Phil Sutcliffe

Publication Date:
January 1989



A former student of both The Royal College Of Music and Kings College (London), classical clarinet and piano player Anne Dudley worked nightshifts behind the keyboards on the late ‘70s Mecca dance band circuit. There, amid the cover versions of Bee Gees and Boomtown Rats, she met occasional bassist Trevor Horn, shortly to have a hit with Buggies, turn producer and offer her work as an arranger. Now also a member of The Art Of Noise, she tells Phil Sutcliffe about some of her best-known work.

On my first record, Dollar’s Give Me Back My Heart in 1981, I wasn’t brought in specifically as an arranger but Trevor Horn, who produced it, sent me a demo and said, "What do you think?" I came up with some ideas, we threw some out, developed some. We worked from the bottom — got a bass part down, drums, a guide vocal, then saw where the counter-melodies would fit in. It was improvisatory. Trevor made it very easy. He was then — and maybe is now, I’m not sure — an absolutely superb producer. He knew what sounds work and he brought people’s confidence out. I’ve worked with producers who are less than great: they’re not decisive because they don’t really know when you’ve done something good. He’s a dominant character in the studio. He didn’t feel the need to have David or Theresa from Dollar about, but Theresa might make suggestions when she heard the tapes, and Trevor always listened to the artist.

The big step into arranging came when we were working on ABC’s Lexicon Of Love, a track called The Look Of Love. Trevor said, "I think we ought to have strings on this, can you do it?" He was quite a hip producer by then, big budget, and he had about 30 musicians in this huge studio, Abbey Road One. I was absolutely terrified standing up in front of them for the first time like that — until they started to play, that is. Then it was fantastic. The whole band came to that first session. I remember turning around when we’d finished the run through and they were all in the box smiling away. It was lovely. Then what got me when I heard the final mix was the strings were so loud. I couldn’t believe it. I said to Trevor, "You don’t think you’ve gone over the top here do you?" Of course he had. He always did!

The first time I worked with Paul McCartney I played synthesizer on No More Lonely Nights. Later on he asked me to arrange a couple of tracks on Press To Play. I was very nervous. It’s difficult for someone like him to get through the living legend business but he’s used to it and makes it very easy for you. Basically he told me to do what I wanted to do. On one song, However Absurd, at Abbey Road the lyrics were very peculiar and the point of the string arrangement was to sound surrealistic — so what happens is the orchestra bursts out and plays a little symphony at the end for no apparent reason. Some of the orchestra had worked on Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper so they’d done the chaotic bit on A Dayln The Life.

Malcolm McLaren was a big challenge an artist with no visible signs of talent, no songs, a pop group manager who wanted to make an album (Duck Rock, 1983). I was involved with that when he came back from his travels in America and Africa I didn’t fancy slogging around the world with Malcolm — he’s an entertaining chap and all that but fairly hard work. The most outrageous track was Buffalo Gals. He had all these strange elements — a New York rap duo, a redneck hillbilly song, and a style that was later known as hip hop. It wasn’t anything as organised as arrangement, just set a pattern going, play some chords, some bass parts, and then the Supreme Team rapped all this nonsense over it. Occasionally Malcolm would come to the studio with a crazy idea and Trevor, being a patient man, would spend the five hours it took to try something Malcolm had just tossed off the top of his head. We got on much faster without him.

Doing the brass on Young Guns for Wham! I discovered that George Michael has a very fine ear for music. One example early on shook me rigid. I’d voiced one chord slightly differently in the key change. He said, "That chord doesn’t sound right." I said, "It’s the same chord, George" "No," he said, "it sounds different." I said, "Well I have swapped the inside parts around." "It’s different then, isn’t it?" he said. Found me out. It was only the second time he’d recorded I think. As he gained confidence he was able to tell me much more specifically what he had in mind. On Young Guns we ended up just using trumpets, no other brass at all. After that first session George would sing to me what he wanted. Back then he couldn’t play any instruments and he seemed a bit afraid of "real" musicians.

I orchestrated the opening of Two Tribes for Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Fairly straight forward. Trevor said, "How many players would you like?" I said about 20. He said, "Right, we’ll have 40. Or 50. Or 60. We want to spend lots of money here." So there were clarinets and flutes and French horns and timps. But it never felt like making a record because there were too many versions. It didn’t really exist I didn’t feel very involved with it.

Johnny Hates Jazz was an unfortunate experience. I arranged strings on Turn Back The Clock. It was so badly organised. They rang me up on a Tuesday and said, "We’ve got to do the strings on Thursday, we’re sending you a tape." No time to sit down and talk in advance. So we did the run-through and one of them didn’t like what I’d written for the chorus. He said, "Instead of da-da-da can we have dum-dum-dum?" I told the section, "OK, bar 16, two quavers and a crochet instead of four quavers." "Nah, don’t like that. Maybe just a long note." "Which one?" "Daaaa." "OK." Back to the players. "Bar 16, a long G above middle c." "Nah, doesn’t really work. What was it you had before?" And so on for about three hours. When I heard their final mix it was two notes of what I’d written and duck out, then another note and duck out. I’m annoyed it says "String arrangement by Anne Dudley".

I’m quite proud of what The Art Of Noise (currently Dudley plus Fairlight programmer J. Jeczalik) did with Duane Eddy (Peter Gunn, 1986) and Tom Jones (Kiss) because we were working with a featured artist and we didn’t muck about with them — put them in a Fairlight and turn upside down or anything. We constructed jigsaw puzzles around them, interesting pieces that fit together and complement one another. On Kiss the question was, how would we justify equal billing with Tom Jones? We worked it out in a strange but logical way. We have a recognisable sound: on our instrumentals we put drums up front throughout and everything else changes around them. So we decided Tom’s vocal would be the drums, in effect. Verse one does have the big drum sound you’d expect from us alongside the vocal, but on verse two it becomes tiny, goes down into mono, like a little rhythm box. Although Tom’s still out front, suddenly the track’s opened right up, there’s all the room you want to stick in things like the piano and brass stabs. For the middle section, the drums come back big again, huge sound. Then verse three has a Latin-American rhythm, cha-cha. The whole thing is really cheeky, but the continuity is there in Tom’s vocal — we’re completely faithful to it. Well, that’s the idea behind the arrangement. And nobody has noticed!

Phil Collins, he’s a little gem. I was composing the score for Buster and he asked me to work on A Groovy Kind Of Love with him. I found this A sustained chord for the end and decided that a key change would be a good idea, although that gave Phil the screaming abdabs because he said, "I can only play this in G." So I taught it to him in A too. He insisted on playing keyboards which is fine because he has a certain style which suits his voice I didn’t want to barge in and say, "Get out of the way Phil, I’ll do the keyboards!" Then I said, "One final thing. There’s this new chord at the end", and he said, "Oh no, not another new chord!" I said, "It’s very easy, Phil, honest, just three notes in the right hand and an octave in the left." He’s an amazing bloke. The evening we did this at Maison Rouge he was programming the rhythm box and at the same time he was giving an interview to a magazine and he was of playing a drum session in the other studio as a favour to the owner.

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