If ever proof were needed that two heads are better than one, the production partnership of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley surely provides it. For nearly 20 years they have combined their talents to produce some of the greatest pop songs of all time, from such acts as Madness (for whom they produced eight albums); David Bowie and Mick Jagger ('Dancing In The Street'); Morrissey (Kill Uncle, and Bona Drag, the latter of which includes five Langer and Winstanley tracks); Bush (the stunning debut album Sixteen Stone); and Elvis Costello (Punch The Clock and Goodbye Cruel World)... the list goes on and on.
Given their enviable reputation with virtually every A&R department in the Western world -- never mind a credit list to die for -- it's remarkable that so little is known about Langer and Winstanley. Whatever the reason for this, once you get past the barricades of their pu
|Alan Winstanley: "Sometimes I think people especially younger producers want to prove a point by stamping their particular sound or authority on a record. I don't think that's something either of us tries to do."|
You might describe Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley as the Little and Large of the music industry. Langer is smaller, darker, more intense and comes across as very quiet and studious -- though rumour has it that he can party for England when he's in the mood. Alan Winstanley, on the other hand, is a big bear of a man, much taller, fairer and louder. Chalk and cheese, yet as producers they complement each other so perfectly that this must surely be the secret of their incredible success.
Both Langer and Winstanley are former grammar school boys, but beyond that their backgrounds are quite different. Langer went to the William Ellis school in Kentish Town, then followed that with a stint at art college in Liverpool, where he pursued his musical career, ultimately ending up as the guitarist in Deaf School. Winstanley comes from Fulham, West London, a working-class lad made good. Winstanley: "Like hundreds of other kids, I left school at 17 wanting to be a rock star. But when I realised my guitar playing was never going to be as good as Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix I decided to try something else. As I'd always wondered why some records sounded better than others, I figured that it must be down to the production and felt that was the direction I wanted to go in."
Desperate to break into the music business, Winstanley wrote around to various recording studios to see if he could get taken on as an apprentice engineer. "I wrote to Island Studios in Basing Street because they had all the bands I liked. But Island only took on people who had done apprenticeships at Abbey Road or Decca, so I wrote to those two. They said no thanks, unless I had a Tonnmeister degree, and as I certainly didn't have the necessary music, maths and physics A-levels to get on the course I decided to take any job to earn a living."
Winstanley ended up at Decca -- but in the A&R administration department, not the studios. The closest he got to recording was paying studio bills for other artists and producers. But he hadn't given up, and a bit of ingenuity eventually paid off. He explains:
"I used to hang out at a music shop in Fulham, and I persuaded the owners to build a demo studio in the basement, which was called TW Studios. They didn't know anything about studios -- nor did I, really -- but they took me on to run it, and it proved a very good way of learning. They put in a couple of Revox machines and later a TEAC 4-track and an Allen & Heath desk. I was slung straight in at the deep end, as their in-house engineer, doing demos for bands that were the real dregs of the earth. It wasn't frightening, because I was only working with kids off the street and they'd never been in a studio either. We used to run a weekly ad in Melody Maker, offering the studio at £3.50 an hour, and it became so successful that they made enough money to buy the building next door and open a second studio -- this time an 8-track."
Winstanley brought in a friend to run the 4-track studio and moved next door to run the 8-track facility, which was subsequently upgraded to 16-track to cope with demand. It was at TW that he first met The Stranglers -- at that stage an unsigned band who came in to do a few demos.
"There have been a lot of coincidences in both mine and Clive's careers and The Stranglers was one of them," Winstanley explains. "When I met the Stranglers I was trying to dabble in production as well as run the demo room, so I did a record in down time with some friends, who took it to United Artists to see if they could get a deal."
Producer Martin Rushent was working in the label's A&R department, and he liked the track but thought the bass could be improved, so he brought Alan Tarney to TW Studios with the intention of overdubbing the bass before releasing the track as a single.
"He had never been to the studio before but he really loved it and decided it would be perfect for this other band he'd just signed -- The Stranglers. I said I knew them because I'd used the very same facility to record all their demos, so he booked TW for their first album and everyone was delighted. Martin wasn't going to produce The Stranglers, but he suggested he did the first single, with me engineering, while they found a producer for the rest of the tracks. However, the single, 'Grip', turned out so well that the band asked Martin to do the rest of the album, and asked me to stay involved as well.
"Martin wanted to do the second album, No More Heroes, on 24-track, so the studio upgraded to accommodate him. We also did the third album, Black and White, at TW, and by the time The Stranglers recorded their fourth album, Raven, I had left the studio and declared to the world that I was a producer, so I got the job of recording it on my own."
It was at about this point -- 1977 -- that Alan Winstanley and Clive Langer first began working together in earnest. Clive takes up the story: "Right from primary school days I wanted to be in a group, but nothing happened until I met Steve Allen on my first day at art college and we decided to form a band -- Deaf School. We did some gigs and it all took off. Then Steve Lindsey, our bass player and now a music publisher, entered us for a Melody Maker competition, which we won. Suddenly we were being offered deals by everyone. We signed to Warner Music via Derek Taylor and Rob Dickins, who told us about TW Studios in Fulham and suggested we used the facility for demos. Alan engineered them and they sounded great, so when the band split up and I went solo I got Alan to produce my tracks. Martin Rushent was supposed to produce me, but he didn't turn up and I was left with Alan -- look where that got me! It didn't take me long to realise that when Alan wasn't available and I had to work with someone else, things never came out well. I guess I figured out something from that."
Although Clive Langer was pursuing a solo career as a musician, he was also dabbling with production, and it was through him that the two got involved in their first joint production, Madness (see 'Complete Madness' box).
"I was doing production work for Stiff Records, which was who Madness eventually signed to," says Winstanley. "I was also in the process of building a recording studio, Genetic in Berkshire, with Martin Rushent, who had become a close friend."
Langer: "That first co-production was a huge hit, and the next thing we did together was three tracks on The Teardrop Explodes album Kilimanjaro, plus their single 'Passionate Friend'. We didn't plan the future and we certainly weren't thinking in terms of staying partners, but I think the rest of the world was beginning to see us that way. People became aware of us as a team because of the first Madness album and we consolidated it quite quickly with lots of other things. But it wasn't until we did the Dexy's album Too-Rye-Ay that we started calling ourselves a partnership and telling record labels that we came as a package. In our own minds we still didn't consider it to be a long-term thing. That only happened in 1983 when we made a commitment to build Westside Studios together -- and even then we knew there would be occasions when we would work apart. Before that, although we worked as a team on a lot of recordings, I still hadn't given up hope of being an artist, and in between the first two Madness albums I was on the road as Clive Langer and The Boxes, supporting Elvis Costello. For me, production was another interest. When I did one thing for too long I found myself wanting to do the other. If I'm honest it's probably still the same today, but at that stage my artist career was more successful, while these days my production is more important."
Working with someone else for a long period of time, especially in the highly-charged atmosphere of a recording studio, is no easy feat. How do Langer and Winstanley see their respective roles?
Langer: "I concentrate more on the arrangements and rehearsals at the beginning of each project, but when we get into the studio it becomes much more equal. I might get more involved in a guitar overdub while Alan might get more involved in a vocal, but it could just as easily be the other way round. Alan spends more time at the desk than I do because he handles things like comping vocals and mixing. He's definitely more of an engineer than me, because he has a very strong engineering background, so it makes sense for him to have that hands-on role. Having two sets of skills means we can do the whole package without anyone else -- or we used to be able to, before remixing! We don't get involved with remixing because it's not where our interest lies. Originally we did -- we used to do all the 12-inch remixes for Madness and other bands of that era, but it has become more of a specialised thing, and as we never ventured into the world of Cubase and Pro Tools we prefer to leave it to the experts."
Almost inevitably, the pair do have occasional differences of opinion. Langer: "We disagree quite often but usually one of us backs off. It depends on how strongly the other feels. Sometimes I'm a bit off the wall and maybe not as sensible or commercial as I should be, and Alan's good at pulling me back into line. I quite often disagree with the band as well. I don't mind if things are ragged or out of tune, whereas Alan is much neater."
Winstanley adds that, despite their occasional differences, theirs is a very equal partnership and he doesn't believe that any of their joint productions would have sounded the way they do if only one of them had been involved. "Sometimes the balance will sway towards one or other of us, but we are very much a team," he says. "It's not an easy thing to define because we both have extensive influence. This could just be down to agreeing not to change something on a demo or warning each other off touching a mix because we can both see it works. Sometimes I think people -- especially younger producers -- want to prove a point by stamping their particular sound or authority on a re
|Clive Langer: "Having two sets of skills means we can do the whole package without anyone else."|
Maybe not, but surely they feel they have a particular sound -- something that sets them apart from other producers and makes them so much in demand?
Winstanley: "People used to say to me 'that sounds like a Langer and Winstanley record' and I wouldn't know why. We've done everything from Madness to Symposium and Bush, and you can hardly say they sound the same. I was told that one record company executive, when she heard the Bush album, said 'Langer and Winstanley couldn't have done this -- there's no plinky-plonk piano on it'. I don't know why she thought there should be. We don't tell the band how to play -- we're there to help the band achieve the sound they want, not the other way round."
Langer agrees, "When we did Birdhouse with the trumpet sample in the middle, people would say 'oh yes -- that's Langer and Winstanley', just because it had a bit of trumpet in the middle. For years there was a tendency for us to work more with acoustic instruments, so we were well known for working with strings and horns. But that's gone out the window. And anyway, while we were doing that we were also working with bands like Hayzifantayzee, who were very 'modern' at the time and used a lot of effects machines."
The two projects the pair are currently working on -- the new Republica album and a film score for a movie called Still Crazy, based around a 1970s rock band -- should indicate still further how versatile they really are.
Given that Langer and Winstanley are about as high up the tree as any producers could be, it's not surprising that their equipment choices tend to involve equally high-end gear. After all, they do own Westside, a fully commercial recording complex which has one studio based around a Neve VR60 console and a second studio with an SSL 4080. With facilities like that at their disposal, it's hard to imagine them hanging out in a bedroom with a Mackie and an ADAT.
"We tend to use fairly traditional technology based around good desks, good microphones, good monitors and so on," says Winstanley. Langer: "A few years ago I felt we needed to move with the times and get our heads around sequencing and Pro Tools rather than concentrating solely on acoustic performances, but we didn't do much about it and now I think the fashion has changed again and bands are coming back to recording real instruments.
"Luckily we're in a position to employ someone with specific skills if we need them. I would like to get hold of Pro Tools and play around with it, but I still think it's better to be a master of one set of skills rather than a jack of all trades."
One shouldn't read technophobia into these statements; Westside has just invested in 24 tracks of Otari Radar digital recording, which both pr
|Alan Winstanley: "I like to use speakers that are similar to those people have at home. That's why I hate NS10s. Only A&R men have those."|
Other items on the Langer/Winstanley shopping list change all the time, depending on what's released and what Westside clients are asking for.
"As new equipment is released we often find ourselves saying 'I've just got to have one of those'," says Winstanley. "The latest things we've fallen for are the Vac Rac [valve-based processing rack] and the AKG Solid Tube mic. With those two and a Radar we can do vocals anywhere. This certainly frees you up and makes recording more spontaneous."
Langer and Winstanley like to use Neve consoles to record and SSLs for mixing -- hence the choice of desks for Westside. "I really like the SSL automation and I know my way round it so well," says Winstanley. "Mind you, I hate the new SSL J Series. It may be the best sounding SSL ever but I think the automation is awful. For years SSL needed to improve the sonic performance of their consoles, but the one thing everyone loved was the automation. They've now done a great job with the sonic performance but why change the automation when that was what SSL was all about?"
Both studios at Westside are equipped with Quested main monitors, although Winstanley say he rarely uses them for mixing. " I use the big monitors for recording because they are excellent when you really want to hear what's going on with the sound. But I prefer mixing on nearfields -- Spirits usually, or KRK or AR18s which we've had for years. I like to use speakers that are similar to those people have at home. That's why I hate NS10s. Only A&R men have those. We have NS10s for other clients, but they're like many pieces of equipment that studio owners must have even though they're rarely used."
Westside invests regularly in new equipment, but every buying decision is weighed up carefully in terms of demand, because, as Winstanley points out, no studio can afford to buy everything. "If you tried to do that, you'd have to rent each room out at £3000 a day to make any return on your investment. If we don't have something that Clive and I -- or another client -- wants, we hire it in."
With 20 years of joint productions behind them, it seems likely that Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley will remain a double act until they retire gracefully into the sunset. But is that how they see it?
"I should think so," says Langer. "The partnership works well and I see no good reason to change things. We do occasionally work solo if the budget for an album isn't sufficient to pay both of us. And sometimes we are asked to work individually, which we will do, especially if we have two projects overlapping."
Winstanley: "Working together gets claustrophobic sometimes, so it's good to have the occasional break. At the beginning -- and occasionally even these days -- we annoy each other by asking irritating questions about the order we were going to do things in, but usually we're both thinking the same thing and everything happens automatically. If we start to get pissed off with each other, we back off until things calm down."
Both producers describe their partnership as similar to a marriage. "It's probably easier than being married," laughs Winstanley. "After all, I've spent more time with him than I have with my wife!"
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