For anyone who follows these things, we’ve been trying to get all of the Crass vinyl back into print for about a year now. Our mission has been to (a) Restore the original vinyl mix tapes (the quarter inch analogue tapes that were originally used to cut the vinyl on initial release) (b) Create new metalwork (from which the vinyl is stamped) and (c) Reproduce the original poster sleeves and inserts (minus the “Pay No More Than”, which was actually removed over a decade ago when these were last printed).
Part (a) was pretty easy – we have the set-up to bake tapes right here at Southern Studios. The thing with magnetic tapes is that during the late 70’s and through much of the 80’s, some tape manufacturers started using new (aka cheaper) technologies to produce tape which resulted in an unstable binder material. This causes the tape to oxidize over time and shed particles when you attempt to play the tape. Tapes in this state can be temporarily fused by a process known as baking – a long exposure to very low heat in a special oven. Once this is done you can transfer the programme to another digital or analogue storage device. Harvey Birrell, who runs our studio, is very accomplished at restoring and mastering and has handled all of our reissue projects. Harvey did a faithful ‘flat’ transfer of the recordings (no changes to the mix or levels) and these were checked by original producer and band member Penny Rimbaud once done. So far, so easy.
Equally part (c) was straightforward enough as we have kept all of the original artwork files and have some excellent printers that we work with regularly. We’ve had the print ready to go for some time now.
It was part (b) that was giving us a real headache. Despite the popular niche that vinyl has found with the public over the years, there are very few plants who press vinyl (and do it well and in any kind of a timely fashion). Probably about 90% of the independent labels we know work with a well-known plant in the Czech Republic, who are generally great people to work with. Until something goes wrong, when you are thrust through a time-warp back to the 1950’s and customer complaints are ‘reviewed’ by committees whose job is to determine the ‘validity’ of your dissatisfaction. We have, and still do, use DMM for a lot of mastering jobs, but despite several tries at doing the Crass titles this way, we only managed to get good results on two titles – Feeding of the 5000 and Penis Envy. These two were repressed earlier this year (and have since sold out, so we need to do more). Eventually we were forced to concede defeat on DMM and take our lumps and start over.
We had no other option but to go back to the three-step process of cutting a lacquer master (or father) from which a metal mother is made, which is then used to make the stampers used to imprint the grooves on the vinyl. We have used many vinyl cutting rooms in London in the past, and most of them are gone now! So we went back to John Loder’s favourite haunt, Abbey Road. Penny and Harvey attended and were very pleased with the results – which you can see above! So the remaining albums – that’s Stations of the Crass, Yes Sir I Will, Christ The Album and Ten Notes On A Summer’s Day have all gone off to to the pressing plant (in France this time). Fingers crossed everything will go smoothly and we’ll have vinyl back by the end of November – just the things for putting under your Crassmas trees.