From Basing Street Studios ... to Beyond

Harry Robinson
Chris Stainton
Mick Weaver
﷯Notwithstanding the fact that Island’s offices were housed above the studios, Basing Street was something of a melting pot for musicians; part home-from-home and part the place to record at that time. Set within an old deconsecrated church in Notting Hill, it was as state-of-the-art as it gets. JR - “When Bronco folded, I took a bit of a break – actually, thinking back, it was probably only a few weeks; I was writing stuff and hanging around Island’s offices and studios which, at that time, were housed at Basing Street.” Phill Brown – who started out as a tape-op at Olympic Studios in November 1967, working under Glyn Johns and Eddie Kramer and with artists such as the Rolling Stones, the Small Faces, Traffic and Jimi Hendrix – was one of the house-engineers between 1970 and ’76.
PHILL BROWN – “In Studio Two, from ‘70 to ‘73, we had the first Helios desk, originally built for Olympic by Dick Swettenham. In fact, Island was all Helios, as was the mobile studio, the Stones’ mobile and the Who’s Ramport. The original Helios in Studio Two was 24 in and eight out, whereas when they brought in the next model in late ‘73, early ‘74, it was 32 in and 16 out.”
“Helios, Cadac and Trident were all very similar during that era — just beautiful desks — yet they didn’t have a lot of effects: two echo sends and maybe two foldbacks.” ﷯“That’s all we had, so mixing was always about plugging in particular sounds from particular tracks. We didn’t have ‘aux sends’ where you could send every channel to all kind of things, and we therefore had to think ahead about what we were going to do.” “The Helios was a lovely desk for two people to operate in a mix environment on 16-track. Once it got to 24-track, things got hairy, but 16 was perfect. A lot of what we did was down to miking technique and getting sounds in the room that we liked or we wanted. Rather than change it later, you had to be pretty close to what you wanted to have on the record.” “We used largely the same mics from session to session. I guess we had our favourites and know that Tony Platt and Richard Digby Smith — who were two of the other house engineers — both fancied Shure 57s and the old Electrovoice RE20s. They weren’t the conventional mics, but they were getting great results.” “The monitors in Studio Two were 15-inch Tannoy Red drivers inside Lockwood cabinets suspended from the ceiling, while the tape machines were a 3M 24-track, 3M 16-track and an Ampex eight-track that was used to make transfers.” ﷯JR - “At this point, I was occasionally sitting in on other peoples sessions and it was around this time that I worked with Carol Grimes on her album ‘Warm Blood’ pictured right, (Carol lived pretty close to Basing Street) and I also contributed to the Keef Hartley album ‘Lancashire Hustler’.
‘Richard Digby Smith (Diga) and I would occasionally record bits and pieces at night in one of the studios if it wasn’t being used. "
‘Amongst other things, we recorded ‘Ferry Cross’ which was eventually used on my first solo album. ‘When the time arrived to start recording proper for my album, CB introduced me to John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick. ‘Rab originally hailed from Texas and had been touring Europe with Johnny Nash – they’d eventually tipped-up in London and Rabbit had a mind to make it his home.” The tour had come about since Nash had scored throughout Scandinavia with Bob Marley’s song Stir It Up; Bob himself was back in Jamaica at the time working on the basics for what was to become The Wailers’ first Island album – the legend that would become Catch A Fire still (at this point) to be delivered from Jamaica to be textured and mixed at Basing Street.
﷯“CB thought Rabbit and I would work well together and so we started recording probably three nights a week for several weeks. Diga was engineering and Rabbit played keyboards, sang back-up and was the official producer. ‘The songs were country/folk tinged - in fact, not a million miles from the Bronco template.” Rabbit is, nowadays, probably best known for his work with The Who and, since performing with them at Live Aid, has been pretty much a stable fixture within the group. However, over the years he has mande notable contributions to albums by Roger Waters, Fairport Convention, Bryn Haworth, Sandy Denny, The Only Ones, Eric Burdon, Ronnie Lane, Andy Fairweather Low, John Martyn, Mick Jagger as well as Free and their offshoots, Kossof, Kirke, Tetsu, Rabbit together with Paul Kossof’s Back Street Crawler. “A lot of musicians played on those sessions and I regret to say that I can’t remember all of them... ‘But I do remember that Barry Dransfield, a very fine folk fiddler, played on a couple of songs as did steel guitar player BJ Cole. ‘I’m pretty sure that the Fairport’s Dave Mattacks would have drummed as did Free’s Simon Kirke, Mike Kellie (from Spooky Tooth) was on drums too. Pat Donaldson – another from the Fairport camp – definitely played some bass. ‘There must have been guitar players, I think Jerry Donahue was one and me... oh, I strummed acoustic guitar. ‘Anyway, when it was all done, we had about eight or nine songs and Rabbit and I played the mixes to CB. ‘He didn’t say he didn’t like them but he did say that he thought that the direction of the music was not right for me. ‘Back to the drawing board! ‘So... I did a bit more drifting, more guesting on other artists records and, generally, shifted my musical gaze away from Folk and back to Blues and Soul. ‘I was invited to join a couple of bands – one of which was with Wayne Perkins, Trace (the bass) and Yan (the drummer) who had been members of Smith, Perkins and Smith, an American band that Island had signed. ‘We hung out together a lot and talked about music but never really got down to making any.”
Smith Perkins and Smith, in fact, recorded just the one Island album (released in 1972) and toured England at the same time on a quasi-package bill that featured Free, Fairport Convention, Uriah Heep and Vinegar Joe. Their eponymous album featured Wayne Perkins (guitars); Steve Smith (keyboards); Tim Smith (piano / guitars) along with the (already legendary) Muscle Shoals musical-heavy-hit-squad of Barry Beckett (keyboards); David Hood (bass) and Roger Hawkins (drums) – the latter three would go on to become key players during Traffic’s ‘middle period’ while Wayne Perkins would add (at the time uncredited) guitar licks to Marley’s Catch A Fire.
“I also played some music with Chris Stainton, the late Jimmy McCulloch and Mick Feat – a band was proposed but nothing came of it. “
﷯That band eventually became Tundra and featured all of the above together with Henry Spinetti (drums). They released just the one album – entitled Glen Turner’s Tundra on Goodear Records (following Turner replacing McCullouch who’d left to hook up with MacCartney and join Wings in 1974). Stainton, of course, was a world-renowned session player and fresh out of the Grease Band – Joe Cocker/Mad Dogs and Englishmen circus and would later go on to work with Eric Clapton et al.
Mick Feat had arrived from US combo, Runner while McCulloch – formerly of Thunderclap Newman and Stone The Crows – died from a heroin overdose in London during 1979. He was 26. ﷯‘Then… I hooked up with Philip Chen, an old friend from back in the Alan Bown days – he was perenially out on the road with Jimmy James & The Vagabonds.” Brought up in Jamaica, Phil Chen moved to the UK in the early sixties and joined Jimmy James and the Vagabonds. It is, however, as a session player that he has indelibly left his mark, working with the likes of Jeff Beck (Blow By Blow), Donovan (Cosmic Wheels), Joan Armatrading as well as on records by Rod Stewart, Ray Charles, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Cliff, Jerry Lee Lewis, Pete Townshend, and many others. After playing in The Butts Band, Phil reunited with Robbie Kreiger in a quasi Doors reformation, Manzarek-Krieger during 2004 with whom he still works to this day.
“Phil was and is a magnificent bass player – his idols being the likes of James Jameson, Chuck Rainey and Willie Weeks. ‘So… I teamed up with some of the musicians that he’d been playing with – Richard Bailey, Tony Braunagel both played drums – as well as Mick Weaver and... Steve Gregory the flautist had been recommended too, and so sessions were booked at Olympic.” ﷯Steve Gregory – equally adept as a flautist as Saxophonist started out with Alan Price’s band before becoming one of the go-to session players on the London circuit. He has recorded with (among many, many others) The Rolling Stones – playing on Honky Tonk Woman – as well as Fleetwood Mac, Georgie Fame, Geno Washington and more. He was briefly a member of Ginger Baker’s Airforce before moving to Nigeria to work with Fela Kuti. His career over the past thirty years has not only included countless sessions but also considerable road-work with the likes of: George Michael (sax on Careless Whisper); Bryn Haworth, Chris Rea, Alison Moyet, Freddie King, Maxi Priest, China Crisis, Queen and Amazulu as well as being a member of the 1983/84 reunion-world tour of The Animals.
He moved on to join Van Morrison before hooking up with Dennis Bovell’s Dub Band, touring around the world with Linton Kwesi Johnson.
Steve eventually released his first solo record, an acid /jazz / fusion set, Bushfire, on the LKJ Records label – an album that featured both Georgie Fame and Queen’s John Deacon.
“The first two songs we recorded were On Broadway and I’m On Your Side although that was originally called For Granted.
‘CB drafted in Harry Robinson to write some string charts – which he did magnificently.”
Harry Robinson had a pedigree as long as anyone’s arm – he was formerly the musical director of the BBC’s Six-Five Special and ITV’s Oh Boy! as well as a score composer of note. His credits include Hammer House Of Horror’s bodice-ripping yarns such as: Countess Dracula, Twins Of Evil, The Ghoul, The Vampire Lovers and Lust For A Vampire as well as – at that time – scoring for Sandy Denny, Nick Drake (River Man from his first album, Five Leaves Left), the Spencer Davis Group and Marianne Faithfull.
“He (Chris) was now firmly behind the mixing console with Diga engineering and in no time at all both of these songs were mixed and finished off.”
Still, nothing ever runs that smoothly and following an invitation from The Doors’ Robbie Krieger and John Densmore to ‘come and say hello’ – On Broadway and I’m On Your Side remained in their box on the shelf marked ‘Unreleased Jess Roden’ for quite a few more months.
A list of albums recorded at Basing Street reads like a who’s who of stellar recordings from not just that era but throughout modern musical history – and not only Island acts such as Traffic, Free, Bad Company, Robert Palmer, Spooky Tooth, King Crimson, Mott The Hoople, Roxy Music, Sparks and Cat Stevens.
Because... Basing St was also where the likes of Led Zeppelin IV was laid to tape – indeed, The Rolling Stones were ensconced in the studio at the same time as Bob Marley (Bob also lived for nearly a year in a flat above the studios); Queen’s We are the Champions was recorded there as was the cathedral organ part on George Micheal’s Faith; The Clash recorded there as did the Pet Shop Boys, The Eagles, Depeche Mode and Paul McCartney while Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax, Radiohead’s Amnesiac & OK Computer and Madonna’s Music all came straight-outta Basing Street.
However, perhaps the most famous session of all took place on November 25th, 1984 between 11am and 7am when Band Aid’s Do They Know Its Christmas was recorded and mixed through the night.