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Lyrically challenged

Engineer/producer Phil Harding talks about working with his partner Ian Curnow in the good old days of PWL

 Ian and I were never very good at starting lyrics. We could contribute once ideas were started, but we could never seem to get started without someone else being the instigator for us. So it was obvious that we needed a lyricist to collaborate with and clearly Mike Stock was way too busy on the SAW projects to have time to help us and PW was keen to see us songwriting for the various PWL artists that he was signing. One of our regular session singers that we used from 1987 onwards was Suzanne Rhatigan – a fantastically bubbly and enthusiastic Irish singer who had initially come into PWL Studios to help out on the Mandy Smith records as a ‘ghost’ singer to Mandy. Suzanne suggested that we try collaborating with her friend, Bill Clift – and there started a long relationship between Ian, Bill and myself, writing songs for all sorts of PWL artists between 1987 and 1991 (such as Sonia and Lonnie Gordon). We would always start with the music first and generally, a guide melody for Bill to either take away and write lyrics to – or many a time Bill would sit with us, generally in Ian’s room and spend many hours writing the words there and then, with Ian and I chipping in ideas once the subject and generally the chorus hook was cracked. And when we could grab his ear to listen in, Pete Waterman. By 1988, Ian and I were working on the Atari ST with Steinberg Pro-24 sequencing software version III, which had many of Ian’s ideas incorporated into the software. That was complemented in Ian’s room with the Fairlight Series III – the only black one in the world, especially ordered for Pete – in which all of our favourite percussion sounds were samples and stored for easy access. The two other synths at this peak period for us were the Roland Super Jupiter and the Yamaha TX802 system. Looking back through my diaries for 1988, it becomes increasingly clear that Ian and I were doing less and less work on the SAW projects, because we were so busy with our own productions and remixes for outside clients. These included productions for Blue Mercedes and Brother Beyond and remixes for the likes of David Grant, Jermaine Stewart, Matt Bianco and a whole number of Tamla Motown remixes that we took on in 1988 – The Jackson Five /I Want You Back/, through to The Four Tops’ /Reach Out (I’ll Be There)/. My favourite was The Jacksons track, which arrived on a 16-track analogue tape copy that amazingly contained eight tracks of Michael’s vocals, with the other tracks having the rest of the instruments and backing vocals. I would generally be mixing these in the SSL-equipped Bunker Studio, which was connected to Ian’s studio via tie-lines whilst Ian was preparing the next project in his studio below mine. It was extraordinary at that time to be the first people ever to remix the classic tracks named above from the wonderful Motown Records catalogue. This is an edited extract from PWL: From the Factory Floor by Phil Harding, available from