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Also available on CD Digipak
Time Machine - Direct Drive & First Light
whatmusic.com
24.99
Another whatmusic.com exclusive vinyl re-issue!

Whatmusic.com presents Time Machine, the ground-breaking 1981-82 British Jazz Funk Oval 12"s from Direct Drive & First Light featuring Paul Hardcastle. Time Machine showcases Derek Green's soulful vocals with Direct Drive (Hardcastle/Mick Ward/Pete Quinton/Bob Williams/Bones) & First Light, with Hardcastle on all instruments.

  • Paul Hardcastle's 1st Recordings!
  • Features 'A.M.', 'Don't Depend on Me' & an unreleased full length 'Time Machine'!
  • Liner Notes by Charlie Gillett (Oval Records)
  • Digitally Remastered from original master tapes

Check the 30 second clips from the album...

01 Time Machine 5:46
02 Don't Depend On Me 4:26
03 I'm The One 3:54
04 Time's Running Out 5:00
05 Don't Be Mistaken 7:18
06 A.M. 5:51
07 Horse With No Name 6:16

The whatmusic.com interview...

The most important sound in the history of Oval Records might have been the clunk of the cassette that dropped through the letterbox of our basement office in Clapham, South London, in the Autumn of 1981. I went to see who had dropped it off, but he had already gone back up the front steps and into the street.

There was a note in the packet telling us the band was called Direct Drive, and this was their demo in search of a record deal. In those days, cassette demos came in by post on a daily basis, most of them by rock groups inspired by one or more of the current heroes Talking Heads, the B-52s and Elvis Costello.

Gordon [Nelki, Oval's co-director] and I stopped whatever we were doing to play the cassette, and one thing was clear straight away: this band had not been listening to any of the above. The music sounded like it was following Earth Wind and Fire or Kool and the Gang, in the new style of British dance music that was being called Jazz Funk by those in the know. The vocalist had a high, near-falsetto voice, and the arrangements were very adventurous, full of spaces for instrumental solos and rhythmic punches. In particular, we liked the drive and melody of 'Don't Depend on Me'. To us, the demo sounded good enough to release exactly as it was, but we needed to check it out with the people who would have to sell the record if we put it out.

These days, there are around 30 shops in Soho alone selling nothing but dance music, and many more across the rest of London; back then, there was just a handful in the whole city, and one of them was Record Corner, about a mile away in Balham. I called the shop's manager Dave Hastings and he said we'd better come to play it to dance specialist Carl, who said it sounded fine and if we decided to release it he'd place an order for 25. Next stop was City Sounds in Holborn, where the guy behind the counter said he'd buy 50. Later, I found out this was Mick Clark, who soon afterwards joined the A&R department at Virgin.

With 75 sales in the bag, we phoned the group's contact number and found the drummer, Pete Quinton. We asked him how come he had chosen to bring the tape to Oval. He said he'd looked in the Yellow Pages and we were the closest company to where he lived. He confirmed that the band was up for a discussion with us about releasing the record, so we fixed a meeting with all six members where we explained the deal we'd release all three tracks on a 12" single and publish the songs.

And then there was a bit of a delay. I don't remember how long, maybe a couple of weeks. We seemed in danger of losing the momentum there's a sense of adrenalin that can build when things follow naturally, but which can get totally lost if people start wondering if there might be a better this or that around a corner. We began to get phone calls from the keyboard player, Paul Hardcastle, who was getting frustrated by the slow decision-taking processes in a democratic six-piece band. Before coming to Oval, they had shopped the demo around the rest of the business, and nobody else had been interested. As far as Paul was concerned, we were the only choice left. Paul told us that he had given an ultimatum to the other five, 'if you don't want to do this deal with Oval, I'm leaving the band.' There was something about Paul, you knew he wasn't bluffing. They came, we signed, and we put the record out.

As we got to know Paul better, he told us how he had joined the band. He had come into some insurance money after a bad crash on his motorbike, and had bought a keyboard at the music equipment and hi-fi shop where he worked on King's Road in Chelsea. He taught himself to play it by trial and error and reading the manual, and three months later answered an ad in the Melody Maker for a band looking for a keyboard player. Although he had never played with other musicians before, somehow he bluffed his way in.

Vocalist Derek Green was recruited around the same time, and the six-piece rehearsed a few times before recording the three songs that were sent to us. It's still hard to believe that those confident and complicated keyboard arrangements were by somebody who had only been playing for three months. Listening now, twenty years later, the quality of musicianship in the whole band is outstanding guitarist Robert Williams plays lovely fluid lines and bass player Mick Ward was among the best British musicians to perfect the slapping style that the Family Stone's Larry Graham had introduced a few years earlier. Pete Quinton provided the rhythmic fulcrum on drums, and percussionist Bones Hammond added flowing syncopations.

Convinced that 'Don't Depend on Me' was the favourite for radio play, we made it the A-side and stuck the other two songs on the B-side. The band - particularly Paul - liked 'Time Machine' but it started with at least a minute of instrumental intro before the vocal started, which was against every radio principle we knew. Pete Quinton designed the band's logo for the front cover. We did the radio promotion ourselves, posting copies to any producer or DJ who might play it and quite a few who almost certainly never would. We were ignored by every daytime radio producer at Radio One, but John Peel played the A-side several times, surprising given his preference for much edgier music than this. Even more surprising, Robbie Vincent at BBC Radio London chose 'Time Machine' as the side to play, long intro and all. Over and over. This was the heyday of pirate radio, when most of the people who ran the stations were into exactly this kind of music, and they all played 'Time Machine.' Record Business, a rival to the long running trade paper Music Week, published a Disco Music Top 50; the single entered at #21 in the week ending 18th Jan 1982 and hovered in and out of the top 20 for the next two months.

At this time Oval split its distribution between Spartan and Rough Trade. Spartan had been formed by a couple of ex-major label salesmen to help small labels have pop hits, and they did well with the first few singles by UB40 on Graduate Records, a small label based in the Midlands. Rough Trade specialised in groups which weren't looking for pop chart success. Oval's releases tended to fall between the cracks, being neither commercial enough for Spartan nor quirky enough for Rough Trade. We found a third distributor, Greyhound Records, which specialised in importing dance records from the USA, for whom we were a natural addition to their range.

One of the trickiest things to get right was pressing up the correct number of records, keeping up with demand without getting left with too much overstock. Three different factories made labels, sleeves and vinyl, and the pressing plant would not start a run until we had delivered enough labels and sleeves to match the order. One undelivered telephone message in any one of the three factories could take a couple of weeks to untangle. Having started with a conservative first pressing of 1,000 copies, it took us about six weeks to catch up with the demand for 'Time Machine.' Most people found it easier to buy the song on compilation cassettes of jazz funk being sold in London markets every Saturday, but we still sold over 5,000 12" copies.

Listening to the music now, it feels like the band would have built up a following if they had been out playing live. But Oval did not have the resources to provide them with tour support to let them all give up their day jobs and go out on the road. We needed to make another record. Capital Radio offered a live session for the band, who played two songs from the first single and a new one, 'Time's Running Out.' We took the 16-track tape to Eel Pie Studios in Soho where engineer Mike Pela remixed the new song for release as a single, combined with a ballad, 'I'm The One.'

This time we thought we had a real chance of radio play. We pressed a radio-friendly 7" and to make sure we were better prepared to meet demand this time around, we ordered 2,000 12" singles. But radio was not nearly so enthusiastic, and we did not even sell all of the first pressing. Listen to 'I'm The One,' and let me know if you understand why that was not some kind of a hit? Derek's singing is impeccable, the words are spot on, and the band plays like a dream.

The two Direct Drive singles were consecutive releases on Oval, followed immediately by two more from the spin-off group formed by Paul and Derek, First Light. They took the name from the studio in Penge where the first single had been recorded. I don't remember exactly what happened to force the split, or maybe we were never told. For a while, we remained on good terms with both parties and Pete Quinton designed the First Light logo. But after we turned down the results of a new formation of Direct Drive featuring vocalist Alvin Brown, the group decided to go out on its own, and with vocalist Helen Rogers released a couple of singles on Polydor, making the lower reaches of the national chart with 'Anything'.

We had every expectation that First Light would be commercially successful - a singer with a great voice with good songs, combined with a wizard musician who had a gleam in his eye and a feel for the future. Paul's decision to revive 'Horse with No Name' confounded the purists and achieved our first play on daytime Radio One when a producer commissioned a 'live session.' This was a euphemism for a tape copy of the record, which was supplied to meet Musician's Union requirements for a specified number of 'sessions' per day on Radio One. When Gordon heard the First Light single one morning played back-to-back with 'Just an Illusion' by Imagination, the UK's best-selling black act at the time, his heart sank. Where every sound on the Imagination record rammed home its intention, the sound of First Light was lighter, more innocent. In a flash, he knew our record didn't stand a chance.

Among the follow-up songs we recorded was 'She's a Mystery,' full of melodic hooks which floated over an easy-going groove. Derek had his doubts that our promotion could do it justice, and thought they might benefit from having a more experienced producer. We didn't argue. If the group wanted a company with more clout, we would go and try to find one. We shopped around. Our former adviser Mick Clark had his hands full at Virgin with Loose Ends and I-Level. Ashley Newton at Island had as many black music acts as he could hope to get onto British radio, which was still not making these artists welcome. Roger Ames, the MD at London Records, did not usually initiate A&R signings anymore, but somehow we managed to get his attention long enough to sign the duo, although he would be the first to admit that he never had enough time afterwards to concentrate on figuring out what to do with it.

While all these discussions were going on, Paul had been playing around with an idea for an instrumental, which he sent to us on tape. It sounded OK, but so what? Who played instrumentals on the radio? If Paul was pissed off with us, he didn't show it. But he persevered, asking if we minded if he sent the tape to Solar, one of the leading pirate stations. We didn't mind, but it needed a title in case they played it: 'A.M.,' sticking to the concept of the project's name. A week or two later, Paul called to report that the track was getting played on Solar. Two weeks later, it was in the top ten tracks most-requested by listeners to the station. All the other nine were released records already in the national top 50. Week by week the instrumental climbed into the top 3. Finally First Light's record label woke up to the realisation that it might be a good idea to release this track.

By now we were on the brink of signing the group to London, but Roger Ames confirmed that it would not interfere with London's plans if this instrumental came out in the meantime. On the B-side were two vocal tracks featuring Derek, the new 'I Don't Care' and a revisit of 'Time Machine.'

Mainstream radio paid no attention, but the pirates played 'A.M.' like it was their signature tune. Even though this time we knew there would be plenty of interest, we still had trouble keeping up with demand. The 12" single sold over 13,000 copies, more than the sales of the other three singles combined.

For reasons I've now forgotten, when we finally signed to London and started discussing what to do first, 'She's a Mystery' was set aside and a new song, 'Explain the Reasons,' was chosen for the single. It was our idea to suggest Steve Levene as producer, after hearing his work on the first Culture Club single; but before we could get in the studio with him, 'Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?' came out and suddenly Steve was the producer everybody wanted. Not until three months later did Steve finally have time for First Light.

To my amazement and embarrassment, Steve did most of the programming himself, with Paul sat beside him in the control room. By the time the A-side was finally finished, we had gone way past the budget, and Paul volunteered to knock off an instrumental B-side at a cheaper studio. Sticking to the theme, we called it 'Daybreak.' Despite the more professional sound of 'Explain the Reasons' and London's experienced promotion team, Radio One wasn't interested, but every pirate radio station across the country jumped onto 'Daybreak.' The single sold over 20,000 copies and the group made the pop chart for the first time.

A different producer, Bob Carter, was assigned to do the next single, 'Wish You Were Here', and again Paul volunteered to provide the B-side. Observing that it was costing 500 a day to record, he pointed out that if he had his own home studio, he could record half of any album for a fraction of what it would cost in a commercial studio. We put the idea to Roger, who turned it down flat. "They need a producer." Gordon came out of the meeting seething with anger and suggested we help pay for Paul's studio as his publisher. Paul was fine with that, so we came up with a few thousand pounds, Paul put up the rest himself, and he finally had his own music-making factory at home.

When we started discussing the release of the second single at London's office, the A&R man asked us not to put an instrumental on the B-side this time.

"Why not?" we asked, 'A.M.' and 'Daybreak' proved that radio DJs liked instrumentals"

"Exactly. First Light is a vocal group, and we don't want to give DJs a chance to play the wrong side again."

It was a logic that baffled me then, and it still does. A compromise was agreed whereby Paul recorded another instrumental 'Stop the Clock' in a completely different style, almost reggae, so he could not be accused of appealing to the jazz funk DJs. But they played it anyway, and although Radio One ignored the A-side again, the record slipped into the bottom of the national chart for a token couple of weeks. Oval Records had released four singles by Direct Drive and First Light in a little over 12 months. At London, First Light managed to release only two more in 18 months, most of that time spent waiting around for producers to become available. Beside himself with frustration, Paul broke away and formed his own Fast Forward label to put out singles he recorded at home. He immediately made #41 on the national chart with a revival of D-Train's 'You're The One For Me' and was back there again a few months later, in a one-off deal with Bluebird Records, with an instrumental, 'Rain Forest,' which went on to become a Top 5 R&B hit in the States.

In April 1985, having signed to Chrysalis, Paul was sitting on top of the world, with '19' at #1 in 13 countries. In many ways, '19' was the record that made the public aware of the concept of sampling; everybody who heard the record realised that the commentator's voice was somehow being manipulated into that famous stutter 'N-N-Nineteen.' Not only did Paul provide Oval Music with our biggest hit, but he taught us a lot: among other things, that it's not simply a matter of having talent, it's what you do with it. It's been a privilege to be part of his story.

As far as the UK is concerned, Paul may have apparently disappeared, but he has been one of Britain's most consistent sellers in Japan and the US, with a series of Contemporary Jazz albums (as the Jazzmasters and under his own name), each of which stayed on the Billboard Chart for two years.

Derek Green had a brief shot at a solo career but then settled into the role of being one of the top session singers in the country, preferring to stand just outside the spotlight. We lost contact with the other members of Direct Drive apart from Pete Quinton, who turned out to be an excellent songwriter in his own right. We spent a couple of years trying to get covers of his songs, and he has gone on to make a living writing music for television. Pete, if we never properly thanked you for dropping that cassette through our letter box, this seems like a good time and place to do it.

Charlie Gillett, Oval Records and Music June 2001



Direct Drive

Direct Drive (from left) Pete Quinton, Bob Williams, Mick Ward & Bones



Oval Records would like to thank those who helped the story start, especially Robbie Vincent, Solar Radio and the all the other UK pirate stations, and obviously the guys from Direct Drive & First Light.

Whatmusic.com would like to thank those who brought the story up to date: Charlie Gillett, Gordon & Andra Nelki, Paul Hardcastle, Pete Quinton, Paul Sexton, Noel Summerville and special thanks to Jody Gillett for putting us all in touch!

Photography: Andra Nelki & ViMo.
Digitally remastered from the original master tapes by Noel Summerville @ Transfermation London.


24.99
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