AS studio whizzes they have worked with some of the biggest names in British pop, from Paul McCartney to Duran Duran, Adele to Robbie Williams.
Now Trevor Horn, Lol Creme, Stephen Lipson and Ash Soan are stepping out from behind the recording console into the limelight themselves.
The quartet call their band Producers, and ahead of the release of their debut album, this month they embark on an unconventional national tour. As well as performing in six university towns and cities, before each show they’ll also be sharing their expertise with students with question-and-answer sessions at venues such as Leeds College of Music.
“We had a huge idea but that was possibly too expensive; this is a toned down version of that idea. If we can appeal to college kids that’s a great thing.” explained Lipson, the band’s guitarist, engineer and producer, whose past clients have included Annie Lennox, Ronan Keating, Will Young, the Pet Shop Boys and Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
“There are probably not many acts who can interact in the way we can with these people. We have all got a bit of experience. We hope they will want to know what we have to say.
“We will probably turn up and no-one will have any Qs and we won’t have any As, but it’s a really exciting thought to go to colleges.
“Trevor and me have been saying for years we’ve probably spent too much time in the studio, let’s form a pub band.”
Lipson and Horn are long-time associates, having worked together at Sarm studios in the 80s producing the likes of Frankie, Propaganda and Grace Jones. Prior to that Horn was a member of Buggles, of Video Killed The Radio Star fame. Creme was once part of 10cc, whose hits include I’m Not in Love and Rubber Bullets, then the duo Godley and Creme, who as well as making records also directed innovative pop videos for Duran Duran (Girls on Film), Frankie (Two Tribes) and The Police (Every Breath You Take). Soan is a drummer who has played on albums by Adele, Cee Lo Green, James Morrison and Seal.
When they formed Producers five years ago there was a fifth member, Chris Braide, producer and songwriter for the likes of Olly Murs, Cheryl Cole, JLS and Lana Del Rey (who later dropped out due to other commitments).
Initially they gigged in Camden, with guest singers such as Jamie Cullum and Will Young, with some success. They even had “the bones of [the album] quite quickly”; finding time for them all to record it, and for Lipson and Horn to mix it, however, took much longer, juggling bursts of activity with studio duties for big-name artists.
Now it’s ready for release in May, Lipson is looking forward to getting out on the road to spread the word. As a bonus for gig-goers the band will perform some of their greatest hits from their respective careers. “We talked about it at length,” says Lipson. “There’s no point just doing songs from the album, people will all look blankly at us. They [the students] are under 20, we are 80, or something. Maybe they will have heard them but we will find out.”
For Lipson, life has come come full circle. In his youth he’d been a member of the band Sniff’n’ the Tears, who signed to EMI when he was 20. “We managed to blow it spectacularly,” he recalls, “by not being grateful or happy with what they were offering us.” After a bad experience with drugs, he realised “being famous would have been a terrible idea” and became a studio engineer instead. In 1983 he was offered two days work working for Trevor Horn. “My first reaction was I hate Trevor Horn – it was based on jealousy” but the two got on so well Lipson was promoted to in-house producer for Horn’s label ZTT for the next five years and have collaborated intermittently since then.
As a producer or engineer, Lipson also is one of the few people to have worked with Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones. The experience, he says, was “very different”.
“They’re complete opposites. With McCartney every single thing he does really is brilliant but not necessarily appropriate whereas the Stones, it’s like fishing: you are there all day and nothing happens then a little bit of something does.”
If working with McCartney “could be considered a [career] highlight”, another was producing Jeff Beck’s 2010 album Emotion and Commotion. “He was my guitar hero - always has been,” Lipson explains. “Sitting with him for how long it was was remarkable – and it did very well, so that worked out well.”
Cheap technology may now mean records can be made in people’s bedrooms, but Lipson believes “quality control is vanishing a bit” from modern production and songwriting. He concurs with the singer-songwriter Don Mclean: “He was on breakfast television saying the problem with all this new music is you can’t hum it and it’s not going to last long.
“In 10 years time you’re never going to sing rap music in the bath but you are going to sing American Pie in the bath.
“People lately make records in bedrooms which is fine but there’s a lot of rubbish about, that’s for sure.”
March 7, The Wardrobe, St Peter’s Square, Leeds, 7.30pm, £5. Tel: 0113 222 3434. www.lcm.ac.uk