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May 18, 2008

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Dave remembers 'Roads Girdle the Globe'

Song of the Week

This week we feature Mr. Dave Gregory's take on "Roads Girdle the Globe," which Andy discussed in early June. Originally on 1979's Drums and Wires, this version was recorded for the John Peel show on 8 October 1979, and is featured on Transistor Blast -- Disc 1, to be precise. (Yes, we've posted this before, but hey, it's a great version.)

DG: The Drums and Wires LP was recorded and mixed in just 12 days in June 1979, except for the single "Making Plans for Nigel," which we spent a whole weekend on prior to the album sessions. It was only my third or fourth visit to a professional studio, and I could hardly believe my good fortune at the realisation that, at last, this was now my full-time occupation. No sooner had we toweled off following my debut tour with XTC -- which had begun in Exeter on April 18th, promoting the new single "Life Begins at the Hop" -- than we were back in rehearsals at the end of May to learn and arrange new songs for the album. There was a very happy, very positive vibe in the band and we couldn't wait to get back to work.

We'd enjoyed working with Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham on the singles, so the choice of producer and engineer was a no-brainer. Virgin's Townhouse Studios were then brand new, and we gratefully availed ourselves of the state-of-the-art facility. The smaller Studio 2 was at the far end of the building, and we immediately felt at home there. It had a fantastic live room, perfect for recording Terry Chambers' brutal hammering; I remember Andy once saying to Hugh, "I want these drums to sound massive"-- of course, Hugh would later go on to record yet more massive-sounding drum kits in that very room. Because the studios were new, there was the odd sound-leakage problem that had yet to be corrected. In the big room next door, Jethro Tull were recording and word filtered back that Ian Anderson had been unable to successfully record his mandolin overdub due to Terry's battering of his drums from the live room of Studio 2!

One reason the D&W album was completed so quickly was that the songs had been thoroughly rehearsed and routined. Another reason was that there are very few overdubs; all the basic tracks were recorded live, using headphones but no click tracks. Punk rock, see? Four of the songs we'd already taken out on tour: "Life Begins at the Hop," "Making Plans for Nigel," "Outside World," and "Roads Girdle the Globe."

When Andy first brought "Roads" along to rehearsal I seriously wondered how we were ever going to make sense of it, much less so an audience. Its dissonant, jagged chords were bounced off a thrashing, metallic drum beat interwoven with a preposterously sinewy bass line. Only when Steve and Hugh were setting up the mix for the track did I suddenly hear and appreciate what Colin was playing there -- genius! He played a black Fender Mustang bass through a H+H bass amp with an Orange 4"x12" cabinet; Andy played a Fender Bronco guitar that I believe belonged to his then brother-in-law Robbie Wyborn (Andy's in the right-hand channel); I used my '63 Strat, bridge pickup (threw switch to neck position for the middle 8) through my '62 Tremolux amp (I'm in the left-hand channel). Terry was still using his kit of black Premier drums.

And on top of all this was the vocal. Andy's impassioned rant against the cult of the motor car, with the famous seal-bark at full throttle. I always looked forward to the a capella "roads girdle the glowwwwb!", followed by Chambers' metallic tom-flam, that heralds the coda. We "got" the take on the second pass, broke for dinner, then returned -- refreshed -- with a posse of blokes from Virgin Records to help out on the choruses (we insisted they sang for their supper). I remember us all gathering in the live room behind Terry's drums, drinks in hand; even Hugh joined in, while Steve manned the board.

We all loved playing this song live, despite management pressure to drop it -- it had none of the hit potential they wanted from us -- and it remained in the set for most of our touring years.

4:28 PM

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