Mike Howlett – Producer, Laughing Academy
Neville had a chance to catch up with Mike Howlett, producer of Laughing Academy, in London this month:
“I very much enjoyed meeting up with Mike after so many years and being able to hand over the Cherry Red Box compilation featuring Laughing Academy and all of our singles he produced when we were with United Artists. We chatted about some funny and serious episodes in our different musical excursions and where our paths led us. Mike showed me the recently released Gong Compilation while I discussed future plans of our band. It was interesting to discover just how many bands he successfully produced. He revealed how he would apply passion, energy and determination to capture a song by carefully listening to what an artist was trying to say as well as producing an excellent sound. We recall his sharp vision and mercurial ideas in the studio and because he was an excellent musician himself, he understood what we were trying to achieve.
When we first met Mike in 1979 we had little idea of his background, especially being in Gong and Strontium 90, a forerunner to the band, Police, but after spending time with him we realised that he was a very creative and charismatic person who connected with what we were trying to do. We were aware that Eno was available but felt Mike had the key to what we wanted to achieve. Rather than spend time in the studio perfecting sounds we waited until we were finishing a UK tour and went straight into Eden studios in London and he captured nearly all of the songs in straight takes while we all played together and we did our overdubs later, wherever needed. For example,Brian’s vocals were excellent as straight takes but sometimes the huge sounds and some ambient notes invaded the booth so where clear live capture was not possible then Brian’s, Nev’s, Jimi’s and Stephens vocals were overdubbed accordingly.
By careful and innovative mic arrangement on Stephen’s drums and letting him play full on, along with everyone else, Mike successfully harnessed the live feel and the energy of our music and songs. I used a Roland JC160 at the time and he suggested turning up the amp to full which was quite an experience and certainly made my trousers rustle and legs rattle.
I will always remember Aldo Bocca who was engineering and helping with production being a continuous source of encouragement and inspiration especially when gathering musical takes, he did this in an invisible way and dissipated any anticipation and side-lined any stress.
He worked well with Mike, who was always laughing and keen to push us forward to see what we could do. The great thing is that he was also such an accomplished musician so he was much more than a producer. I remember when he added a sequencer to Jimi’s brilliant riff on the exeunt of the song Laughing Academy and introduced a music concrete idea in the form of Northern Industrial Process machinery to the beginning chords of Engine of Excess.
We developed our live take relationship to a new level when singing our new songs to Mike down a corded handset while the four of us were all crammed into classic Red Telephone boxes which were typically located in the hills of Gateshead.
He also helped with the idea of a reversal of a melody which we originally used to introduce Brain Bomb circa 79……
…..so a copy of our album 5 to the first person to let us know what they think that tune is“.
(UPDATE) We had a winner to the competition (Kate) who correctly identified ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ as the melody. A copy of 5 is on its way. Thanks to everyone who replied.