Friday 4 March 2011

Everything must go... somewhere

I've just started to dismantle parts of the studio in attempt to make it look more like a family living room and less like a madcap science laboratory crossed with counter espionage and propaganda headquarters from a low grade B movie. I don't know how I've managed to collect and hang on to so much junk over the years, but I've decided it's someone else's turn to own some of it. I'm going to have a sale, and to that end I've been photographing every random piece of electrical equipment ready to advertise it all on my website, put it on ebay, hold an open house yard sale type of event...

Would somebody like to make an offer for a Lamb Laboratories 24 volt power supply? I've had it since 1988 when somebody gave me a four channel Revox mixing desk which I had repaired at great expense only to find that it was even more crappy sounding than the Wem Audiomaster five channel desk which I eventually used to mix Le Beat Group Electrique and The Donovan Of Trash. Those records were in mono because the Audiomaster only had one output and anyway it's a bit difficult to mix four tracks into useful stereo. It all worked out quite well on Le Beat Group - I remember it well, track one for the bass, track two was the guitar and drumkit, track three for the vocals (which I did live along with the guitar, bass and drums), leaving track four for all the overdubs.
The overdub sessions were a great laugh - I can vividly recollect playing the organ with one hand, shaking a rhythmically sketchy maraca with the other and almost headbutting the front of Andre's acoustic guitar held up to the vocal mike as we lunged for a backing vocal... It was desperate but the energy level was good. We lived on cups of tea, chocolate digestives bscuits and nervous energy - dropping in and out, trying for a modicum of perfection without erasing any of the good bits. The horrified shout of "turn it off!!!" just before True Happiness is the real thing - I'd left Andre recording bits of dialogue from a Will Hay film on the TV while I was in the kitchen making yet another pot of tea. I suddenly realised that our attempts to create an interweaved sound collage to introduce the song was about to actually obliterate the song itself.

I didn't know how to edit tape in those days so the final three songs, Fuck By Fuck, Parallel Beds and True Happiness had to be mixed in one go. I think it was eleven minutes in total and I had to work out all the level changes and echo effects and then mix it down to 1/4" two track tape in glorious mono in one go. I got it just about right the first time and decided to live with it because I didn't think my delicate nerves could stand another run through. After all, I'd only been out of the mental hospital for six months.
For the past couple of years we've had a Farfisa home organ in our hallway. Some of the noises that make up the Bobblehead Doll loop came from it, although they were distorted way beyond what they originated as, slowed down, reversed and edited together with I can't even remember what now. Amy just put the organ up for sale on a site for English ex-pats. We've had quite a success selling stuff there - we got rid of the ambulance and a hideous woodburner which was little more than a metal box from Spain with a door on the front. Come to think of it the ambulance was little more than a metal box from Italy masquerading as a Peugeot, not that that's got much to do with anything.

I'm secretly hoping that no one wants the Farfisa home organ - I had to confess to Amy that when I'm home alone I sometimes freak out on it for ten minutes. The thing holds such recording promise if only I could get around to it, harness the moment. It has automation, meaning that when you select bossa nova, disco or rock 1 or rock 2, it plays a sort of bass arpeggio and you can switch on a setting that throws in a vamping off beat.
Amy's just come up the stairs to tell me we've had two replies to the advert. 'Wouldn't it be great,' she said 'if somebody came and picked it up tomorrow.' I tried not to look too crestfallen. I may have to down tools and make a recording tomorrow morning. Surely there'll be a home organ or two in the United States.
The same goes for amplifiers. There are a lot of great amplifiers over there. I hope they haven't all found permanent homes - most of mine are going to be re-homed before we go. But not the Selmer Truvoice 50 that I use on stage, so don't anyone get over-excited.
And if anyone's after the Wem Audiomaster it's presently residing in a house near Chartres where it's been in storage since the last time I left France. I must go and pick it up - would it be too ridiculously sentimental to hang on to it?

Two days have passed while I searched for the battery charger for the camera so that I can upload some of these scintillating photos, and in the meantime the advert has been answered. A nice man called Tim came and took the organ away. I'm sad to think that all those fabulous tracks I had planned are destined to become just a fading memory in the back of my overcrowded mind - I never had time to down tools and make the recording. Now the hallway looks naked to me. But very desirable - naked and desirable, minimal and buyable. Tim used to be a DJ on Radio Caroline, he remembers The Blockheads when they were Loving Awareness. We had a good chat. He told me all his vinyl, three thousand albums in total, is in storage but before he packed it away and moved house he decided to listen to all of them in alphabetical order, one album a day. It took him five years and his wife left him during the Frank Zappa section.

This is a photo of the fireplace in our kitchen. I didn't tear it out of a magazine, it's real. Someone is going to love this house. Please...


  1. Excellent makes very interesting reading....nice one :)

  2. Hey, Eric! You know I'd love to own that Audiomaster. Not selling the Microfret are you? haha

  3. i love you Mr Eric Goulden....and tell Mrs Eric Goulden that i love her, too! when y'all move up nawth we'll drive up and help you paint your pad xox

  4. This writing demonstrates how badly a second instalment of your autobiography needs to be written when you get where you're going.

  5. I second the notion of Lord Boswell.

  6. In the States, all the way up until the early 1980s, it was de rigueur that every 'upscale' shopping mall had a home organ store. It was doubly strange that these shops were so ubiquitous because it was in reality quite rare to ever see these organs in anyone's home.

    Now, when you did actually find yourself in a house that owned one of these Baldwin or Lowrey monstrosities, it was invariably an old person's house -- and said old person never could actually play the thing.

    So that was the scam: an entire industry and shop franchises based upon the premise of swindling pensioners out of exorbitant amounts of cash, no doubt preying upon their victims' pent up, lifelong desire to learn to play a musical instrument.

    How do I know this? Because my grandmother was one who somehow ended up with a top of the line Lowrey Super Deluxe Orchestron Whathaveyou thing in her living room. I bet it cost as much as a small car. She couldn't play a note, and I don't believe she ever got past the point of learning how to switch the machine on.

    As far as I know, only one complete tune was ever played on it, and I was the performer. Being a clever little bastard, I spent an afternoon picking out the notes to "Take the Cash (K.A.S.H.)" and set it to a grossly inappropriate "Bossa Nova 3" beat. Remember, this was the top model, so it featured, I don't know, 29 bossa nova beats or so. All apologies to Mr. Goulden, the composer. I'm glad that you never had to hear this. IUt was the first tune I ever figured out how to play on anything, plus it was all granny ever had to show for her $20 million organ investment. True story.

    I remember I had seen a photo in a magazine of the early Soft Machine working in the studio, and I noticed that Mike Ratledge was playing a Lowrey organ. I was sad to discover that granny's Lowrey didn't have a "Soft Machine organ distortion" switch. It should have.

    What happened to that organ? She gave it back to the shop after a month or two, and I'm certain that she must have taken a big financial hit by returning it. That's probably the other aspect of the organ scam: they must have sold the same organ over and over again, each time to a different sucker, profiting each time it came back to the shop.

    Somewhere there's an enterprising Economics student who will write the definitve doctoral thesis that examines in minute detail the inner workings of this nearly-forgotten manufacturing and dealer network whose sole purpose was devoted to swindling the elderly.

    This all disappeared around the time Reagan came around, so I assume that the captains of the organ retail industry all moved onto Wall Street in order to get their hands more directly into pension fund coffers.

  7. Are you really selling the WEM? I've been doing stuff with a Farfisa Home Organ, looks like the same model, the rythmn section is ace.

  8. Was the awful Revox desk a Lamb Laboratories PML420 by any chance? If so I might be interested in the power supply if you still have it.