Learning his trade from such esteemed legends as Glynn Johns and Eddie Kramer, Phill Brown started off as a tape operator at the world-renowned Olympic Studios working on records for Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Joe Cocker, and it was only uphill from there! Before one could sing the entirety of 'Stairway To Heaven' he was engineering sessions at Olympic for Mott the Hoople, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, Cat Stevens and more before eventually striking out out on his own to work on albums by Roxy Music, Talk Talk, Go West, Robert Plant amongst other very famous voices. For a couple weeks back in 2011 Phill lent us the pleasure of his company and gave us more than a few tips & tricks about his workflow, his gear and his thoughts about the state of things in the industry.

If you're digging this interview and are craving more - including some of Phill's *extremely* rock n' roll stories and secrets from the late-night studio, check out his book Are We Still Rolling? - click here to order a copy!

[top]Do you have a specific order for printing mixes i.e. vocal louder first, instrumental etc OR just run the main mix first? - Chevron

Because of the nightmare of "Stems" _ When I am happy with a mix;
I run - Stems - sometimes 8 stereo passes,. then Instrumental, TV Backing Track, Main Mix, Vocal Up. Alt. Mix.

[top]I heard a rumor that the Bob Marley tracks came out of the Helios and the through 2 LA2As, and then into a REVOX B77 at 7.5 ips, which is unusual. Is this true? - Marcus67

All possible - but we always recorded to 15ips - took until the late 1970's/80's to mix or record at 30 ips. We got 8 track 1" tapes that we copied to 16 track 2" tapes and overdubbed. Mixed to a 1/4" machine at 15ips (Philips and Ampex). At Basing Street we had Urei 1176 but I'm sure at St. Peters Sq. could have been LA2's.

[top]What would you say have been the best microphones you have used for miking up electric guitar amps?
....and if you had to pick just one as a "jack of all" for clean and overdriven electric guitar amp miking, what would that be...? - tj7

Neumann U 47 FET

I've always loved AKG D12 or D20 as a 'close' mic on gtr amps. Close for me is about 12 inches away. Also Coles are great but not if the amp is really cranked up. As a mic that could be used on acoustic gtrs, clean and distorted amps, a real all-rounder - U47 Fet. (with -10db pad)

[top]I'm curious, how do you usually approach an album when it's time to start mixing it? Are there any rules that you try to follow? Are there any parts of the mix that you usually address first? Any tips, tricks, or things to avoid that you could share with a novice mixer that might help them get closer to that professional sound? - blue_thunder

Eventide DDL 1745

I usually start with drums, then bass, guitars, keyboards, strings etc. leaving vocals until last - although on some folk records vocals would be in earlier. I try to get all the instruments in a rough balance within an hour or two. When I have all the elements up I find it easier to hear what needs doing. I do spend time on stereo positioning - trying out alternatives. If you get the positioning right, the mix will come together much easier. There are no rules, but mixing is more an art-form. It took me a few years to get a grip on how to get what I wanted. For FX I use an Echo Plate, a Room Simulator and 2 or 3 DDL's for most of my mixes - although there might be the additional 'death-flange' or special effect. A good stereo compressor across the mix.
Don't start out with levels too high! always easier to increase than decrease - never in the 'red' with digital

[top]My question is about the street fighting man session(s). Beggars Banquet is my favorite Stones album, and street fighting man is arguably my favorite tack on the record. Now, I read somewhere that the sound of the first guitar that comes in was recorded on Keith's portable cassette recorders... Just would like to confirm that it was a cassette recorder. - rene-lemieux

I believe it was one of the first Philips Cassette machines. The 'demo' guitar was copied to the 8 track machine....plenty of 'wow' and 'flutter'.
I don't think this caused any problems - band overdubbed to the 'demo'
Many tracks from those days had distortion - listen to Hendrix from '67/'68 - I have some multitracks and everything is slightly distorted - we are too clean today!
Street fighting man recorded during the same 6 week period - can't explain the difference in sound. This must have been almost the first time a cassette demo was recorded to a professional machine. As it's 1968 I think it must have been a Philips machine - I had one in 1970 with a built-in mic. Excellent sound for the era.
Keith had recorded the main gtr at home and copied to Ampex 8 track. wow and flutter aside - a cool sound! I am in the One Plus One (Jean-Luc Godard’s “Sympathy For the Devil” film) - the young guy in the yellow silk shirt - positioning mic's with Glyn Johns.

[top]My question for you is on the subject of monaural reproduction in modern music. Is there still a place for it today? Are the methods for making the best out of mono recordings in a mix? - Marshall Oliver

First let me say that - Mono is fantastic. 80% of my recorded instruments are in mono. Great for placing in a Stereo mix. Many of today's mixes feel like 'wide-mono' to me. If I record everything in stereo I find it harder to get a really wide stereo picture. Mono is still King,,,,,,

[top]I wanted to know what you thought of digital recording and plugins and how (if you have) implemented it into your workflow? - Jordanvoth

I am a massive fan of Analogue. I have been around Digital since it came out in 1979, but apart from the 32 track Mitsubishi I thought most digital gear in the 1980's sounded rough - brittle top-end and light bass.
However it did finally improve (2005) and now we are all using it. How did we make records without Pro-tools etc. I still prefer the sound of Analogue and I almost never use plug-ins. I dislike 'tuned' vocals.

[top]Will you please share your experiences with your dealings with Robert Plant?
I would like some insight on his work ethic, style, etc. - Rev. Robb

Urei 1176

I signed a secrecy clause - so don't know how much I can say - but I have a lot of respect for the guy. He's an encyclopedia of Blues recordings. We recorded 'Dreamland' as a live 5 piece band at RAK Studio 1. Clive Deamer, Justin Adams, John Baggot, Charlie Jones, Porl Thompson. Robert sang vocals in the control room on a Shure Sm57 through a Urei 1176. He works hard, likes to work fast and 'capture' the moment. He knows what he wants.

[top]Are mix engineers, such as yourself, often pushing consoles or (other gear,like the outputs of compressors) to the point of distorting to get natural compression and tone? - univox1

When I started in 1967 gear would distort very easily, especially the consoles. Everything has become a lot cleaner - almost too clean for me,. In the days of tape I would line up to +7db over Ampex Standard Level and then 'push' it. Great for drum sounds. I often have a distorted signal with the clean - adjust to taste....

[top]Given the fact that people can go onto itunes now and buy 'New Grass' for $0.99 and forget the rest of Laughing Stock completely, or at least listen to it totally out of context, I am particularly interested in your approach to recording from the album point of view... Did it matter to you where on the album something was going to occur in how you approached it and would it still matter to you now given the current way of things?
I mean, with Hollis for example, how much are you (and he) factoring into your decisions about sounds and sonic relationships in their emotional effect on the album as a whole at the tracking stage or even the pre-production stage? Do you think about this at all?
I ask because you make so much use of the room as an instrument, I wonder are you saving certain aspects of it or choosing only to highlight certain aspects of it for certain effects in an album context or is the overall "album" something that really comes into play more in the mix?
Also, just for fun, what is the most technically "wrong" thing you have ever done to get THE sound? Anything that a "professional" engineer would tell you NEVER to do? - Rothko

Side one of Talks Talk’s Spirit of Eden was recorded in order. I can't remember about Laughing Stock, but I think we only put it all together in the mix - but Mark may have had a running order. Ideally both albums should be listened to in order - we took a great deal of time to get the gaps right etc.
As it's common now to just select individual tracks, I guess that's the way it is. Not a fan though.
On both Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock - we had no demo's, no pre-production - just drum patterns. After recording these we then 'tried' loads of instruments. Just keeping the bits we liked. It was slowly constructed - we did not know where it would lead. We set ourselves 'limitations' - no EQ - changing mic's and sounds to get what we wanted. It was on Spirit of Eden that we really got into the distant mic'ing thing. We were always aware of the 'sonic' relationships - even though we did not have an overall plan - all sounds (mostly mono) are at source - mixing was just about levels (the odd tweak of EQ - usually removing 190 as Wessex had a 'hump'. For FX we had an EMT plate, an old valve spring and a DDL - that's all.

I'll have to think about the last bit.... I've often been told 'you can't do it that way' - take no notice, break the rules.

[top]I would like to know how you get the Drum sound on "Can the Can" by Suzi Quatro. - Carlo Poddighe


Wow - a while ago. Can the Can was recorded in Studio Two at Island Studios Basing Street on a 3M 16 track machine. The live room was small, 30' X 20'. Drums - U87 as Overhead, 2 X U87's on Toms, Snare AKG 224 and an AKG D12 on Bass Drum. Everything close mic'd but some 'leakage' onto other instruments.

[top]I'd love to know anything you may have to say about drum tuning/dampening, etc. - 12ax7

The 1970's drum sound was very dead. Single skins, mic's inside the toms. Lots of dampening and tea towels, close micing. For the past 25 years I have gone for a more 'live' drum sounds. Double skin, little dampening, slightly 'ringy' snare, room mic's.. Although I have worked with many many drummers over the years I have been fortunate most of the time to have guys who know how to tune and get the sounds suggested. Although I used to play drums as a kid - I have never been good at tuning!

[top]Hi Phil, thanks for doing this for us!
A few questions about Sensational Alex Harvey Band Stories:
  • Which tracks on the album were done at Basing Street Studios (where you engineered)?
  • I love to know the details of Alex's vocal chain?
  • How did the Producer David Batchelor interact with the band and the crew?
  • Who mixed the album?
  • Any stories about Alex Harvey please...
- Iron Man

All tracks recorded at Basing Street Studio 1. Although I mixed the album and single initially - there was additional mixing by John Punter at Air Studios. David Batchelor was professional to work with - trying to keep a 'rock 'n roll' vibe under control. Management sent a memo saying to keep all drugs away from the band - pretty impossible.
Vocal chain simple - through the Helios desk and a Urei 1176.
Wonderful bunch to work with - Alex, anarchic.

[top]Where are you based now and any favorite studios you currently enjoy? Any sort of home studio rig? - by rll

Still in Sussex - I love; Rockfield Studios, Livingston Studio 1, Modern World, Miloko old kent road, Abbey Road (rarely due to cost) I have a great 'listening' room with many speakers etc. but no home studio rig. I do the odd bit of editing and pre-mixing cleaning up...but I like going to a proper studio.

[top]Re: Beth Gibbons & Rustin' Man ‘Out of Season’ - This is one of my favorite albums of all time, constantly on repeat. I love the lush strings and horns, the dark vocals, all the brilliantly textured background sounds seamlessly faded in and out.I'd love to hear anything you could tell me about this album.
What was your involvement, exactly? I did notice there were a lot of engineering credits on
it–did they move around a bit?
I'd love to know how the lead vocals, background vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, and strings were recorded and treated. I've heard she did a lot of lead vocals at home on a Sm57. A lot of the backgrounds sound a bit smoother, though–were those done much differently? - grayson

Coles 4038

The album was recorded over a three year period. Recorded to tape (24 track) then put into Pro-tools. I would record backing tracks at Konk Studios for a week, then Beth and Paul would spend a month or so at home studios editing and de-grading sounds. Drums were recorded with only 4 mic's, acoustic Fet 47 or Coles. Then another week of recording. Strings and Brass recorded at Westside Studios (I did not engineer these sessions) - then taken home to edit, treat etc. Most vocals were done at Beth's home on a Sm57. She has a great collection of mic's but Beth and Paul are into Lo-Fi. Backing vocals were recorded with an assortment of mic's and studios - Mixed at Westside on a Neve - Flying Fader Desk. The only outboard used - EMT echo plate, a spring reverb and two DDL's. The textures and sounds were all sorted at the home studios - all I had to do was 'balance' the mix. (we often did 20 or more alternative mixes - the favourite 3 mixes were then edited together) I love this album too - beautiful.

[top]Three years! That's a lot of time but I'm not surprised. Can you tell me how you tracked the upright bass and acoustic guitar? - grayson

On most tracks acoustic guitar is played Neill MacColl - mic'd with Coles as a crossed cardioid pair, 12" - 15" away. Upright bass - Simon Edwards, either Coles, U47FET, Sony C48.

[top]What are your favourite pieces of gear? Ie console, mics, outboard models etc. - Space Station

On a day to day - engineer stuff - I can work with anything.
But my favourites;
1970's - API - Helios - Cadac - Trident TSM - Neve
1980's - some Neve's - SSL G series - Focusrite -
Recently - I'm becoming a fan of the new SSL Duality.
SSL Duality Delta

[top]You booked the Rolling Stones & Island mobile trucks a fair bit - what was the sound like? Obviously the gear inside was standard stuff - Helios/Studer/Urei/Tannoy etc but the construction of the room is different. Did you get any surprises when you took the tapes out to a conventional studio or feel like you were fighting with it while working? - TapeOpAl

With any mobile there are limitations regarding accurate monitoring. It was merely a tool. A place to allow one to record...never relied on for the accuracy of the trucks monitoring - we were less precious then and more rock 'n roll. It can always be sorted later. I would play a few tapes in the mobile while we set up and get used to the sound - then GO!

[top]Re: John Martyn - One of my heroes and I'd love to hear anything about working with him and what techniques you used in working with him.
Any tips on how to manage the career and the rest of life? 12 hour days don't leave much for the family. - mylesgm

I knew John for years - his children looked after my children - he was wonderful and impossible at the same time - loved him dearly - but difficult to live and work with. One minute beautiful the next hideous. When we recorded One World we set John up in a 12' X 15' room with guitar, pedals, amp. Took D/I feeds after all pedals and fed it outside through a large PA system. Amp AKG D12, outside U87's.
On the home front - never really got to grips with that myself. There's not much left after a 12+ hour day.
In hindsight - put family first - the work is not as important as the manager thinks. If they really want you - they will adjust!

[top]What is your typical order of work? Does your approach change by genre? Has it changed over time due to equipment or clientele? How does your vision influence processing decisions during tracking? - DanH

Big question - bear with me... In hindsight - After training through Glynn Johns and Eddie Kramer at Olympic in the late 1960's - all live projects - and with sessions in Canada with my brother Terry Brown - I did have a 'formula' for the first 6 years of engineering at Island.
  • Snare AKG 224
  • Bass drum AKG D20 or D12
  • Toms (single skin) U87
  • Overheads U87
  • Bass D/I and Amp D20
  • Guitars U87 or AKG D20
  • Steinway Piano U87 or Km84

From 1976 I threw away that set up and went with the flow (I needed to change - getting too comfortable)...
  • Bass Drum AKG D20 - hard to beat
  • Snare Shure Sm57
  • Toms Sennheiser 421
  • Overheads - varies from project - Coles, U87 (still), Km84, RCA.
  • Guitars Coles, U87, D20/30
  • Piano - Coles, U87


....Ok that's the tech stuff out the way. Back to your question; It varies from project to project - mic's used - is it 'dark' - 'pop'? But like most engineers I start with the drums - its the foundation in many ways - bad drum sound or playing and its all over - a quick drum sound - maybe 20 min's, then bass, guitars, keys, eyc. I usually want to be plugged up with basic sounds and ready to go within 2 hours. Then when the band are all playing together I can 'fine-tine' sounds - I will go round and tweak, drums, bass etc. this might entail positioning mic's or changing mic's - but its only when I can hear all the important elements that I can pull it together. Great sounds on their own mean nothing. I guess I would at this time go for any ideas and sounds we might have talked about for the project - adjusting things accordingly. Some great ideas don't always work out. Technology always influences the way we work. I watched guys record 50 pice orchestras to 2 tracks of a 4 track machine, I made records on 8 (mono drums) and 16 track (3 or 4 tracks of drums) leakage of instruments with a 5 piece band in small live rooms. - to today's 'unlimited' tracks and FX. Still can't beat 4/5 guys in a room playing - I love it.
And as much eye contact as possible!!

[top]Re Robert Palmer. Any recollections about the Sneakin' Sally and Double Fun sessions? - Barish

First time I worked with Robert was on Sneakin' Sally - great tracking in New Orleans with The Meters and Lowell George, Island Mobile Studio at my house in Sussex for overdubs - vocals outdoors. Mixed at Basing Street. Fast and great fun. Double fun less so - heavy New York session scene, costly, did not think the songs were quite there.... Lovely guy to work with, humorous, sharp, dedicated.... check out my book for more on Robert Palmer.

[top]I'm very interested in knowing what microphones and console/preamps were used when tracking the instrumentation of the Wailers' Burnin'. That album is an all time favorite of mine for many reasons, especially the sonics.
Also, any fun memories of those sessions you'd like to share would be a great bonus. - fantastic222

Tricky on the pre-amps/microphones etc.but nothing flash! The Tracks were recorded in Kingston on an 8 track machine. Mono Drums, Bass, Hammond, Guitars and Vocals. This was copied through the Helios desk to a 3M 16 track machine at Island studio 2 Basing Street, and overdubbed. We overdubbed more Hammond and guitars with band members and re-did most vocals., then added Rabbit on additional keys. We would only have used the Helios and Urei 1176's. Microphones - U87 on vocals, AKG D12 on Leslie bass-end and U87 on top. AKG D20 on guitar amps. The sound on multitrack is quite raw. There's a story about me 'burnin' the 2" tape while editing 'I Shot The Sheriff', but I think you should get my book to find out!

[top]Just bought the book on Amazon, very much looking forward to reading it.
Could you tell us about working with Nilsson on the "Nilsson Schmilsson" album?
Those tracks are so beautifully arranged, it would be great to find out more about the way they were pieced together, and also the extent of Nilsson's involvement in the arrangements.
Any info/anecdotes regarding Nilsson would be much appreciated. - sunrobot

The tracks were recorded at Trident. I was involved in instrument overdubs and vocals and some mixing. Richard Perry was a sharp and successful producer - Barbara Streisland. Track arrangements were tight - at source - This was 16 track technology - so had to be planned out. Wonderful collection of musicians who did not over-play. And Richard keeping it tight. Mixing was all manual with Richard and I 'playing' the 24in Helios Desk.
Vocal mic U87, although one vocal was done in the control room on a SM7.

[top]Along with Talk Talk etc... I've been a huge fan of the Small Faces "Ogdens Nut Gone Flake" for since discovering it in college in the mid-80's. It sounds great and was far ahead of it's time."Song of a Baker", for instance, predates the heavy, anthemic bombast that the Who embraced shortly after starting with 'Tommy". There has also been a long running debate about who made &/or released the very first "concept album"... Pretty Things/Small Faces/Beatles etc...
As the assistant engineer, I'd love to hear anything interesting you have to impart about that record. - mellotronic

One of the first albums recorded to the new Ampex 8 track machine at Olympic Studio 1. Songs put down as a four piece band onto 3 or 4 tracks. Lead vocals and backing vocals often recorded together. Stanley Unwin recorded to 1/4" tape and 'spun-in' during mixing. Great humour and fun while making this album - also one of my favourites - more about it in the book.

[top]I'm curious what it was like working with Paul Kossoff ? and how you approached
capturing his sound on Back Street Crawler? - Robertshaw


I knew Paul well and had been around him in the early Free days. A lovely sweet guy, quiet and shy in many ways. We recorded basic tracks at Island Basing Street Studio one - using my 'classic' rock set-up. AKG D12 on bass drum, AKG 224 on snare, Toms and Overheads Nuemann U87's. Bass D'I and AKG D12. Guitar AKG D20 and AKG C12A. Most guitar overdubs were done at Sawmills in Cornwall - blasting the Marshall cabs out into the valley around Fowey. We worked very fast in those days - I'm not sure there was much discussion - just set-up, get some sounds together and record.

[top]Thanx Phil..... Koss was the man... was that around the time he started experimenting with using the Leslie cab for that latter sound he favoured? - FireMoon

Yes, due to the lack of a wide range of FX and pedals, we were always trying things out. Putting guitars and other instruments through a leslie had been going on since the late 1960's. Check out Murray Head 'Nigel lived'. Paul was just looking for some new textures - hence the out-doors approach.

[top]RE Talk Talk Spirit of Eden - How was it different from the making of Mark's solo outing ("Rights of Spring" one of my fav. songs of all time). - britdick

Briefly SOE and Laughing Stock - each, a year in the studio, in the dark, no EQ, very little compression, recorded to 48 track analogue and a Mitsubishi 32 track digital. We also had another 5 X 24 track slave reels. Distant mic's, everything recorded separately, many layered instruments. Mark's album in contrast was recorded with just 2 X Neumann U49's set up in the front of the studio - we positioned musicians in the studio where we wanted them in the final stereo. Also recorded in daylight.

[top]Like a lot of people, the Talk Talk records and the Mark Hollis record occupy a sacred space in my head. Could you tell us how the Mark Hollis record was recorded (piano first, piano and voice at same time, etc.) What mic's were used to capture these sounds. I really love the "free jazz" horn parts in the songs, were these improvised or written? - Capnreverb

there's a chapter in my book…Are We Still Rolling? - but briefly - Cross Cardioid pair of M49's at Masterock studio one, through a Focusrite desk, people positioned in room where we wanted them in the final stereo. Everything overdubbed - everything written, sometimes Piano would start a track, sometimes guitar. usually Martin Ditcham on shaker.

[top]There's a sound in talk talk's "wealth".... the last song SPIRIT OF EDEN... it's that organ-type of instrument that comes in in little bits but plays the most at around 2:30... it's a very unique sounding instrument with such great envelope characteristics. I assume it's some sort of organ, obviously a keyed instrument, but I'm not familiar with various old keyboard instruments soi was wondering if you remember what was used to make this sound? - t_d

I believe it to be Hammond. We only used Harmoniums, Piano and Hammond while recording those albums. No synths etc. I think the sound at around 2.28 - 2.44 is Mark on Hammond and playing with the drawbars.

[top]Would you mind sharing some of your personal favorite EQ's that you have come to love over the years and what sources you love them on? - Empire Prod

Used to love the Helios fixed EQ from early 1970's. Top 10K, Bass 50Hz, and 4 or 5 mid's - 5K, 3.5K, 2.8, 1.7 and 1K (I think) Very coloured but I loved it. Also most early Neve's from the 1970's. I don't add much EQ - usually subtracting - 190 a favourite to get rid of. I don't have specific EQ or pre-amp favourites - whatever is around.

[top]Could you elaborate on what mics were used for Talk Talk/Mark Hollis vocals,what preamps and if any, outboard were in the chain? - paul jan

NEVE 1082

We checked out loads of mic's while recording Spirit of Eden - U47, U67, Coles, ended up using a (relatively modern) Neumann U89. Through Neve 1082, no eq, Fairchild. On Mark Hollis solo album its the same two U49's (crossed cardioid pair) as used for the whole album. Recorded through the original prototype Focusrite. If you listen in Headphones you can 'see' his vocal 'moving'.

[top]Can you share some of your experiences working with Led Zep? - robertshaw

There's a section in Are We Still Rolling? when doing overdubs for Stairway to Heaven and Four-sticks. Uneasy, intense, 18 hour days..... check out the Island chapter.

[top]Lowell George is a hero to me, he died when I was 3 - so I didn't get the chance to meet him.
I'd love to hear about your impression of him, personally and/or professionally? - Topperf

I worked with Little feat twice through Robert Palmer. Once in Baltimore and again in LA. Lowell was wonderful - full on, humorous, intense, but also gentle. Great player and wonderful sounds. Very focused when working - very rock 'n roll when not!. Sadly Richie Hayward, Robert and Lowell all died way too young. Unfortunately an era of large drug abuse

[top]In your era, when the album was king, there were benchmarks-- any album could only hold 10 songs, 12 if you really pushed things. Sometimes as few as eight.
Everything about the process needed to swirl around this "packaging." Any band would play many more than 8 or 10 or 12 songs at a show... I'm wondering how this limitation governed your work, were you aware of it? - joelpatterson

We roughly worked on 38 - 40 minutes for an album. Tough to cut more than that on vinyl without taking a hit in level, quality etc. I still think 40 - 50 minutes for a CD is good - I am not a fan of 65 minute albums. Also back in the 60's and early 70's bands often released an album or two a year (Simon and Garfunkel often released albums that were 16 mins a side. - plus live sets were often only 30 - 45 mins. A long time before the 2 and 3 hour shows so favoured today...... So in answer to your question - We did not see this as a limitation - I guess I was not aware...

[top]Re: China Crisis 'Flaunt The Imperfection' - is one of my stand out favorites from the 80's, beautifully recorded and mixed. I would love to hear anything you would like to share about it. - Brenton

Studer A800 Tape Recorder

Recorded at Park Gates Studio in Battle - producer Walter Becker.
Recorded through an SSL to Studer 24 track analogue machine. Band played live. Lead vocals tracked many times and 'layered' behind the main lead vocal. This was to give more 'body' to the vocal sound. Mixed at the same studio. Recorded and mixed in a 6 week period. Band had a bad car crash on the last night of mixing - ended up in hospital or Police station.

[top]It seems that your work on Bombay Bicycles Club's Flaws combines "old school" recording techniques and new technology. I believe this album is a great example of looking after 50 years of music recording without being too nostalgic. Please could you inform regarding your view on the album and more specific on the sound ideas and techniques behind the recording? - Joram

BBC -The album came about after recording a couple of tracks at The Church in Crouch End for a John Martyn tribute album. I was brought in at this point to mix the tracks. This then led to recording more acoustic tracks - mainly at Jack's home on an old 'Magic' software system. Drums, Bass and guide acoustic. Acoustic and vocals then overdubbed. The water sounds and sirens are from Jack's home recordings. My involvement was mainly mixing. I love the album - he reminds me of a male Laura Marling. The album was recorded in an old-style simple way. Few mic's and everything in Mono. I'm very pleased with the album, but it was made very cheaply - recorded on 16 track and mixed in 5 days.

[top]RE Nicky Hopkins on piano/keyboards.Could you share some insight about working with Nicky, how involved was he in the recording process and were there any techniques used that stand out for you? - doorknocker

Yes Beggars Banquet wonderful - Nicky Hopkins was a lovely guy, shy, quiet and gentle. He was given the freedom to play what he thought would be right - Piano, Hammond, electric piano. No special technical processes - just a fantastic player.

[top]Re: ‘Year of the Leopard’ - Could you tell me how James Yorkston's acoustic guitar and vocal were mic'd (and which mics were used) on this album. (I'm guessing U67 on vocals...)
Also, was it more or less a live set-up? ie all the instruments in one big room playing together? How do you normally approach mic'ing up a double-bass? Mix-wise, are you always bass-in-the-centre? Oh, and here's another one, do you mic acoustic instruments differently when there are more of them, with the end mix in mind? - binarymilton

Recorded at Bryn-Derwan Studio in North Wales. All live band tracks. Main room had drums and bass, plus a small booth in the main room was James' 'home'. Acoustic Guitar - 2 X Coles. Bass FET 47. Vocals U67.
I usually record acoustic bass with either a FET 47, Sony C48, sometimes a Shure SM7. Although I often put drums off centre, I usually have the bass in the middle in mixes (its a hangover from the vinyl days).
With many acoustic gtrs and banjo's etc I normally record them as Mono's. I don't EQ differently - I leave that to the mix.

[top]What do you remember of the Bonzo Dog sessions? I am wondering not so much technical details, but of the band? Serious in the studio, did the people working with them get it? - David R.

The band were wild and hilarious. We were recording to 8 track so recorded as a band 'live'.They were always playing tricks and gags - including making a maggot sandwich for the assistant. We all got the humour.

[top]I would love to know what the strange organic sounds that gave the opening tracks in Talk Talk's Spirit Of Eden such a strange otherworldly quality were, and how they were created? It's only a small part of the overall sound, but I've been intrigued since the day I heard it (on the day of release)
Just reading your book 'Are We Still Rolling' and am finding it a fascinating account of life as an engineer. - MarkJohn

Thanks so much - SoE and Laughing Stock are two of the best albums I have worked on, quite a unique experience. We layered many sounds so its difficult to know exactly, but I think a combination of - percussionist Martyn Ditcham on kitchen utensils, Violin, Shozygs and the Variaphon.

[top]Firstly, I just finished your book and it was a very informative and eye-opening read. Thanks!
1. Given all the great vintage mics that you used over and over, U87, U67, etc. as well as the ever present SM57 for drums, and given all of the new choices that have been made available in recent years, do you have any new favorite mic that was not available back in the day?
2. Just wondering how you survived all of the long hours, difficult personalities, lack of sleep, not to mention the drugs. And for what seems like a long time, very inadequate compensation compared to the skills you brought to the table. Do you still have the same verve for being a recording and mixing engineer as you did when you started? - Diamondjim


Thanks - I'm glad you enjoyed the book.
1 Hard to beat some of the mic's from the 1950's/60's. I love the Sony C48 - a remake of the C37 - came out in the early 1980's. I use it a lot on drums, acoustic instruments, and some vocals.
2 A good constitution I guess, or just lucky. I don't know how we did the 18 hour days, poor diet etc. House Engineers were paid pretty badly, as assistants are today. The 'business' has changed so much its difficult to have the same excitement of the 1970's - a very free and innocent time. Strangely I still love recording, and still do 12 hour days.

[top]Re: The Rolling Stones ‘Street Fighting Man’ - I have been looking for the answer to this question for years, when hearing this on the radio back in the late 60's, I remember the version being played over the radio had a single take vox of Jagger and the released version (45) was layered with another take, a mean sounding Jagger with the radio version's first take?...were there 2 versions ? thank you...Jim - Jimsi

There were several 'mixes' of Beggars Banquet. The Mono and Stereo versions are very different. They probably did a 45 version too. I was there for the recording, but it was mixed in the states.

[top]Re: Laura Marling's 'Alas I Cannot Swim'
Did Laura track gtr & vox simultaneously?
What's the scoop on the drum sound?
Were any of the other instruments recorded live with Laura?
any extra insight/experiences you can remember from this album would be cherished! - Fluner

When I originally worked with Laura at Eden Studios she recorded vocal and acoustic at the same time. Not all tracks were recorded this way but the majority. I even built a mini baffle to place between her guitar and vocal. Instruments were then overdubbed to these recordings. Most of the band were young (16 - 21). She was easy to work with and very fast - would get a Master in 3 or 4 takes. Wonderful lyrics - a star!

[top]Traffic, Cocker, Stones, Small Faces question - How much were the lead singers of these and other bands like Hendrix Experience the driving force (conductors) for making these album tracks gel? - AfterViewer

Traffic was a 'band' approach, with all having a say. Cocker was a driving force in production and arrangements. Jagger/Richards ran the Stones, The Small Faces had a 'band' approach. It was a more innocent era, with very basic technology. Producer and Engineer were very important in those days. Beggars Banquet took 6 weeks to record - a very long time in 1968, as albums were often recorded in a week or two. The first Beatles album was recorded in 1 day! I think on the whole the 'band' approach was more common.

[top]Re: Spooky Tooth ‘Spooky Two’ - Was a lot of time spent on getting a solid sound before recording or was this done fast and live? Spooky Two sounds infinitely better than 1st and 3rd LP's.
Who gets the higher credit, the producer or band? Any recollections on the making of this classic? - mappee

Spooky Tooth (1st album) is my favourite. All recordings were pretty fast in those days. Live approach at Olympic - as recording to 8 track. Engineer for 1 and 3 is Glynn Johns, Spooky Two is Andy Johns. Producer on all 3 was Jimmy Miller. Spooky Two recorded at Morgan Studios on 16 track. I guess a combination of Andy and Morgan.

[top]When you were recording Dido do you think she had star power and what did you use on her voice? Mic's, pre's etc. - jimmyboy7

I knew her for a couple of years before we recorded. Friendly, easy going. First album was fun to do and quick. 24 track analogue and Akai samplers. I have a chapter on her in Are We Still Rolling?. The success of the album was a shock to all I think. No Angel - Neumann U87, Urei 1176, recorded to tape.
White Flag album recorded to Logic.

[top]Re: Solid Rock/Twisting By The Pool - What was the major gear used on the dire straits recording? Type of console,recorder,mics and where was it? Was it Mark Knopfler dictating everything or was it more of a band thing? - bace

My brief experience recording Dire Straits was at Basing Street Studio One during the break up of the original band. We recorded to a 3M 24 track machine, through a Helios desk. Microphones - Drums - U87's, AKG D12, Shure Sm57. Bass D/I and D20 on Bass. D20 and U87 on guitars. Mark is always in control - never been a band thing.

[top]How have you used drum compression/limiting in the 70s and how has that changed going into the 80s and beyond. - jdsowa

We did not compress much in the 1970's, due to very little outboard gear. We did however record to tape at +7db and this gave a great drum sound, the louder you record the more tape compression. I very rarely compress drums - even today.

[top]Re: Dusty Springfield - Did she have a preferred vocal chain? Was she tough/fun to work with? Outspoken? - ljefe

These albums were recorded on 4 track machines - orchestra on 2 tracks, leaving 2 tracks for vocals. Dusty was a perfectionist, not that friendly in the studio. There's a section on recording 'Dusty...Definitely ' in Are We Still Rolling?
Vocal chain - U67 through home-made Olympic desk (1st Helios), and the homemade desk compressor.

[top]I just wanted to ask you a quick question about the drum sound that you got on Fire Brigade by The Move. - DanDaMan

I was the assistant on Fire Brigade - Glynn Johns the engineer. Drums - Glynn's usual set-up I think...2 X U67's, Kick AKG D12, Snare Sure Sm57. He's a brilliant engineer.

[top]How vivid are your memories of recording "Fire". I've always wondered about the reverb on that one (plate.. chamber etc) and also .. it has such a cool texture to the track itself. Was that still 8 track then? 16 track? And Star from Stealers Wheel - I've always wondered about the tracking and micing on that. Seems to be very very little reverb on the vocal's and Jerry's voice sounds great... those two -part Beatley type up and down intertwining harmonies are very cool and the guitars so full sounding !! This is another song that has a nice texture to everything. Was this 16 or 24 track by then? And why kazoos on Star? Any particular story on that?
What were some of the techniques for tracking him? - thenoodle

EMT 140

It may come as a shock - Fire was 4 track. Many instruments were recorded including a backwards bass drum and then mixed down to another 4 track machine. Arthur and I tried to re-record Fire in 2000 - almost impossible to get the same result. The only thing I can think of regarding '60's sounds - few mic's used, 4 on drums, 2 on Hammond. Vince Crane got such great sounds.
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller produced the Stealers Wheel album. recorded at Basing Street Studio One. 24 track, quite 'straight' sessions. Drums - AKG D12 on Bass drum, AKG 224 on Snare, Neumann U87's on Toms and Overheads. Bass D/I and AKG D20 on amp. Recorded fast, just a few weeks including the mixing. Mike Stoller thought the Kazoos were an unusual sound!
Nillsson sang at a relatively low level - easy going and quiet, unless drunk.
Album recorded on 16 track - very few drop-ins with vocals - top to end vocal takes.
We had very limited technology, EMT plates, ADT machine, Urei 1176 compressors. Some good mic's, but no U47's or anything pre 1969.
There's a chapter on Nillsson in Are We Still Rolling?

[top]I'm quite certain Steve Winwood could sing into a toilet paper roll and sound amazing, but might you be able to share any insight into what mics work well on his voice. - brill bedroom

I used a Neumann U87 for Winwood, but I would imagine many mic's would like his voice. I had a Urei 1176 set-up with a ratio of 4, medium attack, fast release.

[top]I wonder what your biggest engineering/ production secret may be. - asdfdsa

Keep it simple - get good sounds at source - do not rely on all the technology. Go with your instincts/gut feeling. Don't mic too close.