Episode 32. April 15th
Anybody that knows me knows that I have a passion for the RMS Titanic which sank on April 15th, 1912. It started in my childhood one Sunday afternoon when I watched the 1958 film, A Night To Remember which is about the disaster and still the film which depicts the tragic events most accurately. Don’t get me wrong, James Cameron’s 1997 film is magnificent and I’ve watched it more times than I care to remember but A Night To Remember, I watch on or around April 15th every year. It always reminds me of those Sunday afternoons spent watching old films with Mum as well as reinvigorating my enthusiasm to learn more about the ship and her sister ships, RMS Olympic and HMHS Britannic,* along with the tragedy and the lessons mankind learned from it. There is however another April 15th that sticks in my mind for very different reasons and it starts on March 15th, 1989.
A Night To Remember based on the 1955 Walter Lord book of the same title.
Vow Wow’s management had decided to film their show from the 1989 UK tour at London’s Astoria in Charing Cross Road. The thing with shooting live videos is that although everything is planned, stage-mapped, camera angles worked out and the sound is line-checked, things can and do go wrong and have to be tweaked at a later date. This is also true of live albums as well. Most of the great classic live albums have had to be patched up in one way or another due to technical failure or performance error and you may be interested to learn that:
1965 Live At Shea Stadium – The Beatles
Due to the amount of screaming from the 65,000 fans, the audio tapes for the film of this concert were unusable and so five months after the gig, producer George Martin started to heavily doctor the tracks. Paul McCartney overdubbed new bass parts onto four songs and John Lennon recorded a new organ track for I’m Down. The Beatles also made entirely new recordings for I Feel Fine and Help!, and also recorded overdubs for Ticket To Ride. The EMI studio of recording Act Naturally was used to save time. George Martin wanted to re-record Twist And Shout but there was no time so the recording of the 30 August 1965 Hollywood Bowl concert was added, enhancing the sound of the original.
1970 Absolutely Live – The Doors
The recordings are live but the performances are taken from an unknown number of shows recorded over ten months between July 1969 and May 1970. Many of the songs are edits of two, three or even four shows put together by the engineer Paul Rothchild who was trying to create the perfect Doors performance. Sadly, many of the master tapes are now lost so we may never know how many cuts there are but the odd bootleg does give us a clue.
1970 Get Yer Ya-Yas Out – The Rolling Stones
Mick Jagger overdubbed at least half of the vocals for this album and Keith Richards added some backing vocals.
1974 Journey To The Centre Of The Earth – Rick Wakeman
There is an excellent piece of engineering by Paul Tregurtha who copied the English Chamber Choir’s chorus (Crocodile’s teeth, lizard’s head, etc) and overdubbed it later in the recording to cover an error and there is also a small overdub by narrator David Hemmings. This writer was also at one Rick Wakeman show when he told the audience that Ashley Holt had to overdub most of his vocals although the reason given why was not mentioned.
1975 Alive! - Kiss
Producer and engineer Eddie Kramer stated in an interview with Home Recording magazine that ‘there was a lot of sloppy playing and missed vocals during the live show and that they were not very tight musically’ He goes on to say that the entire Alive! album was overdubbed except for the drums. It should be noted that Gene Simmons’ autobiography simply states “We did touch up vocal parts and fix some of the guitar solos, but we didn't have the time or money to completely rework the recordings.”
1976 Made In Europe – Deep Purple
An audience tape loop was used in the studio to enhance the atmosphere of the concert. It can clearly be heard as the same whistles by their fans can be heard twice and although all of the tracks are taken from a gig in Saarbrucken in Germany, two parts in You Fool No One - one of Ritchie Blackmore’s solos and Ian Paice's drum solo - were used from different shows on the same tour.
1979 Unleashed In The East – Judas Priest
This album has been known in later years as Unleashed in the Studio due to many (if not all) of the vocals being re-recorded by Rob Halford when the band returned to England from the Japanese shows. The official explanation is that Halford had influenza and laryngitis at the time of performance but other sources say that it was just a poor recording. Nobody has ever denied or confirmed whether anything else was dubbed or not.
1977 Alive II – Kiss
Both Hard Luck Woman and Tomorrow And Tonight were completely re-recorded in the studio and an audience effect tape was added afterwards. The intro was also overdubbed by Gene Simmons and several bootlegs of the shows cited in the credits indicate that other songs were also edited and dubbed.
These are just a few examples and many more have never been questioned. Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive has such a fake audience reaction you wonder what on earth they were thinking when they mixed it. Cheap Trick’s Live At Budokan was ‘fixed’ according to one of the production team and having met several of the audience members in later years, I can categorically state that the screaming on the record was not present at the actual performance. Queen, as excellent as they were live, overdubbed parts of Live Killers as well as splicing it together from several concerts while editing out Fredie’s expletives. It’s quite a masterpiece of tape dexterity. The fact is, musicians being musicians are very loath to let an imperfect performance be sold in the shops and almost all official live recordings of your favourite artists are changed in one way or another and always will be. For balance though, I should point out that Deep Purple’s Made In Japan (1972) and Uriah Heep Live (1973) are both untouched and that the Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East has just one edit, where the engineer Tom Dowd spliced together two versions of In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed. Similarly, UFO’s classic Strangers In The Night is 100% live but the songs are taken from six different shows.
Uriah Heep Live. Probably my favourite live album and one of my proudest moments when I was a kid when I met Mick Box and he autographed it for me.
Anyway, back to Vow Wow and the Astoria on March 15th. All went well for the recording apart from one very small keyboard run by Rei on his Korg M1 where the sound disappeared and then magically reappeared a few seconds later and Toshi’s newly acquired electronic drum pads which sounded great during the show but weak on the tape. No problem, book a studio, an hour or two to re-record the parts and job done. I get a call from the management a few days after the gig that we are going to go into the studio to overdub. “Studio, date and time?” I asked, pen in hand. “April 15th, midday, Studio 2, Olympic.” Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather!
I had never been too Olympic before but I knew of it – everybody did. Led Zeppelin, ELP, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Queen, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and even The Beatles are just a few that spring to my mind now that recorded there. It was no doubt the most renowned independent recording studio in the UK, so many of my heroes had walked through the ex-theatre façade at 117 Church Road in Barnes and now it was going to be my turn. The day before I went up to John Henry’s rehearsal rooms where we stored Vow Wow’s equipment, picked up what I needed, loaded them into a van and came back home. That night, knowing I wouldn’t be able to do it tomorrow, I watched A Night To Remember and as usual, shed tears when the father says goodbye to his sleeping son as he is placed in a lifeboat.
The next morning, I set off early even though it was only a twenty-minute drive from where I lived as I wanted to take a slight detour via Queen’s Ride and see the spot where Marc Bolan had died back in 1977. I found what I thought was the right location but couldn’t be sure as there was nothing there to indicate that was the spot so after a few minutes I continued to Olympic and arrived five minutes later. I parked outside, right where John Lennon used to park his psychedelic Rolls-Royce, grabbed the Korg from the van and walked up the few steps and through the archway. To the left was an innocuous door, to the right, a reception area and ahead a stone staircase. I go into the reception and tell the lady there I’m with Vow Wow. ‘Studio 2. Up the stairs, right-hand door, she says with a cheery smile. ‘Who’s in Studio 1 today?’ I ask. ‘The Rolling Stones’ she says still smiling and then answers her phone which has just started to ring. You could have knocked me down with a feather again.
Façade of Olympic Studios
Up the staircase as she said and at the top there is a set of double doors, no doubt studio 1 and to the right, a door which was my destination, Studio 2. I go in, set up (which took about five minutes) and wait. The engineer is due to arrive at 2pm and it’s not even 1pm so I decide to have a look around. Very slowly I open the doors to Studio 1 and there’s nobody there. I go in. This is it. This is where The Stones were filmed writing and recording Sympathy For The Devil. The Beatles did the basic tracks here for All You Need Is Love. Procol Harem, A Whiter Shade of Pale…The Who, Who’s Next…Mott the Hoople, All The Young Dudes…I am in the presence of my gods right now. There are a few flight cases, two of them have ‘Ronnie’ stencilled on them. After a few minutes and not wanting to push my luck, I went back downstairs and had a sandwich and a coffee in a nearby café. Back just before 2pm, I go up to Studio 2 and the engineer has arrived and we do a line check and get a few sounds; Rei Atsumi, Vow Wow’s keyboard player, arrives his habitual half an hour late at 2:30pm; Toshi is a few minutes behind him. All is well so I go back to the reception. There is a TV on and only me and the smiley lady so I decided to pass the time there where I’m easily accessible for the guys and I can see the front door in case any Rolling Stone happens to walk in. What’s on the telly? Sport of course. Back then, Saturday afternoons in the UK, there was nothing else.
It's funny the little things you remember through life that were so insignificant at the time. I had bought a new watch the day before, a Casio DBX 100 and checked the studio clock with my new gadget as I sat down; 2:46pm. I entered Olympic’s phone number into its memory. The BBC were showing horse racing so I changed channels. BBC2, some educational programme, ITV, horse racing, Channel 4, nothing interesting but then something extraordinary…a fifth channel! Olympic studios had somehow managed to pick up Ireland’s RTÉ channel which wasn’t normally available to the average home and they were about to go live with football, the F.A. Cup semi-final, Liverpool vs Nottingham Forest. That will do for me.
It was such a glorious day. The sun was shining as Liverpool kicked off and immediately attacked the Forest goal. Forest were attacking Liverpool moments later and had the first corner – there seemed to be some fans walking behind the Liverpool goal. Liverpool clear and it’s back up to the Forest end. Liverpool foul Forest and the ball is pumped back up the pitch towards Liverpool’s goal. It’s already a classic cup-tie, physical, end-to-end to end stuff; still the fans at the Liverpool end seem to be unsettled. Midfield action and there are policemen walking up towards the Liverpool end. Crowd trouble? We are a few minutes into the game, midfield action and now there are lots of police heading towards the Liverpool end. Suddenly the camera cuts to a close-up of the Liverpool fans behind the goal. There are fans on the pitch, others trying to climb over the barriers, more helping to drag people out…what’s going on? The commentator mentions there is a crush and the cameras cut back to the action up at the Forest end. Corner to Liverpool, Beardsley volleys and hits the crossbar! After the replay, the camera is back on the midfield action and now there are police everywhere. One of them runs onto the pitch and tells the referee to stop the game. The cameras cut again to the Liverpool fans and it is mayhem. A wide angle shot reveals fans on the pitch as the referee takes the players off. Something is very wrong.
The game was stopped after six minutes. For the rest of the afternoon, I had the BBC on who had switched to live reports. The horror just kept unfolding but I didn’t comprehend at the time just how horrific the Hillsborough Disaster as it became to be known really was. Ninety-five people died that day. One more was on life support for four years and became the ninety-sixth victim in 1993; another was added to the list who passed away in July 2021 as a result of the life-changing injuries he sustained during the tragedy. Initially the police tried to blame the Liverpool fans and it took 27 years for the truth to come out, the fact that the police were at fault and the disaster could have been avoided. All through those 27 years, Liverpool never forgot and news reports of tributes and the pursuit of the truth were always mentioned. The Hillsborough Eternal Flame shrine is a permanent memorial to the ninety-seven at Liverpool’s Anfield ground and in a very touching gesture, Nottingham Forest left ninety-seven seats empty this year when the played Liverpool in the F.A. Cup quarter-final. A banner across the seats read “97 Never Forgotten. 15.04.89”
The memorial at Anfield.
Did Mick or Keith come in that day? I have no idea. They could have done, I wouldn’t have noticed. At about 5:30pm I sombrely packed up the equipment and drove home. April 15th would never be the same again.
April 15th, 2022.
*The Titanic was owned by the White Star Line Company and since 1870, most of her ships’ names ended in ‘ic’. RMS stands for Royal Mail Ship, a prefix given to any ship that carried the UK mail by ship from one country to another and HMHS stands for His/Her Majesty’s Hospital Ship.