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By Ian Morris

Over the years I've been privileged to record many brilliant New Zealand musicians.

In the process I've amassed a collection of demos and out-takes, rough mixes and never-released tracks. It's about time to make these gems available, otherwise they'll just sit in a box till I die, then get taken to the dump. The audio quality is variable: some are from 1/4 inch master tapes; some are from cassettes.

There are two old tapes I wish I still had, but some mean bugger pinched them from my Ponsonby bedroom in 1981: the demo sessions I did at Stebbing Studios with Hello Sailor in 1977, and with the Suburban Reptiles in 1978. I'd kill to get them back. If you took them - watch out!

Anyways, click on the track name to listen. Most of these mp3 files have been encoded at 96kbps to provide a reasonable compromise between audio quality and file size: they're mostly between 1.5MB and 2.5MB with a few larger ones.

I've only just started looking through the boxes, so check back daily for updates. The most recent postings will be at the top.

More Reverb, Forever

tape reel This was just about the start of Rob Aickin's career at Stebbing Studios.

Jingle king Murray Grindlay had recorded an album at Stebbing's throughout 1976 and 1977, with the legendary Phil Yule engineering. Towards the end of '77 they had it mixed and ready for the Christmas market.

It was about this time that Rob Aickin inveigled his way into Eldred Stebbing's office. Rob - as noted below - had recently returned from the UK, and was brimming with bright ideas.

"It'll never sell," he told Eldred after he'd heard Murray's album. "Let me remix it. I'll make it... commercial."

And so Rob came down to the 'A' studio, which was now my lair after Phil's recent departure, and we put on the 16 track tape. First thing Rob did was eye up the bank of effects and compressors: he made sure we used every one of them, all the time.

It's important to understand that Murray was a roots guy, a blues guy. He'd formed the Underdogs, NZ's most respected and authentic blues band. He wore blue jeans with a Jerry Jeff Walker belt buckle. His album was full of country and blues-tinged originals and covers, recorded as honestly as possible, and mixed accordingly: a sympathetic, natural sound.

Rob had other ideas. He fed everything through Stebbing's home-made compressors, squashing the sound fat and tight. The lead vocals were all treated with the new-fangled Delta Digital Delay unit. MXR phasers and flangers were set to "stun". "Pedal steel! These things sound great with lots of reverb!" The equalisation on the mixing desk - a crude and brutal 6kHz boost - was ramped up to levels never heard before.

I was flabbergasted: what was this man doing? And yet, and yet: there was a sonic excitement to the music that had been absent before

Murray came in to hear the finished mix of "So In Love With You", a song with a gentle, Caribbean lilt and slated to be the first single. He listened with a look of growing incredulity to the reverb-swamped pedal steel, the electronic vocal, the fat, boomy drums. When the phased acoustic guitar came in towards the end, he snorted and left the control room.

I was a lowly engineer. I was not privy to any discussions held thereafter. Whatever was said, Rob and I remixed the rest of the album, and it was released.

I'd work with Murray several times a week, engineering his jingles, and after a while he did grudgingly admit: "Rob made it... commercial." (Though, alas, not commercial enough to trouble the sales charts.)

I absorbed it all in my quiet way. A band came in to record a demo with me and Rob. My hand reached for the 6kHz boost. "Rob, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Personnel: Murray Grindlay: vocals, acoustic guitars. Red McKelvie: guitars. Peter Woods: piano, organ, vibes. Neil Edwards: bass. Dennis Ryan: drums. Josie Rikka, Mary Somethingorother: backing vocals. Phil Yule, Ian Morris: engineer. Rob Aickin: producer. Recorded at: Stebbing Studios, Auckland, NZ, 1976-77.

Murray Grindlay: So In Love With You (2.6MB)
(© Mouth Music. All rights reserved.)

Posted October 24, 2007

A Lack of Updates

tape reel Apologies for the lack of updates recently: I've been on th' road with Th' Dudes.

Posted November 17, 2006

Here Come the Weekend

tape reel In 1984 I went to Wellington for a weekend and stayed ten years. I went to help out with engineering chores at Marmalade Studios and eventually took up the position of chief engineer for a year or so before leaving for the deep, dark world of advertising music.

Marmalade had a deal whereby local artists could record for a heavily reduced rate on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday. Stoney broke bands would save assiduously for one of these night-and-two-days sessions, and end up with three or four tracks for release on that staple of the mid-1980s vinyl market: the 12 inch mini-LP.

Although I worked with some inspiring musicians - like the Hulamen and Naked Spots Dance - to be honest these sessions could be something of a strain and a pain. I'd be wearing engineer, producer, tape op and musical arranger hats, working on material I'd never heard before.

If things were going well we might have a passable drum sound by around 9pm Friday. I'd then quickly mic up the guitars and bass, plug in the keyboards, organise a guide vocal mic, and finally - finally - I'd get to hear what we'd be recording.

With the clock always against us, I'd pray we would have no hold ups, but invariably there'd be a rattle in the bass drum pedal, or the guitarist would have an earthing problem and no spare strings, or the bass player would disappear to "borrow an amp from a mate" and not return for hours.

Once the technical details were sorted, with luck the band would be well rehearsed and the tracking sessions would go smoothly, but often we'd find that their rehearsal room thrash wasn't working in the studio and we'd have to pull the songs apart and rebuild them. All in all it was something of a miracle that come Sunday afternoon there were any tracks recorded, mixed and mastered.

I recorded so many of these weekend sessions that I'm afraid I can remember nothing of Jungle Mice, apart from the fact that the lead singer also played guitar and wrote the songs and had a name beginning with "J" and was a short guy and wore pirate pixie boots in the style of Andrew Fagan. (I hope the band will forgive me. If anyone can provide any more information I'd be grateful.) The music is typical of early 1980's synth and guitar rock, with plenty of short-decay AMS reverb on the drums.

Personnel: Musicians: unknown. Ian Morris: engineer, producer. Recorded at: Marmalade Studios, Wellington, NZ, circa 1984.

Jungle Mice: Start Again (3.9MB)
Jungle Mice: You'll Find the Answer (2.5MB)
Jungle Mice: Nothing In My Hand (3.7MB)
(© Control.)

Posted September 4, 2006

Evolution of a Song

tape reel When Rikki and I were finishing up the "Come Back Louise" sessions in 1989 (see below), he dashed off a quick demo of a new song, "Heartbroke Again". It was so good that, without any conscious decision, we started recording it straight away as the next single. It was a hit in 1990, and also won Rikki the APRA Silver Scroll Award for songwriting, and me the RIANZ Producer of the Year award. (I have a theory that "Producer of the Year" goes to the record with the most treble on it, the judges mistaking high frequency for high fidelity.)

So, first up is the demo, Rikki's vocal a little tired and strained: after a hard day's work it was literally the last thing we did in the three minutes before turning off the studio lights for the night. Next is the finished single, in all its 1980s big drums and tinkly keyboards glory.

Personnel: Rikki Morris: vocals. Ian Morris: programming, engineer, producer. Recorded at: Soundtrax, Wellington, NZ.

Rikki Morris: Heartbroke Again (Demo) (2.1MB) February 4, 1989
Rikki Morris: Heartbroke Again (2.6MB) June 11, 1990
(© Rikki Morris 1989. All rights reserved.)

Posted July 20, 2006

Baby-talk in Basic

tape reel In the early 1980s I did a very nerdy thing.

While working at Wellington's Marmalade Studios I found a book called "Programming for Poets" on a colleague's bookshelf. Thinking it may be an aid to lyric writing I opened it up, to discover it was a gentle tutorial on the computer programming language BASIC. I readily admit that mathematics was my top subject in school, and one look at the simple logic of BASIC - its beautiful loops and orderly structure - had me hooked.

I started writing computer programs immediately. That I had no computer was no hindrance, though I did eventually save up $199.99 for a Sinclair ZX81, which you plugged into your television and which had a whole ONE KILOBYTE of internal memory. Later I splashed another $99.99 on a 16KB RAM pack, a lump of plastic that attached very precariously to the ZX81's circuits and tended to freeze the whole system if you breathed on it too hard, negating hours of painstaking data entry. Nerdy indeed.

The early 80s, of course, also heralded the introduction of computers into mainstream popular music, with the likes of Gary Numan, Thomas Dolby and Mi-sex banking big bucks following the earlier explorations of Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk. My own homage to the genre was this little ditty, recorded under the nom de musique of Jag Moritz. "Boot Up (Let x=y)" was written around a Roland TR-606 drum pattern and full of excruciating computer puns gleaned from my new-found knowledge of terminal terminology.

In any other country in the world this would have been a hit (I'm sure!) but the inability of NZ radio to playlist anything which didn't have a track record overseas (cf "Don't Dream It's Over") meant it was given a few spins in the "special New Zealand music spot" (i.e. 2 o'clock in the morning), and that was that.

Honourable mention should go to Rikki Morris: the big hand-clap sound in the sax breaks is Rikki crushing his thumbs between two planks of wood while I recorded the sound through a distant microphone at a level high enough to melt the needles on the meters.

The cover for this 12-inch single was computer generated too. I got an 8x10 photo of me and overlaid it with a grid of 1/4 inch squares. Using my trusty Sinclair ZX81, and praying the RAM pack wouldn't freeze, I decided whether each square was predominately white, grey or black, and translated the squares on the photo to squares on the screen. Finally I took a photo of the result: no way could you actually hook up a printer to the ZX-81. The back cover, too, was laid out just like a BASIC program. How jolly arty!

Personnel: Ian Morris: programming, engineer, producer. Rikki Morris: handclaps. Andrew Clouston: saxophone. Dave Dobbyn: lead guitar. Kim Willoughby: backing vocals. Recorded at: Harlequin Studios, Auckland, NZ, 1983.

Jag Moritz: Boot Up (Let x=y) (2.5MB)
(© Ian G. Morris 1983. All rights reserved.)

Posted July 20, 2006

Pop Pickin' is a Fast & Furious Business

tape reel The search for a follow up to Tex Pistol and Rikki Morris's 1988 chart topper "Nobody Else" led us to Rikki's "Come Back Louise". This whimsical blend of Hurricane Smith, Gilbert O'Sullivan and Donny Osmond features the great Andrew "Clyde" Clouston on tenor sax, Rikki's brilliant layered backing vocals, and the Fairlight playing everything else.

I've always prided myself on being able to pick a hit, but "Louise" only tickled the charts. From this distance, I s'pose I can see how come it wasn't a hit, but, y'know, how come it wasn't a hit? I love it!

As a bonus here's the B-side as well, "The Notting Hill Shuffle", an ode to the several hundred New Zealanders who all lived together in a two room flat in Notting Hill before Hugh Grant made the suburb chic. Wiv aufentic sahnd effex recorded dahn the Portobello Road.

Personnel: Rikki Morris: vocals, guitars. Ian Morris: keyboards, bass, programming, engineer, producer. Andrew Clouston: saxophone. Recorded at: Soundtrax, Wellington, NZ.

Tex and Rikki: Come Back Louise (2.7MB) March 12, 1989
Tex and Rikki: The Notting Hill Shuffle (1.6MB) March 17, 1989
(All songs © Rikki Morris 1989. All rights reserved.)

Posted July 20, 2006

Very Sad Eyes

tape reel Rob Aickin, ex bass player with the Cleves, blustered his way into becoming house producer at Stebbing Studios in the late 1970s. He and I got on like the proverbial house on fire, and together we recorded a heap of hits and dozens of demos. Gerard Smith was the less-well-known brother of songwriter Shade Smith: together they had formed successful soft rockers the Rumour in 1969. A decade later, and some years after the Rumour split, Gerard came to Stebbings with his own songs and demoed them with Rob and me.

Never one for subtlety, Rob piled on the double tracking and the still popular four-on-the-floor Euro-beat. Although Gerard's songwriting and singing was perhaps not in the same class as his brother's I still like these tracks for the contribution of Australasia's greatest pop guitarist, Red McKelvie. Red has a tremendous ear for a catchy hook and is perhaps best known for his work on Aussie Richard Clapton's 1975 hit "Girls on the Avenue".

Probable personnel: Gerard Smith: vocals. Red McKelvie: guitars. Mike Harvey: keyboards. Neil Edwards: bass. Dennis Ryan: drums. Josie Rikka, Mary Somethingorother: backing vocals. Ian Morris: engineer. Rob Aickin: producer. Recorded at: Stebbing Studios, Auckland, NZ, circa 1978.

Gerard Smith: One Shy Lover (2.5MB)
Gerard Smith: Nothing's OK (2.4MB)
Gerard Smith: Two People In Love (2.1MB)
(All songs © Gerard Smith. All rights reserved.)

Posted July 19, 2006

The Mi-sex Connection

tape reel

Steve Gilpin was a prominent cabaret singer in the mid 1970s before throwing off tux and bow-tie in 1978 to form the brilliantly planned and spectacularly successful Mi-sex.

"Touch My String", a demo recorded in 1977, was perhaps a last-gasp attempt at assaulting the pop charts. It's wonderfully kitsch, featuring unintentionally hilarious lyrics and perhaps the worst disco drumming ever committed to tape. What a voice though!

You know what this song sounds like to me? Strip away the wah-wah, the Clavinet and the Moog and you get something not a million miles from the diabolical formulaic rock that INXS unleashed on the stadiums of the world in the 1980s.

Steve Gilpin: Touch My String (3MB)
Personnel: unknown. Possibly recorded at: Radio NZ, Wellington, New Zealand.

Prog-rockers Father Thyme came from Hamilton in 1974 and trod the Pink Floyd path of accomplished musicianship, "meaningful" lyrics and well-crafted arrangements. Their stage show was most noticeable for the gyrations of bare-footed bassist Don Martin. I was quite a fan for a minute, until the likes of Joe Strummer and Paul Weller showed me the error of my ways.

(And as an aside, let's ruminate on the sheer number of bands - like Father Thyme - that were blown away by the punk revolution. Though the late 1970s music charts still continued to feature the likes of ABBA and Cliff Richard, on the local live music scene long hair and long songs meant you couldn't get a gig.)

On Father Thyme's demise in 1977, Don Martin and keyboardist Alan Moon joined Steve Gilpin and guitarist Kevin Stanton in the punningly-awfully-named Fragments of Time, a short-lived affair which, with a couple more lineup changes, soon morphed into Mi-sex.

"There You Go Again" was recorded at Stebbings in 1976-ish, mixed wonderfully by Phil Yule, and released as a single. I do believe it disappeared without a trace.

Father Tyme: There You Go Again (3.2MB)
Possible personnel: Steve Grant: vocals. Phil Whitehead: guitar. Alan Moon: keyboards. Lyndsay Brook: drums. Don Martin: bass. Recorded at: Stebbing Studios, Auckland, NZ.

(All songs © Control. All rights reserved.)

Posted July 11, 2006

Dill Pickle? Johnny Tabla Fucken'!

tape reelHere's another bunch of tracks that are festering away in Stebbing Studios' vaults. The Inbetweens came from Dunedin in the late 1960s and had moderate success for a few years before breaking up in Sydney in 1972. Three years later original guitarist Tony Rabbett reformed the band with new members. At Stebbings they recorded an album with Phil Yule which, though commercially unsuccessful, did produce a charting single, "I Can't Stop Loving You", and the band became popular on the Auckland club circuit for their heavy funk sound.

In 1976 the Inbetweens returned to Stebbings to record a follow-up album, provisionally entitled "Nite-time in the City", with me as engineer. With no official producer the sessions were fraught with tension, and the bandmembers argued amongst themselves over just about everything. As so often happens with no-one in overall control, anyone and everyone made comment and criticism on every aspect of the recording, from bass riffs to guitar sounds to vocal delivery. Nevertheless the tracks, despite their obvious flaws, often show a surprising coherence, mostly due to guitarist Chris McCarthy's sense of musical arrangement.

The band played incredibly loudly in the studio, and voice sessions in the small commercial studio next door would have to be suspended when rhythm tracks were being recorded. Len Worthington hauled his own Hammond organ and Leslie speaker to every session, pronouncing the Stebbing's own B3 far too tame. Neville McCarthy played a Rickenbacker bass through the de rigeur 1970s Fender quad box, and guitarists Tony Rabbett and Chris McCarthy both had set-ups more than capable - in those days before decent p.a. systems - of filling the largest of venues.

As this was only the second album I'd engineered, I added to the whole mess by trying out every tricky studio effect I could lay my hands on. Flangers, delays, reverse reverbs, tape phasers and weird echoes were all pressed into service. On "Dreaming" I think I've just discovered Stebbings' Fairchild limiters, that pumpy device first made famous on Ringo Starr's drumkit. I spent hours recording and pitch-changing church bells to recreate the vocal melody line at the start of "Love You More". The Pink Floyd-esque breakdown in "Gone" features possibly the worst tom-tom sound ever recorded and an ad-lib commentary and trademark giggle from Dave Dobbyn, made on a portable tape recorder as we drove the streets of Auckland.

Perhaps inevitably, the album never saw the light of day despite its state of near-completion. These rough mix tapes are unfortunately in poor condition, but still show an interesting slice of NZ musical life in the immediate pre-punk period.

Personnel: Tony Rabbett: rhythm guitar, vocals. Len Worthington: keyboards. Chris McCarthy: lead guitar. Neville McCarthy: bass. David Bailey: drums. Recorded at: Stebbing Studios, Auckland, NZ, 1976.

Inbetweens: Nite-time in the City (3MB)
Inbetweens: Home (3.2MB)
Inbetweens: Gone (4.1MB)
Inbetweens: Love You More (3.5MB)
Inbetweens: Silver Dove (3.4MB)
Inbetweens: Dreaming (2.9MB)
Inbetweens: You Are the World (3.6MB)
Inbetweens: Unnamed Instrumental (3MB)
(All songs © Bailey/McCarthy/McCarthy/Rabbett/Worthington 1976. All rights reserved.)

Posted June 23, 2006

Scarecrow in the Rain

tape reelWhen Th' Dudes broke up in mid-1980, Dave Dobbyn and I hurried back in to Stebbing Studios to record Dave's original material, an album the goal. We recorded six or eight tracks and released three singles before the Stebbings lost interest (a familiar tale!) and Dave moved on to his DD Smash project. Those singles are unlikely to appear on any commercial release, so I'll dig them out and post them here sometime soon. Meanwhile, here are a couple of other tracks from the same sessions.

Most tracks began with a single bass drum and single snare drum beat recorded on a loop of quarter-inch tape, which we ran through the tape machine, in and out of doorways, and around a pencil or two to keep the tension up. Using the Stebbo's new-fangled digital delay unit, we created intermediate rhythmic beats and dumped the result to 24 track tape. From there Dave overdubbed guitar and vocals, and we fleshed out the arrangement with bass, keyboards and kitchen sink.

"Nomada" is a seven-minute epic that could have been the theme for a contemporary Western movie. I love it for its atmosphere, and for the line "You can go south, or west like you've always wanted". Dave McArtney guests on backing vocals and indulges in a lead guitar duel with Dave D. "Nomada" eventually saw the light of day in 1984 as the B-side of DD Smash's "Actor". "Dolly" is an unreleased work in progress and features weird Harmonizer effects and a sped-up vocal a là the Beatles "When I'm Sixty-Four".

Personnel: Dave Dobbyn: guitars, bass, keyboards, vocals. Ian Morris: guitars, engineer/producer. Dave McArtney: lead guitar, backing vocals. Rob Aickin: bass, engineer/producer. Recorded at: Stebbing Studios, Auckland, NZ, 1980/81.

Dave Dobbyn: Nomada (5.3MB)
Dave Dobbyn: Dolly (1.9MB)
(All songs © Dave Dobbyn 1980. All rights reserved.)

Posted June 20, 2006

Where the Long Grass Ends

tape reelDaggy and the Dickheads were perhaps the greatest rock band to come out of heartland New Zealand in the 1980s. In Taihape on the edge of the North Island's volcanic plateau, two sets of brothers - Mark and Paul Kennedy, and Tim and Dan McCarten - joined with bassist Neil Mickelson to play original songs about the isolation of rural life. I recorded some tracks with them in 1983 and hope to have them available here soon.

One afternoon in 1988, a few years after the band had broken up and the members had dispersed to raise families and run farms and kill noxious weeds, Mark Kennedy went up to the woolshed with a hand-held cassette recorder: he'd written a new song. He sang it unaccompanied and sent me the tape. Later, I sampled his vocals into the Fairlight and built an arrangement around them: a 1980s arrangement admittedly, but what a song!

Mark Kennedy: Blue Glow (Woolshed) (1.4MB)
Mark Kennedy: Blue Glow (1.8MB)
(© Mark Kennedy, 1988. All rights reserved.)

Posted June 20, 2006

Jesus We Were Evil

tape reelEvery so often the stars collide and Dave Dobbyn and I get together to work on some bizarrity or other. In 1998 we embarked on a project called "Six Billion Satellite Universes", which was going to be an album of whatever we felt like doing. The first and only track we started recording was "Darcy Clay", a tribute to the Auckland singer songwriter who felt so bad he had to kill himself. "Tiger Country" is a theme for a TV cop show that never went ahead, also recorded in 1998.

Personnel: Dave Dobbyn: vocals, saxophones, lots of other stuff. Ian Morris: lots more besides. Recorded at: The igStudio, Auckland, NZ, 1998.

Dave Dobbyn: Tiger Country (1.2MB)
(© Dobbyn 1998. All rights reserved.)
Dave Dobbyn & Ian Morris: Darcy Clay (2.6MB)
(© Dobbyn/Morris 1998. All rights reserved.)

Posted June 16, 2006

Why Don't You Get a Job?

tape reelAuckland's Who Slapped John took their name from a Gene Vincent song, but they owed their sound more to the Cure than the 1950s rocker. (The Cure were huge in early '80s NZ - especially their atmospheric second album 17 Seconds - and spawned many imitators, most notably Martin Philips' Chills.)

WSJ's singer, guitarist and songwriter was Ramon Yorke, who had been a member of 1970s prog-rockers Ragnarok. These songs were recorded at Stebbing's in 1980 or '81. I remember, as an experiment, placing one of Stebbing's vintage RCA77 ribbon mics in front of the bass drum. It sounded fantastic for about two beats before the air pressure from the drum blew the ribbon to pieces. The Stebbos were not pleased, but re-manufactured the ribbon themselves using silver foil and two Mecanno cogs.

The tracks sound pretty polished, so are probably nearly-finished tracks that were never released due to The Man getting cold feet... again!

Personnel: Ramon Yorke: guitar and vocals. Rod Percy: drums. Ian Morris: engineer. Rob Aickin: producer. (Bass unknown. Email me if you can remember!) Recorded at: Stebbing Studios, Auckland, NZ, 1980/81.

Who Slapped John: Black Mercedes (2.8MB)
Who Slapped John: Had Enough (2.8MB)
Who Slapped John: Extinction Fever (2.5MB)
Who Slapped John: Mucho Deniro (3.2MB)
(All songs © Yorke 1980. All rights reserved.)

Posted June 8, 2006

Put Out the Dog, Bring the Cat In

tape reelIn 1980 I produced a few demos for Hello Sailor's Graham Brazier at Auckland's Mandrill studios. It's always such a buzz to work with GB: he's a true gent and one of the world's greatest lyricist. A couple of these tracks were re-recorded for his seminal 1981 album Inside Out, and "Late Night Music" appeared on his 2004 album East of Eden.

Personnel: Graham Brazier: guitar, saxophone, harmonica and vocals. Bruce Hambling, Peter Urlich: drums. Lez White: bass. Paul Hewson: keyboards. Chris Green: saxophone. Josie Rikka(?): backing vocals. Graeme Myhre: engineer. Ian Morris: producer. Recorded at: Mandrill Studios, Auckland, NZ, 1980.

Graham Brazier: High Wind in Jamaica (2.2MB)
Graham Brazier: Seven Seas (2MB)
Graham Brazier: These Furs Were Hers (1.9MB)
Graham Brazier: Late Night Music (2MB)
(All songs © Brazier 1981. All rights reserved.)

Posted June 8, 2006

Gitaround, Gitaround

tape reelLipservice were a brilliant early '80s Auckland band that played an intelligent, brooding brand of power pop, and were justly famous for having their members known by their nicknames only.

Personnel: Dave "Spyder" Marshall: guitar and vocals. Rob "Revox" Guy: guitars. Peter "Rooda" Warren: drums. Brian "OD" O'Donnell: bass. Recorded at: Mandrill Studios, Auckland, NZ, circa 1980.

Lipservice: Circulation (2.7MB)
(© Marshall/Guy/O'Donnell/Warren 1980. All rights reserved.)

Posted June 8, 2006

These works are placed here for historical interest only. The copyright in them remains solely with their authors and owners. If there is any unauthorised commercial exploitation of these works we'll be telling a policeman.