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the Pale

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Chris 'The Grouts' Michie

Grand Hotel sessions

BtP e-talked briefly to Chris Michie, Technical Editor of Mix magazine about his days as a tape-op for the proto-Grand Hotel album

As noted elsewhere, I tape op-ed for the first, aborted Grand Hotel sessions until mid-February 1972, when I joined Pink Floyd’s road crew as front-of-house mixer (they didn’t have a monitor mixer, or even monitors, back then, so the job description is a bit redundant, but FOH mixer is the currently-accepted title). I was called in at the last minute, on a Friday morning, to mix the three remaining dates at the Rainbow because mixer and road-crew chief Peter Watts had hospitalized himself by rear ending a Rolls Royce on Park Lane under the influence of several too many Mandrax (aka Quaaludes). Anyway, Pink Floyd’s manager Steve O’Rourke offered me the job and I quit AIR the next week. I wasn’t particularly essential to the recording, but Chris Thomas and the band both expressed regret that I was leaving, which was nice. John Punter probably missed me too, though I had not been a very attentive or conspicuously competent tape-op.

I see from Copping's notes on the PH book and the subsequent expansion by another correspondent that there is controversy over the start date for the first Grand Hotel sessions. I think you can take my dating them in February 1972 as definitive. Pink Floyd played four nights at the Rainbow, Thursday through Sunday, around the 17th, 18th (see illustration). So Grand Hotel sessions might have started in late January, more likely early February.

A clipping from the pages of Time Out, February 1972. The photo was taken in the control room for AIR’s Studio Two, where Exotic Birds and Fruit was later recorded.

Left to right: Abbey Road engineer Peter Mew, David Gilmour, Roger Waters.

In this photo, taken in Summer '71 during sessions for the Meddle LP, Mew and Gilmour are adjusting controls in the monitor / control section of the Neve console. Gilmour is adjusting an echo send pot; Pink Floyd were very "hands on" in the studio, and not only produced themselves but made most of the crucial mixing decisions, at least until Dark Side of the Moon. – Chris Michie

The sessions started in Studio One and that’s about all I can remember. I believe the band recorded at least three backing-tracks before I left and may have done the whole album, for all I know. Dave Ball is on record to the effect that several of the backing-tracks ended up being used, but I cannot confirm or deny this. I vaguely remember the band recording Bringing Home The Bacon and when I first heard the completed album I might have been able to pick out the other tracks I’d heard before in an unfinished state, but not now.

I think it was during the Grand Hotel sessions that I once almost sabotaged a session. Leaning over the console meter bridge from the studio window side, I saw that the oscillator volume knob was turned up. Normally the oscillator doesn’t actually go anywhere – you have to patch its output into a channel and then assign the tone to the output buses in order to get a 0 VU tone to the tape machines, essential for "lining up" the machines at the start of the session. So turning the volume down was just an example of obsessive tidy-mindedness (I obviously had nothing better to do).

Unfortunately, it was not the oscillator volume knob I had zeroed out, but the master volume for the talkback mic. For the next half hour the mood in the studio steadily deteriorated. Every time Chris Thomas pressed the button on the handheld talkback mic (a grey metal lozenge-shaped device roughly similar to the transponders in Galaxy Quest) the headphone mix would be interrupted and the band could tell that Thomas was communicating something, likely the order to stop the song and start again. But since they couldn’t actually hear what he was saying, they were initially non-plussed and soon become increasingly resentful of his unexplained criticisms. Eventually, one of Gary’s or BJ’s comments (Gary had a mic for a rough vocal and BJ was surrounded by open mics) drove Thomas to a face-to-face consultation, at which point the problem was discovered. I kept a very low profile for the rest of the day.

The only other thing I can remember is that Dave Ball wore the largest pair of motorcycle boots I’d ever seen. And one of his guitars came to an unfortunate end. At some point during the sessions, Chris Thomas joined in with the band, jamming on Dave’s Les Paul. Unexpectedly, the guitar threw off its strap and dropped about eighteen inches to the carpeted floor. When Chris picked it up, the back of the instrument looked like it had been kicked in and, within a minute, a crack worked its way right up the neck. Chris was absolutely mortified and Dave was understandably upset. The bizarre thing was that other members of the band had seen Dave drop or bash the guitar himself on several occasions, with no apparent adverse effect.

According to another story I heard, Dave opened a locked flight-case after returning from a US tour and discovered that his guitar, a white Gibson SG, I think, was in two pieces. The guitar had been fine when it was locked away, and there seemed to be no reasonable explanation for its current condition. There’s one more Dave Ball guitar story I heard, but I can’t remember it. I don't know why he left Procol and whether he jumped or was pushed. But I think the other members of the band felt he was jinxed.



Grand Hotel can be ordered from Amazon USA by clicking here

You can order this album in a 3 CD set with Grand Hotel, Exotic Birds and Fruit and Procol's Ninth.
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