Fresh Blood (the reissue, 2009). Sleeve Notes.
Sleeve Notes by Steve Swindells.
What does the title ‘Fresh Blood’ evoke for you? I guess there are two very different main options or possibilities. Have a think about it.
Let’s rewind to late 1978 and early ’79. I’d really enjoyed recording the 25 Years On album with The Hawklords (Hawkwind in all but name, ‘for contractual reasons’), and the massive – in both scale and production – tour which followed. Then we found ourselves out on a limb, housed in a lovely riverside mansion location, rehearsing and recording in the attached chapel, but seriously broke and without a record deal. Robert Calvert (whom I’d grown very close to) had left the band after another bout of severe depression and Dave Brock had asked me to be the lead singer. I declined, and left the band, as there seemed little hope of a swift recovery from barely having enough to eat, along with various other problems, most of which have been well-documented.
I was living in a dingy, basement room in St Luke’s Road in London’s Notting Hill . The rest of the ‘flat’ contained all the seriously deranged landlord’s useless junk, had no hot water and only an outside toilet. I seem to recall the rent was £7 a week! Luckily, I had a key to the upstairs part, where my best friend Caroline Guinness rented my old first-floor flat, with her husband Tim Clark, so I could use the bathroom on the half-landing. She had kindly and enthusiastically recommended me for the keyboard-playing job in Hawkwind/lords earlier in ’78, as she basically ran The Hawklords’ management offices, whose roster also included Motorhead.
Post-Hawklords, I was hanging out with a rich, Italian Count who had befriended me through other friends and used to regularly take me out to dinner (which was handy for someone suffering from post-Hawklords malnourishment). He offered to pay for me to record some demos. I gratefully accepted and asked Simon King, Huw Lloyd-Langton and Nic Potter to play on the demos for mere expenses, which they did, on the understanding that should I get a deal, they’d get payed a proper session fee. And, indeed, they did.
The demos turned out to be most excellent and the Italian Count suddenly – apropos of nothing – offered to take me to New York, which was my my first-ever visit. It was autumn (or should I say ‘Fall’?) 1979, when NYC seemed to be bathed in a golden glow. I was utterly enchanted with the city and felt completely at home. The lyrics of the song ‘I Feel Alive’ were written in NYC, and later recorded at Sawmills Studios for Fresh Blood.
The Italian Count was pretty well-connected in NYC on the nightlife front. He was swished into all the VIP-within-VIP rooms (with me in tow) and we were actually invited to the infamous management office at Studio 54 – and yes: it was everything it was rumoured to be. Then there was the basement, where group sex was the order of the night, in a maze of dark, basement rooms. Naturally, one was merely playing the role of the observant songwriter (‘Don’t Wait On The Stairs’?), as opposed to joining-in, although it’s at this point that my memory banks go a bit blank.
On my second day in NYC I called Bill Curbishley, the manager of The Who, in London. Caroline Guinness now ran the office of his and his wife Jackie’s company Trinifold. I knew Bill vaguely and correctly figured he’d speak to me, if only out of curiosity, if I was calling from New York. I was right. I told him I had some seriously hot demos and asked if I could use his name to open a few doors. He said that that would be fine, providing he had first refusal on managing me. I agreed and he put me onto a few major players in the industry, including Doug Morris, the President of Atco Records, which was a part of WEA. Doug is now President of Universal Records (update 2013 – now Sony Music), so he must have had something going for him!
Atco’s office was on the 23rd floor of The Rockerfeller Plaza. Doug had agreed to see me immediately… in person. This was all boding well. I played a couple of the demos. He was on the phone to his A&R people straight away, yelling things like: ‘This Brit guy just walked-in off the fuckin’ street and he’s the NEW SPRINGSTEEN!’.
I was trying desperately to contain my excitement and retain a cool composure.
Within two days, I had a deal worth £80K (on paper) with Atco/WEA and was soon to be signed to Trinifold Management, and Warner Chappell Music. To say I was on a high would have been an understatement.
Suddenly offers from major producers started flying-in, Jim Steinman (Meatloaf), Jimmy Iovine (Springsteen) and David Bowie (himself) most notable amongst them. But I guess the advance – although sizable for the time – didn’t cover their huge fees, so I ended-up producing the album myself at Sawmills Studio in Cornwall; a beautiful, live-in recording complex that was only accessible by boat, or by walking along a railway track. I chose it because I wanted to be fresh and healthy and away from urban distractions and temptations. This was potentially my big break, and I wasn’t about to blow it.
A fax from David Bowie about him listening to both my albums (for the first time) in 1998
As it turned-out, the best thing about Sawmills Studio was the cooking. It was Michelin Stars as far as I was concerned, but I wasn’t recording a lifestyle, I was recording an edgy, urban album. And Simon the sound engineer was very, very laid back. He required at least an hour or even two to recover from the culinary delights of the gourmet dinners, whilst I – the eternal night-person – was itching to get on with what I considered to be a potential masterpiece. The musicians played brilliantly, the atmosphere in the studio was great. But the equipment was badly-maintained. Several channels on the mixer didn’t work. One night, we were recording live. There was a huge thunder storm. The power went (what – no back-up generator?) and the multi-track tape recorder did a quasi-comical audio slow down to… nothing, and we lost the take, which had been perfect.
Bill Price, who’d worked extensively with my fave band The Clash, was brought-in to remix the album at Wessex Studios in North London. He had a job on his hands, because some of the album had been quite badly recorded at Sawmills. I re-sang a couple of the vocals (‘Is it Over Now’ and ‘Low Life Joe’, as I recall) and Huw added some beautiful, multi-layered acoustic guitars, which are particularly apparent on ‘Down On Love Street’.
I still think the album could have been better mixed and mastered, as it’s lacking in bass-end and high top in particular, but it’s also an album I’m very proud of – mostly because of the passion, poetry, anger and commitment in the songs and the excellent playing by the guys who accompanied me, particularly Simon King’s typically hypnotic, powerhouse drumming.
Fresh Blood made its debut at #3 in the American Airplay Charts in the second week of its release, with little or no promotion. Forty-Seven top ‘add-ons’ in Billboard Magazine, as I recall! My request to do coast-to-coast radio interviews in the US was inexplicably ignored by both management and record companies, despite this unheard-of promotional boost. Neither had realised or checked that the following week was the US radio ratings period. So Fresh Blood dropped out of site forever – until, perhaps, now.
And no-one seems to know where the the master tapes of ten songs that I recorded at Eel Pie Studios for the potential follow-up album, with Simon Townsend on guitar and the Big Country Rythmn section (who later went on to perform that role at Live Aid) are. I’m definitely Bitter And Twisted about that (now re-issued as The Lost Albums on Flicknife Records says the Swedish Chef aka Ed’).
Fresh Blood? No, it was never really about the red stuff (apart from perhaps metaphorically, along with sweat and tears). I was, and still am, looking for new talent (including, perhaps, my own) and love – and, I’m glad to say, still succeeding in finding and nurturing it!
I hope you enjoy this slice of history, and realise how much it meant to me at the time. I hope its genuine passion still manages to move you as the Noughties draw to a close. What next? The Teens? Fresh Blood indeed.
This album re-issue is dedicated to my great friend Caroline Guinness and my mother Audrey Swindells, for their never-failing belief, and also to the abiding memories of Tim Clark and Millar Ogilvie. Cover versions from the album that I’m aware of so far include ‘Bitter And Twisted’ and ‘Don’t Wait On The Stairs’ by Roger Daltrey and ‘Shot Down In The Night’ by Hawkwind.
Steve Swindells. London NW10. 1.07.09.
‘… and boy can this guy write lyrics. A glittering first effort’. Review in Rolling Stone Magazine. 1980
Fresh Blood is available on iTunes and all the major online record stores.
The opening track of the album is Turn It On Turn It Off. Here’s the original demo (featuring Dave Brock, Harvey Bainbridge and Simon King).
The closing track of Fresh Blood is ‘Shot Down In the Night‘. Here’s the original demo with the same line-up.
My 2012 double CD The Lost Albums is available from http://www.flickniferecords.co.uk
My new, double compilation album New Crescent Yard, featuring home recording and demos from the late 80s until 2012, is available to download for just $10 – for a limited period – from http://steveswindells.bandcamp.com