the obald – episode 9

On the day his band is to start recording their album, Ronnie is called upstairs to speak to Surveillance. How much trouble is he in? Melody contacts Ronnie and they agree a signal. Here’s the feed.

The inter-office rivalries: I remember the Inspector who interviewed me for my tax office job telling me (while standing next to me at the urinal, which is an absolute red flag) that he was beginning to be embarrassed to have recruited me, finding it hard to justify to his fellow inspectors. This, by the way, was for a filing job that was so far beneath my true abilities that I could hardly be blamed for being a bit… bored? But really it was something about me they didn’t like: the way I walked, for example, came under scrutiny. The way I dressed, obviously. And the way I looked for files. You take a pile of files on a table, and you need to flick through them quickly to determine whether the name you’re after is in the pile. There’s a right way, and a wrong way. The wrong way was however I was doing it. 

After this, I was called upstairs by a rival inspector, a member of the Old School, who read me the riot act about my style of dress and general demeanour as a person. There were people around, in the early 80s, who were old enough to have been in the War, and they were just like the guy on the train in A Hard Day’s Night. “I fought the War for your sort.” “I bet you’re sorry you won!”

But then there was that other guy, the one who arrived and was clearly a grade or two above all the others, and he seemed to like me and to be relatively relaxed about all the things they’d been picking on – all of which were simply pretexts, clearly, for a deeper dislike of me. Anyway, all of this was enough to drive me into the arms of the union, obviously, and I directed the brain cells I wasn’t using on the job to my union activism. And the pub. There were plenty of two-hour lunch sessions in the pub, and there were also plenty of wondrous occasions when I would be meeting a girl for lunch.

For Ronnie, the interview about his demeanour and personal style takes place on one of the upper floors, with a sinister person who has been alerted to a suspicion of non-cooperation. Ronnie uses all of the dark arts of work avoidance to avoid this meeting as long as possible. These go way beyond the traditional “carrying a piece of paper around so people think you’re busy” method.

And then there’s the recording session. The 80s were an exciting time for home recording tech. Springsteen had released Nebraska, recorded on a TEAC 4-track, and my first band multitrack recordings were made on a Fostex 4-track, which simply felt incredible at the time. So you’ve got your standard compact cassette (invented 1966) which can play music in stereo. That’s two tracks: left and right channels. But! You can also flip a cassette over and play the other side, which is another two tracks. But what if you used all four tracks together to record a song demo? And doubled the speed of the tape to improve the quality of the recordings? Now you’re talking. You could basically make Revolver this way. Record on three tracks, bounce down to the fourth, Now you’ve still got three free tracks. And when we decided to record a single (not an album, as Ronnie’s band does), we hired a reel-to-reel 8-track and used the living room of one of the band members as the studio. I insisted we mix it as mono, of course.

Later on, when I was living alone in Milton Keynes, that same band member (Pete) wanted to store some equipment in my house, and I had the dream home demo setup: a big mixing desk, an 8-track recorder, a selection of microphones. I made a few recordings with that set-up, just me and Pete. And then stopped making music for years, until I started using my Mac as a recording studio in the early 2000s.


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