Some People...
The Producer's recollections

This is the full version of Allan Crockford's recollections, a shortened version of which appears on the CD booklet.

Never was keen on that name myself. Too much scope for awful punning headlines in the local press and general piss-taking from fellow musicians, of which I was one. Bob, Mick and Ian never seemed to mind, although Mark always seemed a bit more chippy about the relationships between local bands. I was in the Prisoners at the time and we regarded ourselves as the best around, although when the Milkshakes were in the vicinity we pretended to defer to them on account of them being taller, older and meaner

I became aware of the Dentists because Ian went to the same school as the Prisoners. He’d been a regular fan and friend from the early days, even supporting us a couple of times as a member of the strangely named Rubberman Dozen. He eventually shared a house with Johnny Symons and Jamie Taylor. A right little den of iniquity that was…

He told us about this new band he’d started with some people from Rainham, and Mick Murphy from Walderslade. I remembered Mick – he was a sometime ace face mod. I once went round his house and pretended I knew how to play the guitar. I fumbled my way through The Stranglers’ London Lady and he seemed to be impressed (ish). Then I didn’t see him until a couple of years later when I saw him in a band at the MIC club in Chatham. I probably thought they were crap, because I thought everyone was crap apart from us. Then he turned up in the Dentists with our mate Ian Smith so I was duty bound to check them out. They’d recorded a demo in someone’s front room in Sheerness. The sound was rubbish, but they had some interesting and very ‘non-Medway’ songs.  The engineer on that session, Jeff Horne, subsequently moved his studio into decent premises and it became a favourite amongst Medway bands of the time - The Prisoners, James Taylor Quartet, and the Mighty Caesars all made some of their best records there. It was cheap and basic, and Jeff let us get on with recording whatever way we liked. This was probably because he had a pretty bad stutter and it took too long to explain why our ideas wouldn’t work.
 
We offered the Dentists a couple of gigs with the Prisoners, mainly as a favour to Ian. (I’m not sure that the others were that enamoured with the band). They had a more contemporary feel to them, as if they actually listened to and absorbed the current indie music scene. We were locked into our attempt to fuse punk and 60’s garage and nothing recorded beyond 1970 passed our internal musical bouncers. And of course there was an awful lot of shit about in the early 80’s, which made ignoring everything seem quite justified at the time. But I thought they had something. I particularly liked Bob’s guitar playing. It was a strange mixture of the styles of Peter Buck, Pete Townshend and Jim McGuinn, inventive and melodic, but also sometimes frantic and sloppy. Coupled with Ian’s drumming, also no stranger to the description ‘frantic and sloppy’ (especially when he’d been drinking), that style set up an interesting tension between their haunting, ethereal songs and their edgy live performance. I didn’t think of it in those terms then – they just seemed to push a couple of the right buttons. Whatever the reason, it sounded pretty original to me. At the time I’d never heard of REM and The Smiths. Maybe if I’d had, I could have worked them out a bit more easily… Anyway, it didn’t matter. I offered (or did they ask? I can’t remember) to help them to do some new recording, in view of their appalling demo, and the fact that I felt like I was an old hand by now (nearly 21). I’d always fancied myself as a producer, and this was my chance.
Our first attempt was another demo, recorded at Oakwood Studios, Canterbury.  It went well, although I didn’t think the finished sound captured what I heard from them on stage. It did feature the sound of an acoustic 12 string guitar being played through a distorted amp, which made an interesting noise. I may be right in thinking that this demo enabled them to get a distribution deal with Backs, so it was worth it. Versions of two of the songs were re-recorded for the album, and years later some of those original demos surfaced on a compilation. But the studio was expensive (for us) and the engineer was a bit of a know it all who really couldn’t help demonstrating his contempt for the session. Time to move back to familiar surroundings…

By now, Jeff Horne had moved Woolly Studios out of his front room and had set up a real studio, with a live room, drum booth and 16 glorious tracks. I’d recently sold my very first bass set-up to Mark (a lovely 100 watt Marshall valve head. I wish I’d kept it), and I persuaded Bob to borrow Graham Day’s Marshall amp for the recording. I’m not sure if Ian borrowed the Milkshakes drums as well, but I always felt they sounded better using borrowed gear.

This time the plan was to record a 3 track single, with ‘Strawberries’ being the favourite. I hired a transit van and drove them to the studio. The van was a wreck and overheated at speeds over 40mph, but we made it. The new Woolly studio was a great place to make records, not too posh and not over padded with sound proofing. This was important because we wanted to make a more atmospheric recording this time, one which came closer to what they sounded like live. It’s not a particularly original ambition, but when you’re 20 years old, in your first proper band and in love with that rush of adrenalin that comes from playing your own music loudly to your friends, trying to recreate it is the only thing that matters. I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to do the same thing with varying degrees of success.

They recorded all the tracks live, with just vocals and a couple of guitar overdubs added afterwards. It all went pretty smoothly apart from that fact that it was obvious Mark had a particular distaste for backing vocals. I think he would have been happier if there had been none at all – maybe it was a bit too’60’s’ for him. Luckily he was in a minority, and plenty were dubbed on. This was a good thing as there were loads of opportunities for good harmonies in their songs, although Mick was the exact opposite to Mark, and would have put a full choir of his own voice on if allowed.
The other matter that slowed us down somewhat was their insistence that their mate Colin be allowed to record the words ‘Go on, do Strawberries’ at the beginning of the song. Apparently he said this all the time live. I don’t know why this was ever considered to be a good idea – he would have got a boot up the arse if he’d tried it at Prisoners gigs - but they insisted on spending ages on trying to get the poor bloke to say it with the emphasis on the right words. Fortunately for the finished product, he couldn’t speak properly when the red light came on. After stumbling over those four words for what seemed an eternity, or at least a bloody long time, he was let off the hook. It’s a good job there wasn’t a sampler in the place…

The three songs were mixed very quickly, and personally I was very pleased with the proposed A side, ‘Strawberries’, and I was proud enough of my involvement to play it to everyone I knew.

A couple of months later they asked me to help with the production of the first album. They had a good collection of new songs by now, and I presume the first single had sold well enough for Backs to ask for an album. I don’t recall keeping in touch with the details, and I didn’t really see the band outside of gigs or bumping into them in the pub. By the time The Dentists were ready to record again, the Prisoners had started to record what would become ‘The Last Fourfathers’ at Woolly studio. We’d recorded the backing tracks and were due to come back a couple of weeks later. The Dentists would do their recording in the meantime. This was good for me, because I wasn’t happy with some of the basslines I’d played on the new Prisoners songs. After the Dentists had completed their first day of backing tracks, I persuaded them to give me an hour at the end of the day to re-record my Prisoners bass parts using Mark’s very nice Burns bass, and my old Marshall amp. I redid most of the songs in one pass, in the Dentists time, with them reading the newspaper on the sofa behind me, impatient to get home for tea. On such details are rock legends are built. Or maybe not…

The album was fairly easy to record. The band had been playing a lot so they bashed through the songs fairly quickly. The only compromise was ‘I’m not the devil’, which they played fine until Ian finished it one chorus repeat too early. After a bit of moaning, they decided not bother doing it again because what they had was too good to lose – these being the days of expensive master tape and limited time… You can still hear the bass spill at the end where Mark was still playing.

They had some fun with impersonations of Harold Steptoe (turned backwards), a lecture about tangerines (guess which song), backwards guitar and of course the famous Kenneth Wolstenholme world cup commentary. That was a bit ahead of its time – football wasn’t the universally popular cultural force that it is now. In fact 1985 was pretty much the nadir of English footballs’ popularity, with Heysel, Bradford and the European ban all happening that year. It seemed quaint to name an album after a piece of football commentary, and positively obtuse to number the songs according to the England players shirts. Now it looks sort of ground-breaking, if you think that sort of thing is important…

After 4 days of recording we had a go at mixing. I’ve got no real recollection of this, but the first mixes were scrapped. The band took them to Backs and decided on its first public airing that the sound was a bit weedy and thin. Apparently I concurred independently, because we booked another day at Woolly and did it all again, apart from ‘Mary’. Having dug out those original mixes recently, they don’t sound a whole lot different! But I know what it’s like - when you play your stuff to in public it is easy to feel very sensitive to it’s perceived flaws. You end up magnifying them beyond a point where someone not in the band would notice.

The Dentists continued to do the occasional support slot with the Prisoners, and Graham did the musical notation for their publishing. But I remember some tensions creeping in – Mark was not really one for putting up with the constant piss taking that went hand in hand with supporting the Prisoners. He took it fairly seriously and was the main organiser in the band, a role I also had in the Prisoners. I sympathised with him when he moaned about Ian getting drunk at gigs. We had a similar situation with Johnny Symons, and as they were housemates it could seem a bit too much like a load of lads out on the piss rather than a gig. Mark could be a prickly character and I never felt he was comfortable with our crowd. I also felt a bit responsible as it was mainly me getting them the support slots.

The Dentists next recording (‘You and your bloody Oranges’) was completed in Norwich without my involvement. I can’t remember why that was, but I would guess that I couldn’t really spare the time away when the Prisoners were so busy. They seemed to be managing pretty well, carving out a niche for themselves outside of what was regarded as the Medway mainstream, not a garage band revamping the 60’s with punk energy like The Prisoners and the Milkshakes, but something contemporary that nodded to those influences a bit more archly.

However, for whatever reason, they asked me to help with the production of their next project (Down and Out in Paris and Chatham). I was looking forward to it. They had some great new songs that I had heard at their gigs. But it all went sour very quickly after that. They played a gig at the Crown in Rochester, possibly with the Daggermen, and it was a drunken affair, with everyone who was anyone in Medway in attendance, very drunk and disorderly. Ian was drunk, probably aided and abetted by various members of the Prisoners over the course of the evening. It was obvious he wasn’t playing that well at their gig, but they got through it. Anyway, he wasn’t exactly known for being a technically great drummer, but he gave them a manic energy that was quite impressive on its night. But all was not well, and apparently he was dumped from the band soon after their set was finished. I didn’t see the deed, but I can imagine shades of Pete Best… When I was told this, I felt I couldn’t help with production duties any more. He was my mate, and also the reason I had taken an interest. I liked their music, but at that point loyalty was more important. The ironic thing (in my mind) was that the drummer they eventually got in was technically much worse than Ian and had none of his drive and energy. That was the end of the Dentists for me for about 6 or 7 years. I very rarely bothered to go and see them, mainly out of loyalty, but also because I didn’t care much for their music during those years. I had to go occasionally, because my girlfriend (and now wife) was a big fan, but it was on sufferance. At least I can thank the Dentists for indirectly bringing us together though…

When they got their third and final drummer in, things definitely improved. They became a much better proposition, and it obviously gave them a new lease of life. There were all sorts of backing vocals going on (unheard of in the old days), and they were a slick and powerful live band. That said, I still preferred them when Ian was thrashing away at the back. It wasn’t perfect, but it was original. The latter years of the Dentists I thought sounded too much like a lot of other guitar bands around at the time. They still had some good songs and Bob’s guitar playing was as inventive as ever, but the band didn’t have that spark, the naiveté and charm of the original line-up. Whatever experience and professionalism they picked up over the years couldn’t replace the quirky and sometimes ramshackle appeal of the original line-up. I’m proud that I played some part in capturing it on these recordings.

Allan Crockford (producer)



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