99] THE BLACKROOM
Story So Far
I decided that Id had enough of interviewing pop-stars for a while. So I decided
to take a look at the un-sung heroes of pop; those people who sit behind the mixing desk
and try to inject that extra something into a song; the elusive ingredient that makes it a
hit. Roger Lomas is such a man. A brilliant producer, live engineer and
ex-popstar. He has been recording music and making hits along the way for twenty years or
took place in Rogers 24 track custom-built studio at the bottom of his garden in
Styvechale. Roger is a classic local maverick. He doesnt give a damn about what
people think of him, liberally uses the word crap to describe things he doesnt like,
and greets most people with a thumbs up sign and a jauntily hurled: hello boy.
I love his mercurial personality, but beneath his bluff exterior, lurks a serious and
very shrewd businessman. Hes refreshing in the world of the music business. He has
no credibility hang-ups, hes no poseur and is as at home in his local the Open Arms
on Daventry Road, as he would be taking tea with the Queen.
Q Where and when were you born?
I was born on 8 October 1948 in Keresley Hospital.
Q Where did you grow up?
I come from a working class background and grew up in Foleshill.
I went to Edgwick Junior School and Broadheath Secondary Modern.
Q When did you first become interested in music?
I had no particular interest in music until one day my
brothers best friend called round the house. He was on his way to the local tip and
had a battered acoustic guitar with just two strings on it, which he was going to throw
away, but he asked if we wanted it. So we took it off him. I must have been about 14 at
the time. I thought why not learn to play it. I went to a music shop bought a set of
strings and a chord book and a little set of pitch pipes and started learning the chords.
In a matter of weeks I could play it. Before that I never even realized that I was the
slightest bit musical. It was one of those lucky things. Some people have dreams, but I
didnt. I had no dreams about music as a life, no other interests outside of fishing
My brother was a drummer in a band.
Occasionally I went with him on gigs, but I never thought I wanted to be in a band. After
I learnt to play the guitar, I caught the bug and totally lost interest in everything at
school. Until then Id been good at school, but I went downhill, once I found I could
play the guitar.
Q When did you first think about making a career
out of music?
Im one of these people who has always wanted the best of
everything. So I didnt want a crappy old acoustic anymore. It had to be a good
guitar. After I bought myself a better guitar, it just went on from there. I formed my
first band at school, just before I left at 15. I left school at the earliest opportunity
and started playing lead guitar professionally in a local band. It was called St George
and the Dragons. I played my first gig in public at the Foleshill Social Club. We mostly
did pubs, so Id have to hide out the back till we went on stage, because I was
We did 60s Beatles songs. People
didnt write their own songs in those days. Even the Beatles didnt write their
own songs in the very early days. We were a covers band. The Beatles were our main
influence. It fizzled out after a year.
I had no real intention of working, because
in those days wages were so low, that you could easily earn as much being in a band
working a couple of nights a week as you could working all week in a regular job from 9-5.
I had a job for a year and 5 months to pay
off the HP instalments on my musical equipment. I also worked in various other bands. The
last proper job I ever had was at Courtaulds as a lab technician for £6 a week. Then
there was this job going for £7 a week in an engineering factory across the road, which I
took, but I hated it after a week. So I clocked in one Monday morning, thought this is
crap and clocked out again. From that day to this, Ive never worked in a proper job.
Ive just been self-employed.
I was struggling after I stopped
working, what with all the HP payments, but Ive always been enterprising and I was
adamant that I wasnt going to work for anybody. So I would make coffee tables and
sell them just to keep my head above water.
Q How did you get your first professional musical
I always stood out from the other musicians in town, because I was
like a spoiled kid, I had all the best gear. I was 17 when I bought a Gibson guitar and
the biggest amp you could buy in the world. It was a Vox amp, designed especially for the
Beatles when they played the Shea Stadium gig in America. They used to call them Vox
Beatle Cabinets. It was on a big swivel stand. There was a local band in Coventry called
The Sorrows, who had had a fairly big hit in England, called Take a Heart. I
think it got to No 19 in the charts. In those days if you had hits abroad it wasnt
instantaneous like now. You tended to get a hit abroad about a year after it was a hit in
England. The Sorrows were on the verge of splitting up, there was only three members left
out of the original 5. They were only staying together because of contracts for a couple
of future gigs. Then out of the blue, they were contacted by RCA in Italy, because the
record had gone to No 1 there. RCA wanted to release the track recorded in Italian. The
band had to go out and promote it. Their manager was looking for another member.
I put a lot of the things that happen in my
life down to fate. I got the job with The Sorrows because I had exactly the same guitar
equipment as they had. As far as they were concerned, thats what clinched the deal.
Initially I was asked to join the band just for the tour.
We flew over to Italy and the tour
was phenomenal. The Italian version of the record went to No 8 and the work flooded in. We
ended up living in Rome for 2 years. We were treated like real pop-stars. However, by June
1966 Italy was flooded by English bands and our edge was eroded. So the band gradually
Q What did you do after The Sorrows split up?
I came back to Coventry and set myself up as a session musician.
I started dabbling in song writing. I wouldnt class myself as a natural songwriter,
but Im good at recognizing a good song that somebody else has written.
I joined The Dodgers, a local band that had
a deal with Island Records. At the time the original bass player in the band was the
bassist from Badfinger. He left and I took over on bass, which I shared with the other
guitarist, because I didnt want to be playing bass all the time. Some of the members
were from Coventry and the other half from London. We did an album for Polydor and had a
few singles out, but the timing was bad. The band was a cross between the Beatles and Bad
Company, which was unfortunate because punk was big then. We recorded another album, but
the record company rejected it.
Q When did you decide to start recording other
By 1977, I was more into the recording side of the business. I
built a 4 track studio in the garden of my house in Broad Street, Foleshill. Then one day
Neol Davies knocked on the door. He said: Ive got this great song Ive
written and I want to make a demo. Neol at that time was known as a rock musician
around town, so I was surprised to find that it sounded like old ska. But I have a
commercial ear, which is necessary if you want to be a successful producer. I recognized
that hed written something good, even though it was not my kind of thing.
We made a proper track and spent a week on
it, which was unheard of in those days. It was just an instrumental track featuring a
trombone solo, which I put through a flanger and used long delay echoes on it. Everybody
was pleased with the results.
I did the rounds with it, because I
had a lot of contacts in the music business, but nobody was interested it. I think it was
too soon for that sound. It was 18 months before The Specials recorded
Gangsters. I didnt know The Specials then, because I wasnt into
the punk thing. I knew this song was good though. Eventually it ended up on the B side of
The Specials single Gangsters. By that time our track was called The
Selecter. Initially 2000 pressings were done through Rough Trade. Then of course, 2-Tone
Q How did you start recording at Horizon Studios in
Originally Horizon Studios was an 8 track. Barry Thomas, a local
businessman had put a lot of money into it after his car number plate business got into
difficulties. I got my foot in the door, because he didnt have any contacts in the
music industry and I did. This was in 1976-77. It was 2-Tone that put Horizon Studios on
the map. In 1979 the studio upgraded to 16 track and it was a convenient place to record
for the emerging 2-Tone bands.
I used it to record Bad Manners, The
Selecter and The Modettes. I also recorded The Bodysnatchers single for 2-Tone,
Lets Do Rocksteady/Ruder Than You', but we did it in London.
Q What is your best memory of that time?
In 1979, I was definitely flavour of the month, as far as
producers were concerned. At one stage I had three singles in the Top 30 and all three
bands on Top of the Pops the same night. I was very busy. That was a once in a lifetime
Q Did you enjoy being the producer instead of the
It was very frustrating actually. I was earning lots of money,
but I wasnt in a band anymore. I was just cooped up in a studio all the time. It got
to the stage where the money didnt mean anything anymore. I just had to get out of
the studio. So I got into live engineering. I loved being out on the road again, even
though I was still behind a mixing desk.
Q How did you get involved with Bad Manners?
Magnet Records approached me in 1980 to produce them. They
invited me down to a record company Christmas party to have a meeting with them. I met the
band and we had such a good time, that I didnt bother to listen to their demo tapes.
Buster Bloodvessel was brilliant. He was larger than life. I knew that the band
couldnt fail, because he had so much charisma.
Q How many hits did you have with Bad Manners?
We had a couple of No 3s with Can Can and
Special Brew. We had a total of 14 hits.
Q Whats your best memory of working with Bad
My favourite memory was the story behind recording Can
Can. Buster wanted to do it, but the rest of the band thought it was a crap idea.
Buster knew he could sell it and I knew he could sell it. Hed already convinced me.
We were booked into the studio for a week, but after 3 days, Bad Manners ran out of things
to record. So I suggested trying to record a demo of Can Can. In the absence of anything
else, the band eventually agreed to do it. When we played it to the record company, they
were knocked out by it. Even the band thought it was good.
The following week we did a proper
recording session. Can Can is a classical music piece, which would normally be played by a
50 piece orchestra, so it was a difficult recording task. I had to make the song sound as
big as an orchestral piece. I ended up using 40 or 50 tracks on a 24 track tape machine,
so I had to bounce lots of tracks together. It took me a day and half to mix it. The day I
finished it, I just knew it was going to be a massive hit. Sometimes, you just know. It
was perfect Bad Manners.
Q Why were you more attracted as a producer to Bad
Manners, than the other 2-Tone bands?
They suited my personality much better than 2 Tone. They were
non-serious. I have a serious side, but I dont let it get in the way of my job. I
liked all the rough edges on their albums. It was the imperfections on a Bad Manners
record that sold them. Sometimes, if things were too good, I had to make them sound worse.
On the second album, Buster had to play a trombone solo, but it was sounding too good in
the studio, even though hed never played a trombone before. So I had to make it
sound worse. That track was Fatty Fatty.
Q What caused your break-up with Bad Manners?
I did their last record in 1982. After the fourth album Bad
Manners got very serious. They thought their fourth album was the best, but I think
its the worst, because the character we got in the first album was lost by then.
Suddenly they wanted to be taken seriously, because they were fed up with being seen as
the 2-Tone joke band. My attitude was to ignore the comments of the other people in those
bands. Why worry about the credibility angle, when the public loved them as they were.
After all, it was the public who bought the records and they werent bothered.
Thats always been my attitude. I dont care what reviewers think. All my worst
reviewed records have all been hits and big sellers. Bad Manners werent convinced
though, so they died a natural death, along with the rest of 2 tone.
Q What did you do after that?
Then I built a studio. Being a producer of that kind of music, is
like being a Soap star, you get typecast. It made it difficult for me. I didnt
approach anybody, because they used to approach me. I probably turned down too much stuff.
I was offered the Undertones by EMI but I passed on it. I was offered the Q tips, with
Paul Young, but I couldnt do it. Look what happened with both those bands. But you
do what you think is right at the time.
But production was quite new to me then and
I was literally going from one project to another. I wasnt pacing myself properly. I
had no time off at all. I decided that the only way Id do anything outside of 2-tone
would be to stop altogether.
I built a small studio at Horizon for
a while with an 8 track set up. I gave studio time away to record local bands, as long as
I had an option on their recordings. Some of the bands were rubbish and I got a bit of a
reputation for telling bands to split up at that time. Well, why beat about the bush!
Q What are you up to at the moment?
I dont make plans. I live one day to the next. I dont
operate like a commercial studio. I dont invest money in studios to get the money
back. I want a studio for making good records.
Roy Wood has been a good friend of mine
since my days in The Dodgers. We met when we were both recording in the same studio. This
was long before Wizard. I mix his live sound, book his gigs and co-produce his recordings
with him. Ive diversified over the years. Ive toyed with the idea of being a
booking agent. Ive never liked agents at all, but now there is a new breed of
younger agent, whove been in bands themselves, who know the score. Ive only
been an agent for the past year.
Ive got my fingers in lots of
pies, so who knows what might happen!
[INTERVIEW BY PAULINE BLACK - MAY 1999]