5 min
12 Dec

Brian Protheroe

Every once in a while you have a tune that occupies your mind in a way that you get addicted to it, resulting in pushing the repeat button repeatedly. I recently had this with Brian Protheroe’s song Pinball. So fresh. As soon as I went out to buy the record, I found out there’s more to this man than just this song. He made a lot of great tunes and also happens to be a well known actor. Also, he was so very kind to help me out with my questions.

What – as far as you remember – was the first music you were into as a youngster?

First music? Holst’s Mars the Bringer of War from the Planet Suit introduced to me by my father. The Hymn “Ah holy jesus how hast thou offended” arranged by JS Bach (I sang the alto part as a choirboy). The Rock Island Line by Lonnie Donegan. Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis (The first record I ever bought). Move It by Cliff Richard. A Josh White Live album with Jack Fallon on bass. The Everly Brothers. Ray Charles – What’d I Say. The Shadows – Apache. Take Five by Dave Brubeck. Then of course…The Beatles

So you started singing early. Pinball was your first solo album, did you do any – or played on any – records before?

I was in a Folk group called Folk Blues Incorporated (FBI) in the mid 60’s. We recorded a single on Eyemark Records – When The Ship Comes In.

From what I’ve read, your first single – Pinball – arose through a Chrysalis representative hearing you perform your self-penned song for the Death On Demand play. How did this go down?

The author of the play I was in called Death on Demand in the early 70’s wrote the lyrics to a song I had to sing in the play (I was playing a pop star). I wrote the music and recorded a demo of the song that the author took to a couple of record companies.
Nigel Haynes at Chrysalis Music invited me to submit anything else I’d written. Pinball was one of four songs that I then sent him. The record Company signed me on the basis of these songs.

Then I guess what happened next is that you went into the studio, how much influence did you have on picking the musicians to accompany you?

I’d worked with Del Newman, who produced all 3 albums, in the theatre. He MD’d a production of Guys and Dolls that I was in at Exeter in 1972. I recommended him to Chrysalis as producer which they agreed to. So Del chose the session musicians for the albums.

Was there – apart from the music you named earlier – any music/musician that inspired you around the time you were making these albums. Basically, what where you into in the early 70’s?

In the early 70’s I was mourning the Beatles break up (“Hey Jude, you were all right. I could’ve grooved with you all night…”). John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Album dominated that time (“Mother”). And Bowie’s Hunky Dory. Alice Cooper – School’s Out. Slade. Sha Na Na. On the whole not such a great time for music!

I like Mccartney’s & Harrison’s first solo albums too. Somehow in the beginning of a decade there’s always a transition in music, or maybe we just tend to think that. Anyway. I know both your debut album and single charted, so I guess it was really well received. What were your own feelings about the album, were you proud? Any favorite aspects or songs?

My one regret about the Pinball album is that the rhythm section – Drums and Bass were not recorded at the same time as my guitar or piano tracks. All tracks would have benefited musically if they had been. This was remedied on the other two albums. Favourite tracks – Monkey and Clog Dancer (and Pinball). Most of the other tracks have aspects that I’m uncomfortable with now – e.g. the end of Mickey Dollar Dreams. I did a better vocal arrangement later of Moon Over Malibu. But overall – yes proud!

You’ve made a few more albums after Pinball, which piece of your own music do you cherish the most?

I’m really proud of Enjoy It. Of the later songs – Venice was a favourite. City Song. And No Snow Blues.

You’re both actor and musician, is one of these disciplines more important than the other for you?

I’m and actor first and it’s how I earn my living. I just feel completely at home in that world. But I cherish my musical life greatly as well.

What music are you currently into?

I’ve always loved Paul Simon and a couple of years ago I discovered an album of his called You’re the One from 2002 (I think). A Masterpiece from beginning to end. I’m thinking of revisiting the old Wings catalogue. Adele. Kate Bush. R Kelly. Stevie Wonder forever!!

Now for a sudden switch of speakers, I also talked to Richard Dodd the Engineer of the Pinball Record. He informed about some of the more technical aspects of the record. Also I’ve exchanged some words with legendary Saxophonist Tony Coe, who doesn’t remember playing on Pinball

In another interview (on Yuzu Melodies, a cool French site), Protheroe once said “Great working relationships with Del and Richard. Long vocal sessions with my medicinal bottle of port. The thrill of hearing a finished track on big speakers. It would have been a lot easier to accomplish some effects if we’d had digital recording then. On the other hand, it made certain tracks epic little adventures, requiring a great deal of imaginative problem solving. Richard Dodd, the engineer, was at the forefront there.” When I first heard the song Pinball it took me 37 seconds to decide to save to my favorites. At that particular moment a little background noise/effect is heard, which dragged me out of my stand-by music listening mode. I listened to the song till the end to find out – apart from the fact that the song itself is already brilliant – that I really like the production (also the layered samples near the end). It has something very fresh to it. When I later bought the record and found out the whole piece is woven with some very fresh engineering. Though let’s focus on the song Pinball for a sec. Could you tell me something about your work on this song. What inspired you, what techniques did you use?

I recorded the track using a then new ‘tape noise reduction system’ called DBX (not Dolby). Putting it simply (so that I can understand), the DBX system, unlike the then popular Dolby A system, relied heavily on overall frequency response to achieve encode / decode, (the dolby was more about frequency bands and level). In our case, the tape and machine combination didn’t, to my ear at least, consistently decode properly. When using the Dolby A system, I would often choose to not decode at all or as it was primarily level sensitive, only partially decode the playback to taste. The DBX system , by design, didn’t usually support either option, in so much as the encoded signal was very extreme, it usually made a non decoded signal unlistenable. As I didn’t like either the DBX decoded or non decoded sound for our mix, I created a compromise** that gave the entire track, to varying degrees, a unique sonic ‘vibe’. The resulting ‘sound / effect’ required (in those days), a total commitment, control and faith in the outcome to ever employ again.