80s record producer with big glasses

From Home Service days, I fell in love with recording studios. I hustled a job as an Engineer at Ark in Kingston. John Hollingsworth (4), who had got in touch with me while he was at Kingston Polytechnic and was later to work at Cherry Red and Warners, told me that Howard Condor, the owner of a local 8-track studio was unhappy with his engineer. I wrote Howard a letter emphasising my good points which coincidentally mirrored all his current engineer's bad points; particularly reliability. I went to see him and got the job. The only drawback was that I hadn't actually done any engineering before. I had taken the precaution to make a note of all his equipment and had sent off for brochures. I then sat at home with the brochures and tried to figure out how it might work. The first two hour session seemed endless.

I learnt quite quickly. The turning point, two weeks in, was an all-night session with 10 Rastas crammed into the tiny basement studio. With their encouragement I learnt how to get a bass drum sound. Like this? No, not that, Like this? No. What about this? Yeah, like that.

Soon I was getting a good sound down in the damp, airless basement in Kingston. And getting quite experimental with tape loops and gating effects. I even made an album with Last Man In Europe for Situation Two/Beggars Banquet.

I then quickly passed from 8-track to 24-track. Pineapple (previously Airport Studios in Southall - great curry!), Southern in Wood Green (2/3) then to Air studios. Air seemed like a bit of a backward step at first - I was Tape Op. What it did do though, was enable me to look over the shoulders of many of the hot Producers and Engineers of the moment. Martin Rushent, Alex Sadkin and Phil Thornalley, Chris Hughes and Ross Cullum. They played so loud. I learnt more about compression, about classical miking techniques, Linn Drum and timecode, early sampling (now THAT was an elaborate process!), spinning-in backing vocals using multiple tape machines. All the techno techniques we used before Steinberg and C-Lab.

I worked virtually 24 hours a day, juggling Air with external producing work for Cherry Red (Kevin Hewick, Swallow Tongue) and others. I was definitely in a hurry and left Air after six months. The phone started going for more and more Production work. Chris Hughes (who I had assisted at Air while he and Ross Cullum were producing Wang Chung) had mentioned me to Max Hole who was A+R at WEA. Max and Rob Dickens gave me a Staff Producer deal. They were billing me as the new Trevor Horn.

I wanted to try out every good studio in London, partly to see which mixing desks I liked best, partly to expand my ability on a variety of equipment. Also because I was restless and it was a bit like visiting different restaurants. Marcus, Jam, Tapestry, Chipping Norton, Strongroom, Air, Abbey Road, Power Plant, Livingston, Eden, Utopia, Angel, Sarm and so on and so on.

After a while I realised I needed to separate the engineering from the producing and brought in my mate Trig (1/7) (our drummer in Home Service, who followed me into Ark Studios) and Brian Pugsley (who came to Ark as a punter, before deciding he wanted to get into engineering).

I'd bring in a small, trusted group of musicians to help whenever needed - Matthew Cang on guitar, Andrew Paresi on drums, Bruce Nockles on trumpets, Dave Morris (Zubraski) on percussion, Alison Lea on tuned percussion, and very versatile all-round musician Gary Hutchins who could play pretty much anything he picked up. Programming, bass, guitar and backing vocals.

I worked like crazy, producing Black, Intaferon (which became Simon F after Simon G (14) freaked-out and left just before the album was released). Tom Robinson, Bucks Fizz, Tommy Page, Simon Warner, Kim Criswell. Rocketz in Milan, Playhaus in Munich. Hits with Strawberry Switchblade and Red Box. Hit in Scotland with Win (10). In France with Carmel.

(06 picture of myself and Trig in Jam Studio during the Red Box album by my Dad, David C Freeman)
Being more concerned with how my productions sounded coming out of a tiny portable radio, there was sometimes a lively discussion with A+R people about "the very tight bottom end." For me it was all about "cut" and trying to get the tracks jumping out of the smallest mono speaker. As a result I managed to persuade some record companies to send me to New York to mix with Michael Brauer who, at that time, was not so well-known in the UK. I loved his use of compression, a subject close to my heart (and ears). He mixed quickly and with vibe. Brauer was not one to get bogged down with anything, unlike most of us on the other side of the Atlantic. One of the magic moments was at the end of mixing the Win album "Uh! Tears Baby (A Trash Icon)". London Records were happy with an earlier mix of "You've Got The Power" and it had already been and gone as a single, so it was the lowest priority to mix. We'd finished mixing everything else and there were just two and a half hours before I had to leave for JFK. He looked at me and said "Why don't I just go for it?" Sure enough, I walked out with a pumping mix, the one on the album.

There was also a flow of trips to Tokyo (great sushi!) to work mainly with Chara (13), also Keichi Suzuki, Techie (Tetsuko Homma) (11/12), Mimori Yusa, Toshihiko Takamizawa. Two albums in Denmark with Gangway (9). I'm very proud of these. I was an 80s Record Producer with big glasses!

David Motion

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