Month: January 2016

My life south of the Watford Gap…


pop art is for everyone

There seem to have been two themes in my music life: 1. All the showbiz stuff and who I’ve known through the years and 2., my particular journey playing music for the love of it and in particular making r&b records, that is, songs with a beat. Which brings in the Beatles. Magical Mystery Tour. That’s it.

Harp strings, blurry image…………….

I discovered r&b music at 5 when I heard “let’s twist again” on the wireless: it was the bass drum. My grandparents taught me about classical music but Let’s Twist Again got me started in pop beats in 1960 when I was five, then I discovered Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles, amongst others, when in St. Albans Herts, 1967, at the time when Donovan was having love-ins in Verulamium. I played piano anyway but I got an electric guitar and an amp and it all began. I was into tape recorders too.

1970 I heard James Brown’s Sex Machine, I liked the record and then by 1973 I was playing in an r&b band on the US bases in Germany, where the (sadly conscripted) musicians there taught me the funk. Then I heard Elliott Randall’s solo on Steely Dan’s record, then I discovered Steely Dan and then Stevie Wonder who had all those LPs out. Plus there was Average White Band and the whole disco thing started to kick-off with Jive Talkin’.

By 1974 I’d signed to Chris Denning ie Johnathan King (there’s a story there!) but I moved on to work with Tony Arnold to learn production engineering, plus I’d recorded with Charisma, Regent Sound Studios, 20th Century Fox and Denmark Street in general before it all changed. I just caught the end of that.

Previously to that I’d met Robert Fripp so I knew of Brain Eno and David Bowie and that scene, in fact I’d seen King Crimson with the Stones at Hyde Park in 1969.

I gigged variously, went to Brasil with the Deodato connection and learnt samba, or rhythms anyway, came back and formed the Hit Men 19 1977 which worked with RCA and there was the single Red Day https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qagqtPbCgf0. There’s a long story in there.

Then I went to Red Bus in 1982 and toured with Hot Chocolate for 54 dates across the UK, so Errol Brown, Mickey Most, Culture Club, Spandau Ballet, Jolley and Swain, Imagination and all that.

Then the big money corporations took over in the mid ’80s and all the smaller companies disappeared so that was a tougher environment but we released records independently in the 1980s until I started www.arthouserecords.co.uk in 1998 and released LPs Funky Groovy and Pop Art.

Funk Groovy, 1998, is a best of so far (Electricity, Devil of Love) and Pop Art (If I Loved You; Work!) was the new LP in that year and was well-received, it seems.

After that I got into digital, recorded 2004’s Fly White Guy (whilst getting a psychology degree as it happens), then Art Pop (You’re the Love of my Life 20,000 downloads, my biggest ever and King’s and Queens remake 2nd at 19,000) in 2009 seemed to get things going again ( I recorded it and engineered it myself which was definitely too much!) and through Facebook I met up with all those people I’d worked with etc and that resulted in 2015’s Romantic Fiction, with new single and video Hole in my Heart and follow-up Baby Come back to be released later this year.

I wrote the score for Romantic Fiction using Sibelius with my transcriber Kieran, tranferred it to MIDI and recorded it on Cubase 7.5 with production engineer dave Thomas. I play all the instruments and sing all the vocals. I was advised by Elliott Randall and Deodato and it sounds like it to me. I love it. My influences are legion.

With the digital syatem I’ve been able to do all sorts of things I couldn’t before so I’m very happy with the sound.

Plus video-making has become more accessible so it’s not so much records these days as music-videos and just media. I always change with the times: I was taught that at home. And pop is always evolving.

Robert Luther Smith

Bio.

There are two themes: all the showbiz stuff and who I’ve known through the years

and

my particular journey playing music for the love of it and in particular making r&b records, that is, songs with a beat. Which brings in the Beatles.

However I discovered r&b music at 5 when I heard “let’s twist again”: it was the bass drum. My grandparents taught me about classical music but Let’s Twist Again got me started in pop beats in 1960 when I was five, then I discovered Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles, amongst others, when in St. Albans Herts, 1967, at the time when Donovan was having love-ins in Verulamium. I played piano anyway but I got an electric guitar and an amp and it all began. I was into tape recorders too.

1970 I heard James Brown’s Sex Machine, I liked the record and then by 1973 I was playing in an r&b band on the US bases in Germany, where the (sadly conscripted) musicians there taught me the funk. Then I heard Elliott Randall’s solo on Steely Dan’s record, then I discovered Steely Dan and then Stevie Wonder who had all those LPs out. Plus there was Average White Band and the whole disco thing started to kick-off with Jive Talkin’.

By 1974 I’d signed to Chris Denning ie Johnathan King (there’s a story there!) but I moved on to work with Tony Arnold to learn production engineering, plus I’d recorded with Charisma, Regent Sound Studios, 20th Century Fox and Denmark Street in general before it all changed. I just caught the end of that.

Previously to that I’d met Robert Fripp so I knew of Brain Eno and David Bowie and that scene, in fact I’d seen King Crimson with the Stones at Hyde Park in 1969.

I gigged variously, went to Brasil with the Deodato connection and learnt samba, or rhythms anyway, came back and formed the Hit Men 19 1977 which worked with RCA and there was the single Red Day https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qagqtPbCgf0. There’s a long story in there.

Then I went to Red Bus in 1982 and toured with Hot Chocolate for 54 dates across the UK, so Errol Brown, Mickey Most, Culture Club, Spandau Ballet, Jolley and Swain, Imagination and all that.

Then the big money corporations took over in the mid ’80s and all the smaller companies disappeared so that was a tougher environment but we released records independently in the 1980s until I started www.arthouserecords.co.uk in 1998 and released LPs Funky Groovy and Pop Art.

Funk Groovy, 1998, is a best of so far (Electricity, Devil of Love) and Pop Art (If I Loved You; Work!) was the new LP in that year and was well-received, it seems.

After that I got into digital, recorded 2004’s Fly White Guy (whilst getting a psychology degree as it happens), then Art Pop (You’re the Love of my Life 20,000 downloads, my biggest ever and King’s and Queens remake 2nd at 19,000) in 2009 seemed to get things going again ( I recorded it and engineered it myself which was definitely too much!) and through Facebook I met up with all those people I’d worked with etc and that resulted in 2015’s Romantic Fiction, with new single and video Hole in my Heart and follow-up Baby Come back to be released later this year.

I wrote the score for Romantic Fiction using Sibelius with my transcriber Kieran Marshal MA, tranferred it to MIDI and recorded it on Cubase 7.5 with production-engineer Dave Thomas. I play all the instruments and sing all the vocals. I was advised by Elliott Randall, Deodato, Jason Rebello, Ashley Slater, Tom Green and Wes Maebe. And it sounds like it to me. I love it.

With the digital syatem I’ve been able to do all sorts of things I couldn’t before so I’m very happy with the sound.

Plus video-making has become more accessible so it’s not so much records these days as music-videos and just media. I always change with the times: I was taught that at home. And Pop is always evolving.

kiss

Who’s that where?


and where that chord changey bit on Baby Come Back is obviously me mimicking Steely Dan (or Nightfly actually), the middle bit of Hole in my Heart where I go – gone, gone gone, – is me doing a David Bowie….and maybe a bit on the chorus of Baby Come Back, but not much.

Then there’s Stevie Wonder, Tom Waits, Billy Joel, Heaven 17 and a mention of Station to Station on I’ll be there. And Frank Sinatra references on same. Plus plenty more.

I’m in there somewhere, I’m sure.

Average White Band especially Hamish Stewart. Tamla. Nile Rogers. Morriconi. Just like Elliot Randall on guitar. Just like Deodato on Fender Rhodes. More more more. Giorgio Moroder. Paul McCartney/The Beatles on Heaven Knows, as well as Billy Joel; duh…..

In fact I thought I could give a prize for the most number of correct references I’ve used on the album. I won’t hold my breath.

And Robert Fripp guitar on High Anxiety!

Just like Lazarus: David Bowie is reborn.


The first time I heard Bowie was doing my “O” level revision listening to Radio 1 and I heard what I thought was the guitar part to “You keep me hanging on” which I liked as a song and it turned out to be someone called David Bowie singing about a Starman, in a sort of cockney voice a la the Oliver Twist musical and letting the children sing. I rather liked it.

A female friend then had Hunky Dory and I thought it all very nice. Slightly wierd but Life on Mars was good.

Then I saw him on TV – convenient – and after that DB was a complete and constant influence south of the Watford Gap as they say here in the UK. Everything you did was judged alongside Bowie and that was that. there was – is – a sort of Cult of Bowie, whether he likes it or not.

But Starman is very beautifully recorded – pop style – but Ken Scott as production engineer and Trident Studios? That’s a good plan, as I know now: I knew nothing about it then. That’s cash. And strings. So that’s an arranger. ‘Spensive. I didn’t know that then.

I couldn’t stand Glam Rock. I was right. But money prevailed for a while.

But from that time, south of the Watford Gap, DB was Disco King. Warped and cracked, on might say, but King. Talented guy. Colorful and interesting in every way. But there’s Steely Dan; Stevie Wonder. 10cc! Tamla. Talking Heads. Peter Gabriel….The Stones!

But no. Everything was David Bowie. South of the Watford Gap.

I’m sure that’s because he spent a great deal of money south of the Watford Gap hiring people. The “factory System” like Warhol has been used since Renaissance times and before. DB used it. I’m all for it.

But no. DB is special, he’s something special, etc. Etc….etc….

So there was a bit of a Bowie mania thing that prevented sensible discussion about his records – but given how much DB spent I can see why.

So he had influence, even power, in this geographical and professional area.

He was an empresario. He financed other acts. Clever. Talented. Slightly wierd stage persona, probably influenced by his brother, but a very talented chap all round. The nearest I was to it all was through Robert Fripp who I met in 73/4, but the whole DB thing was like a secret subject. It was a bit of a culty thing, but that’s after the event anyway. While I was learning production engineering with Tony Arnold DB was the Thin White Duke playing slightly wierd funk in America. Sounds expensive too. Very.

Couldn’t play lead guitar though. I’d like to have heard that, but I assume it would be Fripp-esque. Fashion. That’s another good one. Then there was the Ashes to Ashes video. I see what he’s doing but still a bit wierd. Nothing wrong with that. He went to New York.

After that he seemed to become slightly more distant but still his influence was dominant in the uk music south-of the-watford-gap scene. Not in the public culture but in the business, as they say: behind the scenes. L’eminence gris.

So I think it is true that, as a music person south of the Watford Gap, DB had an enormous influence beyond anyone else because of the number of people he worked with (as they say) and quite right too.

I happen to like wierd. It’s existential. But Bowie, David Jones, wasn’t wierd. He was just intelligent. And it’s all entertainment. Some people seemed to go for it hook, line and sinker. I didn’t but I like it. That damned me to hell, so to speak. That was the extent of the belief. Slightly exaggerated, fuelled by too much cocaine, I would think now.

So, I liked his art work and arty stuff. He made 111 singles and 28 studio albums. never mind the other stuff. That’s amazing.

The king is dead and I can feel the ripples as a result. There you are. Probably not so significant in other places but south of the Watford Gap? Very much so.

Actually I liked Where are we Now, I think that’s good especially recording-wise and Lazarus the song is good, the recording is very detailed in an un-detailed way.

But Fame says it for me: funky, but in a wierd way!

That was DB.