Musical Chairs

Rick Price - A Brief History up to 2001

THE MUSICALS

 

For some time Laurie Mansfield had been talking about a musical play based on the life and times of Buddy Holly. 1989 was the year it all came together. I designed the sound system for all the productions of 'Buddy' world-wide. When the West End production opened I mixed the show myself for ten months, while designing some of the other productions. At one time there were thirteen running at once all around the world and it's still going strong after thirteen years in the West End. Since 'Buddy' I have been asked to design the systems for 'Jolson', 'Summer Holiday', 'Oh! What A Night', 'Dusty' and 'Great Balls Of Fire'.

Most recent and more complicated designs have been a joint effort between myself and Graham Simpson. Second and third sons Mitchell and Richard have both worked on 'Buddy'. Richard also did a short spell on 'Great Balls' to get me out of trouble with a staffing problem, but neither of them really enjoyed the work and have both gone on to do other things. Richard is studying drama and Mitchell went back to "a normal job with real people".

The musical advisor for 'Buddy' was Bruce Welch. During the first few months of working on the project, I was lucky enough to meet him several times. Naturally, in the circumstances, we met on equal terms but I was bursting to shout "HEY, YOU'RE BRUCE WELCH - I'M YOUR BIGGEST FAN I USED TO HAVE YOUR PICTURE ON MY BEDROOM WALL".

I never did have the nerve to mention it, especially the bedroom wall thing. When you're in the pub though, it's impossible to resist the temptation to ask about the 'old days'. He has a wealth of stories about the early British pop scene in general and The Shadows in particular. I could listen for days. He still owns the Red Stratocaster that Cliff gave to Hank back in 1959, the one we all lusted after. He has lovingly restored it to its original condition. That makes him a good bloke in my book. Would it be too weird if I put him back on my wall? I think not.

VIRTUAL ORCHESTRAS

From April 1993 until April 1999 I went back to the Jim Davidson empire to manage his ever-growing company, Alpha Audio Ltd. Despite the name, the company was now running lights, lasers and sound. Alpha Audio supplied the equipment to Jim for six major shows every year and provided sound, lighting and lasers to many other production companies. For me, this was mainly a desk job but I did get my hands on a mixing console from time to time. I mixed front of house for Roy Wood on three occasions including a Christmas concert at The Birmingham Symphony Hall. These were all outstanding nights. You have to wonder why he's not more well known and more accepted as a live act.

During this time I also came up with the idea of Virtual Orchestras, a system of pre-recording all the music for a live show and playing it back via a computer. As we had four shows to put on and only one lot of favourite musicians, it seemed like a good idea at the time. The musicians get paid for staying at home and we have a perfect show every night. We have used this system for about four years and never lost a show. That is, twenty different productions without a hitch. In 1999 we added lighting control, so the lights now chase a code on the music track.

We record the orchestra onto forty-eight tracks in the studio. We then mix this down to sixteen tracks on the hard drive. We end up with six lots of stereo mixes such as: stereo strings, stereo keyboards, stereo horns etc. and four tracks of emergency vocal. This then gives the front-of-house operator some mixing opportunities on the night, but limits the possibilities of a complete cock-up in the event of a last minute change of operator.

With 'Dusty' we tried a halfway house approach. We used a live rhythm section and put the orchestral stuff (strings, horns and woodwind etc.) into the computer. A lot was made of this in the publicity blurb surrounding the show. Probably because we had been so 'up front' and had drawn everyone's attention to the fact that there was some pre-recorded material being heard Karen Noble was accused of miming the show. Truth is, most shows these days run with an emergency pre-recorded vocal track in case of illness, and this one was no exception. I can say with my hand on my heart that we only used Karen's track once on the whole tour, and that it was for the first song ("Going Back") on the opening night. It was used for purely technical reasons - we lost her radio signal less than a minute before the curtain went up - and nothing to do with her performance, which was always magnificent.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

In 1999 I decided that I'd had enough of full time work and the pressure of the sharp end with JD. I fancied slowing down a bit. Dianne and I had started our own studio back in 1985 and had produced the last ever Peters & Lee album and most of Jim Davidson's comedy albums. There is a steady drip drip of regular bread and butter type work so we wouldn't exactly starve. I was recording backing tracks for other artists and making daft one-offs like the 'Buddy' Karaoke album (you may laugh, but we sold five thousand). A nice idea from Richard Jnr. We've also produced a solo album for Dianne, an instrumental ballads CD by me and are just finishing a live Dianne and Rick album.

One day in 1999 my old mate Mike (Sheridan) said, "Why don't you and Dianne go back on the road? You could do a spot at The Old Sils". Mike runs a night on the second Sunday of each month at this club in Solihull. It's a great night, lots of old Birmingham faces turn up and play for fun. So there I was, gigging again (performing) after more than eighteen years.

Of course, Dianne had never stopped doing solo dates all this time, so she was well up for it. Me, I wouldn't say I was nervous, but have you ever tried eating ten Pringles at once. That's how dry my mouth was on the first night. However, all is well. I'm down to five Pringles now. We have a set that includes some of Di's hits, some of my hits and a large amount of nostalgic chatter. We have supported such acts as The Batchelors Ted Rogers Bernard Manning and Vince Hill etc. As you can see from the list IT'S NOT ROCK 'N' ROLL ANYMORE, so if you see us advertised don't complain because we're not chopping up television sets or biting the heads off whippets. We've calmed down and thankfully most of you lot have mellowed too.

Mainly because of the virtual orchestra thing I am still involved with 'Old Nick- Nick'. Despite the stress involved, the show-stopping ideas that he has, and the stuff that he dreams up on the spot is always radical, never boring, so I hope we can work together for a while yet. There's no doubt we are a good team, but I've always thought "short bursts" is the secret to a long partnership. I suppose one day I will just be too old for short bursts or any kind of burst.

AND ANOTHER THING

Well, that's it really, you're up to date as of May 2001. One last thing though for any dedicated Roy Wood, Wizzard or Move fans out there. As I was writing this, yet another 'Move to re-form' rumour was doing the rounds. I hear about one a year. These days, I only ever meet dear old Carl Wayne on sessions and TV shows, but when we do bump into each other we nearly always end up talking about the possibility of getting the old bunch back together. There have been some very serious offers.

I admit the idea appeals to me, even though I would have to lose three stone and put my hair in a grow-bag. I'm pretty sure we'd never get all the old members to agree to perform again. I've heard all the arguments for and against. My feeling is that we could probably have a lot of fun if we limited the whole thing to, say, three months a year. The main thing that it would do is put Roy's song catalogue back into the market place. Once that material gets a proper airing, who knows what could happen? He may finally get the recognition he deserves.

Truth is, a Move concert would be like visiting a museum piece but lots of people love to do that. It wouldn't have as much raw emotion or be as truly artistic as it once was, but so what? You won't convince me that Cliff feels the same emotion as he did in 1975 when he first sang 'Miss You Nights'. He still performs it and the punters still love it. After forty years, I imagine that Joe Brown is heartily sick of 'A Picture of You'?

We are just people who write or perform for money. It seems glamorous to the general public but we know it's not. It's just a job like any other, except it's harder than most. In the end, we're buskers. We play the tunes people give us money. Whether you're doing Wembley Stadium or the pavement outside, it's the same principal - doing some form of work in order to get paid. If it becomes possible to do the stadium, why would you want to stay on the pavement? Am I ranting? Sorry.

For now then, I'll be taking it easier. I am leaving myself a space in my diary for the occasional gig and some seaside paddling time with Miss Dianne.

Rock on..............................

Rick Price

(c)2001 

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