“We had a lot of freedom in the ’70s. The record companies got what they were given, and that was that.”
by Joe Bosso, 3 Feb 2013, Music Radar.
Eddy Offord loved making records in the ’70s. The producer and engineer, whose work with progressive rock pioneers Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer landed both bands at the top of international pop charts, recalls the time period as one that yielded unrivaled exploration and creativity.
“We had a lot of freedom in the ’70s as far as interference from record company people,” he says. “They would come by occasionally, but they didn’t say anything about the songs or what we were doing. The record companies got what they were given, and that was that.”
The nightlife, too, wasn’t bad. Swinging London still had some swing, and at the end of a session, Offord and various band members would hit the clubs. “There would be Mick Jagger or Pete Townshend,” he says. “Everybody was friendly – ‘Hey, what are you working on?’ It was fun. It might have been competitive, but there was also a joyous spirit in the air.”
During much of the ’70s, Offord was practically a lodger at London’s Advision Studios. The facility was originally built for recording voiceovers and TV jingles, but its expansive rooms, one of which was able to house a 60-piece orchestra, proved welcoming to keyboardists such as Keith Emerson, whose Moog synthesizers and Leslie cabinets were often stacked up to the ceiling.
“It was a really good studio, and the equipment was first-rate,” says Offord. “I found the acoustics in the recording room to be a little dead for my liking. I experimented with sheets of plywood and livened it up. It was a comfortable place to work.”
The critical response to progressive rock (“We didn’t use that term; we called it ‘classical rock'”) was violent, and by mid-decade punk rockers took direct aim at groups like ELP and Yes. Offord claims that the barbs and brickbats were ignored in the studio. “The bands were very successful, so they didn’t pay attention,” he says. “Millions of fans enjoyed the journey of a 20-minute piece of music. The people buying the records weren’t critics anyway.”
In the late ’70s, Offord relocated to the US, spending considerable time working in Woodstock, New York; Atlanta, Georgia; and Los Angeles. By 1994, however, after completing 311’s album Grassroots, he decided he had enough and set about cruising the world in a sailboat with his wife. He considered himself happily retired, but two years ago his son Sam invited him to check out a group called The Midnight Moan. Impressed, Offord remained on dry ground and produced the band’s debut album at Pyramid Studios in New York City.
Pyramind could become the new Advision in Offord’s life: in recent months, he’s been ensconced behind the studio’s board producing tracks for singers Sophia Urista and Allie Hill. “I guess I’m back in the game,” he says with a chuckle. “I’ve gotten a taste for producing again, although I have to be honest – I do miss my boat.”
We kind of became a family, and I was almost a sixth member of the band. They were brilliant musicians, but there were never any egos. Nobody was trying to upstage the other person or be a show-off. It was all about the song and the album.
“The band would come in with ideas and bits, but songs were really developed in the studio. After we were done with an album, they’d have to learn everything so they could play it all live. There was lots of experimentation – and editing.
“I worked with both drummers – first Bill Bruford and then Alan White. Bill was a very white drummer, in my opinion. He’s brilliant, but there is a certain feel that I wanted to get. Alan is a very soulful player. He’s slightly back on the beat, but it’s done in the right way. It was tough for him at first to play Yes music because of all the time signatures. It wasn’t until the second tour that he started to gel. When he got it, he was fantastic. He played the hell out of Starship Trooper.
“Jon Anderson wasn’t a great musician, but he would come up with songs, and the band would take them and add their bits to them. He had a very cinematic mind. He would say things like, ‘I hear bombs dropping’ or ‘I hear a waterfall.’ That’s how he would describe musical ideas.
“Bill Bruford didn’t like Jon messing with the tracks once they were recorded. I remember we were trying something – Jon wanted to have some echo in the background – and Bill got up and yelled, ‘Why don’t you put the whole fucking record in the background with echo then?’ But what I learned about working with them was, if somebody has an idea, it’s better to try it than to sit around debating it.
“We did some long songs, but they were great. I never felt that anything was too long. If a 20-minute song holds your interest, then it works. I’ve heard three-minute songs that are boring.”
Offord engineered 1970’s Time And A Word. As co-producer and engineer, his credits are The Yes Album (1971), Fragile (1971), Close To The Edge (1972), Yessongs (1973), Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973), Relayer (1974) and Union (1991). He co-produced 1980’s Drama.
Read more of Eddie’s interview – about ELP, Yes, John & Yoko, Dixie Dregs, Billy Squier & 311 at Music Radar.