Gwyn Mathias: Recording the Sex Pistols

At Audified we love re-creating vintage audio classics, particularly those really rare pieces that are so hard to unearth. We’re delighted when our customers tell us they used the original hardware back in the day. Gwyn Mathias, the British recording engineer, and producer, is one such customer.

There are so many titles in Gwyn's discography, that it's hard to imagine the time it took to record them.

Gwyn's Story

As is commonplace in the recording industry, I‘ve worked with many artists without gaining a visible web credit from their project. I recorded the backing track of the Sex Pistols ‘Something Else‘ as well as some of the music for the Sex Pistols‘ movie. I recorded some of the overdubs on Gerry Rafferty's ‘City to City‘ album which went multi-platinum in the USA because of  ‘Baker Street‘, and recorded the title ‘Whatever's Written in Your Heart‘ on that album. It’s often a surprise to find somebody has actually remembered to credit the engineer!
I also recorded the music for the Stephen King movie ‚Creep Show 2‘ which has just been released in 2017 for the first time ever (and so far only on 150g vinyl), many years after the movie‘s release.

Before plug-ins 

I first discovered Audified when the U73b Compressor was released.  I bought it immediately, and then the upgrade v2 as soon as Audified introduced it. I’ve been working ITB with plugins now for many years. On every session.

During the early 1980s, I was seriously collecting German recording gear, driving to Europe and looking for it, pre-eBay. Once, a friend and I drove to Italy and back via Germany. We bought 6 x Klein and Hummel UE-100 EQs and some V76 mic amps. I had an Alfa Romeo GT Junior Bertone, and there was so much weight in the car that the exhaust pipe was about 2cm off the road!

I used to own 2 x U73b compressors. They were always a hassle level-wise, as on an Insert Send for a vocal etc (or a mix buss) they needed a really high input level to start doing their thing. You'd then have to deal with the high output level coming back on the return. So the Audified solution of calibration facility and input/output level controls is a really great improvement!
When Audified released the RZ062 Equalizer, another favourite piece of mine I owned 4 for years, I simply had to get in touch.

Meeting the Sex Pistols

I first encountered the Sex Pistols when they came to Berwick Street Studios in London in 1978 to mix 5 or 6 titles they’d recorded in Paris. The connection was made as I was recording punk bands like Eater that were signed to The Label record company, co-owned by Dave Goodman, the first Pistols producer. By this time Johnny Rotten had left the group and Sid Vicious was handling lead vocals. I aligned the Studer A80 24 track recorder to the session tones provided by the French studio and mounted the first reel of 2” tape and hit the play button. There were no track sheets with the tape boxes, as quite often studios would forget to put them in after a session, so I was pushing up faders to find out ‘what was what’ with the instrumental and vocal tracks and writing on the masking tape above the faders.
The band arrived. Sid looked at me and said “Are you going to stop f*cking around so we can start mixing… or what?” Hmmm. Anyway, I mixed the tracks for them, and later ‘Boogie’ from the Sex Pistols management office came down with the multitrack of “My Way” and I mixed that too. I’ve always presumed my mix wasn’t the one used for the release. Nobody ever told me!
They came back to Berwick Street one evening soon after that and I cut the backing track of ‘Something Else’, as a live performance by Paul Cook (drums) and Steve Jones (guitar). Sid’s bass was then overdubbed. Next, Sid went out to record the lead vocal. He’d arrived with Nancy Spungen and they were both seriously ‘out of it’.
Unfortunately, he’d forgotten to bring the lyrics! By now it was getting late. Pre-internet, there was no practical way to get the lyrics, so Sid sang the first verse and the choruses, and I made a rough mix onto ¼” tape so they could take it away to listen. As Sid hadn’t sung the second verse, I recorded the first verse to tape again and razor-blade-edited it in between the first and second choruses.
It was normal practice for an engineer to keep a personal copy and they agreed I could. So, I made myself a 7 ½” ips copy and 39 years later I may still have that tape. I’m not sure!
A week later, Bernie Rhodes (manager of The Clash) came to the studio and asked if it was me who’d recorded the Pistols backing track of ‘Something Else’? He said it sounded great. ‘Something Else’ was the Pistols’ biggest-selling single, a fact I’ve only learned just now when I googled to check if ‘She’s Something Else’ was the correct title. At that time I was working as a recording engineer and sometimes producer, averaging 14-16 hours a day, seven days a week, recording projects totally cross-genre as we used to. I often had no idea of what was being released or played on the radio and in fact hadn’t even realized until now that the Pistols had released it as a single!
I never encountered the Sex Pistols again, but at Berwick Street, I recorded some music to be used for the soundtrack of their film ‘The Great Rock ‘n Roll Swindle’ with arranger Simon Jeffes, founder/leader of Penguin Café Orchestra.

A week later, Bernie Rhodes (manager of The Clash) came to the studio and asked me “ was it you who recorded that Pistols backing track of “ Something Else”? It sounds great!”

“Something Else” was the Pistols’ biggest-selling single – a fact I’ve only learned just now when I googled to check if “She’s Something Else” was the correct title. During that period I was working as a recording engineer and sometimes producer on average 14-16 hours a day, seven days a week, recording projects totally cross-genre, as we used to. I often I had no idea of what was being released or played on the radio, and in fact hadn’t even realized until now that the Pistols had released it as a single!

I never encountered the Sex Pistols again, but at Berwick Street, I recorded some music to be used for the soundtrack of their film “The Great Rock ‘n Roll Swindle” with arranger Simon Jeffes (founder/leader of Penguin Café Orchestra).

Featured articles
Ana Mangot: We can share emotions in such a beautiful way [1/2]
The Studio of Andrei
Walter Babbini: MixChecher is always my last step
Damien Walsh: I use MixChecker all the time
Paul Haslinger: Impressed with sound of U73b Compressor
Baby Brown: I love the steampunkesque RZ062 Equalizer