One Track Beyond
Which nutty boy is a home recording fanatic?
Not-so-mad Woody, normally the proud bearer of the Madness drum sticks, reveals to Tony Bacon his mania for the tape recorder and anything that might conceivably be connected to it.
Being a reasonable sort of chap, I expected the interview with Woody, the drummer in Madness, to follow a relatively tried-and-tested route: "First take the drum, then ...hit it," and so on.
No sooner had I stepped over the bikes and ancient photocopier decorating the Madness office's shop-front in north London than Woody was pressing into my hands complex, spider-drawn flow-charts of what after some detailed investigation appeared to resemble recording set-ups.
The man is a home recording nut. "Everything that could be said about drums has been said," he assures me, moving on to the much more pressing matter of dub mix hook-up number 17. Slower this time, please.
Woody's mania for recording started when, one Christmas, Stiff boss Dave Robinson presented each Mad person with a Tensai tape machine (including crude built-in rhythm box). This was in an attempt to get the boys producing "more one-note melodies", as the musically conversant Mr R put it.
But for the drummer it started a fascination. Next came a Portastudio which Suggsy had "forgot" about and left hanging around the office. Woody liberated that for a while and found it just right for learning more about process and terms. Then the big one: he lashed out on his current Fostex A8 8-track recorder, and a Fostex 350 mixer (only very recently updated by a bigger Soundtracs 16/8/16 desk), plus an ever-increasing pile of outboard gadgetry.
And so the newest Madness single, "Michael Caine" derives from a Woody 8-track (and there's not many people know that). First time, in fact, that the nutters have allowed Woody's meanderings, suitably tarted up of course, near anything like an A-side. They'd found a little corner somewhere (a 12in B-side) for "One Second's Thoughtlessness", but that was about it.
Woody had offered the finished 8-track that became "Michael Caine" to the group — a SCHEME for the recording of the tape follows — and stepped back in humble if relatively pleased mood. A surprise followed shortly afterwards.
"All of a sudden," he remembers, "we're driving in the car, and Mister Carl Smith, Chas Smash, he started singing along to this cassette of it, so clearly and decisively I thought, 'Oh God, I've sub-consciously ripped off a really obvious song.' I said, 'What's that then?' and he said, 'Oh, I wrote those words last night, they fit perfectly.' Just like that. Now it's a single. I still can't believe this little sideline of mine has turned into a single."
And so, for those who feel that the big colour pictures should actually relate to something, here's the bit that we should have asked Woody about in the first place: the drums. "I find that when I think about playing the drums," he casually remarks while lighting another No. 6 and considering the second Creme Egg, "I get worse and worse and worse, until I can't even do a straight beat."
Which might explain why at the end of every album — variously recorded at Eden, Basing Street and Air in London and Compass Point in Nassau ("very lovely, 'cept what a boring album...") — Woody ends up physically and mentally drained. "I'm always sweating more than my body weight at this stage."
Woody still relies mainly on wood — though a couple of Simmons pads creep onto the kit for tom and floor-tom sounds. He uses them in the studio too, and reckons if you listen to the previous "Rise And Fall" album you should find the Simmons sounds pretty integrated and part of the whole kit sound. Yes? "Those tom sounds are good — but the Simmons snare, you can get better results on a crackly volume knob."
Apart from that, then, you have a standard studio kit? "I have a drum kit, full stop," he corrects me. "I've had it three years and a bit. Gretsch 22in bass drum, because I was always changing from my previous 20in in the studio, it had an awful ring to the nutboxes which you had to pad out. Ludwig Black Beauty snare, 6½in, made of brass — what a sound! You don't even have to know how to tune up a snare drum to get a good sound out of that. I've also got a Ludwig Acrylite snare, very-light, 5½in, hopeless for recording, terrible for live work, but I love the crack, and they feel good."
"In fact," declares Woody, I go for feel rather than sound half the time."
Cymbals are mostly Avedis Zildjian; he particularly likes 18in ones — a thin and medium crash and a china are faves at present. "Basically, though, I don't think they make cymbals like they used to," and so he's got some Sabians too ("which aren't much better, but they're better"). Hi-hats are 14in Zildjian Newbeats which he's had for about eight years with no ill effects.
What else? A Gretsch floor tom (14 x 14) and a 12in tom for when he needs real ones in that department: both double-headed, and the tom resting on a Trilok snare stand. Two Slingerland Yellow Jacket bass pedals just about finish the lineup. He waited six months for these pedals to come through, specified because of their exceptional lightness. Apparently Woody values his shins.
But enough of this. I still don't quite follow dub mix hookup number 17's signal path between line mixer and main mixer. Could you, er...
"I've two favourite drummers," announces Woody, now evidently keen on the percussive tack. "Tony Thompson and Joe Blocker, both as flash as arse 'oles, but both excellent at what they do. Brilliant at being flash as arse 'oles. World of their own. Emulate that one!"
Interview by Tony Bacon
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