The story so far – a Salford lad with limited musical skills and no experience of working in a studio gets 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 band member 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 (and still like) folk music with a bit of zip to 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 concerned 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.
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. 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 Italian movie star 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 Solid 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 said he was interested. “When are you going into the studio?” he asked.
“Next Saturday,” I replied. In other words, eight days later.
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 analogue recording at the time, the musicians sat facing each other, and those of us playing acoustic instruments had a microphone almost pressed against the strings. Terry Cox the drummer was squashed in a corner behind some muffle-board screens so that the sound of the drums wouldn’t get picked up by the other microphones. There was a small window in the screen so Terry could see us, and he listened to what we were doing through headphones. Mike, Vincenzo and I played the songs and Dede and Gillian provided guide vocals, which we also listened to through headphones.
Despite being quite famous and frankly slumming it to be playing with an unknown band, Terry Cox was a lovely bloke and an excellent drummer, and provided priceless backing, with gentle little fills that punctuated the songs beautifully. Vincenzo, who had also never been in a studio before, 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 of you may remember Traffic. The organ belonged to Steve Winwood!
When we started playing Going To, I remembered about the riff I had stolen from Terry’s Pentangle band-mate Bert Jansch. When we were playing it for him to get acquainted with the beat, he 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 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 Monday evening to do the vocals, harmonies included. The whole album was recorded in less than twelve hours of studio time. Compare this to our second album, Goodbye Rainbow, which we recorded in 1974, when Longman let us have five full days in the studio, and we still managed to run out of time and had to book an extra day!
In fact, Longman hadn’t been too sure about the original Mister Monday project, but were urged to go ahead 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 list needed. The Longman boss who was in charge of the project, Tim Rix, 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 Tim Rix’s boots. The 500 sold out in less than two weeks. A year of so later, when sales reached 5,000, John Walsh had a silver disc made, which was presented to me by Charlotte Eastwood, the editor of Modern English magazine. Rather bizarrely, we went down to Parliament Square on a rainy day for the presentation. You can see the Houses of Parliament in the background of this photo.
I have no idea how many albums Mister Monday finally sold, but someone from Longman told me 20 years later it was more than 60,000.
When I listen to the songs on Mister Monday now, some of them are quite, how can I say it … quite QUAINT! But I’m very proud of the work that we did on this and the four subsequent albums that we recorded, two more for Longman, and two more for Cornelsen in Germany.
In 1992, twenty-one 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!