When Zappa Met Morcheeba

Recording has always been a passion for me as much as songwriting. When I was ten, my older brother Stephen brought back from Japan one of the first plastic, lightweight hand-held audio cassette recorders, which after a suitable absence of his attention, I purloined and used avidly. Hooking up with friends, inspired by psychedelia, early electronica and audio comedy (The Goons, Monty Python) I was making multi-layered overdubbed audio, using reel-to-reel and cassette tape.

After three years intensive use of audio-visual equipment at Middlesex Poly art school in the early 1980s, it was partly my knack of producing decent sounding demos which brought me my first professional writing gig. Making albums with other artists, performing with my own band, and running a small part of Beethoven Street studios, by the 1990s I was helping out on sessions with big stars, and starting to take seriously my role as producer.

Adrian Huge by Mark Holthusen 2007

Adrian Huge by Mark Holthusen 2007

Finances at the time were either feast or famine – this was the middle of a recession – and I was always on the look out for friendly studio owners with whom I could barter. I met Adrian Hughes, aka Uncle Lumpy (right) the drummer from the Tiger Lillies who hailed from Deal, Kent, on the south east coast of England. He introduced me to Dave the owner of Astra Studios near Folkestone, who gave me access to his 24 track studio. It was there I met Paul and Ross Godfrey, who went on to become Morcheeba. Paul, the 20 year old older brother was at the time, deeply suspicious and cynical, but nonetheless brimming with talent, knowledge and curiosity about music; and Ross, aged 16, was a perfectly charming musical prodigy who spent most of his time in a hippy daze, learning new instruments.

Paul did some audio engineering on a couple of my tracks, and we collaborated on several songs which came out well. I was expanding Paul’s horizons as much as he was impressing me with his Beastie Boys-inspired approach to beats and sound textures. We were working on the marvellous but temperamental mixing desk that had produced the Queen classic “Bohemian Rhapsody”. When it worked, it sounded great.

morcheebaIt was all lots of fun and quite promising. Ross came on tour with my scratch band to Palermo, Sicily. Unfortunately, we also took his friend the snide sax player, who decided to play on Paul’s paranoia and having taken the money and enjoyed the gig, bitched on his return that I had been scornful of Paul’s lack of experience and had publicly demeaned him. I hadn’t, of course, but nonetheless, a schism ensued as intended, and thus ended a fertile period which could have gone further.

I had worked hard for our little project, even taking the demos into Capitol Records and receiving a really good response. Still, many are the fish which you do not catch and one can waste a lot of time and energy bemoaning that fact. It was already clear to me that Paul was the driver of his own project and wouldn’t have the need for someone like me around for any length of time.

zappa_16011977_01_300I don’t carry any regrets or grudges, indeed, the opposite is true. I am still proud of some of the songs, particularly those which came from my lending Paul some classic Zappa, which he loved, and promptly looped. I thought so much of it that I even took it to Los Angeles in December 1993, and set up an audience with Frank’s lawyer to license the use of his music in this song. But in this endeavour, time was against me. I was mid-deal when Frank Vincent died on December 4th. Few people knew how desperately ill he was, and it was a shock when he died tragically young, having left a huge legacy and inspired more bands and individuals than you would know.

Years later I met up with Ross and Paul at a music festival where I was working for Amnesty International, and they seemed content with their success as I chatted with them backstage, not just the level of it, but the manner of it. Paul was considerably chilled and a model of politeness – not how I remembered him – and confessed quite spontaneously that he was something of a changed man from the irascible, angry young man I had met not a decade previously. Ross was unchanged, still a beautiful player.

Writing and performance credits for this song “Not So Bad” are: Paul Godfrey, lyrics, spoken vocals, Dean Whitbread, lyrics, vocals and melody in the chorus, falsetto backing vocals, Ross Godfrey, keyboards and guitar. Overall production is by Paul – with an obvious musical debt to one Frank Zappa, RIP.

What I love about this song is the dramatic contrast between Paul’s study of decadence, indulgence and insanity, his narrative based on the death of Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones, with a marvellously laconic delivery, peppered with sudden blasts of confidence from a man convinced of his own genius. Wonderful.

The groove ain’t bad, either.

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