Andy Summers & Midge Ure Go To Rockschool | Andy Summers, Midge Ure
A day's filming for TV's Rockschool reveals Andy and Midge's playing tricks.
ANDY SUMMERS and MIDGE URE were filmed in August for the new series of Rockschool, the BBC TV programme that teaches budding rock players how to start or develop their instrumental abilities. The new series starts in early 1987, and will feature keyboards and vocals in addition to the established guitar-bass-drums trio. Making Music was invited to observe the day's filming: precis and pictures by TONY BACON.
11.30 Meet at RAK studio, northwest London, to film Andy Summers. Crew unload and start setting up in big studio room. Andy Summers already there, sits perched on one of his amps in front of control room glass (Marshall head on 4x12; Dean Markley combo; Roland JC120; Dean Markley; JC; Marshall head and 4x12). Toys with his Giffin Tele with single Bartolini pickup, single volume control, IVL hexaphonic pickup at bridge, simple Strat-like trem.
Rockschool producer Chris Lent and his assistant Adele Rawnsley are joined today by cameraman Dave and assistant Dominic, soundman Malcolm and assistant Michael, and lighting man Robert.
12.20 Soundmen taking time, but eventually all is ready for first take. Andy does a rehearsal of his opening guitar piece, 'Penn Hill March', and then the cameras roll.
Chris Lent asks him about the role of the guitar in the Police. "We tried in all areas to avoid cliches, and I think we were to some extent successful. My thing was to reduce chords to their prime elements, often just the fifths. One of the things that makes music 'corny' is by always including the third in a chord — the minute you leave the third out and just use the root and the fifth you get into a kind of cleaner area. It goes back a long way, to Gregorian Chants even, but it sounds very modem."
After some more questioning, the first roll of film runs out, and the soundman has a moan. "We can't take speech and playing at the same time," he complains.
"It's 1986 man," complains Andy, continuing in old-fogey voice: "Ah, of course, at the BBC it's still 1942."
12.35 Second roll starts. Do you extend that chord idea much, asks Chris? "The most prevalent one in the Police has been adding the ninth. For example 'Message In A Bottle' used simple chords: C#m, A, B and F#m, but outlined with a picking pattern that added the ninths. Similarly with 'Every Breath You Take', very simple chords but outlined by picking the root, fifth and third plus the added ninths."
What about harmonics, asks the man from the BBC? "I've played barred harmonics over the fourth fret for years on end, it seems to fit any situation, specially with a hit of trem. My standard sound that I start from is with a compressor and chorus unit, and I add the Echoplex (1960s tape echo) a lot — that sounds like real echo to me, you get a lot of hiss and stuff, but live it's marvellous. Unfortunately we've all got brainwashed by chorus — the minute you play your guitar straight it's frightening! The compression helps to give the sound a bit more punch."
Chris mentions Andy's distinctive soloing guitar, stuff like 'Bombs Away', 'Driven To Tears', and 'Secret Journey'. Andy: "Another early decision with the Police was that I had to come up with alternatives to cliched rock licks. Jazz didn't seem quite right, so I ended up somewhere in the middle, sort of angular things, flattened fifths, displaced octaves and so on."
12.50 Second roll ends. Soundman still moaning about separation between guitar and voice. A DI is suggested. "No, I want to get on with it," says Andy. Next a cut in volume is suggested. "I can't turn it down," asserts Andy. "I want it to sound rich, not like a fucking mouse. If it's on TV you want it to sound good."
12.55 Cut. Andy chats with his assistant Dennis, who sets up Andy's new IVL pitch-to-MIDI driving a DX7 to illustrate the film's guitar synth section.
13.02 Take of guitar synth demo starts.
13.05 Satisfactory — so cut. A break while the camera's moved, during which we grab a lightning Making Music interview with Andy. He's at RAK with his two colleagues to re-record 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' for the forthcoming Police greatest hits collection — he was never happy with the original guitar sound and thought that the recording didn't do justice to the song. He describes the new version as "very contemporary sounding, with a very different guitar sound".
He's been working on his solo album all year; it's due out in January '87. How solo is it, we ask? "Just me. Well, I worked with a great producer called David Hentschel who did six albums with Genesis, and millions of others. Basically it was me and him. I did have a drummer in a couple of times and some girls singing with me, and I used a bass player on a couple of tracks." A title yet? He's not sure. A working title, then? "'The Last Straw'," he laughs.
Andy's also keen to follow up his soundtrack for 'Down And Out In Beverly Hills' with more film work. He has a possible project lined up with Bill Forsyth (who made 'Gregory's Girl' and 'Local Hero'), and another with Maurice Jarre (Jean-Michel's dad). But nothing certain. After the filming today, it's off to mix the solo album, and then a short holiday. For now, though, the director calls.
13.15 The final close-ups are shot. Cut. Ta very much. Pack up, load gear.
13.40 Leave for pub.
14.50 Chris, Adele and I arrive at Nomis rehearsal studio 2, west London, to film Midge Ure. Midge is already there (his copy of Making Music which he picked up at Nomis reception is by his side), and starts discussing questions with Chris. Midge has seen the previous Rockschool programmes, and is in fact a fan. Chris asks about his amplification. "That's my stack over there," says Midge, pointing to a tiny 'Rackmount' — the new rackmounted version of the Tom Scholz Rockman, with two jacks in, two out, fx level knob; Rockman slots in on the left.
15.00 Crew arrives. "We've been in the wrong studio," they grin. Oh, who was in there? "Two cool musos." Quick discussion about where to film, and decide on the mixing desk at the top end for the guitar sequences, then down in the main body of the room for the vocal bits.
15.05 Crew go out to find loading bay, and unload gear. Much to-ing and fro-ing.
15.25 Camera in position — trying angles. Lights still being set and adjusted, sound people fiddling with their Nagra tape recorders. Fashion note: Midge cuts his nails pre-filming with small scissors from his keyring; earlier, Andy had filed his over the RAK piano. As Midge does his nails I ask him if he's seen Making Music before. "We were in here a couple of months ago writing the new album, and the highlight of the day was finding this new magazine." Oh.
15.45 Still adjusting lights, some hum on guitar also causing a problem.
15.50 Chris sits down next to camera, everybody now seems happy. Except the soundman, of course. "I think our mike position is too compromised," he says. Ends up putting a mike on Midge's shirt. Midge using a grey Ibanez Roadstar Strat-shaped guitar, all grey (result of an all-grey Ultravox set). "Do you boil the strings?" someone asks while last adjustments are made. "No, I put them on the guitar. God, I know I'm Scottish," he laughs, "but boiling the strings..."
15.55 All ready. Start first roll. How has the role of the guitar in Ultravox developed? "In the studio now, I tend to sample pieces of guitar on to the Emulator and put the solo or guitar part together like a jigsaw. You end up with something that you couldn't possibly do live, a very strange melodic line — but it's so difficult to do live, you need two left hands."
16.00 Cut as Chris has coughing fit. "It's usually the person being filmed," says the cameraman. Continue when he's all better. Chris asks why with Ultravox's 'classical heritage' they hadn't used more unusual time signatures? "We're not musicians' musicians I don't suppose, we're not state-of-the-art technicians; when it comes to our instruments we're adequate and capable. Using odd time signatures... it's crawling up your own backside. It's the sort of music you can only dance to if you've only got one leg longer than the other. Ultravox are more interested in having the melody and the content of the music right rather than trying to get far too clever for our own good. If we want to be a bit odd we tend to speed the track up in the middle or slow it down — for people with no legs!"
16.20 End guitar section. Everyone moves for the vocal section, re-arrange gear. Midge spends the break reading his Making Music. We interrupt, suitably, for another lightning Making Music interview. He explains that he's just come back from Air studio in Montserrat mixing the new Ultravox album which he expects to have released at the beginning of October. Most of the guitar and keyboard overdubs were done at Midge's and Billy Currie's home studios respectively, but the drum tracks were put down at Conny Plank's studio in Germany — Conny's back in the production chair again. Mark Brzezicki played drums (after Warren Cann's departure). Why Mr B? "I'd used him on one track on my solo album, and he was so good to work with. He has a great feel — he's a very tall Phil Collins."
They have a couple more remixes to do on the album at this stage — a few problems had arisen at Montserrat as the studio is changing over to digital recorders. "Some of the old analogue stuff there is on its last legs. We got the last legs." And what does the new album sound like, other than the obvious 'brilliant'? "Not nearly as many keyboards," explains Midge, "not as layered as previous albums have been, more immediate. It feels more like a band actually getting up there and performing. A lot less synth bass, too, more bass guitar. Using whatever's at our fingertips... a lot more emphasis on guitars rather than lush multi-layered keyboards." We leave him to continue with the August issue.
16.45 The soundman, meanwhile, is still checking mikes — problems getting a mike feed from Nomis' Yamaha 1604 desk. Brief discussion of Spinal Tap by the crew around the mikes (the getting-lost-under-the-stage section). Midge continues to read Making Music in the corner.
16.55 Discussion of how to start filming the vocal section.
17.00 Rehearsal of opening, where Midge walks on, sings opening of 'If I Was', then explains how to use the distance from the mike as, in effect, a volume control. He also sings a couple of bits of 'Vienna' to illustrate how, as a vocal note dies away, you move into the mike to maintain the level.
17.05 Straight into first take. Midge says: "Most people when they're singing live, you see their lips pressed right against the microphone, and it's simply because the closer they are to the mike the better they're going to hear themselves through the monitors. In a studio, though, the engineer will make you stand some way from the mike to stop all the pops and stuff."
17.16 Start last section on vocals. Are there better keys for Midge to sing in, asks Chris? "I find there are keys that are difficult to sing in — I'm all right in most of them, but E's bad for me, it's either too low to sing with any power or too high to sing in the range that I'm comfortable in."
17.20 End. Thanks very much. Soundman wants to redo 'Vienna' bit. "It wasn't disastrous," he says, "but it might be good to have it again."
17.25 Retake 'Vienna' section. Soundman still not happy, wants to cut in last sentence. He's told you can't cut in a single sentence, so they must do it once more.
17.27 Second retake of 'Vienna'.
17.30 Thanks again; pack up and leave.
Feature by Tony Bacon
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