It was over thirty years ago, but nobody who lived through the early 1980s is likely to forget their first exposure to the three albums that catapulted Rupert Hine from one side of the producer’s next to the other.
Immunity in 1981, Waving Not Drowning in 1982 and The Wildest Wish to Fly (1983) still rank among that very select handful of period releases that not only capture the musical mood of the era (fill in your own definition), but do so without a hint of the sonic damage that so drastically dates most of what we recall as “the early eighties.”
Indeed, although Hine certainly was not a slouch when it came to harnessing everything that the emergent tech of the day made possible, he was equally concerned with what was plausible - almost as though he had stepped forward a few decades himself, to listen to the records in the light of what the future would find permissable.
Now the best of those albums have been harnessed for a superlative single disc collection, Unshy on the Skyline (Esoteric) although Hine, sitting down with Goldmine to look back across the first couple of decades of his career, is swift to caution… “it is entirely subjective this so-called ‘best of’! It is in fact simply my personal favorite tracks from those three albums.”
GM: What were your criteria, then?
RH: “The choices are coming from the stand-points of a) songwriter, b) singer and equally c) arranger and d) producer, so it is with all four aspects in mind that these tracks have been selected.
The three albums became known as the A&M Trilogy. Though they were never recorded as a ‘set’, with hindsight it became clear that they all shared the same lyrical sensibility and arrangement/production attributes, and were only stopped by the introduction of a ‘parallel’ entity called Thinkman.
GM: You’ve said that the context of the times was also extremely influential?
RH: Definitely. This was a very specific moment in time in terms of pop history. The 70s romance with early synthesizers in their most complicated incarnations - the vast Moog and ARP2500 series - had given way to more manageable synthesizers, that resembled other keyboard instruments at least in basic layout etc.
“The only instruments at the time that tackled what we would now refer to as ‘samplers’ were the massive (and ludicrously expensive) digital workstations such as the Fairlight and the Synclavier. I was, however, equally absorbed by the principles of harnessing sounds from the real world, sound effects if you will, and moulding them into musical pitches, rhythms and structure.”
GM: What was the difference between your approach and those more expensive systems?
“Primarily, that I used tin cans and bits of string. This tended to mean that you tackled the same kind of job differently every time, according to objects and ideas that were right there in from of you... coupled to the available methods of harnessing them. On Immunity, the arrangement and production conceptual thinking shared with Stephen W Tayler was that we would do every single part of the recording in a way that we had never done before. Without exception.”
GM: It must have taken forever!
RH: “It sounds like a process that must have taken us months but in fact the album was recorded and mixed in just five weeks. Such is the speed of pure inspiration left unharnessed!”
GM: A lot of people might be surprised to discover that perhaps your best-known song from the period, “Misplaced Love,” is in fact not included!
RH” “'Misplaced Love" was the only song that was not written in this otherwise very focussed and conceptual manner. It had been written a year or two earlier and had already been covered by another artist, Wildlife.
“The record label, however, thought that it sounded like their best shot at a single... but it never seemed to fit within the album for me. It is also hampered by having an 80s sound to the drums which, unlike any other track on the album, roots it firmly in that decade. The Immunity album was described at the time as being ‘out of it’s time’ and is still - in it’s own way. It doesn’t really belong to any era.”
GM. I’d like to back and ask you about your folk club beginnings. How did you move onto that scene in the first place... and what sort of songs were you playing - “true” traditional, or recently written? Could you tell us a little about the scene, the other players... and the music itself.
RH: “I started playing in a school band called The Aztecs. I was the singer and harmonica player. We later changed our name to “4 7/8” (four and seven-eighths),mostly to get away from The This and The Thats. The guitarist Terry Hiscock was also the Head Boy of the school, and later went on to form a folk-rock band of the early 70s called Hunter Muskett.
“I left school, went to college and joined the college band called Randy’s Incaras. In that band I met David Robinson, and he and I quickly felt that the beat group era’s days were numbered and we should leave the band and become a duo - two voices, two acoustic guitars and some harmonica.
“Obviously the only places we could play were folk clubs, and the burgeoning scene in London (if not the UK) gave birth to many great British singer/songwriters whilst helping enormously the careers of visiting American singer/songwriters. So, even though we did include folk/blues material in our set such as Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson etc... along with covers of Paul Simon, Donovan and Leonard Cohen... we were essentially trying out our own songs in the company of better known material. I have fond memories of sharing many small stages with ‘packed houses’ of just 25/30 people alongside Paul Simon, Bert Jansch, Leonard Cohen, Donovan, Barry McGuire, Shawn Phillips etc etc
GM: You signed with Decca, cut the single “The Sound of Silence” with Dick Rowe producing, a twenty-six piece orchestra, and Jimmy Page and Herbie Flowers in your backing band…. And then what?
RH: “It all came to nothing. After two years of ‘touring’ which turned out to be ‘working men’s clubs’ and other inappropriate venues, things dwindled to a halt. Both David and I kept songwriting, however, and David continued training as a lawyer whilst developing his unique lyric-writing sensibilities. I filled in with a million very 60s jobs, such as modeling for swinging 60s photo shoots and some TV commercials, interspersed with pretty much any temporary job that would help pay the rent.”
GM: Enter… or rather, re-enter, Roger Glover, an old friend of yours.
RH: “[Roger was] a good friend from the early recording experience, who had joined a band that became quite the success of the late 1960s - Deep Purple. So successful was the band that, by 1970, they had formed their own record label and Roger heard material that David and I had been writing and asked if we might sign a record deal with their label. It was a dream come true.
GM: Your first album was Pick Up A Bone, which Glover himself produced. That must have been a great experience!
RH: “It could not have been a more polar-opposite recording experience to our earlier mis-adventure with Decca. Still to this day, Pick Up A Bone was the only time (other than that very first single) that I have been produced by someone other than myself. It was an absolute pleasure working with Roger, [but] when the record label requested a second album, Roger was sadly not remotely available to work with us - due to Deep Purple being the biggest record- selling / live touring band on the planet in 1972. So they suggested I produced it myself.
GM: And that is how you took the first tentative steps to being a record producer!
RH: “Yes, I came into the production world through the route of songwriting and not engineering. My first production was also for Purple Records. Yvonne Elliman had asked David and I to write songs for her first album outside Jesus Christ Superstar, and during that process she asked if I could produce the album too, as Tim Rice had been mooted for the job and she was anxious to break away completely from the ‘musical’ world.
GM: Even though you’d never produced another artist before!
RH: “When I pointed out that I was not a producer she countered by saying that I had, in fact, produced my own second album, Unfinished Picture. I, in turn, responded that I hadn’t produced it - it was simply that no-one else had grabbed the title. So by default it came my way. To which she responded ‘Well, just do the same things... only with me singing’.”
GM: The role of the record producer was changing at that time, though, wasn’t it?
RH: “Throughout the late 60s and early 70s the role of record producer was being re-defined in the context of new technologies, hi fidelities and the advancement of much more complex recording processes. In the early 60s, half the ‘record producers’ were in fact managers or even agents who helped choose the songs, sat in the control room and nodded when the guys played it well enough for the money. By 1974, we had umpteen machines, hundreds of thousands of pounds of sophisticated equipment and large numbers of personnel all devoted to creating large canvasses of sound to tease our “hi-fidelitous” ears.
GM: You produced a single for Jon Pertwee - Doctor Who!
RH: “Purple Records was founded by the two managers of Deep Purple, one of whom, Tony Edwards, had many friends and contacts in the world of TV and film. A suggestion to come up with a dance arrangement of the original Ron Grainer Doctor Who theme was thrown at me out of the blue and I felt it to be a great challenge. Jon Pertwee had a cabaret background (see the B-side “Pure Mystery”) and ‘rather fancied’ the idea of this recitative vocal with words by David MacIver (Robinson).
GM: It was around that same time that you formed Quantum Jump... a fine band, who made some great albums. What would say was the group’s greatest accomplishment (outside of the hit single, of course)… and what was it, do you think, that ultimately held the band back?
RH: “In hindsight, Quantum Jump’s most notable achievement is that it successfully achieved its somewhat quirky and eccentric goal. In the early ‘70s, each of the band’s individual members had a real player’s penchant for jazz-rock. We were all endlessly playing Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Weather Report albums 24/7. Trevor Morais’s involvement ensured that funk was nicely represented in the mix, John Perry’s kept prog- rock close to the surface and Mark Warner was our extraordinary secret weapon whose technique was simply staggering. My role was to see if we could blend everything we loved about these instrumental genres with the world of songwriting.
“It was, again in hindsight, a somewhat flawed objective - as time unfolded it became obvious, at least to me, why these genres were intrinsically instrumental - and whilst jazz- funk had some life with bands like Tower of Power, Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool & The Gang - the jazz element was always pushed to a secondary level to ensure simple time signatures were the norm.”
GM: And then came “Lone Ranger.” One of the most wonderfully infuriating, not to mention tongue-tying, songs of the age and positively the only UK hit single ever to feature the lyric "taumata-whaka-tangi-hanga-kuayuwo-tamate-aturi-pukaku-piki-maunga-horonuku-pokaiawhen-uaka-tana-tahu-mataku-atanganu-akawa-miki-tora." (Two characters too long for a Twitter, before you think about trying it.) How did it feel to have that suddenly popping up on the radio and in the charts, all those years later?
RH: It is important to understand that the objectives of the members of QJ were all to do with musical interests and musicality. There was no desire to be consciously commercial, only to examine and develop our core beliefs. Therefore it was as much a surprise to us that the one ‘throw away’ track on that first album should have become such a commercial hit. The band only made two albums and abandoned ship in 1977 - two years before our hit! A re-mixing and re-working for The Kenny Everett Video Show of the track from our first album - some four years previous.
GM: You also produced Kevin Ayers’s Confessions of Doctor Dream album, his first for Island Records, who saw him as something of a superstar in waiting. How did that come about, and please tell us about working with him on an album that Island, at least, seemed to have such high hopes for?
RH: “It is difficult to remember the exact origins behind Kevin Ayers’s project; however, it is most likely to have been part of the Canterbury connection. Quantum Jump’s John Perry was, of course in Caravan originally and Geoffrey Richardson was already part of our musical circle amongst others.
“The most important aspect of my relationship with KA was that one of my favourite tracks up until that point in my life was “Why Are We Sleeping” from the first Soft Machine album. In our initial meeting I asked KA if he would consider remaking that track with me. Given how legendary that first Soft Machine album was and how green my record production career was also, I’m surprised I had the nerve. Of course suggesting Mike Giles from King Crimson and John Perry was going to be our rhythm section might have helped.”
GM: And, of course, Nico was a guest on the album, too.
RH: Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the recording was the appearance of Nico. She asked me to ensure that the recording studio was “bedecked with flowers”. I took her quite literally, and you could barely see a single piece of equipment in the control room. Her other stipulation was the rather more rock ’n roll presence of a crate of champagne. Kevin and Nico were somewhat ‘involved’ at the time.
GM: It was a very distinctive sounding album, completely different to anything Ayers had done in the past, at the same time as feeling perfectly natural for him.
RH: “In many ways, this album became my first opportunity as a producer to mine for technical gold with an artist who shared my breadth of vision as to what was acceptable and appetizing in this new and exciting era.”
GM: There is also a very obvious line of descent between the sound you achieved on Doctor Dream and what you were doing in the eighties. Was there a “secret” to your studio work? How did you manage to create such a vast sound at a time when the technology that would do the job in the eighties was still in its infancy... or less!?
RH: “In hindsight you are right, perhaps, and there is so much of me in the confessions of Dr Dream, so many of the same risks, so much of the shared breadth of view, [although] it is probably true to say that it was only aspects of my work with Simon Jeffes in the intervening years that continued that quest. Not just with Simon’s early Penguin Cafe Orchestra output, but equally our joint projects together in the worlds of TV and film music.
GM: You are unusual, I think, in that you were able to maintain an active solo career, alongside a lot of outside productions... was it easy? Were there ever times when you wished you had more time for the solo work, or did it balance as you expected it to?
RH: “One needs to understand that the overriding arc affecting all aspects of this question is my urge to paint pictures with sound. By definition it is very hard to paint pictures in public. When the picture is finished it can be bought or viewed by others quite separately from the act of painting itself. This meant that I had little time for reproducing that painting live. I always felt that the other 23 hours of any given touring day not spent on stage were tremendously wasted.
“Therefore, for me, when I couldn’t be in a studio making my own records, it felt like the right thing to do making records for others. One album every two years or so for myself and say seven albums for others seemed an appropriate and rewarding ratio.
GM: Looking back at your output as a producer… 120 plus albums… tell us about a few of the projects that particularly stick out in your mind - and what it is about them that makes them do so.
RH: “I’ll pick two. Reach the Beach - The Fixx. The album that I am most proud of as a producer. With this album I both captured the band’s extraordinary chemistry and helped create a new recording (picture-painting) template for them. Jamie West-Oram’s guitar sound! Cy Curnin’s vocal character, Rupert Greenall’s delicious idiosyncratic inventiveness and Adam’s unusual openness to my ideas of marrying real drums with the pubescent electronic and machine-percussion world.
“Round the Back - Cafe Jacques. The album that, upon completion, I felt that I had made a fully-rounded record ‘perfectly’ for the first time. Peter Kelsey the engineer made the same claim. Each song fully realised and beautifully painted. We were certain (and so was CBS) that we had created a winner. A bad business decision saw the band’s progress stunted at birth.”
GM: Returning to the trilogy, did punk and the new wave affect your music at all?
RH: The clear definition of all three albums that make up the content of “Unshy on the Skyline” was the product of a very precise concept. I felt that a completely fresh approach to sound painting was required in 1979/80.
“The freshness of the Punk into New Wave era was already becoming repetitive with evermore obvious objectives and ideals. I also felt the return of superficiality in music’s purpose and text.
“In an effort to mine the originality of this extraordinary moment in time from a technology perspective I asked Stephen W Tayler to join me in a conceptual principle that was essential this... for every given recording task in the studio we were duty bound to find and alternative to any previous solution or methodology. These principles gained such a surprising momentum that both Stephen and I found exhilarating.”
GM: Because you did go in with no preconceptions, just an album’s worth of songs.
RH: “Yes, the songs were all written in advance on a piano with finished text, which confirms my generally held belief that if a song is securely composed and visualized, the rest is just pure excitement.”
GM: Was it easy coming up with a follow-up?
RH: “Immunity’s modus operandi had plenty of legs left to carry through both Waving Not Drowning and The Wildest Wish To Fly, hence the fact that these three albums were often referred to as a trilogy.
“The very clear, conceptual ideas behind each song were the fruits of a collaboration between Jeannette Obstöj and myself, and it was that equilibrium that enabled the full painter’s palette to emerge, noting that the text was being nurtured with as much dedication and motivation.
“It is important, I think, to note that oftentimes, whilst the likes of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush experimented with the fledgeling Fairlight, yours truly was still messing around with tin cans and bits of string. Whilst it may have taken longer, the final result was often more unique than a software programmers premise!”
GM: And finally - any chance of a similar reissue for Pick Up A Bone and Unfinished Picture?
RH: “Watch this space.”