LIFE’S A BLAST -Making records on Tyneside

Ged:The New York Dolls would only record on vintage equipment so we had to do numerous trips down to London to get old drum kits, old amplifiers, old recording machines, proper vintage stuff from the 60 and 70’s. Actually the piano in the studio now is the one we brought in especially for them. It’s about 120 years old and they just left it there because it took eight people to bring it in, so they weren’t going to take it home with them haha’.

Sitting down in the boardroom with owner Ged Cook and studio manager Lisa Murphy, they introduced me to the world of BLAST recording studio in Newcastle…

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Ged:Blast is international. We can attract bands from all over the world it’s an international brand, it’s got a reputation. We’ve had bands here from Black Star Riders and Therapy? who have recorded all their albums here from 2008. They love the place and they are coming again soon. We had the New York Dolls here for a month. We’ve also had Take That here for a couple of days’.

Lisa: ‘We also have local bands just working on a project, we’re open to support local music as well as the bigger names’.

Ged: ‘Sometimes you can’t tell people there’s a famous band in the studio. With Take That we had a contract saying we couldn’t mention it. We had three blacked out limo’s and chauffers standing in the courtyard, but we had to shut the gates ‘cos the fans got to know’.

Lisa: ‘Mark Owen tweeted a picture of himself in the studio and people could tell it was at Blast. He was told off and sheepishly replied ‘I’m sorry guy’s, I’m sorry’. We all laughed about it really’.

Ged: ‘We are a bloody good recording studio for band’s, but we also do some voice over work like we had Aaardman Animation here a few year ago and we work closely with the broadcasters Sky, BBC, ITV and Metro radio’.

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What is the logistics for a band who don’t live in the area?

Ged: ‘Most of the bands who come here have record labels or management and the fee’s would be sorted out with Lisa. They might also want catering and accomodation which is strictly down to their budget. They can go from the Premier Inn, to the Hilton or down to Seaham Hall. Some bands do it themselves and they might stay at a friends house, it just depends on what they can afford. Maybe the band need extra equipment for the recording session, again Lisa and I can source that for them. We’ll always work around the clock, and find out what we can do for them’.

Lisa: ‘Yeah let’s face it, it’s not 9-5. We might just be working with a band for a day but we are really flexible that’s the way the industry works’.

Ged: ‘Our record label brought The New York Dolls to Newcastle. It was original members David Johannson, Sylvain Sylvain and from Blondie was Frank Infante. Really lovely people. We hired a big gated house over in Gateshead with a swimming pool, cinema room the lot, because the budget was there for them. We hired a bus to bring them over here each day. They started recording at 10 o’clock at night and finished at 4 or 5 in the morning, it was just the way they liked doing it’.

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‘The songwriting process was absolutely fantastic. They had brand new material and needed to try it out. Well The Cluny bar is just near here so they put on three live shows and sold out in ten minutes. People from all over Europe came over, queues outside. It was great, a hot summers night, they just walked out of here, onto the stage and tried the songs out asking the audience if they liked them or not, it was a great night !’

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What sort of prices do you charge to record in the studio?

Lisa: ‘We are more expensive than some other studios around here but we justify that with the quality recording and production available to the artists who record here. The live room and the desk is quite different to anything that is available around here’.

Ged: ‘For what you get here would cost you around £1,000 per day in London. That’s the beauty of Blast being in the North East ‘cos you get the local bands wanting to use the same studio as bands like Black Star Riders (pic.below). They don’t have to go to London or New York they can come to a place like Blast’.

Lisa: ‘They can also request the same engineer, to get to use the same microphones, the same cab’s, everything, it’s pretty special’.

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Ged: ‘From the rock and heavy metal lad’s based in the North East we had Tygers of Pan Tang doing their latest album here so did Avenger and Tysondog who I have connections with. Andy Taylor who produced the Power Station album and is recording another, said our live room gives the best drum sound he has ever had. And he has done Duran Duran, The Alarm and Then Jerico albums. He did the first Thunder album, a lot of rock bands. Everyone who comes in here has their own way of recording and Andy loved recording the vocals in the toilet…yes really. But yeah what do I know, I mean he’s the one who’s sold millions of records haha’.

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A lot of musicians use home recording equipment, what do Blast offer that is different?

Lisa: ‘The way technology is moving it’s going software based but there are still people who want to use vintage gear. We do have producers who want to do parts of their recording here, maybe a drum track or a vocal track or orchestral stuff. They need to do that in a controlled live space which you can’t replicate with a home studio. In our studio we have some pretty special outboard gear too which is a big selling point. People still want to use these things, not just the software version, and they can hear the quality of what comes out of getting hands on in here’.

Ged: ‘The way the music industry is now is that a lot of people record in the house and that’s fine ‘cos there is a lot of great kit out there but you will never replicate brilliant microphones and our live room. We had Luke Morley from Thunder here last year he set up his two amps and cranked off a big sound on his guitar which you can’t do in your bedroom. That’s what we do here, that’s what you pay for’.

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Who works in the studio?

Ged: ‘It can work a couple of ways, the Dolls brought their own guy over who has worked with The Killers or we use our own experienced engineers’.

Lisa: ‘It’s down to budgets and music genre’s where we can match the right engineer to the right job. It was one of our’s who tracked up for Take That. Engineering is some times about relationships. You’re dealing with individuals and their sound in really important to them – so having experience with developing that sound helps’.

Ged: ’Some of the younger bands have some great songs but need help from our experienced engineers to make them sound good. They need that because there is so much out there, so much content. It’s a fight to be listened to and to be heard. Our engineers are the best in the North East and help them as much as they can’.

Lisa: ‘My background is education so I am keen on bringing in new talent. There are a number of venues in the North East training a lot of people on music courses. We have good relationships with the colleges and Uni’s so we can bring in degree students to assist with engineering in appropiate jobs. That way we are developing home grown talent and giving them a foot on the ladder. It’s important to add the ‘who you know’ to the ‘what you know’, the contacts are just as important as the music couse qualification. To have the experience of sitting in when a band is being recorded is vital. We also offer workshops and masterclasses to develop skills for the industry’.

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Sadly, music can be a throwaway object now.

Ged: ‘You’ve hit the nail on the head there, you used to buy album’s before, now you buy songs. Some people just download songs and in some cases not knowing who the bands are’.

Lisa: ‘Some of those songs haven’t been written by that artist, they’ve overlaid the vocal that’s all. The whole thing can be turned out in days and go worldwide – as you know the internet has completely revolutionised everything we do. Sadly, some of the modern music industry is about fame rather than actual musicianship’.

Ged: ‘It’s not what it used to be in the industry, there used to be big budgets. The trend now, if a band are lucky enough to get a big advance, is try to keep as much of that themselves and record as much of the album themselves in the house, then come to places like Blast for final recordings. There is some bigger bands who can come in from the very beginning of the recording process but it has changed a lot in the last 10 years. Not for the better because to a trained ear you can hear programmed drums and some of those bands can’t play it live’.

Lisa: ‘Some bands now are playing live to a click and a full backing track. Sometimes I look and say where’s the keyboard player? I don’t see any strings, where are the backing vocals coming from? It’s a new sort of art really which is mainly found in pop music’.

Ged: ‘Sometimes we use the modern technology to our advantage by an engineer using Skype talking to an engineer in say New York where they are working on the same recording project’.

Lisa: ‘Yes by using Pro Tool’s in the Cloud you can have numerous artists in various locations at one time working on the same project. That’s using technology in a positive way because it can be about the logistics and cost. The band can have members living all across the UK and getting together is a total nightmare to arrange. So they will remotely rehearse and record but come together to tour for a week or so. It’s just the modern world and adapting to what works best’.

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Ged: ‘Yeah but I’m old skool like ‘get in the same room’ haha. We had Therapy? (pic.above) in here a week before they recorded. They live all over the UK but make sure they rehearse beforehand, then come here for pre-production, just blasting through the songs for a week, then record. That’s how I would do it to be honest’.

Why would a famous songwriter, musician or band come up to the North East to record?

Ged: ‘Basically this cost a million pounds to put together. It’s the best studio in the North, not Newcastle but the North. Everybody we’ve had here from outside the area, Black Star Riders, Take That, New York Dolls were blown away by the friendliness of the place. Andy Taylor has been all over the world but loves coming home to get the geordie back into his veins haha. Therapy? will not record anyway else, they love Newcastle’.

Lisa: ‘We’ve got amazing musicians up here who I can call upon when a band or songwriter needs a certain sound, bit of keyboards here that sort of thing, same for our engineers’.

Ged: ‘We’ve had musicians from around the country, we had a session the other year with Spike from the Quireboys on vocals, Luke Morley on guitar, Simon Kirk from Free and Bad Company on drums, and the keyboard player from Magnum. They were here for a week. Simon Kirk loved walking around Newcastle, they all loved it!’

Lisa: ’It’s like it’s a hidden gem up here and we are getting the story of Blast out there. We’re very competitive price wise and want people to come here and fall in love with the North East’.

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For more information and rates for recording sessions check out the website http://www.blast-recording.com

Interview by Gary Alikivi June 2017.