Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Parallel Universe – Nigel Reeve Interview

Nigel Reeve of EMI has been involved with their custodianship of the Liberty / United Artists Hawkwind catalogue for over fifteen years and has been a driving force behind EMI's various Hawkwind releases including their remasters project, the 1999 Party and the recent Hawkwind at the BBC double-disc. As part of a short sequence of chats with the people behind current Hawkwind releases I caught up with Nigel just as EMI prepare to release Parallel Universe, a three-disc compilation of existing and previously unheard recordings from the 1970 -1974 Hawkwind era which is going to thrill Hawkfans with its selection of alternate mixes, alternative versions, a cut of the rare 'Take What You Can', and a previously unknown track entitled Hog Farm.

I started on this set about five years ago, thinking about what I might be able to do because I'd gone so far with Hawkwind that it seemed there was very little else I could do. Then, a couple of years ago, I came back to it, had a look again at the tapes and thought, "Hang on a minute, there's some stuff here that doesn't seem to add up." But it took another year before I went into the studio and played them, checked to see what we were dealing with here, and that's where some of these things came from. Some of them were absolute revelations to me… I did a little bit of research on-line to see what the fans knew, and of course I know the catalogue pretty damn well myself, but there were things there that nobody knew about and I couldn't understand how this stuff had never made it out. It just seems to be that whatever happened, these tapes stayed in our vaults over the years and kind of got forgotten about until I started delving a little bit deeper and, bingo, these tracks came to light. That gave me the impetuous to finish the set and cover that period in one hit.

What was the thinking regarding releasing these recordings alongside established catalogue tracks?

I wanted to put it into context because the original set was going to be some kind of 'complete period', all of the stuff from 1970 – 1974. But there was nothing particularly new for the fans until I got these recordings, some alternate versions and various other bits and pieces, and I thought the best way to do it was to give the fans those tracks but also, because Hawkwind pick up new fans all the time, have one set that gives them a snapshot of that period both released and unreleased with the key tracks from that era. I thought that was the way to go, it just struck me as the way to capture both the current fans and the possible new fans that are going to come to the band.

In terms of assigning these tracks to recording dates and line-ups, how robust is the archival data that might exist alongside these unearthed recordings?

There is a chronology that I've written for the set and there is also the label copy so any dates that I've been able to get from the multi-tracks are noted and there is a list of line-ups for that period as well, so in fact all of the pieces of the jigsaw are there and most of the dates are absolute fact but there's a couple where, say, they are definitely recorded during [the sessions for] Doremi... and so during the early part of a particular month but for which I can't give a specific date.
What sort of condition were the tapes in? We hear stories of tapes being 'baked' to retrieve their contents...
They were great, no problem at all. The stock was always good stock; it was only a little later that tapes used would have caused problems. When we pulled the tapes up, none of them needed baking, they were all fine.

When you hear these alternative versions, like 'You Know You're Only Dreaming' which gives a completely different take on what the band were doing in those days, or 'Wind of Change' which is so different from the released version... it's really exciting stuff isn't it?

Very much so. You can hear how the band was developing. 'You Know You're Only Dreaming' is very much along the lines of 'Mirror of Illusion' or 'Hurry On Sundown'; there were bits and pieces that were coming in from the live show, but the live show of the time was pretty much just the rest of the first album, got up and jammed. So you can hear there are ideas coming along there, but perhaps the band weren't quite ready to go down that route and it took until a little bit later, until In Search of Space, when they finally did. It's interesting that 'Kiss of the Velvet Whip' appears around the time of In Search of Space, a more formed version than the earlier one and you can hear that it's something they wanted to do but it took them that time to get it right. 'Wind of Change' is listed on the multi-track as being 'Rock Around the Clock' so I'm playing the tapes wondering, "What's this? Is it really 'Rock Around the Clock?' No, it's this alternate version of 'Wind of Change'. It's clearly early in the sessions, elements of that early version were taken [for the final cut], but it stands on its own, it's very powerful and that justifies putting it out.
That's pre-Simon House joining I guess?

I believe it was.
People speculate about tapes that may or may not exist, things like the Edmonton Sundown gig that was in part used for Hall of the Mountain Grill. What can you say about other items that might reside in the archives?

We do have other things but unfortunately things like the Hall of the Mountain Grill tracks are noted as being 'live' but that's just the basic track with overdubs done later. On the Space Ritual tour, Sunderland was recorded before they made it to Brixton but there's a fault on the recording and whatever you do in the mixing you're just not going to be able to retrieve it. So that's the problem, there are live multi-tracks and I've been through them all but it's very difficult to piece them all together and there's just not good enough recordings and / or performances, certainly nothing better than what is already available. I posted on your blog the other day because someone asked why don't EMI do something with Warrior on the Edge of Time and suggested the tapes were missing so I'd just clarify the point that it's not ours anymore, much as I'd love it to be, and that the tapes aren't missing because we have them. It was on a separate contract at the time, under licence to us and then reverted to the band.
In those terms, when you did the Hawkwind at the BBC set last year, that could have been more expansive but only if you went for lower-grade recordings?

That's right. I did research for stuff but it was pretty shocking and no matter what work you put in you can only go so far with these things. We spent a lot of time with the engineer cleaning up the live tracks, making them the best we could, but we couldn't get anything out of the session stuff that would have justified giving it back to the fans again, they've already got it... okay it might not be great but I didn't feel we could improve upon it.
What was the thinking behind releasing the dual versions of the In Concert show, the mono and the stereo?

It came out by accident really; the Windsong package was the mono version and needed a clean-up and so I asked the BBC for another copy of the tape and actually what they sent me was the stereo, which they hadn't logged, so I had the two versions and by their very nature of being mono and stereo there was quite a lot of difference. While the mono from Windsong was going to sound better than it had before, the stereo had only circulated before as a bootleg and so I could do a better job with it and give the fans the choice, the best of both worlds.
EMI have done a fantastic job on their portion of the catalogue; where the rest of the catalogue, before the Cherry Red 'buy-out', has had a bit of a chequered history, EMI have been exemplary in the way they've maintained the availability of a band that, with no disrespect intended, are now a bit of a 'niche'. Where do they sit in terms of importance to EMI?

Really, I drive that interest at EMI. I first started working on the catalogue in 1996 with Tim Chacksfield when we did the digipac remasters. Every now and then I've looked at it to see how things are going and seen good opportunities to do something. The interest, apart from the personal interest, is that the band have a steady audience that buy, I mean we're not talking huge amounts, but what we are talking about is a solid figure that tells us that if we put out a Hawkwind package we're going to be fine.

I've just got to say "thank you" for doing such a great job on this anthology, it's a joy to listen to and it really illuminates this part of the band's career. It's a great job that's been done.

From my point of view it was a joy to have done it and finished it, particularly from having a completely different idea of this set five years ago. It's been this thing on the back burner, the BBC set came and went in the mean time and then these tapes gave me the impetus to finish it and I'm really pleased. I'm not sure there's anything more I can do now, unless something really exciting turns up, but it's a really nice way to sign-off.


Jimski said...

Interesting info, and great background to what looks like an intriguing addition to the ever-expanding catalogue.

He comes across as a real enthusiast for the music and the sound, which is refreshing.

Top notch!

Scott aka. Dr. Space said...

Fantastic interview. I would really like to know if he has ever listened to the full tapes from Doremi, as these tracks have been mentioned several long versions were recorded during this time. Also, the first record the band apparently made several free form jams of the different tracks and only one was used. Cool....

Anonymous said...

Nice one, Ian.

Cheers. Rob.