Chris Potter

an exclusive interview
The Making of Urban Hymns and More...

20 Questions

  • Introduction

  • How did you get the Verve 'gig'?

  • Were you familiar with their work?

  • After Christmas, Youth departed and you continued alone with the band. What was your role then?

  • What did you bring to the party?

  • Were you surprised at their musical prowess?

  • And the strength of the material?

  • As you said, the band likes to experiment, what in particular did you experiment with?

  • Do you have a particular set-up for recording vocals or guitar?

  • How much computer jiggery-pokery did you do, using Pro-Tools and suchlike?

  • In May '97 the band embarked on ten days of jamming at Olympic Studios. Did you realise at the time that you'd get five or six new songs out of those tapes?

  • The band always maintained it couldn't be 'The Verve' without Nick. When he rejoined after Christmas I got the impression that spirits rose. What do you put that down to?

  • Was working on Urban Hymns intense for you?

  • 'Neon Wilderness' was finished at the last possible moment wasn't it?

  • What do you think of Urban Hymns then?...

  • You mixed the entire record as well. Did you expect to do so?

  • You ritually listened to songs on your car stereo just before completing them. What's all that about?

  • Was winning the Brit award unexpected?

  • For the rest of your life you'll be known as "Brit award winner" Chris Potter.

  • Do you have a favourite track from the album?

  • Do you look back on the recording of Urban Hymns as a particularly fertile creative period. Something to be proud of?

  • The Album

    Bitter Sweet Symphony
    Sonnet
    The Rolling People
    The Drugs Don't Work
    Catching The Butterfly
    Neon Wilderness
    Space And Time
    Weeping Willow
    Lucky Man
    One Day
    This Time
    Velvet Morning
    Come On
    Deep Freeze

    The B-Sides

    Lord I Guess I'll Never Know
    Country Song
    So Sister
    Echo Bass
    The Crab
    Stamped
    Three Steps
    Never Wanna See You Cry
    Lucky Man
    The Longest Day

    
    
    
    
    On the second day of the Urban Hymns recording sessions at Olympic Studios, the band played 'Space & Time'. It was the first time Chris Potter, their engineer, had heard the track and the point at which he first knew he was embarking on a journey which would result in a record of rare quality. Chris manned the recording desk for the duration of the sessions, co-producing, mixing, living and breathing Urban Hymns for almost nine months. Now, approximately six months to the day since the record's release, Chris sits before me on a capacious black leather sofa in studio A, Metropolis Studios, Chiswick, ready to impart memories of the making of Urban Hymns, recorded next door in studio B and over at the aforementioned Olympic Studios, Barnes. Having given up smoking since he finished recording The Verve - he says there was no way he was going to attempt to do so while working on the album - , as we speak, joy of joys, he thinks he's broken his chewing gum addiction and he's looking most relaxed.

    Like many a producer or sound engineer, when Chris was a youngster he was in bands. "I play bass, badly,that's why I don't do it anymore" he confesses. Through his band experiences he got a feel for working with sound and when he left college at twenty he figured that was the path to follow. In time honoured fashion he banged on the doors of all the studios in London, trying to get a job and was taken on as tea boy/tape op. at Maison Rouge Studios. A couple of years later he became house engineer there. This was the mid-eighties and a lot of high profile acts were passing through Maison Rouge. Chris is a little coy when asked if he has a favourite piece of work from this era, allowing, quite reasonably I suppose, that "it's tricky, because it was the eighties remember". Nevertheless, he appreciates that working with a lot of different people was an excellent grounding, enabling him to pick up and learn from the good things that they did.

    Having impressed with his professional prowess, Chris was asked to do some engineering at other studios and obliged, becoming a freelance engineer/mixer in 1990. He did a lot of work with a fellow called Chris Kimsey, who'd worked with The Rolling Stones as far back as 'Sticky Fingers', including two albums - 'Steel Wheels' and 'Flashpoint' - for Mick, Keith and co. Others he's worked with include The Orb, De La Soul, Killing Joke, Heather Nova, Comfort, Gabrielle and Flowered Up, engineering the much loved 'Weekender' for the latter.

    Although Chris has been producing records since almost the beginning of the decade, he only recently began to consider himself a producer proper. These days producing is pretty much all he does but he does attempt to keep, as he puts it, "all the balls in the air: the engineering side, the production side and the mixing side." As he says, there are many different types of producer. Some direct things from the back as it were, not getting involved with the nitty gritty. Having approached from an engineering background, Chris has trouble letting someone else handle that side of things. "A lot of people who've come from an engineering background will let it go and let someone else take over the controls", he says, "and there will come a point when I probably should. But it's a difficult thing to be that hands-on and then let someone else get on with it. Every time they're EQing or doing the hi-hat, I'll be like....(feigns concern, leaning over someone else, fretting)".

    Whether he'll be able to relinquish control of some of the hands-on aspects of the job when he enters the studio with The Verve for their fourth album is, therefore, a hard one to call. Whatever happens I'd like to think he'll get the chance to unchain himself from the sound desk and play a little more table tennis with the lads than he managed last time because he was showing a lot of promise.

    
    
    How did you get the Verve 'gig'? I met Youth probably four years ago and started doing remixes with him. We did a lot of work together, like the Heather Nova album. I hadn't worked with him for maybe two years actually but he'd been approached to do the Verve album and I got a call to see if I wanted to engineer it, which I did.
    
    
    Were you familiar with their work? I was familiar with 'A Northern Soul' but not 'A Storm In Heaven'. I liked it, but I hadn't seen the full potential of it to be honest at that point. All their records are different, there were large strides made between all three records. Hopefully they'll carry on like that.
    
    
    After Christmas, Youth departed and you continued alone with the band. What was your role then? Initially it was to finish the guitars and the recording. It then transpired that we needed more songs. Once Nick had played on the stuff we'd started before Christmas, once we'd finished recording those, it was obvious we needed more songs. They weren't really happy with the version of 'Space & Time' we had, so we ended up re-cutting that, and we did 'The Rolling People' and 'Come On'. I think Youth helped bring a bit of discipline to the recording process for them. Yeah, I think he must have helped them get a bit more disciplined or focussed, which was definitely a good thing.
    
    
    What did you bring to the party? Don't be modest. I think I understood what they wanted and that was important. They've used a few producers in the past and they're not a band that needs you to stamp your authority on what they're doing at all. Essentially you have to let them do what they do and sometimes they need a little reining in.....sometimes. The thing to do is to let them go as far as they want to go and not restrict them to the normal methods of recording. You've got to just let them go with what they want to do and then help them piece things together. It's important that they can say "can we try this or that?", because they are experimental in what they do. They're into pushing the boundaries further and further and there's no point letting yourself be restricted by what's gone before, you've got to just go with it.
    
    
    Were you surprised at their musical prowess? Yeah I was actually. There isn't a weak link there. They're all very strong at what they do. I think it's quite underestimated these days how important that can be. There's also that thing....I found it a bit like working with The Stones, that the sum is greater than the parts, or whatever that saying is, which isn't the case with every band....and the parts are pretty good as it is.


    
    
    And the strength of the material? When I first heard the depth of the songs and the amount of them that were as good as they were, I was impressed. Quite often you'll do an album where a couple of the songs are good or great, but to have an album with that many great songs on is really unusual.
    
    
    As you said, the band likes to experiment, what in particular did you experiment with? They're into this thing of having the sound in the studio really loud, which is quite difficult to achieve. It's not such a problem to get spill down the microphones until it comes to the vocal. Most bands will cut the track and add the vocal at some point in the future. Richard quite often gets the vocal as they're recording the track and it's important that you record it in a way that you can use. If you've got more guitar and drums than vocal on the vocal track that can be a problem. I got into trying out different ways of keeping the sound in the studio live but still keeping the stuff going to tape relatively manageable. I think we'll probably end up pushing that a bit further with the next one.....I've got a few ideas.
    
    
    Do you have a particular set-up for recording vocals or guitar? There are things I quite often do but you've got to tailor it to whoever you're working with, keeping their wishes in mind all the time. With the mic-ing up and so on, you start from a point that you know generally works and then adjust it from there to suit.
    
    
    How much computer jiggery-pokery did you do, using Pro-Tools and suchlike? It's OK to use that sort of technology in the right ways but it is easy to abuse it and use it for everything. I try to use it to keep the creative process going but I think a lot of people tend to get too hung up and reliant on computers etc. I'd taken my Pro-Tools system to Spain and it sort of got buggered on the way back and I hadn't got round to getting it fixed. I didn't really feel we were going to need it at all during this record but after the break I'd had it fixed and it became useful for doing some of the guitars. There were places where Nick had specific parts which he'd just record and that's fine. In other places he'd want to try out a lot of different things once we'd got the basic parts, experimental guitars I guess, in his own inimitable style. Having listened to what we already had, he instantly had a lot of ideas. With every tune we'd let him have about 4-6 run-throughs, playing whatever he wanted without being tied to any parts. During those takes he'd do stuff which was pretty much unrepeatable so I'd use Pro-Tools to move some of those parts into some sort of structure or into points where we felt they'd work. We used it for things like 'Catching the Butterfly', 'Stamped' and 'The Longest Day' which came about from jams that were maybe half an hour long. I'd use Pro-Tools to get them into manageable form, to edit them down.
    
    
    In May '97 the band embarked on ten days of jamming at Olympic Studios. Did you realise at the time that you'd get five or six new songs out of those tapes? I didn't actually no. I was kind of concerned because I knew at that stage that Richard was concerned about the record, the over-reliance on his own songs. We ended up with an awful lot more from those ten days than I thought we were going to - Weeping Willow, Catching the Butterfly, Stamped, Three Steps, The longest Day..... There's still some stuff left, definitely at least one other that I know is really good.
    
    
    The band always maintained it couldn't be 'The Verve' without Nick. When he rejoined after Christmas I got the impression that spirits rose. What do you put that down to? I think that the problems that led to them splitting were sorted. With Nick involved I think everybody felt more confident that we were going to get the record that it could be, because he is one of a kind. His playing isn't like anyone else and he has a lot of good ideas. In places what Nick did was very subtle. It varies from track to track, on some he completely changed the whole thing. He completely changed 'This Time' from what it was to what it became. There's quite a lot of Tongy on that one as well, also 'Lucky Man' and 'One Day'. A lot of the more intricate stuff is Tongy actually. I guess they hadn't played with each other before. They're very different style-wise, very different, but the two styles really compliment each other.
    
    
    Was working on Urban Hymns intense for you? Yeah it was quite intense. There were moments where you just have to hang on and battle through. I was shattered at the end of it. During the mixing I'd been staying over the road at the Chiswick Hotel and I'd be up at 10:50 am, sitting in the control room by 11 o'clock, mixing all day, leaving at 4:30 am, in bed by 4:40 am and up again..... The only thing I was seeing outside of that control room for three weeks was the 100 yard walk across the road. It was quite intense for a while there. We were under pressure to finish at that point, it had to be done.
    
    
    'Neon Wilderness' was finished at the last possible moment wasn't it? We were due to finish on a Sunday and I was finishing off the last mix and I think they'd been rehearsing for the tour and were going to come down and check the mix out, finish it off and go through some running orders. They came down, we finished the mix and then started fiddling around with this other guitar loop of Nick's which he'd done quite a while previously at Olympic. We ended up starting that track at 6 o'clock in the evening on the final Sunday and finished about five in the morning the next day.
    
    

    What do you think of Urban Hymns then?...If you can detach yourself from the obvious emotional involvement!? It's the best thing I've ever done. The best collection of songs I've ever recorded.
    
    
    You mixed the entire record as well. Did you expect to do so? I didn't, no, because initially when we came back and started after Christmas, what they wanted me to do was finish the recording. Mark Stent (who mixes a lot of artists from The Spice Girls to Massive Attack) was going to mix. He did start mixing upstairs at Olympic Studios while we were recording downstairs, but it was difficult for the band to disentangle themselves from recording, go upstairs, hear a mix once and have to make a snap decision and come back down and get their heads back into recording again. It was too difficult so it was called off and we carried on recording.
    
    
    You ritually listened to songs on your car stereo just before completing them. What's all that about? Right as I get towards the end of a mix, I'll always make a cassette and take it out to the car. I've got a crap stereo in it so if it sounds good on that..... It's just a thing I've always done....a superstition.
    
    
    Was winning the Brit award unexpected? I didn't expect to get it. I expected the album and band to win stuff but I didn't expect to get best producer. It's not really a goal when you start but it's one of those bonuses you can pick up. What does it mean.....? It's a funny one....
    
    
    For the rest of your life you'll be known as "Brit award winner" Chris Potter. Exactly, yeah. It was a funny night actually. I don't tend to do those sort of evenings, it's just not me that showbiz, razmatazz thing, getting on stage in front of all those people, but I had a laugh.
    
    
    Do you have a favourite track from the album? Probably 'The Drugs Don't Work', which is certainly the best song I've ever recorded. His vocal on that track is something else.... There are quite a few really.... I'm not actually putting it on the stereo at the moment but I hear it every day. If you wander around you hear the whole thing anyway. I've had some mad moments with this record though. I went skiing in January and I was in a bar in Val d'Isere and this band came on doing covers and stuff. The second song they did was 'Lucky Man' and 'Drugs' was fourth. The first three minutes of 'Lucky Man' were bollocks but the end bit was really good. Their 'Drugs' wasn't much of a version though. Also that week I went way up into the mountains, where it's really peaceful and there was this little guy in a hut up there listening to 'Drugs' on the radio - right up in the mountains. I thought "f***in' 'ell, it's gone everywhere".


    Did you expect that? I knew the potential of it early on and could see that all the way through, but just because you've got a great band, brilliant songs and a great record, it doesn't mean that everyone's going to like it. It could easily have been critically acclaimed but have not sold in the millions.

    
    
    Do you look back on the recording of Urban Hymns as a particularly fertile creative period. Something to be proud of? Definitely. I put a lot of myself into the record. Like I said before, there are quite a few different types of producer. Some will be totally in charge of the record and everything that goes on it, but obviously it just doesn't work like that with them. They know what they want for the records they make and it's a challenge to help them get in a position to realise it. It isn't a relaxing job. You do have to keep it in perspective but there can be a lot at stake. You've got responsibility for something very important to the band. Knowing how potentially good it is early on brings pressure of a kind too. When you set out doing this as a producer, you want to make an album full of great performances and great songs that people love and I think this is a record that people will be listening to a long way down the line. Time will tell. I don't think it's particularly got a time stamp on it, which is a good thing. It's not at all fashion conscious, which is a good thing. Some records use "sounds of the moment", I don't think Urban Hymns has at all really.
    
    
    Bitter Sweet Symphony
    It started with the infamous Andrew Loog Oldham loop which Pete and Si (Jones) played over the top of. That loop, just for the record, is very little. It's a basic chord progression and a couple of bongos, it's not the string riff. It's no big deal. I've seen a couple of things where they say the strings were pinched, that's bullshit. Then we started laying down guitars and vocals and things. I remember we used quite a lot of loops. I think some of the guitars were looped guitars that start at the beginning of the track and end at the end of the track. We didn't have too much of a musical arrangement for it until quite late on. It hadn't been set in stone. A lot of things on this track go from beginning to end, playing all the way through on the tape, so we muted things in and out in order to get the musical arrangement. There are Nick's guitar noises at the beginning. It was one of the first things he played on. He gets amazing things out of guitar feedback, that you've never heard before. He seems to be able to control it and when you think about what guitar feedback is, it's a really difficult thing to keep a rein on and make the tones and noises that you want to. He's really incredibly good at it, so that's what those swirly, seagull noises are. He also plays some Coral (electric) Sitar on this. I still hear things in this record and I can't quite put my finger what they are, and I know exactly what's on it, I mixed the bloody thing. You can hear the way that some things mingle against each other and some sounds sort of intertwine producing some other sound as a result. There's a lot of stuff on it, it was a bit of a kitchen sink job sometimes, this record. Some of the sounds only come in for odd moments here and there, the odd bar. It was the right first single from the album but when it was first talked about as first single I was quite surprised. We hadn't finished it at that point and it developed much further until in the end there wasn't really any other choice. The first single couldn't have been anything else.
    
    

    Sonnet
    We recorded this one quite early on. This was quite structured. I really like the bits towards the end of the middle eight, you can hear a big rush go on when the track speeds up and they're all doing their stuff. There's an eight-piece string section, but the strings are pretty subliminal really. It's a live vocal recorded with the band as the track went down, which we then overdubbed on top of. We kept the vocal from the band performance and I think there's an extra acoustic guitar on it. I think Nick's work is important on this one. He made a big difference to the dynamic of the track, as it hits the chorus it kind of soars, with all the various guitars coming in and out. Also the duelling solo bits after about two minutes are great, first it's Nick and then Tongy comes in. Richard plays piano on it andWil Malone had the idea to loop the string figure after everything had died away at the end. There's also a Nick guitar figure as the track closes.
    
    

    The Rolling People
    This song had been around since the 'A Northern Soul' sessions. We did this in February '97. I think that was the first song I cut with them on my own actually. It was done in the same session as 'Come On' and 'Space & Time'. It came together quite quickly actually, there weren't a lot of takes. Everybody played at the same time. We cut the backing track and got quite a clear idea of how it was going to sound from then. We then spent the rest of the day putting some overdubs on it. Rich did a live vocal at the time but that was a point when he was having a bit of trouble with his voice, a throat infection or something, he was a bit hoarse, so we went back and did the vocal later. Tongy played Hammond Organ on this one. I really like what Nick did, all the licks and the madness that goes on at the end. Rich and Pete did some percussion and the claps were done by all the band and two fiends. We pretty much did that tune on that one Saturday. It's a mighty drumming performance by Pete and Nick's guitars at the end are great. He's quite minimal with his use of pedals, he just seems to extract these noises out of his guitar without very much trickery at all. We mixed the bulk of Urban Hymns at Metropolis in March and April. This one and 'Come On' we came back to as the mixes weren't right. They needed to be a little heavier.
    
    

    The Drugs Don't Work
    The track was cut with Pete, Si, Tongy and Rich before Christmas and Nick put slide guitar on afterwards. The vocal performance was all live, a one take with the band where he really did get the moment. Easily the best vocal I've ever recorded, which I realised at the time. Nick took it in an interesting direction. There was a slight country flavour to it and he took it a little bit further. He played some great stuff. Wil Malone did the string arrangement in early December. There were two sessions I think, or was it three? It's a twenty two piece string section. Richard gave Wil a good idea of where to start from and the arrangements he did fitted the tunes very well. I've got a tape of just the strings form this and they stand up as a piece on their own. Tongy played the picking guitar figure on the chorus through a Leslie cabinet, it's a speaker cabinet that goes with a Hammond organ and it has a rotating speaker in it that gives a sort of warbling sound.
    
    

    Catching The Butterfly
    This was done in May, as part of that ten day jam session we did after we'd completed the bulk of the album. It started out as a 25/30 minute jam which we went back to two weeks later. During those days it was mainly jamming though I think we may have covered three or four songs in that time. During the course of the jam I think Richard came out with some of the lyrics. He has an amazing knack of doing that, to be able to sing a vocal over something that's never existed before, as it's happening. He got the basis of the lyrics while they were cutting the track and then went away and came back with a finished lyric we then recorded afterwards. It's a bit different to the structured songs, although it has ended up sounding fairly structured. On the jam stuff they were a bit more free to do anything they want basically. It's difficult to explain but if you've got a song that's written, then from the moment someone plays it with an acoustic and sings it, then you can picture how it's supposed to work. But if they're out there playing and jamming , the music's coming from nowhere really and there are no boundaries to where it can go. We kept both live guitars and let Nick go back in and play about half a dozen other tracks, just playing whatever he wanted without being tied to a part or structure. It was a mixture of cutting up and taking moments from those tracks, looping bits of them, taking off sections and keeping other sections - a bit of a mish-mash of different guitar parts fitted back together into a guitar picture. The track was played first and the song was written afterwards. It makes things a little more free but it's quite a difficult thing to be able to do, to make it sound cohesive like that. If they play the right things then it becomes easier (laughs). It worked out really well, and there's another 25 minutes of it somewhere.
    
    

    Neon Wilderness
    We were due to finish the album on a Saturday and I was finishing off the last mix. I think they'd been rehearsing for the tour and they were going to come down and check the mix out, finish it off and go through the running order. They came down, we finished the mix and then started fiddling around with this other guitar loop of Nick's which he'd done quite a while previously at Olympic (studios). We ended starting that track at six o'clock in the evening on the final day and finished about five in the morning. So it's the guitar loop with bass and drums on top of it. Rich did a pretty much ad-lib vocal. In fact I'm pretty sure it's all ad-lib. He just went out and did it, didn't have anything written down.
    
    

    Space & Time
    This was the very first song that we cut. I thought we had a great take on the second day but Rich thought it was too fast. We re-cut it the next day a bit slower and it was a bit too slow. This went on for a bit, before Christmas, and then we got a version that people generally liked, but after a couple of weeks doing other things we came back to it and decided it wasn't quite right. We re-cut it again and did a lot of overdubs on it and it was pretty much ready to mix but I wasn't quite sure about some of the guitars we had from a sonic perspective, they didn't sound as good as they could have. We started back after Christmas and it transpired that Richard didn't like the version we had, it hadn't turned out how he'd originally envisaged the song. I think the problem we had with it was that we always tried doing it with a click track and it's a song that needs to start off a bit slower and speed up in sections, slow back down in the quieter bits and then take off at the end. I think you need to let this band do that, you can't bow too much to a rigid structure. Let them do what they do. We cut it again after 'Rolling people' and 'Come On'. Rich and Pete did it in the studio, Rich singing and playing acoustic guitar. It was a first take job. I'm not sure how well Nick knew the song but he we gave him seven or eight tracks to do what he wanted with. He'd go out, do a couple of tracks, come back in and listen to them, decide what the actual parts were and go back out and play them in the right places. This was one that was pretty much built from the bottom upwards..... obviously the bass went on pretty early. The intro is Nick's work and Tongy played Mellotron strings in the verses. We'd done the whole record in Olympic (Studios) up to March 17 and then we came here (Metropolis Studios). We hadn't finished recording 'Space & Time' and we started doing some overdubs on it. The bridge section changed completely. Nick played some keyboards and there's various other.....noises and backwards stuff. I think Richard felt it was a bit straight, so Nick did some stuff.
    
    

    Weeping Willow
    This was done during those ten days in May that we were at Olympic, when they were jamming. Richard did have a few tunes he wanted to try out, one of which was 'Weeping Willow'. I think he'd had it for a while but it wasn't really worked out. Nick had to go to a wedding or something so the others spent a day working the arrangement out for it. They worked out the arrangement, got a take of it and then Nick came back the next day and played great guitar all over it,...really great guitar. I was knocked out. They're incredibly loud guitars that are played really quite softly, if you know what I mean, what I call 'guitar tension'. Not a lot of overdubs. I seem to remember him doing three tracks of guitar and he pretty much had the parts worked out straight away. It came together really quickly, this one. Rich didn't have the lyric for it initially. He had some of it when we cut the track and a finished lyric when we cut the vocal here (Metropolis). It took a little time to get the verse lyric I think. It's a moody track with a lot of atmosphere. Richard played the piano but not with the backing track because he was playing acoustic guitar when we cut the backing track. There's what I call a talking guitar after the second verse, after "believe me friends", Nick's guitar seems to say "oh yeah" or something. I've no idea how he did it.
    
    

    Lucky Man
    Another live vocal cut with the band before Christmas. I'd say definitely Tongy's finest moment (he played most of the lead), very precise, smooth and melodic. I really like the stuff he plays on it. There's a lot of dynamic in it, with the long intro, the middle section with the whole thing rising and rising and rising up to the break at the end. Twenty two strings were used and Nick plays a lot of interesting noise, there's a lot of good Nick ambient guitar and some licks and stuff. Rich went off it for a while and for a time it looked like it wasn't going to make it, which I could never understand because I think it's fantastic and it's one of the best loved tracks for a lot of people. It's quite an involved track, there's a lot of stuff on it and there's another great string riff at the end.
    
    

    One Day
    One of my favourites. Rich plays a Fender Rhodes I think. It was done relatively early and as a backing track it was a first take. I really like the mood of it and the three part vocal on the choruses, three different tracks working together very well. There's quite a lot of Tongy on it and quite a lot of the stuff that Nick does is to the point. There's a little Nick loop figure at the end section and some little licks in between lines that work well. The drums and the bass are so in the pocket, too. Definitely one of my favourites.
    
    

    This Time
    It was built up gradually and originally it was known as "Discordant". There's a bit of Richard's mad piano, it's the only one we cut with him playing live piano. It has a lot of lead guitar by Tongy. It wasn't going to make it when we came back after Christmas, it wasn't a contender for the album. Nick heard it and really liked it and said he had some really good ideas for it. So, in the course of an evening, Nick transformed it, he changed the drums quite radically. Nick had an idea for the rhythm so we sampled and looped some of Pete's drums and made them sound really clattery. He added this really choppy rhythm guitar. He went out and started putting guitars on while Rich was doing the vocals and that was the point when the track started to come together. Nick also plays some Coral Sitar on this, a nice sound you don't hear very often these days.
    
    

    Velvet Morning
    We had done several takes of it, none of which were quite right. It wasn't boredom but Rich wanted to try something for one of the takes, just to see what it sounded like. We ended up gaffer-taping a megaphone to the microphone. He sat down, played his acoustic guitar and sang into the megaphone. He only did it once but that one ended up being not only the take of the band but the vocal performance as well, which is kind of limiting because it was through a megaphone, so there wasn't really anything we could do about that. It might have been better with a straight sound but that happened to be the take we kept so we decided to go with it anyway. Pete recorded those big tom fills and we overdubbed them as a seperate part and sped the the tape up so they came out really de-tuned. There are twenty two strings again but they're not that important, they're sort of a bed underneath. Tongy plays great lap steel on it on the choruses, sounds like George Harrison. I don't think he'd ever played one before, we borrowed it from Eric Clapton who was working in the studio upstairs. Nick does a lot of what I call guitar shimmering or shimmeryness on it.
    
    

    Come On
    We cut this in February and kept all of the live guitars and stuff, kept everything pretty much. Rich was struggling a bit with his throat that February which is why he did the vocals again in March. They'd had this track since the last album sessions (along with 'Rolling People'). There are big, big live Nick guitars and we added some extra guitars, maybe three or four. We did some radio noises, Rich with a radio tuning it all over. Rich played Hammond organ on it as well. Essentially it's a band performance with a few overdubs. It was pretty much recorded in a day, apart from the vocal, which was the last one we cut apart from 'Neon Wilderness'. They were rehearsing for the tour and I was halfway through mixing the album and I'd come to that track so we did it then. Richard changed some of the verse lyrics a little bit, that took a bit of work but it was pretty much a one take job. But his vocals usually are. It'll either work very quickly or it won't work and he knows to come back another day. I've never known a singer who gets anything like as many live vocals, as the track goes down, as Richard does. It's very rare that people do that these days. Generally, throughout the album, we kept a lot of the stuff that went down live, a lot of it. They love to catch the synergy out there, when the magic's on. Very rare.
    
    

    Deep Freeze
    We had this idea for the beginning of the album, a collection of sounds going into the front of 'Bitter Sweet Symphony', city noises, computers, radios being tuned, a basic kind of urban madness going on. Just a short thirty second thing. We actually did it, put it on the front of BSS but decided it was kind of interesting the first time you heard it but after that it would get a bit tedious, so we sacked it off. We ended up using a couple of sound affect things we'd done for that with another one of Nick's guitar loops. Throughout the album Nick would occasionally do some guitar loops. He'd go into the studio, fiddle about with his guitar and we'd be doing domething else. He'd come back in and say "can you record a bit of what's going on out there", and you'd listen to the guitar mics and even though he was standing next to me, his guitar was still playing a mad loop. We did that from time to time and there's still quite a few that haven't been used for anything. I like what this track does, it's very simple - Nick's guitar loop with a baby wailing and snippets of radio collected over time placed over the top.


    B-SIDES

    
    

    Lord I Guess I'll Never Know
    I always thought that was a contender for the album actually, but when we started again after Christmas it was never really mentioned again. We had the basic track and ended up finishing it pretty damn quickly. We got into a bit of a deadline thing with the B-sides for 'Bitter Sweet Symphony' and ended up spending a night on it. We had a cut for the single booked for 10 am and so basically we started working on this at about 9 or 10 the evening before. We did a few overdubs on it and mixed it and as soon as we'd finished the mix we went straight to the cut. There are bits of backwards acoustic guitar on there by Rich and it might be another live vocal but I'm pretty sure we re-did it just before mixing. Nick plays a tremolo guitar pretty much all through the song. Tongy plays guitar through the Leslie cabinet on the choruses on this one as well and there's great bass playing by Si Jones - Si's work is uniformly excellent, very classy, particularly perhaps on 'Sonnet' and 'Space and Time'. The sound of the track changed quite a lot during the mix actually, it's quite different to what's on the multi-track and how we'd always heard it before.
    
    
    Country Song
    It's one of Owen's (recorded in '94 with Owen Morris), done during the 'A Northern Soul' sessions. I think we just did the vocal again and mixed it. There might be some Nick overdubs on it.
    
    
    So Sister
    This was done right around the same sort of time. We were under pressure to get the B-sides done. With two CDs you do need another four extra songs. Richard came in early one morning, went out into the studio with an acoustic guitar and just started playing. He was going through a few different songs and ideas for songs and we recorded 'So Sister' out of the blue really. He already had the song. It's a vocal and acoustic performance from start to finish, really, really good. First take. He just sort of launched into it, and me and Gareth (Ashton, Assistant Engineer) just sat there open mouthed. There are some overdubs on it, some Nick 'atmospheric' guitar and Nick playing a toy xylophone, a really high-frequency sound towards the middle of the song, you can barely make it out. There's also a vocal harmony and tambourine by Richard. I really like it as a performance, it's excellent.
    
    
    Echo Bass
    Originally done during the sessions for 'A Northern Soul', we re-cut the track in studio B at Metropolis, one of the only ones we did in studio B. That and 'So Sister'. It was second or third take I think, everyone playing together and everything that we cut live we kept. The vocals we re-did straight afterwards. There aren't many overdubs on it. I think Nick and Si Jones played a little bit of keyboards on it, a bit of flute, and Pete played some vibes on the Octopad. I love the bass on this, very Si Jones. It was originally fifteen minutes long, this tune, but we cut it down.
    
    

    The Crab
    This was a contender for the album to begin with. It was one that (John) Leckie had started and was literally a vocal and acoustic, nothing else, to which Nick added some ambient guitar and piano. It's very dark.
    
    
    Stamped
    Done during those ten days in May that we went back to Olympic Studios for. It was cut down from a jam, with a live vocal again. One of these jams started out about 45 minutes long, it could well be this one. It's some sections edited together and some bits looped. There are some crazy, crazy guitars on this although Nick did only one overdub on it.
    
    
    Three Steps
    Again, that was a jam. It's a five minute section from the middle of a longer....thing. We might have hacked a few little bits out of the middle of it. Like 'Stamped' it's pretty much as they played it and I think Nick overdubbed one guitar on it. I don't think there was much of a vocal on it originally. He re-did the vocal and the high-pitched vocal was an added extra. It was just bass, drums and guitar originally, with Tongy on rhythm, and was briefly a contender for Urban Hymns I think. It does sound like it was worked out but they didn't have a clue what they were doing. The vocal on the original jam was used as the basis for where he went with the lyric and melody. This was the only one that we mixed upstairs in studio C at Metropolis and I always fancied having another go at mixing it, but everybody really liked it so I never got the chance.
    
    
    Never Wanna See You Cry
    It was originally done in the early sessions but we ended up replacing everything. It was specifically done as a B-side for 'Lucky Man' in the course of a day. There are strings on it by Wil Malone. It was originally thought of for the album but kind of discarded after Christmas. When we started again it wasn't one that people thought was going to make it. We decide to go for it again because it is a very good song and I was amazed at how much we got done in one day. That's Tongy playing the sort of ethereal guitar, it sounds like Nick, but it's Tongy. We did the vocal really quickly, two tracks. Originally on the chorus, he'd gone right up for the chorus, vocally, but I think it works better going to where he goes now. Pete comes in with this off-kilter rhythm thing which he does....which is excellent.
    
    
    Lucky Man (Happiness More Or Less)
    A remix of Nick. It's 'Lucky man' without anything other than Nick, the bass, drums, strings and a bit of vocal. It's actually a Potter remix of Nick's stuff, an ambient guitar mix. I did it at the time that we mixed 'Lucky man' actually, fishing around for other versions.
    
    
    The Longest Day
    We did get through quite a lot of stuff in those ten days at Olympic and this is another jam from there. It has Tongy playing Fender Rhodes really well. There are very few overdubs on this, might be none actually. It's quite sparse really, as much about what everybody isn't playing as what they are playing. You can sort of hear the sound of the P.A. We used a P.A. for a lot of these tracks, we liked to get the sound in the room really loud and you can hear it. I like the atmosphere you get. You get it with 'Stamped' as well, you can hear the P.A. on that, too. I'm pretty sure the vocal is live. It was all cut down from a much longer version.

    I think for 'Lucky Man' we went back into the studio to get the B-sides together over a week in October. We ended up doing them all from scratch. There was talk initially of mixing 'History' again but it's one of those things. I would have done it but with records like that you have to have a bit of respect for the moment. To go back a couple of years later and remix it and make it sound, well... not even better, but different somehow, might be wrong so we didn't remix it and I'm glad we didn't.

    Thank you Chris.

    Thanks also to Chris Floyd for the use of his photographs.

    to the Search page