INTERVIEW: CHRIS KIMSEY - CLUTCHING AT STRAWS AND MORE
After a quick tour of the renowned Olympic Studios just across the river in Barnes and a preview of the new top floor studio that's in progress, I sat down with legendary sound engineer and producer, Chris Kimsey.
If you are trying to place the name, Chris has pretty much worked with anyone that is anyone - or at least became someone.
That list includes The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Peter Frampton, Peter Tosh, Duran Duran, ELP, BB King and, as well as many more, the main reason why we're here today - Marillion. Due to not keeping an eye out for Festival of Sound schedule updates, unfortunately I missed Chris's seminar about the work he did on Marillion's Clutching at Straws album.
The follow-up to 1985's 'Misplaced Childhood' it is an album that, for many Marillion fans, symbolises not only the height of the band's achievements, but also the point at which the cracks started to show that finally saw Fish going solo and the band regrouping to reappear with new frontman, Steve Hogarth.
Chris joined Olympic studios as a tea boy before working his way up. His interest in sound recording was ignited after being given a tape recorder as a present from his parents. This interest was later further reinforced by teachers at his school.
After reading the sample list of rock and rock n' roll artists that he has worked with it may come as some of a surprise to discover that it was orchestral music and film scores (Wierd Science is one of his) that fired his passion. However, it is a testament to his skill and his keen ear, that he has been able to turn his hand to creating some of the most successful albums in recent times.
Since his inaugural move from head of refreshments in 1967 to becoming an assistant engineer onwards, Olympic Studios and Chris Kimsey have had a lasting relationship. Today, as well as the recording studio, the building houses a cinema and restaurant, as well as a member's bar. It is fitting, then, that Chris was called upon to sort the sound out for those cinema screening rooms. As Chris put it “There's now a piece of me here”.
JG: Chris, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me.
CK: I'm sorry that you missed me at the Festival of Sound.
JG: I was not only looking forward to hearing you talk about one the landmark albums in my life but it was going to be a great start to my Sunday. It's my fault as one of the first things I saw after realising my mistake was a huge poster showing the actual timings. Never mind, it has all worked out beautiful as we're here now.
CK: So, Marillion.
JG: Yeah, I've followed Marillion since 14-year-old me got his sticky little paws on Misplaced Childhood which, to me at that time, was amazing. I was listening to a variety of things that were in the charts as well as discovering heavy rock and metal. A couple of my older friends had played me Script for a Jester's Tear and Fugazi before, and I found them a little harder to get into. However, with Childhood, Marillion not only had tunes with strong hooks but, if you heard or read the lyrics, the language was very clever; poetical.
CK: Yes, there was a melody, there were tunes, there was a lot of musicality about it.
JG: It also served as my gateway drug into prog as I then discovered Yes, Genesis, Rush...
CK: Oh, really? I met Terry Brown a few months ago, who produced Rush. He was over here with another Canadian band, a young band, and I obviously know his brother, Phil very well.
JG: Very cool. So, how did the Marillion thing happen?
CK: Meeting Marillion and the Misplaced album came at a perfect time in my career and my psyche. As I kind of grew up more with theatre and movie soundtracks; that was my upbringing. I wasn't into Hendrix and all that. Even when I started at Olympic, I wasn't into that.
JG: OK, so it was more the orchestral recording that you pointed out in the photographs in the hall; that was your thing?
CK: Yes, and theatre. Because, at school, I had a tape recorder at ten years old. I don't know why my parents bought me a tape recorder. Suddenly I got dragged in to “Kimsey's got a tape recorder, he can do the sound effects”.
JG: Oh, so for school plays?
CK: Exactly. That ignited my imagination for things. And then after, I can't remember who I worked for before Marillion - I know (Peter) Frampton, The Stones, but when I met Marillion it was just like perfect timing because I found them to be incredibly theatrical. Obviously, live with Fish, but also I like the fact that it wasn't just ten songs; there was a theme going through it all. So, when we started doing the rehearsals for that album we did them down in Chessington, there was a rehearsal studio there (Barwell Court), it's not there now. I'd go down there, got on with everybody, and then started to realise that this was a concept album. There was a start and a finish; it wasn't just a bunch of songs.
JG: OK, so that wasn't the original intention, it evolved into a concept album?
CK: It evolved from the very beginning, and that really excited me. In fact, I had to keep that away from the record company as the record company would not have wanted that.
JG: True, they want marketable singles that they can dish out.
CK: Exactly. So, after a few weeks at rehearsals, they'd also played some songs live at this point, we started to talk about which studio to use. I had already been to Hansa to do the Killing Joke album. I had also worked with The Joe Boxers there so I had been to Hansa a number of times and I loved the studio. The big hall, and it was also a very favourable exchange rate at that time. So, for the budget, it worked out, so that's why we went to Hansa. And, it was also a perfect opportunity for them and myself to distance ourselves from the record company. Although there was the head of A&R, David Munns, he was the one who hooked me up with them. He's a great guy; he was the good side of the record company. Marillion loved Berlin. We all loved Berlin at that time. The Wall was still up, and it was a pretty wild kind of city, and we did some hilarious things there. The hall really lent itself to their sound as well because I recorded everything live pretty much and then we'd replace some vocals if Fish had rewritten stuff.
What was quite interesting actually is that I got my hands on the multitrack years ago of Misplaced. I was amazed at Fish's vocal.
JG: Was this for the re-release?
CK: Yeah, they re-released Misplaced a few years ago, and they've just done Clutching. They've remixed them I don't know why. I don't mind though.
Back to the multitracks; I could hear the hall. I mean, it was there. It had an in-built reverb. I thought “that's really interesting” as, at the time, it didn't even click. I wasn't even aware that there was this quite big reverb going on that was naturally there. So, after discovering that, I went back to listen to the album again and thought, “Wow! I can really hear it.” It gives the album a certain sound that you wouldn't get anywhere else.
JG: I'm going to have to give that a proper listen when I get home.
CK: That was on 24 track tape which was actually 23 as you lost a track to the time code for the computer for the mixing. So, in making that album, I also had to be incredibly diligent in arranging my tracks so that it would all flow. We couldn't record it all at once. Maybe the first two songs and then I would edit together the rest of them. But, what we ended up with was two master reels on the 24-track tape that you could play side one from top to end and then side two from top to end. It was continuous like that. I still have somewhere the track sheets which I would diligently write out and colour code to follow out how each track would go into the next song, to the next song. So there weren't any huge track changes.
JG: So, was that a lot of preparation that you had to do before even getting started?
CK: Preparation and really thinking about it and planning it out. Also, talking to the band and knowing and understanding what arrangement they had in mind: How many guitars are we going to put on this? Keyboards, you know Mark's (Kelly) got a few keyboards so having that all separated. We hired in a Bosendorfer at Hansa for the piano parts on Misplaced, and that piano was so beautiful I actually sampled it. Then he (Mark) put it in his Emulator because that piano sound appears on Clutching years later.
JG: Yeah, it's a great link between the albums. Also, you can't really just pack up and drag a Bosendorfer around on tour.
CK: Exactly, and this one had, and I hadn't ever seen anything like this before, actually had an extended range. It had an extra octave hidden under a flap.
JG: At the high or low end?
CK: At the low end so it had this real low, low end and it sounded amazing. There are a few linked tracks on Misplaced, soundscape links. One of them, there's a noise; you wouldn't know what it was unless you were told. But it's a dagger being scraped along the scabbard - metal on metal (0.13 into Bitter Suite). I bought that dagger at a flea fair in Berlin one afternoon. It was an old SS dagger that had all the markings removed. I went into the big hall and made this noise with it, and it sounded amazing. So, we recorded that. Then, years and years later, we went back to Hansa to do a thing for Sky who was making a little documentary about all the different albums that had been recorded there, and I still had the dagger, so I took it back with me. The weirdest thing was that I was showing the film crew the dagger, not in the hall but in a smaller room and I'm scraping it, and it didn't really have any sound, and the crew was just looking at me unimpressed thinking that I'm nuts. Then, I went into the hall and did it, and it was like Woah! It was really quite a moment. It just proved that that hall is really incredible. It's a beautiful sounding hall. It was built like a mini classical copy of another hall that got bombed during the war; it was a big philharmonic hall. It's a real shame that they don't use it much for recording. These days it's mainly used for weddings, conferences and they have bus-loads of people coming to walk through to see where Bowie, U2, Marillion recorded but not much music going on there now.
JG: So, is it not still kitted out for recording then?
CK: No. Well, there's still a studio there. There was always three studios. There was, on the very top, on the roof, in the penthouse, a mixing room; that's still there, and that's hired out by a mixer who has had it for like the last 4-or-5 years with his gear in. On the floor below that, I think that's the fourth floor, there's the Hansa studio that was there we went there, but that was a very modern studio in terms of architecture. Great gear, there was always great gear at Hansa, but it really felt like you were in a studio.
JG: Ah, kind of like when you go from hotel to hotel, and they start to blend into one another. There's nothing really discerning between them?
CK: Yeah. The thing about the hall is that there was the hall and then you had to walk down a corridor to what used to be something, it certainly wasn't a recording studio. But, they just put this Neve desk in this anteroom down the hall, and this was the control room for the big hall. There wasn't much thought about soundproofing or anything. In fact, you could open the windows, and it was right by The Wall, so we'd blast out Killing Joke and Marillion to the guards. We could see them in their boxes at night, the glow of their cigarettes, and we'd open the windows and pump it out to them. That is no longer there, the hall is still there, but sadly the control room is no longer there.
It was a very inventive place. The fact that there was this oasis in the middle of this communist world and the guys who owned the studio they found some of the best gear in the around and, I mean, they got it into Berlin as well.
JG: Where there's a will…
CK: Yeah, yeah. It was quite a wonderful discovery.
JG: I suppose it also adds a bit of excitement. That feeling that you were going up against something. You were creating something despite, rather than because…
CK: Yeah, precisely. It also reminded me a little bit of Paris. It was a very artistic city, you know. There was lots of literature going on; art and painting, just very bohemian. Creative. It was just a great city where you could work hard in the studio and then go out and club. It was the first time I had been to a city where you could go to a club from 9 o'clock to 11 o'clock at night, and then everyone would go to another part of town from midnight til two. Then, there was a breakfast club you could go to til five or six in the morning, it was insane.
JG: That sounds awesome. I'm not sure how conducive that would be to getting lots of work done, but it seems to have worked for many acts one way or another.
CK: Well, I wasn't aware at the time, but the albums before Misplaced had all gone way over budget so if Misplaced didn't do something they would've been dropped. Misplaced was actually one of the cheapest albums that were ever made.
JG: Really? And that was down to using Hansa?
CK: Yeah. And that's quite amazing as I think we were there for six weeks. We were there for quite a time because we mixed it there as well.
It was great to go back and see the place. I went back with Steve (Rothery) and Fish. It was quite special. We actually went around to some of the restaurants, like pizza places that we used to go to. One was still there.
JG: Excellent. Was recording there as relaxed as you've just made it sound?
CK: On the first day at Hansa, we got the sound set up, and the band came in to listen to a playback. Ian (Mosely) was sitting on the couch looking quite p***ed off and despondent. I said, “Ian, what's wrong?” He said, “It doesn't sound expensive enough.” I knew the guy that they had worked with before. I knew how Nick Tauber produced records; everything was cranked up to eleven with tonnes of reverb when they were recording. I didn't work like that, so I did precisely that. I put on loads of reverb on the drums, turned everything up and then he had a big smile on his face.
JG: Gotta have that 80s drum sound.
CK: In fact, again, that hall. The snare drum sound in there was so terrific that I ended up sampling - this was a period when snare samples were being laid in behind or with a snare drum sound. I think Bobby Clearmountain started it, I'm not sure, but all of a sudden, for some years, it became the norm. So, Ian's snare drum was maybe on the next six or seven albums I worked on after that. I carried a little bit of Hansa around with me everywhere.
JG: Nice bit of recycling.
CK: Absolutely. Then, EMI wanted the single, so we sent them Kayleigh because that was finished. Then we told them; actually, it's a concept album. I don't think they were convinced at the time, but then it started to take off.
JG: Yeah, because Kayleigh and Lavender were pretty huge.
CK: Well, with Lavender we actually had to go back because it was way too short. I copied the verse; this was still analogue tape, I copied a verse, and then Fish had to record some more lyrics.
JG: I find it weird that Kayleigh and Lavender became the singles that everyone seems to remember, those and Incommunicado from Clutching, but, for me, Sugar Mice is much more developed, sonically.
CK: Was Sugar Mice a single? It was, wasn't it? At That Time of The Night was always a favourite of mine.
JG: Yeah, but it was Kayleigh and Lavender that seems to have got the populist vote. If I was to stop random people out on the street and ask them to name a Marillion song, I doubt that Sugar Mice or even At That Time of The Night would get many mentions.
CK: That's the wonderful thing about making records. You can never second guess what's going to make it.
JG: It's art, isn't it? There are many times where people have spent lots of time and money creating an album then find out they've got an hour of studio time left, quickly throw something down and it's that track that's the one everyone loves.
CK: Yeah, and that's the one. That's so great. That's so true, yeah.
I work with a lot of younger artists now. I like to give it back, as it were. Not all of them, but with quite a few, we'll get into the songwriting, and I'll say, “This is great. I like the idea, and the premise of the song and I love the melody but,” I'll say “you're not giving me a simple phrase to latch on to.” Because I think that's the way people pick up on music if they're not musicians or into music. They'll be driving along or walking along, and then they'll suddenly hear something, and it will be the melody that hits them first, and then, a few words. So, if you've got a song where there are no words repeated it's going to be really difficult. Always a thing to keep an eye on.
JG: I'm in a punk/metal crossover trio at the moment. I've played a variety of different genres from rock, to power-pop, to acid jazz but now I'm writing with two other guys, and it all comes from just jamming in a rehearsal space. It's much more natural; if one of us does something and the other two follow or gives us the nod, it stays. It does, however, mean that sometimes we'll go from American punk to dub, to scar in one song - but it's all us.
CK: Yeah, and there'll be a lot less friction.
JG: But you still need those hooks. Marillion are very talented writers, but they still manage to have those hooks amongst all those layers.
CK: Yeah, it's funny, now I've said that about writing because with Marillion - OK, Fish does repeat Kayleigh, Kayleigh, Kayleigh; Sugar Mice, Sugar Mice; Incommunicado - but they're not always obvious choruses though. It's like the whole song is almost a chorus, sometimes.
I really loved working with them.
Also, Pete (Trewavas) using Moog pedals was brilliant. I loved that as well.
So, the whole thing in my mind was very theatrical very cinematic.
JG: I've actually got 'Cinematic' written down here, especially for Clutching At Straws. Not so much for Misplaced Childhood as, to me, that does still stand as a concept album. Whereas, with Clutching, I got the feeling that it could be cinematised. There feels like there's more of a story with distinct scenes through, you know, with the likes of Warm Wet Circles and Hotel Hobbies.
CK: Yeah, I think looking back at it, Clutching is a more fully-formed piece. I do remember with Misplaced that we got to the song before the end and there was nothing else written and it was a bit of a struggle to get the last song done. That seems to come up in my memory. But, not so with Clutching. And, with Clutching, when I got the multitracks of that, that was quite a revelation because that was recorded at Westside Studios which is no longer around; it used to be just off the Westway. Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley owned it; it was their studio. There was a young engineer there, Nick Davies; he later went on to work with Genisis. The studio was sonically very different. In a way, it was a lot harder to get a sound in there because it wasn't one big room, it had three booths in it, so it was a bit of a challenge to get everyone playing live, and also for me to get the drum sound. But, we got there.
JG: I guess it was quite a departure from the huge Hansa sound to be in a place with a very controlled environment.
CK: Yeah, you don't want to make it too small sounding. Clutching was recorded on digital; it was the early days of Sony 24-track digital recording. I noticed that when we had recorded the backing track with everyone playing live we'd pretty much fill up all the tracks - six of those might be keyboards, two for bass, maybe twelve for drums covering everything with different room sounds, and there's the guitars as well. It was then when I realised that Mark (Kelly) had many more ideas about keyboard sounds and the arrangement of those keyboard sounds. So, what we'd end up doing, was bounce a mix of what we recorded on the first 24-tracks onto another 24-track and then continue to overdub on that. There are a lot more overdubs on Clutching than there is on Misplaced, just because we could with the advent of digital.
As well as how much depth Mark had gone into with his keyboard sounds, the amount of energy that comes off that record. Just pressing play, not having a balance at all, just pressing play and listening to all the tracks - F**k me! This is really powerful s**t this! So, yeah, it was different to Misplaced in every way; in its songwriting, in its energy. I think that Misplaced was quite graceful and beautiful, but Clutching had even more drive and tenacity about it.
JG: Yeah, kind of like the difference between theatre and cinema.
CK: Yes! Exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's a very good description. Also, at that time as well, a lot was going on with the band.
JG: So, were fractures already beginning to show at this point?
CK: A little bit because, after the success of Misplaced, the record company and manager just put the band out on the road non-stop. Fish was really the only spokesman; he loves to talk, so that was OK. But, I think it got to a point where he was feeling “I'm doing it all. You guys are just staying in the hotel every f**king morning. I'm the one who has to get up and do the interviews”, so he was pretty exhausted. Also, most of the other boys were married, had families; Fish didn't. So, there was this divide that, a little bit started to show. And then, towards the end of the album, the s**t really hit the fan because something happened between Fish and the management, and the band and the management. They found out that they were being screwed, or something. I can't remember exactly what went down, but it wasn't very nice after that, I know that for a fact.
Also, I think we did some recording, or something at Advision although I can't remember what. I was talking to Avril Mackintosh. Avril was my assistant at Advision, I remember that. Nick was the engineer at Westside, and we mixed the majority of it at Westside, but I can't remember why we went to Advision but what's happened now with the re-release is that Avril has remixed it all, which is quite nice. I haven't heard it yet, but I want to. You see, when I got the multitrack I was messing around with it for Festival of Sound, remixing it then and I asked the audience, “What do you think of this mix?” it was just on my laptop, and they said “I think it's better”, and I said “I think you're right”.
The new mix is coming out about now, and I think they've done a 5.1 on it as well. I really want to hear it. But it was great to hear it coming off the tape again. The way I make records: there's no decision-making during mixing, it's just a thing of balance.
JG: So, no track selections or take choices?
CK: No, there's not like three guitar solos, so you have to choose one, it's all been decided at the time. I can't make records that. You know, the reason why I can't make records that way is because I have been asked to finish a record that I hadn't started. There was one album that I had to mix which was started by Bob Rock, an album by The Quireboys (Bitter Sweet & Twisted), and I was asked to finish it and mix it. It was digital days; it was two Sony 48-tracks, so 96-tracks and it took me about two weeks for me to find just the original takes. Where did it start? Because there was like maybe 20 guitar solos and nothing had been picked and it was the same with vocals. There was all this information but no information given to me about what to use. It was basically “Well, you go and sort it out”.
JG: Did Bob bail or get a better offer? What was going on there?
CK: I don't know what happened. He just walked away. I think something bigger came in for him.
JG: Fair enough. As much as I like The Quireboys, I cannot start to imagine how painful a process it would be to unravel all that recorded material to find the beginning of the thread.
CK: Exactly. It's a shame for them because that album must've cost them a fortune. I know that they went to Hawaii to record it because Bob wanted to go to Hawaii and, of course, they didn't give a s**t, you know The Quireboys, they'd just drink their drinks. They were having a great time.
JG: Heheheheh, yeah. Is there drink over there? Count us in!
CK: Ha! Yeah. But it must've taken me two or maybe three weeks to mix it. That's insane. Usually, you can mix a song a day quite easily, if you record and produce it.
JG: Did you have the guys come over to help choose the parts?
CK: No. No, they'd lost interest. It was a case of “Let us know when it's done and we'll come over to listen”. I think sometimes Guy (Griffin) might have said, “Oh, I thought I had a different guitar part to that one”, then I'd have to go and find that. But, generally, no it was fine.
So, you just have to be careful. It's when you have all that choice, that freedom there's a thing about analogue that the restrictions of having 24-tracks it made you think a little bit more. Not only as a musician but also as a producer. Even with eight tracks, you could still bounce things together, but decisions were being made all along the process.
JG: That takes me back to when I had my little four-track recorder. You could bounce the tracks you'd recorded onto one of the tracks, but that means that bit is in stone now. Everything else you did from there had to build from what you had bounced.
CK: Exactly, but the good thing about that was that whatever you did afterwards is fitting in with what you had already got down. Rather than everything being recorded and then, you know, and then at the end you try to put it all together at which point you think “Oh, we should've done that bit differently”. It's a sort of discipline that you are forced to have.
JG: I guess the same can be said of photography. Now you have digital cameras with memory cards that can hold hundreds or thousands of images. I for one will take half-a-dozen shots to choose the best one whereas before, with my little Instamatic, I knew I had 24 exposures so had to be sure of what I wanted before hitting the shutter.
CK: That's so true. Yeah, you had to be sure.
JG: Although, the other side is that you can throw a load of ideas down and decide what was the best of the bunch. The discipline there is that you have to allow yourselves a day to go through to make those final decisions else you will have just spent days, weeks, months recording a bunch of ideas with nothing really to show for it.
CK: I think a lot of the best records are made when there's a deadline, a tour or something else coming up, then people don't procrastinate. There's always that thing with bands, they go into the studio, and it's cotton wool time, they're away from reality, they're stuck in the studio.
JG: There's also that risk of recording after a tour that the band is 'working' but also wants free time or it's a case of “We'll come in for a couple of hours in the afternoon but then head off sightseeing”, or something. They'll want their downtime.
CK: Exactly. You just reminded me of something actually. When I was doing Clutching, I did not want to work seven-days-a-week. I just didn't, you know? I didn't want to burn myself out, it would also burn the band out as well. It was different in Berlin because we were all there together, I mean we still wouldn't work seven-day-a-week as we'd need a day to recover. Hahaha! It was easier in Berlin. But, back in London, I even put in the contract that I was going to do 5-days-a-week. The band really didn't like this. There were arguments right up to the first day in the studios with the lawyers and stuff. But, by the Thursday of the first week of recording, I think it was Ian that said: “So, what are we doing this weekend?” I said “You're watching the telly, mate. We've got the weekend off”. He said “Oh, yeah. Great! Fantastic!”, so in the end, it worked.
JG: You've got to admire people with that strong work ethic but, as you said, especially if they were already showing signs of breaking after relentless touring…
CK: No, completely. But, Marillion are all very talented musicians.
JG: On Clutching the tracks seem to be much shorter in comparison to Misplaced. Did the band come in with the intention of making the tracks easier to consume? Did they come in with the intention of making singles?
CK: Incommunicado, definitely. It is interesting you say that because I do remember, even before we went in to record it, being told that this is going to be the single.
JG: Oh wow. OK.
CK: And, listening to it as I only did a few weeks ago, it's the strangest thing as there's hardly any keyboards - for a Marillion song.
JG: True, there's the main phrase, and then it's just filling out the verse chords with the guitar.
CK: Yeah, it's just guitar, bass, drums and vocals essentially. Everything else on the album is so much keyboard, and then there's this one track; a little rock song sneaking about in there. It does stand out as something quite different.
JG: Does that mean that you had to treat it differently with a mind to it getting airplay on the radio?
CK: No, it wasn't treated any differently in that way. The only way it was really different was that it wasn't as arranged. Because, with the keyboards as I've already said, it was very much a guitar rock song almost. I always thought that At That Time of the Night was such a beautiful song with a beautiful melody that it should have been a single but, you know, the record company had other ideas. They wanted up-tempo and that sort of thing.
JG: And I'm guessing that White Russian would have been a hard sell too. You know, a track about the rise of the Neo-Nazis in Europe. It doesn't exactly scream Radio One so much.
CK: Hahahahahah! No!
JG: I saw Marillion for the first time in ages last year, and it struck me that, even though H is very much a different personality to Fish on stage, the fabric that makes it Marillion is still there.
CK: It's the same as what happened with Queen after Freddy passed and they got Adam Lambert and Paul Rogers in. They've still got that guitar tone. They still have that drum sound. That's the same with Marillion. Steve Rothery's tone is totally…
JG: You can spot that a mile off, can't you?
JG: Also, I think on Clutching Steve was coming into his own a lot more. There seemed to be more confidence in his playing. More attack.
CK: Yeah, I agree. And, what was great about recording Steve was the simplicity of his sound because on Misplaced it was a Roland Jazz Chorus that had a stereo chorus and he'd put a delay pedal in front of that and an overdrive. That was it. That was all it was on Misplaced. I think on Clutching it was that and maybe something else. I seem to remember us looking at a Marshall and not being sure. There are more different guitar sounds on Clutching that would've been something other than that Roland. Steve's melodic-ness, his tunefulness is wonderful. He's got a great sound as well.
JG: He's one of those guitarists that you can hum along to his solos. For me, that adds another layer to the catchiness of Marillion's songs. It's like another chorus or melody hook.
CK: Steve was part of the musical part of the songwriting, for sure. In fact, funnily enough, a conversation I had with Steve Rothery about the 'new Marillion' was that he was finding that he wasn't doing as much as he wanted to, or used to. It was coming more from (Steve) Hogarth and more from Mark (Kelly), it was becoming more keyboard orientated, and then he had to fill in his parts around that. So I said “Well, you'd better step up then mate, and go in with some riffs then. You can't let that happen”. Hehe.
JG: It can't be easy when your frontman leaves. Especially such a big character.
CK: No. I've got so much respect for what they did when Fish left, and they carried on, in that way.
JG: True. I got Season's End which was kind of like a Fish/Marillion album but with a different singer as I think that most of it was written before the split. The same goes for some of the things that appeared on Fish's first solo album at that time. It takes a lot of guts to say, OK, the big Scot at the front is no longer there, but this is still us. We've got the new lad out front. He's still bonkers, just in a different way. We reckon you'll like him.
CK: Yeah. It's difficult for both sides. It's difficult for the singer stepping in and to make his own mark.
JG: Especially when you're expected to sing Slainte M'hath and Heart of Lothian.
CK: Hahahahah! Yeah, I guess you wouldn't have to sing it for too long.
JG: I am sure there are songs that would still be expected in the set that you couldn't drop, even if you're not Scottish.
CK: True. There will be some songs that they'd still have to play. You've got to. I worked with Soul Asylum, and I spent four days on the road with them when I first met them. You know, to get to know them and get into their music. At the end of each night, they never played Runaway Train which was their biggest hit. I said to Dave Pirner “Why don't you play the song they're all asking you for?” and he replied “That f**king song.” “What do you mean, that f**king song? That f**king song set you up, mate”. But that's why he doesn't like it. But that's what the people love.
JG: I guess you could get tired of playing the same songs over and over again. Especially if you only had a limited number of hits. But, there's always room for crowd pleasers, especially at festivals. I really don't like it when bands play a festival and decide just to air their new stuff. Do that at your own gig, but there are people in the crowd that might only know your hits. If you don't play them, they won't stay in the crowd for long.
CK: I went to see David Byrne in Brighton the other week, and I hadn't seen him for like, 35 years. I had no idea what to expect. People had told me that I needed to see it. They said that it looked incredible because there's no gear on stage; it's all wireless, and they're walking about. It is really something special. But I didn't know any of his solo albums or anything. However, the set was incredible. He played all the Talking Heads hits and his new stuff. It was all so well balanced that you came away completely satisfied that you'd seem something completely groundbreaking and new. You had heard something that you'd never heard before, but you had also heard all the classics that you love.
JG: True, it so could've gone the other way. Especially someone as experimental and arty as Byrne. But, because everyone will have left with big smiles on their faces, they're more likely to search out his new stuff if they hadn't already checked it out.
CK: Exactly, they're more likely to discover that new music. By the way, have you seen Bohemian Rhapsody yet?
JG: Nope. I've not really had the chance. I've heard mostly good things about it.
CK: It is f**king great. I mean, it's *really* great.
JG: There does seem to be a very small section of people that don't like it because it's either too glossy or it makes it look like Queen did Live Aid to start getting bookings again.
CK: Well, I've worked with Brian (May), and so I know Brian quite well, and Roger (Taylor) a little bit. I only met Freddy (Mercury) once, and I never worked with Queen. I know Roy Thomas Baker and Gary Langham who was on the sessions, so I know a lot of things. There's a lot of things left out from the film, which is good. We don't want to know all that s**t, you know, all that other stuff that goes on. Everyone does that at some point; we don't need to see it. What I loved about it is that it's a film that really shows the genius of Freddy. It also shows a lot about discrimination, as well. Not only ethnic discrimination but music discrimination by the record company. “You can't have that song, it's too f**king long”, but the band is there sticking up for it. Although, they had to wait until Live Aid to get a number one. I had forgotten that it wasn't until they re-released Bohemian Rhapsody that it became number one.
JG: It was also groundbreaking because of the video.
CK: Yeah, and it nearly never happened. I really enjoyed the film. It will last for a long time. It's an excellent portrayal of an exceptional group of musicians.
JG: I met Brian at a tech thing because he's into his stereoscopic photography. He seemed a really lovely person but what also came across was how protective he was, not only of the Queen brand but also of Freddy and his legacy. That's what struck me as odd from those that didn't like the film for whatever reason. Surely, it would be an accurate portrayal if not as gritty as some would've liked.
CK: What I did find out was that there was a guy from a Queen cover band that the filmmakers brought in to sing all the songs. Then, the film was almost finished at this point, Brian and Roger came in and said that they wanted Freddy's voice on it. They have all the tapes, of course. There was a bit of a fight and Brian, and Roger had to stand their ground. Anyhow, they won, so it's all Freddy's vocal in the film. It's funny because for the first 20 minutes my technical ears are going: Is that Freddy? Is that Freddy now? But, after the first 20 minutes, I forgot that they're actors and just believed that they were Queen. The guy who's doing Freddy is so f**king good. All the actors - I'm like, yeah, that's Queen.
JG: I am only aware of Malek because I was a fan of Mr Robot. But, seeing his transformation in the trailers, I know that's a sign of a good actor, but it is quite remarkable. He seems to have the mannerisms down.
CK: Yeah, his mannerisms. He's like the gentle giant, that's right. It's really cool.
JG: Well, it's good to get that from someone who is aware of what went on with the band from people that know the group.
CK: And, you're right. The way that Brian and Roger, but more Brian I think, they way they protect Freddy and the whole brand of Queen is done in a good way. Some bands get so anal about it that they're overprotective.
JG: Or that you've got to show the right amount of money before we'll look the other way.
CK: I thought it was very savvy of The Who to lend their music for CSI. That's amazing.
JG: Yeah, great tracks one and all. And each spin-off got another Who theme tune.
CK: And, in my mind, that's kept them very current. Hearing that all the time.
JG: You mentioned Killing Joke earlier, and I'm going to see them this weekend. Are there any moments of you working with Jaz and the lads that stand out?
CK: Oh, loads. I love those guys. I don't stay in touch with them as much as I'd like to but it's really my fault as well.
JG: I guess there are those moments when Jaz goes off the radar too, that makes it difficult to stay in contact.
CK: Funnily enough, I did get a call from Jaz (Coleman) in March completely out of the blue. He said “What are you doing next week? I've got to go to St Petersberg to record this orchestra. I really want you to come along because, after it, I want someone to look after it and continue it.” I said, “Well, Jaz, I'm a little booked up here.” We were very close for a long time. I introduced him to Derek Green who put him together with Anne Dudley, and that's how the Cairo project started. I love connecting people. And, Geordie (Walker), I love Geordie to bits. Those two albums (Night Time and Brighter Than A Thousand Suns) were some of the most special times in my life, actually. Again, at Hansa. I met the engineer, Tommy Stieler, who recorded Killing Joke and recorded Marillion as well.
It was them that wanted to go to Berlin. I was very prepared in going over there. I ensured that all the gear got there three days in advance. We got there and had a couple of days before we started work. The band had already started hanging out with the German assistant engineer who is the nephew of the owner. He took the band to a club. I left them all at the club. They then all went back to the studio. The band were staying in an apartment above the studio. Anyhow, they went back to the studio, and this party kicked off. Now, Geordie loves to dance. So, Geordie's there swirling around and picks up a fire extinguisher and sprayed it in an arc in the control room. Now, this was one of those powder extinguishers, and all the powder landed in the desk. Of course, the young kid freaked out. He called the police, and I'm in bed in the hotel at 4 am and get this phone call “You must come to the studio, the band has been arrested”, and we've not even started recording yet.
I get there, and they're all lined up against the wall. There's armed police there, and it was my responsibility to sweet-talk the owner/manager for the next two days. They let us stay in the end. So, that was interesting.
What came back to haunt me, however, was that powder. After a year or two, it started to affect the console. Every time you switched something, you'd get a big click so I could never forget Killing Joke. But, we made a great record there. I just love everything about that band. I love the passion. I love the songs.
JG: They're clever, but differently to Marillion. They both have orchestrated songs, can be quite grandiose. Jaz is quite theatrical on stage with his black jester…
CK: Yeah, that's true. I remember the first time I met Jaz was here. We recorded Eighties in Studio 2 here.
JG: Brilliant track. Just before we wrap up, you have recently started using the Rupert Neve headphone amp. Are you still looking for new tools to help with your workflow?
CK: Not really. I'm quite happy where I am now. I am doing a lot more work in my own place on headphones, a lot more work. Both mastering and mixing, as well. I'm doing a lot of that at home too until we get that studio upstairs built. So, the headphone thing for me has been quite a journey. I'm involved with Flare Audio who have come up with the earbuds which are amazing.
JG: I've had the Jets to review, not the Pros. I did like them though.
CK: Yeah, they're the ones I like. They're great. I've always had a collection of headphones, and my favourites have always been Sony headphones. All headphones are hyped, except perhaps Sennheiser. There is a Sennheiser that's quite flat but so boring. When I met Russ Andrews, I knew the difference that cables could make, but the Neve preamp is gorgeous, quite rock n roll, actually. I've got three systems that I test on, but that one you crank up and enjoy it.
JG: Well, you have got a car waiting so thanks so much for your time.
CK: No, thank you. It's been really nice to meet you and talk to you.
JG: Too kind. Thanks again.
If you want to know what Chris is working on right now, take a look at his website.
StereoNET UK’s Editor and Bass playing gadget junkie. He’s captained the good ship GadgetyNews for over a decade, making low jargon high tech a very handy thing. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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