With 32 years experience to his name, producer Chris Porter has stunned the world with cuts from the likes of David Bowie, George Michael and Take That. While he’s now a renowned studio artificer, the road to success was not as smooth as you might imagine… Here, in an interview for sE he discusses the gear he’s been particularly taken with over the past little while.
1972, and Chris’s band came second in TV’s ‘New Faces’, and as Chris recalls “we came second to Lenny Henry!”. Micky Most was one of the panellists and, shortly after this performance, signed Chris and Andy Duncan who then both moved to London… “We both thought we’d got it cracked and within months we’d be stars”.
Of course it didn’t turn out that way and Chris ended up working in an employment agency, doing a short stint in the fashion business, and doing odd music jobs providing backing vocals etc… after four years of this though he decided to be painter and decorator and gave up on stardom and fame… or so he thought!
Chris eventually ended up working on a building job for Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, who wanted an 8-track studio set up in his garage in Kew, West London.
“Phil was working on ‘Live and Dangerous’ with Tony Visconti at the time, in Good Earth studios. Tony wanted his live room at Good Earth made more sound proof so he could use it as a nice live drum room… I ended up building office partitions etc, the whole works, and worked there for about four months.
“Until then I’d never even considered the idea of being an engineer or producer, but the more I saw on the other side of this door I was not allowed into, the more it seemed very mysterious and alluring. Watching the process of what started as a live recording, being manipulated into a finished product, was thrilling… probably made more so because I was kept at a distance from the whole thing, being a builder!
“I used to sing around the place in the hope someone would notice that I actually could hold a tune, and eventually Tony Visconti took me to one side one day and said ‘you don’t want to be a builder do you?’, and offered me a (low paid) job as his assistant engineer.”
By sheer good luck, while still working at Good Earth in early 1983, Bob Carter, a friend of Chris’s, asked him to help produce Wham Rap ‘Enjoy What You Do’. As it turned out George and Andrew didn’t pursue the relationship with Bob, but they ended up at Good Earth a few months later with 11 hours to make a B side to ‘Club Tropicana’, called ‘Blue’.
Chris Porter: “We enjoyed working together, I was amenable and patient, and they had very strong ideas of what they wanted to do…” It worked really well and was the start of a 14 year recording and producing relationship with George Michael, stretching from ‘Wake Me Up’ to ‘Jesus to a Child’.
“The only reason George and I stopped working together was because George would book several months of studio time to write in the studio. To begin with that worked really well, because you needed a team of engineers and techs around you to hook things up, make them work, and record ideas. But as technology progressed, the need to be surrounded by technicians just went away, so I found myself waiting for hours while George had time to himself to work on ideas.”
“That’s how I met the Pet Shop Boys because I was always waiting around at SARM Studios for George! Neil Tennant is one of the most incisive minds in the music business, and we got along really well when he approached me… so well that I ended up working with them on ‘Discography’”.
So with changes in technology over the years, what does Chris’s work place look like these days?
“First up, I think a producer needs their own facility for sure, it’s an absolute necessity… and you need an arsenal of high quality, reliable gear that you know will deliver. I use an old Neumann M49 which I bought from Puk Recording Studios… it’s what I recorded most of George’s tunes with and of course one of my prize possessions is an early AKG C12, but aside from the vintage mics I own, my collection of sE Electronics microphones have occupied an increasingly important place in my studio.”
“I was introduced to sE mics a few years ago by a good friend of mine, drummer extraordinaire Geoff Dugmore, who is also a keen sE user and has worked with the likes of Tina Turner, Elton John and Bruce Springsteen to name but a few.
“Geoff bought out a mic and insisted I hang it over his head. I duly did and made a mental note to find out more about the company making this glorious ‘valvy’ looking old school mic, that had a very ‘immediate’ and textured sound. I’ve recorded just about every instrument possible now with the Gemini II… acoustic guitars, vocals, fiddles, accordion, you name it… It’s beautifully balanced with just the right amount of warmth and crispness.”
“Along with my Gemini II, I took delivery of the sE Reflexion Filter Pro… such an amazing idea, beautifully designed and very effective. Although everyone would like to work in a perfect acoustically treated room, in reality, today, recordings take place in so many environments that are, to say the least, less than ideal.
“The reflection filter helps tremendously in removing much of that less-than-perfect ‘stuff’ from the recording, it also improves the focus and balance of the microphone. Even in a fabulous room the Reflexion Filter can improve a recording, because it really is a ‘neutral’ space.”
“More recently, James Ishmaev-Young from sE has allowed me to trial the sE Munro Egg 150 system. The partnerships that sE have developed of late with such luminaries of our industry as Rupert Neve and Andy Munro, have produced some truly stunning results and are a testament to sE’s standing in the audio industry nowadays.”
“I first met Andy Munro over 30 years ago when he refined the monitoring at Good Earth studios… he also designed my first ‘proper’ studio, and so when I caught wind of this collaboration and read about the Eggs I was confident they would be worth a serious listen… I was not disappointed!
“Part of the reason for this was that the mains and nearfields (not surprisingly) shared too many characteristics, but the more compelling reason was that the Eggs were the most refreshingly different speakers I have heard in many years.
“The first thing that struck me was the lack of the sound of a ‘box’. I don’t know quite how to describe this, but with most near field speaker systems you are always somehow aware of the physical construction. The Eggs don’t suffer with this problem at all. The enclosures are not apparent to the ear at all.
“The sound stage is wide and natural, the midrange very clear and the bass is impressive, and not at all cloggy. They are easy to ‘understand’ at even low listening level which is another plus for me. The amp comes in its own 19” 2U rack and is as solid as you would expect from sE, with superb quality, custom made leads… and the Eggs themselves look just great. I’m really enjoying working with them.”
So back to artists, and Chris’s longest standing musical relationship, with Chris De Burgh, someone who has seen a lot of use from sE products, and who’s new work Chris Porter will be mixing on his sE Munro Egg 150’s…
“I have enjoyed a long relationship with Chris De Burgh having produced all his albums since 1998. Chris is a true professional and a talented performer, and working with him has given me the opportunity to get my teeth into some intriguing projects, and to have been involved with lots of international collaborations.
“Most of all though, I will always be grateful for the opportunity to have worked with the huge orchestras that have graced some of our work. To be in the studio with 100 plus musicians and a rock band at the same time is one of the most exciting things a producer can do.”
Finally, after having worked with so many top stars, can there be anyone left that Chris wants to work with?
“Oh yes… but that would be telling right?!”