Having enjoyed a glittering career as a composer and producer – ofthen in collaboration with Alan Winstanley – Clive Langer has helped bring music from the likes of Elvis Costello, David Bowie, Robert Wyatt, Madness, Morrissey, Dexys and more to the world. Now here’s back where he started on the other side of the mic releasing a new EP with his band The Clang Group on Monday (16 February) with a gig next Thursday (19) at The Islington in London. In exclusive guest column for Q he explains why as recounts his adventures at either end of a mixing desk.
Well, even though I’d been in bands since primary school it was only when I formed Deaf School at Liverpool Art College that I felt like something could happen and it did! But my first and influential appearance on a record was with the Portsmouth Sinfonia. Brian Eno was there leading his hard driven string section (Whiplash!) and I attempted to play the flute. The concept behind the project was that if someone (the musician) attempted to play his or her instrument whatever his or her ability, then he or she was in! The album was recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall, and included such classics as The 1812 Overture and The William Tell Overture.
Deaf School’s first album was called 2nd Honeymoon and included the almost-hit What A Way To End It All. It was produced by Muff Winwood (Steve’s brother!) and Rob Dickins. We’d dangle our feet sitting on the window sills hundreds of feet above Oxford Circus during the hot summer of 1976 at Air Studios; listening to the record being made. Little did we know that The Pistols and The Clash were waiting around the corner to steal our thunder as the new Next Big Thing. Well, we made two more albums: one with Mutt Lange, which gave me the opportunity to hone some potential production skills and ideas. This would all become apparent when I offered my service to help a gang of Deaf School fans to make a demo. The band became Madness, the demo became a record, the record was The Prince, and we had a hit on Jerry Dammers’ 2-Tone label, and I became a producer!
I then went on to produce a Teardrop Explodes single Treason; it wasn’t a hit until we had made Reward. This was a chart success and Treason was re-released and that also went up the poptastic ladder. What I remember most about Reward was that Julian Cope thought it would be a good idea to drop some acid… bad idea! This led to a record that had taken eight hours to make into a record that took twelve hours to make, as we deliberated over the final chord of the song!
I then went on to work with Dexy’s Midnight Runners follow-up to the great Young Soul Rebels album, called Too Rye Aye, we had a monster hit, Come on Eileen! Well Lloyd Cole followed with Brand New Friend and Lost Weekend and in my spare time I co-wrote a song with Elvis Costello for Robert Wyatt. “The best lyrics I’ve ever written” he said and I said “well it’s the best tune I’ve ever written”. Shipbuilding!
Well, onwards we went and worked on the film Absolute Beginners with Sade, Paul Weller, Ray Davies and David Bowie who wrote the great title track Absolute Beginners… that was it for me, I mean, it took me a while to get excited about pop music for a while after that.
My production partnership with Alan Winstanley had sort of peaked, but we did carry on and made many more records, some good, some not so. In some ways you become imprisoned by your success and can’t kick the habit, the habit of a hit!
I’ve kind of gone back to where I started now, writing, playing the guitar and am much more excited by the immediate music that’s made in a live situation. I’ve been touring with Deaf School for the last five years and had the urge to restart a solo career based on new songs, to coincide with my 60th birthday!
The combo is called The Clang Group and includes a couple of my Deaf mates and Andy Mackay from Roxy Music. The great thing about the EP is it wasn’t really produced, it was just played, first takes all round under the great ears of my friend Charlie Andrew (Alt J etc). There’s Rhoda, a song in my mind in the vein of Maria from West Side Story, but probably more like a cross between David Essex and Captain Beefheart, plus a couple of other ditties and a version of Shipbuilding. To me I thought if Bert Bacharach can sing Walk On By then why shouldn’t I have a go at Shipbuilding and see what happens? Well it’s happened!
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