A number of the top music publishing houses owned & ran their own demo studios. If you were a songwriter who was lucky enough to be signed to one of these establishments, you could get your songs properly demoed (and often mastered) there. My very first session EVER, was almost by mistake: in 1975, I was in a band signed to Cube records (& Essex Publishing). We were set up in their rehearsal room in London’s West End (20 Poland Street, I still remember the address). Our task was to compose & rehearse new material. At the time, I was utterly determined to make it in the industry, so I had a great work ethic. I would take an early tube into London, buy a latte & sandwich at the local (Italian) coffee shop (yes, I was drinking lattes before Starbucks popularized them), and be behind my drum kit by 9:45am every day. The rest of the band wasn’t quite so dedicated: they would often roll in around noon, and we would mess around for a few hours before they left for the day. That said, this allowed me a lot of practice time.
One such day, I was sitting in the rehearsal room, playing paradiddles when the engineer (John Rollo) in the demo studio (a very nicely appointed 16 track set-up) popped his head round the door and said: “Hey Charlie, we’ve got a songwriting session in 15 minutes, and the drummer has broken down. Do you fancy playing?” SO , heart hammering in my chest, I dragged my drum kit into the studio, and the John miked it up. Sat there in the studio were a number of “top class” session musicians. I remember the lineup to this day: Pat Donaldson on bass (from the band Fotheringay), Hugh Burns on guitar (a top session player: Gerry Rafferty, Wham!, George Michael etc: he and I would become firm friends, and in the 1990’s my label would record & release his instrumental albums), Pete Wingfield on keyboards (Pete was already a top player, and became a top arranger/producer/writer himself: he booked me on literally hundreds of sessions later). These wonderful people could tell I was relatively inexperienced, and, like the true professionals they were, “held my hand” through the session. The songwriter was a man called Steve Royal. My memory of my first-ever professional session is a good one, thanks in no small part to the people involved.
After that day, I started doing regular songwriter sessions. almost all of the referrals were word-of-mouth, and much of them stemmed from that first time. One of these contacts was the songwriting duo, husband & wife: Steve Howden & Betsy Cook. I think I played on at least half a dozen sessions for them during that time. I will write a new post about Betsy, soon.
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