Perfect Sound Forever


Photo by Lindsay Gaultier

Confessions of an expert punk/new wave soundman
By Brian Cousins
(August 2023)

"You're only Scottish once and it lasts a long time."

Frank Gallagher has packed more into his life that most of us dream of, from running restaurants and pubs in London to booking rock venues in New York and befriending many of the musical greats of our time. His excellent podcast "Soundman Confidential" features conversations with many of the major talents he has worked with ranging from Buddy Guy to all the members of Taking Heads, as well as music icons as diverse as Creation records impresario Alan McGee, record producer Steve Lillywhite and poet/performer John Cooper Clarke. He also deserves major kudos for interviewing Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods which proves that Frank hasn't lost his talent for recognizing innovation and passion.

Frank is working on his memoir which undoubtedly will contain many great stories as well as a wealth of knowledge and experience from both inside and outside the music world.

It seemed appropriate for PSF just to concentrate on the music and in particular the music of Talking Heads, the recording of Fear of Music and touring with the expanded line-up of the band.

Frank was working for a sound hire company in London and when the Ramones arrived in Europe for a tour with the then-unknown Talking Heads as support act (April-June 1977). Frank explained the unlikely connection between himself and David Byrne:

"It's because of the Scottish connection, his parents talk like me. We could talk in the vernacular and I could use Scottish slang that nobody else in the room would understand and he would crack up... I was just the sound guy that happened to come with the sound system. By defaulting, I ended up mixing... it was one of those lucky coincidences, but you're got to be in it, to win it... And it doesn't happen if you just sit in the house. They heard back from the people that came back stage after the shows and record company people that it sounded good. I had not heard one lick of Taking Heads music before I meet them, plus I'd been off the road for a couple of years doing other things."

David Byrne and the band were so impressed with the live sound that Frank got for them that they invited him to move to New York to work with him.

"Any band is like a four-way marriage or a three-way marriage... They were workers, they worked five days a week, when they were off the road they would get together and play, keep it going. It was very interesting because there is nothing like them."

"Here's the thing- you look at the body of work that David had produced, (it's) very esoteric. It doesn't compare and here's why- because (with) Talking Heads, there was a chemical interaction, there was a personality interaction. It was a "we" thing... (David's) work after Talking Heads, very eclectic, very esoteric. I can't whistle one, I can't dance to it. When he got involved with Eno, it was the kiss of death because it was manufactured in a studio, it wasn't organically produced."

Frank on moving to NYC, even living for a time at Chris and Tina's loft in Long Island City: "Loft living was not a thing that existed in London at that time and so a place where you actually make as much noise as you like and nobody bothered you, that (was) freedom."

And what Frank refers to can be seen in the brilliant 1979 South Bank Show documentary that features the band performing in the loft and captures their individual personality and the environment that they were reacting to and how this shaped their songs and music. Essential viewing for any Talking Heads fan.

Frank described the whole set-up and process.

"They were very secretive when they were working on new stuff, they didn't want anything to get out, so that loft, if you were in a rehearsal studio people could hear you thought the walls...

"Those tracks were written before Eno touched them, they rehearsed those songs in the loft, Fear of Music was recorded exactly in that spot, nothing changed for those track to be made, the Record Plant mobile crew was parked outside .... and I think we were rolling tape in less than three hours. Eno was in the truck at that point... It was all verbal communication, it was that simple, we opened the window to connect the snake to the truck and plugged the mics in and off they went. It was all done without a guide vocal because if you are recording live, you can't do a vocal as it's picked up on the other microphones. And all the tracks were recorded live, straight through, no overdubs. And they messed with it a little bit later and put the vocal on but what you hear is what was played."

Frank then spoke about the rehearsals with the expanded band that was tasked with playing the Remain in Light (1980) material live.

"So I walked into the rehearsal- there was Bernie Worrell, there was Busta Jones, there Andrian Belew there was Nona Nendrix, Dolette MacDonald, I had two bass players, I three guitar players it went on and on... I was just learning the mix because the texture had changed completely from the four piece. It was more than a wall of sound, two bass players, I just loved it. Busta Jones had a funk and low thing and Tina had that precision, almost a melody, definitely a rhythm more than a traditional bass player because she was self-taught so she wasn't polluted by any musicality at that point- it was all feel although Tina could read music."

"The first show was a festival in Toronto. It's a scramble to do festivals- there's no sound check, there's no rehearsal and for a guy like me with that much on stage I don't how how the f**k I got away with it. It became an historic show. We stole the show, with no soundcheck, no nothing, we just got out there did it."

"And the next show was at Central Park at the Wollman Rink. I'm very familiar with it because I skate there every winter. I still skate there. When I lived there, I lived on 85th and Columbus, I would just walk down and go skating there and then go to the Talking Heads office which was at 57th and Broadway and do my work there if there were things to be done."

"The sound was brilliant (at Wollman Rink). We had a proper soundcheck, we had decent equipment... But I wasn't interested in capturing a dry board recording. Coming off the board you don't hear the speakers, you don't hear the bass the same, you don't get the ambience... There are couple of guys that did real good (audience) microphone recordings."

"Management didn't tell us that there was going to be a (recording) truck there, so that nobody got nervous or had preconceived ideas, so you'd show up and I'd see a snake running out and I'd go "ahh yeah.""

And Frank also started working with Simple Minds prior to New Gold Dreams between breaks with Talking Heads "I had met Simple Minds in Paris and I would commute between New York and Edinburgh and tour Europe and it was brilliant for a couple years. I worked on the New Gold record but I left before the end of the project- I had other things going on, stuff going on at home in New York."

After the Remain in Light tour and the subsequent live album The Name of This Band is Talking Heads (1982), it was time for Frank to move on to other ventures. Frank is never less than completely candid and direct regarding his experiences and has lived too long to sugar coat his feelings.

"I didn't like the direction and the vibe coming from David... He started telling me how to do my job. First of all, I'm Scottish and my Dad's from Donegal and I told him to f**k off more than once, so why keep a dog and bark yourself? And a few years later I did get back with Tom Tom Club stuff with Chris and Tina."

"I just do what's in front of me, it was never planned. I've never had the word 'career' in my vocabulary. I've never considered this a career... I'm not a professional, these days, I'm am mercenary ... The phone rings, 'can you do this?' 'Aye.' 'How much?' You're only Scottish once and it lasts a long time."

"I'm still working with the B-52's. Back then the B-52's, Talking Heads and the Ramones had the same manager... I was working with Tom Tom Club doing a show in Boston and we were opening for the B-52's and as the opening act, you don't get the same amount of gear, the same amount of time, the same soundcheck... And after the show, their manager came to me and said 'how come your band sounded better than mine?' And I had less gear and hardly got a soundcheck, so the answer must be me. And he said 'can we steal you?' I said 'no, you can purchase me' and that's how I got back in the foal with the B's".

Frank's charm and enthusiasm for life are on display on his podcast and his forthcoming memoir will undoubtably be full of candid opinions and numerous anecdotes regarding his adventures, from his early life in Scotland, his time in pre-punk '70's London, on to New York and his later years in San Francisco and Flagstaff where he now calls home.

As you can see, his skills as an interviewer and raconteur show through as well as his good humor and generosity. Do yourself a favor and have a listen to "Soundman Confidential."

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