1973. A time of flux, as always, as not before. Two post-VdGG
Mk I albums had been recorded, "Chameleon" and "The Silent Corner";
both contained elements of band playing and the first truly
solo-recording efforts. Tours had been done, both solo and band. Time
to mark out another blueprint...time to get serious about solo
By this time Sofa Sound, as a home recording unit, was fully
established in a spare room at the cottage in Worth. This was, at least
in part, the "Camera" to which the title refers. The recording machine
remained 4-track, but I think I might have had something more of a
mixing/recording desk by this time, and possibly some better
microphones and outboard stuff. It was all still pretty primitive,
Anyway, even at the outset it looked as though this was going to have
to be a project which I'd get on with by myself...and that this would
be a certain blueprint for the future. At this point it seemed
inconceivable that there would be any future VdGG activity and
so...this was going to be my career. You can tell just how on the case
I was about that from the subsequent song notes....
I was accustomed to solo recording by this stage and unabashed by any
potential restraints. It seemed to me that the form should and could
encompass everything from simple guitar tunes to pure noise. Obviously
I still stand by that!
"Home" recording at the time did not allow for the luxury of limitless
time or options. No click track, either, so sometimes the bar lengths
got pretty abstract. I had already decided that a number of things,
including, for the most part, lead vocals, were going to be overdubbed
at the Trident stage of proceedings. Very, very open.
Additionally, I went into the sessions with only two songs in a
finished state: "Ferret & Featherbrid" (written in 1969) and
"Tapeworm" (1971). The rest came to me along with the recording;
another blueprint for future methodology.
When I did get to Trident there was a certain amount of incredulity
about what I was attempting and a stream of engineers came in to check
out the lunatic with a (domestic) 4-track overdubbing onto 24-track
using the then state-of the-art ARP synth. At the time synths were
monophonic, so every harmony line had to be played in, rather than
being a mere shift of patch. The synths and vocals were all done Very
Fast...but I suppose I knew what I was doing. I'd have a great deal
more trepidation about attempting the same kind of thing today...a
certain audacity was involved. And today, of course, everyone brings in
work they'ce done "at home" to be buffed and polished ready for release.
There are lots of mistakes, imprecisions, almost-but-not-quites on
these recordings. This was, I suppose, always inevitable in view of
what I was attempting. I'd put it down as one of those which are
learning-curve rather than finished product, at least in a sonic sense.
I mean this neither as excuse nor admission. I think I've always been
fairly clear about learning in public?Anyway, I've no problem with the
brutal bits...just that the beautiful ones could be a bit sweeter. You
can't have everything. But check out that COMPRESSION on the guitars
and bass! Not very correct but damn good fun....
Guy's drums were overdubbed at Trident, though I can't remember in
which room. Possibly not the main studio area, but somewhere mre
off-beat. He had a hell of a job, anyway, in view of my somewhat liquid
approach to timing...at the time. David Hentschel also did fantastic
work programming the ARP. It was always something of an unstable beast;
but it fully satisfied my somewhat imprecise aural desires.
Nearly all of the vocals were done in a small overdub room in the
Trident mix suite. No time for preciousness there. This was all in the
land of slap it down and print it.
The cover? Some thought it was a tad Gary Glitter at the time;
certainly it doesn't seem to have much to do with what's inside, apart
from actually showing my mug for once in a while. I did wear the cloak,
though, usually while scurrying through Gatwick Airport at three in the
morning after having been dropped off at Victoria after a Northern
show. In any case, I think my feeling of the time was simply "look,
here I am, this is this....". The inner shots (not visible in any form
on the - ludicrously simplistic Virgin CD release) were taken by
Gordian - at the Aerosol Grey Machine sessions!
In any case, all of this is somewhat by the by. The most important
thing, personally, about these recordings is that shortly after I'd
started the Sofa Sound end of things my brother got knocked off his
bicycle in Brighton and was in a coma for the rest of the recording and
mixing. Nothing to be done but to get on with what had to be done. To
the best of my memory I regarded it as my responsibility - my effort to
make him well - to do the best work I could....in the room, in secret,
in private. It's for this reason that, alone in all the work, this
album came with a dedication, to my brother.
So, the songs:
"Ferret and Featherbird" was, if I recall correctly, something of a
late entrant to the lists. I felt that something approaching a "sweet"
song was needed to balance the other stuff. It had, of course,
originally been recorded for "Aerosol Grey Machine". Wish I knew where
my old lap steel disappeared to....
"No More (the sub-Mariner)" and "Faint-Heart" are united both in their
subject matter (to a certain extent...reflections on past
self/faith/identity &c.) and in their full-on use of synth
overdubs. I must have known that something like these versions would
emerge from an intensive spate of overdubbing in Trident, but I was
definitely pushing the envelope a bit here.
"Tapeworm" is evidently the most conventional song here and wouldn't
have seemed out of place being done (in a "Rock & Role" style,
perhaps) by one of the groups on the preceding two albums.
"Again" and "The Comet" have been live staples of mine for years since
these recordings. I suppose that means they have a self-evident
strength as pure songs. Here, both were approached somewhat
architecturally. "The Comet", in particular, was conceived as something
of a guitar quartet (all self-played of course): bass, acoustic,
"Gog" was the high point in the recording of my Harmonium and was one
of the tunes with which it graced me. Many of the others appeared,
eventually, on "Usher".
It was also, of course, taken into the live VdGG pantheon of toons.
Maybe in the course of making this I broke free of whatever chains I
still had left about not-really-being-a-musician? This is wild,
swirling, edge-of-control stuff. I still love it.
And then "Magog". I stuck Paul and Judge in the bathroom and fed them
prepared and not-so-prepared tracks. Two passes of tape, I think...and
then a lot of work. It didn't seem that odd to me to stick concrete
stuff like this together with, say, "Ferret". The rules are the same:
tension and release. Use of accident, captured on tape. The "sproing"
(for want of a better term) sound which occurs at the end (and is the
release of tension) was, for instance, a once and once only effect of
hitting on the button of the bass compressor. As if you needed to know
that. Such accidents are strewn all over these recordings and
contribute, I think, both to their charm and to their other-worldly
They don't make 'em like this any more. Actually, they didn't at the
time. Then, you were a serious concrete artist, or a sensitive
singer-songwriter, or an all-out rocker, or a Progmeister, or whatever.
Weren't you? As now...aren't you? Get in your cage or box!
I begged, I beg, to differ.
Fair to say that some kind of future for me started here. Future,
In the mixing room I got a call offering me a couple of (solo)
supporting shows to Genesis in Canada. I'd been well away from all that
band, big stage stuff for awhile by now.
You'll know what happened next....