THE DICK PLANT INTERVIEW
For
FTM Germany

Peter Sutter

By Peter Sutter

Peter Sutter: What can you tell us about the studio technology used in those days at De Lane Lea Studios?
(e. g. studio equipment, studio furniture, acoustics, mixing desk, tape recorders - was it 16 or 24 tracks back then?-, gadgets)

Dick Plant: We had 16 tracks at the time of On The Third Day, then I think we were at 24 tracks for Eldorado. There weren't many gadgets around then, though, apart from compressors and eq.

PS: Jeff Lynne said in an interview from 1974 that ELO wasn't so much a group thing in the studio. To what extent did the other band members suggest ideas and help Jeff in the studio? Would you agree that Richard Tandy was Jeff's right hand man in the studio?

DP: I would absolutely agree with that. Richard was very inventive with synths and was a brilliant player. As I said earlier, Jeff pretty much knew exactly what he wanted and worked towards the idea he had in his head, and he guided and instructed his musicians to that end.

PS: Did Jeff Lynne always have a clear idea about the sound he was aiming for? To what extent did he give you your freedom or ask for advice?

DP: He was happy to let an engineer go his own way about achieving something just as long as the end result was how he envisaged it.

PS: In an interview, you said about Jeff: "He was very inventive and had an individual way of approaching certain aspects of recording." Could you explain that in more detail or give examples?

DP: I can give one example which is in the way he approached recording the drums, at least on the sessions I did. We would close-mic Bev's kit and he would play the drum part as per Jeff's instructions. Jeff would tell him where to put fills and kept the part strong but relatively simple. After that was done, we would set up ambient mics at a distance from the kit and record the whole drum part again as a double-track. Then the two passes would be balanced together - it produced a very individual but powerful drum sound.

Another odd thing was that he would often put down a guide vocal on a song before he'd finished writing the words. He had the melody done but no words as such, so he would sing phonetic noises which he felt complimented the melody and then come up with a lyric later that sounded similar to the noises he'd made. I remember one occasion when he was very happy with the garbled guide vocal he'd recorded and didn't want to re-do it, even though it was just meaningless sounds. Roy Wood came into the studio and Jeff asked him for a bit of help, saying, "What do you think this line sounds like?" or, "Could I change this into something sensible with a small overdub?" Most of the song remained as he'd originally recorded it, with just a few minor changes. When we mixed it, we effected the voice quite a lot so that it was fairly indistinct and the new lyric worked pretty well in relation to what was on tape!

PS: You obviously engineered ELO's sound on "OTTD" and "Eldorado". Were there any further recording sessions with Jeff Lynne or ELO? (e.g. what about the post production for the live album "The Night The Light Went On In Long Beach"? Were you involved?)

DP: No, I wasn't involved in that - I just did the two albums

PS: ELO already had already started recording songs (e.g. Showdown, Ma-Ma-Ma Belle, Dreaming Of 4000) for their third album "On The Third Day" in spring 73 at Air Studios. Sessions were moved to De Lane Lea studios later that year. Were the songs they recorded in spring completely finished at that point, or was there some additional recording/overdubbing to be done?

DP: I remember that some songs were already down on multi-track - I believe there were some overdubs done with me but all the mixing was done at De Lane Lea, I think.

PS: What do you remember about the way ELO recorded the songs for "On The Third Day"? (Their second album was basically recorded live in the studio, with very few overdubs and no edits).

DP: As I recall, the tracks I did were pretty much built from the ground up. There may have been a basic rhythm section put down to start off with, but even some of that was sometimes done again.

PS: Did they add the strings at a later stage?

DP: Yes

PS:Comparing OTTD and "Eldorado" what do you think are the main differences between those two albums in terms of the recording methods and the equipment used? (My personal impression is that for Eldorado, ELO may still have recorded the basic rhythm tracks live in the studio , but that Jeff overdubbed more things than on OTTD)

DP: I think that's correct. The equipment was basically the same, although I think we might have had a new Neve console installed for the later album.

PS: What do you remember about the orchestra sessions for "Eldorado"?

DP: I remember that one violinist sat down and looked at Louis' parts and exclaimed, 'It's black!' meaning that there were so many notes written! They found it difficult to do and struggled quite a bit. I think that's why they were unhelpful - they found it hard going - they weren't used to having to concentrate on such complex parts.

PS: How long did it take to record "OTTD" and "Eldorado" respectively? (Can you remember any time frames or recording dates?)

DP: I really can't remember, I'm afraid.

PS: On Showdown, Jeff Lynne used female background singers. Have you got any information about those women?

DP: They were three girls who were regular and well known session singers. I can't remember exactly who they were, but I do know that I knew them all well at the time. The female session singers back then were brilliant - much easier to work with than the guys. They always made a real effort to look nice, as well, which was good for morale! I remember that there was a fashion for very floaty and transparent dresses that they used to wear. Nothing to do with an ELO session, but we discovered that, by turning off the main studio lights and putting a single light low down at the back of the studio, we could see right through their dresses! They knew we were doing it, too, but it didn't bother them. Great girls!

PS: On "Eldorado", the prologue is credited to Peter Forbes-Robertson. What do you know about this man? Was he a friend of Jeff's? (The only thing I found was that he might have been an actor. Not sure, though)

DP: Sorry, can't help you with that one

PS: Is there any unreleased ELO/Lynne stuff from those sessions?

DP: I don't think so, but I couldn't be sure

PS: What was it like working with Roy Wood?

DP: It was a lot of fun. Roy is a more relaxed character than Jeff and we got on well right from the start. We became good friends and we're still in touch today. Mind you, if we'd had a thousand tracks to record on, I think Roy would have liked even more!

PS: Like Jeff, you write in the above-mentioned interview, Roy Wood was very inventive in the studio. Can you give examples? What did you learn from Roy?

DP: I would say that we learnt from each other, really. Roy was easy going and open to ideas from others, although nothing deterred him from his original goal. The thing about Roy was that he could, after a little practice, learn to play any instrument at all. Many times he hired things in that he would sit with for a while and then get to play quite well enough to put a part down with a few drop-ins.

PS: Despite all the similarities, can you think of any differences with regard to the way in which Roy and Jeff approach things in the studio?

DP: Jeff was more regimented than Roy. Roy liked to enjoy himself, probably a little too much sometimes, in the studio. Jeff was more heads down and get on with it.

PS: Is there any unreleased Roy Wood stuff from the sessions you engineered?

DP: An album we did back in 1976, which was shelved by his record company, finally became available a little while ago. It's called Main Street and, in retrospect, has some quite extraordinary guitar playing on it.

PS: Do you have a favourite Roy Wood story?

DP: Yes, but not one that would be fit to print!

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Note from Martin

I asked Dick if it was true that members of the orchestra actually stopped playing and started packing their instruments away when their time was up during the recording of the Eldorado album ...

I did the ELO session where the musicians packed up before the track was finished.
This is as my impared memory has it. It was Louis Clark’s first London session and, because he was a shy, new face that none of them recognised and had no respect for, they gave him a particularly hard time, larking about and taking the micky. Just shows you how arrogant they were then.
Also, the parts were seriously complicated – the sheets were black with dots – and the players gave the impression that they felt they were being put upon. Consequently, the session over-ran and the last track was not quite done by the time the witching hour arrived. At this point, the players at the back – cellists mainly – started putting their coats on and playing with their gloves on.
I’d been around a bit by then, but I was personally astounded at their cavalier attitude and Jeff was quite rightly incensed. As I recall, he stopped the session and let the poor babies go home to bed. But I got the impression he was already hatching a plan. I don’t know who made the arrangement – it might have been Don Arden – but a couple of days later we were back in the studio and Jeff announced that Don Smith (aka Dr Death) who was the big cheese of the MU at the time, would be coming in to discuss the situation with Jeff. A little later in the day, the intercom rang and Jeff was informed that Mr Smith had arrived to keep his appointment.
Jeff told the receptionist to send him along to the studio, and instructed everyone else present not to say anything to him when he turned up. A couple of minutes later, Don Smith crept in to an acknowledging nod from Jeff and sat down. I can’t remember exactly what we were doing at the time, but it was overdubs of some sort, and Jeff carried on with this for at least 20 minutes or so before calling a halt and finally addressing Don Smith. He viciously rounded on him and gave him an absolute lambasting for the way his ‘members’ had behaved the other night, telling him the only reason we over-ran was because they were so incompetent that they were unable play the parts and had to go over them so many times to get them right. Bear in mind that Don Smith was a seriously important character in the scheme of things in those days and I don’t think he’d ever been in front of someone who dared to speak to him in such a deprecating fashion – probably in his life!
He visibly crumbled and the outcome was that he told Jeff that he could have the musicians back to finish the job they’d started at no extra cost, and that the studio time to cover the job would be paid for by the MU. I don’t think the original cellists were there, though – in fact I seem to recall that it was a completely new bunch altogether. Subsequently, Louis Clark’s sessions were given a heck of a lot more respect by the musicians that played on them, to the point that they really buttoned down and did their best in future. Louis’ confidence also grew and he became firmer and more self assured in handling them.

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My thanks to Dick, Peter, and all at FTM Germany for the use of the interview in the clinic.

 

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