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Recording World

The Producers

Barry Andrews

Article from International Musician & Recording World, July 1986

Uncle Chas de Whalley talks to Barry Andrews about life with Auntie


You won't find Barry Andrews' name featured that often on a record label or an album sleeve. Not even under his occasional pseudonym of Benny Leopard. And certainly not as often as he is mistaken for the namesake who tickled ivories and plinked programmes for XTC and Shriekback.

Yet this genial and ever-so-slightly-wide Londoner can justifiably claim to have produced tracks with more groups than you or I have had hot dinners and to work safe in the knowledge that what he does is both eagerly awaited and enjoyed by millions upon millions of Great British Rock fans.

In fact, hardly a week goes by when Barry Andrews isn't to be found waving the big producer's stick over the heads of at least a couple of bands whether they be bright young hopefuls or established stars. Indeed, in the six or seven weeks preceding this interview, he reckoned he'd sat behind the desk for a good 14 or 15 outfits including Raymonde, Howard Hughes and the Western Approaches, Chris Sutton, That Petrol Emotion, The Wedding Present, Vitamin Z, The Academy and the Cult. Totalled up over a year Andrews estimated he'd worked with something like 150 bands and recorded very nearly 600 songs.

But, like I said, you won't find Barry Andrews' name that often on a record label or an album sleeve for the simple reason that he does the bulk of his work freelancing for BBC Radio One, producing the sessions which are broadcast on the late afternoon and early evening shows.

"I'm not a BBC employee as such. I'm what they call an OSP, which means Outside Session Producer. It's strange but everybody has to have initials at the BBC. An Engineer isn't called an Engineer at all, he's known as an SM which means Studio Manager. And a Maintenance man is an RES, but don't ask me what that stands for!

"I produce for the Janice Long show and Bruno Brooks. I began on the John Peel Show as well. But as time went on I found temperamentally I couldn't handle doing difficult sessions for the Cocteau Twins or trying to persuade an Einsturzende Neubaten who refuse to understand English that the idea of a Radio One session is not to destroy the studio with a pneumatic drill. I've been doing this for about three years and I like the balance between out and out Pop and the more obscure which I do now. For Janice's show we record four songs in a 12 hour day and for Bruno's it's usually three. On average I do two or three groups a week.

"We do all the sessions at the BBC Maida Vale. They've got seven studios there. One's a drama studio and the others are all music studios. There are two particular ones we use for the Radio One sessions: Studios Four and Five which are SSL and have full AMS facilities. Both are certainly state of the art, that's for sure. Studio Four is even an Eastlake design. So if you were paying for it, it would probably cost about £1,000 a day. Instead, of course, the bands have the studio for free and get paid for it as well. I think the MU rate for the whole day is between £72-£78 a man. Plus they're invariably the writers too, so they pick up some performance income as well. It's not such a bad deal when you think about it."

Over the last 10 years or so the BBC and BBC Radio in particular have been at pains to shake off some of the old traditional trapping inherited from their Reithian origins. Some might even say they've gone a little too far. Nevertheless many young groups still apparently regard the Beeb with some suspicion and imagine they will step into the Maida Vale studio complex to find it a branch of the Civil Service with a producer seated in the corner, reading a paper and an engineer doing all the work in a white coat with a pencil behind his ear.

Instead they meet Barry Andrews! In his middle 30s, he laughs enough to put you immediately at ease and if he comes across as shifty and shrewd as just about any other independent operator in the industry of human happiness that's because that is precisely what Barry Andrews is. In his time Andrews has been just about everything from a lighting man with the likes of Led Zeppelin to a Punk Rocker with late '70s New Wave band The Secret, manager of Nine Below Zero and the ill-fated Perfect Zebras as well as co-owner of the now defunct Vineyard Studios.

So as one who has seen the movie and read the book he must be ideally suited to a job that, on one hand, involves initiating a brand new band into the sacred rite of 24-track recording and, on the other, means recreating, in one 12 hour session, album tracks or singles which may very well have taken weeks and thousands of pounds worth of studio time to record.

"I enjoy that pressure in fact. Because you're working so quickly it gets the energy out. I think that's why we get quite a few tracks from the sessions released on record as B sides or on albums. Because everything is put down in such a rush it captures what the band is really trying to do. It's a bit of the old 'I prefer the demo cos it had a better feel to it' syndrome. But this time the demo has been recorded on SSL!

"Obviously we get bands in who have never recorded before so you have to spend a bit of time with them, sorting out earth loops in the backline, gaffering the drums down, changing tunings and skins and so on. Even in this day and age it's amazing how little some people know. There was a guy the other week who, when I said his snare needed to be tuned down a little, looked blank and handed me the key! Occasionally you meet a real stroppy bunch who just sit and stare and wait for you to do everything.

"Otherwise most are very professional. Take the Cult, for example. I've done them twice now and they're really great. The last time I did them they'd just finished touring and they wanted to work some new songs in which they did exclusively for Janice. They're an honest bunch who aren't ashamed to admit to their influences. You can believe it when Billy Duffy says that the Cult play for real what other people only play in their soundchecks.

"Billy's guitar sound is particularly enormous and he doesn't like anybody to know how he gets it. But basically he uses two different amps so it's a stereo sound to begin with and that covers for the fact that they don't have a rhythm guitarist, so he has to play everything. As the sound of the rest of the band takes its lead from him, we have to use the same state-of-the-art techniques anybody else would use to get big drum sounds and so on. I don't engineer myself, but some of the BBC guys, like Nick Gomm in particular, are excellent and would probably have made names for themselves if they'd chosen to go into the commercial market. Nick's got one of the best miking techniques I've ever come across. I've learned an awful lot about ambient sounds from him and how to use a combination of close and distance microphones to put a little more 'back' into a sound and give it a more 3D effect. The only trouble is that all the BBC studios are very 'dead' and so we have to get into electronically created ambience too. But that's no problem since we have AMS and Lexicon and most of the other toys."

Strangely enough Barry Andrews believes he starts a good 40% of the Janice Long sessions never having heard a note or a song by the group in question. He claims it's an advantage too since he can then approach each band with an open mind and thereby pick up on what they really sound like and not find himself bogged down in trying to reproduce a record producer's impressions.

"I'd much rather listen to the first number the band do and gauge from that what sort of band they are. I always walk onto the studio floor to begin with to listen to what they're doing and what their instruments sound like before I make up my mind what we should be aiming for.

"The best sessions are invariably those where you've got an essentially live band who don't use backing tapes or anything like that. The hardest ones come when you get bands in the Bronski Beat or Dead Or Alive mould who use lots of sequencers. That can take hours. Most of them are pretty together and they've got everything all programmed up before they come in, but every so often you come across a band who should know better but come in with banks and banks of keyboards, loads of DX7s and Wave 2s, everything's triggering something else with a SMPTE generator on everything but they haven't actually worked out what they want in the sequencer to begin with!"

Barry Andrews, on the other hand, is only too aware how together he must be. Not only has the quality of the recordings he makes got to meet the BBC's quite exacting standards but the luxury of going in a week later to do a remix is denied him.

"As long as the basic balance is right then you're okay. That comes with experience. The greatest danger is the vocal disappearing when you get a thing up to radio. A lot of people listen to things in commercial studios at ridiculous volume so you can't hear how loud the vocal is. Naturally we do a bit of that to get the weight of the tracks but we listen predominantly in mono because that's how it will be going out. If you get a good mix in mono with the vocals loud enough then you haven't got too much to worry about. I always use a basic rule of thumb which is when it sounds good as a balance push the vocal just a little bit more. I've got a clock radio at home and I check everything on there. If it sounds good on that then it can only sound better everywhere else.

"Radio One sounds the way it does because they put everything through an Optimod compressor which basically irons out the levels so that everything matches. If you get any peaks then it pulls them back.

"When we do live transmissions we listen a lot off the Clean Feed, which is what's actually going out on the radio. Sometimes you can be very surprised at how different it is to the studio monitoring. You learn little tricks like not spreading the stereo too wide, which a lot of people get into with 12" mixes and so on. A good radio mix can't be wide stereo because things on the hard right and hard left will simply disappear."

These live transmissions, which go periodically straight out onto the air during Janice Long's show, have featured to date The Men They Couldn't Hang, 20 Flight Rockers, The Potato Five, China Crisis, and The Cramps. They each bring their fair share of problems.

"You really do have to be on top of what's happening. Usually we've spent all day working on sounds and rehearsing the numbers but when the Cramps did it they were supposed to arrive at 2.30 and didn't get there until 6.00. They were scheduled to do a 20 minute spot at 8.00! Those 20 minutes were one of the longest days in my life! And then Lux decided to start telling bad jokes on air... Like 'What did the prostitute say to the leper? You can leave the tip!' And there's no five second delay on the BBC...

"There's always a big panic because suddenly you're on air and you have to come up with the goods. That's great training."



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Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Jul 1986

Recording World

Artist:

Barry Andrews


Role:

Producer

Interview by Chas de Whalley

Previous article in this issue:

> Studio Diary

Next article in this issue:

> Studio Of The Month


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