On this day 25 years ago, The Brian Prebble Experience was born at the start of a three hour recording session in the living room of my house. Well… my parents and brother were away on holiday so as usual, I made good use of their absence! However, the birthdate of Prebble is only one factor about this particular evening which for me, remains the most memorable musical experience I have ever had.
Therein lies a bit of a story…
In the early 90’s there was no escape from the hype and success of MTV’s “Unplugged”. Never having been in any way a fan of MTV who I believe transformed the entire pop music industry for the worse, I couldn’t help but notice how quite a few clapped out older stars were jumping at the chance of doing the show which would give them a sales and credibility boost. It became THE “hip” thing to do. What I saw of the show felt fake, phoney and contrived. The stars generally posed and performed in a toned down pretentious manner with slickly rehearsed and produced muzak as if to say “Oooh, look at ME… aren’t I so cool my songs can be played on acoustic instruments?”
You guessed it. I HATED the show. It wound me up and it needed a poke in the eye.
My pal Derek and I had by then worked together on music for 5 years and we did some sessions in early 1994 where we ad-libbed material direct to tape. The results were surprising. We knew each other so well, we bounced off one another on a near telepathic level. Then Kurt Cobain was dead and there was no escape from his recent “Unplugged” performance. Fed up of being bombarded with that, and ever looking for another idea for a project, I suggested to Derek that we should do a parody of “Unplugged”… we would subvert the concept by NOT preparing or rehearsing any material. I had a couple of folders full of poetry and song lyrics I’d written over the years so all we had to do, was pick out a lyric at random then perform it there and then as the tapes rolled. The results were bound to be messy but that was the whole point. We would record an entire session like this, I’d then cobble together “highlights” and voila… our very own “Unplugged” album containing bum notes, mistakes and generally being silly but REAL.
Derek agreed to the idea and we set a date for the session to take place at my house. However, there were to be a couple of spanners thrown into the works to make matters a little more interesting as I’d decided we would assume daft names and become these alter-egos, so I became Brian Prebble and Derek, Edgar Pye. On the day, I went out and stocked up on all manner of snacks and chocolate biccies in preparation for the session. Around 19:20, Derek arrived with his guitar, a Quadraverb unit, a microphone, a penny whistle and his girlfriend Clare. Clare was a superb musician who could play a variety of instruments and she brought along her violin. Derek said it might be nice for Clare to join in and I was fine with that as she’d guested on a couple of sessions earlier in the year and we’d had a good laugh. However, she now needed a false name so I suggested Gertrude and Derek tossed in Lycanthropia.
We had a cup of tea and chatted about the basics of what we were gonna do. We only had one microphone. That was plugged into the Quadraverb where the signal was processed with stereo digital reverb. The output went into my hi-fi system so I could record it on tape. We did a quick soundcheck. We looked at each other, nodded and recording began for real. It started off with me doing some daft spoken introduction introducing my colleagues under their false names and I said “thank you for coming along to the Brian Prebble experience tonight” and there it was – the name for this trio. Edgar plucked out a piece from one of my folders and announced it was called “The Piper At The Gates of Dawn”, some tosh I’d written back in 1987. I can be heard expressing embarrassment, but there was the song now we had to get on with it.
Straight away it was evident something unusual was happening as we went through this song for the first and only time. I played bursts of penny whistle, Edgar on guitar and Gertrude did these droney parts on her violin. It was a rather lively number. Not perfect, but hey, that was the whole point. We then did “British Rail Blues” and that was a bog basic stop start 12 bar blues. Gertrude droned away throughout then towards the end took us by surprise by launching into a brief very fast scale part which sounded weird. There were smiles all around.
After two or three more songs I recall we were giving each other odd looks. This was not turning out how I expected. I was aiming for something chaotic and messy but we were somehow coming up with improvisations that sounded like well written and formed songs. They all had beginnings, middles and endings. I was singing the best I ever had. We agreed to pause for a break during which we discussed that something weird was happening but… it felt good. We resumed activities and after some more songs, I was thinking “this is unreal” so dashed into the other room and dug out the family’s camcorder, plonked it on an ironing board and began filming as I wanted to get a visual record partly for fun but also to “prove” what was going on.
Now with the camera rolling, Gertrude plucked out a one verse piece of rubbish from years earlier called “The Nitwit”… I was gonna have to ad-lib lyrics on this. The six minutes that followed were for me, musical perfection. It had a lovely wistful almost pastoral vibe, a tinge jazzy… it bopped along and in desperation as I was running out of ad-libs, I pulled out another lyric, “What A Lovely Day” from 1988 and bang on cue, the three of us changed gears into something even more laid back. It was the highlight of the session for me which was swiftly followed by another memorable moment, the utterly silly “If I Got My Hands Round Everybody’s Throat” where Gertrude provided “Psycho” styled screechings and I went into downright demented mode. The three of us managed to stay focused in spite of each of us trying not to crack out laughing.
And that was just one side of a tape filled. From then on, the session did become more of a rambling affair with a lot of sloppier moments. One memorable moment we couldn’t use was when Gertrude took to the mike. I played guitar and Edgar scraped on the violin for a truly incomprehensible version of “It’s Christmas Time Again” which for some reason Gertrude sang in a very high pitched voice… Edgar and I made this lame awful racket whilst she struggled to decipher my lyrics… that collapsed into complete anarchy! It’s one of my favourite outtakes in the entire archive because it’s so damn bizarre! There then came a lengthy sequence where Gertrude took a breather so it became the Brian and Edgar show. We went off on various tangents lapsing into parodies of children’s TV show “Rainbow” and “Doctor Who” with me as a snarky Doctor moaning about battling the Daleks again… Edgar provided Dalek voices speaking through the hole in his guitar then went into a Scottish accent with the line “Ooh doctor, me kilt’s fallen off me!”
Gertrude returned for the last few numbers and by the time we finished there was no denying we were tired and spent. 1 hour and 52 minutes of material had been recorded so plenty to be wading through from which to edit this parody album. Derek and Clare went home and I went to bed. We’d all enjoyed the experience and agreed there was an unusual vibe throughout much of it which would take years for me to fathom out what actually happened.
The following day, there were the two session tapes sat there and I shook my head. Sure, we’d had fun but maybe we were dreaming that it was that good. I didn’t listen to the results until the next day when with a heavy sigh, I hit “play”. After 20 minutes, I hit “stop”, stashed the tapes in my bag and dashed round to Derek’s place. Clare was there and I insisted the three of us listened back to the session together. They thought I’d gone mad as I was raving with enthusiasm insisting this was “unbelievable”. So, we listened.
The looks on their faces said it all. We were staggered and shocked how good some of those songs were, so good, they sounded like they had been perfectly written compositions. The playing was excellent, my singing was inspired… for a parody project we’d somehow come up with something better and far more musical. Sure, there was a load of stuff in there that lived up to the original sloppy concept but we had quite a few really GOOD songs that couldn’t be ignored. Clare then dropped the biggest surprise of all when she confessed that until this session, she had NEVER improvised before in her life. She could had fooled me, but I knew she was telling the truth! We picked which songs to use, I went home and edited the whole album the next day, then the day after that (the 9th) I concocted the album cover…
“Unplugged!” was an unexpected triumph. It proved how well the three of us worked together. It was imaginative, covering a lot of ground and styles. For the first time in my life, I felt I was actually SINGING during the best moments. It was and remains a career highlight. Magic was in the air that night and of all the projects I’ve done, it’s one I can still listen to and enjoy without wincing… though some of the outtakes are squirmful!
A few weeks later we had a short spontaneous Prebble session at Derek’s house on September 1st then came three further full on sessions on October 26th (entitled Cockney Prebble’s Avant Garden) and December 29th 1994. The last was on April 18th 1995, a month after Prebble had made it’s live debut with me and some other geezer. Regardless to say, none of these later sessions had the same magic… there were some odd interesting moments but not ones I enjoy listening to as much. Derek and Clare then moved to Liverpool and Prebble went off in a completely different direction for the next couple of years focusing more on live performance, turning in a whole load of bizarre spectacles until I brought it all to a halt on August 20th 1997. In September 2001, Derek, Clare and I reunited in Liverpool and discussed doing a one off live performance supporting Derek’s current band where we would do exactly what we used to do, wear disguises, go on stage, pick stuff at random and away we would go… but sadly, that went no further.
In 2012, I made digital clones of the master album edit and the session tape for digital preservation and whilst listening to the session again, I had an epiphany as it finally clicked in my brain what happened on that night. The three of us not only connected to a collective consciousness but we were tuned into the mysterious musical consciousness that certain rock and jazz stars have talked about where they enter another dimension whilst playing as they admit some higher being/spirit ends up guiding them.
Us Prebble clowns were not playing music… the music was playing us.
I have since enjoyed odd rare moments of musical telepathy and believe me, when they happen, it feels indescribable, but never again would I experience it on the same level as I would during this Prebble “Unplugged” session. Thus began an adventure that continues to this day as The Brian Prebble Experience strives to create unusual sounds and spectacles in front of audiences.
The original tapes still exist along with several backups of the digital clones. In 2012 I made digital transfers of the tapes and they still sounded in good shape though was dismayed by how low the volume was and the master edit was therefore noisier as it was copied tape to tape hence generational loss and with it extra noise. I spent a day remaking the master edit, using the copy to replicate the exact edits I’d done back in 1994… toss in some volume boosting and subtle digital cleaning up, it shines like never before.
The video footage was digitised in 2008 and played back with no issues. In 2015 I had an odd idea as the audio recording though plastered with stereo reverb was technically a mono recording… the video footage was mono, so how about trying to synch both sources up to create true stereo? The results were interesting but not as exciting as I hoped.
One of these days, that original album in its 2012 remastered form will be unleashed upon you…