The Pursuit Of An Obsession
Ever wanted to release your own album? Here's the story of one determined SOS reader, Bob Geal, who did just that.
It all started about seven years ago: I had been introduced to music through classical piano training as a child; I had then gone on to American West Coast music (Doors, Beefheart, Love etc) before forming bands of my own at school and subsequently at university. The advent of the real world then caused things to lapse on the performing side, although listening to music remained one of my chief pleasures and I continued to write songs on acoustic guitar at home.
Then came the weekend that was to change things quite drastically. A friend asked me over to see his new Portastudio, and later that afternoon I was hooked! It wasn't long before I'd invested in a Portastudio of my own (on interest-free credit!), a Great British Spring reverb, a Roland TR808 drum machine, a cheap microphone, and a Roland Jupiter 6 synth. The latter keyboard featured some strange 5-pin sockets on its back panel, which the salesman was unable to explain...
It was around this time that Yamaha launched the CX5M music computer, and as I had worked in the computer industry for several years I read the reviews with great interest. Here, it seemed, was something which could offer great potential for arranging and composing - so I bought one. Unfortunately, once I had gone through the initial learning curve and had started to use the computer with a vengeance, it became apparent that the Z80 chip on which it was based wasn't up to rigorous use, with the result that if there were more than five tracks playing simultaneously (the package was basically an 8-track sequencer with sound generation), everything would slow down in a most unmusical way. Although Yamaha would never admit that the hardware wasn't up to the job, I received a full refund, which was just as well since the price of the CX5M fell sharply not long afterwards!
After 12 months or so, I'd made a lot of progress with my Portastudio-based system but felt it was time to move on, and decided that I could stretch to an 8-track system. I therefore sold the Portastudio, drum machine, Jupiter 6 and spring reverb, and invested in a Tascam 38 recorder and an RSD mixing desk, a DX7, a Sequential Drumtraks drum machine, and a Dynacord digital reverb. One of the people who answered my ad for the sale of the Portastudio was my future partner-in-crime, Brian.
We had arranged for him to come and see the merchandise, and after an afternoon of fairly technical (but not very helpful) lecturing on the abilities of the Portastudio, Brian bought it. As he lived only a few miles away, I asked him if he would be interested in seeing my 8-track setup once I had it in place. He said he would, but I don't think he seriously expected to hear from me again. He was somewhat surprised, therefore, when his phone rang two months later; it was me fulfilling my promise (threat).
That started our partnership, and after some months we decided that we would get a band together. We advertised for a singer and several auditions later were lucky enough to find Ian, who had taken over from Gary Numan when Tubeway Army became Tubeway Patrol. He had then moved on to his own band and was now looking for something different. Ian knew enough people for us to form the rest of the band, and One Hand Clapping was born. The name came from one of the riddles that novice Buddhist monks are asked to consider - 'You know the sound of two hands clapping; what is the sound of one hand clapping?' (Don't ask me, I'm not a Buddhist!)
We rehearsed and recorded with diligence, finally producing a demo tape which got good reviews in the monthly music magazines but got nowhere with the record companies. Our gigs tended to be more successful, although we did have to play through a full-scale fight on one occasion. We weren't sure whether the music, the drink, or a combination of both had started the melee - so we blamed the drummer! We also received some radio coverage from Radio 210 in Reading, and contributed a track to a compilation album that they made of local bands.
By this time the ambition to make my own album had formed, and due to a change in my personal circumstances I was able to release some capital and plough it into upgrading my musical equipment. I sold my Tascam recorder, RSD desk, and drum machine to Brian, and formed a studio around an Atari 1040ST running Steinberg Pro24, a Fostex E16, and a Soundtracs PC MIDI desk. This was serious stuff, and it took me some months to get to grips with the engineering and the intricacies of the outboard gear. Fortunately, I had developed a good relationship with Barry Lyons of ABC Music, who provided superb service and support throughout those first few months, and continues to do so to this day. I had also moved house, and it was now difficult for the other members of the band to travel the extra distance. Brian had started an Open University course and was finding that most of his time was being taken up with that. I had plenty of material which had accumulated over the years and had managed to put down backing tracks for most of the songs that I wanted to put onto the album. I was fortunate in having some of the lyrics supplied by an old university friend, Pete Baker, as this helped to ease the considerable workload.
"One thing that contributed, enormously to the overall sound quality was the MIDI muting facility of the Soundtracs mixing desk..."
Many months of weekend and evening work followed, which - coupled with an exceptionally busy time at work - made the support of my wife, Mandy, invaluable. I think the people 'behind the scenes' play a much more important role than they are generally given credit for. Without encouragement, practical help, and a great deal of patience from Mandy, the whole project would have been far, far more difficult to realise.
Things were gradually falling into place, when I moved house. This resulted in some delay but meant that I had more room for the equipment and for recording. It also meant that I could see what I was doing when buried behind one of the patchbays! Despite the extra space, we were still achieving the best vocal results by singing into a cupboard!
As the songs took shape, it soon became apparent that a female vocal would suit some of the songs, and Brian placed an advert in 'Melody Maker'. There were several replies of a good standard, but when I met and heard Maria she was the obvious choice, and I soon had her talent and commitment to add to what by now had become an unstoppable project.
It had now been about 12 months since we started the project, but it still seemed as though there was something missing. At this time I had just met Uffe, via a friend of Mandy's, and it turned out that he played the saxophone. It wasn't long before Uffe spent an afternoon with us playing along to some of the songs, and it was evident that this was the missing ingredient. It turned out that Uffe was also an artist, and he offered to design the front cover of the album sleeve. The band posed for the necessary photo sessions with a friend of Uffe's, John Evans, who had agreed to help by doing the photographic work purely for the cost of the materials. Meanwhile, I worked on designing the back cover with a desktop publishing package running on a PC.
All recording had now finished, and the mixing began. This proved to be a lot more difficult and took much longer than expected. This was mainly due to everyone's inexperience, and I think that if and when we come to do the next record, things will move along a lot quicker. One thing that contributed enormously to the overall sound quality was the MIDI muting facility of the Soundtracs mixing desk; if only we had also had fader automation...
"Our initial aim is to be able to provide a new cot for Kings College Hospital, and it is for this reason that the profits from the sale of Obsession will be given to the charity."
Eventually, we had finished versions of all the material mixed to DAT. The tape was then taken to Mike Brown of CTS Studios in Wembley, and mixed with a little bit of equalisation to quarter-inch tape, using Dolby SR noise reduction. Ian and I watched as the vinyl discs were cut, and it was only later that I found out from Ian that it wasn't until this point that he was absolutely convinced that a record would be produced!
The vinyl masters were then sent for pressing to Adrenalin Records in Slough, along with the artwork for the sleeve, and three weeks later 1000 copies of Obsession by The Missing (our new band name) were in my dining room - the first release on Alice Records. Sales are going fairly well, but the marketing side is far from complete. People always ask me what sort of music it is, and I always find this very difficult to answer. The nearest I can come to a succinct reply is that it isn't Heavy Metal... more a sort of Light Alloy.
Unfortunately, during the making of the record, my wife and I had a son, Gabriel, who died after four days. We received superb care and treatment by all the people at Kings College Hospital, London, and in particular the obstetrician, Donald Gibb, and the consultant paediatrician, Anne Greenough. The special care baby unit at Kings is funded predominantly by charity, and we felt that we would like to contribute in some way. It is very difficult for these units to match facilities to demand, and mothers-to-be are often turned away due to the lack of necessary equipment. My wife, Donald Gibb, and I therefore formed and became trustees of a charity - The Gabriel Trust - which has now been officially registered. So far we have raised nearly £5000; but to put things in perspective, one fully-equipped special care cot for a premature baby costs £30,000. This can literally mean the difference between life and death. Our initial aim is to be able to provide a new cot for Kings College Hospital, and it is for this reason that the profits from the sale of Obsession will be given to the charity.
If you feel that this is a worthwhile cause to contribute to, I will be more than happy to supply you with an album, and I hope that you will have as much fun listening to it as we did in making it.
In all I've learned an awful lot from the whole project, and not just on the music side. If I were to do anything differently, I would aim to produce a compact disc rather than a record, since there is then far less compromise with the sound quality. I would also use a 'real' drummer - I don't want to programme another hi-hat pattern for a very long time!
The Obsession LP costs £7, inclusive of UK postage/carriage. 0990 25900.