by Roger Freeman

Chapter 5

One nod leads to another and coming the other way on Neal Street, Covent Garden was Malcolm McLaren with the fashion types from the past, even though it was December they looked as though they had just seen the first blossom on the trees. 

    “There’s this thing…”

    “Paris in the spring?”

    “No, it’s called Ecstasy and it makes your skin go all sensitive.”

Strange, and I carried on wandering around the shops, trying to figure out what to do next. Sharon had also left Exmouth Market but, in a variation of the Cheltenham swap, I managed to get a room on the other side and up in a roof again. I started catching the bus through Holborn to the West End and sometimes would walk past the Royal Academy phone box which brought back the dreamlike phone call and trip to America. A little further down on the right was an entrance hall leading to the Saturday-night basement nightclub that was White Trash. Patrons included Australian performance artist Leigh Bowery with painted circles on his head and holding a pint, plus I think I spotted a Sex Pistols drummer on occasions. One night in the new year I bumped into newly-arrived Stephen Duffy and tried to remember what Malcolm’s mates had said in Covent Garden, “Eggs for tea?” It was very loud in that club, “Something like that.” On hearing of all the tunes that had mounted up in Turin, he suggested trying getting some of it onto tape and a quick run-through to his drum machine progressed to Richard Branson’s houseboat studio in Little Venice, W9. Stephen had a contract and was recording there himself so there was plenty of spare two-inch multi-track to be found. On went the drum machine followed by a lot of trombones in layers and, in what became our practice in future: quick – chuck anything on we can find to fill it up. Vocals? We just grabbed speech off the radio that would fit the rhythm, then we asked Chip’s and old Pigbag’s great friend Françoise from the Ladbroke Grove Hotel days to add some bespoke talking for a theoretical B-side. This she did in her superb French accent with a much better word order and an occasional mispronouncing to make it spot on. Unlike the Cheltenham wait after meeting Simon, Stephen’s 10 Records label quickly got to hear our effort, now entitled ‘Programme 7’, with the result that a Single contract was ours – if the first half of the 1980s was sped up, the second half became a blur. I reckon it was fashion magazine i-D that had a photo of a model wearing a trapper-style hat with the ear-cover flaps untied and hanging down each side. Thinking it looked good, I called into a huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ shop on New Oxford Street, followed by a cigar store in Soho and while I was at it, I borrowed clip-on shades from a brother for our new look. Anything I could do, Stephen could match – he wore a fez now, fezzes are cool. In the new Exmouth Market kitchen, a friend declared that Stephen ‘Tin Tin’ Duffy’s new side-project should also be one of Hergé’s cartoon characters: ‘Professor Calculus,’ except he said Doctor by mistake, close enough. FINISHED! In the nearest I have ever got to a music business meeting, we called into the record label office where brief hellos were swapped and the next thing I know, not only another single was on, but a whole kerblam album with the realisation that we now had to fill up forty minutes of vinyl with kitchen sinks. Before this, ex-Venue concertgoer and photographer Nick Duffy was on hand to snap our new gear in his Hackney Marshes flat as well as up on the roof. 

We would have to call in reinforcements as the budget went out the window and in came engineer Paul Staveley O’Duffy, no relation, who doubled-up as top-class producer. This meant top-class studios at a wildly-rumoured thousand pounds a day but these did include table tennis and pool tables. Stephen told Paul to use every studio effect he had ever heard of plus some he hadn’t which meant hiring-in everything going. A side project instantly lets everyone off the reins as it is not what the record company is keeping their eyes on, we could do anything, use everything and ask anyone. By 1984, the Pigbag horn section was out of copyright so maybe, if asked nicely, Ollie and Chris Lee would like to join-in recreating the big brass band sound again, perhaps they could get something out of those tunes from Turin I had been lugging around. Stephen’s manager Tarquin had a lot of connections and would see what he could do. Vocals-wise, that speech-off-the-radio idea could be extended by asking non-professional friends to come and read out specially-prepared statements, some of it written in French by Nick for Françoise. The first expensive studio used was in Eccleston Street, Victoria, down the road from the dreaded Venue. Those Duffy brothers must have thought this project worth capturing for posterity as Nick hired extra lighting in and set up a colour film camera in the corner to take a time-lapse frame every minute for the duration. 

Paul put on his engineering hat and got the drum machine patterns we had made up to trigger-off bigger and better drum kit sound samples, he had accrued an impressive collection of these by storing the audio on large videotape cassettes for the highest quality and was always ready to expand on them. Our follow-up single ‘Perfume from Spain’ called for a standout snare drum and, not satisfied with existing nuggets, asked me to hit one he had carefully prepared earlier. To cut out the slightest live reverberation in the room he threw a blanket over me and the drum, and so followed the wonders of infinite sound creation depending on which part of the surface was struck. It eventually did come to an end when I started catching the rim as well, like in timbale-playing, which did not impress him at all. I was finally let out into the light and would recognise the winning snare sample anywhere – wait a minute, isn’t that it also on Swing Out Sister’s ‘Breakout’, produced by Paul Staveley O’Duffy? I dunno.  We had Ollie, Chris L and Françoise helping and Stephen brought in fashion model friends for more vocals with the added bonus of sounds of their travels around the world being caught on the recording Walkman. Manager Tarquin kept to his word by getting in Junior Gee who rapped about “Magician of the century” in a West Coast accent before choosing posh English to round things off. Old ‘Tin Tin’ stalwart Guy Pratt arrived after a bit of a late night and fell asleep while doing a bassline but, being the Pro he was, continued to play and fulfil his engagement. Paul got me an extra London studio engagement playing trombone for ten seconds on Australian band Do-Re-Mi’s ‘Man Overboard’ and as Guy was down under with them later, pretended to play the brass part on television, well, that’s what I heard. The BBC’s John Peel had heard the first single and asked us to go into Maida Vale studios to record a radio session for his programme. This caught us off-guard material-wise because we did not have any yet so, hastily mixing a track in progress, we went along with Françoise and the original single A and B-sides to fool no one by just altering a few words. Not only that, but I still could not find the Radiophonic Workshop and Delia Derbyshire’s lengths of tape. A trip to the leafy suburbs was also fitted in as the hideously expensive Fairlight sample keyboard would be used to create a bassline. The contraption seemed to have a studio all of its own and we only went and bumped into Dick O’Dell outside where I felt like I had been caught red-handed doing music other than Pigbag. Back in Eccleston Street, I added an updated version of the manic piano-playing from the past and, in honour of being called a hippy, we named the track ‘Man’.  

Invoices sent in for watching cricket on TV or playing pool and table tennis were rejected so we had to continue recording. Throwing the kitchen sink in was not as mad as it sounds because chance elements meant happy accidents were beginning to build up, it was a case of two-inch and later quarter-inch tape flying onto the cutting room floor as we joined all the best bits together. In fact, no DJs were harmed in the making of this album as Paul ran the end of one number over the beginning of another and caught this on a third tape machine to edit in afterwards, segueing the whole forty minutes. Except you had to turn the vinyl over, close enough, again. He also did a Delia Derbyshire and measured out lengths of tape containing different sound effects which, when put together, joined in the rhythm. More BBC backing, with their effects records providing buzzing bees, grandfather clock chimes, telephones, you name it. Avant-garde abstract brass-playing finally had its chance as Chris Lee and me deliberately provided warped duetting for long stretches so any accidental ‘highlights’ could be kept and the rest dumped. Now alert to any chance flukes, these would be homed in on and magnified or expanded, the buzzing bees originally made us think: What’s that sound? Then the best ever accident – Paul tried putting a rising reverb onto different recorded instruments and when he got to the drums on ‘Perfume from Spain’, we were suddenly underwater as what sounded like bubbles floating up came out the speakers causing Stephen to actually shout “What’s that sound?!” This, to us, was creating ‘new and modern’ in real time as we sat there and not by just doing the opposite to what was around, either. A session guitarist came in and started playing a standard accompaniment at which point the three of us in the control room felt something shift, as though our messing about had kicked us into the second half of the eighties or summat. The mood in the studio was getting crankier as Chris Lee laid down several trumpets to form very long chords that Stephen and me thought Paul would enjoy recording. Leaving them to it, we went off to continue the table tennis and pool competitions, only to return later to find Mr O’Duffy grinning at the mixing desk, it had obviously been a very busy day. Too busy, and so as not to be reminded of it, Chris’s trumpets ended up going through a panning effect, possibly in three dimensions by the state we were in, to create the most trippy psychedelia but with a late eighties twist. The panner made a return when a microphone was placed out on Eccleston Street for a touch of ambience and was transformed into the Apocalypse Now helicopter with the left-to-right chopping. The overall feel needed to be grounded so Paul turned up an occasional deep bass frequency rumbling to round it off as a whole. 

We finally discovered what Malcolm McLaren’s friends were talking about when The Face magazine published an article on MDMA as Nick was working on the sleeves for the vinyl album. This included transcribing all the ‘lyrics’ for inside and spreading a futurama of photos-to-come across the back cover, at the last minute he bunged the initials m.d.m.a. on after the Dr Calculus name which, of course, stood for Medical Doctor, Master of Arts. The main front cover image was that of the Spirit of Ecstasy car mascot – see what he… On another visit to the 10 Records office, Stephen was sporting a new pair of shoes for his glamorous solo career and reverse-psychology humour made me point to my almost non-existent tennis pumps and quip: 

    “These are my designer beatnik shoes.” 

    “That’s the name of the album.” 

Aaand… CUT.   

Back to the fashion friend vocalists where, in between takes, there was a lot of chit-chat in front of live microphones, obviously Nick had told brother Stephen all about the Drinksville talent-show at The Venue when Eva Engel got interviewed to a ‘musical’ accompaniment as now, on went the tape machine for a much more sober version. This time, a genuine recording of a quartet from Stephen’s other work played, even if it was in reverse. For more atmospherics there was added the clickety-clacking of a train over tracks, courtesy of the Emulator sample keyboard, hired in, along with a musician who could operate it. This was Izumi Kobayashi who, on hearing our grounded helicopter number, saw a vision of “A very round ball”. We looked worried at the time but, on reflection, she was probably congratulating us on rounding-off the frequencies with the deep bass rumbling. It was while we were still looking worried that a couple of people peered in, one of which I later recognised as Terence Trent D’arby. What, with a nervous Stephen and me smiling at Izumi, Paul grinning at the mixing desk and a cracked-pot noise emanating from the loudspeakers, Terence just knew he had to get out of there. The chit-chat interview / train track was the second of two given the title ‘Moments of Being’ with ‘Reprisal’ instead of ‘Reprise’ in brackets, the first track having ‘Interlude’ afterwards. I subsequently found out that the main title derived from a collection of essays by Virginia Woolf in which she discovered moments of being – glimpses of the behind-the-scenes workings of existence, sounds about right. The friends reading out our verbiage were great but the underwater single ‘Perfume’ called for professional vocals, Jeni arrived to do the business and promptly handed over a bundle – I had been left holding the baby again. Tarquin acquaintance John Hughes took up this theme by using a remix, renamed ‘Full of Love’ on his 1988 film She’s Having a Baby. After two final photos of my so-called footwear by Nick for the album they were gone, to be replaced by the short-lived stinkers that were high white boxing boots. If that wasn’t enough, I spotted another fashion type wearing the latest matt red ski jacket, as opposed to Chris Hamlin’s sheened version all those years ago, and raced into Lillywhites sports store, Piccadilly for one of my own. Never mind ‘Top of the Pops’, here’s Channel 4 and ‘The Tube’, broadcast live on Friday 14thFebruary 1986. Dr Calculus went undercover as Stephen’s backing band to promote his latest solo work and so everyone involved headed for Tyne Tees Television studios in Newcastle. Going on live television at tea time without a drop to drink was terrifying and at first, I could not get any sound out until finally spluttering some notes together. Afterwards, presenter Jools Holland must have been in a desperate state as he asked Ollie if the horn section would like to join a big band he was forming. On hearing this I said: “I’d better learn to play the trombone, then” and so came to an end my career as a ‘professional’ musician. On the upside, the white boxing boots could not be seen but my trendy new gear – the matt red ski jacket, looked fab on TV and, along with the clip-on shades, made me look a right raver. A what? Di Cross interviewed us as Dr Calculus for the 9th August issue of Record Mirror and headlined it with Stephen’s minor observation that the album was “As if Pigbag made Sgt Pepper”. This brought up the concept of The Beatles being put out of a job, as though they never existed which, come to think about it, would make a great idea for a film. It seems just like yesterday and I remember Di not understanding a word we said as stories of the brand-name Weetabix sprayed on a billboard, graffiti-style, mingled with not being able to buy decent footwear or photo albums. Drinking too much coffee must have brought on dyslexia as trying to read the article made me see fictional character names such as Pigbog and Pepper or Pepper Pig or something, I would have to read it later.   

Record Mirror – 9th August 1986

Apart from some of our music being played by a DJ for a fashion show catwalk, it was nowhere to be heard. To add to this, I had a theory that Stephen saw Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s flight case at SARM West studios when previously mixing and thought: If they could use a dirty word and get notoriously banned, so could we. There was one flaw in this plan, our album sank without trace and did not need to be banned, the thrill of seeing the Designer Beatnik long player shrink-wrapped in Oxford Street’s Virgin Megastore was cut-off by the proverbial meter running out of coins. Phone calls were not returned and it became the summer of silence. Eventually I put my feet up and waited for the new series of Doctor Who, over at the BBC they were asking its original creator Sydney Newman for some ideas on how to save it. Not only was something going on with Doctor Who, as in came Sylvester McCoy for 1987, but my bank balance was in a right state. Desperate measures caused me to look through situations vacant and actually land a job at a warehouse in Holloway, this time I was in an anti-music biz mood and was not going to run off. Towards the end of summer, I was upstairs on the bus heading through Holborn and there on the pavement was Sylvester in full Doctor Who costume. I recognised him from earlier newspaper publicity and here he was being photographed for a future charity sports event in Wales to coincide with his first episode the following month. His debut season really took off as a great storm swept over the south east which also blew the bedroom windows in at Exmouth Market. The bus to work had to wend its way around fallen trees but eventually got me there so I could carry on moving boxes. A brush with the world of pop music did not change Françoise much and she joined me and Tony from round the corner at the warehouse. There was a choice of occupations from picking and packing orders to unloading vehicles by hand or, if you were lucky, by forklift truck which no one thought to check if anyone had a licence for. Sylvester had got a new Doctor’s companion when Sophie Aldred came in as Ace and who had a habit of calling him Professor instead of Doctor, rather like the mix-up over Professor Calculus which I thought was funny.

Towards the end of the year, Tony, Françoise and me were invited to “something called an Acid House Party”, which literally was at the top of a tall house in north London. In the bath were dozens of Red Stripe lager cans pushed into ice cubes and what must have been Phuture’s ‘Acid Tracks’ was being played repeatedly in another room, we thought it sounded bonkers and carried on talking as no one was dancing. In the 1988 warehouse loading bay, Tony noticing on his large radio the novelty song ‘Doctorin’ the Tardis’, David Bowie’s new band Tin Machine and pirate stations cropping up out of nowhere. These were broadcasting more of the crazy Acid House, on top of blobby bassline and drum machine were now added piano chords but no lyrics and all we could say was “Of course!” It was a case of “This is how it was meant to be” right then and we wished we had thought of it. The radio speakers could be detached on cables so one came with us into the shipping containers to make us unload boxes like puppets with their strings being rhythmically yanked. During one lunch break The Sun newspaper had a scoop, our reaction: “Acid house party? Oh, that old thing”.      I was having a drink in the pub around the corner from Exmouth Market when in came a teenager wearing his mom’s best flowered curtains turned into top and trousers, his hair also resembled curtains and hung down each side, making my red ski jacket and shades look so last-second. I went and found an old herringbone wool overcoat of mine and blended back into the background. The new season of Doctor Who was back and this time Sylvester picked up a fez hat to try on and then pass to Sophie. Well, that’s funny, I thought, Stephen wore a fez when he was a doctor. The following year saw the music get faster and darker while boredom was setting in at the warehouse, throwing rolls of packing tape was becoming the main entertainment and we all had to get out of there. I was wondering where to go next when Ace’s friend in the last Doctor Who episode ‘Survival’ mentioned that they thought she was dead or gone to Birmingham. Eh? This was just plain weird or some strange in-joke on top of the professor with a fez. Either way, I was going to take Ace’s friend’s suggestion.