An Interview with Chris Thompson and Donald McLeod about the release of 'Drunken Nights in Dublin'
with Ian Duggan
Former Hamilton folk and blues singer-songwriter Chris Thompson recorded an album while in the British Isles in 1974, as a follow-up to his self-titled debut. The master tapes were transferred to acetate by Apple Corps in London and then... it was never released. Until now. Why was it never released? How is it that it is being released now? We had a chat to Chris, and owner of Pinenut Records Donald McLeod, about the imminent release of ‘Drunken Nights in Dublin’, and how it has finally come about 44 years after its recording!
Chris: The recordings were done in London at Bill Leader's studio in Camden Town. Bill produced The Pentangle and Bert Jansch records, amongst many others. Also, recordings were made in Dublin at a home-studio in Terenure and at Eamonn Andrews Studios in Harcourt Street, Dublin Central, a well-appointed professional studio where all the electric tracks were done.
HUP: You made an acetate of the recordings at Apple Corps in London? What happened to it?
Chris: I left it at the E.M.I. factory in Middlesex in England, where I had taken it with a view to getting a vinyl edition pressed. Things weren't going very well and I decided that—as I had the tapes, the 1/4 inch reels on which the music had been recorded—I would just bring the tapes back to New Zealand and try to get them released here.
I only lost the acetate because I had to leave town in a hurry. [The acetate] was the master-disc made from the magnetic tape on which the music was recorded. It was the template from which the vinyl copies were to be printed.
HUP: And you lost the master tapes back in New Zealand also? When and how did that happen?
Chris: Well, they were destroyed in a house-fire at my Mum and Dad's place in 1982. But not before many of the tracks had been issued on records like ‘Echoes from the Pit’ and ‘Minstrelsy’, and The Village Thing Record Company in England, who released my first album, also had copies of a lot of the tracks. Because these records have found their way into the hands of collectors and 'hi-fi nuts', and in the case of the Village Thing album have been reprinted a number of times, a lot of these tracks, but not all, are currently available on YouTube.
HUP: How did you track the long-lost acetate down, and how did you get hold of it?
Chris: The acetate remained in Middlesex for many years before being moved, reason unknown, to a well-known record shop in Soho, and then on to a specialist record shop in London where it remained unidentified for a further twenty or so years. Donald bought the acetate at an auction.
Donald: I got to know Chris recently, and he tipped me off on the acetate advertised on eBay. I had been looking to do a second album release [on Pinenut Records], after my first last year.
HUP: A number of songs from the ‘Drunken Nights’ recordings ended up on the 1976 album, ‘Echoes from the Pit’, including Fox’s Minstrel Show, Young Lust, Wild About My Lovin', Barcelona and Upstairs Downstairs, and a couple on 1977s 'Minstrelsy’. How do you feel the versions differ from one another?
Chris: The only radical difference in the versions of the numbers that appeared on ‘Echoes from the Pit’ was in 'Barcelona', which on Drunken Nights is a version with flute, castanets, bongos and a vocal chorus, which is previously unreleased. The song was re-recorded at Stebbings for 'Echoes', but that one is just a solo version. Incidentally, [Hello Sailor’s] Graham Brazier had a copy of ‘Echoes from the Pit’ and used to tell me that Barcelona was his favourite track.
Just to be quite clear about the 'recycling' issue, I have recorded 'Barcelona' on five different albums, and 'Wild Rose' on four. They're two of my more popular songs and because quite often I was involved with record companies who either asked me to record it, or were releasing to a different market than my last release, I would do it again.... and again... "You've got to give them what they want Chris!".
Donald: Two other great songs on the album are an unreleased version of ‘Down on the Old Plantation (The Blue Tailed Fly)’; the album version is a band ska/rock steady number with a Calypso style vocal. And the last song is a wonderful blues rock band version of the Rolling Stones ‘Dead Flowers’ song, also previously unreleased and that otherwise would have been lost forever. [continued below]
Chris: Yes, basically, but they were mixed with other stuff I recorded in Auckland, mainly at Mandrill Studios. I had some of the tracks that will now appear on Drunken Nights in reserve, and didn't use them at that time, so I'm very glad the acetate turned up and that now, the completed record can be heard.
HUP: Donald, you are releasing the album through your own Pinenut Records label. What have you released on the label to date? Where did you get the vinyl pressed?
Donald: So far, the Sneaky Feelings live LP plus HD and Bandcamp downloads, and I did a re-issue of the 1984 Sneaky Feelings ‘Live at The Windsor’ cassette. Two of my favourite New Zealand bands and musicians. The LP for the new release is being done at URP in Nashville, as was my Sneakies LP, and the 12" EP was pressed at Zenith in Melbourne.
HUP: What is it about this album that made you want to acquire it, and ultimately release it? Have you been a fan of Chris Thompson’s work for a while?
Donald: I have had an interest in New Zealand music and its origins since the ‘80s, at least. There is a new wave of folk music with artists, particularly from Lyttleton at the moment too. Some of the heavier folk I particularly like, sometimes called acid or psych folk. Chris Thompson was an early New Zealand pioneer in the genre, and one of the first to make it overseas. The biggest new exponent of it now is probably Aldous Harding. I have followed many types of music, and have always wanted to explore Chris' excellent early work; his first three albums in particular are rare and sought after cult classics. The new album draws from all three, plus some other and unreleased tracks. Chris is a legendary guitarist and has played with the best.
HUP: Was ‘Drunken Nights in Dublin’ the name it was originally intended to go under?
Chris: It wasn't the original title that I had in mind. I tossed around a few ideas for a title, like; "Memoirs of a Submariner", " Private Bin" and "Eighteen Months in the Bates Motel".
HUP: And is the cover design being used the original intended artwork?
Donald: I do all of the artwork and screen printing myself. The current album is also an art and design project, and one to expand my understanding of producing music on different formats. There is an LP, 12" 45 EP, 180g LP, CD, lathe cut single, lathe cut Peter King 10", and a box set in this release.
HUP: Chris, how do you feel the recordings on ‘Drunken Nights in Dublin’ have stood up after all this time?
Chris: I feel they've stood the test of time very well, they still sound fresh and lively and the album really rocks.
Chris is touring to promote the record and CD, playing Saturday November 24 at Nivara Lounge, Hamilton, on Thursday November 29 at Cafe 121, Auckland, Saturday December 1 at Southbound Records, Auckland (an in-store performance) and, in the evening, Cafe 121, Auckland, on Friday December 7 at The Porch, Waihi Beach, and Sunday December 9 at Cafe Ninety-Nine, Taupo.