Craig Pruess - Cliff Richard's producer.
"When I was 14 or 15 I used to play in a big 20 piece stage band, and even then I was interested in getting the charts organised for the musicians and making sure that the drummer had his kit sounding right. I was trained on brass and keyboards at a young age and I think the training in wind instruments especially was important, as it helps me empathise, when producing singers, about their phrasing for example. Looking back, I've always had an ear for different records and different ways of doing things, much to the consternation of my music teachers.
My first adventures in recording were with this 20 piece band, gigging around Westchester County, New York, where I grew up, and basically recording each performance to see what we sounded like. Then I realised it was important where you placed the microphone, and from this I got involved with tape recorders and experimented with tape effects like 'sound on sound'.
Around 1968 I went to university at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and became heavily involved with lasers and music. My first 'production' was to record the soundtracks for these laser shows which relied on the varying amplitude of the music to control the patterns made by each laser.
Upon leaving MIT I lived in Kenya for two enjoyable years where I struck up friendships with many local musicians. During the time of playing with these African musicians I became very interested in making recordings that would capture the delicate nuances of their music. It was really one thing that forced me to come to England, because they had so few good recording facilities in Kenya so we'd end up doing everything on 2-track instead of overdubbing, which I'd always wanted to do, but had never actually been confronted with a multitrack machine.
In 1973 I came to England and formed a band called 'Visitor 2035'. We managed to get a record contract which enabled us to go into a multitrack studio for the first time, to record basically all the music we had been playing live previously. This was the beginning of my studio education because I knew exactly the way things should sound live. The music was all instrumental, jazz rock — full of energy. It was this 'energy' which I wanted to hear coming back off the tape and so I started learning the techniques of making it sound, on a tape, just as it did live.
In the early days we basically recorded live; so we'd do a take then go into the control room. Then it would occur to me, 'now why isn't that drum sounding the way I've known a kit can sound?', and I'd realise it had something to do with the room ambience. In what part of a drum booth do you set up drums and where in a room do you place them? These were the questions I asked myself. It was that translating from a live sound into something exciting off tape, that led me to try all types of techniques and irritate people by recording something five different times. Even from the early days I had that intense interest to experiment with recording methods, just to see what could be done.
About this time also I began to be asked to do sessions, and so I'd go to other artists and producers and play synthesiser. I came to England in 1973 with an ARP 2600 synthesiser, and so few people knew how to programme and use them that I found I could get quite well-paid work by going around different studios. That's another part of the education, as you see how other producers deal with the problem of getting live, dynamic sounds that aren't bland.
My most successful project in this period was 'I Fell In Love With A Starship Trooper' by Hot Gossip, which went to number 6 in the charts. I worked with fellow American, Richard Niles on that record, combining real orchestral arrangements with my own synthesised arrangements to create almost a third instrument. From working with arrangers and producers like Richard I was encouraged to do more of my own arrangements. As a producer myself I don't use other arrangers, I write out all the music charts. I do have one eye in the actual musical score, one eye on the techniques and my ears open for what sounds good."
"I generally do all of my arranging at home, do a lot of the synthesised sequence programming and work out as much as I can in advance, as I find it saves time and studio time is money. I like to work quickly and I think a lot of people waste studio time by not doing proper preparation at home.
This sort of pre-production frees you and lets you get into the finer intricacies of recording techniques, which is not deciding if the bass line is right but how to get a great sound.
Since 1981 I've done little work as a session musician mainly because I'm producing all the time and I have no desire to do so because I do so much playing on my own productions. I get a lot of satisfaction from playing, but there are certain things I prefer not to play myself. For example, there was Cliff Richard's single 'Oh Little Town' last Christmas, and I knew the sound I wanted in my head which was a lot of brass players all playing at once. So I didn't try to do it myself by multitracking, we got the best brass players together and recorded it. I was ecstatic about the final sound - it's just one you can't get by 'tracking' yourself. If I want two trumpets playing in unison then I'll do it myself - I'll double track it. Depending upon the sound, if there's a special trumpet style required, then I'll use someone else to play it."
The transition from session musician to full-blown 'producer' was a natural progression for Craig who had been fulfilling the production duties on his own song demos which he submitted to other performers, such as Cliff Richard, for inclusion on their albums. Also, the fact that he was signed to Hansa Records as a solo artist in his own right meant he was no stranger to the techniques involved, as Craig explained: "It was a very smooth overlap - I was doing a lot of different work, jack of all trades; and more and more I was taking on the responsibility of being in charge - and that for me is what being a producer is all about. You are in charge of the people, the chemistry between them and having a 'concept' for getting the music onto tape and then vinyl."
Without doubt Craig's liaison with Cliff Richard has proved a very successful one, both financially and musically, for both parties. How then did he first get involved with Cliff?
"I had produced an album for Alexander John which Cliff heard and he gave me a call in August 1981, right out of the blue. I recognised his voice immediately and he said, 'I've just been listening to something you've done and I think we could get on really well and I was wondering if you'd like to do an album with me'.
So he invited me over to his house and we listened to the song material, then I gave my ideas as to what I thought the arrangements should be and the types of treatment. We recorded a few trial tracks, one of which was called 'The Water's Wide' and that really cemented the friendship and working relationship. It was also my first experience of recording Cliff's voice, and to be honest, I knew I was on to a good thing because he has a masterful voice. As soon as he opens his mouth in front of a mic the frequency response shoots up - all the way from 40Hz to over 5kHz. It's all there; it needs so little EQ and so little compression, it's just a wonderful gift.
When you compress things you also limit a lot of the frequency response because compressors are frequency conscious and you find that most of the air or 'space' around the voice disappears. You're effectively squashing the sound. The end result of our efforts was the 'Now You See Me, Now You Don't' album, which proved very popular."
Craig's latest involvement with Cliff was on the 'Silver' album, intended to mark Cliff's 25th year in showbusiness. Each track had been specially commissioned for the album, but eventually Craig ended up writing and producing seven songs of his own — all of which were released.
One track he didn't write though was 'Hold On', and here he takes us through the production stages involved in transferring the original song demo into vinyl:
"As soon as I heard 'Hold On' I thought it was magical. I originally heard the demo of the tune, which was written by Terry Britten, when Cliff came into the studio and played me a cassette of it. He gave me a copy of the track and I took it home, where I reconstructed it to suit Cliff's voice and put a lot stronger sounds into the arrangement.
When I started recording it, everything fell into place. It was mostly synthesisers except for the drums which Graham Jarvis played. We then added Cliff's lead and backing vocals and a sax solo from Mel Collins.
The very first thing I recorded for 'Hold On' was my MicroComposer time code. This went onto one track to drive the Linn drum and set the tempo of the overall song. Everything afterwards was overdubbed by syncing the synths to the code. One of my constant nightmares is accidentally erasing a small part of that code, because if that happens you lose the tempo and have to start again.
The Linn drum is generally used as a guide, as I dislike most of its sounds. I then put on all of the keyboards. In this case I'd programmed some of the parts and taken one of Cliff's favourite electric guitars and sampled harmonics into my Emulator. I wrote the MicroComposer parts to play the various counter lines in the song, which were done using a combination of the sampled harmonics, a sampled glockenspiel and sampled Tibetan finger cymbals, creating a very rich sound texture.
Even before the drums were recorded we had experimented with some backing vocal ideas. Cliff's voice blends with itself fantastically to create a rich harmony. His lead vocal was virtually the last thing recorded before we took the tapes to The Townhouse studios for mixing. All the basic tracks had been recorded at Strawberry Studios in Dorking, though.
There are some new digital reverbs around which produce lovely sounds — one of which is the Quantec Room Simulator and the other is by AMS. We used a combination of these plus an EMT digital delay and various echo plates, especially on the voice.
Vocals featured two very short 'double track' effects panned slightly left and right of centre. What we did was organise the song so that the verses and the build up had the vocal in the centre of the stereo image and then they were split hard left and right to give stereo vocals. Depending on the dynamics of the song, I think using such effects is very much a part of the musical arrangement and really needs to be thought about in advance."
"A lot of producers today are making records that sound great on radio and television, but you go and buy the records, put them on your hi-fi and you feel like chucking them away! I won't mention any names, but I think you can do it to satisfy both mediums.
To get things to sound good on the radio, they squash the music to make it hard and emphasise the sound between 1kHz and 3kHz. As a result, when you put it on your home stereo it sounds very, very loud.
What I do is to make sure all of my bass instruments are very 'punchy', by keeping as much of the transients as possible, because it's your 'attack' which comes across well on mono radio. To this end I stear clear of compressors because they tend to remove that 'attack'.
I'm very keen to do more digital recording for the very fact that once those transients are recorded, you never lose them. On analogue tape, every time its's played another minute amount of the transient is rounded-off, so you're always struggling to keep that punchy sound from the start."
"Although I'm heavily involved with my work as a producer, my solo career is just lying dormant at present but it may well resurrect itself if I happen to come across or write a new song that I feel particularly suits my own voice.
I'd really like to do some digital recording. We intended using 24 track digital on the 'Silver' album for the drums, bass and synthesisers and slave up a 24 track analogue machine to do all the backing vocals, then bounce them onto the digital recorder. The things you gain from digital are all those transients — the punchy sound; things that won't get corrupted as time goes on, since the information on the tape stays exactly the same."
Which is one description that could never be applied to Craig Pruess!
Interview by Ian Gilby
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue:
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!