BLOG | GERRY RAFFERTY ‘City To City’ album & ‘Baker Street’
By Phil Harding | Editor John Paul Palmer | 05 October 2021
Phil Harding revisits unreleased mastertapes of some of his earliest work as a young engineer at The Marquee Studios – mixes he created of Gerry Rafferty’s highly-acclaimed ‘City To City’ album (released in 1978), which includes the iconic international hit ‘Baker Street’. The album sold in the millions around the world and reached No. 1 in America. Phil looks back at his work on the project during 1977…
The two books that I’ve written so far say very little about my engineering career at The Marquee Studios in London in the 1970s and early 1980s. I was chatting to producer Youth at the annual Music Producers Guild (MPG) Awards a few years ago and he suggested that I should get some of these ‘70s memories’ down by way of short(ish) blogs. So in no particular order, I’m going to talk about some of the projects I worked on.
This first one has been influenced by the fact that it was mentioned in the recent podcast that I recorded with producer Steve Anderson. I’ve done many interviews over the years and quite a few podcasts in recent times, but no one has ever asked me about my work on the Gerry Rafferty album ‘City To City’ until Steve did (although that bit was actually edited out of the final podcast!). This coincides with the journey that I’ve been on since 2019, digitally archiving my reel-to-reel analogue tape collection. Having completed the transfers of many 4-tracks of my own demos and 24Club band recordings, I’ve since moved on to my stereo tape collection of various 70s and early 80s projects that I engineered. Steve began the question with crediting me for mixing the ‘City To City’ album. (Hear the full album here). I immediately had to correct him by stating that the final album does not contain the mixes that I did at The Marquee, and that my contribution was slimmed down to some minor overdubs that we recorded whilst going through what turned out to be the first set of mixes (which were not finally used). Looking back at these sessions after all this time, I think it’s good to call them ‘work in progress’, although at the time, it seemed like ‘failure’ to me.
I probably had little or no idea who Gerry Rafferty was back then, but I’m sure I would have been familiar with his 1972 UK/US top 10 hit as part of the band Stealers Wheel, ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’ (Wikipedia entry). In 1977, I was only 20 years old and still very much a junior engineer. Looking back at this now, it was surprising that I was chosen by the studio for the sessions. I had been training for four years by that time, under the wing of some of the tremendous engineers at The Marquee Studios – Phil Dunne, Geoff Claver, John Eden and my fellow junior engineer, Steve Holroyd. I can only assume that they were all busy on other projects down in Studio 1.
These Gerry Rafferty sessions took place in Studio 2, which was a small and intimate mix room designed by Eastlake Audio. Luckily, it had a small ‘overdub booth’ to the side. After an aborted first attempt by The Marquee to build a second studio on the first floor, the re-design of the Marquee Studio 2 mix room was completed by Eastlake Audio in around early 1977. I had engineered a few sessions in there, some experimental, as well as the Berni Flint sessions that led to his hit single ‘I Don’t Want To Put A Hold On You’ that same year.
The studio control room was very small, with barely enough room for three people behind the MCI JH-500 mixing console. For the Gerry Rafferty sessions, I was on the right-hand side, controlling the tape machine remote control and the ‘master fader’ and ‘group fader’ section of the console. Co-producer Hugh Murphy was seated in the middle, and Gerry (also co-producer) was happy to be at the end, on the left-hand side. My memories of the sessions are pretty vague, but it seemed that Hugh was in charge of these mixing sessions. He was happy and confident controlling the fader balances, but would leave most of the EQ processing on the board and the external processing hardware, such as compressors and so on, to me. We had two reverb plates available to us, but very little else. Hugh had the vision of what was needed for the mixes, and was continually checking with Gerry, who was very relaxed and clearly trusted Hugh. I got the impression that Gerry’s co-production role had been completed throughout the recording process and he was happy to take a back seat throughout this initial mixing stage.
Some overdubs were added during these sessions in the small-but-quite-comfortable overdub booth, to the right of the control room. Percussion overdubs were added to tracks like ‘City To City’, and some backing vocals were also added to a couple of songs. It seemed as though these were last minute additions that had maybe been missed at the main recording sessions at Chipping Norton Studios (in Oxfordshire), where the bulk of the album had been recorded. No extra vocals were added by Gerry and he seemed very happy with what had already been recorded.
The date shown on the two Marquee tape boxes from my analogue collection is ‘13th June 1977’. This would have been the ‘copy’ date of these mixes, and I imagine we would have been working on these eight tracks from late May 1977. It’s interesting to note from my copy tapes that there are only eight songs, and that ‘Take The Money And Run’ was not used on the ‘City To City’ album, but appeared on the ‘Night Owl’ album released in 1979. Other tracks, such as ‘The Ark’, that were on the final ‘City To City’ album are missing from these sessions, and I don’t recognise the song when listening to the final album. Either we didn’t get on to mixing that in these ‘work in progress’ sessions, or it was recorded after the Marquee sessions.
My memory of the final session was a typical ‘album playback’ set-up for the manager, label and musicians that could make it in. As I’ve said, space was tight, so this was an uncomfortable event, where only a couple of people could sit in the ideal central listening position. My lasting memory of this session, where all eight tracks were played, was that the bass player made a very damaging remark at the end, saying something like ‘I’ve heard this room can’t be trusted’. That created an edgy atmosphere for the people present, and I did my best to defend the quality of the room acoustics and their reliability, but once someone says something like that, it is very difficult to recover from it. I think that planted negative thoughts into the minds of producer Hugh Murphy and the record company executives there. I remember being very happy with how everything sounded, but clearly, at only 20 years old, I was very inexperienced.
‘Baker Street’ Clip of early Phil Harding mix
(Archive sound quality)
‘City To City’ Clip of early Phil Harding mix
(Archive sound quality)
Listening back to my mixes now, I can detect many problems with the balances and choices made. It is unfortunate that the quality of my tapes has suffered due to storage conditions, and even though I’ve baked them before digitising there is a severe lack of high frequencies. Nevertheless, I can define a couple of major problems...
drums, in particular the kick and snare, are too loud. Certainly, a lot louder
than the balances on the final mixes on the album. I can understand why I would
have balanced the drums like that, because I had spent the last few years
working as assistant engineer on many sessions in Studio 1 with producer Gus Dudgeon
(Elton John mixes, Kiki Dee’s 1974 album ‘I Got The Music In Me’ and many
more). Gus was a big fan of loud drums, as many producers and engineers are,
but for the Gerry Rafferty album, I can now hear that this style of balance was
not appropriate. I don’t remember this being an issue with producer Hugh Murphy
or Gerry, but it was clearly my fault for setting that kind of precedent in the
- The balance of the saxophone on ‘Baker Street’ is astonishingly quiet on my mixes compared the loud, strident sound on the final record. Clearly, someone had reviewed these Marquee mixes and made the point that the sax had to be a big feature on ‘Baker Street’, as we all love and know it to be now. That was a big mistake from my end, and whether it was Hugh and Gerry or the record company that pushed for the final balance – or possibly the final mix engineer (Dec O’Doherty at Advision Studios) – it was a stroke of genius, because the final mix from that point of view sounds wonderful and complete.
Other than those two major points, everything else on my Marquee mixes (vocals/keyboards and guitars) sound very similar. One of my lasting memories after these sessions was playing these mixes at full blast in the studio to some of my musician friends, including Dave Dale, and they were all blown away. Imagine listening to an unreleased ‘Baker Street’ for the first time, in a fantastic high quality studio environment! I was inspired that even though the sessions had moved on elsewhere for remixing, I had done a good job to the best of my ability at that time. My engineering skills and mixing abilities would improve from that point on – and the following year, I completed successful mixes for the Steve Hillage album ‘Open’ (released in 1979) and the huge Amii Stewart hit ‘Knock On Wood’ all in that very same mixing room at The Marquee.
It has been good for me to reflect on this project, as I had stored my memories of these sessions together with the tapes for 40+ years without talking or thinking about them until now. I know from my brief research for this blog that many people around the world hold this album dearly in their memories. To have been involved in some small way has truly been a wonderful honour for me. ‘Goldmine Music Collector’s Magazine’ describe it as...
“…One of the quintessential albums of all time, on an equal footing as The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’. While Rafferty went on to write and record further exemplary music, which by no means proved less superior, the immense commercial success of ‘City to City’, and ‘Baker Street’ overshadowed everything else he did. It is the one album that will forever be attached to Rafferty’s legacy as his signature work, and also the one that firmly secured his place in music history”. (Full article here)