Interview with Christopher 'Privet' Hedge. July 2021. Privet was front of house and sound engineer for the band from the very early days, He was there for the Doug irvine, Fish and Steve Hogarth eras of the band. He has worked with many great artists including Genesis, Mike and the Mechanics, The Who, Black Sabbath, Cream, Eric Clapton etc so its a real treat to have this opportunity. Photo (left) Norwich 1984.
MMM; Hi Privet, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. I've been after you for some time so I'm delighted to have the opportunity. I guess we should start with your rather unusual name, it has intrigued fans for decades, Its an obvious pun, but how did you get the Privet tag?
PRIVET; My surname is 'Hedge'. I was called it at school when I was probably about seven and it stuck.
MMM; Can you tell us how you get started with sound engineering, was there a college course, did you have a friend that did it or was it pure accident?
PRIVET; I had always loved live concerts and music since I saw The Who, ACDC, Zeppelin etc as a teenager so when I had a chance to take any part in live music, I jumped at it. I started by helping the band out where I could, doing a bit of anything. i did work for a cassette mass production company at the time assisting with mastering, and while it was very basic stuff with minimal equipment, it helped me understand audio to a small degree. Anyway, John, who was the then engineer and owned the P.A. unwisely went on holiday, so I mixed the gig and took over from there. I still had a 9-5 job, so it was just a hobby to start with, but I found mixing a very intuitive thing from the first minute. As time passed, a day job got in the way, so I went on the early gigs with the band. Eventually, after Fish joined, we were playing so many shows, it became a 'full time' hobby.
At the time there were no recognised educational ways to become a professional sound engineer, even if I'd had the time - you learned from your experience, your peers, magazine articles, and equipment manuals. For years I carried a fat folder of manuals and parts of magazines in my toolbox. It was up to you to educate yourself and have the humility to ask for advice when you felt you needed it.
MMM; I was speaking to Stef Jeffrey (from The Web) , earlier in the week and she said that of everyone associated with Marillion, she's known you the longest, your mother's worked together and your sister sang with her in the choir, so would i be right in saying you were friends with the band before they formed Marillion, how did you come to work with the Marillion boys in those early days?
PRIVET; I met the Silmarillion guys (through Stef) who lived in the same village, I got involved in various capacities but basically just hung around helping out if I could. I barely knew the other Silmarillion musos, and it started with meeting Mick and Doug, and then Steve. I'm not 100% on the timeline, but around the time Doug left, Steve, Guy and I moved into a rented place in Aston Clinton together. Then Fish and Diz appeared and things started getting very busy, playing more and more gigs..
MMM; In the Jon Collins book Separated Out it says you were present at the recording of Lady Fantasy and Alice at The Enid's studios in Hertford? These early songs despite the poor recordings have retained a lot of charm and are still loved by a sizeable group of fans, What are your memories of that day and those 2 songs?
PRIVET; Honestly, nothing. I took no active part in the early audio recordings. I was just a keen helper-outer with no specific role until the band, with Steve, started playing local gigs.
MMM; Can you remember anything details of other early recordings like Close (later The Web) or The Tower the embryonic Grendel?
PRIVET; Again, band writing, rehearsing and routining songs were not in my sphere beyond the fact that they, like bands generally then, tested a lot of songs on a live audience. It was always exciting to hear their new ideas, especially once Fish and Rothers started gelling musically/lyrically. Steve, as well as his ability to play blinding solos, has always been able to call on a broad palette of styles and sounds, from the most gentle acoustic to filthy rock guitar.
MMM; How far back does your connection go, did you see Doug or Pete Trewavas in Orthi, or Mick's band Electric Gypsy?
PRIVET; I didn't. I was only aware of these bands after I became involved.
MMM; Were you at or did you work at any of the other notable shows, the famous Silmarillion show at Southall that coincided with the riots? or perhaps the first Berkhampsted show with the young Steven Wilson in attendance?
PRIVET; Again, before my time.
MMM; You were there front of house for the very first show with Fish and Diz Minnitt line up at the Red LIon Bicester March 14 1981, we've recently unearthed negatives from this show including a couple of yourself, do you have any memories of that night?
PRIVET; My lasting memories are more the feelings of excitement at playing a show with the new band. Fish's arrival and accompanying stage presence had transformed the band's direction, and there was a feeling of intent to succeed. I remember everyone being happy that it had gone well.
MMM; Doug Irvine is somewhat of an enigma with fans, he's like Marillion's Syd Barrett , he just left and wasn't seen again for many years, what are your memories of him?
PRIVET; My memory of Doug was of a friendly, genuinely good bloke. He was never anything but warm towards me. I knew little or nothing of his departure until after it happened. His only vice was his Ford Capri. Syd, I believe had a few others. I don't know if Syd had a Capri or not.
MMM; Fish came in in January 1981, Listening back to some of those early recordings from 81-82, I'm immediately struck by the phenomenal energy, there was almost a Punk influence in there, the musicianship was still a little raw but they were improving with every show, was there a moment or a show where you thought these guys really have something?
PRIVET; Straight away, as soon as Marillion started playing gigs they were good. Fish had a 'succeed or die trying' ego and an awesome stage presence from the off. It was obvious that Steve and Fish were unusually excellent live performers. Mark and Pete joining made them into a great band. While perhaps not immediately the finished article (who ever is?), history has shown that the sheer amount of musical talent in the group meant that Marillion soon were several levels above any other up and coming rock band in the area, and probably nationally.
MMM; There is a story that you once stood in for Fish on vocals and that he went on to the sound desk, can you remember this night? what you sang and the reasons for it?
PRIVET; I may have fannied around on a harmonica, which I can't play, at a show once in Bangor in the very early days, but it wasn't anything more than a bit of a laugh. There's only so much you can do creatively with a slow, bad version of 'Last Of The Summer Wine'. The band were very kind - they didn't fire me - perhaps the sensitivity of my interpretation of that classic tune moved them to show clemency.
MMM; Do you have any other special or funny stories you think the fans would be interested in hearing, I'm thinking, gigs that went wrong, Fish stage diving, great crowd reactions, Monks habits, Hammer Horror tomb stones etc
PRIVET; I accidentally blew Steve up once with home-made pyros. Things don't go much wronger than blowing up the guitarist, although I maintain it was Steve's fault for playing guitar during one of his own gigs on a stage I was trying to blow up. Sorry Steve...
There were scorch marks on his cabinet permanently afterwards. That's why I do sound. Special effects are patently not my metier and the collateral guitar-playing casualties are 100% lower.
The hammer horror/monk madness was bonkers, but theatrical. It certainly made people take notice. The Friars Hall gig looked like Steptoe's yard without the old bicycles. That was a cracking gig, there was the touring opening act playing in the Friars main hall being watched by exactly nobody while their intended audience were all jammed into the side hall watching Marillion.
A really fun mad thing we did was during the Brave recordings; myself, Mark and H did some great 'guerrilla' FX recordings; smashing bottles in flooded mineshafts, getting asked by Transport Police to leave London Bridge tube station (that is the best recording of a tube train arriving ever...), destroying mics trying to record quarry blastings etc.. A lot of them made it onto the album. Today's Quiz; Find those FX.....
MMM; Those early years of 81/82 have gained an almost mythological status with fans as there's so little available, photos are few and far between, there's no video/film that we've found yet and only a handful of live shows, when you think back to those days, what springs to mind, how would you describe them to younger fans who weren't there?
PRIVET; The band worked incredibly hard to build a following and finesse their material by playing, playing, playing. It was also a time when the band lineup changed musically for the better. The band's internal relationships are always between just them, but the dynamics and the drive to succeed inevitably led to changes. Both Mick and Fish, and in a very different way, Steve, had an ambition I've seen many time since in artists who have succeeded. But musically, with Mark, who was a total revelation with his virtuosity and ear for texture and sounds, and Pete who's just intuitively a musical genius, the band was only ever going to succeed. It also needs to be said, that despite line-up changes. it was a real family affair within everyone involved. Steve's mum looked after us in Whitby, and Fish's folks, Bert and Isa, adopted the band and lent us their flat in North Berwick as a base for the mad Scottish tour where I think they played every day, sometimes even at lunchtime in pubs too. Marillion were dedicated, exciting and impossible to ignore. Everywhere they played, you could feel people who'd never even heard of them being turned on. It was thrilling just to be a small part of it. By the time they left Scotland they were in full sail. The Marquee shows at that time were incredible, sold out madhouses. Fantastic days.
MMM; Getting back to your job on the front of house, was there a point where you said to yourself, i'm rather good at this, I might just stick with this
PRIVET; It came naturally, I wanted to improve and I was as driven as the band to succeed. I learnt about systems, consoles, FX etc on my own time and as a young engineer, I have never had an ego that stops me taking advice and guidance from other engineers.
And luckily, I was mixing Marillion, and as anyone who's mixed them since will tell you, it would take a pretty special engineer to fuck it up.
MMM; Most people will just see a dimly lit guy at the back of a hall, pressing buttons, how important is your job to the quality of sound the band and audience hear?
PRIVET; My (former) job has changed massively, but not totally, since the 80s. The speaker systems in the type of shows I've done in the last years are more efficient with better coverage of the room, have few or no inaccuracies in frequency response and usually arrive with a computer-equipped system tech who will have made calculations regarding coverage based on the dimensions of the room. There is of course, a need to follow your experience and knowledge of the system to make 'organic' decisions regarding set-up and speaker positioning, but bar the response of the room itself, the daily starting point for live audio mixing is consistently much more controlled than it ever was.
The bit that hasn't really changed is the mixing part. While consoles are far more flexible now that the majority are digital, and some argue the toss late into the night whether old analogue consoles sound better (they don't - discuss...), but that's a moot point in any case, because the truth is, it's still all in the ears and fingers. A good engineer can make any console sound good with good inputs. What hasn't changed is that you actually have to be able to mix, not just operate - you have to know what you're going for regarding the sound of the band you're mixing, understand the needs of the audience's expectations and control the volume sympathetically to the artist's music, the audience and the room. Anyone can do loud. Powerful is very different.
Of course if you're playing in a small space and the onstage sound is brutally loud, you're stuffed however finessed your mix is. So go and mix a band who care about how they sound....
MMM; What's the biggest fear for a sound engineer on the night of a show, have you ever had a real nightmare show?
PRIVET; "Acoustic medley sections" were always my biggest fear. They always make you need a pee.... no idea why.
Everyone makes the odd mistake, and missing FX cues occasionally isn't unknown, only horrendous-sounding rooms, unnecessarily loud stage volume and/or awful speaker systems can really ruin the evening. But staying calm and working to make it better is all you can do. I've done shows where the power goes, the inputs disappear and it all goes quiet, but calmly identify the problem, fix it and get on with it.
Doing bands with stupidly loud onstage sound is always the hardest, and sometimes you can't beat the row coming off stage, so those are the nightmares. You can talk to the band about it but if they are set on being destructively loud, so be it. You deal with it as best you can. Fight to keep the vocals clear, do the gig and load the truck. I stopped doing stupidly loud bands long, long ago. It's not mixing, it's crisis management.
MMM; With the advent of constantly improving technology, did that make your job easier or harder? What were the struggles with keeping up with with new tech?
PRIVET; In-ear monitoring has been a boon for both engineers and artists, it gives us all more control. Some artists still use traditional monitoring - I saw Bonnie Raitt a few years back in Newcastle City Hall and they used floor wedges as IEMs made it harder for them to banter
and react to one another, but generally, most people use IEMs now. A variable benefit/problem is that virtually all bands use tracks these days to some degree, varying between a few backing vocals to the whole thing. Tracks often sound one dimensional and can lack dynamics, especially percussion tracks. There are very few 100% live bands left in larger shows. The drummers usually have to play to clicks to keep in time with visual FX etc., but it is what it is. In a controlled environment you set the levels in rehearsals with the ProTools programmer and musical director to introduce more appropriate dynamics and then they're the same every night.
As I said before, speaker systems now are so good, they level the playing field. Most top engineers can operate the most common boards, although some of the very top guys never have to change, because they have total control over their choice of equipment for every show anywhere in the world and freight it. Everyone has their own favourite console, and I used versions of the DiGiCo SD boards and a few outboard FX and valves for my last few years. On a tour without your own audio control, you will face a few different consoles, but you can build a show for all worthwhile consoles on your laptop, send it on ahead to the house guys and have it in the board waiting for you. But I've always insisted on DiGiCo, while carrying my own outboard, as with a bit of tweaking, it is fundamentally the exact same mix every night.
All that said, there is a vast production quality diversity between the larger venue tours I've spent most of my career playing, and the small pub/club gigs many bands play, and which I started out doing. The degree of flexibility and compromise required is very different. But that's how you learn.
MMM; After the band signed to EMI, the venues got much bigger, how did you personally find that challenge of getting the sound right in bigger venues? Did you have favourite venues or ones to avoid?
PRIVET; I still just loved it, the challenge to keep up with the band's development, and my responsibility to the shows was enough to override any fears. I have always been a very confident engineer, and have been helped by many other great techs and engineers I have worked with. Venue sizes were just a small part of the learning curve in 1983. In terms of professionalism, the whole touring organisation and production changed. John, the then manager, brought in new people. The late, great Andy Field, our production manager, was an inspiration to all of Marillion's crew with his respect, total competence and professionalism, and most of the core crew worked for Marillion for years and we remained friends long after H had replaced Fish. Some are still among my best friends to this day. Other peripheral but experienced crew toured with us and they all contributed to us becoming a brilliant team under Andy's leadership. The atmosphere, attitude and dedication in a crew has never been bettered in my long years in the business.
I didn't know about it until after it had happened, but there was one other huge change. I really felt for Mick, he'd been fundamental to the band's success. Unsurprisingly, it took a long time to find an even adequate replacement. It was my first awakening to how unkind this business can be. After several false starts with replacements, Ian joined. He was the total pro, just brilliant and supremely confident. I don't know how the band felt, but he scared the shit out of me at first. Either way, we all had to step up. It was a sharp learning curve.
As far as venues go, Hammersmith Odeon always has a place in my professional heart - it was always an ambition to play there with the Marillos when I started out, I saw so many great bands there, and we played amazing shows there.
And anywhere in France or Italy obviously, because you could eat so well on days off.
MMM; Do you have any favourite Marillion gigs that you've worked on?
PRIVET; That's kind of an impossible question. When I start thinking about it, too many come to mind.The two tours that always pop up are Brave and Misplaced when they supported Rush in North America. To play a whole 45 minutes of new music so well without a pause has a special edge to it. It takes balls.
MMM; Can you remember your last gig with Marillion? How did that go?
PRIVET; I did a couple of shows in Yorkshire in August 2002, depping for Stewart Avery, whose wife was having a child. (no priorities some people). The last one was Richmond, an outdoor. It was lovely to mix Marillion again, and I thought it sounded great. (Well, I would say that....) The set was full of many favourites and the last encore was 'King' which I always enjoyed mixing - it sounds huge.
MMM; You obviously made a name for yourself quite quickly as the Big Boys came calling, you have worked with Genesis and Eric Clapton Black Sabbath amongst many others, How did you find that step up in terms of Larger Arenas, Stadium shows, Larger egos ?
PRIVET; All the great artists I've worked with, however famous, have been strong-minded people and I approached what I did in the same way - with respect for them and knowing the importance to them to trust me with their music. As far as egos go, I have long learned that what is said about artists being 'difficult' is 99% bollocks. Great players and performers are not 'normal' people - if they were they'd be doing karaoke in their local.
I was always nervous to varying degrees before any show, but never daunted. Once the house lights went out, I was calm. All nerves went. It was what I was there for. I was always prepared, and I relied on my skills and mental strength to do it as well as was possible.
MMM; I'm a huge Genesis fan myself, as I'm sure many Marillion fans still are, were you a fan when you got that job with them? How did that come about?
PRIVET; Just for the record, my association with Marillion is a different thing to my association with any other band because I grew into the business with them over many years and their place is unique in my development as a professional. Of course mixing Genesis was a great thrill as I am a big fan, and they are a band any engineer would want on their CV. However, there are so many other artists I have mixed FOH for, with whom I've had longer associations during my career. Although hardcore prog rock fans may well scoff at many/most of them; quality is quality and these are great artists and performers, and electrify audiences - Simply Red, KT Tunstall, Neil Finn, Status Quo, Ricky Martin, Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry, Gary Moore, Brian May, A-ha, Joe Cocker, Mike and the Mechanics, Alicia Keys, Zucchero, and Cream at the Albert Hall...
Genesis were one of my favourite bands as a teenager, and there wasn't much they could have played that I didn't know. I'd seen several shows as a a fan and apart from loving a lot of the tunes, it's impossible to not respect a band who have been so innovative and consistently excellent live and who advanced global production standards. (Did you know they came up with the concept of and pushed the development of the Varilite with cocktail sticks and a polystyrene coffee cup? A game changer in lampie world.)
Anyway, somehow or other I ended up mixing Mike and the Mechanics for several years before (with Paul Carrack and Paul Young) and Mike was great to work with, and was happy with my work, so it came from there. Genesis needed an engineer for a tour, so it was easy for them to use me.
MMM; How aware were the Genesis boys of Marillion and the new wave of Progressive music they had inspired?
PRIVET; They were very welcoming and friendly, but walking in cold, it was easier to keep a professional distance from the band. It was my job to mix them. The production and its details were always the main discussions. Late night chats in the bar are never a great idea (with the odd exception...), so the subject never came up. Like most bands, their internal dynamic was special to them, and to be honest, on large shows, once the tour was going, you didn't often meet the artist for more than a debrief every day or quick chat at soundcheck, if they did one. A professional distance is generally the easiest place to inhabit. First and foremost, you're part of a show, and too much personal familiarity risks diluting a perfect professional relationship.
MMM; Am I right in saying you worked at Live Aid? Were you doing the whole show or selected artists?
PRIVET; I mixed Quo and The Who on the day, and was house engineer for the audio control for the whole thing.
MMM; Do you have any abiding memories of that day?
PRIVET; Well, I love The Who and Quo, so that was an incredible thrill. Queen on the day were magnificent. One of the greatest live performances I ever saw.
The atmosphere in the stadium was unique for a big stadium show, When The Cars 'Drive' and accompanying video played in the stadium, the gravity of what it was really about dawned on the audience. We techs were madly busy of course, multi-band superstar shows had never been done before with such insanely short changeovers, but the feeling of why we were there was always present. Then Queen came on, pressed the release button and turned it into a party. I felt a bit sorry for anyone who came on after them, you can't follow a performance like that.
While we were loading out, Geldof turned up with huge bags of big macs for everyone working. I think I ended up sleeping on the floor at Marillion's Victoria office after watching the US side of the show. Most of the crew on the show did the whole thing - rehearsals and the show - for free. I was happy to do it gratis. Live Aid was an important wheel to put your shoulder to.
MMM; I believe you are retired now from the music business, what's the thing you miss most and least about it?
PRIVET; There is a massive sacrifice in touring. For all the thrill and adrenalin of live shows, you are missing your life and time with those whom you love. But that's the price, it's your choice, and your family's.
What I will miss is mixing the gigs. That was always the best bit. The house lights going out and just doing what you do. An electric and irreplaceable feeling. The airports, buses and being away from home? Over time, that all wore thin. I'll never miss that now, not for a second.
Sadly for all of us, Covid has put the mockers on international touring for now, and a lot of my friends are hurting from the absence of work. Nobody foresaw the global effects of the pandemic. Unfortunately for British touring productions, the UK has a government who don't appear to give a toss about anything beyond their own pockets and puerile jingoism, so it may be a long road back to normality in our business. Elton John's recent appraisal of the situation in live music hit the nail squarely on the head.
Professionally, I've achieved more than I could have ever dreamt of, and I owe so much to Marillion - my time with them gave me the opportunity to start on my career, but most importantly, the long years of friendship, camaraderie and time after time, to feel the thrill of being a part of some truly amazing gigs. It still makes me happy to know that they are out there making music and turning audiences on. Marillion are the real thing.
And now? I'm happy to just be at home currently residing in the "Where Are They Now" file, driving Fiona mad, riding my bike and enjoying life in our little world in the Lot. Of course, I still listen to music loud - when I'm allowed to of course, isn't that right dear? (-:
MMM; Have you managed to keep in touch with any of the band over the years?
PRIVET; I've honestly never felt out of touch with Marillion, so whenever I do have any contact with any of the band I don't feel as if there's ever been a break. I've been directly in touch with Mick not long ago, and Mark of late. Rothers kindly gave me a copy of his excellent book of photos when we all met up in Gateshead for a curry. The last time I saw all the guys together was when I lived in Northumberland a few years ago backstage at the Sage. I catch up with Ian from time to time and remain in regular contact with some former crew guys who are close friends.
Bar a couple of hellos and communication during the overdubs for La Gazza Ladra, I've not really spoken to Fish much since he went. In the aftermath of his departure, he made it very plain it was him or Marillion with all the crew. Sadly it meant some stayed, some went, so a great crew was split. But when Steve H arrived in Marillion-world, it was all systems go again. It was obvious to me from the first second that Steve was the perfect fit. Musical, great voice, electric on stage, the lot. He had no prog rock baggage, just passion and musicality. It was really positive change, and brought a lot of new energy. And 30 plus years later, it seems to have worked out very nicely.
Many of us old crew live in various parts of Europe now, and while I have now passed on all my acts and have fully retired myself, my dear chums Smick (Hardgrave) and Alan (Parker) have moved into different types of production and are very successful in TV and corporate productions in their home countries.
I stayed with the boys as FOH engineer until 1997-ish and during that time helped them set up and run the Racket Club, and the installation into Chateau Marouatte to record Brave.
The whole Brave project was fun from start to finish. Dave Meagan did a fantastic job and everyone was so up for experimenting and enjoying it. Really great days. But in the end, there was no denying that my undoubted forte, and ambition, involved purely doing live shows, Stewart took over at the Racket Club and I went off to pursue making noise in big dark rooms.
MMM; As this is an interview for Marillion fans and collectors, I have to ask if you have any band memorabilia you've kept from down the years, recordings, shirts, gold discs etc
PRIVET; As far as recordings go, all my live shows I recorded as engineer, bar a couple of shows I copied and kept for myself, are at the Racket Club, I gave everything to the chaps when Racket Records started releasing selected old shows many years ago. I have some recordings on various media of all the tours of bands whose music I enjoyed particularly or the mixes were perfect, but I never listen to them. I’ve never been one for memorabilia, bar a few commemorative plaques/discs, and any old T-shirts I had have long ago been use to polish a bike or decluttered.
I do have a cassette of the first demo in a gold casing of Garden Party/He Knows You Know tucked away somewhere - I worked in the cassette duplicating company at the time, so slipped a gold one through. Having said that, I duped it so it's probably got K-Tel's Best of Gladys Knight and the Pips on it. I also have 'Privet's Big Towel' which incredibly has never worn out and is like new despite almost daily use. I think production, Andy no doubt, had the towels made up for all the crew. We were touring in Italy, and every day the shower towels provided by the promoters were in effect small nylon non-absorbent handkerchiefs. The moaning from the crew was relentless even by crew standards - crew love a moan - so to shut us up, within a few days these bespoke personalized bath towels showed up. It's still fluffy after all these years. I still love a moan though.
There is one particular piece of history I have that really matters to me above anything else. The green sleeveless tour jacket Andy Field got made for us crew in '83-84 (with 'Priv' embroidered on it). I use it for working outdoors when it's chilly. It's hanging by the back door.
MMM: Thank you Privet
Here's a photo of Privet Hedge, recently discovered in the Diz Minnitt archive. Its from the first Marillion gig with Fish and Diz Minnitt in the line up, March 14 1981 at the Red Lion Bicester. Photo cleaned and preserved for Scott's Porridge team and the Museum page by Andre Kreutzmann.
all photos are used with permission of Diz Minnitt and Christopher Privet Hedge.
Photo (below) Privet and his wife Fi from 40 years ago circa 1980/81