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BIOGRAPHY / TIMELINE PAGE

 

This site is owned and run by consultant and session keyboards man/programmer Andy Thomas, known for PPG Wave Synthesizer UK/USA sales and programming in the 1980s. Now hosting product retail and hire services with links to prime music technology manufacturers and performers utilising Progrotech's devices and know how.

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Biography sections are often a mishmash of memories and half truths. I intend to show how I got here today by relating the relevant influences and experiences. I was very lucky to work on sessions for major albums and film soundtracks providing exotic pads or brittle digital synthesizer sounds. Today I have access to great technology and its developers thus increasing my experiences. The timeline format below shows how I got here (links to Wikipedia for the highlighted years).

To get a feel for the artists, gear and eras mentioned you can visit the Progrotech Favourites at Youtube.

 

Being born in 1960 means a lot to me for as a child I was exposed to great developments in music and emerging technology thanks to radio, television and my unusual ability to select my favourites of 7 inch vinyl records way before I made reading age and to 'DJ' using my sister's 45 rpm discs of the era. I found 'B' sides entertaining as often the flip side of a hit could contain a nonsene ditty or some experimental processing and effects the artist and producer were amused by as it was the 'A' side that was of main interest to the buyer. As an example of weird 'B' sides check out 'Nautilus' by B. Bumble and The Stingers, the flip side of Nutrocker! Tunes such as communication satelite inspired instrumental 'Telstar' by The Tornadoes (really the legendary producer, Joe Meek) and the theme from DoctorWho also affected me as an infant listener: I loved those strange sounds!

 


Around 1971 BBC TV's 'Tomorrow'sWorld' once featured Bob Moog demonstrating his wonderful modular synthesizers. It was not until 1986 at an AES Show that I met Bob for the first time but I was soon to get my hands on an EMS AKS (attache case synthesizer pictured below) during a school visit by composer John Metcalf who was using it in his opera for children 'Past Three O'Clock'. I even joined the school choir to get regular exposure to the machine in rehearsal and performances! The EMS product line was to feature heavily throughout the 1970s on hits by Hawkwind (I did a spell with them as studio/touring keyboard tech 1981-82 ten years after their hit single 'Silver Machine'), Pink Floyd and Jean Michel Jarre. It is thanks to working for Hawkwind that I got interested in the complexities of multi-projector backdrops and psychedelic lighting. At 11 years of age I already knew that this was the type of career I wanted. I was spending my weekly pocket money on songs such as Chickory Tip's 'Son of my father' and Hot Butter's 'Popcorn' which were synthesizer chart hits in a world where people could not even say or spell synthesizer. Within a couple of years I was buying Tomita albums featuring classical music arranged for synthesizer. 'The Snowflakes Are Dancing' featuring 'Clair de Lune' is a must have CD!

My Desktop (sometimes)

An E M S Synthi with a beating image of the dark Side Of The Moon Logo.

A smaller image as a clickable link to the EMS website.

The EMS synth can be seen here on YouTube and especialy in part 2 of Utopia Theme here. Todd Rundgren goes Prog Rock!

A higher fidelity audio recording is available here http://www.myspace.com/toddrundgrensutopia

By 1977 I was aware of a more clangourous synthesizer sound emanating from Tangerine Dream's 'Encore' album (Coldwater Canyon being my favourite track and Kiew Mission from Exit). PPG had been credited as providing the Berlin based band with modular synthesizers but it was their (PPG's) emerging digital technology that fascinated me with the user being able to design unique wavetables and filter them whilst the onboard sequencer or 'Event Generator' could handle patterns of pitch and dynamics.

I was truly fed up with school and spending more common room time on reading Electronics Today International, Formant, Practical Electronics, International Musician magazines and anything to do with lasers!

Marc Bolan of T-Rex dies in a car crash. RIP. http://www.tilldawn.net/

1978 saw me move into working in music retail (pianos, organs, guitars) and buying my first synthesizer, a Yamaha CS-30 analogue device with analogue sequencer - 8 steps! Selling in this market was depressing as it was welsh valleys with some excursions to Hereford branch (my favourite opposite the cathedral). I left Picton Music and hobbled and laboured for a builder friend who told me of a BBC radio play called 'The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy' which featured wacky humour and wack sounds. Tim Blake released 'Blake's New Jerusalem' and Steve Hillage released Green, the two albums residing in my car cassette player for years.

1979 and the early months offered strikes and roads free from grit as I drove home over ice and snow with Dire Straits 'Sultans of Swing' and 'Moonlight and Muzak by M for company. Fed up with work and lack of job satisfaction I spent more time (and money) at trendy and 'odd smelling' Buzz Music. Autumn (ok, fall) that year I was labouring for a builder friend listening to 'Tusk' by Fleetwood Mac and 'Bang Bang' by B.A. Robertson on the radio. What was happening to popular chart music?

 

I joined Buzz Music, Hereford in early spring of 1980. It was a brilliant education for me as the company had lovely staff who became like family to me and was my real introduction to studio professionals and touring bands, yet offering great services and prices to upcoming project studios and artists just as the home multitrack (4 and 8 tracks - reel to reel) and Portastudio (tape cassette 4-track) boom started for real. The shop had staff who went on to form The Pretenders, feature with Hawkwind (Robbie Dobson, ex The Enid drummer) and write the theme to BBC's 'This Life' (Mark Anderson). Buzz Music co-founder, Mark Thompson later moved to London managing artists and producers and later continued in pro-audio sales as Funky Junk in the former PPG-UK Ltd. building! Small world, eh?

Buzz ran a very a comprehensive hire service featuring P.A. rigs, instrument and backline, which took me all over England as a delivery man/rigger. The Buzz Mobile was used to record UB40's first hits and I also went with it to record a live Black Sabbath gig during the Ronnie James Dio days. Budgie and Motorhead and numerous artists used the tiny Sprite Caravan with a gear list I'll publish later.

 

From 1980 onwards the powerful PPG digital synthesizer featuring wavetable synthesis and sampling was responsible for great sounding hits by Ultravox, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Thomas Dolby, Depeche Mode, The Fixx (produced by Rupert Hine - SAGA, Howard Jones) who mastered the polyphonic multitimbral sequencer in minutes (unlike poor Wiff). Thomas Dolby could perform a one man show with the PPG 'Henry' Event Generator also triggering Simmonds Drum modules and projectors/lightshow.

During this time I worked for Buzz Music, Hereford. The company had a record shop (where I spent a lot of my earnings on vinyl) drum store, guitar shop (James Honeyman-Scot of The Pretenders worked there), p.a. hire and retail, keyboards hire and retail which I ran often taking me into sessions at Rockfield Studios, Virgin's The Manor, Horizon (Coventry home of Two Tone Records sessions) and Chapel Lane, Hereford, the christian record label. Colin Summers ran the guitar department and now runs Head Hand & Feet music store in Hereford Cattle Market! Paul Cobbold, pro-audio sales, moved into resident engineer status at Rockfield Studios and a career producing Hawkwind before lecturing at The Royal National College for the Blind



Eventually midi and programmable polyphonic synthesizers with access to massive libraries changed the way music was being produced and song specific sound design made way for factory preset selection. The early polyphonics such as the Prophet V and Oberheims were prohibitively expensive to buy and most bands hired big names barands for studio and touring work. roland and Kork eventually brought out more affordable poly synths with internal memories of 32 patches, notably the Kork Polysix and the Juno 60. I loved demonstrating these at Rod Argent's Musicstore in Worcester 1982 - 1983 often synchronising the arpeggiator to a Roland TR-808 clock and using the cowbell audio output jack to pulse the VCF modulation input for dynamic accents. Are you still with me?

During my period working as a demonstrator I was often visited by a band called Exposure featuring John Harris on guitars (also known as Demo Doctor in Sound on Sound) Shirley Gray on bass (now known as Zara of The Candies) Greg Haver on drums (producer to Mel C, The Manic Street Preachers, Radio One Live Session) and Tim Lewis on keyboards. Tim is now known as Thighpaulsandra and featured with Julian Cope, Spiritualized, Liz Fraser, and continues touring in his own right as well as producing/arranging. Tim Lewis left Exposure and I was duly invited to join, playing their quirky pop/rock with the odd hint to their early progrock roots. The band had a friend in Paul White, now editor in chief of Sound on Sound magazine and Paul's studio (4-track Teac based back then) was used for band demos and tapes for sale at gigs. Greg Haver acquired an 8-track Tascam based studio system and set this up in his flat in the beautiful welsh town Hay-on-Wye, best known for it's numerous book shops and literature/music festivals. Exposure changed their name to Ti Na Na (the name of a song by Huang (later renamed Wang) Chung). I had already given demo tapes to Kinglsley Ward of Rockfield Studios fame before quitting Ti Na Na and he then embarked on getting them recorded by producer/engineer Paul Cobbold. I recently got to hear those 'eighties' mixes that Paul had recently remastered giving them a lot of oomph! Producers/directors of film and TV take note if you are making a retrospective/eighties film requiring original music.

Here I am pictured (skinny boy in Exposure/Ti Na Na or Grim Reaper in 1982) with the Korg PolySix and the Moog Source. There is a video link to See You In Hell here.


Sinclair Spectrum inspired thingy

The above synths offered a small number of memories each but were quick to edit on the fly. The Polysix had nice aggressive sawtooths to delicate tuned-filter-created choir pads. The Moog Source was great for leads and effects and some decent mallet sounds.

 

1983 saw an invitation via a headhunting firm to go and work for Syco Systems, then owned by Peter Gabriel. They had heard of my interest in PPG synthesizers and were the UK distributor after Desert Systems. In my first weeks of working at Syco as a product specialist/demonstrator I had to learn the PPG Wave 2.2 and Waveterm A (8" floppy drive!) inside out - literaly as both had been rescued from a terrible fire in the garages on the ground floor. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Thomas Dolby, Hans Zimmer were frequent visitors along with notable artists and producers booking in for demonstrations at what I called the 'Cartier of the Music Industry'. In December 1983 I left Syco and set about forming a new company with Christine Jackson, a colleague at Syco.

As the managing director of PPG-UK Ltd. (1983 - 1985) alongside fellow directors Christine Jackson and Wolfgang Dueren, I was pleased to offer support to users in the UK and visitors from abroad, often contributing to album sessions without financial reward or printed credits. My main function was to get PPG back into a high profile as its soon to emerge light and power was being stifled in favour of the Fairlight and its then powerfull sequencer , Page R.

More from Wolfgang Dueren here.

1984 - Youtube file of Thomas Dolby's video for Hyperactive here.

Producer/composer Nigel Bates was invaluable at this time as he could talk people through the complexities of the system from the comfort of his Ambience Studios if I was not available. At Rockfield Studios, Wales, a Californian band by the name of Zot were finishing off an album project for Elektra with producer Pat Moran who had bought a Waveterm system from me. See YouTube video of Uranium here. I spent nearly every weekend of that summer adding pads and textures to the album and was given an open invitation to stay with singer Randy Wayne. During my first visit to California I spent time with Europa Technology who represented PPG and other hi tech manufacturers from Europe. Vice Presidents of Europa, Woody Moran and Geoff Farr introduced me to a very different world. If you had knowledge of something special you could get paid handsomely for it. My specialist field, the PPG system secured me an H1 visa and I worked on triple Musicians Union scale rates for people I respected as musicians and producers. I also got my name on records and gold and platinum albums. I felt as though I had truly arrived.

I was also lucky to work for David J. Holman, producer to Bourgeois Tagg during the making of their first album. David had been the innovative engineer/remixer for Olivia Newton-John and many USA artists. His homely studio in Laurel Canyon was a very creative place and often fun to colaborate with David'd pal Bob Marlette (producer Evanessence) on our own project 'A Day Beyond'.

1985 YouTube clip of Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Howard Jones and Thomas Dolby in a big mime show.

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As PPG were about to launch into digital multitrack hard disk recording and DSP Modeling in early 1986 I was offered the position of Vice President of the newly formed PPG America, Inc., leasing an apartment in Marina Del Rey to serve as both my home and office. Using my contacts made in the UK and the USA I made an effort to push the standalone HDU (Hard Disk Unit) and Realizer (Sampling/Resynthesis/DSP Modeling) into the world previously dominated by the Fairlight and Synclavier systems. Stevie Wonder, already a serious PPG user/collector, was the first major artist to buy the HDU for studio and live playback plus effects processing swiftly followed by Glenn Frey of the Eagles. Many hours were spent at Wonderland listening to Stevie sing and play. It made it all worthwhile.

During these years I contributed my hand made and modified factory produced PPG library sounds to albums by Level 42, Propaganda, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Damned, John Miles, Robert Plant, Steve Winwood, David Bowie (The Labyrinth OST), Laura Branigan, Bourgeois Tagg, David Foster, Chicago, Toto, Richard Souther, Glenn Frey.... it's a Namedropper's Ball.

As the parent company struggled in Germany I later found more stable employment with Yamaha Corporation of America and left PPG. Yamaha had developed grand and upright acoustic pianos with integral midi recording (Disklavier) and high performance midi out put and controllers (Midi Grand). This took me into a different realm as I don't come from a classical performance background. I learned a lot from my colleagues and clients at Yamaha. I left the company late in 1988 to return to Wales, UK.

The late eighties and early nineties saw me settling back to a rural life based in Abergavenny but commuting to Oxfordshire and London working as a DJ or assisting in live or recorded sound. By 1995 I was busy teaching/coaching woodwind students of Pete Scaddan at P&M Music, Abergavenny where I started a Rock School, a three day course with a concert night for the friends and families of participants on the third day. This was a way of introducing youths and adults to getting a gig together from scratch and learning more about everyone else's gear, P.A. systems and lighting. During this period Pete Scaddan and I formed Virtual Earth, a modern jazz outfit combining Pete's versatile sax(alto/tenor/soprano) and WX-7 midi control of my Ensoniq/Yamaha/Kurzweil sounds with drums and electric bass supplied by Len Thatcher and Mike Whiting, producing original (sometimes inspired by Jan Garbarek, Courtney Pine, Andy Shepherd, Tangerine Dream) music with colour and vibrance.

In 1996 I settled down with one of my (mature) sax students, Maria, and we got married in 1997 with an adopted metal band, The Pass as our wedding ushers and reception entertainment. It was during this period that I started writing with Ian Butters (aka Rovert Smint) who originaly wanted to form a Rush Tribute band which he has now done but first I persuaded him to spend time on writing original material for our newly formed Gymnarchus.

 

Recent and current interests

I have had the pleasure of assisting artists and bands, producers and arrangers achieve their goals through a variety of acoustic and electric sessions including Theatr Gwent projects, Refuse and Shadow Seeker. For these I prepared music and audio effects files used in the touring productions, offering synth and sampled files or creating sounds from scratch.

 

 


Via the pages here at www.progrotech.com, Andy Thomas offers a range of professional digital audio consultancy services including:

Andy Thomas has served as managing director of PPG-UK Ltd. and Vice President of PPG America, Inc. and is still in touch with users of the products manufactured by Wolfgang Palm and distributed by Wolfgang Dueren including:

PPG Synthesizers sold or serviced by Andy Thomas are used by Toto, Stevie Wonder, David frank, Nigel Bates, The Fixx, Rupert Greenall, Steve Winwood, David Bowie, Mike Garson, Richard Souther, Eric Persing, Spectrasonics, Aha, Chris Stainton, Freur, Rick Smith Underworld, Tears for Fears, ZOT, Robert Plant, John Miles, Pat Moran, Ultravox, Bronski Beat, Pete Riches and Neil Perry.

Creamware hired Andy Thomas to voice Scope Fusion Platform and NOAH instruments for Geoff Downes' Armada Album and Frankfurt Messe and NAMM Show Performances in 2003.

Andy Thomas also deals with:

Andy Thomas can be found at:

Flat 1, 4 Lower Monk Street, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, South Wales, United Kingdom, Europe, NP7 5NA.