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Last Updated:
Jan 26, 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Dave remembers 'Smalltown'

Song of the Week

As another installment in our burgeoning tradition of posting live versions of songs that Andy has already discussed here, this week we feature "Are You Receiving Me?", as performed by the band on 22nd December 1980 at the at the Hammersmith Palais, London. It was first released on the band's BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert album, and later on Transistor Blast (Best of the BBC Sessions).

Andy fighting a nasty cold, but "an unbelievable foot massage" and the realization that "there were thousands of baying punters out there, and we were the band who were going to cure them of leprosy tonight" got them through the show. Enjoy Andy's vocal histrionics and, as always, the solid musicianship of Dave Gregory and righteous rhythm section of Colin Moulding and Terry Chambers.

Speaking of Dave, we caught up with him last week via the magic of the World Wide Swindonet, and asked him his memories of The Everyday Story of Smalltown. Here's what he had to say, in his own inimitable style.

DG: Listening again to the song after such a long time, my immediate thought was "Damn, this needs mixing!" It's one of my favourite Andy songs and I had high hopes for it as a single when he first brought it up, but the recording as it exists doesn't do it justice in my view. The decision to mix to DAT -- the latest mid-'80s audio fad -- was a bad one in retrospect, and was a principle factor in the disappointing sales of The Big Express.

I think the song title may have been partly inspired by the BBC Radio series "The Archers," which was broadcast for 15 minutes daily and is still running! A plummy-voiced announcer would introduce each episode with "We present 'The Archers', an everyday story of country folk," to the accompaniment of a jaunty shuffle as familiar to British people as the national anthem. Swindon fits squarely within the lyrical demographic, as I imagine do most of our provincial towns, though I don't recall the place being as pivotal to the overall concept of the album itself, as Andy has suggested.

There is a lot of musical and verbal detail in the track, though much of it is buried and blurred, creating a flat, un-dynamic listening experience. The bass is tight and punchy, the drums rattle the song along and cope manfully with the tempo changes, but the guitars, sampled brass and the kids' voices have all been poorly served by the finished mix.

I played Rickenbacker 12-string -- anyone spotted the "Fixing a Hole" quote? -- and worked up some nifty hooks, but they're rendered virtually inaudible. The brass samples came courtesy of Tears for Fears, who were kind enough to lend us their E-mu Emulator and a big bunch of floppy discs. At the time, they were hard at work on their album Songs from the Big Chair in a studio on the other side of Bath. I remember Curt Smith bringing it over, looking like a man who'd seen enough of the inside of a studio to last a lifetime.

[Producer] David Lord set the Emulator up and we all had fun poking the keys and triggering sounds that, until that point, were not what you expected to hear from a keyboard instrument. It was like a super-advanced Mellotron that played high-quality digital samples, albeit monophonically. I probably ended up doing the actual playing, but the parts were decided by committee. I don't recall there being any touch-sensitivity or velocity control on the E-mu, but there was a pitch-wheel and a modulator control for adding trombone slides and vibrato. It was a partial success.

The big finale of the song features one of Andy's soon-to-be-favourite production techniques-- the over-layering of earlier vocal and instrumental themes as a counterpoint to the main chorus. It clatters off in jubilant canonic style, neatly cross-fading into the languid guitar introduction to "I Bought Myself A Liarbird" -- a nice moment.

Another thought that struck me on playing the track again was how easily it might have been a Kaiser Chiefs song! I can imagine it fitting perfectly on Employment.

Though I've been more harsh on the track than I'd intended (and we have all learned a lot in 24 years), for me it's little more than a smart demo. In summary then -- a great song twatted by a lousy mix.

5:42 PM

©2008 by Todd Bernhardt and Dave Gregory. All Rights Reserved.