Colin Campsie & George McFarlane | The Quick
Chas de Whalley chats to Colin Campsie and George McFarlane, aka The Quick
"Wanna buy a car? I got a Daimler round the corner wiv nothing on the clock."
Somethings just never change and neither does young Col Campsie. A wide boy to the very end, he slouches nonchalantly over the arm of a sofa, one-liners at the ready, the look that launched a thousand quips playing across his face like it was 1978 again and he was still singing with CBS Glam Popsters Grand Hotel by night and flogging colour TVs and reproduction furniture by day.
Now he's moved upmarket. Into cars and property. And, as one half of The Quick Organisation, into the charts too. With partner George McFarlane, Colin Campsie can finally claim responsibility for a big spanking UK hit in the form of Haywoode's Roses. Which, just in case you hadn't realised by now, the pair produced.
"It's our most successful record in this country." says Colin, uncharacteristically serious for a moment or two. "But it depends on how you judge success, doesn't it? What's success? Is it simply sales? Or people knowing who you are? Or artistic credibility?"
Well might you wonder at Campsie's questioning attitude when most other people might be expected to be mildly euphoric if not over-the-moon-Brian after getting their first big one away. But the fact of the matter is that, both as artistes and producers, The Quick have been through the mill more than most. And despite the rib tickling and the occasional tomfoolery Colin Campsie and George McFarlane are cynical to say the least. And maybe even a little bitter too.
"It sounds corny but I always knew we'd be successful eventually. If we stuck at it. I think we could still dictate trends if we wanted to, but I'm not interested in that anymore. We've been where we knew we were ahead of our time and it doesn't worry me one way or another any more."
"In fact we're regressing!" chips in Campsie with a laugh.
But, paradoxically, getting better all the time too. As a recording act in their own right The Quick are still hanging on in there. Newly signed to A&M with a new Phil Thornalley produced album on schedule and a killer single to kick it off in the shape of Down The Wire, Colin and George were looking in the prospect of a major US promotional tour only a week away when we met for this interview. Roses had only just slipped from the charts too and their diaries were full of production commitments as a result. So there was no cause for alarm. But I was puzzled why they hadn't produced their own album themselves?
"I think we agreed it was time for a change" said McFarlene. "This is our third album after Fascinating Rhythm and International Thing which were on Epic. This album was produced by Phil Thornalley because when you're writing, playing, singing and producing yourselves it's difficult to be objective about the songs. You can be objective over the bass part or whatever but not the whole song, you can't sit back and listen to it the way a third party can."
Despite both being dyed-in-the-wool funksters both Campsie and McFarlane have an inbuilt distrust of the studio gimmickry and trickery which some would say is the staple diet of the dance producer in the late Eighties.
Colin Campsie is quite direct.
"How records sound is more down to the overall feel and mix than what the actual sounds are, if you understand my meaning. Cos if you're not careful you can get caught in the 'Oh that was last week's sound' syndrome. The gimmicky thing. The Orchestra Hits 1 button on the Akai sampler routine!"
George McFarlane took up the party line and developed it further.
"It's very difficult to get that across to English record companies. They want to hear lots of production techniques and gimmicks. If you went to your average A&R department with mixes that sound as empty as those Janet Jackson records or as off-the-wall as those things Prince does nowadays they'd take you off the case immediately. They just don't understand.
McFarlane paused a little and then laughed.
"Prince is either really sharp and knows instinctively how little he needs to put on a record or else he's so busy he hasn't got the time to finish them off properly and do all the overdubs."
So if you won't find the Quick boys piling on the special effects, you also won't see them slaving over a hot sequencer. For a start neither enjoys the job of programming, but more importantly they both believe it too easy to succumb to temptation and get 'sequenced out' to the point where the sequence itself becomes more important than the song. And so, listen hard as you may to the revolving figures and phrases on Roses and you won't hear a single sequencer SMPTEing away. George McFarlane played everything, bar the guitar, in realtime.
"I did them all by hand. The bass is my old 1976 MiniMoog, which I use for just about all our bass parts. I always compress it a little to make it punchy. For the rest of the record I used some DX7, Juno 106 and a Prophet 5 which sounds quite original because it's out of favour and so nobody uses them any more. It's just like the MiniMoog really. You can get a lot of sounds out of a pretty basic keyboard if you know what you're doing. You don't have to go to a Synclavier. After all, when a record is heard over the radio in a garage in Wigan who's going to care anyway?"
As the arrangement-cum-musical force in the Quick partnership, McFarlane pointed out that he'd had a great model to work from when he started putting the Roses track together.
"The two writers Leeson and Vale had recorded a demo which was very hot indeed. In fact it was virtually a master. Some American session singer whose name I forget sang the thing and it sounded like they had Prince's band on the backing track, it was so tight and hard. That took a lot of work off us because all we had to do was chop a couple of bits here and there and make it a little more compact."
But what was won on the swings was lost on the roundabouts as Colin Campsie discovered when, as head of the vocal department in the Quick Organisation, he discovered the finished track was in the wrong key for Haywoode's voice.
"We said to her at the start: 'How's the key, Sid? Alright?' And she said 'it's lovely'. But three days later she's really bottoming out on the verses. We thought we could get away with it if we wound all the bottom out of the voice and piled on the top. But it didn't work. So we had to re-record the track entirely which was really boring because you're trying to recreate the vibe. We couldn't keep anything except the kit. All the Moog bass, the keyboard overdubs, the guitars and the tuned percussion all had to be done again. It nearly broke my 'art."
Except that our Col did get to sing on the record the second time round as there was nobody else around who could handle the harmonies in the new and higher key. I asked The Quick whether, as performers themselves, there wasn't always the desire to 'be' on every track too. And if any of the groups who they've worked with — and let's list Endgames, Girls Can't Help It, Sunset Gun, Second Image, Fiat Lux and Blue Zoo for starters — had been worried that the finished tracks might sound more like Quick records than anything else. Campsie answered the first question.
"Of course. Especially if it's a song you like then you want to sing and play on it."
"Otherwise, "said McFarlane, addressing himself to the second, "we try to be sympathetic and create a sound for the act which will obviously incorporate some of our ideas. But I would hope that wouldn't automatically make it sound like a Quick record. The thing is that most of the acts we get offered now seem to be singers with half a song and no real sound as such. We don't get offered bands who already have an identity and a sound and so on. So we're really being considered in the first place because of the records we've made as ourselves.
"I must admit that I like to play if I can. Sometimes you know you'll have to but you have to hold yourself back. We did a band recently with three keyboard players, none of whom could play very well. Some of the parts were very tricky. It got quite funny really because they all had a go and while one was wrestling with it the next was warming up. In the end I did the parts which I knew I'd have to do all along but you have to let the group have a go first, don't you?"
"On the plus side though," said Campsie, "being musicians ourselves we know how to create a good working environment in the studio. We know how the guys feel. If there's a bass player in the band who's getting stuck somewhere then George can be far more helpful to him than than any producer who isn't a musician, because all that kind of producer can do is tell you what isn't working, not how to make it work. And for me I think it is an advantage being a singer working with singers. Because every singer, including myself, always gets a little bit nervous when they get in front of the microphone. So I can help create an atmosphere which will make them feel relaxed and get the best out of them. In the past I've seen so many engineers and producers screw up vocalists by simply not thinking. It's no good running the track past the guy 15 times while you get the sound together. You sort all that beforehand so the levels and the compression and the microphones and everything are all ready to start taking immediately. That way you capture the feeling and the spontaneity."
Don't you feel an overwhelming temptation to direct a vocalist to sing the song they way you would do?
"Sometimes. But I let them have their go first. Obviously I have an idea how I would sing it. But when we've got something on tape I then play it back to them and we dissect it. You have to be careful how you suggest changes because people invariably resent it. And then they come in the next day and tell you they like the changes after all. It's things like ad-libs and the ends of lines which I think are very important. Whether you suspend notes or resolve them or whatever. I try not to do a song line by line if I can help it. What you're aiming at is a performance that has the right vibe all the way through. When we've got that I say 'Okay. Now do one where you're really going for it. Don't worry about pitching or whether you got the words right. Just give it everything'. And just about every time you get something off that track which really makes the song happen."
Interview by Chas de Whalley
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