|Posted on November 25, 2014 at 1:45 PM|
Masquerade * / Out Of Town / Another Emotion / Aftermath Dub *
Produced by Bill Nelson & John Leckie
Engineered by John Leckie
Keyboard Arrangements by Bill Nelson *
Released 26th May 1979
Highest UK Chart Position 14
Q : You wrote a thesis on electronic music in 1968, the thesis covered all aspects of Electronic music, from the design of oscillators and filters to an appreciation of electronic music. Your music industry career began at Abbey Road (1970-1978) working with everyone from George Harrison, John Lennon, Wings, Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd and then for producing Punk/New Wave era bands including Be Bop Deluxe, Magazine, Public Image Ltd, XTC and Simple Minds. Into the 80’s and 90’s you had major success with The Stone Roses, Radiohead, The Verve and Muse amongst others….How did your interest in Electronic music develop and grow and how did your career at Abbey Road begin.
JL : It begun with me writing a letter, getting the interview and starting as a tape operator. I was lucky at Abbey Road because I worked on sessions recording many different types of music and set ups. I quickly tried to become balance engineer and often took over on sessions and in a few years found myself engineering Pink Floyd, Wings, Mott the Hoople, Wizzard and Robin Trower It was about this time I met Bill..
Q : What were your previous encounters with Be Bop Deluxe and Bill Nelson.
JL : I first met Bill Nelson in 1974 ? when I mixed most of the album called Axe Victim over a weekend. I then went on to co-produce and engineer Sunburst Finish, Modern Music, Live in Air Age, Drastic Plastic and Red Noise and Bill's solo album Quit Dreaming.
Q : You left Abbey Road in 1978, what you were doing in 1979.
JL : Full on producing and engineering The Adverts, Be Bop Deluxe, Magazine, etc
Q : How did you get involved with The Skids and did you have any previous Skids knowledge before you went into the studio.
JL : I'd met the band at Virgin's Townhouse Studios in London. I was doing Simple Minds, then on Arista and Skids were doing first album with Dave Bachelor and Mick Glossop.
Q : The Skids were still a very young band and had just recently kicked their way to Number 10 in the UK charts with “Into The Valley”, Virgin Records must have been looking to capitalise on that success. Was there a pressure of expectancy put upon the band and production team. What was the brief from the record company.
JL : No pressure. Just go in and record the songs.
Q : At what stage were the songs at when you came on board, Bill Nelson had previously been to Dunfermline to see the Skids demoing “Masquerade”. How did the sessions develop from demo to the final version.
JL : I seem to remember we both went up to Dunfermline and rehearsed for a few days in very cold old barn/warehouse place.. I don't remember a demo tape.
Q : Where did the sessions take place and how long did the recordings take to complete.
JL : The sessions all took place at new RAK studios in St Johns Wood London and studio was owned by Mickie Most and is still there today unchanged. Sessions took maybe a week ? Mixed at AIR studios in a building high above Oxford Circus in London.
Q : The Skids had previously disliked studio work but had begun to enjoy the freedom to experiment during these recordings. How was the studio environment for everyone involved.
JL : Seemed good to me. We had a laugh. They were pleased to be working with us.
Q : Can you share the 1979 Studio set up and the equipment and process used to record these tracks.
JL : Gear was API 32 input desk (still working today), Studer 24 track tape machine on 2" tape, Neuman and Shure mics, Tannoy speakers. The band played live with guitar, bass and drums and guide vocal and once a good take was agreed upon we would overdub synths, which were played in by hand by Bill and add more guitar and all the voices.
Q : You have producer and engineer credits for all four “Masquerade” tracks alongside Bill Nelson, how did joint the production partnership work and was it a harmonious relationship.
JL : We'd been working together for 4 years making Be Bop records so I guess it was harmonious. We were good pals.
Q : The “Masquerade” lyrics relate to the Genocide of Culloden – Bill Nelson suggested that Richard Jobson used Roget’s Thesaurus to find the “right words”, did you see the song transform in the studio or were the lyrics already complete at the time.
JL : Don’t know. Can’t remember. I think were complete
Q : Bill Nelson says that he sometimes saw a mirror image of himself in Stuart Adamson but he was anxious not to inflict his identity on him in the studio. Richard Jobson adds: “Stuart Adamson worked on the melody, providing the new punch and the live strength”. How did Stuart develop as a musician during this time.
JL : Stuart was good and strong and lot of fun to be around. Lot of energy and loved the guitar.
Q : This was to be Tom Kellichan’s last single with the band, was there any realisation at the time that he wasn’t going to continue.
JL : Don’t know. He seemed OK and had a great distinctive style.
Q : Masquerade contains the first examples of The Skids use of Synthesisers and Electronic influences. Richard Jobson said that “Bill Nelson was good for The Skids making us more interesting without going completely over the top. He was part of a working unit, making suggestions like using the mini Moog and the big crescendo at the end of Masquerade. It wasn’t there originally”. Were all band members open to development and experimenting with new ideas and what did you put forward.
JL : Don't know.... We just went with the flow of ideas and did what we all got off on at the time. Bill was into mini moog at the time so that came forward, encouraged by the band.
Q : “Out Of Town” and “Another Emotion” are both classic Skids guitar tracks and could have been used as a single in their own right. They both sound sharp in their production and added a newer, polished sound that still had remnants of their “Ahoy” predecessor. Were these tracks deliberately developed in a style that fans would still be familiar with, refraining from the Electronic element.
JL : We didn't think of it like that. The band played those songs as b sides really. There was never an intention to add electronics to those tracks as far as I remember.
Q : All band members shine on “Out Of Town” and the sound of the track was also defining for the future of the band. All aspects of the musicianship and production on the track are flawless, were The Skids already up to this standard at the time or was this worked on in the studio. How was that sound created.
JL : It was them. Making that sound.
Q : Not content with being a b-side, Mick Glossop’s version of “Out Of Town” appeared on The Absolute Game, very much staying true to the original. Have you heard that version and do you think anything was improved.
JL : Not heard it. I'm sure it’s different.
Q : “Another Emotion” is another hidden gem and a nod to the earlier Skids but again improves on their sound. Was this track ready to go or developed during the sessions.
JL : It was rehearsed and ready to go.
Q : Aftermath Dub is a stripped back take on Masquerade and gives a glimpse of how the sound was layered, what was the idea behind that version.
JL : At that time I was experimenting in crude 'dub' techniques having been introduced to it by Andy Partridge. For XTC White Music we did dub versions of the track and carried it through with Go + , an EP of dub versions of Go 2. I'm sure there are dub versions of Be Bop Deluxe tracks and later there's the backward versions of Stone Roses tracks I did.. It was always lot of fun to do and honestly I didn't think they would release it ! Sounds real primitive and a bit embarrassing now.
Q : Do any alternative versions exist from these sessions.
JL : Don't know. I think we rehearsed Charade but maybe never recorded it...
Q : Which of the four tracks are you most proud of.
JL : Masquerade
Q : A John Peel Session aired in April ’79 and the tracks were War Poets, Withdrawal Symptoms, Hymn From A Haunted Ballroom & Masquerade. Where do these recordings date compared to yours. Is this the earliest form of Masquerade and were the other tracks also possibilities for the double pack.
JL : Don't know any of those other titles. I don't really know the exact dates we recorded? I know the record came out in May ‘79 and when we rehearsed it was well cold so maybe it was March 79?
I don't know these titles but seems like Peel session was just after our recording. What they sound like ? synth ? Hymn from a Haunted Ballroom sounds like a Bill Nelson image...
Q : The Skids were conscious in their recordings that they would have to recreate the songs live, did this restrict any ideas that were put forward in the studio.
JL : don't think so.
Q : Masquerade spent 9 weeks in the charts and was the second highest single for the band after Into The Valley (No 10), they would not chart that high with a single again. By today’s standards that’s a very successful single and sales would have been substantial. Was everyone happy with the result or did you feel the single should have had a higher chart placing.
JL : Of course. It should have been number 1 !
Q : The single shared the charts in May 1979 with Punk/New Wave contemporaries such as Blondie / Sunday Girl, The Undertones / Jimmy Jimmy , The Clash / I Fought The Law, The Damned / Love Song along with chart royalty such as Abba, Roxy Music and David Bowie plus Disco was a regular chart feature. The Skids definitely had a unique sound in comparison and were raising their bar musically …. How would describe what you were doing with The Skids compared to other bands of the time.
JL : Don't know. We were trying our best to make a great record... up there with all those you mention.
Q : Another single of note was quietly creeping up the chart week by week by a relatively unknown “Tubeway Army” with their breakthrough “Are Friends Electric”. Were you aware of that track at the time and the impact it would have on the synth movement. Do you think The Skids could have gone further with their Electronic experimentation.
JL : No. they were a guitar band with Stuart.
Q : The single lead the way but was not included on the album “Days In Europa”, were any future tracks tested out in the studio during these sessions.
JL : Charade and I'd heard Yankee Dollar at rehearsal or somewhere..
Q : Bill Nelson stayed with The Skids as producer for their follow up album, were you also asked to continue with them or did you have other commitments.
JL : Yes. I was committed to Simple Minds 3rd album Empire and Dance so I went off and did that and we met up at Rockfield where they were. For a time we were in the other studio at Rockfield so there was a lot of Scottish socialising.
Q : Did you keep a curious ear open for Bill Nelson’s production of the album and do you think he maintained the enormous power that you both captured in the studio with Masquerade.
JL : ...maybe not as good ? Days in Europa was done with a different drummer which often puts huge stamp on the sound of a record. I don't know the album that well and moved on to other things. Times were changing...
Q : The Remixed second version of “Days In Europa” contained the addition of Masquerade, it’s a marketing tribute that the label in hindsight thought the addition might boost sales. Do you think it fits well in the album context and what did you think of Bruce Fairburn’s production work on re charting The Skids.
JL : Don't know. Not heard it..
Q : Did you have any other involvement with the band or band members after the recordings.
JL : Yes. Stuart asked me to engineer and produce with him the first incarnation of Big Country with Bruce Watson and Rick Butler from The Jam on drums. This was recorded at Abbey Road in the new Penthouse studio. It was really a demo as the band were unrehearsed and studio not so good. We did about 4 tracks and I think Virgin payed for it. The band was not named Big Country but they had the song which we did a version of. Can't remember the other tunes...
Q : A freshness still resonates from the grooves of the single today, why do you think the single has endured for 35 years.
JL : Cos its good and recorded honestly and the band were strong and energetic at the time. Bill had a good input and we had a fun time doing it. It was a team.
Q : How would the recording sessions work today in comparison to 1979 and would the “Masquerade” sound differ greatly if recorded in a modern studio.
JL : Yes. It'd be done on ProTools and computer... and we'd probably spend 3 weeks on it...
Q : Masquerade is usually overlooked in your career, do you think it deserves a higher recognition.
JL : Yes !
Q : What are you currently working on and what projects do you have planned.
JL : Currently doing album for Palma Violets...and resting !
Q : Is there anything else you’d like to share before we pull the plug on the “Masquerade” sessions.
JL : Phew ! No.
Thank you for your part in the creation of a classic single and for taking the time to talk about your time with The Skids, it’s greatly appreciated…………
John L - 2014