I know it’s a cliché when they say time flies, but I think like most cliches they are probably right. I mean I just checked the diary and realised we are already halfway through August which means there are only a few weeks left of the school holidays which means Halloween, Bonfire Night and Christmas Carols are just around the corner again.
But it wasn’t just the passing weeks of 2023 that got me thinking about the passage of time, it was spending time in the studio with one of my oldest musical friends working on an album that was recorded in 1973 that really made me think about how the years seem to pass in the blink of an eye.
Early evening at Sonic One Studios and Tim is still hard at it.
I first met Tim Hamill in the early 80’s. I was producing an album for a band from Cardiff and the usual studio engineer was on holiday. One of my great ‘strengths’ is knowing most of my many weaknesses. I’ve been working in studios with some of the most successful producers since I was 13 years and I’ve learnt a lot but I’m no studio engineer. That is an art and science all on its own.
Tim has always loved sound, music and electronics. It was because of all the stories in the news about ‘A’ Level results this week that we started talking about exams and qualifications. School didn’t interest Tim and because of that he was probably written off for a career in academia at an early age. When he left school the only certificates he had were for an ‘O’ level in drama and a few CSE’s in Math and English.
Knowing what he really enjoyed doing, Tim managed to get onto an electronics course. After 3 years studying in Cardiff, he was the only one on his course of 24 who had passed every subject with flying colours. That led to a job at a theatre in Llanelli and an encounter with an old teacher. Proudly Tim told his old headmaster how well he had done at college and that he now had a ‘job for life’ in the theatre. The only thing the teacher could think of to say was, ‘Your hair is still too long’.
It was that security and threat of a ‘Job for life’ that prompted Tim to leave the theatre and take on the precarious life of a freelance studio engineer. He soon set up his own studio and it was at that stage we met. Not only could Tim make great sounding records he could play every type of guitar style, which over the years has been an added bonus.
After that initial session Tim became not only my engineer, he also became the only person from Llanelli in my band. With a Turk in my group the ‘Jacks’ I can’t help thinking that for many reasons we should have renamed the band ‘Mal Pope & the Jerks’.
Tim on guitar for the Mal Pope Show with Mica Paris.
It was therefore natural that when I finally managed to get hold of all of the recordings I made for Rocket Records back in the 1970’s that Tim would be one of the first calls I made.
Working from his Sonic One Studio in Llangennech Tim is extremely busy. His CV now reads like a who’s who of rock music including George Michael and Amy Winehouse. Over the past few weeks, he has been recording with Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet on his new album and the record he made for Rock Band ‘Girls School’ has been No. 1 in the Rock and Metal Charts. (I suppose I should mention here that our song Breathe which Tim recorded, played on and mixed is currently No.1 in the Mike Read Heritage Charts as well).
Having collected my old multitrack tapes from Elton John’s secret ‘lock-up’ in North London and headed to the ‘Copyroom’ to get them digitised I made the trip to Tim’s studio armed only with a USB drive.
It was on the 3rd October 1973 that I headed for my first Rocket Records recording session. By February 1974 the album was completed and ready for release. It was agreed that I would need to be available for promotional purposes.
With school taking priority the release was delayed until the summer. The trouble was that in the meantime my voice had broken. The album was ‘shelved ‘and we headed to the studio to start all over again with my new voice. 50 years later this was my chance to rework the lost album ‘Rocket Boy’.
It really struck me how the industry had moved on. I had gone from tapes the size of a set of Encyclopedia Britanica to a digital storage system that I could carry around in my wallet… which is where I put it for fear of losing it.
I think the thing that summed up our time in the studio this week is how we smiled at what we heard. These recordings were made in some of the finest studios London had to offer in the 70’s. The best microphones and mixing desks in some of the best acoustically designed rooms.
The LOST album ‘Rocket Boy’ finished in February 1974.
The possibilities of shaping and manipulating sound have certainly progressed in 50 years but the way they captured sound and performances back then are hard to compete with even with all the toys we possess today.
One of the issues we had to contend with was the concept of timing and the odd ‘bum’ note’. Back then there were a limited number of things you could do to repair minor errors. If the ‘take’ was good except for one or 2 small errors, you just had to live with it for the greater good. In fact, if you listen to some of the old Rod Stewart and the Faces records it’s almost shocking that so many ‘mistakes’ made it to the final record but that was all part of the magic.
With all of the tracks displayed on Tim’s computer we could see exactly where the bass player and drummer ‘parted ways’. You could hear a slightly flat backing vocal or distorted pedal steel and you now had the technology to change it. The question was, how much should we change?
The other opportunity that presented itself was the chance to sing with my 13 year old self. There was the chance to work on whole new backing vocal sections or change that drum fill I was never happy with or that guitar solo that always jarred with me.
Having Tim with me on the journey was a godsend. He had all of the tools to make every idea a reality and also the judgement to say ‘Mal…Enough.’
There have been some unexpected ‘finds’ as well. It was Tim who asked about one track which was recorded at the old George Martin Air Studios in Oxford Circus. It soon became clear that the reason the piano sounded so good on my track was that it was the same piano Paul McCartney had played on ‘Live and Let Die.’ It wasn’t long before all of the members of the Jacks were put on notice that a new track was ‘incoming’ and within days new keyboards, brass, bass drums and electric guitar had been added.
Over the next few days we will have time to reflect on what we have produced and then decide what and when to release the new ‘old’ recordings.
The week has flown by and to be honest so has the last 50 years.