i'm playing this song to bass and drums
recorded twenty years ago in some
forgotten studio somewhere in the north east
revived, like everything, after two decades at least
found in a cellar, under the stairs
put in an oven for five days, beyond repair.
now i'm listening to a younger me in a studio,
hear nothing but a twenty year old's ego.
my first experience in a studio was in the mid-eighties
in a converted mill between bradford and leeds
dragging our broken down stuff
on the number 78 bus
to have the engineer look down his nose at us.
never liked playing separately.
seemed at odds with our pack mentality.
we made a good noise together.
suddenly it was divide and conquer
playing on our own, we were naive, awkward,
we were intimidated
(always a winning formula in rock and roll)
allowing ourselves to be controlled
by some hair-flashed engineer who knew it all
and whose comeback,
to every crack,
was "how many number ones have you had, lads?".
this made us even more cocksure and bolshie
turning up the guitars, burying our voices so low.
we were once invited to the bbc studio
at maida vale, to be greeted
by an old bloke, unpacking our gear on the street,
regaling us with tales of jimi and bing,
of once hearing sinatra sing.
but we never listened. we were doing our own thing
fighting tooth and nail to prevent the engineers from
making our drums sound like nuclear bombs.
It was 1986 -
the sickest year in a dishonest decade
with its blue-eyed soul, on roland synths
its square-eyed/ jawed denizens
basking in the afterglow of Live Aid
the self-indulgent, the royalists
and townies all on parade.
everything sound processed, filtered, well-made.
so we returned to our 4 tracks
singing into plate mics nailed to walls
eating and living round our recording gear
the technology just seemed to disappear
and if we'd been brave enough, had more balls
that surely would have been fine.
but this was a different time.
we flattered our own twenty year old egos
feeling like professionals
in twenty four track studios -
when the medium always controls.
too young, too grasping to understand
the endless possibilities that seemed at hand
so we played what we thought was the game
thinking we were doing it our way
when all along we were being swallowed, co-opted,
signing ourselves away
for some spurious idea of being entertained.
rock and roll is always the new noise.
but we blunted the edge and destroyed
noise as window dressing
for a slew of slackers
spending their time messing
around and their thirties
their forties expunging any doubts
and selling it back to their kids as nostalgia
masking the overwhelming paranoia
of the intercom and soundproof window
the boredom and the unease,
the cream coloured leather settees,
the smell of stale sweat,
the dank, filthy carpets,
the dying doberman and tape hiss,
smoking blow, playing pool,
the constant smell of piss,
the hum of electricity, the static,
the hurried statement,
the forgotten tactic.
this was always a black art
even for those of us nominally a part
of it - i never quite understood
how to make something sound so good,
but looking back, it's that struggle
that i wouldn't replace, even if i could.
it's still galling after twenty years to find
all my guitars had been overdubbed.