HEARFEEDER plus four – “LITTLE RISING”
We had one more go at the singles market before Pauline and I left the band, in the spring of ’74. By that time, we were both burned out, mainly because we’d made the fatal mistake of moving to a cottage in the Buckinghamshire village of Steeple Claydon, while the rest of the band, and the roadies, had remained in London. I say fatal, but that’s not how it looked at the time.
The village was idyllic, and still very unspoiled because the railway line had been cut in the 60’s by the infamous Dr Beeching, so it still had the feel of a lived in community, rather than just another commuter hub. But somewhere along the line, I had been persuaded to trade our personal driver for a new bass rig, and I was now driving the band to and from gigs. So, Pauline and I would set off from Steeple Claydon late afternoon, drive to Walthamstow, pick the guys up, drive to, say, Liverpool, then after the gig, head back to London, then out to Bucks, arriving around four or five in the morning, to find our nanny Kim had commandeered our bed and we were relegated to the camp bed in the lounge. A year of this and I was badly burned toast.
Meanwhile, Shel Talmy had not been chuffed to return from his vacation in Greece to find that we’d recorded a single in his absence. It then turned out that Strat had actually signed the band to a contract with Shel’s production company Hush, perhaps as payment for past favours, for his Charisma label had originally been launched from a back room in Shel’s Knightsbridge flat. Caught between the rock producer and a hard place, I begged Strat to let us keep working with our engineer, Damon Lyon Shaw, pointing out that we’d made ‘It’s a Game’ for the grand total of £150. But to no avail; a contract was a contract and that was that. However, it seemed that because of our disloyalty, Shel was now no longer happy to keep working with us, so a compromise was reached when we were offered the chance to go into the studio with his younger partner, Hugh Murphy, [the HU in Hush].
Hugh was in his early thirties. Good looking, blonde and charismatic, he had also worked behind the mixing desk at IBC, starting off as a tape op and serving the kind of apprenticeship that made him totally comfortable with all the latest technology, of which there was a sudden plethora in the early seventies. He it was who took us to Olympic, but while Chas Chandler had worked there with two four track machines, the standard now was twenty four track, which is a little like tempting the producer to open Pandora’s box then inviting him to dive in. While Shel believed that if he couldn’t get a bass drum sound in fifteen minutes, there was something wrong with the kit, Hugh was from the school of getting the ‘perfect drum sound’, and if you’ve ever sat for hours in the control room while that happens, you’ll understand why spontaneity soon tends to go out the window. Not that I felt that way at the time. I thought Hugh was doing a great job, paying attention to all the little nuances of sound, making sure the finished product would be radio friendly. But there is a saying about not seeing the wood for the trees and the song in question, ‘I’ll Sing One for You’, soon disappeared into a forest of overdubs. Thankfully, it got the fate it deserved, sinking without trace, for of all the material we ever recorded, it sounded the most contrived, and hence the least like us.
But, after we left the band, Charisma kept us on as a duo, and out there in the beautiful English countryside in a bijou bungalow called ‘Little Rising’, Pauline and I set to work with a little two track recorder, making demos of the songs that began to pour out of me now that the long incessant grind of the road was finally over.
After a month or so, with tape in hand, I headed for Soho Square to play the results to Strat, and as I sat waiting outside his office, I reflected upon the fact that I was now one of that strange breed of half-life that habitually haunted Charisma’s corridors, the detritus left over by the disintegration of their bands. Thus, I had previously run into Howard Werth, late of Audience, and Peter Hammill of the now defunct Van de Graaf Generator. Indeed, I had even seen the post Genesis Peter Gabriel left sitting self-consciously in a listening booth midway through playing his demos, as Strat stepped out to take an important phone call. So, this was the fate that had befallen me too, still on retainer, but with no band to play my songs!
But Strat liked what he’d heard, especially a song called ‘If Only the Good Die Young’, so back into the studio we went with Hugh, first to work on it as a single, then soon afterwards on an album. In the process, we both grew to love Hugh. He was a wonderful guy, a great host and a sensational chef, who always made a point of matching both wine and ‘hash’ to the meal. I remember one night when both were being liberally partaken of, he put on an album he had produced three years before, ‘Can I Have My Money Back’ by Gerry Rafferty.
I had first met Gerry back in ‘71 when we were supporting Fotheringay at St Andrew’s University, and he and Billy Connolly were winding up their brief musical sojourn as The Humblebums by doing a ‘Farewell Scottish Tour.’ The set they played that night in the Students’ Union Bar was probably the most surreal I’ve ever witnessed. By this time Connolly had returned full steam to what he did best, which was to make people laugh, and what should have been just a few wee jokes between numbers had become virtuoso streams of consciousness, with Billy flying by the seat of his pants, or the tail of his shirt, winging it, surfing the waves of laughter, reducing the audience to helpless, painful tears, while all the time, Rafferty sat there stone-faced, staring silently into the mid distance.
My first reaction to the album was that it was overproduced, and perhaps sensing this, Hugh explained how after they’d spent weeks in the studio, Nat Joseph, owner of the record label Transatlantic, had called to say he wanted the master tapes the next day. Hugh had begged him to extend the deadline, but in the end, producers have to stay onside with record companies, for the payment of piper reasons. Then he had to break the news to Rafferty, who was understandably angry and distraught as, at this point they still needed two more tracks to complete the album. But there is more than one way to react to a fait accomplit, and according to Hugh, Gerry then spent the last day laying down live performances of ‘Mary Skeffington’ and ‘Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway’, and of course, they turned out to be the standout tracks on the album.
There was obviously a lesson here for both of us, but by this time we were well into our own project, and though Hugh brought in some great players to work with us, like Dave Mattacks, Dave Pegg and Gerry Donaghue, all Fairport Conventioneers, somewhere in the process the actual performance began to fade, as if we were constantly overpainting the same tired canvas. Thinking back, I ask myself why I only played acoustic guitar and never so much as brought the Tele out of its case! But either way, the album was never released and thankfully so. By the time it was finished, we were back living in Glasgow, and Punk was now gobbing its speedy phlegm all over the British Music Scene. Even though String Driven were sometimes classed as Prog Rock, I actually had a lot of time for the best of this New Wave, like The Pistols and The Clash. In fact, some of the bands who had supported us on the London pub circuit, like Ducks Deluxe, Dr Feelgood and Kilburn and the High Roads had been the progenitors of that scene. Pace Malcolm McLaren, but it takes a lot more than a few safety pins and some ripped jeans to change the face of Rock. Punk had as much to do with the price of vinyl rocketing after the first oil shocks of the mid seventies as it did with teenage rebellion. But on a purely rock musical level, it was badly needed after the excesses of the Prog Brigade, with their half million pound albums and their multi tiered keyboards. Truth is, if ever the medium gets too pompous or manufactured, the next generation of raw young players is just waiting to tear down the Citadel Gates with their three simple chords. And that’s the secret of Rock’s longevity; basically it’s DIY music.
Once Charisma had eventually ‘dropped’ us, [a lovely phrase which suggests some romantic involvement], I did a song publishing deal with another of Hugh’s business partners, that rascal of a Welshman, Jonathan Rowlands, who had spent the late sixties in LA and was now getting back up to speed in the UK. So Hugh came up to Glasgow and we went into Brian Young’s CaVa studio to produce some new demos. By this time Pauline and I had become friendly with Rafferty and his wife, Carla. As I just mentioned, Hugh had produced his first solo album, but possibly because of the sudden record label deadline, the two had not stayed in touch, so I asked them if they’d like to get together. Both said ok, so after the demo session, the three of us met up for a few beers in The Rogano in Shawlands, then headed back to that flat in Pollokshields for one of Pauline’s curries. A good time was had by all, and when Gerry later landed a deal with United Artists, Hugh was the natural choice to co-produce his forthcoming album, ‘City to City’. And, yet again, the rest is, as the saying goes…
The two cities, of course, were Glasgow and London, between which he was commuting to make the album. I remember meeting him for a few beers one evening in a bar opposite Central Station, where he was due to catch the overnight train to The Big Smoke. Top of the Pops was on the TV on a far shelf, with some Continental outfit straight out of the Abba mould miming to their latest offering. Rafferty shook his head sadly, the little silence damning their drivellish pop pap.
‘Thing is, Chris, it can be done! You can still make good music that sells!’
He was right of course as he and Hugh ultimately proved with ‘Baker Street’, but once again irony was tapping on my shoulder, for not that I would have admitted it, but the anaemic act up on the screen had just recorded one of my songs. Yet another that sank without trace.
But much as I loved Hugh as a person, and admire his volume of work with Rafferty, I can see now that in terms of results, Shel Talmy got a lot more out of us as a producer. The sheer discipline of walking through the studio door at a certain time and being expected to leave a few hours later with a result, gave his generation of producers the kind of edge that disappears when you spend days cooped up in a control room striving for perfection. In fact, the philosophy and technique that men like Talmy, Most and Chandler brought to the job always reminds me of the French Impressionists, who went out into the countryside to capture light and colour and life as they saw it all around them. At the time, the traditional critics were horrified by their ‘unfinished’ works, but for generations of art lovers to come, the immediacy of their work perfectly sums up the essence of what it’s like to be alive on a spring day in Paris. Thus men like Talmy and Chandler went into the studio to capture a performance, and as Shel caught all the incredible energy and aggression of the Who, and Most did likewise with the Animals, so Chandler captured the true essence of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Sadly, though, I was to lose touch with Hugh Murphy long before his early death from throat cancer in the 90’s. This had nothing to do with Hugh, but everything to do with an unfortunate incident involving Rafferty, drink and magic mushrooms. But I’ll leave that particular tale for later.
NOTE: In recent times, Ozit Records released the Steeple Claydon Tapes on coloured vinyl
Thanks for the photograph of Little Rising to Steve Cannon, a friend of Chris & Pauline’s when they stayed in Steeple Claydon. He had been passing by and kindly passed on a few photos of the village as it is now. Pauline loved seeing the photos and noted that a garage had been added, an apple tree had been taken down and the fence that Chris hit with his car and had to pay for had never been fixed.