Chris Andrews - Producer
Chris Andrews is one of the old school of musicians who have grown in to the producing role through their own music, rather than through the technical engineering side. Writer and producer extraordinaire of many a hit song, not only for himself, but also the likes of Sandy Shaw and Adam Faith, he once played the same bill as the Beatles, back in 'those Hamburg days'.
More recently this wealth of experience has been brought to bear on people like Suzi Quatro whose Main Attraction album he produced as well as writing quite a lot of the material and, with Suzi's husband Lenny, engineering the whole business in his home studio.
Chris' story reveals periods of songwriting, periods of producing, periods of singing and periods of a mixture of all three, and although he finds so many hats slightly confusing, the enormous success he has had in all three types make a nonsense of that old maxim 'Jack of all trades master of none'.
As a child Chris fell in love with the piano which was very popular everywhere after the war, and had piano lessons for about 10 years. In the meantime, however, Skiffle had happened and he went on to the guitar. From the age of 11 onwards he could be seen playing in pubs!
"I started writing about 11 as well - all broken romances, all those little childish puberty things you go through! When I was 14 I was doing the Palais' with a Rock'n'Roll band - Manny's something and the Shakers. We graduated to doing the Ilford Palais and clubs etc.
"At 16 I did my first TV shows - a couple of 'Oh Boy' shows which was Rock'n'Roll. After a summer season, and a period of playing at the Flamingo Club (a Jazz club in Wardour Street where I had my own little spot) I moved to Germany and did the Hamburg thing with the Beatles on the same bill. I even played them a song! Because they were completely unknown then, and you all had to be at this place working anything from ten in the morning to about 6 o'clock the next morning. So they were really just another band on the same show.
"After that I came back to England and recorded my first song as a singer. I was in a group called Chris Ravel and the Ravers which sold an enormous amount of records, it must have been at least 5! Someone who bought it was Bill Wyman (Stones). We did a gig with them you see in Hastings at some deb's ball and years later I went over to do some writing with Bill when he was in France.
"Then I concentrated more on writing and I wrote a song called The First Time which Adam Faith heard through my ex-manager Eve Tayolor who was also his manager at the time. I just went along to this little club and played the thing through on the piano and he said great, lovely, and recorded it. It was the first song I ever had recorded by someone else and it went to number 3. I was 21.
"Funnily enough it had never occurred to me that you made money out of writing, It wasn't something you were made aware of in those days. John Burgess produced The First Time at EMI and it was the first time I realised that there were such things as producers.
"I've always produced without really knowing it. When you're writing for people you always go along to the session and you do the arrangement. Then during the session you'd be going 'Oh can we have that sound on that, and that sound on that.' But I wasn't known as a producer in those early days. And it was with John Burgess that I felt for the first time that I was being produced. There followed a tremendous amount of work for Adam Faith. By then I'd given up all inclination to be a singer - it was great. I was doing what I wanted to do.
"It's interesting, in those days we didn't know very much about how things were done. We didn't talk about points in those days, it was percentages. You were lucky if you got 20% of the gross."
And then Sandy Shaw came on the scene. At the age of 16 she went round to Adam Faith's dressing room after a show and started singing along with the Roulettes. Adam approached Chris about writing some material for her. So when an embarrassed Sandy arrived (under escort from her mother) and started to sing, everybody was hooked. Thus a long association began which was to produce many many hit records.
"Sandy was the first thing I did without another producer in the studio. In those days you'd do about 3 songs in three hours. If Sandy was lucky she might get another half hour to record her vocal again, but not usually. There was only so much you could do in those days with only 4 tracks. You'd have the brass on one track, the rhythm section on another, the strings on another and then vocals on the other. You didn't used to mix. You'd just spend half an hour running it through with the orchestra, maybe move the vocal more up front or something and then take it.
"It didn't occur to me then that I was producing, but that was when I got my first producer's credit and that was on Sandy's Long Live Love which was a number one."
Chris' own singing career then had a break when the Stones' producer at the time, Andrew Oldham, asked him to put forward some material for various bands he was involved with. He was so impressed that he more or less bullied Chris' manager into letting him do some work with Chris himself. This was when Yesterday Man came about. It was in fact written for Sandy but she didn't like it. "Everyone hated it. Until the first week it sold quite an enormous number of records and then people started saying 'I always said that was a great record.'"
On to the end of the Sixties and he returned to Germany for a few years where he concentrated on writing for a lot of artists over there. On his return to England, as well as continuing the work for Adam Faith, Chris got involved with an extremely long slow death over his own album. They spent more than 18 months recording it - first in England with Pip Williams (Moody Blues) producing, and then re-doing the whole thing in the States with Larry Fox of Jefferson Starship producing. This was a very soul destroying period and as a result Chris is very aware of the effect overdoing things can have on an artist. Time is always a factor.
More recently Chris produced Suzi's hit album and single, an album for an extremely successful Scandinavian band called The Boppers, a hot new Reggae band Jah Warrior who have been creating a nice buzz recently and was currently working on a band so new that they were still nameless. All this, while at the same time continuing to write, displays a versatility not often in evidence in the music business.
Having had a shot at engineering and producing the Quatro record, he holds very strong views against this method of working. He can't concentrate on working all the machinery if he is thinking about what to do to the song, and consequently the whole thing becomes a nightmare of trying to bring all your thoughts about everything together, and twiddle all the right knobs at the right time. So that's an experience which will never be repeated.
"I think I'm very good on artists relations. I can get the very best out of them performance wise. It's just psychology I suppose - a little bit of flattery, bit of cruelty then kindness after it.
"I think the term 'producer' is wrong, it's not producing it's directing isn't it? You direct them where you think they should be going and where they want to go and sometimes stretching them where they don't think they can go. Also not taking away what they want to put down. Just enhancing it all and guiding them, because if they knew how to get what they wanted they wouldn't be working with me. That's the way I look at it.
"As far as arrangements go, I will only interfere when it doesn't work. I try not to really, it's just things like extra bars where they shouldn't be; things that you can spot a mile off which the artists don't even notice because they're too involved. Just changing little ideas. Enhancing. You know what, say, the guitarist is trying to do with a guitar phrase, so you suggest a very subtle change and he says 'Oh that's what I wanted to do'. I don't want to change too much. I don't want to put my stamp on it too much, or it will all come out sounding like me, and that would be a terrible thing."
How large a part do recording techniques and effects play in an Andrews production?
"With Suzi Quatro, it was just Rock'n'Roll so there wasn't a lot of technical stuff on that. With the Reggae band I suppose we used a few repeat echo things, but basically nothing outrageous. I don't mess around too much. If I get a good engineer I tell him what I'm after and it's down to him to find it. If it was down to me I'd never find it! Unless it was by mistake of course.
"Also, everybody's learning all the time and a lot happens by accident. You remember how you achieved some technique and start using it all the time. I stick to the usual order of things - starting with bass and drums, always getting a decent sound on them first of all, completing the backing tracks, vocals and then adding the sweeteners.
"One thing I insist on is that the guide vocal goes down with every initial take of bass and drums. Some people will run it through a couple of times and then say 'oh they know how it goes now they don't need you to sing along'. But that's when mistakes can happen, and they're extremely difficult to put right, so I always have the vocalist singing with them until it is down for good.
"As far as live takes are concerned, with the Reggae band I think we did that once because they get a really great feel going. But it's not usually a very practical idea.
"When I first hear something I either like it or I don't. If I like it then I think about its commercial potential, because you have to think like that. If you don't sell records you can't go into the studio to make more. If it is commercial what has made it so, because you mustn't take that away. Then you work out what is missing and try to put that little brick in and make what might be an 80% song a 100% one.
"When you're changing things you must find the balance. You can't say to a band 'I love this song — the arrangements are fantastic but I don't like the chorus, and take out that verse, and that synth bit in the middle'. You can't do that, as you're destroying the song. What I do is maybe change the instrumentation and ways of singing certain bits... maybe the key... and the speeds. I never change melodies. If they want a bit of melody to slot in and ask me what I think, I tell them to sit down and write something."
The studio came about by mistake really. It's a bedroom portastudio setup that got carried away! He didn't really think about it too much until an engineer friend of his, Spud, suddenly rang up and said he was coming over to discuss the design and that was it really. Originally intended to be 8-track, it somehow changed to 16, then they said, why not prewire it for 24-track, and guess how it finished, 24-track!
"The trouble is, I just wanted the studio to write my songs, not to do other people's stuff. It hasn't helped me to write songs. In a way it's a hindrance. It's too complex. I'm the wrong sort of person for this kind of studio. It would be better if it was smaller.
"The trouble is that everything costs so much when you get out of the demo stage. Once you get into the 2" multitrack you have to do everything properly, and when something does wrong it costs an arm and a leg. No you can't have the new pram. I need a new valve! It's ridiculous isn't it? You lose all sense of financial proportion. Once you start talking those figures they sound smaller and smaller. That's how the Don Larkings of this world do it! No, not really. He supplied all this gear and installed it."
The studio is kitted out as follows: Soundcraft 1624 series console, 3M 24-track machine, Leevers Rich stereo machine, Tannoy Super Red monitors, dbx compressor/limiter, MXR Pitch transposer, EXR Exciter, Roland Graphic Equaliser, Technics cassette deck, Revox B77, AKG BX20 Reverberation unit ("That's the only thing that hasn't gone wrong, because it doesn't move!"), Roland flanger, Roland Jupiter 8, Roland TR808, upright piano and a 2-speed fresh air unit.
And that's Chris Andrews.
Interview by Janet Angus
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