna. And we go ‘Doot Doot’..what a tune! What did it mean though? What is a Doot? How…? And Rick with B.O – yeah but I was the smelly one right? and Arp synths wow. Electronics genius is Rick and a massive Zawinal fan so that was hip enough to me. Lol. So the Underneath The Radar maxim of ‘So Get Hip’ always meant for me – Listen to Zawinal. But what is Hip?
These guys were well ahead of Prince. I mean that in a good way of course. Diamonds and Pearls. Matters of the Heart. Runaway. Riders in the Night. Whispering. John (it’s Really Weird) Hudson did amazing job engineering the stuff. Great sound and no dust in the pots. (Amek Mixer part custom designed by JH).
For me, working in the copy suite at Mayfair I spent most of the spare time editing together funky mix tapes for friends for parties at the weekends. This in between copying production tapes (for cutting purposes) for studio clients Chrysalis Records among others. Spandau Ballet, Pat Benetar, White and Torch, Ultravox stuff like that.. Blondie. Cool. Rory Gallagher- Ten Years After – BA Robertson. Sometimes copying demos for writers like Terry Britton and Graham Lyle (‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’). But having to listen to the same albums over and over again drove me a bit nuts. Technical bit: Setting the tape machines azimuth aligning with specific tones for playback 1k 10 hz 50hz etc. There was always loads of music gear stored in and around the studio from various bands recording sessions. 808’s 909’s Linn Drum machines. Emulators. Synth City. Excellent. Many a late night session developing programming skills for later. And an enduring love for drum machines hence the Emu SP1200 days.
Other times during working hours were spent editing versions of current dance tunes (Electro and Hip Hop) spending most of my wages in the record store Groove Records on Greek Street in Soho. Remember the funky old lady who worked there? Who knew all the top releases of the day and who sat there behind the wheels of steel at the counter spinning all the new vinyl? She was a great character. But what was her name anyone know or remember? It was around this time while editing a version of Rockit by Herbie Hancock (onto BASF 1/4 tape or Ampex). Here got into conversations with Rick and Karl (Freur were recording their second album at the time) in the copy suite in between multi copying Bucks Fizz onto tape cassettes 20 at a time. LAND OF MAKE BELIEVE! All the hits. NOW THOSE DAYS ARE GONE! Eurovison song contest.etc yippee. Both seemed interested. Camera Never Lies? Met Jay a few years ago in the reception at Universal Publishing and reminded her of those times. Stories of Andy Hill (Producer) working his socks off.
It was probably about a year or so later at one of the drunken Mayfair studio Christmas parties and after I’d left Mayfair as tape op that I got an invitation to audition for the band (now Underworld) at their studio, which at this time was in Bexhill on Sea. Full of old biddies so I thought. Windy grey skies and stormy seas but don’t think we left the house for 2 days. Spent all the time playing music.
Don’t remember much else of this time in Bexhill. Only a couple of days maybe. Enough time to check out if I could play bass or not. I was still a drummer (in my mind). So no I wasn’t much of a bass player at all. It was a bit of a blag really. In the house was a room full of music equipment set up- keyboards, guitars, drum machines and a television screen and video which was used to run films with the sound down or (so with the purpose of I imagined) to create film soundtracks while viewing a film – this turned out to be so. Terminator a favorite film to create a soundtrack to.. drones and pulsating synths.. Arps.. car chases through empty streets at night and off ramps. A ritual watching this film that continued on most of the tours we did. Top film.
Also I remember staying over the night but not sleeping at all because of all the dust. There was the old 4 track I can remember seeing lying around at Mayfair the one covered in tape and funky drawings. I stayed awake all night and recorded some funky ideas on it but have no idea what happened to the ideas. On some old tape cassette somewhere gathering more dust probably eh? Erased most Likely. Did you keep all your old 4 track demos Karl? Loved those old demos mate!
‘The God song’ for ages had no lyrics to it. It was a kind of rhythmic scat. A free form jazz way of improvising words to a song with just the suggestion of vocal sounds. Interesting ways to create songs I thought. All about the phrasing maybe. Interesting. Important though.
All this was way before the record deal happened but was not long before rehearsing at the studio over at Wandsworth Royal Victoria Patriotic Building. A tiny studio space but enough for the 5 piece band to set up and rock out through a 24 track mixer.. I think? A sweaty pit but funky as hell. Shock the doctor misses! Funny old world wot we live in init governor etc etc. Who called a Taxi? We’d all meet up outside Embankment tube with our cheese and salad baps. In the old brown Sierra listening to Sign o the Times. Sign of the Depths more like. Round the time of the Amandla album by Miles Davis. That’s what i was listening to.
Bryn on drums and samples without cymbals only a hi-hat. Wow! Akai s900. The lack of cymbals limited the high pitch ringing in the ears somewhat which was a good thing in such a small rehearsal space and avoided cliched rock song endings though this concept would be revisited later. It was here a while later where the band showcased the album material for ‘Underneath the Radar’ for Seymour Stein who had signed Madonna a few years earlier.
The deal was struck on the basis of the private gig which all went well enough and with i should add an additional light show with search light and siren effects. It was also the basis for the approach to recording the album produced by Rupert Hine but without the lights. That of live recording pretty much everything. 2 or 3 takes of each tune. I think there may’ve been a few overdubs (Linn drum in ‘Glory Glory’) when it came round to being recorded but hardly any I can remember. All live takes in between the massive Indian dinners. For the groove factor no less. Rick: ‘Impress me’. and ‘Serious’.
Looking back it seems like a long period of time but it was only a couple of years all in all. So much done really in a relatively short time.
One of the most memorable times was the video for Underneath the Radar single at ‘The Place’ in Euston in London. Directed I think by Andy Wilson and filmed on steady cam by the guy who had just worked on the film ‘Aliens’ couple of years before. Steady cam still a touch for the time and the 4 minutes or so shot in one continuous take with split screen edits in post production. Great to watch that back all these years later. But unfortunately the ‘Glory’ video didn’t turn out quite as well.
Will write some more soon on the tour stuff.
Arguments in the back of tour buses in the U.S. before going on stage. Usual stuff really. Dodgy monitors, hissy fits, Tears and handbags, ZZ Top, Zawinal. Demanding drum risers on stages not room enough to swing a cat. What was that all about? Rock ‘N’ Roll maybe?. I guess that what all this really means is that besides being there as a bassist as a musician there was photography / reportage / media context thing going on. Somehow to document the time was important and I realised it was an opportunity in this capacity. Maybe for media work later on. But on the other hand maybe I just liked making images?
The enduring memory of the early gigs aside from no one being there (Bournemouth?) was the buffet spreads in the dressing rooms. (Russian dissidents in your hotel room?). Usually consisting of a cheese and ham spread and occasionally with bits of pineapple covered in cling film as standard. Was this important? Lol. And the customary obligatory bread rolls which were the stapled dietary necessity for life on the road. Or at the Marquee club where Underworld only played once but the Freur following filled out the Marquee on the one occasion the band played. Defo chuffed at having this experience of playing at the Marquee.
In fact the cheese role ritual or custom remained consistently through out approximately 15 years on the road. or a road cliche maybe. Not that i’m complaining of course it was a perk. Being a vegetarian at that time and with the many trips up and down the autobahn service station omelettes and cheese sandwiches as far as i was concerned represented luxury though a rank tour bus /transit van was usually how we traveled. Tour bus? you were lucky..etc
Sleeping in such conditions in a transit van that most museos will tell you isn’t too much fun over long distances and choppy ferry crossings being entertaining to say the least. Heavy Swells. Even if the gigs weren’t too well attended at the beginning it was still a laugh and great experience at 22 yrs old. The crowd chants on the German gigs where the band had somewhat of a past rep with Freur the audiences were always warm and welcoming. We’d get call backs for encores most nights. This is where i’d double as a vocoder player on second keyboard parts. Bit of a blag though.
Still have to get round to writing more about the life and times on the US tour. Until I get it together here’s some pictures to keep you amused.
At the now legendary stop over in Hamburg ‘Rosenhof’
On the first European tour which was only a couple of weeks we got one decent hotel to stop in. Think it might’ve been the Chelsea in Cologne or maybe not. But Mashed Potato and Salmon in Brussels? Lovely.
Can’t really remember much else. But having a single room was a luxury. Not like the US tour sharing with Mike the sound engineer. Decent enough bloke though. Worked out of The Strongroom near old St few years ago. Not sure he still works there now though.
The Band had close ties with friends Chris and Sylvia in Hamburg. Chris was bassist in the band before I came along. Chris was a Jaco fan like me and on the surface we got on fine but I sensed a weird vibe one time in Hamburg.
We have though recently been in contact again on Facebook and all is good now if there were any misunderstandings before. I remember the Hamburg shows at Grose Freiheit were the best. The first in particular. A warm crowd.
It’s funny I had been to the Melkveg (MilkyWay) in the last week of 1981 with a bunch of friends and here I was again this time with a band. Lovely stuff.
Alf 4 track demos
Had a great time in Australia! cheers guys for that. Great experience! Particularly hairy drive from Melbourne to Sydney. Lucky to still be here after that experience on the road. The highway we took apparently infamous for high speed crashes.
my mum lived in Montreal at the time and the tour manager hit on her at dinner afterwards Lol.. I mean it was funny..
Where did Max come from?
Bit of a grim vibe after the last show at the Amphitheatre in LA. Remember the last song of the set was ‘Beach’.
really good picture that captures the madness and surreal sense of humour.
some of this tape has been posted onto youtube. Big Red X and a few Tunes.
see yer later
So Get Hip
A brief reunion in 1991 with a few gigs in Hamburg Germany with new tunes and some oldies thrown in for good measure
Distinctive writing of Ricks on tape sleeve. soon after this began the next chapter for Underworld signing new record deal. and the rest as they say is History.
A year later I was back on the road playing bass with D-Influence and US-3.
Check out the SX-Polaroids page on this blog for Underworld images from US and Australian tours ’88 and ’89.