#PRESSURESOUNDS - 24 MARS 2018.
=> LISTEN FULL ALBUM
1. The War Is On 03:33
2. Danger Zone 03:25
3. Easy Street Special 04:14
4. Dancing Kid 03:38
5. The Good The Bad And The Brave 04:03
6. I'm Back 03:33
7. Feel The Beat 03:33
8. Earth Movement 03:46
9. My Time (Extended Mix) 12' Bonus Track 05:38
In the early 1980s, one London recording studio became the favoured hang out for visiting Jamaican producers and British reggae musicians alike. Easy Street Studios in Bethnal Green had humble beginnings, but was soon pouring out an impressive run of hit tunes by artists like Sugar Minott, Winston Reedy, Alton Ellis and Barrington Levy.
Phil Pratt: “Well, Easy Street was a bit like a party place them times. There was a backroom where everybody can go round there and do what them want do, you understand me, it was nice man. Cos in those days everybody get tipsy and drink, cos it was like fun those times, and we get together and come up with some good things. Everybody who come from Jamaica would work at the studio cos it had the best sound, the bottom was superb, so 95% of the reggae tune made up here was made at Easy Street. It was a good sound and me met some good fellow out of it too.”
Founded by Eddy ‘Eddyman’ Williams, the studio soon recruited a team of local East Enders, like Dean ‘Joe 90’ Richards, Mike Stephenson, Jeff Chandler and Stuart Breed, who became known as the Easy Street Crew.
Stuart Breed: “I first met Eddyman when I was 16 in 1977, when he was in a band (The Foster Brothers) that was signed to Elton John’s Rocket Records, and they had one hit in the UK. Eddy took the money he got from the record deal and started a rehearsal room. The guy who’d signed them, Roger Bain, became head of A&R at Phonogram Records, and he used to send different bands down to Easy Street to do demos. Roger gave Eddy an advance to buy some recording equipment, so you had an environment that was like a rehearsal room plus a recording studio as well. And one of the bands sent down to record a demo at Easy Street was Black Slate, and Eddy was nuts about reggae at the time, so the band said we’ll bring some friends down. And then within a matter of months we were doing almost exclusively reggae acts.”
Phil Pratt: “Everybody get along, black and white, and I remember Joe 90 used to joke say him have a black head too, but really him have a blackhead pimple on his arse! So we all live good together and every man get along, English and Jamaican.”
Stuart Breed: “I was just a kid then, a hippy, 147 pounds with long blond hair. In the beginning it was strange having all these guys coming in from Jamaica, and it could be a bit overbearing for a kid of my age, but those guys were great and a lot of fun. The spliff smoking sometimes brought me to a complete standstill, cos really I preferred a beer, but I would have to say I spent most of my life at Easy Street on a contact high! I used to work with Errol Dunkley, Alton Ellis and Lloyd Coxsone a lot. Sugar Minott worked mostly with Eddy.”
Phil Pratt had an illustrious career in Jamaica stretching back to the rocksteady years of the 60s, scoring huge hits such as ‘My Heart Is Gone’ and ‘Artibella’, but by the 80s was increasingly finishing his productions in London. Easy Street was a low budget studio with professional but fairly limited equipment – a Soundcraft TS24 mixing desk, a Roland RE301 Chorus Echo, an AKG BX5 reverb, and an MXR flanger/doubler – and a speedy way of working which suited the incoming rush of reggae producers.
Stuart Breed: “We used to work really quickly in those days, because of budgets. People would walk in, say hello, spark up a spliff and hit the record button. We had everything always set up, like mics on the drum kit and guitar amps, so people could just start recording immediately. Sometimes people would come in and record an album in one session, lay some tracks, do some vocal overdubs, very minimal stuff, bang out the mix and done, all in six hours.”
Phil Pratt: “I worked with Stuart a lot, and most of the things me do at Easy Street was with him. He was a great guy, and very helpful and creative. And Joe 90 also help a lot, ca him play guitar and piano good, so it was really like a team. I almost felt like one of Stuart’s students engineering-wise, cos while I showed him what I want the sound to be like, he was teaching me some things around the board. So me just watch and make him work, cos him very technical with sound and him know exactly where to put that and put this. He just a great, great engineer – trust me, I miss him now.”
Hearing such praise, it’s no surprise that he asked Stuart Breed to mix ‘The War Is On Dub Style’, an album that typifies Phil’s working methods in those days, with the backing tracks recorded at Joe Gibbs’ Studio in Jamaica, and overdubs and mixing done in London.
Phil Pratt: “‘The War Is On’ was the dubs to songs by Ronnie Davis, like ‘Black Cinderella’ and ‘Strange Things’, which were voiced in Jamaica. And the parts by Bobby Kalphat were all recorded in Jamaica. Bobby Kalphat just a great musician, my favourite keyboardist, so when we finish record the rhythm we go back and record solos and phrases, and make an instrumental on melodica. To be honest with you he was better than Augustus Pablo by far, but we have to give Pablo some credit cos he did start the melodica thing. Next I come to England with the multitrack tapes, the big 16 into 24 track tapes, and trust me, them tapes was real heavy to carry back! Then at Easy Street we voiced some Blackstones tracks and ‘Hear We Them A Say’ by Owen Grey. At Easy Street we paid by the hour, but when we mix this dub LP we go over it about three times. Cos me never like the first sound that we have, it was all right but it wasn’t sellable. So we did go over it again and again til we get what me want.”
Stuart Breed: “We used to get a lot of multitrack tapes coming in from Jamaica, from Channel One and Tuff Gong studios especially. The Jamaican engineering was very different from what was popular with chart records in the UK at that time, but it had its own unique sound which I appreciated. I wasn’t really listening to King Tubby, I was mostly listening to Roxy Music and Japan and bands like that, so I tried to emulate that in my mixes, but a lot of the reggae artists would say no, and stop you from going too far in that direction. So I had to adjust to give them what they wanted.”
Phil Pratt: “Yes, he’s telling the truth, Stuart was a rock man not a reggae man. So yes, I had to teach him the tone of the sound we want, and him make it marvellous. Some people would leave off from the record sleeve if it mixed in England, but that never occurred to me because I could get the sound from Jamaica which nobody else could a get. And the secret was all in the voltage: Jamaica was 110 volts and England was 220 volts, so Jamaica lower in the voltage, and people don’t know it but the voltage was part of the sound. So when I was in England me have a step down transformer that me work with, me have everything and me bring it to Easy Street and we switch the tape machine to 110 volts and then we get the sound. People didn’t believe it could a work cos it sound stupid, but it work and we get the Jamaican sound. We used to sell ten or twelve thousand of these dub albums easy.”
By the mid 80s Easy Street was scoring further successes with homegrown lovers’ rock and deejay tunes, and to support their breakthrough acts the Easy Street Crew started to go out on the road and into concert venues and dancehalls.
Stuart Breed: “Once we started doing the reggae stuff, Eddy invested in a decent sized PA system. And we went out doing gigs with the reggae bands, and also sound system clashes, so we’d be in these dancehalls and we’d be the Easy Street Sound playing against these other sound systems. So I learnt about live sound doing those reggae gigs, and then a few years later I found myself doing sound at the Albert Hall with Art Garfunkel – which was quite different from playing a dance in Brixton!”
By the late 80s Phil Pratt was starting to ease up a bit on record production, concentrating more on running his restaurant business in London. And Stuart Breed had moved from Easy Street to George
Martin’s Air Studios in Oxford Street, where he worked on various dance remixes before launching successfully into the mainstream, engineering for the likes of Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Demis Roussos. Stuart now lives in Savannah, Georgia, and has been Art Garfunkel’s main vocal engineer for the last 29 years.
Stuart Breed: “Mixing dub definitely set me up for doing remixes later on. We did a lot of experimental stuff, and the dub mixes I’d done at Easy Street set me in very good stead later when I was doing 12” dance remixes at Air, cos I wasn’t scared to try things. And with all that toasting stuff, we were really doing rap records before rap was even around. Easy Street was really a ground- breaking studio, a very prolific place, and a lot of people cut their teeth down there and went on to do some great things. For a little studio that started out with nothing, it managed to get some amazing results.”