FdM's expert on all things vinyl
fran ashcroft

FdM talks to Fran Ashcroft
mastering/mixing go-to bloke
about his vinyl obsessions

"...try to pay in cheese..."

What was the first record you bought? When, where and why? Where was it the last time you saw it?
The Beatles Hits, EP - spring 1963, I was 8! I still have it, and the price sticker is still on there; 10/11d. Thrilling, life changing stuff.

What was the first gig you remember going to?
It should have been The Beatles in Sept '63. 5 shillings to get in. But my dad said I wouldn't be able to hear anything because of all the screaming, so I didn't go.
I was actually gigging myself before I went to see any bands. The first would have been the Stones at Hyde Park in 1969. I'd read something about this massive 1000 watt sound system they had, specially for the event, but it was so quiet, like listening to a transistor radio!

What was the first band/solo artist you obsessed about?
Beatles, who else? It was only them. I'm very loyal, you know.

What was the first gig you played? what was the name of the band and what kind of stuff did you play?
The first attempt was at my primary school xmas party in 1963. I don't think the 'band' even had a name, but I had a plastic guitar so obviously you could rule the world with that alone. We played(!) Twist and Shout and Allan Sherman's Mexican Hat Dance (bizzarely). Afterwards the headmistress told me to get my hair cut, which set the tone for the next 5 years or so. But the first proper gig was in 1968, my little psychedelicy band called 'Its'. We did a couple of Beatles things very badly, some Scaffold singalongs, and even 2 or 3 originals!

How and why did the band split up?
sadly, my key partners' family moved to another town, and that was that. We'd been writing songs, and even had encouragement from Apple - and were still barely teenagers. So it was a bit of a blow. Remarkably, not long ago we met up again for the first time in almost 50 years; he's still playing a bit, and I'll be producing an album for him next year ( well, this year if it's 2018 already).

What was the name of the first song you wrote/recorded/released?
Once I had a half decent tape recorder, I'd record everything - drums, guitar, piano, vocals, and even a 2 cello string section - with one mic, there wasn't a way to overdub anything. Bands didn't often have recordings then, so record companies would usually see you if you had a tape. My first real studio session was at at 10ccs Strawberry Studios, where I was a bit shocked to find Eric Stewart manning reception. I didn't think pop stars did that kind of thing!

Other than the people you currently play with, describe your dream backing band
They're probably all dead by now!

What is your favourite era/genre of music?
Big surprise, British psychedelia 1967-68. There were some fantastic records. I'd love to get that 1968 bass guitar sound now!

...and your favourite band/artist/album of the last five years?
I don't think any have made an impression on me. But I don't listen to music deliberately as a rule, except for the things I'm working on. That's what I give my attention to.

...and the most recent record you bought?
When I was a writer, my publisher had an arrangement with the giant Chappell record store in Bond St. I would go down there and take any records I wanted on their account, so I got used to getting them free! I still pick up old vinyl now and find lately being the mono Sgt Pepper, which I'd been after for a long time. Or I'll get daft stuff like Frank Ifield or Russ Conway.

If you were stranded on a desert island with a record-deck, which three albums would you want with you?
Mono Sgt Pepper, Frank Ifield, Russ Conway

Which artists/labels have you collected over the years, if any?
For entertainment purposes only - late 50s/early 60s kitsch lounge/exotica/novelty records - as much for the sleeves as anything. Music For Barbeques - that one had recipes on the back...
Best excuse for a B side I ever found - 3 minutes of silence 'to ensure the finest sound quality of this recording'!
I do have proper records as well, even if I don't play them. They're all in my head, you see.

Beatles or The Stones or Dylan or Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin? why?
I don't know how or why - call it magic if you will - Beatles records have an emotional resonance across age,language, culture, time, everything. That's a hard act to follow.

What is the most embarrassing record in your collection? why is it there?
The first single on RCA by my band, the Monos. We got lumbered with the head of A&R as 'producer'; he didn't have a clue, and neither did we if it came down to it. I walked out of the first session, it pissed me off so much...and had to be coaxed back for fear of blowing the record deal. It was horrid, and still is!

Best gig you've ever seen?
Sex Pistols, 1976, at a disco 'heavy metal night' near Blackburn. They played for 20 minutes then told everybody to fuck off. The only time I've ever seen an entire audience stood there open mouthed. They didn't know whether to applaud or can them off. Brilliant!

Favourite film that revolves around music?
I've never had the sheer staying power needed to watch Summer Holiday all the way through, so it will have to be 'Catch Us If You Can'. The acting by the Dave Clark 5 is truly something to behold. Closely followed by the Elvis one where he's at the World's Fair, carrying around a giant stuffed dog, or Seven Brides for Seven Brothers with the sound turned off.

Who do you regret never seeing live?
See 'the first band you ever saw'!

Describe Happy Beat - what, where, why...
Ah - Happybeat was the little 4 track studio I had for a while when I lived in the USA. I wanted to do things in the fastest, simplest way possible. Make records like they used to. I enjoyed that a lot.
In the UK, it's principally been mastering and mixing for me. I've incorporated digital - if reluctantly - but still kept all the old oddball gear. Anyone else got a Nullatron?

Best bands you've worked with in the studio...
Well, there's 'best' in an artistic or commercial sense, and 'best' as in the most enjoyable or rewarding at the time. It's probably more accurate to say I always get into whatever record I'm working on when I'm working on it. That's not just promo guff, I do get in the zone - even if I'm not actually 'in the studio' very much anymore. So many bands record themselves now, or sessions are done remotely - drums done in one place, overdubs in another, then sent to me for mixing or mastering; often I never meet the artist at all. Sometimes I wonder if even band members even meet.

What are your recording/release plans for the next six months?
The next Wooltones album is nearing completion, which is guaranteed fun to work on...mixing next month for Johnny Weathers and Paul Cook from the Pistols, and a vinyl full length from edgy Turkish psych punkers Reptilians From Andromeda - the first I've done that has an endless track on the run out groove itself. It should shout 'Revolution!' forever. I'm looking forward to hearing if it works..

Vinyl, CDs or downloads? Why?
Vinyl all the way, Rudolph. CDs have always been crummy, Questionable sound, stupid size. I'll be glad to see the back of them. Downloads are also inconsistent but at least offer bands the opportunity to self release easily and put people like me out of business.

How did you get into mastering records?
I had 3 important albums in succession badly screwed up by mastering engineers - at which point I thought it was time to just bloody well do it myself. I'd got familiar with mastering over the years - notably with Malcolm Davies, who'd cut all the Beatle records. He'd complain about the quality of the vinyl in the 80s, how discs would skip and jump all over the place, so he'd always have to cut twice.
It turned out I had an ear for mastering (it's a little more acute than mixing in some respects), and I'm quite good at getting rid of 'digitalness', so I've ended up doing more mastering than anything else. But still like recording and mixing when I'm allowed.

Have you ever been banned from a studio?
Three times, twice in the USA, once here (though to be honest, I was only chucked out here, not barred per se). I prefer working at home.

Is there anyone you've refused to work with?
Oh, yes. I always keep mice out of the studio, because they:-
need really small headphones
eat cables at lunchtime
haven't had a hit in ages
insist on bringing their girlfriends along to the session
are responsible for many a squeaky kick drum pedal
will be pissed up when they arrive and want to sing karaoke in speeded up voices
complain it doesn't sound "ratty" enough
wind you up about that Beatrix Potter album you did years ago
try to pay in cheese
are much harder to poison than other clients

    some Fruits de Mer releases you might be interested in....

  • Anton Barbeau

  • Postcards From The Deep

  • Sidewalk Society

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...hear the tracks.. the vinyl.. ..smell the fish...