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1984

Article from One Two Testing, January 1985

through the year darkly with One Two


The end of 1984 has one real, warm and blessed advantage — it gives us the whole of 1985 to work on the Trevor Horn backlash. We'll be coming back to the backlash a little later when you and I will have a cosy chat about why Frankie, Horn and ZTT are some of the worst news for musicians in years.

But first — 1984... the year of the film of the book. That's another bonus, we won't have to hear about George bloody Orwell in '85 (maybe not George Michael either). Why hasn't someone pointed out the simple fact that it's a rather dull and ordinary tome where buggar all goes on and does it for a rather long time. Can just imagine the CSE examination board getting on to Orwell and saying 'look George, we need something a bit weighty and turgid to keep us in exam questions for the 1980's — any ideas??' The boy came up trumps.

Still, suppose we ought to discuss the music. There are words that stand out underlined in the diary. MIDI — what a great scheme, isn't it about time they got it right. We always thought the plan was for a universal synth connection system that simply helped you make better music and better sounds. Why, then, are we expected to know transmission channels, system and exclusive parameters and bit codes in order to make the thing work properly? And if it's been around for 18 months, why are those companies adopting MIDI for the first time still fouling it up?

DX7 — almost have to apologise for mentioning it so often but it has become the Prophet-5 of the 80's: a classic, a 'first of it's kind'. Interestingly enough, a gentleman by the name of Chowning who began investigating digital synthesis at the same time Bob Moog was exploring voltage control, is still developing, securing and then selling the patents for 'the plucked string algorithm', for example. It's rumoured that Yamaha bought his earlier work, but now America's massive Mattel empire has bid for the latest lot.

Sampling — brilliant when it's an instrument, abhorrent when it's a chicken-out short cut. As Liz Coley predicted a few issues back, the next step must be the facility to get into the samples themselves and restructure them from the inside. If Korg, Yamaha and Roland don't have samplers of some description out in '85 the office will be filled with subdued munching of hats.

Eddie Van Halen — a rock 'guitarist'. There are few left.

Break back the sweat encrusted spine of the OTT 1984 diary and what do we have? January began bizarrely with a review of the Thompson Vocal Eliminator, a rack device that would apparently remove the main vocal from a recording so you could superimpose your own. You wouldn't believe the number of people we still get ringing up trying to track one down. The sad news is that, actually, it doesn't work very well and only 25 per cent of the material we fed through came out convincingly unvocalised.

Roddy Frame confessed to owning a wonderful Gibson Scotty Moore which set him back a grand. He usually plays it until a lyric comes into his head. "I always try to get something that's subconscious... not as hippy as that, more intuitive." And we decided the Tube was the greatest rock show on TV because it was made BY the Tube FOR the Tube and not BY the BBC FOR Whistle Test... did we say Whistle Test?? Sorry, just slipped out.

February revealed that Lemmy's favourite album of all time was... 'Motorhead Live'. We didn't ask him to name his favourite bass player. Didn't seem much point. But in a tough, penetrating One Two survey, six other four stringers — including John Wilson and Derek Forbes — elected Pastorius, Clarke and Bruce as the all time greats. Pastorious was nominated for 'Birdland', '4AM' and 'Teen Town', Clarke for 'Wild Dog', 'Schooldays' and 'Lopsy Lu', Bruce for... er... 'Sunshine of Your Love' and 'Sunshine of Your Love'.

We saw the Prophet T8 and loved it, though reckoned it a bit expensive, watched Simon Phillips teach us the paradiddle and more, and went to Frankfurt for the trade fair. You didn't, but we told you about it. Yeah, we had a great time, thanks.

Tom Dolby appeared to move backwards into technology on his new album revealing to a One Two penpusher that a video machine controls his Fairlight on stage and the 'guide piano' he wrote most of the songs around was saved in favour of the synths when it came to the final mix.

Drummers are an odd muddle, as we all know; forever coming up with surprises like that sudden, unexpected word with more than two syllables in it. Woody from Madness turned out to be a home recording genius. Viz: "Another thing I discovered is that you can direct high frequencies, you can put them where you want in the stereo mix — it's worth bearing in mind for the 'diddly-dees'. If you put a bass guitar off to the left, you don't really know where it is when you listen back. But high frequencies you can place, say, either side and that's what you'll hear back. It's like putting a frame around a picture, it pulls it all together."

Stars old, new and, how shall we say, dead materialised to brighten our days. We introduced you to lovable schizoid Clint Surname — the street boy, the Bruno of pop. Clint, we said you've had quite a few fights that made the front pages. Why is that? "Well, people just ask for it." You mean they provoke you, push you too far? "No, they come up and ask for it. They say 'can you 'it me for a photograph otherwise my editor will sack me'."

And passing the upturned glass over ancient interviews, we contacted Jimi Hendrix to add his full stop to our special 30th-birthday-for-the-Strat supplement. "I play a Fender Stratocaster with Fender light gauge strings using a regular E string for the B and a tenor A for the little E to get my kind of sound. Put the strings on slightly harder and they ring louder." He dematerialised and went to shuffle his dice.

Should have got back to him to see if God coughs up on MU rates since the April issue was largely concerned with money. What can you do with it? Buy a 24 second AMS delay worth £24,000 and spin in Boy George's vocals triggered from your Fairlight, if you're Steve Levine; buy two hamburgers and a cup of tea if you're Out Bar Squeek.

Fearless (some say witless) investigator Dave Sinclair wanted to know how much bands genuinely earn. He discovered "MU rates for a pub gig are £2.40 per half hour or a minimum of £14 per performance. Out Bar Squeek, a nine piece jazz rock band secured a total a payment of £4 for a night's work at the Rock Garden in central London calculated according to the venue's notorious free ticket return system. It is impossible to believe that the presence of any band at the Rock Garden, widely known for many years specifically as a Rock venue, is not going to secure net earnings for the management considerably in excess of £4. The guy who washes the glasses behind the bar will get paid more than that." It was ever thus.

Alternatively, when Ron Wood joined the Stones he was put on a salary of £1,000 a week — that was in 1975. The pay slips for Whitesnake amounted to £170,000 in a year, signed by David Coverdale, and at Shea Stadium, Miles Copeland gave the air flight controllers of nearby JFK airport 50 pairs of tickets to that night's Police concert so they would divert the noisy air traffic away from the gig for a couple of hours. It's a mental old world.

Cranky old sods like Ted Nugent don't add to the collective sanity. One of half a dozen strummers quizzed on his favourite guitar breaks of all time, Ted adopted the Lemmy philosophy and selected one of his own; 'Tailgunner'. "The solo is just too earth shattering", declaimed the Nuge, "I listen to myself and I go 'who is this guy??' — the speed, the dexterity, the weird note configurations. I'm constantly moved by my own playing." A self made man. Good of him to take the blame. Meanwhile everyone else voted for Hendrix — no surprise — for Jeff Beck, and... more intriguingly... Django Rheinhardt. Voters included Adrian Belew and Robert Smith.

One Two pressed on with its unique educational tool of showing pictures of famous players' fingers, while they were discussing how they played. In February it was Simon Phillips under the fish eye, in May, Mark King provided photographic evidence that he has the forearms of a Conan and the fingers of a Kung Fu champion. Snapping on the G and D strings, he posed and posited: "Bass players often over react when they want to do this and wind their finger right under the string. That's not really cool. When I snap I tend to use the very outside corner of the finger and don't go underneath at all." Rest assured, we shall advance this peek technique.

We've had some unusual but agreeable technical definitions over the 12 months. Honeybone, computer-hooligan of this diocese has come up with most. Tell us about sampling rates, H-bone... "A movie camera does much the same thing by sampling one frame at a time. If the sampling rate is too slow then the original cannot be reconstructed from the information available and the result is the musical equivalent of a jerky Charlie Chaplin film."

What if you're not too concerned about the original? What if you're consuming consideration is the final product and the sampled input is just an excuse for you to practise your art? Any old input would do as long as it's not from someone who's going to complain too much or want to be that creatively involved.

And so we chug steaming into that backlash station mentioned earlier in the timetable — Frankie and Trevor. Certainly Horn has done good work, ably assisting Yes on 'Owner of a Lonely Heart' which scored close to perfect tens from our team of producer judges. Frankie is another matter.

'Relax' and 'Two Tribes' are undeniably excellent and the hype around them superbly obsessive. So why did yours truly claim at the start of all this that they were the worst news for musicians in years?

Because our definition of a producer is someone who draws the best performance, songs, and ideas from THE BAND. He doesn't use those four or five musicians as extras in his own wide screen epic. The band starts the ball rolling, he greases the track yet with Frankie, every interview and clue given indicate that those five people at the front of the stage are prepared to abdicate all musical responsibility to the machines at the rear labelled Synclavier, Fairlight, Morley and Horn.

However important image has become in winning success, pop music is still MADE by up and coming, new bands. Are we now in the position where the ugly old guard realise they have no hope of cutting it under the spotlights, so hire five 'actors' to take their place. How many bands will Trevor Horn and Paul Morley rematerialise as over the coming years?

Alright, so manipulation is nothing new... ZTT don't even have that claim to originality. Their only departure is in selling their usury to the public instead of hiding it behind the filing cabinets.

It's a popular comment now that the best thing Frankie could do to cap their triumphs would be to split up. It would be very beneficial indeed for Horn and Morley who would be freed to work on their next project while the band, hardly pushed for the spare fiver, might amuse itself looking for other bit parts. If only they didn't make such brilliant singles, the sods.

Fortunately, not all of '84 was usurped by the Laurel and Hardy of the computer readout. Barney of New Order voiced his own opinions on songwriting between the pages of our July issue. He writes at night, "because during the day there are a lot of people all over England sat up awake, thinking, and I think you pick up their thoughts and brainwaves. When they go to sleep at night you can think more clearly... there's less interference".

A month later Heaven 17 found they also got very little interference, particularly from the orchestra they hired to work on their album. In fact the dicky bow and resin men seemed afraid of doing anything... at all. "How can they express any astonishment that orchestras are not getting as much work in pop music?" It was beyond Martyn Ware. "They're just the most unconscientious people — I'd rather have Lemmy in there doing something, he'd be much more conscientious. They just sit around, couldn't care less. And it's depressing, they've taken the trouble to learn how to play their instruments and they've been transformed into machines."

In October, a synth man at almost the opposite end of the scale was to virtually echo Martyn Ware's words, with perhaps a little more force. Said Keith Emerson: "They couldn't care a shit. Their attitude is 'here we are, we've got a rock and roll chappie, reckons he's written a piano concerto, oh yes', they won't even look at the score until the conductor's got his baton up... totally sloppy". So there we are, rock and roll 2, classical expertise 0.

All this was a far cry from the synth industry which appeared to be bending over its own bit code in order to do half a dozen different things at once; witness the Oberheim Xpander launched at Namm in Chicago and the Roland GR700 guitar synth. While some companies continued to go MIDI mad, others, notably the Japanese, just went mental. What else could you conclude from the manual to the PSEG 111 A281, for example, (a guitar, if you hadn't guessed)?

"A multi-functioned type for performance use. The main factions are 32 kinds of rhythms, stoccato, eremelo, trill, turn, echo. It can be connected with microphone and mircophone has built-in speakers." They will have their little joke, won't they?

But who can match the sparkling wit and irreverent humour of adorable airhead Ted Nugent. Yes him again. Nugget surfaced again during our famous sex survey when we tried to find out the truth behind back stage sex, the expectations of groupies and the dangers they pose to the likes of us... hideous threats such as never getting the chance to meet any. Nuge had this to say when asked why he was only stopping in London for one gig last February. "You seen the women in London lately?? One day is all we'll need to service everything! You know, the last time I played Hammersmith Odeon I looked out there in the front row and I thought the pig season had opened!!" Thank the Lord chivalry still lives.

As the ragged end of Autumn squelched into the muddy days of October we took pity on all the scuffed and battered six strings out there and published a pull out guitar-care supplement. Immensely successful, it flipped through all the common problems, slippages and puzzlers that the beloved electric occasionally presents to us and sorted them in easily comprehended words and pictures. Adrian Legg soothed our over-twanged brows.

Mark King's forearms made a welcome return, this time sliding a pen about and answering questions sent in by One Two readers. Ben Duncan likewise solved that ancient enigma — how do I snuff it with the least effort? By forgetting that electricity is not always your friend. Beware of the cut finger and the live wire. "If live power is applied to a grazed hand and you're earthed via a wounded foot, a surprisingly low voltage can kill — as little as 60 volts." Never knew skin was such a good insulator. Think I'll keep mine.

Andy Duncan had trouble with the mains in-America as he reported in November, fresh back from a USA tour with Difford and Tilbrook. The erratic volts were not much favoured by his unimpressed Simmons. In return, one American standard fell in love with a British rose. Jon Lewin went to interview Bo Diddley taking along the new, stepped-fret Bond Guitar, hopefully as a talking point. He nearly didn't leave the hotel with it.

"Ah lurv it", Bo appraised him, "think they'd make me one if I asked them?" Stranger things have happened to rock and roll father figures. Look at Bob Moog, daddy to the synthesiser revolution. He started his career selling Theremins. What they, you say. If you'd read our Synth History supplement you'd know they were strange slices of metal that emitted weird wailing noises if you brought your hands close to them. Usually responsible for the "ooohh... OOOOOhhh... ooohhh" bits during bad, black and white science fiction films.

And so we tumbled towards the end of the year with our magnificent December issue, a fitting way to finish our first year of monthly publication seeing as how it was the biggest issue we'd ever produced. Seemed to weigh a ton and carry more information than Richard Branson's tax coding... Big Country interview, 16 page special on effects, continuation of the £7,000 SYCO competition for shelves of fabulous equipment, analyses of the difference between jazz and rock, discussions with Joe Sample, one of the finest keyboard players, a proper examination of the dangers loud gigs and rehearsals pose to your hearing, facts on the popular resurgence of the electric 12 string, more reviews than you could flap a blanket at and the world's first quiz to decide utterly, finally and incontrovertibly whether you are really a musician.

'Course, if you've been reading us all year, you already know the answer's yes. Why don't you tell your mate, so he can be certain as well.



Previous Article in this issue

Hofner Verified

Next article in this issue

Yamaha B100/112 MkIII Bass Combo


Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - Jan 1985

Retrospective by Paul Colbert

Previous article in this issue:

> Hofner Verified

Next article in this issue:

> Yamaha B100/112 MkIII Bass C...


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