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A JULE OF AN ALBUM
Paul handpicked Julian Mendelsolin as his control room collaborator for Off The Ground. Mark Lewisohn, he of the similar surname, went to ask Julian about the experience
An Australian who's lived in England for 20 years, Julian Mendelsohn's CV reads like a Who's Who of recent rock. In addition to being closely associated with the Pet Shop Boys, Julian has produced or mixed Aztec Camera, Level 42, INXS, Frankic Goes To Hollywood, Peter Gabriel, Marc Almond, Simple Minds, Talk Talk and dozens of others, and worked with an especially impressive array of female solo singers: Liza Minnelli, Dusty Springfield, Kate Bush and, most recently, Tasmin Archer, a fine new talent whose debut album Great Expectations he co-produced with none other than our very own Paul 'Wix' Wickens.
And now that CV can be crowned with the name of Paul McCartney.
It was at Wix's suggestion that Julian came to co-produce Paul's album, although scrutineers of record labels will know that be also remixed 'It's Not True' for the Press To Play CD and 'Tough On A Tightrope' for a twelve-inch single, both back in 1986. Speaking to Club Sandwich from his Oxfordshire home, Julian was more than delighted to enthuse about Off The Ground, a record of which he, like everyone else within and around MPL, is justifiably proud.
Ironically, though, despite being genuinely thrilled at having worked with Paul, Julian was almost hoping that he wouldn't be invited on board. "When it started to look as though I was up for the job I was absolutely desperate for a holiday," he candidly admits. "I'd been working like a dog for a year and a half and felt that I needed to have a couple of months off. So when I went to meet Paul I wasn't incredibly fussed about it. Naturally I would have been disappointed if he hadn't then asked me to co-produce, but if that was so I would have thought 'Oh well, I'll have a holiday then1. In fact, that attitude probably helped me to get the job, because I didn't come on too strong."
Work on the album began in the last week of November 1991, with two weeks of rehearsal which - as one might expect from such a creative bunch - was immediately fruitful. "Two songs on the album, 'Peace In The Neighbourhood' and 'Biker Like An Icon', were actually recorded during rehearsals," enthuses Julian. "Bob Kraushaar, my engineer, and I set up some mikes, to get the feel of the room and to enable the band to hear how it was going. Then, around early February, when we came to record those two songs properly, we listened to the rehearsal tapes and they were so fantastic that we didn't have to bother! I think we may have re-done one part of 'Peace In The Neighbourhood' but 'Biker Like An Icon' appears on the album exactly as it was recorded, within an hour, at rehearsal. It's my favourite track on the album, too, a real rocker. Fantastic."
Recording in earnest began at the beginning of December, and then followed a similar pattern throughout the next few months: Monday to Fridays, noon until eight. Off The Ground is very much a "band" album, recorded by the six-strong core of Paul, Linda, Hamish, Wix, Robbie and Blair. And, what's more, in this age of digital tapes and laborious piecemeal recording, it was largely recorded in the good old-fashioned analogue real way. "We always tried to record the band live," Julian confirms, "so that everybody would be on their instrument at the same time and Paul would be singing live. The aim was to get a complete performance for each song and very rarely replace anything. Normally these days you'd get a band to do a backing track, keep the drums and replace everything else bit by bit, but we tried to do the whole thing in one go. There arc quite a few completely live vocals on the album."
You might by now be wondering why, with this more instant style of recording preferred, the sessions took more than a few weeks to complete, give or take the odd holiday break here and there. Certainly, co-producing with Paul, Julian found himself wondering, by April, just what there was left to do in the remaining months, given that an album's worth of songs had already been completed. The answer lies in the fact that 23 songs were recorded, ten more than on the album. As Paul's manager Richard Ogden states elsewhere in this issue, Paul plans to release several non-album tracks next year on CD EPs. "When the album was more or less finished Paul conducted a poll and the most popular choices out of the 23 went onto the album," Julian says. "I didn't vote because I was busy remixing a track, but Paul worked it all out, based on people's marks out of ten for each song."
Born in Melbourne in 1954, Julian Mendelsohn grew up harbouring a desire to work in the world of recorded sound, although he was unable to achieve his objective at home because, when 17, he left Down Under with his family to live Up Over, in England. "A schoolmate and I used to hang around Bill Armstrong Studios in Melbourne quite a bit," he recalls. "We both became interested in recording at the same time and built our first little studio together. We were only 13 then, and were very thrilled when we had a double-glazed window put in for the control room, even though there were loads of holes everywhere else! I played classical violin at school, and I used to play violin-shaped bass guitar, like someone else I could mention. Unlike his, though, mine wasn't a Hofncr: my mother had it made for me! It was the only way I could get her to let me play guitar, because it