Archive for November, 2008

An astonishing find

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

I was clearing out an old cupboard today and came on something quite extraordinary: a cassette tape containing demos I made in about 1979 for several of the songs that eventually made up The Golden Age Of Wireless.

I recorded them in the back room of the flat I where I was living, at 5 Petley Rd, Hammersmith, West London. At that time my equipment consisted of an upright piano; a Roland JP4; a MicroMoog; a Boss Dr Rhythm drum machine; a Tascam Portastudio 4-track cassette, and an Akai stereo cassette for mixdown. Pretty basic equipment, even for those days when the sonic gap between a professional studio and a home demo setup was huge.

For all these years I thought the tapes were lost in the mists of time. They helped me get my first record deal with Armageddon records, who released my first single ‘Urges/Leipzig’. I sent them round to publishing companies, and a copy found its way into Mutt Lange’s hands. Mutt loved the keyboard playing and hired me to fly to New York and record on Foreigner 4. I returned to London a month later with a pocket full of cash, and I used it to rent a professional recording studio and re-record those songs with a band: during that period EMI became aware of me and offered me a deal to release the album. So my original demos (mastered onto cassette!) went into a cupboard somewhere and were forgotten.

In the interim I’ve moved to America and back, endured a couple of floods and several earthquakes. My stuff is scattered around the world in old flight cases and storage units. So I was quite surprised to come upon this cassette. Whether it was the actual master, or one of the copies I made to send to publishers, is unclear. The quality is very poor and the tape hiss is deafening. Despite that, the songs sound rather good. Several of them differ only very slightly to the versions that ended up on the album. But there were a couple of nice surprises. For a start, the tape included ‘Sale Of The Century’ which was the forerunner to ‘Wreck Of The Fairchild’, but it had a full vocal and lyrics. I never liked the words very much, which is why I ended up making it almost all instrumental, oh with just some Argentinian air traffic control chatter thrown in for good measure. Only one original line survived: “Some fruit are sweet, and some are poison.” The old lyrics are all about stocks and shares and finance, so they’re hilariously topical today.

‘Flying North’ had a whole section at the end that didn’t manage to make it onto the album. During the fade, the whole sound suddenly changes and goes ‘filtered’ as if being played on a transistor radio (an effect that was only about two decades ahead of its time!) There’s a cute little ditty playing, in vaguely the same mood as the song, but almost like a poppy love song you might imagine was playing on the tannoys in the Pan Am lounge as I lay there on the floor, jetlagged and exhausted. Here are the lyrics, which loop until the new fade:

“I hold my hand in the flame

I touch your face, then it’s gone forever

Please don’t wait up too late

No nothing’s wrong……”

As you may notice, these lyrics did not go completely to waste. They ended up, in one form or another, in other songs such as ‘Airwaves’ and ‘Budapest By Blimp.’ I leave very little waste when I work, almost everything is re-used and recycled. Still, it was quite a nostalgia trip for me to hear the demos again after all this time. When I wrote these songs, barely still a teenager, fifty seemed INCREDIBLY old. Now here I am aged 50, looking back. Yet I still relate strongly to the songs, their sentiments and moods. In a way, my musical sensibilities have stayed the same over the years. I’m reminded of that as I listen with fresh ears to those demos from thirty years ago, and it’s very inspiring to think what I was able to achieve with zero budget, no musicians, and such primitive gear. So get back out there to your lifeboat Dolby, and write more and better songs than ever before!