Episode 11. Recording Phenomena III
Excerpts from my diary 1988
Puk Studios, Denmark
Scott Gorham (g)
Leif Karsten Johansen (Programming)
Michael Sturgis (d)
Mike Wilson (v)
Producers: Tom Galley and Leif Johansen
Engineer: Mark Stent
Sunday Oct 2nd: Leave home around 10am and drive over to Scott’s house to pick up some guitars and amps that he wants to take. Then onto Mike’s to pick up a few electronic drum parts before heading off to Harwich to catch the overnight ferry to Esbjerg. No problems at customs and after leaving port I have a meal and a few pints at the bar, looking around to see if there are any tall, blonde Danish women I fancy chatting to but there isn’t so I head off to my cabin for the night.
(click images to expand)
Puk studios was state-of-the-art at the time also used by Judas Priest (Ram It Down), George Michael (Faith), The Kinks (The Road) and Elton John (Sleeping With The Past).
Monday Oct 3rd: Arrived Esbjerg at midday and again there were no problems at customs. It’s about a three hour drive to the studio and I set off at a comfortable pace and arrive around 4pm after getting lost and having to ask a wedding party where the studio is. I’m the first one there closely followed by Mike Wilson, the singer for the sessions who I meet for the first time. Nice bloke; he sang with Mike and the Mechanics for a short while. We are shown to our accommodation which is stunning. Bang & Olufsen stereo and TV, pool table, swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and ice-plunge pool. ‘This could be fun’ I thought but when the others arrived, we quickly notice that there are seven people in our group and only six beds. Tom makes the first of his executive decisions and says that the roadie will be either sleeping on the couch or in a hotel. As the nearest hotel is an hour’s drive away, I decide to sleep on the couch.
Tuesday Oct 4th: Arose early and started to load the equipment into the studio. Singer Mike was happy to help out as he has nothing to do until all the backing tracks are recorded. Everything was set up by 1pm and recording could commence with the drums, bass and keyboards which are already programmed into some new gadget that Leif has bought with him. I quietly hope that these gizmos are not the future of music; they sound very sterile. In the meantime, Scott runs me through all of his guitars, a few of which need work on and all need the strings changing, one in particular is a mess and needs a complete set up. I feel it’s a test to see how good I am so I confidently say ‘Gimme a couple of hours’ and take it to my portable workshop which I have brought with me. It actually takes me five hours as I have to take everything apart and rebuild it but as I hand it over to Scott and he plays it, he nods, smiles and says ‘Good’. I passed the test.
Wednesday Oct 5th: A whole day trying to get a decent guitar sound. Scott has bought the latest ADA rack module which has a MIDI controller pedal-board and he has plugged into two 12” speakers and I think it sounds terrible – weak and thin. I can’t understand why everyone is insistent on using all this new digital stuff. We gave up trying to get the sound quite early and retire for the night.
Thursday Oct 6th: Over breakfast, I suggest trying the studio’s Marshall stack to get the guitar sound. Tom doesn’t want to because he wants a very polished sound for the album but Mark thinks it’s a good idea and Scott thinks there’s no harm in trying for an hour. I set it up at 9:30am and by 10:30am, we have a guitar sound everyone is happy with and lay down two backing tracks down by the end of the day. It’s a very happy dinner time with Scott regaling us with the story of The Greedy Bastards – the band Thin Lizzy formed with the Sex Pistols. Leif and drummer Mike tell us about the A-Ha session they did for the 007 theme, The Living Daylights.
Scott sits in front of the studio monitors.
Sun Oct 9th: Everything’s going very well and I find myself with nothing to do. The tracks still sound sterile and I’m beginning to wonder why they bought drummer Mike over at all as he hasn’t done anything yet. He’s as bored as I am.
Monday Oct 10th: More programming this morning so singer Mike and I head off into the nearest town – Randers - to see what rural Denmark is like. Answer: Very pretty but boring. We were back by lunchtime.
Tuesday Oct 11th: More guitar tracks this afternoon so I’m occupied changing strings all morning. Scott has decided to use different gauges on some guitars so that means the action and intonation on those have to be re-done as well. Everything is ready by 2pm and recording goes smoothly.
Wednesday Oct 12th: Now I know why they brought drummer Mike. He spends the afternoon doing drum fills to the programmed drum track. It seems an odd way to do it as Mike is an A1 drummer who could easily have played live to it all but apparently that’s not what Tom wanted for his album. Tom by the way is addicted to Polo mints and has bought 36 packets with him for the two and a half weeks we are here.
Thursday Oct 13th: More drum fills in the morning and Mike has finished by lunchtime. He and Scott then decide they want to have a look around Randers in the afternoon so I drive them over there. Back in time for dinner, we calculate we have a week to go and are ahead of schedule so we take the evening off. After Scott consistently beats me at Pool for an hour, we join the others in the swimming pool and then sit in Jacuzzi for anther our and swap Rock and Roll stories. Mark smokes a lot and says he wants to give up but doesn’t know how to. By coincidence, I have also been wanting to quit so I offer him a bet: starting tomorrow, I’ll quit as well and the first person to break has to pay the other £50. We shake hands on it.
Friday Oct 14th: I was a bit late getting up today and as soon as I walk into the studio I am reminded by everyone that there is a no-smoking bet between Mark and myself – I hadn’t forgotten. We all sit and listen to the six backing tracks recorded so far and it’s the first time I’ve really heard Mark’s engineering; he’s superb. Over dinner, I’m craving a cigarette and Scott blows smoke in my face but the others rally to my defense and call him cruel. Scott then starts telling stories about his Thin Lizzy days when the band used to be really cruel to their crew. Phil, Scott and Robbo used to deliberately antagonize their long-suffering roadies and several crew members had to be replaced half-way through tours as they were suffering from nervous breakdowns. I am silently grateful Scott isn’t like that anymore.
Saturday Oct 15th: I am taken aside by Leif and Mark today and told that I have a new task and that is to get Tom out of the studio for a few hours because he’s interrupting the work they want to do. ‘But he’s the producer!’ I say. ‘Doesn’t matter – get him out!’ came the reply so in the afternoon I ask Tom to have a quiet chat about me being full-time back in the UK when it comes time to record the album properly. I then spin this into ‘Who else is going to be on it?’ and Tom happily chats away for three hours not realizing the time has passed. When we go back in to the control room, there are big smiles all around.
Not what it looks like. The sessions went so well that Scott and Leif posed for a photo pretending to be arguing. Mark looks on thinking about a cigarette.
Sunday Oct 16th: Half-way through the morning, Mark opens his briefcase, takes out his bankbook and writes me a cheque for £50. He then lights a cigarette. In the afternoon, Scott, Leif, Mark and Tom are discussing overdubs when Leif gives me a ‘Get him out the studio’ look so I make up another excuse to talk to him and we chat for a few hours about Glenn Hughes who was living with Tom and Tom’s brother Mel who used to be in Whitesnake. Work carries on in the studio without Tom noticing and come dinner time, everyone is happy. Scott tells a terrifically funny joke about Clint Eastwood and Diana Ross.
Monday Oct 17th : Scott had to play an acoustic guitar part and declared himself ‘The Worst Acoustic Guitar Player in the World.’ It wasn’t that bad.
Tuesday Oct 18th: Mike recorded the lead vocals: Lovely voice, very rich and mellow.
Wednesday Oct 19th: Just enough time to patch things up and add a few guitar licks. Again, my task was to occupy Tom. This time he was telling me all about his karate instructor friend. I resolved to tell the band that if they want me to get him out the studio again in the future, I will charge double my usual fee.
Thursday Oct 20th: Last day. The sampling and programming equipment were all packed away in the morning and Scott’s guitars were finished by 6pm so I packed those away after dinner. One keyboard line and one drum fill were added at night and then I could pack those away as well. I closed the door on the truck just after midnight and grabbed a couple of beers to celebrate the end of the session with everyone. It was brief as they guys have an early start tomorrow and need to catch at midday flight back to the UK.
The end of the session. Left to Right; Mike Sturgis, Mark, Mike Wilson, Leif and Scott.
Friday Oct 21st: I left at 1pm and arrived at Esbjerg in plenty of time for the 6pm ferry. The crossing was uneventful but when we docked at 12:30pm the following day, I discovered Tom had only bought a one-way ticket and hence the truck and all the equipment were impounded. I called Tom but only got his answering machine and so the only thing to do was pay for the ticket myself. Fortunately, H.M. Customs were happy to accept a cheque and I was free to leave by 4pm, arriving back home at 6:30pm. I’ll add the ticket fee to my invoice to Tom.
Postscript: The album was not released until 1992, five years after these sessions. Mike Wilson’s vocals were replaced by Keith Murrel and O’Ryan (AKA Mervyn Spence), who also added bass guitar; more guitars were added by Brian May.
Mark Stent went on to become a very highly rated producer/engineer. His credits include the 25 x platinum selling Spiceworld album by Spice Girls, Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster as well as albums by U2, Madonna, Oasis, Beyonce, Gwen Stefani, The Rolling Stones and Taylor Swift. I don’t know if he still smokes.