A long time ago and in land very far
(Germany) We did the location sound for
a TV show. The local guy that did the electrics for the hall wanted to tap into our system for some reason (I think
he wanted a speaker in the green room or something like that).
Anyway, he plugged into one of the mic inputs
and then ran a cable out to the green room where he started fiddling with the wires.
There was an almighty shout and
he suddenly came running back. White in the face, he told me that he had been stripping the wires with his teeth and had received
a massive electrical shock.
When I discovered that he had plugged into a mic input and had been sticking 48 volts
phantom power into his mouth, I started laughing. This made him really angry and he shot off to find the man in charge of
the hall (Hallenmeister).
Five minutes later he returned with the typical Hallenmeister (bifocals and a tool-belt)
ready to lay down the law.
"His sound system is dangerously defective and I received an electrical shock that threw
me across the room. He must be stopped before someone gets killed!" he said, pointing at me like a panto male lead.
tried explaining about phantom power and microphones, but the Hallenmeister was having none of it.
"I'm a qualified
electrician with over thirty years experience, so I know that there is no such thing. In my role as Hallenmeister, I deem
your equipment unsafe and I must ask you to dismantle your equipment and pack it away."
He then stomped off to the
OB truck to tell them that all on stage would be killed if they didn't stop immediately. The director came followed by the
Hallenmeister and the local guy. I explained about the phantom power and that the local guy had stuck a mic lead
into his mouth. The director told the Hallenmeister that there was indeed such a thing as phantom power and that he
could not see anything wrong with our system.
"Rubbish!" said the Hallenmeister and went into his 'I've been an electrician
for over thirty years' routine and added "and I've got a tape recorder at home, a Grundig. The best money can buy. It
came complete with a microphone so that you can talk into it and everything and it does not need a power supply. It
works with a crystal and it's got a lovely sharp sound. You see, I know about these things!"
By this time a little
group of roadies, cleaners and other odds and bods had gathered. Voices were being raised and people were beginning to take
sides. A cleaning woman declared that she wouldn't like to have to clean our equipment if it was unsafe and a roadie declared
that his mate had told him that Sennheisers were the best microphones you could buy. Rubbish, said another, AKGs were the
best. He knew because he had read that in a magazine.
The Hallenmeister weighed in to defend the honour of his Grundig
"It's got a lovely sharp sound, has that microphone. You know, I recorded a clock on the other
side of the living room and it sounded just like the real thing when I played it back. Now that's what I call quality!"
director, a young man with a career that wouldn't be going places if he didn't get his shoot done and soon, clapped his hands
and called for order.
"Come on people! We've got a concert to put on so let's go!"
"But that's not good enough!"
said the Hallenmeister. "You can't go putting your television show on here, not with defective equipment you can't. That's
more than my job's worth!"
The director, a dynamic man in made-to-measure leisure wear and an Omega watch, was not
going to let a Hallenmeister stop the show.
"Listen!" he shouted at point blank range. "There is nothing wrong with
this equipment. Now piss off!"
The Hallenmeister and the local guy left the hall with red faces.
were on shoulders. Dollycams were on dollies and jibcams were on jibs. The audience was let in and after sitting down, people
pointed knowingly at the cameras and lights and told each other in hushed whispers what they were pointing at. The star of
the show, a peculiar woman with brown hair and legs like champagne bottles, was back stage practising the words "Good evening
Ladies and Gentlemen and welcome to the show!" and spraying something into her throat.
The house lights dimmed and
a murmur of excitement ran through the audience. This was a country audience not used to the glitter of the City. This was
it! A proper television variety show right there in their neighbourhood and in front of their very eyes. They settled
down for an evening's entertainment.
Then the police arrived.
The Hallenmeister marched in, followed by the
director, followed by the local guy, followed by two German policemen in green uniform. Flight control (mixing/recording position)
was in the middle of the audience, so they got a free floor show as we started the argument about phantom power all over again.
director, who was nervously looking at his Omega watch, was beginning to see his career in private television (this year a
variety show, next year who knows - maybe a soap or even a top game show) slip between his fingers.
He was thinking
the most dreadful thought in private television. One word kept recurring in his brain. A word so dreadful that it was officially
banned in private television. A word that could make programme directors cry and location managers loose their jobs.
The word: overtime.
Well, I'd like to tell you that the evening ended in disaster and hilarity, but German policemen
are far too matter-of-fact a breed to leave such a simple problem unsolved. Headquarters were called to phone up some recording
studios and ask if there was such a thing as phantom power and would sticking a mic cable into your mouth give you a shock?
Within five minutes the replay came back: Yes on both accounts.
So remember - don't lick your mic cables!
Ulf wanted to be a rock-and-roll star, but he had no roof
to his mouth.
We think Ulfs real name was Ralf, but we were not too sure
as he had no roof to his mouth. If you asked him his name, he just said Ulf!
Well, Ulf came into the studio one day
and said he wanted to become a rock star and asked how he should go about it. I suggest he should form a band and make a recording.
To cut a long story short, Ulf and a motley collection of German and American musicians recorded two songs for a single.
These two songs were, well, they were so bad that when I sent the recordings off to the mastering lab to have white labels
made, the technician phoned me up to ask if I had not sent the wrong tape by mistake.
Then Ulf asked me what I thought
of his recordings. I told him that it was quite the loveliest thing I had ever heard.
Ulf wanted to send a copy to
every radio station and disco in Germany and so we worked out what that would cost him with promotional material and postage,
etc. It came to 9600 Marks - about three thousand Pounds.
Ulf did not have that kind of money, so he went to the bank.
He also took his band with him and a ghetto-blaster.
They went into the manager's office, sat the ghetto-blaster
down, cranked it up to full volume and Ulf and the band mimed to their recording.
The bank manager, an elderly gentleman,
sat staring wide-eyed until the noise had died down. He then asked them why they had done that. Ulf explained that he needed
9600 Marks to become a rock star.
Despite the shock the poor man had suffered, he was still able to say No in a clear
and firm voice.
Ulf went to another bank and tried the same tactic. This time the manager, a younger man, was warned
in advance what was going to happen and he sat through the performance, until, about half-way through, he began to choke on
something and had to leave the room.
He returned, red in the face with tears in his eyes, and told them that, as good
as it was, he would still have to see some collateral. They offered him the publishing rights and he got another choking fit.
Ulf was beside himself. Convinced that international stardom had been denied him for want of such a paltry sum, he
realised that now was the time for radical action.
He decided to rob the bank.
He went to the first bank,
the bank where he had an account and they knew him, with his fathers 9mm service pistol and asked for 9600 Marks. They probably
had many times that amount behind the counter, but Ulf was not a greedy man. He asked for just that sum that stood between
himself and international fame and fortune and not a penny more.
The cashier assumed that it was just a silly prank
and told him to "Put that toy away!" But Ulf was not to be put off so lightly and made his point by firing a couple of rounds
through the ceiling. They gave him the money.
He then made his get-away in his car which he had parked outside the
bank. His own car, with his name and the name of his band on the back window. There was also his telephone number next to
his name in case anyone wanted to book him.
Somebody must have snitched on him instead, because when he drove home,
there were about eight police cars and dozens of policemen armed with submachine guns surrounding his house.
and fled. He made it all the way to Spain, where the law requires that every tourist is registered with the authorities. Normally
this is done automatically by the hotel, but as he was just staying in small boarding house, he went down to the local police
station to do it himself.
After spending several months in a Spanish prison, he was extradited to Germany, where he
received nine years for armed robbery with menaces and applied violence.
After six years he was told that he was being
given three years off for good behaviour and that he was a free man.
That's when he turned up at our front door and told
us that he wanted to make another record.
Tony and Mrs Barker
Two great minds that met on a US airfield in
Tony wanted to be a sound technician. Mrs Barker
wanted to chase rabbits. I had better explain at this point that Mrs Barker was a rather large and very lovely Great
Dane with a soulful expression and big, floppy ears.
Mrs Barker once managed to close down Bitburg Air Base.
Well, I say Mrs Barker, but Tony had the main hand in it.
Originally Tony wanted to learn about sound technology,
but in the end we had to physically throw him out. The very first time that I took him with me to a concert where we were
doing a mobile recording, he walked into a low-slung spotlight that was on a centrally pivoted cross-beam holding about twelve
Petulantly, he pushed the spotlight away from himself.
"Bloody light!“ he whined. The whole
beam swung round majestically in a full circle and the same spotlight caught Tony nicely in the back of the head, knocking
him clean off the stage into the orchestra pit. The same evening one of the stage fuses blew, so I told Tony to hold
it down with his finger whilst I try the main switch again. There was an almighty flash and Tony flew across the room, crashing
into a pile of chairs.
"Me arm!“ he said, "I can’t feel me arm!“ I told him not to worry: we’ll
"Use the other arm.“ I suggested. He did and flew across the room a second time.
A week later
I told a wiser and more careful Tony accompanied me to a show at Bitburg Air Base where we were recording a country and western
band for the US military. During the evening I asked Tony to get me a beer out of the truck. I realise now that should have
divided the assignment up into more easily understood parts, starting with ‘Go to truck, stand still and await further
After about half an hour I was beginning to wonder what had become of Tony, and more important,
my beer. I soon found out. The officer of the guard came to me and asked if I employed an Englishman "called Tony something
or other?“ I was kicking a bit inside at the word ‘employ’ as that would imply remuneration for work done
(Collins Economic Dictionary).
But for the sake of simplicity, I just said
"Well,“ said the officer, "we’ve got him in our jail. We found him running behind something
the size of a small pony, shouting ‘Mrs Barker! Mrs Barker! all over the flight line. We caught your Englishman, but
the pony got away. Tell me,“ he said eyeing me carefully, "is this guy playing with a full deck?“
end of the evening, I spent over an hour with eight Security Police trucks driving all over the flight line calling for Mrs
Now, Mrs Barker used to answer to the Doug McKenzie call, you may know it from the TV show Second City
Television, the one that went ‘Ruckukukukukukukooohuk!’ So eight SPs drove all over the flight line leaning
out of their cabs, going ‘Ruckukukukukukukooohuk!’ into the night air.
The SP I was with leaned over to
me and summed it all up, "Are we really doing this?“ he said.
In the end we got both the dog and Tony back.
We kept the dog.
The Most Beautiful Sound in all the World - Maria!
And here is a story where the engineers made fools of themselves (and the very first time I did a location
recording for money) -
There were two of us: D (sorry, no names) and myself. D was the boss because he
had the VW bus to carry our kit. The kit was a couple of Sennheiser 441s, some home-made microphone pre-amps and a Studer
reel-to-reel (A60 I think). We got the gig through a local music shop to record a pianist in his piano salon somewhere
on a Sunday.
D was knocking off some girl called Maria at the time. She
was rather small and fat - well, to be honest, she was very small and very fat and for some reason he wanted to take Maria (I annoyed him by calling her ‘Stumpy’) with us to the gig
to impress her. She had very short hair and she was so, well, how shall I put this - ‘backstage’ -
that talking to her was like drawing teeth. But D insisted on dragging this girl around with us because he claimed she gave
the best BJs known to man. (He was recovering from being jilted by a highly intellectual zoologist with large breasts called
The pianist-come-salon-owner was an imperious man with a beaky nose who made it quite clear that he did not
suffer fools gladly. He gave us the impression that having us as his recording team meant he had definitely drawn
the short straw. One look from the beaky-nosed pianist was enough to persuade D that ‘Stumpy’ had
to stay in the VW bus.
D could not read music, so I got the job of following the score. The drill was that if the
pianist was not satisfied with what he had played, he would stop and play it again. I would then have to write down on the
score exactly where on the tape this had happened so that we stood a fighting chance of finding the spot and cutting out the
unwanted bit. Remember this was many years ago and editing involved razor blades and bits of sticky tape. There
was no ‘undo’ button on a razor blade, so making a mistake was just not an option.
There was just the three
of us (not counting Stumpy in the VW bus), the beaky-nosed pianist, myself and D. The little equipment we had
was placed on a table about five yards from the pianist. The imperious pianist with the nose limbered up with some exercises
and scales on a magnificent Steinway that had been set up in the middle of the room for the occasion. A test drive
was called for and we listened on headphones to ensure that all was well and that the recording was clean, undistorted and
as far as possible free from background noise. The idea was that we would edit that tape and send it and not a
copy to the mastering and pressing plant and therefore get as clean a recording as possible.
The imperious pianist
with the nose listened to what we had recorded on the test drive and seemed satisfied. But he still looked at
us with a kind of ‘sniffy’ air: jeans, T-shirts and long hair, we were just a bit too rock and roll for his liking.
can, er, read music?" he asked me, looking me up and down.
"Oh yes!" I assured him. "And I do know the piece."
he said in a very marked sort of way.
So off we went. The pianist
played and I followed the score. The first less-than-perfect passage came and he stopped, raised his eyebrows,
closed his eyes and did it again. No problems there. I marked the score ‘05:32’ (or whatever time
it was) and we pushed on.
D now had nothing to do, so he silently sneaked off to the VW bus and the welcoming arms
of voluptuous Maria. But it was cold outside and Maria had been complaining, so he sneaked her silently into the salon. We were more
or less behind the pianist, so as long as we were completely quiet, he could see what we were up to. D took Maria into a mop-and-bucket room that was right behind us and very silently closed the door. Where
he stood the voluptuous Maria on an upturned
bucket against the door to have sex. This, he had reasoned, would protect them from someone coming in unexpectedly
and literally catching him with his pants down.
Then it happened. All this creeping about had distracted me and I managed
to loose my place. The pianist stopped and played a bit again. I wrote the time down, but had no idea where
it was supposed to be. In desperation I thumbed through the sheets looking for the passage, trying to find out
where we were.
The music was spread out flat across the piano, so, very, very quietly, I tried standing on the table
to see if I could which sheet he was reading from. It was no good, it was too far away and I could not see the music.
Then I had a bright idea, Petra’s binoculars were still in the bus. I sneaked out to get them and returned to silently
remount the table.
I was standing on the table, looking at the top of the piano through a pair of binoculars, when
Maria’s backside, in a moment of extreme sexual ecstasy,
pushed the door handle down and with a scream, she fell off her bucket and into the room.
The pianist looked up sharply
to see me standing on the table, looking at him through a pair of binoculars. A naked girl was lying on the floor
behind me with her legs in the air and in the doorway of the-mop-and-bucket room, stood D with his trousers round his ankles.
would love to tell you that everything ended in hilarity and disaster, but the pianist saw the funny side. He
looked at us for a while, smiling. Once I had got down off the piano, Maria had put her clothes back on and D had pulled up his trousers, he just said, "Some things, Gentlemen,
are just very hard to explain."
He made us start from the beginning again, Maria went off somewhere and as it turned out, hitched hiked home (which is how she met D in the first place)
and we had to keep going until about ten at night.
Yes, we did get paid on delivery of the finished tape.
sequel was that two weeks later we were sitting in the workshop that was attached to the studio and D went to lavatory.
I heard a certain about of shouting and the words "Oh dear God!"
He returned to the workshop, red in the face and uttered
the classic line (later to be immortalised by Frank Zappa):
"Why does it hurt when I pee?"