Strange tales from Saga's 'Worlds Apart'

On the farm with Canadian prog-rockers' singer Michael Sadler
By Peter Lindblad
Saga - Worlds Apart 1981
A bit of an odd duck, famed producer Rupert Hine has a well-deserved reputation for going to extremes to gather the sounds he wants. One of the artists most affected in the past by Hine’s unorthodox recording methods was Saga vocalist Michael Sadler.
While working on Saga’s 1981 magnum opus, Worlds Apart, Hine put Sadler through the ringer. The man, whose producing credits include The Fixx’s Reach the Beach, Phantoms and Shuttered Room, Thompson Twins’ Close to the Bone, Rush’s Presto and Roll The Bones, and Tina Turner’s Break Every Rule, among others, was keen on having the singer express a wide range of emotions and moods in songs like the AOR radio staple “On the Loose” or “Wind Him Up.”
To accomplish this, Hine placed him in situations designed to capture exactly what he was looking for from Sadler – even if they were somewhat dangerous, or at the very least, completely unexpected.
“He was so eccentric in terms of … I don’t know if you’ve ever heard his solo records, but my gosh, it’s pretty much whatever it takes to get what he’s hearing in his head,” said Sadler.
Worlds Apart, Saga’s most commercially successful LP, was birthed at The Farmyard studio in Little Chalfont, Buckinghamshire, England. Hine made good use of the environment.
“Oh, I’ll tell you a number of things Rupert did,” laughed Sadler. “There were two stories regarding the vocals. One was related to ‘On the Loose,’ and the studio itself, Farmyard Studios. The old barn is the live room – with the beams and it’s great for drum sounds obviously, and for any ambient sounds, it’s fantastic. But, it had the beams and the roof and he wanted a sense of angst in that song, which you can put on like an actor does, when they play a role or whatever – ‘Sing this with angst,’ fine. But, you know what? To really get it right I want to put you in a precarious position, so he had me balanced on one of the beams, and they rigged the microphone up there. And you can see the picture on the inside of the vinyl sleeve – me in my beard and hanging onto a beam and singing ‘On the Loose’ from up there.”
That’s the story most people know about, as Sadler related it on the Saga DVD “Silhouette.” But, Hine didn’t stop there.
“The other thing he did on the complete reverse of that was in the middle of ‘Wind Him Up,’ when the song breaks down and it gets very, very quiet, and there’s some very quiet singing, signing the chorus in a very low key,” explains Sadler. “It just knocks it down, but it’s sung very low-key in terms of delivery. He wanted a very intimate, ‘just woke up,’ smoky … whatever kind of voice, where you’re not even thinking about it either – almost like humming to yourself but you’re singing the words. He wanted to get that effect across, so we did a few. It was getting near the end of the day, and we tried a few, and then he said, ‘Okay, that’ll do for today. We’ll review it in the morning.’ So, I went to bed, and the living quarters were across from the driveway – I guess they were the old stables, for the horses – but across the driveway I’d say a good 50, 60 yards from the main building. And in the morning, I heard this slight tapping on the door, the kind where you’re not even sure someone is there or not. I didn’t say anything, and the door creaked open a tiny bit and in came the tape operator with a mic stand and boom. And he just looked at me and said, ‘Don’t move.’ And down came the microphone to my face, head still on the pillow, he put the headphones on my head, closed the door, and immediately upon the door closing, I heard, ‘Good morning, Michael.’”
As unsettling as it is to be woken up in such a manner, Sadler, groggy and barely cognizant of what was going on, went along with it.
“So, I tried coming up and he said, ‘Just sing when you know where you are. Here we go,’” recalls Sadler. “And I went, ‘Uh.’ So it was like an eight-bar lead up, and then the tape op came in and I sang it, and then he said, ‘Thanks very much. See you in a minute.’ And I went, ‘Uh, huh.’ And then the tape op came back in, took the headphones off, took the microphone away, closed the door, and I went, ‘What just happened?’”
Still in a fog, Sadler went to try to make sense of it all.
“Put my housecoat on, walked across to the studio, and there was Steve [Tayler], the engineer, and Rupert, and he said, ‘Morning, Michael. Listen to this,’” said Sadler. “And he played it back, and I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s exactly what you wanted, isn’t it?’ And he said, ‘Yep.’ And of course, preparing for it is not the same. That’s why they said absolutely nothing to me. That’s exactly what they wanted, and that’s exactly what they got. In fact, it was one take.”
For Saga’s latest record, 20/20, due out Tuesday on Eagle Records, Sadler’s experience was much more mundane. Still, it wasn’t business as usual for Sadler, who left the band when Saga’s tour ended in 2007 and then returned in January of 2011.
“When it was decided that I was coming back, and when we decided to make the announcement, I was basically handed pretty much a finished record, which was odd for me because I’d always been, since the beginning, a fairly integral part of the writing,” said Sadler. “For me to be handed music that I couldn’t touch was, ‘Oh, really …’ (laughs) Every once in a while, I’d go, ‘Oh, I think that part should have been six bars instead of four,’ or ‘maybe that should have been …’ So, on one hand it was slightly frustrating; on the other, as a singer, being handed a blank slate like that and just being able to do whatever I wanted on top of it, it was very inspiring actually, because I was hearing the record like someone in the audience would hear it or one of the fans would hear it for the first time.”
We’ll have more from Sadler in the coming days.

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