Paul Jackson Music

Paul Jackson Music

Thursday, 11 June 2015

#25: Production @25

This sentence is sure to give me a shiver as I write it, but a quarter of a century ago I started writing and recording synth pop songs under the name Production. At 16, I was already in a school band performing soul, pop, blues covers, which later progressed on the live circuit, but I also started borrowing a 4 track portastudio and a drum machine, and along with my trusty Casio keyboard, began experimenting by putting some tracks together. Later in 1990 I bought my first proper synthesizer and began manipulating and programming sounds as well as sequencer lines, and then started to fill notebook pages with lyrical ideas drawn more from imagination than any autobiographical musings. I don't think the world was ready for any lyrics about paper rounds, though in hindsight, maybe I'd have made more in-roads had I done.

I started compiling demo tapes of recorded songs, instrumentals and remixed versions before trying to work out how I could perform them live. I tried various line-ups including trio, duo, full band, and managed to pull off a few school performances before the move to Salford University. By this time I had begun sending out packaged demo tapes to what I then thought were the correct avenues for moving up a few ladder rungs - record labels, publishers, etc. Some of which were returned with polite replies on variations of 'no'. Performing live was always quite tricky and I felt that I never focused properly on correcting the parts of what I thought should have constituted a good performance. While performing as Production I also began performing instrumental dance tracks under the name S-cape and later performed more under this name in Manchester club nights run by BoomBooom. And while I enjoyed  performing S-cape tracks,  regularly going back to Halifax for many Fabulous BB Kings gigs, a few solo covers pub gigs, and gigs with a friend under the name Inside Edge - as all previously blogged, Production was the format, act, entity, call it what you will, where my heart really lay. Even if performing vocals was one of my weak points, and writing lyrics being another -  anything that I did under the Production banner always felt closer to my heart. 
In early 1994, I took Production back home to Halifax for a club gig with an expanded line-up of friends and musical colleagues, who worked really hard in helping me put on a gig, including stage platforms and lights, backing singers/dancers, musicians and more.
In 1995 I expanded Production to a trio, and besides performing some afternoon gigs at university, we also performed at Salford SubClub, which was a highlight for me because it then finally felt like it had reached the format, line-up and set-up I'd been aiming for. Sadly it was only for a short time and after graduation in 1996, I was back to recording on a portastudio in my flat, after having the luxury of using studios for a few years.
Soldiering on, sending out demo tapes and promo packages, and working out how to get gigs in Manchester were all met with brick walls and as desperate as it was, I always felt I wasn't doing enoughnor was I good enough at the right things. 1997 did see a couple of gigs at Manchester Roadhouse; the first with a quickly assembled three piece line-up, but by the second gig in June, Production was solo again. Back to the duo format the following year for a gig in Burnley and then solo again. I was busier performing occasional gigs under the other guises and other aforementioned line-ups.
After moving to London in 1999, to start working for the BBC as a pop music librarian, meant leaving familiar places and networks of friends and musical colleagues. This also meant an end to performing gigs, as I had been doing, and having to start again in an unfamiliar place. I continued to record, made a CD via and sold maybe a couple of handfuls and was also invited to perform a support slot at a London venue to a band I knew called The Sepia - to whom I remain forever grateful.  Initially attempting to expand the line-up, by showtime it was back to being a solo venture. While recording was usually a solo venture, with the occasional guest slot, personnel could fluctuate at live gigs so there was never a fixed line-up for long enough before another gig came along, despite efforts to have one. So whenever I was asked if I was in a band, I wasn't really sure how to answer. Was it a one-man band with vacancies? I had no idea.
Live in London, 2001
After moving to Kent, and into other musical recording ventures, Productionin whatever form it was then in, was placed on a shelf, with cassettes, videos and documents of recordings and gigs boxed away. But at the end of the day, Production was and is just a name, and even tracks I wrote as Production  became S-cape tracks, and vice versa, and even some of those were used for Dancesounds releases, so it shouldn't really make a difference what moniker I attach to what track. It doesn't have enough significance, or importance, for it to be of interest to anyone other than myself, yet at the same time, after 25 years, Production seems to have been a kind of peg where I hang my favourite coat, even if it was more practical to wear a different coat at times. I often found myself performing the wrong tracks, in the wrong venues, to the wrong audiences, under the wrong guise. I became increasingly aware that while I may develop and rework a batch of songs over time, my point of view of a track is very different from someone hearing it for the first time. So the listening context is going to be wildly different. One of many mistakes I felt I made when wearing the Production coat, and there are many I could list, was not thinking more about how the tracks and performances would come across to an audience for the first time. I believe the correct phrase is 'winging it'.
However, it is strange how your perception of past events can change. And while I often thought that if I don't carry on doing it, despite the lack of motion in the wheels, then it wasn't really worth starting at all. And if you reach a point where you know the wheels have come off, then do you then view your past efforts towards it as being wasted? I thought I might, but I don't really because part of the journey was who I got to meet, befriend, work with, and interact with along the way, which wouldn't have happened otherwise. So when realising an idea, such as a performance event, a recording, some mad promo exercise and so on, I was lucky enough to have friends and colleagues willing to go along with it and support, and maybe even humour me from time to time. Sometimes you just have to just do something without worrying about how it might come across, or be interpreted. I wouldn't be writing a blog otherwise.

1990 'cassette!' - remember them?
In recent times I've heard from old friends reminding me of a particular demo tape they had, or a gig they attended, or were part of, and in a way that feels as good a reward as anything else I was aiming for, even if I became unsure what that was. So I remain grateful to all those who offered support and help - be it technical, musical, visual, and any other way to keep my morale ticking over. While to some it may seem odd to attach some kind of importance to something that might be common practise for many other musical practitioners, or a peculiar hobby for someone who could have spent their time better, but when it forms part of your routine, either gives you some self-confidence or tests your self-consciousness, then it's a part of your past that is hard to shake off. More so when recalling the enjoyment I got from doing it.

A friend recently recommended I should dig out some of the old tracks and air them in cyberspace, but I'm not quite sure I could face hearing my past efforts in that way without cringing. Some things may well be best left for the memory banks, and in some cases its very far reaches.