The story so far – a Salford lad with limited musical skills and no experience of working in a studio finds himself in a band with a contract to record ten language teaching songs. Now read on…
Two weeks before we were due to go into the studio, the phone rang in the basement flat just off Gloucester Road in West London where Dede and I were now living. It was Michael Klein.
“Great news!” he said. “We have a session drummer for the recordings.”
“Who is it?” I asked.
“Terry Cox from Pentangle.”
Blimey. Pentangle were a folk-jazz band who were pretty big at the time. In addition to Cox, the band had two querulous giants of the folk world, guitarists Bert Jansch and John Renbourn and a jovial and very talented double bass player called Danny Thompson. Their singer was the angel-voiced Jacqui McShee. They had recorded a terrific album called Basket of Light in 1969, which had alienated some of Jansch and Renbourn’s folky fans, but had delighted people like me, who liked folk music with a bit of zip in it.
Then I remembered something. A section of the guitar riff on Going To, one of the songs we were about to record, was a direct lift from a Bert Jansch song. Oops….
I didn’t let that worry me for long. I was much more worried about what the songs were going to sound like. Mike and I were planning to play guitar, and Mike was going to over-dub some bass lines. And …er .. that was it.
Still preoccupied with this, I walked into class a few days later to find there was a new student, a handsome and rather sophisticated-looking Italian doctor called Vincenzo Crucioli. He was a bit older than the other students, and was smartly dressed in a suit. He made me feel very scruffy.
It was Friday and one of the students asked if there was going to be a music club that evening and I said yes. I explained to Vincenzo what it was all about. He smiled and nodded and the class continued.
That evening, Dede, Mike, Gillian and I went down to the basement club room that International House provided for social events and started getting ready for the evening’s entertainment. The door opened and Vincenzo walked in, now looking more relaxed in jeans, denim jacket and a very neat white shirt. He reminded me of Marcello Mastroianni, but with longer hair.
“Am I too early?” he asked.
“No, no, come in.”
Vincenzo spotted the piano in the corner.
“May I play for a while?” he asked.
“Go ahead,” I said absent-mindedly, and continued getting the Sold British Hat Band’s antiquated sound system together.
Vincenzo started to play. Rock and roll. He was brilliant. We stopped and listened, gob-smacked.
“Vincenzo,” I said. “Would you like to do some recording with us?”
We told him about the project and he was interested.
“When are you going into the studio?” he asked.
“Next week,” I replied.
A week later, we all squeezed into Central Sound, a cramped little studio in Denmark Street, Tin Pan Alley. (Google Tin Pan Alley London if this reference mystifies you). In the style of most recording at the time, the musicians played sitting facing each other, with Terry Cox the drummer squashed behind a muffle-board screen, which had a small window in it so he could at least see us, if not hear us. We all wore headphones, through which we could hear Dede and Gillian provide guide vocals. Terry, a lovely bloke and an excellent drummer, provided priceless backing and did gentle little fills to punctuate the songs. Vincenzo, who had never been in a studio before either, took to it like a duck to water, filled out the sound with some intelligent piano playing and added some extra lines on an electric organ that belonged to another band who were recording there. Some unknown combo called Traffic, as I remember. :-)
When we started playing Going To, I remembered about the riff I had stolen from Terry’s Pentangle band-mate Bert Jansch. As we reached that section, he stopped playing and said:
“You know that’s a riff from one of Bert’s songs, don’t you?”
“Don’t worry,” said Terry with a smile. “Bert pinched it from Davey Graham.”
At lunchtime, we all went to a café in Soho and ate large plates of spaghetti. All except Mike, who stayed behind and recorded the bass lines for the five songs we had already done. Unfortunately, the engineer hadn’t recorded the guide vocals, so Mike listened to the existing tracks in headphones and had to guess whereabouts he was in the song. He often had no idea, but ploughed on hopefully until the song stopped.
We recorded the backing tracks in a day, and came back the following evening and recorded all the vocals, harmonies included. The whole album was recorded in less than 12 hours of studio time.
Longman, who had commissioned the album, hadn’t been too sure about the project, but were urged to go ahead with it by a dynamic young marketing manager called John Walsh, who later opened the Bournemouth English Book Centre. John argued that it was just what Longman’s worthy but dull list needed. The Longman chief executive at the time, Tim Hunt, was very doubtful and only authorised 500 vinyl albums to be produced.
The album was released in September 1971 and John promised he would sell them all by Christmas, or he would lick Hunt’s boots. The 500 sold out in less than two weeks. I have no idea how many albums Mister Monday finally sold, but someone from Longman told me 20 years later it was more than 50,000.
Some of the songs on the album are frankly embarrassing to listen to now. But I’m very proud of the work that we did, on Mister Monday and several subsequent albums for Longman, Cornelsen in Germany and Macmillan.
As promised, I will put some tracks on this blog from Mister Monday, Goodbye Rainbow and the subsequent albums, just as soon as I can work out how to do it. Watch this space.
In 1992, 21 years after the publication of Mister Monday, I attended a very enjoyable music workshop given by Dave Allen at the IATEFL conference in Lille, France. It was about using authentic songs in class. At one point, one of the participants, a native speaker teacher from the UK, asked Dave what he thought about specially-written songs like Mister Monday. Dave was non-committal, saying that he was there to talk about authentic material. The teacher persisted and offered his opinion: he thought specially-written songs were absolutely ridiculous.
When I told the man later that I was the author of Mister Monday, he was mortified with embarrassment and apologised for his earlier criticism. “The thing is,” he said, “Mister Monday is so old I thought that whoever wrote it must be dead by now!”
Clearly not. Either that, or this blog is being ghost-written!
Next week …
Some thoughts on native speaker and non-native speaker teachers; drama and improvisation in the ELT classroom; the early days of the English Teaching Theatre.