Recording bands and mixing live sound professionally since 1978 and I’ve worked with what is now a long list of Australian and international artists. My first exposure to the inner world of bands was in the mid 1970’s when my cousin, Graham Owens, got me a job building a drum booth at TCS Studios, out the back of the old Channel Nine TV studios in Richmond. He and producer John French were recording HUSH there and I was impressed by the tape recorders, the giant mixing console and the interesting people. I started recording bands with John Rees (Men At Work’s bass player) in the mid '70s, in a share house in Box Hill in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. John was playing in jazz/rock/fusion band Chetarca (should have been huge) and knew lots of bands. It was a home studio with the bands playing in the lounge room and the TEAC 3340s 4tk tape recorder was in my bedroom. One of the bands, THE PHONES, asked if i could do their live sound and my first live mix was at the Tiger Lounge in Richmond on the 11th of May 1978. I remember asking PA-owner Nic Reishbeth how it worked. He grunted at me, not much help, so when the band started I pushed the vocal fader up and was pleased to hear Danny’s voice get louder. Soon after that I discovered that if you pushed it up too far the PA started to feed back. Piece of cake.
In early 1979 I got a call to mix MODELS at Marijuana House in Fitzroy. Loved the gig, loved the band. At that time the anyone-can-have-a-go ethos of punk was producing bands exploding with fresh musical ideas without too much concern about technique, or tuning, and I spent the next few years in the smoky pubs and clubs of inner-suburban Melbourne. Bands ruled the music scene then, often playing five nights a week, sometimes doing doubles on a Friday or Saturday night. Bananas and the Crystal Ballroom were my favourites despite both being upstairs…in those days there were no house systems, the PA, lights and band gear were all trucked to the venue then loaded in and out again at the end of the night.
In 1981 I went to London with the MODELS courtesy of A&M Records. An A&R person saw the band play once in Australia and signed them up. It was a great deal. The band and I were flown to the UK, had 2 flash apartments in Sloane Square, 60 quid a week each…and a car. The album (Local and/or General) was recorded at Farmyard Studios and produced by Stephen Taylor. It was a good album but not exactly what the record company were expecting; they made up lots of it in the studio, Buster Stiggs was good but i missed Johhny Crash on the drums. I don’t think A&M signed any more Australian punk/pop/new-wave bands. I stayed in the UK for a few months, in a 20 quid/week flat near Portabello Rd, looking for work…got a few small gigs but nothing serious. Stayed with a friend near Munich for a month and returned to Australia in August 1981.
I was on a tour with SERIOUS YOUNG INSECTS in Oct 1981 when I got a call about doing sound for MEN AT WORK. I knew the band through John and had recorded “Down Under” a few years earlier in the home studio…not the hit version of course. At that time they were still a hippy/reggae/pub band but they had a hit album on their hands with their album Business As Usual and when I started with them on the 1st Jan 1982 they were huge. I did their front-of-house sound for all their local and international tours and it was quite a ride; the first time they toured the US was opening for FLEETWOOD MAC on one of their re-union tours…and did we walk into some American culture. MEN AT WORK lasted exactly two years before fatally imploding for no good reason, inflicting personal damage on those involved that has never been resolved. Given the personalities involved this is one band you always knew would not be reforming.
After Men At Work I moved to Los Angeles courtesy of Peter Troykovic who shouted me a ticket on account of the PA hire Men At Work has put his way. I shared a bedsit under the Hollywood 101 highway. The TV had to be up full to hear it and when you turned a light on at night the floor changed from cockroach black to beige tiles as they ran back into the cupboards. It was in good location though and I soon found work at nearby Studio Instrument Rentals (SIR) on Santa Monica Blvd, setting up bands for rehearsals and running the sound for showcase events. I met THE CALL there and got on well with the band leader Michael Bean and did a few shows with them. A couple of guys in the band were also playing with one Sonny Sassoon who was trying to get record deal. After rehearsals he would drive me back to my place in his white Rolls Royce and always gave me a $100 bill for my time. I went to his house once, it was in the middle of Hollywood and there was another Rolls in the driveway. The maid made us some lunch and he showed me round. My main memory was the dozens of Rolex watch cases piled up in one of the bedrooms, I still can’t think why they were there.
The showcases at SIR were very nervous events where bands would play to a booking agent or record company A&R man in the hope of getting a deal. It was at one of these that I ran into an LA-based booking agent I’d met with Men At Work . He connected me with TINA TURNER’s manager, Roger Davies (used to mix/manage Sherbert), and he offered me the job of doing her front-of-house sound. Tina was a middle-of-the-road R&B act when I first met her but became a big pop star with the success of her “Private Dancer” album. The first tour I did was alternating between McDonalds conventions where Tina played to 600 regional store mangers and their wives at the end of a 2-day brainwashing session, or whatever they did at the conventions, and super cool clubs better suited to an act on the way up the charts like the Park West in Chicago and the Ritz in New York. The album was huge and she quickly out-grew the clubs and moved into the sheds (3000 – 5000 capacity) before hitting the stadiums. Over that time the road crew grew from 3 to over 50. There was a lot of memorable shows but Madison Square Gardens, twice, with Mick Jagger and Roy Clair (owner of the worlds leading PA company) sitting behind me at the front-of-house position sticks in my mind. Birmingham NEC in 1985 with David Bowie as guest artist, again over 2 nights, was pretty good too.
I have a platinum album for Private Dancer; the “B” sides were live tracks and even though I didn’t record them, as the man who did record them said, I didn’t mess them up by having feedback in the house or any technical problems. Tina did not mess anything up and she remains an inspiration. She was fantastic the whole time and deserved every bit of her success. She was also a magnet for the worlds other big pop acts who would regularly appear at shows and join her for a song in the encore…so I got to meet, and briefly mix, Mick Jagger and David Bowie among others. When she finished I knew she’d be hard to beat and after 5 years on the road, mainly in the US, during the undoubtedly excessive ’80s…I was ready forsome rest and recuperation.
I returned to Australia in the 1988 to concentrate on recording and over the next decade recorded many albums by inner-city/alternate/indie bands including BLUE RUIN and my favourite from the time This Is Serious Mum (TISM). I produced their first album Great Truckin’ Songs Of The Renaissance as well as mixing their brilliantly manic live shows from 1989 – 1994. Most of my recordings at this time were done at Sing Sing Recording Studios in Richmond and I also sort of managed the studio from 1990 – 1993. Mark Woods Audio Productions managed a series of inner city indie bands during the early ‘90s as well as overseas tours with FRENTE and ARCHIE ROACH.
In 1995, with Greg Ham, I was a founding board member of The PUSH, a successful Victorian state government youth music initiative supporting young bands and new music. Even though i was still recording and mixing, dance music and poker machine venues took their toll on live music and between 1995 and 2000 i spent more time with my wife Natalie’s business, FINDERS KEEPERS, a small clothing label and recycled clothing boutique in Chapel St, South Yarra. It was like a band in the way it took off, and then started to fade, but we got out while we were still in front and moved to the country to start a family.
Since 2000 Natalie and i have lived in an old farmhouse, on the side of a hill, near Castlemaine in Central Victoria. In 2001 I set up a studio in a couple of rooms of the house and learnt the ways of digital sound by transferring my collection of live recordings from cassette and reel-to-reel tape into digital files. This turned into E-POP, an archival web site containing a collection of Australian indie, pop and electronic music acts from the ’70s and ’80s.
It’s a home studio but BALD HILL MUSIC STUDIO has been operating since 2003 and continues to provide high-quality recordings for local and regional acts, specialising in bands and acoustic performers. I’ve also been the house sound engineer at the THEATRE ROYAL CASTLEMAINE since 2005. It’s a great venue and the current owners have got the place jumping. I still mix the occasional touring band – most recently the Brian Jonestown Massacre in Castlemaine and Melbourne. Since living outside Melbourne I’ve been adopted by the acoustic, bluegrass and old timey music scene and mix at regular acoustic music festivals including Maldon Folk Festival, Kelly Country Pick, MountainGrass, Foggy Mointain Bluegrass, Guildford Banjo Jamboree and others. At the other end of the volume meter I’ve mixed at CHOPPED since it started, they’ve had a break after 10 years but hopefully it will return…
I’ve also been a regular contributor to Audio Technology magazine, writing equipment reviews, mainly speakers, microphones and bleeding digital desks.
Please have a look at my recording/live credits for more details and contact me if you have any questions or enquiries.
Six minute video of some great career highlights -