Elvis Costello, or should I have called him Declan (McManus) – it feels a bit odd calling anyone “Elvis” – seemed not half as bad and aggressive as all the Olympic studio engineers had warned. Bobby Tench one time singer with The Jeff Beck band and guitarist with Alan Price, had stood there with a huge mischievous grin on his mush nodding towards the door of studio two.
“Go on, he’s in there, that’s him playing the piano” Tenchy had the demeanour of a school kid, nodding towards the headmaster’s office, attempting to get another unsuspecting innocent kid (me) into deep shit for barging into somewhere he wasn’t welcome. “Is he in the middle of recording a session?”
I asked Tenchy, The man with the baseball cap glued to his scalp. “No he’s just hanging around waiting of Nick Lowe to arrive and mix his track”
I wandered towards the half open door of studio two and glanced over my shoulder to see Tenchy and sound engineer Dougie Bennett, standing watching me as if I were approaching the lion’s den wearing a sandwich board advertising myself as lunch. I thought “sod this for a lark” – I was rocking and rolling long before Mr. Costello had even began treading the boards as a rude and quirky rock singer of the 1970’s punk era.
I had played all the gigs alongside the Animals in Newcastle’s Club Agogo, I was good mates with the man who discovered Jimi Hendrix for god’s sake; I had backed The Nice and all manner of late 60’s progressive rock bands at just about every university knees-up under the sun. Why should I be afraid to approach the man who wrote “Watching the Detectives”? After all, tomorrow I was on my way to Tittenhurst Park in Sunningdale, Ascot to meet, greet and start a production session with a f**king Beatle.
Peering around the four inch thick door, “Hello Anybody there?” I enquired with all the gusto of a dormouse. Sitting tinkling on an upright piano was Elvis Costello looking rather aggravated and pissed off with his lot.
“Hi! I’m Charles Foskett – We spoke on the phone” I muttered. “Hello! Come in – You’re the EMI band aid producer guy who wants to record a song yes?” enquired Elvis. “Well I’ve got a couple of ideas but haven’t had much time to do any writing of any substance yet” “maybe we could do a kinda bluesy Ray Charles thing like ….”
As he rattled away at a blues on the piano I remembered someone had told me of his escapades on one American tour where he’d had his success severely dented, by calling Ray Charles a “blind, ignorant nigger”. This was during an argument with Bonnie Bramlett in an Ohio bar (the comment being particularly odd, since Elvis worked extensively in Britain’s “Rock against Racism” campaign both before and after). In a contrite fashion he had apologized at a press conference, claiming that he had been drunk, and had said it only to annoy Bramlett, who had just punched him in the face.
“I think if we can get a strong lyrical message happening over this type of chord sequence we’ll be onto something” exclaimed Mr Costello. “I’m mixing some tracks here at the moment but maybe we can get together next week “– “here is my home number, just disregard the outgoing message on the answer machine – you’ll hear a silly voice chattering on about little umbrellas – just leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I pick up ok?”
The first thing that struck me was that he was extremely driven and I was quickly beginning to see the measure of the man. He obviously wasn’t the type to suffer fools and didn’t have time to waste on small talk; I found him actually quite likeable and wondered why Bobby Tench and Dougie Bennett were standing outside the door of studio two making the sign of the cross and reciting Hail Mary’s.
Probably built in Victorian times, Olympic recording studios had originally been fitted out by sound engineer Keith Grant in 1960; The Rolling Stones were the first rock band to record there followed by Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Eagles and many many others, it reminded me of an old school with its wide old stone stairs and tiled walls. Only the night before I had been in a late mixing session and at around 2.am decided that both my engineer and I had just about gone deaf and had enough for one day.
While fumbling around under the mixing console looking for the “off switch” we discovered a pile of two inch master tapes which read “Eric Clapton / Cocaine;” not being able to help ourselves we instantly fished them out and put them onto the multi track tape machine to find that they were the actual master recordings of “Cocaine” originally produced by record producer extraordinaire Glynn Johns.
As we pushed all the faders up on the old Raindirk mixing console we suddenly heard the world famous guitar riffs of Clapton performing “Cocaine” and also the astounding work of master craftsman Glynn Johns. It sounded just like the finished record without having to adjust the mix in any small way – it was fantastic – there were also out-takes of Eric spitting and farting away while rehearsing an acoustic blues tune which we couldn’t help ourselves remixing and sampling.
At around 4am we staggered past the sleeping night porter and left Olympic studios armed with a copy of our bootleg Eric Clapton remix sounding not unlike a cross between Dr. Who’s Daleks battling Sonny Boy Williamson in a Tyneside shipyard.
The following morning I listened to a cassette of our Eric Clapton “Cocaine” remix while driving to Ascot, I giggled without shame at our total bastardisation of Eric’s twanging and our interjection of the audio samples of him spitting at the end of every four bars – very naughty.
Tittenhurst Park is located on the A329 in Sunningdale, Ascot, Berkshire. The estate was sold by Ringo in 1988 to the now late Zayed al-Nahyan President of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi. The rough value for the property when writing this was £30 million – heaven knows what it is worth today?
A few years ago when writing this I stopped my family four x four on the opposite side of the road outside the horribly ostentatious gold plated gates of Tittenhurst – I wanted to show my kids where Daddy worked in a recording studio with Beatle Ringo Starr and partied in the biggest marquee in the world with Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones and everyone else at Zak Starkey’s twenty first birthday bash. “Who is Ringo Starr” said my seven year old daughter India “and why do you call him a Beatle?” At this juncture two heavy looking guys dressed in black with big military type portable phones marched aggressively across the road to move us swiftly on our way – how life has changed since those heady days of back then!
It was here that John Lennon played the piano in his moving Imagine video in his white drawing room. He recorded his Imagine album in the very recording studio that I was on my way to work in. In 1969 Lennon bought the house for just £145,000.