Mirek Stiles on Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' No More Shall We Part

Mirek Stiles on Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' No More Shall We Part

2nd April 2023
On this day in 2001, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds released their critically acclaimed album No More Shall We Part.

Read the inside story from our Head of Audio Products Mirek Stiles who was the assistant engineer on the sessions in Studio Two.

Here is a great video from the sessions. At 34:39 you can even see me at the back of the room by the tape machines puffing on a cigarette (you could smoke in the studios then!).

In late 1999 (or early 2000) at the age of 20 (I think) I was a budding assistant engineer at Abbey Road Studios with a keen interest in band recordings. I had mixed feelings of both excitement and apprehension when asked to fill the role of assistant engineer for upcoming Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds sessions in Studio Two. This was to be my first “rock and roll” session in which I was trusted to solely look after session myself, being the main representative from the studios assisting freelance engineer Kevin Paul and Producer Tony Cohen. I hadn’t met Kevin, Tony, or any of the band before and I was a little nervous with pangs of self-doubt, “can I really do this?” or “better not mess this up” and the other usual mind tricks we like to play with ourselves.

Meeting Kevin and Paul for the first time on the set-up day put my mind at ease a little. Tony was a larger-than-life character from Australia, super friendly, enthusiastic and a lot of fun to be around. He had a strong working relationship with Nick and the band and new how to facilitate the room and set up to ensure everyone felt comfortable. Kevin was a lot calmer and a great guy to assist on the sessions – he instantly put my mind at ease with his penitence, professionalism, and personality. I remember the set-up day quite well as we had all the band and their technicians within the large space of Studio Two finding a comfortable space in the room. Tony would work with each band member on finding their own creative areas in the room and making everyone feel relaxed. It all felt quite natural, and I was taken back by how open and friendly all the band members were to me. I had been warned that the band could be quite challenging to work with, due to various personal issues that are well documented, but I found the band a pleasure to work with and found the whole experience very inspiring.

It was probably my first session in which we were bedded in for a couple of weeks and the rooms was set up as live performance with the whole band playing together. I remember thinking what a massive privilege it is to witness this incredible band in their creative element in one of the best studios in the world. I knew it was going to be hard work, but I also knew it was going to be special.
Photo by Olaf Heine
The set up was pretty standard from what I can remember. Drums in middle of the room on the left-hand side, bass on the opposite side. Piano and violin were set up nearer the control room and guitars rigs at the back of the room. We had lot of screens out, including the large wall mounted swing out screens to divide the room with some degree of separation. An additional vocal booth area was set up for Nick’s overdubs. I seem to recall we draped loads of carpet over the piano lid to try and reduced the spill from the drums getting into the piano mics. A Neumann M49 was set up at the piano for Nick's guide vocals and in the vocal booth for overdubs. I seem to recall a lot of valve mics on the session, both Tony and Kevin were keen to explore the Abbey Road microphone collection and got some of the classics out.

It was mainly Neumann U67’s on guitar cabs and perhaps a AKG C12 on the bass cab, with additional DI. Drums was mostly Neumann 87s, KM84’s and AKG C414s. There were a few sets of room mics out to capture the ambience and it all went down onto 2 x 24 track Studer A820 analogue tapes machines using mostly the microphone preamps from the Neve desk. The tape machine ran at 30ips, which meant you had about 15 mins per reel.

One of the most challenging aspects of tape is ensuring to don’t run out “mid take”. There is nothing more embarrassing (apart from actually erasing the tape, but you are only allowed to do that once before being sacked) than the band or producer declaring the perfect take, only to have to announce to the room we missed the last 30 seconds. Luckily that didn’t happen, a few near misses and tense moments, but I managed to swerve that ball. It’s worth noting I’m saying all this with a slight hint of ill due confidence, as the memory can (and usually does) play tricks when trying to remember what on earth happened on a recording session 20 odd years ago.

There are moments I do remember rather well. One was being asked at the end of the day to copy verse 1 (I can’t remember which song) onto another tape then get cut that copy into the master song to create an additional verse. There was (and still is) something pretty terrifying about taking a razor blade to the only copy in existence of recorded music and hacking away at it with sharp instrument. There is no “undo” button with tape, so if you mess it up it tends to go down rather poorly with the band. It felt really satisfying the next morning when I played back my editing extravaganza and the band all nodded with approval.

The other moment was the fact there were not enough couches in the control room to accommodate everyone, which I was unhappy about because the band were not very happy about it. So, later that evening at the end of day one, after everyone had gone home, I asked the security guard to help me remove a couch from one of the admin staff’s offices and drag it down a flight of stairs and down the corridor into Studio Two control room. The next morning, I had a really angry message on my voice mail from said admin staff screaming down the phone that I’d taken furniture from their room. In retrospect I probably should have left a note. I did recall saying they were more than welcome to come down to the control room and ask Nick for it back, I was not taken up on that offer.
Overall, the sessions were a bit of the game changer for me personally. The vibe was really good and I loved being around the band, making sure they felt as welcomed, looked after and as comfortable as possible. Generally assisting in the creative process while a band lays down tracks like Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow is an incredible experience. I remember on my first day at Abbey Road one of the senior engineers saying to me that artists should “feel like Abbey Road is a unique boutique hotel and nothing is too much to ask”. I took that as gospel and always tried my best to ensure the artists came first.

From my perspective the session was full on, it felt like I had to have my wits about me and be very mindful of the dynamics between the band, producer, and engineer - there was some serious creative forces in that room. But it was also lot of fun and the vibe felt really good. The band invited me to come hang out at Westside Studios a few weeks later for some overdubs and the mix, which was really nice of them to do. I remember hanging out with Kevin a few times at the end of the day for a drink and smoke and I met up with Tony a few times since as he lived in London at the time. He came down to one to the famous Abbey Road BBQs later that summer with his partner. Tony is sadly no longer with us. Kevin is still a successful engineer and producer and the band just seem to go from strength to strength.

I feel grateful for the small part I played on this beautiful album.

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