Studio Music Book

The Reels

The Reels - Quasimodo's Dream (1981)

The Quasimodo's Dream album represents a unique moment in Australian rock history.  The heavily synth-orientated sounds, reverb-less drums and lack of guitars contrasted sharply with the classic oz rock of the day, like AC/DC, The Angels, Rose Tattoo and Cold Chisel.

Initially, all material on Quasimodo's Dream was written by Dave Mason with input from Craig Hooper and Colin "Polly" Newham on some of the songs.  The Reels produced themselves and were breaking new ground on this album.  Perhaps it was ahead of its time or perhaps it was just plain weird but there was much angst between the band and the record company over the unconventional nature of the music!  It was recorded over an agonizingly long period of nine months at Albert Studios between 1980 and 1981.

On their first album, which was recorded by Mark Opitz in 1979 in their home town Dubbo, they went to the extreme of recording the drums in an open paddock to achieve a totally dry sound.  The band tracks for Quasimodo's Dream were recorded in Studio 2, which had a relatively dry sound.  (Most of the conventional rock bands who recorded at Alberts preferred Studio 1, which had a much more live recording area for the drums.)

The recording of Quasimodo's Dream dragged on for so long that the record company initiated a new more commercial project, the "Five Great Gift Ideas From The Reels" EP.  This was an entirely different project, recorded, mixed and released during the Quasimodo's Dream project, produced by Bruce Brown and Russell Dunlop at Albert Studios.  You've got to remember that this was a period when recording and music technology was moving forward rapidly.  We had just taken delivery of our first digital reverb - an EMT 246, making it possible for the first time to get short reverb times that we just could not get from our EMT plates.  This was featured heavily on the hit single "According To My Heart".

Quasimodo's Dream front cover
Half of the inside cover of Quasimodo's Dream
Quasimodo's Dream LP Cat No

In the meantime as the Quasimodo saga continued, some of the recording engineers threw up their hands in frustration and refused to have anything more to do with it!  Consequently, no less than six engineers worked on the thing over the nine months!  Col Freeman who had a string of well known recordings under his belt did a lot of the initial band recording.  Kate Hewitt, our favorite rising star engineer who was sixteen at the time, also spent a huge amount of time on the project.  I am told that there was much squabbling between band members and at times things got so bad that sessions would have to get canned.

By the time I got involved with the Quasimodo's Dream project, things had settled down a bit.  I recorded most of the vocals and backing vocals on the album.  Things were going well until one day Dave spied a PZM microphone stuck to the control room window.  This was brand new technology at the time.  He ripped it off the glass and I started trying to explain to him how it relied on being attached to a surface to work properly.  He insisted on using the PZM as his vocal mic anyway, and he recorded the main vocal track of Quasimodo's Dream parading around the studio, holding this stupid looking flat square thing in front of his face!

After the vocals were done, we locked Polly down in Studio 3 with his keyboards to complete the album by himself.  After a few weeks, I thought I had better check on him one morning and there he was, teetering at the console after working all night.  He looked pale and exhausted.  I tried to get him to take a break but he insisted on battling on.  It was one of those moments that reminded me how much blood, sweat and tears go into the making of an album.  I made a coffee for him and he called me in to listen to what he had been doing.  He had been working on "Shout And Deliver" and had made heaps of tracks of just noise, which you hear all through this song.  He was also working on the synth bass lines to get the marching feel into the song.

Bruce Brown ultimately mixed the album and did an unbelievably amazing job to separate the cacophony of sounds into something which vaguely resembled music!  FYI, you will hear Bruce's voice at the opening of "Dubbo Go Go".

I am sure there were a number of songs that never made it to the final release.  They were just too weird for the record company to accept.  As it was, there was a last minute argument over the inclusion of "According To My Heart" on the album, presumably to get the playing time back up and give the album some chance of commercial success.  This song is clearly out of place on the album, with a totally different sound and style.

Although a later depleted Reels lineup went on to have much success with subsequent releases (mostly relatively straight covers like "This Guy's In Love With You"), the release of the Quasimodo's Dream album seemed to pass by relatively unnoticed.  Apparently it was too much for the Australian public too!  Even the title track "flopped" when it was released, although over time it has become recognized as an Australian classic.  In 2001 it was voted one of the Top 10 Australian songs of all time by APRA.  To my knowledge, the album was never re-released on CD, but some of the tracks from it are available on compilations.  Two notable singles from the album, "Shout And Deliver" and "After The News" enjoyed moderate success on the local pop charts at the time but are rarely played on Australian radio these days.

With its unique and often political song writing, beautiful vocal performances by Dave Mason, arrangements by Polly and some great bass playing by Paul Abrahams, it is a tragedy that this album is not more recognized as a milestone in Australian music.

Album details

Album credits
1. For All We Know
2. Quasimodo's Dream
3. According To My Heart
4. After The News
5. Colourful Clothes
6. Shout And Deliver
1. Dubbo Go Go
2. Smokey Dawson Show
3. Depression
4. Rupert Murdoch
5. Kitchen Man
6. Ohira Tour
7. Cancer
Total running time: 40min

Side 1 of the album features the more commercial sounding songs, whilst Side 2 is a more bizarre collection of montaged tracks which range from full-on synth tracks like "Rupert Murdock" which sounds a bit like a printing press to the haunting "Kitchen Man" - my favourite song on the album.

The album ends with the most bizarre song of all - "Cancer" which is probably better described as a collection of sounds than music.  The words "a malignant tumor that grows indefinitely" are repeated endlessly.

They wanted to put an echo on the "Cancer" chant.  Although we had digital delay devices in the studios, these massive IC-crammed boxes of the day could only achieve around 300mS, due to the size, availability and expense of RAM.  Normally, we would use a 2-track recorder to achieve a longer delay.  However in this case, even this was not able to achieve a long enough delay when set to its slowest speed.  I was called in to try to get more delay out of the machine.  I patched the two tracks in series to double the delay.  The lowest speed of our MCI JH-110 machines was 7.5ips but using varispeed, you could slow them down to almost half this speed.  Even this did not produce a long enough delay.  I had to adjust the internal preset VCO frequency to slow the machine down to a crawl.  I'm not sure what speed we ended up with to get the echo in sync with the song, but it was running so slowly that the capstan motor started to "cog", due to the fact that it is basically a pulsed drive to the motor and it was running way below its intended speed range.  The result was a very fluttery sound that sounded more like a cricket than an echo.  They loved it!

- Colin Abrahams