Track Record: The Damned
Jim Betteridge, The Damned and the man who made Eloise
Producer: John Kelly
Band: The Damned
John Kelly's ascension to the position of producer has been classical indeed. He started as tea boy at the large and prestigious Air London Studios in 1976, quickly graduating to tape-op. In such an environment he got to assist some of the best engineers and producers in the world, going on to become house engineer working with such acts as Kate Bush, engineering her first three albums, The Kick Inside, Lion Heart and Never For Ever. By the third record John had left Air to go freelance and to establish himself as a producer. His production credits to date include an album by Chris Rea called simply, Chris Rea, had another by Abby Thomson, two singles from which had some considerable success in the States though suffering complete anonymity elsewhere in the world.
His first work with The Damned was early in 1985 engineering and producing the Phantasmagoria album at Eel Pie Studio in Twickenham plus the subsequent three singles all of which charted reasonably well, ending up somewhere in the early 20s. Since his first meeting with John, Damned vocalist Dave Vanian had exhibited a great passion for the old Paul and Barry Ryan single Eloise, and it was back in those early days that loose plans were first made to commit a Damned version to tape, given the opportunity.
An opportunity finally arose when MCA agreed to record the song as a single. Though dogged and variously protracted by sickness, emotional trauma and deaths in the family, all was hopefully finally made worthwhile by the record's top five chart succes.
John Kelly: "We always had in our minds that it must sound like a band. It would have been too easy to make it into a big orchestral production number like the original Paul and Barry Ryan version. We wanted it so that the band could actually play it. There wasn't a great deal of pre-production as such. We spent a day rehearsing in Nomis Studios tidying things up: we shortened the middle bit a little and made it more ethereal, and there was a Beach Boys backing vocal section in the original which we cut out all together. Dave had been performing the song in his head for so many years that he had a fairly strong idea of how he wanted to sing it. He came up with the 'schizophrenic vocal' idea of having the verses and choruses sung by a virtual mad man, dropping down in the middle bit to a very lush, lyrical feel, where he almost becomes a different character, then returning to the mad man again at the end.
"The backing track was recorded at Music Works on the 14th and 15th of October. We set the kit up in their live room which was mostly brick and stone, and although we did use individual mikes, we really wanted the drums to sound like a whole kit rather than isolated part, and so we primarily used an ambient pair of Neumann U87s.
There was also an AKG D25 on the bass drum, a Shure SM57 on the snare and a pair of STC 4038 ribbon mikes (the big black mikes used by the BBC) for overheads. We recorded the bass drum and snare on two separate tracks, plus a pair for the overheads and a pair for the ambients which gave us the basic kit sound. There's a prominent tom figure in the middle section that we overdubbed using close mikes — Sennheiser 421s — and which Rat double tracked. That arrangement of mikes is what I use most of the time. I prefer to use all dynamics because, although condensers may sound better individually, once they're in the mix it seems that they tend to get lost very quickly. The sound of a Neumann 84 on a snare when soloed is great, but in the track it loses its punch.
"Bryn played his Guild bass through his new Trace Elliot 8x10 stack set up in the other room with a single FET U47 about three feet from the cab. It was also DI'd but we ended up only using the mike. The guitar was done in the concrete corridor which is actually the entrance to the studio. Roman has a Boogie combo and extension 4x12. I used two U87s, one close and one ambient. It was a great live sound, the only problem being that that part of the studio isn't sound proofed and the neighbours complained: the studio's opposite the polytechnic and we had to wait until five o'clock until they'd all gone home.
"Dave sung a live guide vocal with the band at the rear of the control room, which can be closed off with sliding doors. We wanted a live band feel to the track, but obviously there are some restrictions in terms of safety — you can't commit yourself too early on, and the separation of the band members was primarily to keep the drums clean. Otherwise we would probably have had everyone in the same room. We also had a keyboard player in so that we could have the basic keyboard parts there live for recording. Most of the final synth parts Roman did later on, but the eights piano in the verses and the string chords in the verse were the original recordings. He used a Yamaha DX-7 and a Roland JX-8P MIDI'd together.
"As is evident from the record, we purposely didn't use a click track or anything. The song speeds up and slows down throughout, but it's a great performance, which is what we wanted. It was Rat's idea to try and make it like the first few minutes of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', you know where Harrison Ford's leaping over pits, and is narrowly missed by knives, skeletons and rolling holders — excitement from beginning to end.
"And so the band started to thrash it out, in true Damned tradition, until it started to sound right. It didn't take too long. We arrived in the studio around midday to set up and we had the final take in the can by seven or eight that evening. The next day we did the solo guitar overdubs for the chorus melody line, using the same set up in the corridor, and that was all we did at Music Works, because at that point there was a death in the family of one of the band, and so we had to cancel the final two days that we'd booked. The band were heavily committed to touring at that time and so there was a break of several weeks before we got back to recording.
"We finally booked into Eel Pie for the weekend of November 23rd, and I must say thanks to house engineer Tony Philips for being so helpful. Most of the original 24-track had been used up and so we transferred some monitor mixes on to a second machine which we eventually synced-up for a 48-track mix. We worked really hard for those two days: 10am to about 3am doing the keyboard parts — Emulator II and DX-7, the vocals and the mix. We liked the big brassy intro on the original track and wanted to keep the impact of that. In fact we used a lot of the Emulator II's orchestral sounds throughout: french horns, trumpets, timps, strings and in the ethereal middle section we used a modified choral sound. Where there were strings on the original we used a lovely sound on the Emulator called a Roll Organ; I'm not sure what that is, but we modified it by taking the attack off and putting it through a chorus effect. Then of course there were the obligatory orchestral stabs — I hope that's the end of them! (laughs), but they fitted the track so well, we had to put them in. Most of the weekend was spent doing keyboard parts. Dave did his vocal on the night of the 23rd, using a Schoeps condenser with a stocking on a coat hanger plus a standard pop shield because, although it's a great sounding mike, it is prone to popping. He'd sung it so many times before in his head that, although we had enough time to do more, we settled for the second take simply because it was such a great performance. The backing vocals were triple tracked by Dave and Roman using a pair of U87s in the same room. Roman then did some more guitar overdubs using the Boogie rig again: some slide 'a lá Pink Floyd' in the middle section, some chugging rhythm guitar using his newly acquired Gibson SG and some solo work at the end.
"We mixed the track at Swanyard Studios with the help of house engineer, Stuart Bruce, who was also great. It's difficult to engineer and produce simultaneously and as it was a bit of an epic mix and we only had one day to do it, I decided to get some help in. I always record 30ips, non-Dolby because it allows the freedom to move from studio to studio without the complications of differing equalisation curves and wrongly aligned noise reduction.
"The mix was very straightforward, the only effects being a lot of reverb: a pair of Lexicon 224Xs — one with Lark, the Quantec Room Simulator, an AMS with a non-linear program. With the exception of the bass drum, we stereo subgrouped the whole kit and put reverb on it as a whole to keep it sounding like a kit. I think the energetic performance was the main aspect of the single's success."