Ghost Dance Discography : Recording Diaries
Down To The Wire
Released on Chrysalis 5th June 1989
Catalogue no. CHS 12 3376
- Down To The Wire
- Mirror Blind
- Blood Still Flows
- Dr Love
- Gathering Dust Live Medley
I'd be surprised if a detailed account exists anywhere chronicling our brief time with Chrysalis - I don't think anyone involved covered themselves with glory in that year.
Down To The Wire marks the beginning of that particular saga which ultimately led to the demise of the band.
It's easy to see in retrospect that the reasons surrounding its selection as first single and the approach to recording, packaging and promoting it all represented the band and management losing control and direction.
We signed to Chrysalis in November of 1988 in the middle of our most impressive tour of the UK. The shows were great and the band were itching to finalise the deal and get in the studio as soon as the dates had finished.
It had been over a year since the release of A Word To The Wise (a year which saw us part company with Nick and Karbon and other key personnel in the crew come and go) and the feeling within the band was that we should release the song Walk In My Shadow as the next single.
It had become the standout new song in the live shows and we had used imagery as the stage backdrop and on the tour merchandise which directly related to that title. If we hadn’t signed before the end of ‘88 we would have released the single under our own steam (what a different story that would have been).
Frustratingly Chrysalis were in less of a hurry and wanted to make sure the ‘right’ producer was employed.
They sent a mobile recording unit to the Bradford gig on 26th November and taped the entire set – the reason being we were so close to the end of the tour they wouldn’t be able to invite producers out to witness the band live and therefore this was an economical way of getting the tracks recorded to present to the various people they (and the band) had in mind for the role. Thus began a three month cycle of meetings with the record label and potential producers with none of us able to agree or strike a deal over who should record the band. In that time we met with John Porter who had produced The Smiths, Craig Leon who I thought was a strong contender because of his work with Blondie and The Ramones but the label found too eccentric, Gil Norton (too expensive), Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel fame, who I was also really pushing for but couldn’t get any support from within the band. There were probably others who I didn’t meet, as the band were getting pissed off with the stalling and didn’t always put their best face forward when meeting the label’s suggestions.
At their instigation we met Mark Dodson who was mostly known for working with speed/thrash metal at the time but had some ‘hit-making’ pedigree. He was very rock’n’roll and charismatic and instantly likeable. We decided to go into the studio as a try-out with him – hoping to at least get the single done for Summer release, because we were in danger of dragging our heels all year unless we went along with the plan.
Dodson had seen us play a few of the unreleased songs in a rehearsal studio in London and had immediately liked the track Down To The Wire, which we all viewed as a lesser number (certainly not a potential first single). He loved the guitar intro and asked us to play it twice as long and twice as often in the song – we would discover he was prone to be obsessive about things like that. We talked to him about wanting to go with Walk In My Shadow but he really couldn’t see its potential and said something to the effect of, ‘I don’t like the track so I couldn’t bring anything to a recording of it...’ Alarm bells should have sounded then but we chose to bend to his judgement.
So we began 4 days pre-production in March at John Henry’s in London. We hit on the plan to record Down To The Wire, The Love I Need, Sea Of Faith and I Will Wait with him – not wholly sure of the reason for including Sea Of Faith, which was another track on the margins, unless it was another Dodson fave. The other two were both front-runners for singles in my estimation.
We made drastic changes to the structure and arrangement of the pieces. This was all pretty new to me – the previous producers I’d worked with had usually taken the song as a given and just concentrated on working on the performance and the sound. Mark was keen on cutting sections out and extending instrumental passages and stuff. I was a bit resistant at first but then got really into re-working the tracks. It’s especially evident on the different versions of The Love I Need you got to hear on the album and the live bonus version of it which pre-dates working with Dodson. He was the one who suggested the extra vocals on the chorus of Down To The Wire – he liked the fact the band all stabbed the first beats of the chorus but said it would have been better if the vocals had landed on the first beat as well. I hit on the 'Hey, Hey' and 'oh oh oh' male vocals rather than change the main vocal. They changed the tone of the track completely – it was actually quite a serious idea which had prompted the lyric. I’d lived in the Chapeltown area of Leeds during the riots and so the images were mixed up ideas of streets in chaos and looters coupled with the notion that there was a flaunting of wealth in the media etc... ’there beats a neon heart in a city torn apart’. All that was glossed over in the new version which settled for being rollicking good fun.
Steely had come up with the chorus riff to Down To The Wire – his first songwriting contribution to the band.
He was to be Dodson’s favourite within the band during the recordings, which is a big part of the reason my guitar playing became less of a feature of the Chrysalis era tracks. Richard had that classic rock sound Mark related to and played actual guitar solos rather than repeated guitar lines which were my trademark. Dodson didn’t like the more indie or altrnative aspects of what we did. He seized on the traditional rock band sound in the recording which got underway at Olympic Studios on 11th March and went for tough thumping drums, driving bass and then spent ages layering Richard’s guitars. I had got into playing acoustic and don’t actually remember playing any electric guitar, just strumming the chords and playing a mandolin type figure over the outro (which is so low in the mix you wouldn’t know I’d done it). We scrapped the idea of working on Sea Of Faith fairly early on but had actually got a really strong live take of the backing track to the song down.
We recorded the remaining three songs but it was clear Mark was only truly interested in Down To The Wire. Having layered the track up to monsters of rock proportions he then asked Anne Marie to come and sing her vocals. He really hadn’t paid much attention to what she did or had mistakenly formed the impression she wasn’t singing flat-out in the pre-production rehearsals because when she came to sing he was really floored by the difference in her sound and the mighty wall of rock he had assembled. He asked her to ‘sing more like Tina Turner’ which was probably the last thing Anne Marie was going to respond to. He didn’t manage the situation particularly well and was unable to get the best out of Anne Marie. He lost interest in the session a bit from that point. He realised he had to soften some of the backing to accommodate the vocals – the result is as you’d imagine neither one thing nor the other ( a limbo-land future recordings would see us return to).
We went to Marcus studios to mix (Dodson adding further harmony vocals courtesy of pitch shifting Anne Marie’s lead vocal on the chorus to try and find something to make it all gel).
The results weren’t fantastic but the label seemed delighted with it and it became clear that despite reservations it was going to be the first single.
Between recording and mixing the A side we set about recording some B sides at a budget-priced studio in London with our old mate Tony Bonner co-producing. Tony had run studios in Leeds for years and did live sound for the Hollow Men who had supported us on the tour at the end of 88. We all loved the sound of the band and had perhaps given Tony too much credit for his hand in that. The band were actually all very suss and worked on their individual sounds more carefully than we did.
We had four or five days up to the Easter weekend to get the extra tracks down. We worked pretty quickly on the three studio tracks which featured as extras on one or other version of the single: Mirror Blind, Blood Still Flows and Dr Love. We’d recorded all the songs at least once before so they were fairly routine. We threw in some extra male vocals as they were becoming a significant part of the band sound and generally had fun with the songs – the lack of pressure with them only being bonus tracks rather than potential singles or whatever made it a breeze. We had Malcolm from The Wonderstuff hanging round most days – he’d struck up a friendship with Anne Marie which helped her relax after the messy run-in with Dodson. The mood was pretty up with A&R at the record company buoyant about the prospects of their new signings. They kept out of the way while we did the b sides – they had been in almost constant attendance at the Olympic sessions which had become the cause of some annoyance within the band.
I had a go at mixing Mirror Blind with Tony one morning without the rest of the band because I was keen to avoid the compromise sound Dodson had finished up with and provide the band and Chrysalis with an argument for allowing me more of a hand in guiding the overall sound of the material. The pair of us worked piecing together a much brighter sounding track with real zing at the top end and generally a greater feeling of space – all the things we really liked about the Hollow Men. Sadly before putting a version of the mix down, the band came into the studio and started moaning about one or other aspect of the mix and before you know it we were back in limbo-land. The complaints were mostly due to the fact Etch and John had got used to the Dodson approach which made them sound big and impressive (albeit in an obvious way) and they really hated the lighter touch I’d tried to bring in the hope of framing Anne Marie’s vocals more appropriately.
Again these weren’t representative of major problems but were perhaps early warning signs of the divisions within the band and between us and Chrysalis.
The cover art became the next area for the differences to be highlighted. I think the single cover is fairly awful. I had suggested the tail-lights being used in some way but of course the major label mentality couldn’t see beyond there being a photo of the band so a compromise of using the two was hit upon – neither party getting what they wanted (no wonder I’m holding my head).