Neil Arthur of syn­th­pop favourites Blanc­mange tells us about the soft­ware and the peo­ple that in­spire him to keep go­ing af­ter decades in the mu­sic busi­ness

Computer Music - - Contents -

80s leg­end Neil Arthur on his new al­bum and a mil­lion col­lab­o­ra­tions, in­clud­ing the mighty Vince Clarke, and his own son!

Blanc­mange’s Neil Arthur spent the 80s mak­ing hits like Liv­ing On The

Ceil­ing and Feel Me. He then dis­ap­peared to the sound­track com­po­si­tion world, only to kick­start the band in 2011. Since then he’s been in­volved in count­less projects with ev­ery­one from Vince Clark to… his own son!

1 Tell us about your mu­si­cal history?

Neil Arthur: “My name is Neil Arthur. I am in Blanc­mange (ha ha). I’m also part of Fader and Near Fu­ture. Back to Blanc­mange. It came into ex­is­tence in 1978, af­ter I met Stephen Lus­combe at an art school gig he was per­form­ing at with his band Miru. We chat­ted and found that we shared a few things in com­mon – mu­sic tastes and a taste for beer. We met up spo­rad­i­cally and set about mak­ing some noises with house­hold ob­jects and the odd mu­si­cal in­stru­ments, record­ing our ef­forts onto a bor­rowed Sony cas­sette ma­chine or a four-track TEAC 1/4” tape recorder.

“God knows how we ever man­aged to get a song to­gether, but some­how we did and the re­sults were re­leased, thanks to a friend – David Hill (not Slade) – who fronted the money from a tax re­bate. Rough Trade took 25 copies and one fell into the hands of Stevo [from Some Bizarre Records], who af­ter a cou­ple of hi­lar­i­ous meet­ings in­volv­ing pints on heads, asked us to con­trib­ute to the Some Bizarre sam­pler LP. We had just recorded an in­stru­men­tal, Sad

Day, so we li­censed him that. The re­lease got no­ticed by a few peo­ple in the mu­sic busi­ness and, along with fel­low al­bum con­trib­u­tors like Soft Cell, Depeche Mode and The The, we man­aged to some­how get a record deal. In 1982 we were in the stu­dio record­ing our first al­bum, Happy Fam­i­lies,

in­clud­ing songs like I’ve Seen The Word,

Waves, Feel Me, God’s Kitchen and Liv­ing On The Ceil­ing, the lat­ter be­com­ing a Top Ten seller here and else­where in the au­tumn of ’82. We made lots of mis­takes – some we got away with.

“I now col­lab­o­rate with Ben Ed­wards (Benge) at his stu­dio. We are Fader and Benge helps me with the Blanc­mange stuff, par­tic­u­larly as it nears com­ple­tion.”

2 What would you say is your over­all phi­los­o­phy or ap­proach when it comes to mu­sic pro­duc­tion?

“Keep it sim­ple. One note at a time on a synth, one string if pos­si­ble on the gui­tar. Why put on an­other layer if one will do?”

3 When and how did you dis­cover the route to com­puter mu­sic-mak­ing?

“In around 1983 or 84 when I bought a BBC B com­puter and a se­quencer called a UMI, de­vel­oped in part by Lyn­ton Naiff, who I’d first met when he scored the or­ches­tral parts for the song Waves that was on our first al­bum.”

4 How do you think soft­ware has af­fected how you work?

“As a lim­ited-abil­ity mu­si­cian, it’s en­abled me to get ideas down rel­a­tively quickly.

That said, they’ve driven me mad over the three or four decades I’ve tried to use them. They are al­ways right. Ini­tially with the UMI, it was all step-time in­putting. Even­tu­ally I moved on to an Atari with the E-magic No­ta­tor. Then the early Logic pro­grams on PC, in­te­grat­ing it with the Sound­scape dig­i­tal recorder, which was fab for film work. Then later and up un­til now I’ve used a Mac with Logic Pro and Able­ton.”

Tell us a lit­tle about your stu­dio… 5

“Quite of­ten I start on an acous­tic gui­tar, work­ing out ideas, struc­tures and so on. Then I may put that down on to iPhone and im­port to the Mac (Logic or Able­ton). My setup is very sim­ple. I won’t go in the stu­dio un­less I have an idea, mean­ing I don’t sit there wait­ing for one to ar­rive. That usu­ally hap­pens when I least ex­pect it, so I pre­pare. I might be out on a bike ride and an idea will start to form as I strug­gle up an­other hill. If it does and, im­por­tantly, if i can re­mem­ber it by the time I get to the top of that hill, I mut­ter the idea into the iPhone and carry on. Back to the stu­dio, a glori­fied word for my space, I use third-party plu­g­ins, Gforce’s Od­dity 2 be­ing my favourite. I have a few ex­ter­nal synths, an MPC, a Joe Meek Q3 that I put my vo­cals through, a few mics, oh and a load of backup hard drives.”

6 What are some of your favourite plu­g­ins and why?

GForce Od­dity 2

“It’s ver­sa­tile, the pre­sets are al­ways a good start­ing place, easy to con­trol, bril­liant sounds.”

GForce im­pOSCar 2 “Like­wise it’s ver­sa­tile and packs a punch.”

Au­dioThing SR-88 “I have the real thing [Sound Mas­ter Mem­ory Rhythm SR-88, a rare 80s drum ma­chine], but as a plu­gin, I love the raw sound and its sim­ple pro­gram­ming fea­tures. Also the MIDI file drag-and-drop is bril­liant.” Ar­turia Spark drum ma­chine “This is use­ful when I’m fig­ur­ing out a song. Lots of good sounds avail­able, and easy to use.” Logic Pro X ped­al­board “Nice for dirty­ing things up when I’m in a rush.”

Korg MS20: “Does what it says on the box.”

7 How does a track typ­i­cally start and then progress?

“It varies. I wish some­times I did have a for­mula, but not hav­ing one keeps me on my toes. I like to sur­prise my­self.”

8 Do you have any spe­cific pro­duc­tion tricks you can re­veal?

“I put things out of time and tune, noth­ing is per­fect. Strip back to the bare bones wher­ever pos­si­ble. That goes for lyrics too.”

9 What is on your wish­list gear wise?

“A new MIDI con­troller and an up­date for the MPC X to al­low third-party plu­g­ins and bet­ter in­te­gra­tion be­tween it and Able­ton Live.”

10 What would you like to see de­vel­oped in terms of stu­dio tech­nol­ogy and why?

“A mu­si­cal time ma­chine, to travel back and forth, to dif­fer­ent stu­dios that I’ve been lucky enough to work in. There I could record a synth from Black­wing – make a stem and cart it back to the present, be­fore fly­ing off to col­lect sam­ples from the fu­ture, re­turn­ing with them to add to a fu­ture-past­p­re­sent com­po­si­tion! Oh hold on, I do that al­ready at Benge’s!”

11 What ad­vice have you picked up from play­ing live?

“Don’t over­stay your wel­come, or take your­self too se­ri­ously. Ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery mo­ment. The au­di­ence paid good money to come and see you; don’t take it for granted.”

… and from the stu­dio? 12

“Try not to go in there with­out a plan. Even if it is hard work, it’s got to be fun too.”

And from the mu­sic in­dus­try? 13

“A huge pinch of salt is needed for the po­ten­tial dis­ap­point­ments and re­jec­tion.”

14 Tell us about your lat­est re­lease and why peo­ple should check it out...

“There’ll be trou­ble if they don’t. Blanc­mange’s next al­bum is called Mind­set and out in early June. The tour will be in Septem­ber, Oc­to­ber and De­cem­ber. ”

15 Fi­nally, what have you got planned for the near fu­ture?

“Ex­actly! Your last words, Near Fu­ture, a sec­ond al­bum in the mak­ing with Jez Bern­holz. I’m work­ing with Vince Clarke and Benge on a project. Also, I’m writ­ing with my son Joe (Kin­caid), who I toured with last year. Then there’s a project with Liam Hut­ton (Boxed In) and Fin­lay Shake­speare. So, I’m keep­ing out of trou­ble.”

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