Sound of the 80s: Look Ma, No Musicians!

I’d love to think that my post two weeks ago was responsible for ending almost a year of torture for Paul Gambaccini.

The news that, after an 11 month ‘investigation’, no charges were to be brought followed hot on the heels of my post.

Subsequently, other journalists picked up my themes – asking when we might next hear from Cliff Richard, and comparing Yewtree to the Salem Witch Trials.

I jest, of course. This blog is neither widely read by meeja types, nor influential in any way whatsoever.

And I don’t read daily newspapers. For all I know, people have been saying for months what I finally put together just two weeks ago.

But I’m relieved to get back to business as usual, and this week I am able to say: I was one of the first artists in the UK – and therefore the world – to record using a Fairlight.

Does anyone remember the Fairlight? By the mid-80s it was all over pop, from Peter Gabriel to Frankie Goes To Hollywood and the entire Hounds Of Love album by Kate Bush

This isn’t me bragging because a) I never laid hands on the Fairlight myself, and b) I’d forgotten about the experience until last week when I unearthed a bunch of demos and unreleased material.

Among them is a song called I’m Losing, which I had thought was lost forever. I remembered writing it. More importantly, I remembered why I wrote it.

I even remembered the session when I put the vocal on the track. But I had totally forgotten the lyrics and the melody, and even the title.

So basically, I forgot the song. How hopeless is that?

I’m really glad it’s turned up, and I hope you have a listen and enjoy it, after I tell you the story.

Now – not many people know this…..

In fact, I’m pretty sure that only three people ever knew that after the failure to follow up Car 67, and the miserable response to the Tax Loss album, there was a brief attempt to rebrand me as a solo artist under the name Ipso Facto.

This was the genius plan of the legendary Oliver Smallman. Ollie had been responsible for securing Car 67 as Kid Jensen’s Record Of The Week on Radio 1, thus ensuring its subsequent success.

At the time, he was the top plugger in London, which meant he was the best in the country.

So I took Ollie a recording of the first non-Driver 67 single, The Secret. As he listened he got up to open a window. “Just to let the money in,” he grinned. By which he meant The Secret was going to be Top 10. I thought so too.

It wasn’t, of course. But Ollie was convinced the song had a future in the charts. When I was free of my recording contract, he came up with the idea of Ipso Facto, and picked two songs he thought were hits. One, of course, was The Secret. The other was The Date, which I’ll write about in a later post.

The icing on the cake for Ollie, who was also a music publisher, was that I had just written I’m Losing, which meant the publishing was still available. He snapped up the rights and decided it would be the B-side to my first single as Ipso Facto.

By this point, I had been a producer for nearly ten years. I had always taken complete control of sessions I produced. Not a note was played without my approval.

As Ipso Facto, I was to be a ‘product’. The producer – (Brian something, I think; we’ll call him Brian) – put together tracks for my first two singles. All I had to do was sing.

So I’m at the studio, and I see this weird-looking equipment sitting there. That was the Fairlight.

Apparently, you would spend hours programming it to produce a few seconds of music. Then you had to programme again, and again, and splice all the music together into one track.

I would never have had the patience. Nor, as it turned out, would I have had the will. I didn’t like the tracks for my songs. They were big and brash, and sounded quite soulless to me.

How was I to know this would be the sound of the 80s?

Still, for one of the few times in my life, I played the good soldier, did my vocals and said nothing.

A few weeks later I was asked to attend a studio in London’s West End where I would add the vocal for I’m Losing.

I sang it once for ‘level’ (volume).

We’ll-call-him-Brian said, “OK, let’s do a take.”

So I sang it again. Then he said, “Let’s do another.”

So I sang it again. And then he said, “Next time, why don’t you just mail it in?”

Ouch! In music industry parlance, ‘mailing it in’ is a way of describing a performance you could do standing on your head. It’s not a compliment for a job well done; it’s saying you did the least you needed to.

The truth is that I sang this song the way I’d written it, with a lot of emotion. It was written after I became somewhat fixated on a girl who led me a right old dance (no touching!), and then found herself in love with someone who did the same to her.

That’s what the song’s about. You’ll hear it towards the end: “It’s not your love, that I want. I’m crying for somebody else.”

We’ll-call-him-Brian apparently wanted me to sing it differently each time. To him that denoted feeling.

But the feeling was already there. You could have put my three takes together and you’d barely hear a difference. Doesn’t mean it’s sung without emotion.

I hope you will listen. Having not heard it in 30 years, I’m happy to say it’s easily the best vocal performance of mine on record.

That may not be saying much, but for me it’s comforting to hear that I once had the voice and the range to be a pop singer. What I lacked was staying power.

I don’t think Ipso Facto ever appeared on a record, and frankly, I could scarcely have cared less. By 1983, I was on my way out the door. It was 25 years till I looked back and started caring again.

The record industry will do that to you.

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Thanks Mike. I’ll take that as a compliment! Fairtrade is usually groceries or clothes (I think). The Fairlight was the first computer-generated music maker – a keyboard, a computer, and some very, very advanced software for its time. Now, we would laugh at its primitiveness, but back then it was staggering technology.

    Like

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