Guest Column - Time Has Told Me: Revisiting classic albums with Nick Drake producer Joe Boyd

Guest Column - Time Has Told Me: Revisiting classic albums with Nick Drake producer Joe Boyd

Nick_Drake-Five_Leaves_Left-FrontalThis weekend's (1-3 August) Camp Bestival festival will see a guest appearance from Klipsch Audio presents Classic Album Sundays, the weekly event that celebrates the impact of some history most significant records. Joining host and founder Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy, will be producer Joe Boyd to listen to and discuss two album he worked on that celebrate their 45th anniversaries this year, Fairport Convention's Liege & Lief and Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left. In a guest column for Q, Boyd looks back at the albums and ahead to taking centre stage himself.

I’m looking forward taking part in two Classic Album Sunday sessions at Camp Bestival this weekend – particularly as one of them is on a Saturday! Sitting in a room full of people listening to both sides of a vinyl LP on good equipment is my idea of a fine time. Excluding the part about good equipment, it reminds me of my youth. We used to do just that as a form of collective enjoyment. Someone would ring up and say "I bought a new X album, today" and we’d come round. Tea would be brewed, spliffs rolled (the backs of many British LPs were dotted with small black spots where hot crumbled hashish had dropped) and everyone would get comfortable.

I can visualise myself listening to certain LPs in the 60s: Moby Grape (mono mix of course), Younger Than Yesterday, Buffalo Springfield's Again, Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven, the first Dr John album... the list is endless. We didn’t listen to much ‘world music’ in the Sixties, except for South Asian music: Ali Akbar Khan or the Ali Brothers. We didn’t need world music; the Anglo-American scene kept producing records of such startling originality that our brains couldn’t have taken in much more.

Music sounds different when you’re in company. As a producer, I would sweat and strain over a mix until I thought it was perfect. Then I’d bring someone in to have a listen – the artist, for example! – and flaws would instantly appear. The others didn’t have to say anything; just imagining how it sounded through someone else’s ears altered my perception.

I like to have a picture in my mind’s eye of the music being played. That might be one reason I prefer recordings done (almost) ‘live’ in the studio – you can imagine yourself being there as the musicians perform. If the recording is too perfect, every note exactly where it’s supposed to be, it becomes impossible to visualize it on the mind’s eye stage.

This week I finally watched Sound City, Dave Grohl’s documentary about the LA studio where so many historic recordings were made. I loved the story about Stevie Nicks cleaning house for one of the studio owners: “Not for long!”, she told herself. I only went there once; I can’t even remember which album, but I needed somewhere to do an overdub and all my usual rooms were full. Footage of the scruffy lobby and the control room evoked that fleeting memory. The film is great – highly recommended. Grohl makes the case for live recording far more eloquently than I can and then proceeds to prove it by filming a series of exciting sessions on Sound City’s old Neve board. I was very pleased to see so many young musicians saying what us old codgers have been banging on about for years.

That’s another thing about live (ish) recordings – you always hear things you never heard before, both because of the other listeners and because there’s always something more to be discovered in that kind of recording, even a record I know like the back of my hand because I produced it myself! My friends in the radio business have an expression for gathering together to hear each other’s radio productions: “close listening”. To me, that means both intimate and focused; looking forward to next weekend. Joe Boyd

For more information head to Classicalbumsundays.com