James Attlee talked to top producer ALAN SHACKLOCK about everything from studio battles with Meatloaf to the questionable ethics of chart hyping by zealous evangelicals.
The wall in front of EMl's Abbey Road studio bears witness to the fact that to many people, the place remains a kind of shrine. Thousands of rock and roll tourists over the years have walked the zebra-crossing immortalised on the cover of the Beatles' 'Abbey Road' album and have scrawled a personal message to their heroes on the low white wall outside the studio. They must keep some EMI employee busy with a whitewash bucket.
Two recent additions catch my eye: someone has written "John Lennon died for your sins." Below this, a visitor from Germany has added, "on the first day God made Liverpool. On the second day He made the Beatles. On the third day He gave up." Pop theology: concise, witty and off-the-wall.
Alan Shacklock is at work in Studio Two on the soundtrack of a film, called Buddy's Song, which will star an old friend, former Who frontman Roger Daltrey. A quiet, almost diffident man in personal life, Alan in the studio has the air of someone who knows exactly what he wants and how to get it. On projects like this film soundtrack this single-mindedness has led to him creating much of the music himself - with the aid of a battery of sophisticated equipment that would baffle the uninitiated.
As I arrive, the studio team are searching for an additional percussion sound for the rhythm track. The two engineers are full of bright ideas. "I've got a great sample somewhere," says one "it's of a car door slamming - when it's mixed back in the track it sounds great, honest." Alan hears it and dismisses it speedily. With digital recording techniques and an infinite variety of sounds to choose from decisiveness is a vital quality in a producer. Time is money - and money makes the records go round.
Alan's first hit as a producer was with a record called "I'm In Demand, I Am The Beat," by a group called The Look, in 1980 (see CR Issue 2). This was just the beginning of a production career that has lasted a decade and covered the spectrum of popular music, from punk through heavy rock to soul, musicals and mainstream pop.
The first group to approach Alan after his success with The Look were Dexys Midnight Runners. Two singles followed, but the project was robbed of success by wrangles between the band and their record company. Work with the Steve Gibbons Band followed, and then Alan heard from a group called JoBoxers.
"I went to see them at a rehearsal and I was very impressed with them - me being a 60s soul boy as I was, I liked what they were doing. I think the singer Dig Wayne - he was from New York if I remember - was very ahead of his time as far as the rap thing goes. He was actually doing all that then in his own way - incorporating it into the music. He must be flattered to be one of the innovators of it. Anyway we got on great and we had two top ten records - 'Boxer Beat' and 'Just Got Lucky'."
Today they may be the perfect candidates for a "Whatever Happened To..." column, but in 1983 Jo Boxers made quite an impression on a British public always hungry for a new look with their prohibition-era chic. The records were pretty neat too. In America, MTV picked up the video for "Just Got Lucky" and gave Alan his first American hit, and enquiries began to come in across the Atlantic. But it was British group The Alarm that next benefited from the Shacklock production skills.
Mike Peters, the group's singer, has made no secret of his Christian commitment - did this play any part in Alan's involvement?
"Mike and I got on well musically irrespective of being Christians - that was a bonus point really, that we're both working for the Lord as it says, wherever it says, Colossians or something - 'do everything as if working for the Lord.' I started to go and watch them play live, and there was a very exciting buzz about The Alarm in the early 80s - they were playing around in clubs. I think they had one record out, 'The Stand,' and I went to see them in a couple of London clubs and the audience were singing all the songs. That's very interesting, when you have a band who don't have an album out, but they have a really good street following. That helped us along with the first records because all those great kids went out and bought the records."
Alan's collaboration with The Alarm led to one of his more turbulent assignments, to produce American rock star Meatloaf.
"Meatloaf heard The Alarm and he phoned me at home, I don't know how he got my number, and said 'This is Meatloaf - would you consider coming and producing my record?'"
Alan did produce and arrange the "Bad Attitude" LP but word on the grapevine was that all did not go completely smoothly - something to do with the artist not being willing to give up artistic control to his producer?
"It was a stormy time in my career. Meatloaf and I didn't quite see eye to eye at times - musically it was tough towards the end. It happens on projects - it had gone on four months and I didn't end up mixing the record - A feller called Mac mixed it and did a very good job; we got a hit from it called "Modern Girls'."