I read last month's article on John Cale with great interest, but I felt that it does not do him justice! In my opinion, as well as being a great musician, the man is also a maniac and a tyrant!
Don't get me wrong, I love JC; I love the Velvet Underground's early stuff along with Church Of Anthrax with Terry Riley and the sublime Hedda Gabbler. But I have mixed feelings about him as a producer.
My experience with Cale came in 1977 when my band Blood Donor was signed to Arista. The record company liked our quirky songs and unconventional line-up. We had two keyboard players, two drummers and a bass player: no guitars, and we liked it that way! However, though we were more than happy with our engineer/producer Steve James, Arista and our management were insistent that we used a 'name producer' to record the first album.
So John Cale turns up at the studio with Chris Spedding and Ollie Halsall (two of the top session guitarists in the UK at the time) and an additional drummer. This proved to be instant antagonism, as we'd been rehearsing and refining all our songs for months, and we expected that the first thing he'd want to do is hear what we've done. But does he want to listen? No, he wants to do a disco version of Pachelbel's Canon and, er, 'Good King Wenceslas'!
This was a typical working day: the band arrives at the studio at 11am to start working. JC arrives in the afternoon and goes straight to the control room; he appears to fall asleep. At 6pm, the band are tired and want to break for food. More people arrive and go straight to the control room. At seven o'clock, JC emerges full of manic energy; he stomps round the studio, shouting at the band telling them to wake up. It was gruelling.
After one particularly tough session, I was at home, fast asleep. The phone rang at 3am. It was Cale. "Keith, I really want you to work on the harmonies on the Canon — get some interesting intervals with the bass." I wanted to say "John, they're nothing to do with me. I'm not classically trained, this is your baby." But I just agreed — it was easier and I wanted to get back to bed.
After some days, JC pushed Rikki, our bass player, too far. He'd been in Rikki's face all week. Rikki, who's from a rough estate in Catford, carried a knife and one thing led to another, but Ollie Halsall managed to cool things down. The management and record company visited briefly to discuss damage limitation, and on the last day we eventually recorded two of our songs after a week of the Canon and 'Wenceslas'. None of it was ever released, and the tapes probably still lie rotting in Arista's vault.
I recently met a big JC fan and he insisted I search for the rough mixes I kept from the session. We listened to this cassette that's nearly 30 years old. It was like '70s disco meets World War Three. Very interesting and, in fact, classic John Cale. But very little to do with Blood Donor. I only wish he'd spent as much time on our stuff.
If there is a moral to this tale, I suppose it's to warn young bands to be wary when choosing producers who are also musicians. You might end up playing on their album when they should be producing yours!
Last week, I was mixing a hip-hop track in my studio with two guys who had brought along some WAV files for mixing. We'd been getting on fine and mixing the track, and they seemed like totally normal clients. After a while, one of the guys said he was going to the shops to get me some money, so he left the room. The guy that was left asked me to turn the music up and, when I turned my back to him, he grabbed me in a headlock and started strangling me. Before I knew it there was about 10 of them in the room; they tied me up and kicked and punched me and carried on squeezing my neck. They all had screwdrivers, and within about five minutes they had removed everything from the racks and cleared out my control room. They were very organised and knew exactly what they wanted. They even left bits of kit that they didn't fancy.
I would like to tell other studios to be more vigilant, and I'd like to share some tips that I got from the police for vetting new clients: Firstly, get photo ID and proof of address from clients before they come to your studio. Get a landline number, as this can be traced (the guys that robbed me left an untraceable pay-as-you-go mobile phone number) and, if clients are paying a deposit, get them to send a cheque or pay via bank transfer, as these can be traced back to the sender. Lastly, make a note of the serial numbers of all your gear so you can notify manufacturers and police, and get specialised insurance from someone who deals with recording studios and the music industry. (Luckily I did and it looks like I'm well covered.)
Having spoken to as many other studios that I could, it's clear that there is no real network for us to pass on details of this kind of thing or other scams. We're all in competition with each other but we're also all in the same boat. I've been overwhelmed by offers of help and kind words. One studio in Bromley even offered me the use of their studio until I get back on my feet.
Perhaps we should start a network up so we can all stay in touch and keep each other informed.
News Editor Chris Mayes-Wright replies: We were sorry to hear about Simon's ordeal, and we think his idea about a studio network is great.
Since he wrote in to Crosstalk, Simon has set up a studio network site on Myspace. Surf to www.myspace.com/studionetwork and show your support. Schemes like Simon's are a great resource, and are especially important in an industry that's seeing more and more small and potentially vulnerable studios.