Friday, 29 July 2011

Leave No Star Unturned – Steve Pittis Interview

Here's the second in a sequence of chats with labels associated with current Hawkwind related releases. Easy Action Records will soon be releasing a live CD and a vinyl pressing of Hawkwind at the Cambridge Corn Exchange from January 1972; it's a show that's been rumoured to exist, talked about and even wrongly assigned as being featured on other live albums over the years. Soon we'll be hearing this highly dynamic and significant recording for ourselves, but in advance of the release here's a chat with Steve Pittis who, along with Carlton Sandercock, has been behind the acquisition of the source tape – the original recordings of which also includes sets by The Pink Fairies and The Syd Barrett Last Minute Put-Together Boogie Band. I started by asking Steve about his own interest in Hawkwind:

Hawkwind, and all things like that, have been a constant for me from the early '70s onwards. It goes back to school days and In Search Of Space, or X In Search Of Space as it was. I'm not going to go all 'Pistols at the 100Club' and say 'I saw them at the Sundown', because I didn't; the first time I saw them was on the Warrior On The Edge Of Time tour at the Southend Kursaal because, let's face it, I was too young for my dad to let me go to Edmonton! But it remains, without a doubt, the best gig I've ever been to, that incredible 'being in outer space' feeling. It just takes me back to school days and borrowing each others' Glastonbury Fayre and Greasy Truckers records. Just before Doremi... came out we were all fanatics, to the point of going up to London, to Shaftesbury Avenue and knocking on record company doors with our squeaky voices, asking 'Have you got any memorabilia... photos... stickers?' The kindest to us in those days was this wonderful woman at United Artists who was trying to shove the Flamin Groovies down our neck but we wanted Hawkwind and walked out with some fantastic memorabilia, such as photos, and I had an original 'one sheet' for 'Silver Machine' which I've still got. So when I was old enough to tell my old man that I was going to this gig, I went! But, alas, I missed the Space Ritual and stuff like that.

Now, this Cambridge tape has been rumoured and talked about for a long time, hasn't it? Different things have come out that have purported to be this show, and aren't, and now you've sourced this tape we have the confidence and the provenance to say really is this show, so tell us the process that enabled you to acquire this reel?

It was on auction at Bonhams. There was a piece in Record Collector to say that it was expected to sell for around three and a half grand and Carlton and I spoke about it. The auction was on June 24th last year, but unfortunately I was unable to go to London and Carlton was away. We were going, "We really want this, it's got the Syd thing, it's got the Fairies, Hawkwind, we really want this." Now, difficult to clear all of this stuff [for release], so we just concluded we had to let it go and if it sold, then it sold. But it didn't sell so I suggested to Carlton that he make the guy who was selling it an offer on the basis that if it wasn't used as a stick to beat anyone else with we'd close the deal, and he went along with it. I met him in a pub in the West End and he handed over not only a reel to reel but studio transcriptions of them on CD-R and I went home wondering how we were going to clear them, which is Carlton's department! So he's been in touch with Russell and Sandy of the Pink Fairies and we thought that would be the first to come out but he also knows Nigel Reeve at EMI, spoke to them and yes the Hawkwind element was their period so got it cleared without any problems.

It's important to have that legitimacy...

I completely agree with you, it has to be made clear.
What have you had to do with the tape to master it for release?

Well, the tape was originally not very high volume, very warts and all; Patrick Bird [PSB Music, London] did the mastering and did a splendid job but he phoned me and said, "There are various sounds on there like tapes rewinding and things, I'll get rid of those," but I said, "No! Don't get rid of those, that's all part of it." There's some left and right phasing, that disappears from one channel to the next and back again, which there's not a lot that can be done about. But I whacked it into mono, which didn't eliminate those sounds. We could have dealt with that using cut and paste but I didn't want that at all. The EQ is so such better than the tape I originally bought, Patrick's brought the volumes to the right levels and it sounds like... well, it sounds like it has been mastered. It's so much better. But, I really didn't want to destroy the integrity of it by messing around with cutting and pasting. I'd rather have something disappearing from one channel to the next and leave it where it is, and I've added something at the last minute to the booklet to explain that. What I'm saying is that Patrick has done a wonderful job on this tape, and we could have cheated but as a Hawkwind fan I wouldn't want that and I'm absolutely certain that others wouldn't also.

When you get a historic document like this, you want to know that you're hearing 'front of house' on the night...

Absolutely. It's not a four-out-of-ten recording from a cassette recorder in somebody's pocket. It's not Text of Festival or Yuri Gagarin, it's a very good recording and, yeah, it needs to be the document that it is. I was quite surprised because the guy who sold it said, "I don't think it's the whole show," so I was delighted when it just went on and on and the encore came in and it was everything, the whole show, a really pleasant surprise.

It sits quite well with the pending EMI Parallel Universe collection; they have a very early 'You Know You're Only Dreaming', almost a busker-number, and what we have here in early 1972 is another development of it again, different than In Search Of Space.

I thought it was the precursor when I heard it, but of course this is 1972, but there are no vocals and yet obviously it is that track but I'd never heard it in that way before. On 'You Shouldn't Do That', the whispered 'shouldn't do...' parts sound almost off the beat, on a different part of the rhythm, almost like the monitors weren't working properly and they were doing the wrong bit at the wrong time but then the 'do that...' chorus is right, so it's really weird and gives it a different tinge again. And the obvious 'Silver Machine' being different to the Roundhouse version, with the Calvert vocals and it just blew my mind, as a fan, thinking "I don't care about the cost... I can hear this!" It's a real find!

So much so that there's going to be vinyl release alongside the CD...

I can die a happy man with a Hawkwind vinyl release! I'm in the process of getting the artwork done for that now, it'll be the same front cover but there will be coloured inner sleeves, coloured vinyl, really decent heavy gloss laminated board... make it something beautiful. Realistically that will be a good month after the CD I'd say but I really intend for it to look fantastic.

Can we touch on the Pink Fairies and Syd Barrett tapes?

The Syd Barrett... Syd's on it, Twink's on it... lots of people. I think clearing that with all those guys and Syd's estate it's, let's put it that it's going to be a long job and there's no short cut to a record label for that one so it does have to be the people and it only needs one person to say "I don't want it coming out," and that's it. The Pink Fairies, I'm working on that one for a project with various tapes that I've got. There's a Pete Drummond show that's never been released, so we could do a 'Cambridge plus expanded rarities' box set and we'd hope Rich Deakin, who wrote the Fairies book, would be involved with that...

No better person to be involved!

Exactly... so time will tell with the Syd tape, the Fairies will appear I'd imagine, as long as we can get their agreement.

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