CAPITAL RADIO - The First Mad Year!
Part V - THE ROCK STARS.
Roll Video: 1973: Wednesday or Thursday. 7.23 pm
Small, intense, Nicky Horne. The rock show Your Mother Wouldn’t Like It. Ray Davies, of the Kinks, comes in.
I'm in MC, Master Control, sitting in front of the control desk. It's full of faders and surrounded by the usual paraphernalia of that period: a couple of stacks of cartridge players, ‘cart machines’ they called them; a pair of Studer reel-to-reel studio tape machines; and, behind, four 36-slot carousel cart players, the phone switchboard, and other stuff. I watch Nicky and Ray, crammed into the tiny jock studio next door, through the double plate-glass windows.
Ray gets settled in and Nicky is playing "Sunny Afternoon" (1996) by The Kinks.
He gives me the hand signal and I fade up Ray’s mike.
Nicky brings the music down and starts his first sound bite, though in those days we didn't have a name for "sound bite".
“So, Ray, how’s the next album coming along?”
Ray stares at him blankly then produces a handkerchief. He takes something else from a pocket and makes a gesture with his hands.
I see him put the handkerchief to his face as if blowing his nose.
His head goes back.
I glance at the clock. Seven seconds of dead air. Shit.
Suddenly Ray bursts into action. “Yeah! Well Nicky . . . “ and he bursts into a non-stop, high speed machine-gun-like diatribe. "The newalbumyeah,it's,it's,great,youknowgreatin thestudioan'alljustgoinggreat,ermm..."
Slowly, he runs down like a clockwork toy. Two minutes, kaput. Nothing.
“Well, thanks, Ray.” Nicky starts some music. Cuts Ray’s mike.
Through the glass I see the two of them talking.
Nicky’s voice comes over the TB – the talkback. “OK. Soon as this track ends.”
“Right!” I key the talkback mike and settle back in my seat.
The clock reads eight minutes past. I know it is accurate to within about one second.
In two minutes I need to run the first commercial slot, which is three carts from one of the banks in front of me.
A strange smell comes from the air conditioning vents.
It reminds me of a type of British sweet called pear drops. Put a pear drop in your mouth and it's the same as that smell.
Like overripe bananas.
Despite the fact that I had already done some exotic substances, I had not previously encountered amyl nitrate, otherwise known as "poppers". (A certain friend of mine, "P____", became somewhat like the late Syd Barrett in terms of the results of excessive substance ingestion; and then there was "Doctor" Lol of 1973, involved in group experiments with wormwood, datura, hydrangea, coleus, catnip, phenycycline, chloroform, and helium, with a Grateful Dead soundtrack and electric yoyos for exercise. Or of course it may have all been a wild dream.)
Just like second-hand smoke from cigarettes does have an effect, second hand poppers does too. So my timing was rather off and Nicky presumably was getting quite a waft of it because he became increasingly terse until the programme was mainly music and little conversation.
Not one of the better live rockstar interviews on Nicky's programme.
(And before I mention "programme" again, may I explain for American readers that "program" is for the variety that goes with computers or methods, while "programme" is of the radio variety.)
For a while, the studios became quite rank. I'd walk into the production studio expecting to
find it in decent condition only to find the mixing desk littered with roaches, and I don't mean the brown ones with legs. The management resorted to putting notices on walls warning that illegal substances would not be tolerated. Things improved slightly. . .
Sometimes I got to meet interesting personalities outside the station.
One day I went out with a producer to do a piece with Rick Wakeman, who had recently recorded a concept album called "Journey to the centre of the earth" named after the Jules Verne novel.
This piece had been recorded live in, I think, the Albert Hall in a similar style to the performance of Tommy (described later).
The interview or whatever was to be in a cathedral somewhere in London, can't recall which one, sorry; this because of the acoustic.
Rick turned out to be much fatter than I had expected, this taking place in a British era when most of us were as slim as railings until beer took over. However he did play the cathedral's excellent pipe organ for our benefit and gave us a lecture on the various stops and bass pipes that it posessed. And the acoustic was indeed great. I still have a vinyl copy of "Journey to the centre of the earth" in my collection.
Another fun afternoon was going out on one of Monty Modlyn's expeditions and this one took in a visit to a well known theatre were some of the cast of the Carry On films were rehearsing for a panto.
Monty asked the blonde sex-symbol Barbara Windsor, "What did you have for breakfast?" She replied "A Canadian lumberjack," and roared with laughter.
While Barbara seemed true to her screen character, Bernard Breslaw, who was even taller than he seems in the films, seemed to me a highly intelligent man, and the exact opposite of the character he plays in the popular Carry On comedies.
Getting to meet famous rock stars is one of the perks of working in a commercial music-oriented station. And some of them have a quality, I guess I can only call it calmness, that I have also noticed Buddhist monks possess.
I still have a vinyl copy of Quadrophenia that Pete Townshend gave me one night, I think it was during another Nicky Horne show.
Before I forget, by the way, I had better make a random note about Nicky Horne's dog, that he had at that time. Its name was Karl Barx and it shared Nicky's flat and about 4,000 vinyl albums. Which is a perk of being a DJ, you get gazillions of records given to you. Unfortunately 95% of them are the equivalent of the publisher's slush pile, but by golly it looks impressive.
Anyway, back to Pete Townshend. Pete came in to do an interview with Nicky, and they were playing The Who's latest album, Quadraphenia, which of course was later made into a terrific film. I wasn't running MCR but was for some reason sitting in Studio 4 messing with the 32-channel Neve desk, listening to this brand new Who album over the big monitor speakers.
Pete Townshend had this same guru-style charismatic personality. When he walked into the studio that night I noticed that he radiated this particular aura that I can best describe as contentment. As if it were a complete and total acceptance of oneself. It seems as if the sun has come out from behind a cloud when such personalities come into a room.
Another star with this same charisma, only more so, is Stevie Wonder. I was really into Stevie's music at the time and so when I learned he'd be visiting Capital, and this time during the day to prerecord a programme, I made sure to be there.
I was standing towards the back of MCR watching the operator run the station when the double doors opened and Stevie came into the room along with his helper. My impression was of a warm glow emanating from him, a glow that lit up the whole of the control room. I hadn't previously encountered such a gracious and charismatic personality. After the interview was over the programme people managed to persuade Stevie to record some prsonalised jingles for them. That kind of thing is worth its weight in gold to any radio station and presumably Capital still has a copy of that tape somewhere.
I knew my way around the production studio better than many, and often used the ARP synthesiser to mess around making stuff that potentially could be used, so naturally I volunteered to help.
Stevie at that time was playing an ARP synth but his was a lot more complex than ours. And the problem with synthesisers is not the keyboard - any keyboard is ok for a player provided it's in good shape - but the profusion of controls, such as envelope shapers, attack and delay, pan, echo, reverb, noise, filters, and so on.
What really staggered me was this: Stevie's helper simply moved Stevie's hands from control to control, at the same time telling him which it was. Then just like the most expert blindfold chess players, Stevie immediately began to create the most amazing soundbites (jingles and sp forth), making full use of the synth's many controls. This went on for half an hour or so; it's a pity that I didn't copy it to a cassette.
One night I really messed up. The Who had done this LSO Performance:
1972 orchestral version
"In late 1972 entrepreneur Lou Reizner presented two concert versions of Tommy at the Rainbow Theatre, London. The concerts featured The Who, plus an all-star guest cast, backed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Measham. The concerts were held to promote the release of Reizner's new studio recording of this "symphonic" version of Tommy.
Both in concert and on record, major singing roles were performed by leading pop and rock stars of the day -- David Essex, Maggie Bell, Sandy Denny, Steve Winwood, Rod Stewart, Richie Havens and Ringo Starr." - Wikipedia.
Capital had a really well-recorded stereo reel-to-reel tape. Actually the tape was in two parts on 10" NAB spools because it was quite a long performance. The tape speed was probably just 7.5 IPS so it could fit on just two spools.
I was on MCR duty and had to play the two spools one after another, so of course I had both of the Studer B72 tape machines all threaded up and ready to go. Being as Capital was a commercial station I had to quick-fade the show at various times and play the adverts then fade the show back up again.
Not having had the chance to listen to the show previously I ran the tape and paid close attention to the performance, helped somewhat by my familiarity with the plot of Tommy, of which I already had some four different recordings. This new version really is worth listening to since a star-studded cast takes various characters.
On the second NAB tape spool a label read:
"FADE ON APPLAUSE"
Which means that when you hear the applause, you fade the tape and move on to the commercials, station ID, jingles, and next programme.
So as it came up to the hour, I heard the applause and let it run for about twenty seconds and then faded the tape. And moved on . . .
The phone rang shortly into the next programme. It was the producer of the Tommy programme, somewhat irate. He said, "Why did you kill the encore?"
"Encore? What encore?"
"The encore after the first applause, idiot!"
"Oh. It just said 'fade on applause'"
"Did you see how much tape was left?"
"Umm . . " (checks tape. Finds about 7 minutes still on the feed spool)
(Phone goes dead)
I still have a tape of the original performance. Including encore, of course.