Simon Hanhart worked as engineer on Script for a Jester's Tear and Fugazi and Producer on Real to Reel and also worked as Producer with Mick Pointer in Arena. He also produced the much loved B side Cinderella Search.
Interview was conducted February 4th 2021. With the impending release of Fugazi Deluxe edition, Simon's recall of this time is a fantastic insight into this era of the band and I can't thank him enough for sharing his thoughts.
Hi Simon, I guess we should start at the beginning, so how did you get into music production and sound engineering? Was there a particular record or studio experience that made you think “that’s the job for me”?
I was always into music. I started playing the guitar when I was about twelve and was in a number of bands as a teenager. Although I liked playing live it was recording that always fascinated me and I was lucky enough to do quite a bit of recording with those bands - at CTS in Wembley, Surrey Sound Studios (where the Police recorded their first two albums) and other smaller studios. I always wanted to see what the engineer was doing so after I’d recorded my parts I’d hang around trying to learn as much as I could.
You’re known for producing, audio engineering and mixing, Do you have a preferred discipline of the three?
Not really. Sometimes it’s nice not to have the responsibility of producing, which involves administration and people managing, and just concentrate on putting the recording together. But that said, I love working up a track as a producer from the demo stage to the final master and realising an overall vision. The lines between the three are becoming more blurred though and the process is much less linear these days. Even when officially just engineering I find there’s always room for creative input. When I mix I usually mix remotely, on my own, at my home studio and so I’m making production decisions and shaping the track without any input from others even when I’m not the producer.
Am I right in saying your first job was at Marquee Studios in London? Any Memories of that first job? Was it there you first encountered Nick Tauber?
Yes, that’s correct. I wrote to loads of studios looking for a job as an assistant. Eventually the Marquee Studios wrote back offering me an interview. I knew Phil Harding, who went on to have success at PWL, who was an engineer at the Marquee at the time - he’d engineered a session for a band I was in. I called Phil and told him about the interview and asked him to put in a good word for me. The Marquee Studios was great, it had some big names recording there and the club was right next door so it was easy to nip in and see gigs. Also we could record the bands on stage in the club from the studio. We recorded U2, Iron Maiden and many others - and of course Marillion. The first major session I assisted on was Status Quo.Nick came into the studio with a few projects and I assisted and engineered for him on some of those including the Toyah sessions. Just before the Script sessions I’d become his go to engineer.
You’ve worked as an assistant to quite a few legends of production including Mutt Lange and Gus Dudgeon, is there one that helped or inspired you the most along the way?
I’d listened to Gus’ Elton John productions as a kid and loved them. It was amazing to meet him and work with him. He and I became quite good friends. I used to visited him at his beautiful studio, The Mill in Berkshire, and went on to work with him later at other studios. Mutt came in to mix a Boomtown Rats album, “The Fine Art Of Surfacing”. I remember they wanted to overdub some handclaps - so there I was with Mutt and Bob Geldof (this is when I Don’t Like Mondays was at #1) standing in the stairwell at the studio hand-clapping away while Tony Platt engineered… most surreal. I’m learning all the time and I nearly always take something away from every situation. You’re never too old to learn something new!
As a teenager I did think about record production briefly as a career, but had second thoughts as I thought I may have to work with musicians or music I didn’t like, was this ever an issue for you?
I have a fairly eclectic taste when it comes to music luckily. I’ve worked on industrial metal, hard rock, pop, reggae, crossover classical and classical and I’ve enjoyed it all. As long as the songs or compositions are well crafted and the musicianship is good and characterful there’s always something to enjoy and learn. When the material and/or playing is lacking then it becomes tedious. Luckily I’ve rarely been in that situation.
Marillion signed to EMI in 1982, How did you and Nick get the job to record with Marillion? Did the band or John Arnison approach you or was it EMI?
Nick was approached by EMI. He’d had success with Toyah and I think EMI felt that getting a little bit of a pop edge into the Script production would be a good thing commercially. I went with Nick to The Venue in Victoria to see Marillion play soon after we heard that we’d got the gig and was blown away - I was very excited about making the album.
Did you have have any reservations recording with unfashionable proggers?
Not at all. I was in an unfashionable prog band just before I went to work at the Marquee Studios. I love prog and I think that’s why the guys in Marillion and I got on so well, we had the same influences and spoke the same proggy language.
What memories do you have of the recording of Script for a Jester’s Tear?
It was a very special time for me. My career was just starting to take off and to be involved with the Script album was a gift. I loved the music and the band, we got on really well. There was a feeling of camaraderie between us and that we were creating something special and important. We finished “He Knows you Know” and “Charting The Single” before the rest of the album so they could be released as an early single. I remember us all being at the studio on a Sunday and waiting for the singles chart to be announced on the radio. The only radio we had was in my car so we piled in to listen. He Knows You Know was played and was in the top 40! It was a buzz for all of us. One evening Steve Hackett visited the studio to listen to some of the tracks. I remember we played a work in progress Forgotten Sons to him. The track must have been nearly finished because I remember the children’s choir was already recorded along with all the “prayer” voices.
In my museum I have most of the session sheets from Marquee Studios from October 82 to June 83, they are full of detail from the Script sessions, there are also a few that state they were video sessions? Any thoughts what these might be? Did you also do work on the promo videos or perhaps the recording of Recital of the Script video from Hammersmith?
I recorded Marillion live several times - at the Marquee club Christmas 1982 (those recordings have now been released I think), at The Hammersmith Apollo (that recording was used for the Recital of the Script video), The Edinburgh Playhouse, The Montreal Spectrum (that recording was part of the Real To Reel album) and for the BBC’s Sight & Sound program. I mixed the Recital of the Script video at the Marquee Studios sometime in 1983 - that would be the video sessions on the session sheets.
On the Marquee website there’s an interview with Fish where he says the Marquee studio you recorded in was in the basement and it was built over an ancient plague pit! He remembers feeling a disturbing presence during one session, can you remember this story or if others had ever had that feeling?
I do remember that story. The Marquee Studios and the club were right in the middle of Soho, London. Sometimes I would be there on my own in the middle of night which could be a little unnerving particularly when you’re sleep deprived. Nothing ever happened though fortunately. Almost every studio has it’s stories about hauntings etc. Maybe there’s something in it, who knows?
In the recent Script deluxe set, the band were very complimentary about yourself and Nick, Mick Pointer was particularly impressed with your work, he said you seemed to be doing the Lion’s share, I guess that’s why he asked you to work with Arena, my question is do the lines of demarcation between producer, engineer and mixer differ from one session to the next?
Yes, I’ve worked on a few of Arena’s records over the years, great band and they’re lovely chaps. I bumped into Mick in, I think, 1996 at a Marillion gig in London. He reminded me that I’d borrowed an album from him around the time of the Script sessions and never gave it back (the album has now been returned!). We stayed in touch after that and the rest is history.As I said before, the lines are becoming more and more blurred especially with home recordingand remote recording. So yes, roles can and do vary from session to session.
Were you or Nick asked to get involved with the Script or Fugazi deluxe editions?
I wasn’t asked and neither was Nick as far as I know. Word got back to me that it was down to budgetary constraints.
Yourself and Nick were asked back for Fugazi! We’re you guys impressed with the development ofthe band on this album?
The band had matured since the first album and of course Ian Mosley was now involved which changed the sound and the character to a degree. I think “difficult second album” problems crept in a little. After the success of Script the pressure was on and perhaps there was some “overthinking”. The recording overran and we ended up having to work in many different studios, seven in total I think, which made the process somewhat disjointed (The Manor, Sarm East, Eel Pie, Maison Rouge, Odyssey and the two rooms at Wessex). I mixed the album in four different rooms which isn’t ideal. (Maison Rouge, Odyssey, and both rooms at Wessex). But the band were definitely on an upward trajectory and the new line up was working well - amazing things were on the horizon!
Was there ever any pressure from EMI or management on yourself or Nick to find a hit within the Prog epics?
Singles of course were important, but I don’t remember anything being written or produced specifically as a single. One of the more immediate tracks, Garden Party, Assassing for instance, would be edited down for a single release.
Some sources say Emerald Lies was mooted as a single at one point, can you remember if this was true and if any remixes were done?
I don’t know. No remixes were done at the time as far as I know.
Cinderella Search is still one of the fans favourite tracks! Wonderful music, lyrics and production, it was your first full production with the band, any memories of this recording session?
We recorded and mixed Cinderella Search at Sarm West Studios, studio 1, in Notting Hill. That was a fabulous room - no longer there sadly. Dave Meegan was assisting me. It was a great session. There are some pictures from those sessions in Steve Rothery’s Book “Postcards From The Road”. I have some photos somewhere too.
We’re there any unreleased recordings from either Script or Fugazi?
No, I don’t think so. As far as I can remember everything we recorded was released.
The band were obviously happy with your work as they gave you the job of producer on the live album Real to Reel? Any memories of these sessions?
Making Real To Reel was exciting. It involved my first trip to Canada and the USA. I went with the band to Montreal and recorded them at The Spectrum Club for the album. The club had a little studio attached to it which was ideal. After that show the band had a couple more gigs to do in Canada and the US so I flew straight to New York and did some sightseeing and then met up them a few days later when they played their New York date at The Ritz.
Once back in England we went to Rick Parfitt’s studio in Weybridge for a few days to do some touch ups to the tracks. And then we mixed at the Marquee. There are some photos taken during those mixing sessions.
You’ve worked with a host of great musicians, you co produced the famous number 1 Perfect Day, where you worked with Lou Reed, David Bowie, Elton, Bono etc and you recently had the number 1 Christmas album in the UK with Alfie Boe and Michael Ball, congratulations on that achievement, do you have a favourite artist you have worked with and is there one you’d still like to work with?
I’ve worked with some amazing and talented people. There are some others I would like to have on my CV but sometimes it’s better not to work with your heroes - it keeps the mystery alive!
In the Fugazi remasters there was mention that Incubus had the female vocal removed at the request of a band member? Fish was annoyed by that as he wasn’t there when the decision was made? Do you remember this by any chance? Reasons for it?
That does ring a vague bell. I think we recorded a female vocal but the guys felt it didn’t fit with the band image and album vibe.
Final question as this is a group for collectors I have to ask if you have any interesting memorabilia from your time with Marillion?
I have some photos from the Fugazi sessions at The Manor; cassettes of work in progress from all of the albums; acetates of the albums, singles and 12” singles from the mastering rooms; some limited edition picture discs; industry awards etc. I used to have some tour jackets but they’ve long gone sadly.