Saturday 09 January 2010
Further to your obituary of the producer and arranger Willie Mitchell, I would like to add my memories of working with him, writes Wet Wet Wet bassist Graeme Clark.
We had just signed a major record deal and had two attempts at making our first album, one with the Pet Shop Boys producer, and another with an LA producer called John Ryan, put on "the shelf". We asked the record company if we could go to Memphis and work with Willie. They reluctantly agreed. So after trying to make our record in the UK, we tootled off to Memphis, bearing in mind not one of us had a passport, or had been out of the UK.
What a breath of fresh air it was to make a record with a producer who wanted nothing to do with technology. Synclaviers, Fairlights, click-tracks and all the new-fangled technologies that were the order of the day in making records in the Eighties. There is, I must add, absolutely nothing wrong with combining technologies to make records, and some fantastic records have been made in that way, but for me, Willie Mitchell and Memphis seemed like a way of making music human again, after all we had been through using modern technology.
Willie taught me a couple of things about making music. One: the important thing was the song, not the technology; and two: the "feel" was where you connect with people. He was an expert, arguably the best at making music feel right.
Now in our Memphis Sessions album, you may be able to pick holes in our songwriting but there are no holes in the "feel" or in the way the record sounds. That was all down to Willie Mitchell. How you get the "feel" or "soul" of a song on tape is indefinable. I cannot explain it with words, but I can feel it when I'm playing music, and this was Willie's gift, to gain access to this. He would prepare you to play in an environment that was not only enjoyable but that made you feel you were doing the most important thing in your life.
People might say we made, in 1986, a "Retro", or "Old School" album. I prefer to call it a real album, with real musicians, real songs and a real producer. His presence, not only in the music business, but as the man he was, will be sorely missed. Goodnight Pops, we owe you so much.
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