Thursday, 21 July 2011
Tony Visconti Archive Interview: Born To Booge
Interview With Tony Visconti
Born To Boogie
Over thirty years on from its original theatrical release Born To Boogie has been readied for release on DVD. This DVD release however is no ordinary archive release. Born To Boogie was filmed at the height of Marc Bolan's success in the UK and perfectly captures what the press had dubbed 'T.Rextasy'.
The film is based around a concert that took place at the Then Wembley Empire Pool in London and also features some fantasy sequences including a jam session that also features Ringo Starr and Elton John. Ringo Starr directed the film for the Beatles film company Apple Films and at the time Ringo dubbed Marc the logical successor to the Beatles crown.
Much work has gone into the DVD not least the sound of the DVD which has been overseen by Tony Visconti who as well as being the producer for most of Marc's career also recorded the audio for the concert and studio sequences of the film. Tony oversaw the new mix and restoration of the audio soundtrack and also produced a new 5.1 surround mix fro this DVD.
Jon Kirkman was lucky enough to speak with Tony Visconti recently about the restoration of the film and also how he felt listening to the soundtrack over thirty years later
What was it like listening back to the recordings made for Born To Boogie after over thirty years was it a pleasant experience or perhaps daunting
It was mostly a pleasant experience. Having remixed three David Bowie live albums in the past two years has given me great insight for cleaning up the old master tapes and getting maximum impact with modern technology. So I was extremely eager to have a second chance at mixing this film. But I wasn’t expecting the emotional impact it had on me. The mixes were sounding so alive and matched with the videos we were mixing to, I often forgot that Marc was no longer with us, and then I remembered and it felt like a bummer. The surround sound versions really made me feel like this filmed concert was last week. At times it felt like Marc was in the room. But there were two others in that film who are no longer with us either, Steve Currie and Mickey Finn. We used to be so tight in the studio, joking around and working like dogs to get it right. So, I mixed this film with mixed emotions.
What were the technical difficulties with bringing the audio up to scratch using modern technology? Was it an easy job?
The most tedious part was listening to each instrument and vocal, track by track, and cleaning them up. What I mean by that is sometimes the level would jump for no reason at all (maybe I got the jitters when I recorded it over 30 years ago in the mobile) or maybe Marc didn’t like his guitar level and he would just whack it up very quickly. These things were very difficult to control 30 years ago, but not today. When Marc was not singing there was a load of audio junk on his vocal tracks. We carefully drew volume lines to bring that track down, not completely out, when he wasn’t singing. Then there were hums, crackles, feedback etc., some were left in for the rock and roll quotient, but very annoying ones were removed. When all this was done, then I settled down to mix the songs in a very traditional manner. Full credit is due to my Pro Tools man, Mario McNulty, for doing the very hard job of meticulously cleaning up the audio.
One blessing was the two mics I placed over the audience during the concert. By putting them in the rear speakers in surround you get the feel and size of the auditorium. The realism is staggering.
What are your main memories of the filming of the concert sequences for Born To Boogie?
It was chaotic. The cameras were getting all the preferential treatment and I was fighting to get sound balances. In the first concert, which was more or less a rehearsal but featured in the bonus CD, there was buzz on the bass amp and the roadies pulled all of my cables out so I was left without a bass for a couple of minutes. I screamed bloody murder that it wasn’t to happen again in the second concert. There was poor security backstage. Only the Beatles roadie, Mal Evans, was supposed to get the band from the stage door to the limos. He was petrified, not having seen girls this vicious in the Beatles days. They wanted to tear Marc’s clothes off him and pull his hair out. I helped Mal by putting my arms around him and Marc and we shuffled Marc to the waiting vehicle. We were punched, kicked and pulled, and Marc did lose some hair, but we got him out of there.
Likewise with the studio sessions such as the jam with Elton and Ringo what are your overriding memories of those sessions?
For some reason I wasn’t at the recording. I can’t remember why, but I was probably producing another record. A lot of these scenes were decided to be shot the day before. I did, however, do the overdubs, even sang on the backing vocals for that session and I mixed it for the film. Even the Mad Hatters Tea Party scene was decided to be shot the next day and I had to travel 200 miles from South Wales to be in that scene. I’m the conductor of the string quartet and I hand Marc his guitar before he sits down to play.
At the time Marc Bolan was literally the biggest star in the country. What was Marc like to work with during those hectic years? He seemed to be incredibly prolific and creative.
He was very prolific. I remember for Tanx we recorded 17 songs in three days at a studio in France. All the overdubs were done too. Back in London I added the strings and other session men and mixed them.
At the peak of T.Rextasy Marc was all puffed out like a peacock, strutting his stuff and more than a little arrogant. Sometimes it was difficult to turn the public persona off in the studio and we were all victims of his sharp insults. But in the studio he was also that superstar that he was on stage and he’d jump and perform as if in front of a huge audience. That spirit was caught on tape, affecting the other members of the band.
What were the reasons for your split with Marc a few years later and did you ever think you would work with him again.
It was quite a long relationship for a producer and artist. But I could no longer have an influence on him. It was clearly time to move to the next creative level, write and record a kind of “Tommy” which we had made demos of. This was The Children Of Rarn epic. But he kept delaying it saying ‘one more album for the kids’ when the press and everyone else was saying ‘this formula is old.’ Marc was losing his audience but he wouldn’t admit it. I really tried to change things be he was still in that instant hit single mind set.
We met up a few years later and there were signs that we could get back together again. After the last TV show, he and David Bowie went to my studio, where we made Scary Monsters. (I was in another country working.) Marc said to my engineer, “I’d love to work here.”
Here we are over thirty years on from Born To Boogie and Marc Bolan is still incredibly popular why do you think that is
Marc has become a classic icon now, like Judy Garland, Elvis and John Lennon. He was sharper than anyone in his time and he knew it. He turned heads and cause a minor revolution in British pop. I’ve witnessed it, I was a part of it, but I can’t tell you what makes an icon of an artist. There seems to be a little to a lot of T.Rex in most groups since.
I realise this is perhaps a strange question but had Marc not died in 1977 what do you think he would be doing now and if it was writing and recording could you see yourself working with him
Maybe we would be working. After a long off period I’m back with David Bowie again. I really can’t say if Marc would’ve progressed or would get stale. He was very smart, so maybe he would’ve spent time reinventing himself, but his life was cut short before that happened. He certainly had a lot of great songs left in him, and he could’ve written and directed films, that were in him too. He and Ringo were equal partners in scripting Born To Boogie.
Looking and listening to the finished film and forthcoming soundtrack CD what are your final thoughts on the way the film and CD have turned out
Oh, far better than I ever thought. Full marks go to Mark Allen, Mark Roberts and Stewart Read, the team that found all the right parts, film and audio, and re-editing to make this possible. The DVD is vibrant and a quantum leap from the previously available VHS version.
Finally what was the experience like re visiting the past like this? Was it a good experience or perhaps sad? And was there any question that it would be you that worked on these recordings.
This was a great experience. I heard it through the T.Rex grapevine that this was going to happen and when I opened an e-mail from Mark Roberts asking me if I’d like to be a part of it I was totally elated. I didn’t have to ask, I was invited. I can’t tell you how pleasurable it was to work with the Sanctuary team on this project.
Many Thanks for talking to us at Rockahead today Tony
My Pleasure, Jon.
Born To Boogie is released on DVD and CD on the 16th Of May.
Tony Visconti's Official Site
© Jon Kirkman 2005
Photo of Tony Visconti © Lori Baily