Tonight I fulfilled an overdue promise to send a friend a song culled from my vinyl collection. To do this I had to find a way to get records and tapes into mp3 conveniently, and I did so. This led me to an old tape of the first home recordings I made waaaay back in the 1980s.
I’d just come back from Germany and Egypt and made some money. I settled with Madame in Manchester, and managed to buy, for £400 second-hand, the first-model cassette portastudio, the Teac 144. I’d read about this in a music paper someone had sent me in Egypt and dreamed of it ever since. I’d also bought a cheap bass and keyboards, and with a digital delay unit and mic, I was ready to go. Multitracking had always been my goal since I discovered it on Beatles, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Moody Blues and Incredible String Band records – now I could do it!
I’ve selected a couple of tracks from these days, on third-generation cassette, to amuse and entertain you…
One of the things I discovered early on in my Portastudio career was the pitch-shift dial. Aah, so this was how Bowie did all his vocal effects. Having failed to make as convincing a use of it as he did (turns out you have to be a great singer!) I had fun with this, an old 50s tune I discovered somewhere, where I could play the cutest little chick singer you ever never saw …
Get Out Tonight
At the same time I was taking a jazz guitar course at evening class. There I met a guy who lived nearby, named Andrew, who one night invited me round with my Portastudio saying he wanted to do a favour for a young lad he knew who sang in his local church gospel choir. This boy had started writing songs, and would love the chance to record one. I came round with my Portastudio and mic, and there was a fairly shy guy of about 16 or 17 with a keyboard. I was expecting, well, not much to be honest, some sort of mumbling song or schoolboy poetry. He set up a drum rhythm, just a preset, and let it run for four minutes or so. Then he played some simple chords, but I began to twig that this boy definitely had something in mind. He didn’t say much, but was serious and resolute. Chord bed done, we still had no idea what the song would be like. Next he added a funky bass line on the keyboard and my preconceptions were definitely crumpled on the floor. Next he laid down some trumpet-like flourishes, again first take, no rework, no mistakes. Finally, after a cup of tea, he sang. He sang with the voice and self-assurance of a thirty-year-old: I was astonished at the voice that came out of this slight young man. By the end I felt grateful and privileged that he let me join him on the backing vocals. I gave him a mix cassette, he gave me a copy of his choir’s album, and I never saw him again. Maybe he’s famous now – I don’t know. I think his name was Andy, I can’t even remember, but I’ve treasured this recording ever since.