In the second part of an interview with Teesside based songwriter & producer Steve Thompson, he talks about his time as in-house producer at Impulse studio/NEAT records and crossing swords with Northern metal maniacs Raven, Venom & Tygers of Pan Tang.
The basic idea at Impulse was to have an in-house producer. Some places just had an engineer but I would be on hand to help in song construction, production and putting product out on vinyl and releasing it.
There was quite a scene with muso’s getting together in some bars on the North East coast of England. Part of the scene was a club called Mingles in Whitley Bay. This was the place I checked out Raven, they were due in Impulse studio so I wanted to get a feel of what they were about. I’ll never forget the first time I met bassist John Gallagher.
I was standing at the back of the room with my back against the wall watching the band on stage, which must have only been six inches high. John took his bass and pointed it at me like a javelin, he raced toward me and only stopped right at my throat. I didn’t flinch. He gave me a wink as though to say, yeah you’ll do for us.
CRASH, BANG & DON’T FORGET THE WALLOP
Producing their album was an intense but rewarding experience. When I agreed to produce the album it was only on a three-day week basis. I figured I would need time out to recover from the sessions. I’ve heard these guys described as ‘athletic rock’, and that’s just about right.
In fact they were so energetic that I was obliged to gaffa tape the headphones to their heads otherwise they were just bouncing off as their heads where banging ten to the dozen as they recorded.
When I first heard them I thought yeah this is heavy as hell, not what I’m writing at the moment but it was constructed, well thought out and clever with a huge sound for a three piece.
You know some studio work is psychology, getting the best out of people. For instance the harder I pushed Raven the better the output was. Some people you have to be gentler with and try not to make a mistake. Most of the time humour was what worked best. They have since said one of the things they remember about our time in the studio was how much they laughed.
THROW THE KITCHEN SINK AT IT MAN
We experimented a bit, we decided we wanted a marching sound to bring in the Rock Until You Drop track so we mic’d up the toilet floor next to the studio and went in there and marched. It wasn’t right though.
I took a coffee break to ponder the problem and then it struck me. The disposable plastic coffee cups had just that crunch factor we needed. We spread a hundred or so and stomped on them. We then did several takes but had to keep replenishing the cups. In the end we used the entire supply of three thousand.
SEDUCED BY THE DEVIL
I remember being in the studio when our tape op was a young guy called Conrad. It was his job to fetch and carry, make coffee, thread the tapes onto the machines, make tape copies and cassettes. Conrad fitted in well. He was a good tape op and got on well with everyone. He was always going on about his own band.
It seemed they saved up for about three months until they could afford enough pyrotechnics to blow up half a city, then had to save up to do another show. Conrad said very little about the music, it was mostly about the explosions. Nearly forgot to mention, Conrad’s band was called Venom. And what about the time I gave Venom the Devil (laughs).
The Devil is a nick name for a musical interlude called the Tritone. And it’s heavily discordant if you crank the volume up, basically the sound of The Devil. I remember in the studio I loaned them my bass and Conrad played it through a Marshall stack and a fuzz box. Apparently the loan of that bass gave birth to Black Metal. I’m responsible. Sorry.
They were very unrefined but had absolutely bags of enthusiasm, but that was the last thing I recorded there. I never took a production royalty, just said ‘There’s the tapes lad’s, I’m off’.
Eventually I sold Conrad that bass – a Gibson EB3. I said ‘I have no use for it now but you must take care of it’. Next I saw it had an upside down effigy of Christ nailed to it and holes drilled through it. Some years later I asked him did he still have it, he replied ‘It died in L.A.’
A BIG TIDE AT TYGER BAY
One of the earlier times in Impulse, Dave Woods – NEAT label owner – came in and said there’s a band out there making a big noise why not get them in and sell a few records? So in came Tygers of Pan Tang to cut three tracks. Incidentally it was to be the third single I’d produced for NEAT – the first two releases were not heavy metal.
We recorded their first single Don’t Touch Me There, now we know it was the start of what is known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), and the tide was coming in that very evening (laughs).
Anyway we put it out and it started to really sell. MCA got interested so they picked it up, re-released it and went on to do their first album. Our paths parted then, but sometime later I was looking for somewhere to live, and the Tygers had a spare room for me to move into.
Next up read Making Tracks #3, where Steve talks about song writing & recording with Tygers of Pan Tang.
Steve’s latest album is available on Cherry Red www.thelongfade.xyz
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