Shortly after graduating in the mid 1980s I bought a second-hand four-track cassette portastudio, a Vesta Fire MR-10, from Musical Exchanges at Snow Hill, Birmingham.
Over the following few years I used this to record a couple of dozen song demos with friends from the West Midlands, in various lodgings around Sandwell, using 8 bit home computers to generate sounds which I could not capture with cheap mics and guitars.
Almost 20 years later, with help from Ben McCullough, I've transcribed a few of those tapes into digital format and remixed them in the Traction package briefly made freely-available by Mackie, on a PowerMac G3.
Everything you hear comes from the original 1.7/8 IPS FeO2 (standard speed, 'normal' tape) cassette recording, though Traction processing has been used for mix automation and to broaden the stereo image, using effects similar to those on the original tapes.
All these songs are copyright control. Commercial use is prohibited without explicit permission. All tracks recorded and mixed by Simon N Goodwin. Copyright © 1988-2005 Norman Hall, Dave Waller and Simon N Goodwin. Enquiries are welcome by email to simon [at] mooli [dot] org [dot] uk
This heart-felt ballad was written by Norman Hall, a shift worker at Goodyear`s tyre factory in Wolverhampton. I met him when he became a lodger of a friend of mine.
Norman recorded two acoustic guitar and vocal tracks for this demo in my living room at 24A Wolverhampton Road, Quinton (later annexed by Jonathans' English resturant).
He added cello and string overdubs from a Korg M1 synthesiser in a later session. Instruments were recorded via an Alesis Microverb 1 and Yamaha GC-2020B compressor.
The photograph of Norman was taken by and is copyright of Kerstin Martens.
This ska number, again by Norman, sums up his experience of working for Goodyear - and if you've ever been stuck in a job you can't afford to leave you may know the feeling...
The rhythm comes from a 48K ZX Spectrum running a 30 pound Cheetah SpecDrum 8 bit drum sequencer, using a 7 bit bass drum sample and two six bit samples for the other drum sounds, tweaked with software from my Crash Tech Tape.
All other instruments were played by Norman. The bass track was made by mixing a dry compressed bass guitar sound recoded via the GC2020B with the same notes played through the Microverb's 'Large' reverb setting on an acoustic guitar - at the end of the outro (intended for DJ talk-over) you can hear those sounds separate out. A third track contained the guitar skank and main vocals, with cymbal and percussion overdubs from the Korg keyboard interleaved with backing vocals on the fourth track.
This remix is in mono and has some rather excessive multi-band compression added in the SoundForge sample editing tool. I've tried making a new stereo mix, but lost some of the power of the original along the way. Along with the next track by T1-T0, this featured among the demonstrations of ZX Spectrum powered music at ZX-92, the Spectrum's tenth birthday party held in Cambridge in 1992.
This was one of my earliest attempts at a four-track recording, and the first in which I (mostly - apart from the first verse vocal) managed to record different things onto all four tracks.
The lyrics arrived on scraps of toilet paper with Dave Waller on a train from Nottingham, along with the rhythm loop he'd worked out on the way, which we quickly programmed into the SpecDrum using two samples from Cheetah's 'Afro Kit' add- on. We got the 'flam' effect on the drum sound by setting the sequencer to its maximum 24 subdivisions per beat and ramping the number of beats per minute up beyond 400, to allow us to place two sounds close together to get that splitting backbeat.
I perfomed the three guitar parts using my twisted-necked Satellite six string electric guitar - the cheapest model Woolworths made in a left-handed version, back in the 1970s - via a little Marshall amp for the part tracking the bass in the chorus, and a PP3-powered Tandy Telephone listener suspended in a cupboard for the fizzy chords rather inflexibly baked into the vocal track, plus a de-fretted long-scale bass abandoned by a passing student - with blutac on the three strings I didn't want to use, to deaden accidental sounds. The four note synth riff comes from a Yamaha CX-5M music-computer using a sound from the CX users group, and was recalled by writing 1, 2, 3, 4 on the relevant keys. Various apocalyptic effects are spun in from cassette over the top.
By the end of the weekend both Dave and I had realised that we lacked the confidence to sing his lyrics, a critique of the cosy but immoral lives of those working in the UK Weapons Corridor along the M4.
We were saved when lodger Garth Sumpter (latterly Crash ZX Spectrum magazine Competitions Minion and later still editor of Sinclair User) popped in for a quick bath while using a one-hour bus ticket to get in and out of Brum.
After his ablutions we played the track through to Garth once. He inferred the tune and recorded the vocals in two takes before dashing out to catch the bus back into town before his ticket expired. Dave recorded a vocal tirade in the 'middle 8' before the last verse, but we were never happy with it and it has been expunged from this version.
Since I didn`t own any digital effects other than those I programmed myself, in those days, the vocals were fattened using a delay line programmed into another 48K ZX Spectrum, this time using Cheetah 8 bit Sound Sampler hardware and a software delay line for the slap-back echo effect.
The metering was done by flashing the TV border colour. As the sample input and output had to be done in a tight loop of Z80 code - the more code, the lower the sample rate, but without some indication of level the 8 bit linear sampler would have been very noisy or distorted. The relevant assembler code appears in REMs in the ZX-FX utility from the Crash Tech Tape.