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The Producers

Brian Tench

Article from International Musician & Recording World, April 1985

Chas de Whalley squares up to the young and talented Brian Tench

"Needs Breeds. I think that's how the saying goes."

At least that's what I think Brian Tench said. Except that it was at this stage in the interview that my cassette recorder decided to start garbaging seriously and the man's words were lost in a gargle of crackle and buzz. One day IM will up their rates and I'll be able to afford new batteries. But until then...

We were round at Big Note, a luxuriously casual little mews cottage in the West End which serves as 'the office' for Andy Hill, Nicola Martin and the Bucks Fizz organisation. It's home for Brian Tench too, in a manner of speaking, since he was not only responsible for the engineering on most of Andy Hill's blockbusting Pop productions but, for the last couple of years, he has been signed to Big Note as a record producer in his own right too. Bright, breezy, and on the milky side of chocolate brown, Brian Tench was still flying high on the Cook Da Books album he'd only recently completed for Virgin and he spent the greater part of our hour and a half together with face wreathed in smiles, laughing disarmingly after almost every other sentence. Whether he'd have been quite so happy if he'd known the cassette recorder planned to turn much of what he said into complete gibberish is another matter altogether. Let us not dwell on it.

We were talking about outboard gear and the technological explosion of the last few years which has meant, as Tench complained frustratedly, that your average engineer barely has the opportunity to master one particular machine before somebody walks into his studio offering him the chance to try out something which supersedes it completely. The pressure to stay up with the state of the art has never been so intense.

"And the point is that when I first started people weren't as worried about the latest developments in studio technology as they are now. I started off in Mayfair Studios in the Seventies. We were 16 track and all we had for effects was a reverb plate and a 7½ips Revox for echoes. But they still managed to mix all Gary Glitter's singles there with that gear and even today people still rave about the sound on those records. You never dreamed there'd be the sort of outboard equipment you can get these days. And yet the funny thing is, if you go into a studio now and they don't have the latest AMS you begin to sweat. It's all very strange."

Brian Tench speaks like a veteran, which in a sense he is even if he's still in his 20s but looks 19. He went into Mayfair Studios — then "above the chemist's in South Molton Street" — in 1975, straight out of school, expecting to spend the summer working there before taking up a university place to read Physical Education, Drama and English. Instead he cancelled college and stayed eight years, in which time he saw the studio grow from 16 to 24 to 48 track SSL and move premises along the way to its current location in Primrose Hill. Although he wasn't entirely green — after all he had as a brother Bobby Tench the highly respected session guitarist, and he'd also already gained a little recording experience at school in Wimbledon where an ILEA grant had paid for a six track mixer and a Revox — the job at Mayfair meant young Brian Tench stepped right into the frontline of British Pop. The place was all but block-booked by producer Phil Coulter who was running hits off the production line with groups like the Bay City Rollers, Kenny and Midge Ure's first claim to fame Slik. In fact Tench's first session as a tape-op was on Forever and Ever itself! Those were the days, eh?

"It was a great place to start. John Hudson was chief engineer there then and he was a very hard taskmaster. But I learned so much. And then when he bought the studio himself and moved it to Primrose Hill I got the chance, which not many people do, of seeing how a studio is built, which really helps you understand how it works, you know?"

A common complaint these days is that too many young, up-and-coming engineers and producers hardly know one end of a microphone stand from another, concentrating as they do on the DI'd sounds of Fairlights and Linndrums. Brian Tench, however, seems to have melded the traditional skills into a modern perspective. And as a producer he is just coming into his own.

"The first thing I did by myself was Go Wild In the Country for Bow Wow Wow. I first met them when they came into Mayfair to mix Prince Of Darkness and a couple of other tracks. They liked what I did so they asked me to do a single with them from the bottom up. Previously they'd been working with a producer who wanted them to use synthesizers but they were dead set against that. I'd already seen them live, so I knew they could play. Matthew Ashman in particular is a great guitarist with that big white Gibson semi-acoustic he's got. When they said they wanted to lay the track down live I didn't see any point in stopping them. We did it in two or three takes if I remember. Drums, bass and guitar all together. Overdubbed another guitar and some percussion and that was that. It sounds really bare now but it felt huge at the time.

"It's tricky being an engineer/producer like I am because while you've been trained to think in terms of sounds the song is actually the thing which must take precedence. It can have advantages, of course, because you're always aware of sounds from a technical point of view. I can walk into a studio room with a live kit and nine times out of 10 I can tell immediately the frequencies which will give trouble later on. Once you've identified them and made adjustments to the tuning of the drums or the placing of the microphones you know that when you push your fader up and listen to it flat you've got a basic sound to work from. I know a lot of engineers who adjust the Eq to get rid of the frequencies they don't want before they've even heard anything. But what suits one room may not work in another.

"I always try to listen back flat as well. And when I'm mixing I throw everything up at once with nothing balanced to see how the basic tracks blend with one another. That's something I saw when I went to America with my brother. The engineer started his mix with everything up and it was like culture shock for me. I'd been taught that you put up your bass drum and spend a couple of hours on that. Then the snare and so on. But you can lose perspective on the way the song works if you do that. If you start with everything up and flat then at least you get an idea of the way the track works within itself. But you can get your knickers in a twist if you do that on 48 track, mind you!"

And you can come the proverbial cropper too as Brian Tench almost discovered to his cost last year when he was producing Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark's Junk Culture album. Already favoured by the band because of mixes done on the classic Architecture and Morality LP and its huge hits like Maid of Orleans and Souvenir, Brian was called into save the day after the disastrous failure of the Dazzle Ships collection.

"It was paranoia city from the beginning. Everyone — the band, the record company, the management — was really worried because Dazzle Ships had been such a bummer. They spent a lot of time choosing the songs plus they wanted to make it more of a band-oriented album which meant a lot more thought had to go into bass lines and arrangements and so on. Much more than OMD were used to. At one stage I was removed from the project for about two weeks. We sent a set of rough mixes through to Virgin and they really didn't like them and panicked. We got taken out of the studio and everything. In the end I don't know what happened but eventually we were allowed back to mix a couple and without adding any other overdubs we delivered them Locomotion. Which was the track they hated the most originally."

And, of course, Locomotion went on to be a huge UK and international hit for Andy McCluskey and Co Ltd. The first of three from what was to prove a monumentally successful album. And while Brian Tench would never go so far as to claim he'd written any of Tesla Girls, Talking Loud And Clear or the other seven tracks, he was certainly in there from the very beginning of the creative process.

"Almost all of Junk Culture was written in the studio, and the way OMD work they frequently get the inspiration for a track from a sound and then come up with the melody and the lyrics later. Like Love And Violence was built around car horns and out-of-tune trumpets which we put into an Emulator and then fired from a sequencer. Andy thought of this aggressive sound and then when we'd found it we put down four minutes on tape and worked on the song from there.

"I usually find it pretty easy to get the sounds people want. I certainly don't think of them, like I know some people do, in terms of colours or temperatures. Andy (Hill) and I talk in terms of bishes and boshes and phrrrtzzz and so on, which all came I think from Graham Broad the drummer on all the Bucks Fizz things. He'd say he wanted to hear his kit more 'bradadada zzat zzat zzatt!' and it sort of stuck.

"I had the honour of working with Arif Mardin recently mixing some of the Theresa Bazaar album and he had the most amazing ability to explain the sort of sounds and echoes he wanted, even though he really isn't technical at all. But he has this picture in his head of what the track should sound like. He goes for extremely wide stereo with everything either hard right, hard left or slap bang in the middle. Then he places all his echoes very carefully inside those extremes and manages to make everything sound huge because of it. And then he had me editing one of the mixes. He had this arrangement in his head and he said 'Okay take two beats of that section and three of that and then five of that one' until the tape looked like a zebra crossing. But when we played it back it sounded as brilliant as those weird little time signature sequences on the Chaka Khan record."

Strangely Brian Tench didn't rate working with Arif Mardin one of the proudest moments of his career, although he talked of the man as a hero and a half. In fact when I asked what he might consider his highest watermark to date he went coy and quiet and mumbled something about Cook Da Books and the groove they'd all worked up at the Manor playing live in the big stone room there. Then, with a self-deprecation which is a part of his boyish charm he said:

"One of the things which will always stick in my memory is rearranging Bucks Fizz's Land Of Make Believe for Andy without him realising it. I remember Bobby Gee had to drive all the way down from Manchester where the band were staying to do some vocals and then drive all the way back for the show the same night. We spent all day overdubbing his voice and bouncing it together to make a six part harmony thing on the middle eight. He did it all and he'd got back in the car and was probably only half a mile down the road when Andy and I started to clean up the track and just when we got to the parts he'd been doing on the words 'faraway' I don't know what happened, but I pressed the button early and erased the lot! You should have seen Andy's face. He went white, stood up and walked out without a word. I searched all over the multitrack and I found one place where I'd left the very original voice. So I smothered it in echo and reverb and made it sound like it was miles away and set in amongst the big block harmonies which were on the vocals on the rest of the song — it sounded really effective. But I'm not sure I'd like to be remembered for that."

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

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International Musician - Apr 1985

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Recording World


Brian Tench



Interview by Chas de Whalley

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