Monday, 7 December 2015

Christmas with Elvis in 1970

When Elvis released his first Christmas Album in November 1957, he probably didn't expect it to be reissued and repackaged as much as it was during his lifetime - and still is to this day. The original album featured eight Christmas songs recorded at Hollywood's Radio Recorders in September 1957, and the four gospel songs that were first released on the Peace in the Valley EP at Easter that same year. In the U.S, the album had a book style cover that opened up to reveal a 10-page album of full colour promotional photos from Elvis's third movie Jailhouse Rock, and had a gold gift sticker attached to the front of the shrink wrapping. The two sides of the album were divided into a selection of secular Christmas songs on side one, with two traditional Christmas carols and the four spirituals on side two. It was first reissued two years after its first release, replacing the iconic cover of the original with a close-up of Elvis posed against an outdoor, snowy backdrop. 

The first time it appeared as a budget album was fourteen years after it was first released, and apparently came about when Harry Jenkins, then RCA's vice president in charge of Elvis, began talking about a new Christmas album, to which Elvis asked what was wrong with once again repackaging the original one from 1957. By now, Elvis was ensconced in Memphis, had received his special U.S narcotics badge from Richard Nixon, was basking in a new film documentary about his August 1970 Summer Festival in Vegas, and was about to go back out on the road, so the idea of a new Christmas album held little interest for him, so instead, RCA did what he suggested and repackaged the original LP, but with some changes that upgraded the set. After all, fourteen years in the music business is a long time, which in this case, had encompassed everything from the Beatles to the Vietnam war. 

The album, this time, was repackaged in a completely new look front and back sleeve with an altered track listing and was put out on RCA's budget label, RCA Camden in November 1970, which retailed in the UK on Camden's International imprint for just under one pound. But of course, it was actually a different album than the original LP even though it used the same title and some, but not all, of the original songs. I first came across it when I was browsing through the Elvis section at HMV in Brighton. By this time, the original album had been long out of print, and widely unavailable, unless you could find a copy in a second-hand record store. Although the new cover echoed that of the 1959 reissue, we now had a more recent 60s photo of Elvis taken on the set of his 1967 movie Speedway, wearing a blue racing jacket with two white stripes down the left-hand side, which once again, was set against a wintry scenic background. The back sleeve art, which differed to the U.S version, had also been given a make over. Now, all in black-and-white, it featured a cropped close-up of Elvis from his comeback special, an advert for his previous two Camden albums, and the new altered track listing.

 US and UK label variations

The four gospel songs from Peace in the Valley had now been eliminated and replaced with two newer tracks. One was Elvis's festive single from 1966, If Every Day Was Like Christmas, and the other, was Mama Liked The Roses, a 1970 non-seasonal B-side that had been out earlier in the year as the flip to his #1 UK hit, The Wonder of You, which the front cover announced had been added "By Request!" The other noticeable change when comparing this version to the original was the number of tracks. It had now been reduced to ten songs instead of the original thirteen, due to the industry requirements for shorter running times on budget albums. The running order of the Christmas songs were also changed. All the same, it was a fine release, with a good selection of tracks, a great looking sleeve, and released in the original mono sound of the original. In the year after its release, it peaked at #7 in the UK top ten album chart, and over the following years, would go on to sell seven million more copies than the original album, although according to EPE (Elvis Presley Enterprises), it sold nine million. Not surprisingly, it also became Elvis's biggest selling album of all time, and his first to attain a Diamond disc award from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Camden re-released the album the following year in a modified cover that now had a cropped version of the Elvis Speedway picture in a circle in the middle of a white sleeve, with the title and song selections in red, plus a sleeve note on the back underneath the album title and track listing. Even when it was reissued in 1975 by Pickwick, the sleeve again was updated, which this time, echoed the second Camden version, but now with a more elaborate royal blue background decorated with red ribbons around the picture of Elvis in a circle. Although the 1970 RCA Camden release remained in print until the late 1980s, with the same track listing, and has since appeared in various different official and bootleg combinations, not once in all that time, has it ever appeared in its original 1970 cover art despite the sleeve being one of the most popular and a firm favourite among fans. It's certainly one of mine!

With thanks to Tony King for the sleeve and label restoration and scanning.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Winona: The First Interview

To celebrate the 17th anniversary of my biography of Winona Ryder this week, here is the very first interview I did for the book, which I did with Neil Milner for his quarterly published Winona Fanzine. The interview appeared in Issue #9, one month after publication of the book. In the interview, I talked to Neil about how the book came about, some of the people I interviewed for the project, and what I thought of Winona herself... 

NM: I suppose the most logical place to start is, why a book on Winona? What gave you the idea to do a book on her?
Nigel: The initial idea came from Hannah MacDonald, then the publishing editor at Virgin Publishing. We were discussing another project when the possibility of a book on Winona came up. To write about the actress whose career I had followed with interest and admiration ever since watching her in Lucas in 1986 simply excited me. Not only that, but it would be entirely different from the type of books I’d done before. At that time, I was writing works of references, but now I had a vision of writing, what I hoped would be the first book about Winona Ryder. So that gave me the idea. I submitted a proposal for what I wanted to do, but all of a sudden, several books were announced for publication in the States. Dave Thompson’s book was the first straight biography and was, I thought, a very accomplished one, and one which sort of encapsulated some of my own ideas.

NM: Was it difficult to get a publisher interested?
Nigel: Yes, because it’s a very erratic market. Believe it or not, most rejected the idea in their belief that Winona, although ranked among the top ten box-office stars, and certainly one who encourages millions of fans, still didn’t have the profile to warrant a book. I remember one publisher telling me that most bestselling film biographies were the ones about the male heartthrobs, or if female, the ones with a reputed gay fan following, and as Winona didn’t fall into either category, I didn’t find anyone rushing to do my book. Even when I did find a publisher, they were only interested if it was authorised, which always scares me because I know how difficult it is to encourage someone like Winona to become involved with a project like this. And although some publishers take the view that it is best to co-operate and/or authorise a biography to ensure accuracy, not many Hollywood stars share that view. Nevertheless I had a go. In fact, I approached Winona’s public relations firm several times with several ideas asking for Winona’s co-operation and an interview, but as I have explained in my author note, her publicist made it clear that they were uncomfortable with the idea of a biography at this stage. I even remember when Hannah moved from Virgin to Andre Deutsch, she came up with the idea of Winona writing her own film dairies for a year or so, but even that was a no-no. Still Smith Gryphon did come back to me months later with an offer for an unauthorised work, and so, I began writing in the early part of April 1997, and quickly got up to speed as the manuscript had to be delivered at the end of June for publication that October to coincide with the landmark release of Winona’s twentieth film, Alien Resurrection. But about two weeks before it was due to go to print, Smith Gryphon sadly went into liquidation and my book on Winona was cancelled.

NM: And this was only the first delay…
Nigel: Yes, but I was really pleased that Blake Publishing were now going to publish Winona in April 1998. the icing on the cake was that they were going to put it out in hardback with two picture sections – one in black and white and one in colour. But their attempts to rush out my book didn’t really work out. The shops were reluctant to order a hardback and they also felt that they had not been given sufficient notice of publication which was really strange since Virgin’s sales teams had already been out selling the title for Smith Gryphon. Reluctantly Blake put publication back to September, and also decided to produce the book as a large format trade paperback instead of a hardback. Only differences were the price and that one was in soft covers and the other wasn’t. But there were advantages. I now had the opportunity to ensure that my book on Winona would be the most up-to-date published, which I think it is since it ends with Winona and Matt Damon. But it also allowed me the opportunity to do some fine tuning and polishing to the body of the text. Even the picture spreads got a re-working.

NM: Who did you interview for the book, and did they give you much material?
Nigel: Everyone at the Polly Klaas Foundation was extremely helpful in checking the chapter on the Polly case and guided me to write that part of the book more accurately. I spoke to them a number of times because one of my prime concerns was the sensitivity of the story and I didn’t want to cause any distress to Polly’s family and friends. The public relations associate at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco was equally helpful for commenting on the accuracy to the background of the A.C.T and to Winona’s time there, as well as supplying me with details of Winona’s honorary degree that they awarded to her in early 1997.

NM: Where there many people who turned you down, who said that they didn’t want to be interviewed?
Nigel: There were a few, but that was understandable since people can be very suspicious about co-operating with unapproved biographers. Long before I spoke with the public relations associate at A.C.T, I called the director of their Youth Conservatory, who had been there when Winona was a student, but he was reluctant to talk with me about Winona’s time at the A.C.T unless she called him to say it was okay. I respected that. Not only for the fact that he remained close to Winona and her family, but also because Winona continued to be very supportive to the conservatory. And from that point of view, without Winona’s blessing, I understood his reluctance. He did however tell me, that if I did ever manage to talk to Winona, I should be prepared for the fact that she didn’t really like talking about herself as she was very shy.

NM: Where there people you interviewed who perhaps hadn’t spoken at length about Winona before?
Nigel: I’m sure there were, but I wouldn’t claim great credit for that, you know, it’s not like ‘Hey! I interviewed this person for the first time!” because it’s not like I did any great thing. As I have already said, the Polly Klaas Foundation and A.C.T were extremely helpful, and maybe it was the first time they got involved in anything like this. I have to be thankful for that. That they allowed me to speak to them a great number of times, they’d go over the same ground for me, and they put up with me asking what probably sounded like stupid questions because I wanted to clarify so much.

NM: Was there anything that didn’t end up in your book?
Nigel: Yes, but that was to do more with legal reasons than anything else. I was very disappointed to lose the story about Winona being asked to leave Kenilworth Junior High because she was a distraction. Our libel report, essential to any biography, pointed out that this, as with a few others, could be taken with defamatory of living, identifiable individuals, and also alerted us the the fact that it should not be assumed that quotations or source material is necessarily accurate. So I’m afraid some passages of the manuscript had to be withdrawn.

NM: I heard that you also had difficulties with obtaining to use certain photographs. Is that true?
Nigel: Yes! Unfortunately, most of the film companies were reluctant to grant permissions because the book was unauthorised which is understandable in a way, and I respect that. We lost a lot of movie stills that way. You know things like Mermaids, Edward Scissorhands, The Age of Innocence, The House of the Spirits, Reality Bites, Little Women, The Crucible and Alien Resurrection. It was very disappointing, but we managed to replace them with some relevant pictures, something that still had a connection wherever possible. For instance, we used Winona receiving her Golden Globe for The Age of Innocence, and Winona and Daniel Day-Lewis at The Crucible premiere in place of the actual stills. In fact, I think we ended up with a selection of pictures that are perhaps not so often seen, so I hope that will please the fans. I think we’ve got some really good ones, and a few surprises too!

NM: I understand that the local newspaper in Winona’s hometown, in Petaluma, were very helpful. How much material did they give you for the book?
Nigel: Yes – the Petaluma Argus-Courier have definitely been helpful, in fact, I’m doing an interview with them in November which I’m very excited about. Nothing pleases me more than that because it’s Winona’s hometown – just hope she’s home when I’m in it! But I really appreciated their help in supplying me the article and interview they did with Winona around the release of Lucas in April 1986, which we have been able to include in the book. It features a wonderful picture they shot of Winona in her classroom at Petaluma Junior High. They also sent me an article and interview from the San Francisco Chronicle that Winona must have done around the same time. The picture that featured in the article of Winona stretched out across a railway track with her hair cut boyishly short, and wearing a lace scarf over a beat-up Levi jacket, and equally beat-up jeans, was another wonderful picture, and must be one of the least seen, but it was impossible to get hold of. We were unable to negotiate a permission fee, but there are always going to be photographs that you can’t use for one reason or another. I suppose you’d never finish a book if you wait until you’ve got hold of every picture you want. It’s just impossible to do. I remember we also wanted to use the one of Johnny Depp kissing Winona on the nose that was an official shoot for Vogue, taken by Herb Ritts, and was not available for unauthorised projects, but I’m glad we’ve got what we have in the picture spreads. I think they sort of depict what I’ve written in the text.

NM: What’s the publication date in the States?
Nigel: November in the States, it’s being distributed by Seven Hills, but I’m not sure of the exact date. I assume it’ll be out in the early part of the month. It’s been a labour of love – more so than any of my other books, but that’s because I think Winona Ryder is such a very, very, special actress, and it’s from that perspective that I was writing. I hope I don’t disappoint anyone! My ambition is that’ll it reach a readership of people who feel affectionate about Winona. People it’ll mean something to. I set out with the thought that this is such a great, great story and she is such a great actress. I have tried not only to tell her story but also to offer a sense of the world that she grew up in, and the excitement of the world she entered into – and it’s pitfalls.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Elvis Today / From Vinyl to Legacy

Although I don’t usually write reviews as I don’t consider myself a critic or reviewer, when the opportunity came up to write a review for SDE (Super Deluxe Edition), I jumped at the chance, because it’s not something I usually do, and it also offered me the perfect excuse to write about Elvis Today, one of my own personal favourite Elvis albums. My review, reproduced below, includes a history of the original album, the sessions, the new Legacy Edition, and some long forgotten images that didn't make it into the latest package!   

Elvis Today was never one of Elvis’s biggest selling albums. At best, it could only be called a mediocre hit, one which only managed to reach #48 in the UK album chart, and did even worse in the States. Released at a time when the pop scene was swamped with the robotic sounds of Disco, and country music had become besotted with the countrypolitan age, perhaps it was no surprise that the first single from the album, a new rock song called T-R-O-U-B-L-E didn’t really have the impact that was hoped for, and yet it had everything going for it. As Stuart Colman notes, “Uptempo rockers that twinned a fifties feel with a contemporary lyric were by no means easy to come by at this stage of the game, and it suited Elvis to a tee.In the UK, oddly enough, considering it was a return to everyone’s favourite Elvis style, it just missed the Top 30 and nowhere matched the success of his earlier 70s hits. The second single in the States, Bringing It Back didn’t perform any better, but the second single in the UK, Green Green Grass of Home, a cover version of the Tom Jones chart-topper, was easily the biggest single from the album when it charted inside the Top 30 in November 1975.

In Britain, the release of Today was squeezed in between two compilation albums of old material. The first was the budget U.S. Male on Pickwick, and the other, was the mid-priced Sun Collection on the then new RCA Starcall label, which actually performed better than Today in the album chart. But that, perhaps, was no surprise and no accident. The recordings Elvis made at Sam Phillips’ famous studio in Memphis had always been among his most popular, and as this was the first time, they had all been placed on one album, it was almost written in stone that it would score well in the UK album chart. It peaked at #16 just two months after Today had been and gone and missed the Top 20 boat altogether. 

Unlike those famous Memphis sessions 20 years earlier, Today was recorded over three nights between March 10 and March 12, 1975, at RCA’s Studio C in Hollywood, California, the same studio where Burning Love and Separate Ways had been laid down in 1972, and served as the rehearsal location for Elvis’s MGM movie Elvis on Tour that same year. Now, three years later, Elvis returned, armed with a recently won ‘Best Inspirational Performance’ Grammy for his 1974 concert version of How Great Thou Art, and some material for recording a new album, which unknown at the time, would be the last time he would lay down tracks in a traditional recording studio. The result was one of the most diverse albums of his career with Elvis interpreting songs previously recorded by artists such as Don McLean, Perry Como, Billy Swan, Faye Adams, the Statler Brothers, Charlie Rich, The Pointer Sisters, and as already mentioned, Tom Jones. In some ways, the Today album was like Elvis’s first - made up of songs he chose and loved. But of course, to be fair, it was no first album, and neither was it an Elvis Is Back, His Hand in Mine or From Elvis in Memphis. It was, nevertheless, a fine album, and arguably one of his most underrated, and although some may argue that point, this 40th anniversary Legacy Edition goes a long way to prove otherwise. 

Disc one features the entire original album plus 10 undubbed mixes from the sessions, providing an alternate mix of the album. Although previously issued on the 2005 Follow That Dream (FTD) edition, this is the first time these versions have seen the light of day on a commercial release, and with fans favourite, Vic Anesini, at the remastering helm, they are certainly an improvement on the sound quality of the FTD version. It is very refreshing to hear the unvarnished performances of these songs, in such good sound quality, and freed from the controversial “countrypolitan” overdubs that Felton Jarvis did for the original 1975 release. If you compare them to the more polished versions of the finished album, they certainly provide an entirely different listening experience. If there is anything missing from this new Legacy Edition, it surely has to be the 3-minute warm-up jam session of Tiger Man that was a highlight of the FTD edition. With a running time of 67 minutes on disc one, there was certainly room to fit it on as a bonus track.  

Disc two features live performances from May and June 1975. Originally issued as The Concert Years in the 8 LP Elvis Aron Presley 25th anniversary silver box set, in August 1980, it included, for the main part, Elvis’s show from Dallas in Texas on 6 June 1975. Originally recorded direct to cassette tapes from the mixing console for reference purposes only, it was never intended for record release in Elvis’s lifetime, and as such, it was necessary to replace damaged or missing songs from this show with other performances from the tour to present an album that mirrored a complete show. For this 40th anniversary Legacy Edition, the entire constructed concert, which includes a first-ever live performance of T-R-O-U-B-L-E, has been reassembled and remastered from the original sources, again by Vic Anesini, and thereby offers improved audio quality. And despite what some fans may think, these restored live performances provide the perfect companion to Elvis’s last official studio recordings, especially as they all come from the tour that surrounded the release of the album. Listen out for the drum roll on Hound Dog that echoes the original drum roll from the original hit, not often featured in Elvis’s live versions of the song in the 70s.

The packaging is the usual Legacy Edition packaging we have come to love and respect. Like the previous On Stage, Aloha From Hawaii and Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis Legacy Editions, it comes in a six-panel digipak with decent front and back cover art reproduction, and is a huge improvement on the repro quality of the FTD edition which lacked definition and looked more like a third generation copy. Housed behind the discs are excellent repros of the T-R-O-U-B-L-E singles bag, albeit it being the wrong side featuring the B-side as its main title, and the QuadraDisc version of the album, which seems a bit pointless as the cover art is exactly the same as the standard album release, as used on the digipak and booklet front covers. The obvious alternative would have been to include the picture singles bag for Bringing It Back or the UK generic RCA bag and label for Green, Green Grass of Home. Another option, of course, would have been to feature the cover art of the original 1980 sleeve or label from The Concert Years LP (shown below). In many ways, it also seems a shame that disc two didn’t settle on representing the label of the original 1980 vinyl. 

The glossy 24-page booklet features an excellent essay by Stuart Colman, who gives a good historical narrative about the sessions and the songs, with some good footnotes to the not-so obvious, such as the story of the final mixing and overdubbing of the original album, recorded with musicians outside of Elvis’s usual live band, which would become a point of contention between Elvis and RCA to the degree that it caused Elvis, at one stage, to blow his top, and probably encouraged his decision about recording his future output either live in concert or in his home studio at Graceland.

The booklet also includes a batch of first rate quality photos, many not seen before, and as was the norm for Elvis official photos and record sleeves during this time of his career, all are concert shots. For this release, we are treated to a number of various shots of Elvis in different jumpsuits and outfits that were taken during the tour of the bonus disc. There is also the usual batch of memorabilia that we have come to expect with Elvis reissues, and this booklet is no exception. Included are the usual record labels, sleeves, cassettes, letters and RCA ads. Once again there are no images from The Concert Years album, either front or back sleeve, the box or labels, and no repro of the UK singles. Although that may seem like a niggly point, their inclusion would have added to the completeness of what is otherwise an excellent anniversary edition of Elvis’s last official studio album and the collectible live recordings taped just a few months after the sessions.

With thanks to Sara Irvine at Sony Music, Paul Sinclair at SDE, Tony King for The Concert Years LP sleeve and label scans, and George and Linda Athans for the full size unedited and uncropped version of the booklet back cover photo. (Please note that George and Linda's credit in the booklet is misspelt as George and Linda Nathans, which is to be corrected in all future pressings).

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Restoration of Kylie

Earlier this month, the long-awaited re-issues of Kylie’s first four albums on PWL were finally released after a delay of three months. Each album is now available in three collector editions, but the most interesting, without doubt, are the ones that include the DVDs of original promo videos, bonus material and BBC footage. Although I had seen some of the material on VHS when I was researching my biography of Kylie in 2002, and later, on the DVD releases of Kylie Greatest Hits and Ultimate Kylie, for which I co-wrote the album liners, they were never in such outstanding picture and sound quality as they are on the new PWL re-issues. Intrigued to find out more, I recently spoke to video director, editor and restorer Dan Hall about the challenges of the work involved in restoring Kylie.

What brought you to work on the Kylie videos for the PWL reissues?
I was first approached at the conception stage by PWL archivist Tom Parker. He had followed the work of my company Pup Limited on the Classic Doctor Who DVD range. I had commissioned the high-profile DVD range for several years. The releases contained restored episodes as well as new documentaries. Tom’s original idea was to apply the Classic Doctor Who DVD model onto the Kylie releases.

Are you a fan of the Kylie PWL era?
Indeed I am. I must be one of the few PWL / Springsteen / Suede fans in the UK! Pete and the team made some absolutely smashing melodies, and it has been an honour to be a part of bringing them back to audiences. The PWL concert a couple of Christmases back was one of the best nights of my life. I lost my voice for two weeks after.

Restoring the videos then, must have been like a work of love.
Absolutely a work of love. We were unable to go down the same restoration route as for the Doctor Who DVDs because of budget. And so Pup developed a whole new series of restoration techniques. These were designed more for short-form content like music videos as opposed to longer-form television shows. There is always some more work to do, always another piece of drop-out that can be improved. The more you fix these things the more errors begin to show. And of course nobody wants to let content out that could be improved. So you do go on and beyond budget, but with a willing heart.

Did you play a part in finding any of the footage, like the original and location-based versions of Got To Be Certain, or were these in the PWL archive?
All the footage was sourced and found by Tom Parker whose passion for the project drove us on. He has a fantastic knowledge of Pete Waterman’s legendary barn in which many of the masters are stored. Tom had the key knowledge about different versions of videos and where they might be found. We did have one fortunate find towards the end of production. A couple of videos had been missing from Tom’s original masters delivery. When getting these transferred we uncovered superior quality versions of many of the titles. By this point we all but finished restoration, so much of the earlier work was scrapped. But the time was by no means wasted as our improved techniques could now benefit the new masters.

Was there any other major restoration work done apart from what has been seen in the Pup showreel?
Absolutely! Every single one of the videos averaged two or three days’ work. The promo only shows the “greatest hits”. Although these videos aren’t hugely old, it is alarming how quickly videotape begins to fail. Information is lost causing what is called “drop-out”. These are brief flashes of lost data, usually shown as a bar of colour. There are also dirt and scratches which we remove. Grading is always controversial. This is where you alter the colours in the picture to give a mood. It can have a massive effect on audience’s perceptions. For example Loco-Motion was too yellow, which we fixed resulting in a more natural skin-tone. On Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi we took a gamble and completely regraded it. The original was super-80s in colouring and brightness, and yet it was set in 1940s France. So the re-grade played on this with a more brown austerity grade to complement the fantastic sets. For Finer Feelings we found the beautiful photography was undermined by a low-contrast master. So the blacks were pumped down a tad to give it more gusto. Out of all her videos this is the one that I feel deserves our reappraisal most. The photography and editing really is first rate.

What can you tell me about the restoration process and did you have any say on what videos should be included and ones that shouldn’t?
Tom and PWL very much led the editorial of the release, although of course they were happy with my input. But frankly they were one and the same. We all wanted to make a definitive set of releases that showed the passion of those who had put it together. As for the restoration process, we vestigated investing in automated technology. But it was quickly apparent that it was no match for careful human eyes and hand-crafted fixes. Music videos are available, pirated for free all over the internet. If we are going to persuade people to part with their money we have to provide something special. And I do not think pumping a video through a rough, computerised clean-up is going to cut the mustard.

Were there any videos that you were given to work on that you felt wouldn’t benefit from restoration?
Every single video was restored. Even later ones like Word Is Out, which had very little dropout, suddenly had huge green splodges on several frames. Each video was their own challenge with their own unique set of solutions. 
How good or bad condition was the BBC footage that you worked on? Did the BBC give you any other footage that is not included in the sets?
The BBC material was in okay condition. The sound isn’t fantastic on some of the Wogan episodes, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Part of the texture of archive is its faults, and sometimes you make a judgement call to leave things as they are. In the case of Wogan the music wasn’t replaced as people are watching it for the archive, rather than the song. However, almost all the BBC footage had a lot of what we call noise. This is lots of tiny dots that look a bit like a slightly off-tuned television. So we cleared those away and gave the colours a bit more punch. Everything that the BBC provided for us was placed on the discs. And great it is too! I loved the old Top of the Pops graphics so much that they were recreated for the albums’ four promos.

Who initiated the restoration work on the videos? Did you have any say in it because you felt that the original videos could do with restoration?
It was Tom Parker who first approached me, and he had previously done fantastic work for both companies. Without realising it I’d been buying Tom’s fantastic reissues for quite a while! I imagine the whole thing was driven first by him. Later on Ian Usher took over the reigns and led the project to completion. I have a lot of self-interest in wanting the videos to be restored! So quite rightly I wouldn’t have a say in whether they should be done or not.

Most of the video promos have been released before on various DVDs. Did you wonder why they had not been restored to the picture quality you have now given them?
I can absolutely understand why, because there may not be the demand. But now videos are pirated all over the internet labels and artists have to take quality to the next level if they are going to persuade people to part with their money. This will hopefully encourage people back to official sources and off YouTube. In addition, a scratchy and unattractive video does undermine the song and the audience’s perception of the material. We do live in a very visual world, even those of us in music. 
Would you say they are near enough Blu-Ray quality? They look like they are.
That’s very kind of you to say! The first part of Pup’s restoration process was to boost the standard-definition masters up to high-definition. This is where very computer software “guesses” the extra pixels that are needed by an HD picture. Our restoration work was then carried out on these new HD masters. It was only the very end of the process where the HD was scaled back to standard definition for DVD. From your question I’m guessing our specially developed restoration technique worked! 
Are there any more videos and footage that could be restored?
Oh, goodness yes! I look at the wonderful work of artists like Kate Bush, David Bowie and the Pet Shop Boys and long to get my hands on their material. Bush’s Cloudbusting is a stunning video, but it desperately needs cleaning. Same goes for the wonderful Pet Shop Boys feature-length concept video, It Couldn’t Happen Here. Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes is iconic, but covered in dropout. And Queen… who wouldn’t want to get those fantastic promos looking sharp?

What visual and audio quality were the original promos in?
The audio wasn’t brilliant, and a tad muffled and quiet. But this was fixed with wonderful new audio masters from PWL. Visually the conditions varied a lot. Loco-Motion, Got To Be Certain and Never Too Late were particularly bad. The PWL masters of If You Were With Me Now had an eight second section that was unplayable. For this I sourced another copy from a different source and compiled a new master. What this showed was that often it is believed that somebody else is looking after the master. The TV companies think the labels are, the labels think the agents are, the agents think the producers are, etc. If we are not careful we’re going to lose some of the iconic promos of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. On Better the Devil You Know we discovered one single frame of a shot that had been left in by accident way back when. So this was removed as it is “illegal” for broadcast. There’s an exclusive! The restored Better the Devil You Know video is actually 1/25 second shorter than the original. 
How painstaking was the restoration and what were the primary technical processes/tools you used?
Very painstaking! Each video has at least ten passes, and for some we slow it down to 50% in order to allow us to extrapolate every possible piece of visual data. I won’t go into exactly what we use or how we use it – it’s our magic formula! – but suffice to say the technique was developed by Pup using a Computing Science PhD wizard.

Is re-mixing sound for a DVD a completely different process to the remix of a CD set and did you work on any of the CDs?
Sometimes one can get too close to a project and forget that at the end there is a consumer – and hopefully one that is smiling. This is a brand new restoration process that Pup has developed especially for music videos. I sincerely hope that we’ll get to cast our magic on more titles. The sound was provided to us from PWL, remastered and sounding fantastic. For DVD we simply put a small amount of compression to keep it from going too loud. But really on the sound the hard work was done by Tom and PWL. All we had to do was match the old sound to the new. That said, it was tougher than it first seemed as the sound on those videos didn’t run at a consistent speed. These errors had to be forced back into the remastered audio in order to keep things in sync!

Was there a specific rationale for the video tracks that were chosen for the new DVDs?
From my understanding the only rationale was: “Is it relevant” and “Is it available”. With those two simple criteria PWL and Cherry Red were able to pull together a brilliant set of releases. 

Do you know if Kylie has seen any of the restored videos? If so what was her reaction?
I don’t know whether she has, although I’m sure Pete would have made sure she knew about them. As an artist I’m sure she’s wary about spending too much time looking back, when there is an expectation always to move forward. That said, I hope it reminds her how much people value and enjoy her fantastic back catalogue.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The Fabulous Elvis

Just over four and a half decades ago, in April 1969, I was working at Caffyns in Eastbourne, when RCA Records released Elvis Presley’s new album. On the day of release, during my lunch hour, I walked into town and headed to the record department at WHSmith, where they still had listening booths where one could ask for records to be played without any intention to purchase until the staff got irritated and chucked you out. By the time I got there to listen to Elvis, the soundtrack album from his 1968 NBC-TV Special, there was only one copy left.

You wouldn’t have to be reading Elvis Monthly or be among Elvis’s community of British fans to realise that the TV special had received unprecedented significance in the music press and elsewhere. Most of us had heard about it, which at the time, was being hailed as Elvis’s comeback from his Hollywood years to once again retain his position at the fore of popular music. Anyone who had seen his last picture Speedway, would know and understand why every Elvis fan and music journalist was genuinely excited about the special, and why it was so important to see the show that had all America raving, but what most couldn’t understand was why we had to wait over a year to see it on British TV.

What was perhaps strange is that when it did finally get an airing in the UK, on New Year’s Eve 1969, with a title change to The Fabulous Elvis, it was relegated to BBC2, which most people didn’t have access to, as its 625-line colour broadcasts could only be received on newer TV sets, so most people didn’t have it. I was living at home with my parents at the time, and they certainly didn’t. Like many other households in the UK at that time, our TV could only receive black-and-white broadcasts for what, at the time, were the two main channels, ITV and BBC1, which meant that not only did I have to wait over a year before the Elvis special was broadcast, but I wasn’t even able to see it when it was. I had to wait a further six weeks after its showing on BBC2, until it was repeated on BBC1 on Wednesday 4 February 1970 at 8.00pm. But why the hold up in showing it in the first place! It seems Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was partially to blame.

According to a cutting in the New Musical Express on 1 March 1969, “There are still no plans for the special to be screened in this country. BBC-TV executives have expressed great interest in the show from the outset - and because of the Corporation’s special relationship with NBC-TV, asked to see a copy of the film, with a view to purchasing British screening rights. However the copy has still not arrived in this country. The NME understands that rights to the special are held by Elvis and his management, and the delays in making it available for world distribution is primarily the responsibility of the Presley organisation. Meanwhile BBC-TV is maintaining its effort to secure the film.” And then two months later, in May, the NME ran a story that fans would definitely see the special sometime in the near future. “Colonel Tom Parker revealed this week that he has now signed the necessary clearance, enabling for it to be seen in this country. Both BBC and ITV are interested in securing it, and says the Colonel, the show will go to the highest bidder.”

In the end, when the show finally made it onto BBC1, 45 years ago this week, it was very exciting to think that after all the ifs, buts and maybes, I would finally get to see it, along with the thousands of other British fans, who either missed it when it was on BBC2 or couldn’t watch it because, like me, their families didn’t have the right kind of TV set. And in those days, before we had the luxury of video recorders and Sky boxes, we couldn’t tape it to watch again later. We would have to wait for it to be repeated and the likelihood of that was, well unlikely. 

I watched it with my parents at home, on their old black-and-white TV, along with my sister and her husband, and after the end credits had finished rolling, I remember my dear late father saying, “Shame he didn’t have guests on like Tom Jones does!” Quite disgusted with the comment, I told him, I was now going to my room to play the album at full volume, and was immediately asked why, “You have just watched it on TV... don’t you think we have had enough Elvis for one night!” Guess what my answer was! 

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Step Back In Time

As a teaser to my forthcoming article on PWL’s long-awaited Kylie album reissues next month, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at her second album, Enjoy Yourself, one of my own personal favourites of the soon to be released special editions, and reproduce a feature written about the original album by Chrissie Camp for Kylie’s official 1991 annual…

With her second album Enjoy Yourself, Kylie had something to prove. She was determined to show she was serious - very serious - about her music. The results speak for themselves. Enjoy Yourself debuted at number two on the UK charts, hitting the top spot the following week. Within six weeks of release, the album had sold more than one million copies in the UK alone. The success of Enjoy Yourself was even more heartening to Kylie considering she had faced the daunting task of following-up the phenomenal Kylie album.

Every performer will tell you the pressures and expectations of topping a successful record are enormous. There’s the dilemma of keeping to the style that fans have grown to love, while at the same time allowing the artist to mature. In Kylie’s case, she was nearly eighteen months older when she recorded Enjoy Yourself and she wanted that to show.

The resulting album is more mature and more ambitious than her debut. It has more diversity and touches on everything from soul to 1940s big band tunes. The songs showcase how Kylie’s vocals and her confidence sparkles off the record. With more experience under her belt, she felt confident she could play a greater part in shaping the record and so this time had more input into the production process. It’s a practice she definitely wants to continue in the future.

Kylie is adamant her music - pop music - has a valid place in today’s music industry, even if some high-brow journalists think to the contrary. “I sing pop songs aimed at kids, with subjects like the girl with the crush on the guy at the end of the road who doesn’t know she exists. That sort of thing is important when you’re 14,” she says. “I know my music probably means nothing to somebody experiencing a midlife crisis, but people shouldn’t dismiss something just because it is not relevant to their own lives. Kids come up to me and say wow, at last somebody who understands my problems. That for me justifies the sort of songs I sing.”

To Kylie, a song shouldn’t be judged on how profound or high-minded its themes are. She says: “Alright, so my music is not political, it’s not heavy. It's just fun. Is there anything wrong with fun?” Well said Kylie! 

Enjoy Yourself includes the singles Hand On Your Heart, Wouldn’t Change A Thing, Never Too Late and Tears On My Pillow, all rocketing to the top of the charts. Several of the tracks have special meaning for Kylie lyrically, too. “Heaven and Earth runs parallel with my view on the environment and what I, along with everybody else, can do to help conserve and protect it. As I may be a position to influence some people, I feel the song has a valid message.

“I don’t want to preach to anyone, and I don’t think the song does. It conveys the simple but important message that no-one can change the world overnight, but if we all put a little effort towards caring for our environment, we can keep this beautiful place, which we all too often take for granted, for future generations.” Kylie is also fond of Wouldn’t Change A Thing, which had a vibrant fill-clip to promote it. It was the first Kylie video to be shot outside Australia - but the costumes were Australian.

“The song says that even if no-one else in the whole world can understand what you see in someone… who cares? It’s what you believe that really matters… you shouldn’t have to change a thing for anyone. It is good to have confidence in what you’re doing and trust in your own judgement.” Another lyric Kylie particularly likes is Never Too Late. “It follows my philosophy to always try to look at the better side of things. Don’t give up hope if you firmly believe that something can work out. And remember that good things come with time. It’s also saying that it is OK to forgive, after all, we all make mistakes.”

Choosing a name for an album is always difficult but in Enjoy Yourself, Kylie has a title everyone can appreciate! She also chose it as the name of her concert tour. “It is not an unusual message for a song, but sometimes we forget to do the obvious… enjoy ourselves! With so many pressures in our society, we have to remember to look after ourselves, be happy, and make the most of what we have.”

Kylie is now gearing up for the recording of album number three. It is a few months away yet, but already she is thinking about where Kylie Minogue the singer is to go next.