We chat to the oracle, aka Sean P on what he’s upto right now and his new compilation on BBE
You state the often-forgotten or played down importance of ‘Rapper’s Delight’ in 1979. Where were you at musically when this was released?
I was still into mainstream chart and radio music, but had started moving towards the less obvious disco and jazz-funk that some of my mates, particularly the older ones, were into. This was around the time I started buying records.
What was its influence on you personally?
I couldn’t see where it was going, it’s not as if it opened doors or anything like that… but little did I know – I thought this rapping thing was a gimmick! I was too young to look for any depth or significance, it was about liking or not liking a song – plain and simple. ‘Rappers’ Delight’ was cool, slick and different. Even the wholesale appropriation of another record to base your own on was a new concept o me. I was never a B-Boy, despite developing some inclinations towards that at various times and to varying degrees – but even then, it was only about the music – I’ve never lived the life. Since ‘Rappers’ Delight’, I’ve has an on/off relationship with hip-hop and have been slow at keeping up with its many phases.
What process do you use to digitise and restore material for reissue?
Cedar Audio, they are the original and best. One day I’d like to buy their premier system, but I’d be working flat-out for about 10 years to pay it off. Pretty much all of the material I restore is transferred from vinyl, so I always ask clients to send me the records so I can clean and digitise them myself. This way, I’m confident that all steps have been taken to ensure the best outcome. Proper system component matching, calibration and vinyl cleaning is, let’s face it, beyond many people – so I try to avoid having pre-recorded files sent to me. I’ve had bad experiences with poor recordings from clients in the past and have turned jobs down. A good recording of a trashed record can yield better results over a so-so recording of a well cared-for record. I’m interested in hi-fi – cartridges and turntables are my main focus, with accuracy in tracking, groove tracing, tonal balance and minimalisation of distortion the top priorities, hence the restoration I do.
I’m listening to your re-edit of ‘Hungry’ by Sandy’s Gang. When did you start editing tracks?
Like so many others… in the bedroom with mechanical, pre-logic controlled tape decks that paused-and-released instantly, with zero lag. I started doing pause-button cassette edits when I bought my first mini ghetto-blaster from Richer Sounds in 1984. I wish I’d kept it, it was a robust and quirkly machine. It could record in fast-forward and rewind modes, so I learned how faster tape speeds dramatically improved sound quality, stuff like that. I used to put together medleys and mixes, disabling the erase head with sellotape to drop-in and overdub. Hours of fun.
What is your approach to editing?
I became interested in editing when I started hearing 12″ versions of chart records. Funnily enough, Chic’s ‘Good Times’ is the first long version I remember hearing and I was pretty blown away because a great record just got better with all these unexpected twists, like the bass & drums breakdown. The first 12″ I bought was Herb Alpert’s ‘Rise’ and as I knew the 45 extremely well, I listened out for all the edit points – and I did this every time I bought a 12″ of a track I knew well in its 7″ edited form. Essentially, this focus on editing comes more from reduction, rather than extension – I figured there was an art to getting a concise, three-and-a-minute version out of long-form track – whatever its length.
On tracks edited on analogue tape, you can sometimes hear a thud or a thump. This happens at even the cleanest edit points and is another marker I used to see how some tracks are shortened. Aesthetically, I try to make instrumentals out of vocal tracks, or extend short tracks in a logical, structured way – so the edits echo the original arrangement. Of course, this is all track-dependant – and the approach varies on this basis. Verses, choruses, bridges, instrumental sections and solos can get in the way sometimes. On occasion, the middle section needs extending and that’s it. It’s case-by-case.
How do you feel about the emergence of a re-edits ‘scene’ in the last decade?
I used to edit lots of tracks for fun but slowed down considerably over the past decade. To be honest, I lost the inspiration and there was so much happening on that scene, I didn’t feel I had anything special to offer. I was hearing edits of tracks that I knew well and thinking, ‘why didn’t I do that one myself’. Some of these tracks just sounded so obvious in a club or in a mix and the originals were languishing at home, forgotten about. Some edits I’ve heard completely lose the essence of the host track, which is pointless – the aim should be to enhance it.
At the same time, some tracks are rescued by doing this. And it’s easy to ignore that re-edits can be good for getting people into good records. I hear a lot of ’80s boogie influences in new records sometimes and I reckon re-edits have played a part in that.
How did Better Days Productions come about?
Dave (Lee) had an idea for a re-edits label and I suggested the name to reference the late Tee Scott, as his mixes were a big influence on both of us. The a-side and b-1 of my first 12″ on the label (Captain Sky and Vernon Burch) were edited on a minidisc recorder. B-2 was several sections loaded into my MPC 2000 and triggered in real time. This was in 1997.
Is the partnership still active?
My last 12″ on the label featured tracks by Z-Factor, Positive Express, The Voltage Brothers and Loose Joints. It sold badly and Dave suggested shelving the label, so I didn’t plan any further projects. He reactivated it later and all the releases since then have been by him alone.
Your record knowledge is quite famous, what is your musical focus today?
I was quite into jazz-funk and fusion when I started buying records and this gradually overtook everything else, so I got more into jazz along the way and that became more of a focus over the last 25 years. I still get excited when I hear a tough boogie record, though – you just feel it. It never leaves you.
Do you collect contemporary releases or are you still excavating for lost treasures?
I don’t go out of my way to explore new music anymore, I just hear things around me and take it from there. Definitely more geared towards older stuff, though – and I buy a lot of re-issues on CD. I would rather investigate unknown old music than wade through loads of new releases. That’s just how my tastes and hearing are.
How is your record collection organised?
Badly, just badly. On the floor, in piles, boxes, shelves. Nightmare. I can never find anything.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
It would be good to get a couple of compilations out before the end of the year and I’m getting a lot of restoration work at the moment, which is keeping me busy. I had a label ready to start up a couple of years ago and the first two releases were planned, but this got waylaid and I’d like to give it a go if I get time. I was approached recently about doing some reissues, which is something I’m very keen to look into.