Producer: Hugh Padgham in the 80s

Hugh Padgham was the invisible catalyst behind dozens of best-selling, multi-platinum albums and was among the most successful, and sought after, music producers in contemporary British rock and pop history. We take a stroll though his work throughout the decade at which time he served as a recording engineer and producer on many high-profile and critically acclaimed commercial pop albums.

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Hugh Padgham has either produced, engineered or mixed many of our favourite albums. His work behind the desk producing and mixing records was prolific; not only responsible for creating a truly modern sound with the sonic invention of the gated reverb sound of recorded drums while working with Peter Gabriel in 1980, he would define the sound of the decade, resulting in a wave of pioneering albums that introduced new musical developments. Padgham has worked with some of the biggest acts in music: Genesis, XTC, The Police, David Bowie, Sting, Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson, in some of the greatest and most lavish studios of the day: The Manor, Oxfordshire; Le Studio, Quebec; The Townhouse, London; The Farm, Surrey, AIR Studios, Montserrat and A&M studios Los Angeles.

British born Padgham began his recording career working in London’s Lansdowne Studios in the late 70s, learning the ropes, running engineering sessions, desperate to work with the rock bands he so admired. It was in Shepherds Bush, London where he bullshitted his way into a job with Virgin Records at the Townhouse Studio and found himself in the right place at the right time for Derek and Clive’s Ad Nauseum; essentially Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s last major recording session.

Working as the engineer on Peter Gabriel’s third album PETER GABRIEL III (1980) ★★★★★, was a huge leap forward. A big Genesis fan from his schooldays where Gabriel was a personal hero, Padgham had met producer Steve Lillywhite when working on the excellent XTC album DRUMS AND WIRES ★★★★, in 1979. They were the new boys on the block in a happening post-punk London scene, and this early work was emblematic of the run of albums from 1980 onwards: moments of potent vital brilliance sitting alongside studio experiments using the technological advances of the day.

Engineer and uncredited whistling on Games Without Frontiers weren’t his only contributions to the album. Through working with Gabriel and Lillywhite he met Phil Collins at the Townhouse, and it was in the large drum space of that studio, the Stone Room, where the gated drum sound was invented. Prior to current imitations, this served as a reliable watermark to date pop recordings made between 1982 and 1991. 

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Peter Gabriel had said from day one that there was to be no cymbals on the album, and no hi-hats either: “Artists given complete freedom die a horrible death. So, when you tell them what they can’t do, they get creative and say, ‘Oh yes I can,’ which is why I banned cymbals.” It was on the album’s opening track, Intruder, where the first known recording of the gated drum sound was captured.

As luck would have it, in the Stone Room one day, a live recording took place with Phil Collins on drums, where a reverse talk-back microphone permanently rigged up in the ceiling was connected to the console that had a vicious compressor built in. Phil was tuning his drums, hitting them hard, when Hugh pressed the talk-back mic for a quick word. Out came this thunderous drum sound into the room. Everyone agreed it sounded interesting, but can it be captured to tape? It was then run through a noise gate, creating a decay effect that starts huge then cutting off dramatically to nothing. Intruder was basically built around this recorded idea. Peter had Phil play the drums for 5 minutes at a set tempo as he wrote the song around it, while the effect thundered through the console. Fortuitously this only works when there are no cymbals.

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Hugh Padgham’s career literally took off from there. After mixing and engineering tracks for Spandau Ballet’s first album, then The Buggles’ The Age of Plastic (and mixing the track Video Killed the Radio Star), he met production-wiz Trevor Horn at Sarm East Studio in London. Horn was lead vocalist for British prog-rock group Yes at the time, and it’s fair to say they were not at the pinnacle of their artistic genius. Padgham found himself engineering what would become DRAMA (1980) ★★, but found the sessions to be as drug-fuelled and disastrous as the material. However every cloud has a silver lining, and the Spinal Tap-sized horror show that was Yes in the studio, linked him once again to down-to-earth Swindon lads XTC, and an offer of working on BLACK SEA (1980) ★★★★★, with producer Steve Lillywhite was put on the table. Engineering XTC was a dream come true for Padgham, and after the progressive-obscura of Drama, XTC’s music was punchy (Rocket From a Bottle), well-written (Towers of London), with well-recorded hits (Generals & Majors), forming an outstanding collection of tracks on a wonderful album.

Phil Collins began to write songs during a break in activity from his band Genesis who had just made the album Duke (1980), their last with long-time producer David Hentschel, and much of the material he had written was concerning his personal life and a recent marriage breakdown. The material’s most potent quality was its emotional transparency and like the pensive portrait on the cover, the songs addressed the listener with an unflinching directness, and was clearly unsuitable for a Genesis project. Phil, pursuing a solo release, thought this new drum sound discovery of Padgham’s created on Melt, was the best thing since sliced bread. So with production duties now allocated to Padgham, work on what would become Phil’s debut solo album, FACE VALUE (1981) ★★★★, commenced.

Working at Townhouse Studio 2, and occasionally bumping into Freddie Mercury recording with Queen who were making Flash Gordon in Studio 1, Phil played Padgham the morose demo for what would be his breakout hit, In the Air Tonight. At the time there was no thought that it would be a single let alone the ubiquitous presence it would soon become. The demo had very little to it. A simple programmed Phil pre-set drum beat produced on one of the new synths, and a space-age four-chord accompanying keyboard motif. Simple perhaps, but Hugh couldn’t replicate it to sound the same in the studio, tempo-wise or sound-wise. So they ended up dubbing the demo onto the Townhouse’s 24-track desk; so essentially what we’re hearing on the final track is Phil’s original demo with studio overdubs.

The incomparable drum sound at 3:41 was an afterthought, but the song has become one of the more dramatic moments of the decade. Unfortunately through mass media advertising and general FM radio over-exposure, In the Air Tonight has been reduced to little more than a cliché, however it’s haunting slow burn verses and that thunderous drum moment is always astonishing: here the gated reverb effect just works. 

Surprisingly, Phil had trouble writing upbeat, funky songs; he used to write ballads and speed them up, which happened on several tracks on this record, most notably album highlight, top 20 single, with accompanying “big-budget” clip I Missed Again. Less-so when he accidentally played Behind the Lines, a Genesis song off Duke, at an increased speed. He liked it so much he decided to re-record it for Face Value. The album ended up going five times platinum in the UK and US, a level of commercial success Genesis had yet to achieve. Keyboardist Tony Banks insists that Phil never played him In the Air Tonight, and Genesis may have had their biggest ever hit, but now it was time for them to go back into the studio to record their 11th album. 

Phil bought his new co-producer Padgham along to the ABACAB (1981) ★★★★ sessions, something of a gripe for Banks, but it was a fresh start for the band: new producer, new studio, new approach, albeit with an extremely commercial synth-pop slant. It is also the cut-off point for many die-hard Genesis fans. It was 1981, and the synthesizer was the instrument of the day. It was a new beginning for the band, and technically, things were about to become more succinct, and commercially, much more successful. 

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It was, however, a stressful time for our man Hugh. In 1981, Genesis was at a crossroads. Phil Collins had just scored a massive hit with his solo debut and the other members of the group thought that it was time to bring more of that element into their own sound. Genesis had extensively rehearsed the album in the sitting room of a farmhouse in Surrey while Hugh essentially built the studio, so after initial hesitation, recording began. Genesis had worked up songs from their rehearsals using their usual methodology: record their jams, go home listen to them, come back and choose the best pieces, then splice them together or change the key to make them fit as needed, and finally choose the lyricist; whoever draws the short straw. This is how Genesis write.

The aim was 22-minutes per side for sound quality on vinyl, drums to the forefront and, as agreed between the band, management, and producer, it was time to ‘make it’. The album was a conscious decision to write songs outside their previous style, and Abacab would mark the band’s development from their progressive roots into more accessible, pop-oriented, supergroup. The results were positive from critics, and the album was a commercial success for the band. The material stands up pretty well today, and highlights include the magnificent title track, Keep it Dark, and Dodo. Abacab became their second No. 1 LP in the UK and their first to reach the top ten in the US, but there was plenty more where that came from.

With Genesis and Phil Collins successes in the bag, Padgham quickly moved on to further mixing work with Hall & Oates on their hugely successful H2O album at Electric Ladyland in LA (think, Maneater), then engineered the basic backing tracks for The Dreaming by Kate Bush, again in the Stone Room at Townhouse Studios where they’d met during the Peter Gabriel III sessions. This was however rudely interrupted when he got a call from the manager of a top-selling, dynamite three-piece, called The Police.

It was the XTC connection. They had toured extensively with The Police in the late-70s / early-80s, and none other than Andy Partridge had recommended Padgham to the band as producer for what would become their fourth album: GHOST IN THE MACHINE (1981), ★★★★★. “Good three-piece bands always really excite me”, says Hugh. Recorded at AIR studios in Montserrat, things were really happening at the time for Hugh, but before he boarded the plane for the exotic Caribbean Islands, The Police’s hard-ass manager Miles Copeland wanted to know the answer to one question: “Do you do drugs?” The answer was: “No, of course not!”

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For a London boy, Padgham was getting used to flying off to these amazing locations such as Los Angeles, New York and Montserrat, and working with the likes of The Police was a dream come true. Sessions for Ghost in the Machine found the material more refined and relatively “polished” compared to their previous releases. It also featured the heavy use of keyboards and the addition of horns, a bold and daring move for the band, but one that added more flavour and texture to their arrangements and overall sound. It was a comparatively dark and haunting record for The Police, and Sting had by then stepped up taking over most of the songwriting duties. From Padgham’s perspective it was a very easy record to make, “The musicians were so talented and focussed; my job was allowing artistic freedom in the studio.”

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To record the basic tracks, the band members were separated into different rooms. Padgham didn’t like the sound of the lifeless recording space so he moved the drums into the dining room for sonic improvement. And Sting liked to record in the control room with the producer. Rarely using an amp in the studio, he would always direct-inject (DI) his bass guitar from the control room and record his parts from there. This caused problems for Hugh as Sting was always fitness mad; he had a jogging trampoline where he would pogo while recording his bass parts. While The Police were a very exciting live band, and Sting an accomplished musician, bouncing up and down in the control room created all sort of problems for the producer, such as expensive equipment moving around the room. Sting’s playing wasn’t as good either, but when it was firmly requested this be kept to a minimum, Sting would say: “Fuck orf“. He wanted the vibe. Hugh explains: “Sting thought the studio was creatively boring, so he’d want to do everything as quickly as possible.”

While Sting’s brilliance as a songwriter shines through on the album, the band’s jazz rock influences had also become more pronounced and their expansive sound was all over songs such as Too Much Information and Rehumanize Yourself. While the album had a very strong, sophisticated pop appeal, there was also depth. There were unavoidable tensions creeping in among the band members, particularly between Sting and Stewart Copeland, with relationships becoming increasingly volatile during the making of the album. Hugh describes the atmosphere on Ghost In The Machine as “pretty good – a bit of healthy bickering”, but it would be the next album where things would really boil over.

The record was a huge critical and commercial success; highlights include the vicious funk rocker Demolition Man, the pop classic Every Little Thing She Does is Magic with a great clip filmed in the Caribbean, and a pair of exquisite album-closing ballads: Secret Journey and Darkness. Ghost in the Machine achieved platinum success in the UK and triple platinum in the US. 

Before working again with Genesis on their second EP, the top ten hit 3 x 3, which included the delightful Paperlate, and rather good Abacab leftover You Might Recall, Padgham applied his fully-fledged production talents to XTC on the widescreen brilliance of ENGLISH SETTLEMENT (1982) ★★★★★, emerging only 18-months after Black Sea. Fatigued from their gruelling touring schedule, XTC were given the time and space to create a double album full of majestic songcraft and ever increasing studio prowess. The pace of many of the songs is almost leisurely when compared to their earlier more frenetic efforts, and XTC’s “White Album” not only highlighted Padgham’s technical skills as a producer by simply by enabling XTC to hone their songwriting and studio craft, and to an even higher degree, he allowed the band to create this well-structured double album full of singular rock songs like: Senses Working Overtime and No Thugs in Our House to name but two. It must be said Hugh’s talent was not in pigeon-holing the artist or forcing ideas upon them to make the album he had in mind. He would leave this to Todd Rundgren a few years later on Skylarking (1986).

The result was a career-defining statement from XTC and, in that sense, is it also viewed as a career punctuation point, unfortunately their last with underrated drummer Terry Chambers. The album achieves a perfect balance between sounding accessible while moving into the more adventurous territory they would soon explore with Mummer (1983) and The Big Express (1984). English Settlement achieved chart success both in the UK and US, receiving widespread critical acclaim. Padgham’s production style is a fine example of respecting the artist, while allowing the creative process to unfold working within record company constraints, time pressures to finish the record; not to mention money, touring commitments, release dates, eccentric characters like Andy Partridge, and the next contracted project – a skill unto itself.

A blockbuster Phil Collins record followed: Hello I Must Be Going (1982), recorded during a break in activity for Genesis, it was an AOR affair and included a faithful Supremes cover, ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, in a decidedly pop vein, hinting at the direction forward for the solo artist. The album made him a star in his own right reaching number one on the UK charts and top 10 in the US. Another massive seller, although things were about to get much much bigger.

Padgham had struck up a friendship with New Zealand art-rock band Split Enz while working for Virgin Records in 1979. They were signed to A&M at the time and were in the middle of recording the less-than-stellar album Frenzy with American producer Mallory Earl at the controls. It’s fair to say Hugh was not fan. Earl’s production values on the album did not do this fine band justice, so when it came to the follow-up, TIME AND TIDE (1982) ★★★, they asked Hugh to take over.

Unfortunately the wonderful single Six Months in a Leaky Boat coincided with the Falkland’s War and was “discouraged from airplay” in the UK, as references to leaky boats were not appropriate during naval action in the war. Sadly the excellent song sank without a trace outside of Australia and NZ. Padgham then joined Split Enz in Australia to produce their next offering, CONFLICTING EMOTIONS (1983) ★★★, at a time when talented brothers Tim and Neil Finn’s relationship was disintegrating. Neil was taking over the band and there was resentment over Tim Finn’s blossoming solo career having just released the successful album, Escapade, and was more focused on promoting it rather than the new Enz project. Therefore the album suffered badly, particularly in promotional aspects, and wasn’t even released in the UK. A shame, as it contains some of the band’s greatest ever songs, such as Message to My Girl.

Split Enz only had one more album in them. Later Neil Finn visited Padgham and played him demos for his new band (Crowded House); Hugh unfathomably passed. Perhaps his biggest career regret?

When Hugh reconvened with The Police in late-1982 to work on their fifth and final album, the band was famously at loggerheads. The recording methodology on Ghost in the Machine was again employed, but after two weeks of recording, again in Montserrat, there was absolutely nothing to show for it. Tensions were so bad that a call was made to manager Miles Copeland to come to this desert island in the Caribbean for an urgent crisis meeting. A discussion took place outside the studio around the swimming pool with Sting, Andy and Stewart, Padgham the producer, and Miles Copeland, and the ultimatum was either make a go of it, try and be civil to each other, or quit right now. Thankfully, the decision was made to get on with it, and that they did, somehow making an iconic album in the process; the seminal SYNCHRONICITY (1983) ★★★★★. 

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The vibe of the album is one of anger and frustration, and in the studio things were, at times, icily formal. Sessions in Montserrat included laying down the tracks and overdubbing onto multi-track edits of the songs, then continued at Le Studio in Quebec in a ski resort 100 miles north of Montreal. Stewart and Sting didn’t like being in the same room together by this point, and Sting would ski in the morning and Stewart would work in the studio, and in the afternoons, vice versa.

From the moment Sting’s demo of Every Breath You Take was first played to the rest of the band, plus manager Miles Copeland and Padgham, they knew it was a hit. Hugh remembers being told by Miles at the playback: “There’s a goddamn hit if I ever heard one! Don’t fuck it up, Hugh!” The producer admits it would have been hard to fuck it up, noting: “I really think if my pet dog had produced Every Breath You Take, it would have been a hit.” Towards the end of the creative process on the track, Stewart wanted to overdub a flamboyant hi-hat idea. Padgham was already reticent, but got it done. Sting came into the studio in the afternoon and said: “What did you work on this morning?”

Hugh: “Stewart’s recorded a hi-hat overdub for Every Breath You Take.”

Sting: “I hate it.”

Hugh: “Don’t you want to hear it first?”

Padgham thought it only fair that he played Sting the overdub. “Fucking hate it. I never want to hear that hi-hat again, erase it now.” Sting made Hugh erase the track and stood by the tape machine as it ascended into the big studio in the sky. The next time Stewart came in he said: “Where’s my fucking hi-hat?” Hugh had to placate the drummer with “sometimes less is more.” This did not help ease the tension in the studio. The problems over recording Every Breath You Take arose precisely because it was so simple, Hugh explains: “If Stewart couldn’t be The Police’s hit writer anymore, he wanted to show off his drumming skills. And he couldn’t show off on Every Breath You Take.” 

The album is masterfully assembled. Side one consists of energetic full band tracks (Synchronicity I), up-tempo funk (O My God), and experimental oddities (Andy Summers’ Mother). The band had an agreement there had to be a Stewart song (Miss Gradenko) and there had to be an Andy song, and the King Crimson-esque Mother is by far the most challenging piece on the album. It’s so bizarre, it’s almost good. Andy Summers presented the demo to the band, it was mixed, and placed on the record. Done. No other band member contributed to it. Perhaps not everyone’s favourite song, Padgham recalls: “My assistant at the studio adored the Police, and at the end when making safety copies, asked for a copy of the album and said: if you don’t mind, can you leave Mother off my version?” Interestingly the song that was left off the album for the inclusion of Mother, incredibly, was the stunning I Burn For You, a song Padgham adored, and is still mystified why it did not make the cut.

Side two was largely created in post-production by Hugh and Sting at the desk, implementing precision studio-craftmanship for songs like King Of Pain, Wrapped Around Your Finger, and Tea in the Saraha. Hugh said: “We’d mute out parts so the chorus becomes bigger as a contrast to make the songs breathe more. I give Sting huge credit for that, as it was mainly me and him mixing in Quebec.” Light and shade was the focus for the side two tracks, “Record the band, go in and edit, take a long time removing tracks, strip it back, sometimes take everything out. Mute the drums, leave the bass drum.” The songs were masterfully constructed and recorded in the studio and the result is well… Synchronicity

Hugh says: “When we made Synchronicity, we sat down and said we were not going to use any effects apart from a bit of subtle tape echo, maybe a little harmoniser, but no out and out flanging and that sort of thing. Any effects that we did have on guitar, Andy Summers would get at point source, in other words out in the studio. I suppose if I have a favourite effect then it’s tape echo – it’s not an effect as such, but you can do so much with it. You can make things sound like they’re coming from a long, long way away, by using long repeating effects and giving things a lot of depth.”

Although Hugh himself prefers to steer away from effects, he does have a great respect for those who go in full tilt such as Trevor Horn: “Although even he doesn’t use many effects, his style comes from the way he arranges the songs and edits, more than studio gadgets. Like in that Yes single, Owner Of A Lonely Heart, one of the best things where it just edits with that acoustic guitar in the middle – that’s a brilliant idea. There is nothing studio gadget-y about that at all.”

Bonus song Murder By Numbers appeared only on CD and the track was also recorded in Montserrat. Hugh recalls: After dinner one night, Andy started playing a jazzy chord sequence. Sting said, that sounds quite good. I’ve got some lyrics that might go with that. Twenty minutes later the song was recorded. Drums ad-libbed. One and only, first take. Absolutely live.” A great performance, it’s Synchronicity’s X-factor.

Sadly, at the end of the sessions, it was obvious The Police were about to break up, and Stewart had graciously accepted the fact: “By Ghost In the Machine, we’d got as big as we were ever going to get,” he admits. “Sting very generously stuck it out for one more album than he had to. For our career, we broke up at exactly the right time.” Despite this, the band launched a massively successful world tour ending in 1984, and Hugh recalls inter-band relations were at there worst: “The worst fight were physical fights at a Police gig outdoor festival in France, Sting and Stewart had a fight and Stewart ended up with a cracked rib and couldn’t sit up let along play the drums. Couldn’t cancel. They all had their own roadie who was good at playing their instrument. Stewart’s roadie was Jeff who could play, he ended up sitting in on the whole gig wearing a hat. Telling the lighting techs not to light the drums. No one ever knew.”

As the early-80s went by, along with Phil’s increasingly successful career as a solo artist, the remaining members of Genesis had their own spin-off projects to fill their time. But the day job continued as they were finally big-time rock stars after a decade of hard work. For Hugh this also meant working with a band who loved each other: what a relief!

Known as the Mama album, or Shapes, the material was once again worked up in the studio, and GENESIS (1983) ★★★★ turned out to be their first platinum-rated US hit record, their greatest commercial success at the time, and their first album written, recorded, and mixed in its entirety at their studio: The Farm.

Collins and his bandmates, keyboardist Tony Banks and bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford, established a rule that no individual member could enter the studio with pre-written musical ideas, and the opening track, Mama, originated during a group jam session where Padgham and the band were experimenting with a Linn drum machine fed through a gated reverb and a Mesa Boogie amplifier. It was then “turned up incredibly loud” to the point of amplifiers jumping off the studio floor. Collins went for a dramatic vocal performance with a dark undercurrent and a laugh that resembled “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

Overall the album is full of sleek, pulsating pop tunes and includes some major highlights such as the hit single That’s All, and Tony Banks’ synth-bass part on It’s Gonna Get Better. After an eight month break, and having shed most of their progressive rock sensibilities, the new album, the band’s twelfth, would see the three-piece redefining themselves as a pop group, and becoming more and more acquainted with mammoth commercial success.

In 1981, Phil Oakey and producer Martin Rushent had made one of the best-loved and most successful British pop albums of all time: The Human League’s Dare. The newfound upbeat electronic sound became a global success and a string of hit singles taken from that album defied the misconception that synthesizers were only capable of producing cold, emotionless music. However, sessions for their much-anticipated follow up, HYSTERIA (1984) ★★★, were so torturous and overextended that Rushent and Chris Thomas abandoned their roles as producers and were replaced by Hugh Padgham who eventually finished the project. Not keen to take on the job, Hugh asked for twice the fee; they still said yes.

Following up the excellent Dare would prove difficult for The Human League, and Hysteria attained relatively lacklustre success in comparison to its multi-platinum predecessor. Even so, it yielded three top-20 singles, including The Lebanon. Hugh recalls the sessions: I really loved working with Phil Oakey on that album, but we were slightly lumbered with the material at hand. The hits were not quite as hit-y as on the previous album, and looking back on something like The Lebanon, the guitar is not big enough, not loud enough.” 

“There isn’t an album I’ve ever made where I don’t cringe at one point or another”

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A major regret for the producer was his work with superstar David Bowie. Mere months after he’d finished the blockbusting Serious Moonlight World Tour, Bowie was back in the studio, out of nowhere rushing out another album to cash in on the coattails of the hugely successful Let’s Dance (1983) album, all at EMI’s behest. Bowie originally asked Bob Clearmountain to produce TONIGHT (1984) ★★, and while newcomer and funk-based producer Derek Bramble was given the nod, he was promptly ‘let go’ after picking holes in Bowie’s singing and requesting multiple vocal takes from the usually one-vocal-take Rock God. Hugh got the call to finish the record after being originally enlisted as the engineer. 

tonightOnce sessions got underway with Padgham in charge, it was clear Bowie had very little original material to work with. Tracks consisted of two originals (the very good Loving the Alien and Blue Jean), three Iggy Pop solo covers (Neighbourhood Threat, Don’t Look Down and Tonight), two old-time remakes (a grotesque reworking of the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows and a throwaway version of Leiber and Stoller’s I Keep Forgettin), and two new Iggy co-writes (Tumble and Twirl and Dancing With the Big Boys).

Bowie was fast losing interest and bored stiff in the middle of nowhere at Le Studio in Quebec, and clearly his heart wasn’t in it. The resulting album, to be kind, is a well-recorded, well-sung, if patchy affair, certainly not Bowie’s finest hour, however he and Padgham got on very well and remained friends even though Bowie slagged off the album quite heavily over the years branding it “my Phil Collins years“. Hugh recalls: “The record took longer than David generally liked to take. A big regret was I wasn’t more assertive regarding the material, and unfortunately I didn’t get to work with him again.” Despite all of this, the album incredibly hit the top of the UK charts in 1984.

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Hugh Padgham turned 30 in 1985 and was in the midst of working on his most commercial project thus far – the zenith of the 80’s white R&B sound, and it’s unlikely superstar: Phil Collins’ NO JACKET REQUIRED (1985) ★★★. Few cultural artefacts scream 1985 more than this album, and Collins was up to his rolled-up-jacket-sleeve elbows in the most prolific run of UK Top 40 singles of any artist of the decade. No Jacket Required contained a string of hits that never left the radio and Phil, with his globe-straddling turn at Live Aid and unstoppable radio airplay, was well on the way to becoming unpleasantly ubiquitous.

The recording process for the album was quick and achieved another level of success for the artist and producer, selling 12 millions copies in the US alone and hitting number one all over the world. Even today, it is one of the most commercially successful records ever, and there’s no denying that, for sheer proficiency and mastery of its domain, it’s blend of power ballads and synth-led, hook-heavy pop, remains unbeatable.

The album wizzes by in a blur of saucy horns, machine rhythms, and splashy electro-jitterbugging synthesizer, often leaving little room for proper songs or real feeling to squeeze through.

When Hugh produced Genesis’ 13th studio album, INVISIBLE TOUCH (1986) ★★★, again at The Farm in Surrey, it would become the band’s most commercially successful album yet. Reconvening again after each got their respective solo projects out of their system, the band would assemble songs from jams again, and when the time came to record the song, they had a completed structure. Padgham knew it was going to be huge, “The electronic drums sounds was achieved by plugging them into a PA and recording them ‘live’ with the rest of the band playing over the top.” 

By 1986 there really was no avoiding Phil Collins. It was also difficult to differentiate between his solo hits and those of Genesis. It was likely the record-buying public didn’t either, probably didn’t even remember a time when Phil Collins wasn’t the frontman of Genesis. The anti-hero of Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 novel, serial killer Patrick Bateman, is a big fan of the Genesis star’s solo career, and apart from Sussudio featuring prominently in the 2000 film adaptation starring a suitably bonkers Christian Bale, he dedicates a whole chapter to Padgham: 

41BY1C7XJML._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_Invisible Touch is the group’s undisputed masterpiece. It’s an epic meditation on intangibility, at the same time it deepens and enriches the meaning of the preceding three albums. It has a resonance that keeps coming back to the listener, and the music is so beautiful that it’s almost impossible to shake off because every song makes some connection about the unknown or the spaces between people (“Invisible Touch”) questioning authoritative control whether by domineering lovers or by government (“Land of Confusion”) or by meaningless repetition (“Tonight Tonight Tonight”). All in all it ranks with the finest rock ‘n’ roll achievements of the decade and the mastermind behind this album, along of course with the brilliant ensemble playing of Banks, Collins and Rutherford, is Hugh Padgham, who has never found as clear and crisp modern a sound as this. You can practically hear every nuance of every instrument. Bret Easton Ellis – American Psycho (1991)

Padgham produced one more project in 1986, and that was British artist Howard Jones’ very good single No One Is To Blame. The song, in its original version, can be found on his second studio album, Dream Into Action (1985) produced by Hugh’s friend, the late great Rupert Hine. Following the success of the previous singles taken from that album, No One Is to Blame was remade to lend it a more radio friendly sound. Phil Collins plays the drums and Padgham really nails it in the studio. It’s a lesson in majestic 1980s pop studio production (it helps that it’s a good song to begin with) and it drastically improves on the original track. The song unsurprisingly became Howard Jones’ biggest hit in the US (No.4).

In 1986, Paul McCartney saw the future, and the future was David Bowie’s Tonight and Genesis’ Invisible Touch; thus, he hired Hugh Padgham to produce his next album PRESS TO PLAY (1986) ★★, only the second time he’d handed over the reins to a proper producer, the other being Chris Thomas on 1979’s Back to the Egg. Unfortunately working with Paul was not a particularly happy time for Hugh. He was sent Macca’s demos on cassette, and was excited, until he heard the songs. Padgham said it felt like he would need to polish a turd and the recording process did not go smoothly. There was conjecture over who was producing the album; was it Hugh, or was it ex-10cc member Eric Stewart who would come in every day and sit at the back of the control room, and the sessions were slow and laboured, as Hugh recalls: “It would take ages for a bass overdub, then Paul would recount Beatles anecdotes.”

Hugh: “That middle eight might be too long Paul.”

Paul: “How many hit songs have you written Hugh?”

Live Aid happened while Press to Play was being recorded, and while Padgham had nothing to do with any technical aspects associated with Live Aid, he unfairly copped the blame for McCartney’s microphone outage on his concert-closing version of ‘Let It Be’.

With Press to Play, what we end up with is mix of catchy mid-tempo pop (Press), lightweight ballads (Only Love Remains) and half-finished ideas (Good Times Coming/Feel the Sun), with a sound very much anchored in 1986. And while the project did promise a resurgence in McCartney’s creative achievements since the forgettable Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984), it was met with a lukewarm response. McCartney’s musical renaissance wouldn’t come into full bloom until Flowers in the Dirt three years later.

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Having had two big albums with The Police earlier in the decade, manager Miles Copeland’s raison d’etre was: “the more successful the album was, the more money you must’ve made, therefore you’ve made too much money, so I’m not going to pay you as much.” This led to Padgham being overlooked for Sting’s first solo record Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985), Neil Dorfsman just off Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms would produce that (an album Sting also appears on), as well as the follow-up …Nothing Like the Sun (1987).

Sting said Dorfsman didn’t understand the bass, so he called Padgham to mix the record at A&M studios in LA. Staying at Sting’s house in Malibu, Padgham found himself living the 80s record producer dream: driving an American sports car, roof down, listening to loud FM radio. Hugh recalls: “There are some fantastic songs on that record and I love the band. Sting was moving in a jazzy direction coming out of the live Bring on the Night project. We used studio effects such as delayed-reverb, where you put the signal through a digital delay, then through an echo-plate, where the echo comes back a bit later than the main signal making everything sound much bigger. Andy Summers also plays on The Lazarus Heart and Be Still My Beating Heart.Hugh and Sting got on so well they made three more records in the Nineties, “I loved making those records, he always had such fantastic musicians.”

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Hugh would close out the decade on a low-key note by producing Remembrance Days by the Dream Academy. Working with songwriter Nick Laird-Clowes was difficult and there were familiar record company pressures and inter-band tensions, “A lot of in-fighting; they were feeling the pressure to follow their first hit single (the marvellous Life in a Northern Town).” The album however does include some fine moments, the beautiful Power to Believe and Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime, produced by Lindsey Buckingham, although the album didn’t connect with the public.   

Things were changing in the rock music landscape, the slick studio polished music was going out of fashion, and hard rock bands such as Guns ‘n Roses were steamrolling everything in their path, not to mention the alt-rock scene (Sonic Youth, Pixies) coming to the fore. Mixing Julia Fordham’s self-titled debut album in 1988, which included the lovely single Happy Ever After, did not achieve the sort of commercial success he’d become accustomed, but Padgham struck up a friendship with guitarist Carlos Alomar, met bassist Tony Levin and prolific sessions guitarist Dominic Miller, subsequently introducing him to Sting and he would become his long-term right hand man, even today. “Sting never thanked me for that. Julia is a huge talent, a professional artist and I loved working with her.”

Padgham also mixed Brian Wilson’s first self-titled solo album, released in 1988, best known for the magnificent single Love and Mercy, and he recalls the time being sometimes comical but at the same time really sad. “In New York one day in Warner Bros offices having a meeting with legendary producer Russ Titelman (who has worked with everyone from Randy Newman to Eric Clapton, George Harrison to Steve Winwood) who mentioned he was in the middle of making a record with Brian Wilson and asked if he fancied mixing it in LA at A&M studios. The first day of mixing, Brian comes in, being friendly but not quite normal, sits down next to me, and while we’re listening to a playback of one of the songs, suddenly pushes up two echo-plate faders, nearly blowing the speakers not to mention everyone’s ears. We had to stop the tape and say politely to Brian, please don’t do that again.”

Hugh mixed everything except ‘Rio Grande’ on the album but recalled the period with Brian being very odd. “Brian was still being managed by the sinister Dr Eugene Landy. Under his spell, taking betablockers to keep him down. Landy was trying to get his hand in by writing lyrics. This has since been rescinded. There were Landy recorded lyrics and Brian recorded lyrics. Writing credits to Landy and his wife Alexandra Morgan and executive producer credits to Landy were removed after the album’s 2000 reissue. For historical purposes, all tracks are as they were originally credited, albeit with a strikethrough for credits that are no longer officially recognised.”   

Padgham produced Julia Fordham’s critically-acclaimed Porcelain in 1989 and would work on Collins’ reflective …But Seriously. Fifteen weeks at No.1 in the UK, the album was a departure from the all-out pop of No Jacket Required. On this oft-ignored album Phil plays live drums, overall there’s much less drum machine, less cheesy 80s synths, but it is also his most polished production. From purely a sound engineer perspective it sounds smooth. Padgham had become bored with the same people playing on the albums, so he enlisted Dominic Miller as well as some big names such as Eric Clapton and Stevie Winwood. At the time of recording they knew it was going to be a hit, and a hit it was, reaching number one all over the globe. 

Sandwiched between more rock-cred genres like prog, punk and AOR in the 1970s and (synth)pop, alternative rock, and heavy metal in the 1980s and 1990s, Padgham inspired new developments in the studio and pop music technology, all from behind the glass. There isn’t another producer who is responsible for more hits, iconic songs, or iconic chart-topping albums from the 1980s, that still resonate today. 

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This entry was posted in Andy Summers, David Bowie, Genesis, Human League, The, Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Police, The, Producers, Rupert Hine, Steve Hackett, Sting, Todd Rundgren, XTC. Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Producer: Hugh Padgham in the 80s

  1. tim says:

    wow. great article. should also be in the guardian nyt or rolling stone. cheers!

  2. badfinger20 (Max) says:

    Great write up! I had no clue about him…thanks!

  3. Great overview with some cool stuff I didn’t know – eg. Hugh’s involvement with the Brian Wilson and Julia Fordham albums. And you’ve come up trumps again with the photos – love the PG Melt one at the Townhouse with Hugh/Steve at the desk. But…only two stars for ‘Tonight’ and four for ‘No Jacket Required’?! Aaahhhh….

  4. Superb article on a producer whose body of work stands second to none. Still can’t quite comprehend why “Black Sea” wasn’t a number one album for XTC. Over 40 years on it still sounds amazing, boasting a perfect blend of Partridge / Moulding songs from “Generals & Majors” to the most mightily awesome “Towers of London”.

  5. Wow, Pierce, I’m in complete awe! This is a well-researched and beautifully-written master class piece on Hugh Padgham, and truly one of the finest articles I’ve ever read in any blog. I agree with Tim’s comment above that it’s worthy of inclusion in a major publication. You are an amazing writer, with an impressive knowledge of music. Bravo!!!

  6. Pingback: Producer: Hugh Padgham in the 80s – ECLECTIC MUSIC LOVER

  7. Great piece Press. I like a lot of his work here. That opening on ‘Intruder’ grabbed me way back when I first heard it.

  8. Ralph Beauchamp says:

    Well written and quite informative. It’s a phenomenal write up.

  9. Michael Jolly says:

    Excellent article on a great producer. Abacab is one of my most played albums, probably because it sounds so big and punchy.

  10. I’ve heard a few, pretty good. Lovely chap. Also heard one on Stephen Lipson. I’m sure you’re across him. I still can’t “comment” on your website, unless it’s going thru to your spam?Anyway….

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  12. Pingback: The Human League | Reproduction | THE PRESS | Music Reviews

  13. Amazing article — I’m only halfway through it so far, but so many fantastic albums (favs) that I NEED to know more about their creation now, lol. Thanks!

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