September 2008

 

From the Beatles to The Human League, John Leckie has a long and very distinguised career in the music business  as a producer and was the man behind the mixing desk when most of the Holiday '80 EP was recorded. He was very kind to spend some time answering questions about his work on the release, even if, in his own words; ďIt was a long, long time ago so memories a bit vague but Iíll do me best..!Ē

Interview by Niels Kolling, pictures by S.O.S. Magazine & Sean Turner.

What was your knowledge of The Human League prior to working with them? Did you pick up on the first album and their groundbreaking live shows?

I was well aware of The Human League before I worked with them and had Fast single Being Boiled and EP Dignity of Labour (because of the cover...Yuri Gargarin fan!) Never had the album.

 

Was honoured to be asked by Virgin to work with them because they were very cool at that time.1978 was a busy time for me having just left Abbey Road that year and producing XTC, Magazine and Be Bop Deluxe.

 

Never saw them live until 1982 when I happened to be in Oslo and saw them there. It was great!
 


How active a role did you take in producing the tracks for the Holiday í80 EP? Did you chip in with ideas or did you have a more overall view of the production?

I was pretty active as the engineer and keeping the session rolling and getting tracks finished to high standard.

 

The sessions were in their own studio (Devonshire Lane?) in Sheffield and it was a semi derelict ex-veterinary surgery (!). It was very cold and I stayed in a cheap bed and breakfast and met Phil at bus stop every morning to get to the studio.

 

Phil had the hair and peacock feather ear ring! It was strange cos at that time in late morning the bus was full of old lady shoppers so he was quite a sight but forever the gentleman giving up his seat for ladies etc.!

 

The studio was sparse and we recorded on 8 track 1 inch Ampex tape machine of which I remember only 7 tracks were working. Bit of bounce tracking done for vocals etc. Canít remember on what desk but we mixed tracks there.

 

The basic tracks were already programmed by Ian and this was on Roland System 100 with step sequencer (no midi) and I think just Roland Juno for string sounds (played by Martyn). There was lot of tuning and trimming to be done before it was put to tape and I recorded all vocals.

 

I think whole session with me took 7-10 days?  I worked on Being Boiled, RockíníRoll/Nightclubbing and Marianne. I never did Dance Vision nor Boys and Girls as reported on your site.

 

 

Was re-recording Being Boiled an attempt to upgrade the sound of the original recording (which in some ways were kind of primitive) or did you set out to make a different version of it?

I think we were just upgrading the old version on instruction from Virgin A & R.
 

I love the electronic percussion that kicks in right from the start off your version and I was wondering if you have an idea if you were the first to use that kind of percussion sound, since it has featured heavenly with electro bands ever since?
 

Glad you like Being Boiled. Can't remember much more about it other than what Iíve said.

 

The electronic percussion is filtered white noise and commonly used at time by Kraftwerk of course, and Telex (Belgian band from late 70s).  

 

All sequenced synths were programed by Ian and I was really involved in overall production and mixing so I cant really take credit for the percussion sounds.

The band really know how to pick a cover and RockíníRoll and Nightclubbing were brilliant choices and really well performed. Can you remember the reason for picking these songs and how they ended up being mixed together?

Donít know.

 

This song and the arrangement was done before I arrived. I recorded all vocals and synths. RockíníRoll/Nightclubbing was all sequenced with manual tempo change as put to tape.



 

Roughly a year after you worked with them their career really hit the roof with the four singles of Dare and the album itself. Did you sense there was a pop ability buried deep down in Philip Oakey and Philip Adrian Wright?

 

Phil and Martin were very Ďpopí in their taste. Martin kept playing Parliament, who I hadnít heard before. Searching for the funk!

 

What did you think of the Dare album when you initially heard it when it was released?

 

OK...hereís a story..

 

I was in Berlin later that year, working with East Berlin band called City and mixing at Hansa. The band couldnít come to the mix being in east so every night Iíd go through Checkpoint Charlie with smuggled cassette of days work for the band to hear.

 

Simon Draper from Virgin called me from England to say Human League had split up but Phil had recruited two girls to sing and had one great song and could I come back immediately and work on it.

 

Unfortunately I was booked in Berlin for another 3 weeks so couldnít do it. ďNever mindď said Simon ďHope you can work on the album when you get backĒ.

 

When I got back I called Simon who told me they were in with Martin Rushent who had this amazing drum machine (Linn) and it was going well so I wouldnít be needed! Cíest la vie!

 

 

In recent years theyíve started playing Marianne again at their concerts, which tell you that they still rate the work they did with you. How do you feel about the Holiday í80 EP today?

 

I think itís a historic part of the time.

 

Iíve still only got the 7 inch vinyl gatefold pack. Never heard it on CD. Proud to have been part of it.

 

Out of the bands vast back catalogue, can you name your favourite Human League album, single and song?

Donít know really.

 

Only really know Dare and lost touch after that. Was really into Kraftwerk at the time..and Telex and Robert Rental and Thomas Lear and more avant garde stuff like Stockhausen and Pierre Henry.

 

You have a very impressive CV, some of it quite independent, but not many stick out as being purely electronic bands. So was working with The Human League a departure for you and how was it working with them?

Yes. Total electronic.

 

I had engineered band at Abbey Road called Rinky Dink and Crystal Set for Harvest records and although totally unknown and sold zero the music was totally synthesiser and drum machines. This would be about 1975?

 

Iíd also played with VCS3 and Moogs with Roy Harper and Pink Floyd as early as 1971 and of course Be Bop Deluxe had strong synth elements to their music. Drastic Plastic by Be Bop Deluxe in 77 was very electronic based.

 

At college in 1968 I'd written thesis on Electronic Music so I was pretty knowledgeable on gear and processes but there was a lot going on for me at Abbey Road doing all kinds of music.
 


The evolution of technology has made it easier to make music, but is it more fun? With The Human League you were pioneering electronic music in the early days, which must have been exciting?

Right. It was more fun and chancey in those days and more out there and creative.

 

Its all a bit too easy these days...and over complicated and very time consuming. I never got my head around midi for instance. Whenever someone mentions midi in studio on my sessions I know I have to book another week!

Do you still follow the the bands career? They have evolved into an amazing live band in the last decade, so have you ever caught them live?


Not really.

 

Would love to meet them again. Last saw Phil at Utopia studios in the late 80s. Never seen a live show except Oslo 1982

 

Any favourite synths or other electronics from the period around the Holiday 80 EP?

Favourite synths. EMS suitcase VCS3, when you could get it to stay in tune. The Roland System100 was great for sounds and easy to operate and gave tough sound.

 

But best was probably the three cabinet Moog. Always open to try anything that gave strong different sound.

 

 

Could you see yourself working with The Human League again once they enter a studio to record their next album?

If they ask me I'd give it a go!

 

Iím still working producing records of all types. Recently done tracks on last New Order record also did record few years ago with My Computer from Manchester. Last year did tracks with Doves also records in USA with My Morning Jacket, Los Lobos and Rodrigo and Gabriella. Very different from Human League!


Thatís all! Hope this is of use... Say hi to Phil and the League if you ever see them !