NORTHERN Ireland’s music industry said goodbye to one of their own recently.
Legendary musician and producer Shaun ‘Mudd’ Wallace died at home after a stint in Antrim hospital in early December 2015.
Although not a household name, the 59-year-old year old’s work was synonymous with Northern Irish music.
Not a record player, ghetto blaster, CD player, iPod or radio in the country hasn’t blasted out a Mudd crafted tune at some point or another.
He was famed within the community for having worked with everyone from Van Morrison, Pat McManus and The 4 of Us, to Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell, Bap Kennedy, rock band Therapy?, More Power To Your Elbow and The Mighty Shamrocks.
Over the years working with Mudd became a sort of “right of passage” for local artists. Something you “had” to do.
Having Mudd’s name associated with your record brought respect from your peers, notice from industry influencers and a vast wealth of experience to your sound.
One band who realised this early on in their career were County Antrim punk rock band Therapy? Their first single Meat Abstract was crafted on a budget with Mudd at his famous Homestead studios in Randalstown.
Andy Cairns of the band revealed: “Going to Mudd’s studio was quite an experience for us at the time as as our two previous recording sessions had been done in attic studios and makeshift recording facilities.
“This was a proper studio and we were working with someone with a bit of a reputation even back then.
“Mudd was a forthright guy and very direct in his opinions which although initially disconcerting was exactly the quality you need from a producer/engineer in a studio to get the job done in time, in tune and on budget.
“We’d saved up and saved gig money for a few months to be able to afford the two days studio time to record the two songs for the single.”
For Therapy?, it was Mudd’s creativity and honesty that helped to translate the sound they became famous for, from the live shows to a produced record.
“Mudd was very direct so he wouldn’t pander to anyone’s ego or daft whims. He asked us what we wanted and then went about making sure he could make it happen in the quickest and most problem free way” said Andy.
“A good example would be the vocals on a track called Innocent X from our debut album Babyteeth recorded at Homestead. We were big fans of hardcore band Bad Brains and on one of their songs, Sacred Love the vocals had been recorded by the singer in prison where he was serving time and recorded down a telephone and added to the track. We’d been trying to replicate this sound with a variety of sound effects but to no avail.
“On telling Mudd the story behind the vocal sound he scrapped any notion of effects, sent me to the studio reception desk with a set of headphones with a long cable and asked me to ring the control room of the studio and sing down the phone. Thirty minutes later the vocals were recorded and no messing about with technology was needed.”
It was this type of creative thinking and the ability to achieve goals quickly that Mudd was known for.
He didn’t keep artists in the studio any longer than they needed to be there.
No matter their budget, Mudd always made sure every artist who recorded with him, achieved the best that they could.
Andy added: “His determination to get the job done in the most direct way without wasting time was an art in itself. Recording studios can be very expensive places and the longer you take the bigger the bill.
“Mudd was also aware that a band like Therapy? needed to sound abrasive and exciting so too much polish would take the final result. I remember when we had finished recording Babyteeth there was a huge argument in the control room about the levels of the instruments. The drummer wanted his drums louder than anybody else, the bassist wanted turned up and the guitarist wanted more of himself in the mix. Mudd reached across the board, turned all three sets of instruments up to the same level and said ‘right you’re all turned up and you’re all equal volume, happy?’. It did the trick.”
There are many stories about Mudd and his unique ways, but his rebel attitude was probably one of the things that made young bands gravitate towards him.
Michael Keegan of Therapy? explained: “Mudd was a straight up, fun and creative person.
“From talking to him he had a bit of an anarchic streak which probably didn’t do him any favours at times. I recall he blew up the Limelight PA mixing our live sound around 1991, I think he was manhandled off the premises by an irate stage manager. But he had a genuine love of music, he seemed to be excited and enthused by it.
“The best thing Mudd did to help our sound was not to iron out any idiosyncrasies in the songs and encouraged us to exaggerate the more extreme sonic elements. It was almost like he validated our mad mix of styles and sounds and I imagine in the hands of another producer Babyteeth might have been a tamer, less visceral sounding album.”
Many new artists over the years gravitated towards Mudd, forming great friendships and relationships through the love of music and working together, one of those people was a young Bap Kennedy.
“I was in a band called 10 Past 7 in the early eighties when I was about 18 or 19. Our manager Mark Kelly knew Mudd and set up a recording session for us at Homestead Studio in Randalstown” said Bap, adding: “Homestead was a big deal to most of the young bands around at that time, and Mudd had a reputation as the big studio guy. We had some decent songs but none of us could play very well in those days, as we were only getting started.
“However we knew how to have a good time and Mudd seemed to like that. He did get frustrated with the band at times he would sometimes play us tracks he had recorded with other more mature musicians, to give us some musical tips or a direction. He pretty much schooled us in those days. He was about 25, but we thought that was ancient.
“There were a lot of late nights in Homestead after the recording sessions were finished – all of us listening to music that Mudd had recorded or recommended on those big studio high quality speakers. We loved a country rock band from Northern Ireland called The Mighty Shamrocks that he was producing.”
One thing that stood out about Mudd was that from a very early age he knew his stuff. Music was his life and his passion and his enthusiasm for varying styles was infectious.
Bap said: “I started to appreciate Americana music about then. Country Rock really. Mudd played us all kinds of other stuff as well. Really good quality music. I think I picked up a lot of my musical taste then.
“Mudd was a friend as well as a teacher. He also made me realise the importance of attitude. You need attitude if you want to get somewhere. Attitude is a musician’s version of confidence and Mudd had that in spades.
“I suppose I just respected him as a producer and musician, and the friendship grew from that. I was living in London from the mid eighties making records and I saw him from time to time when I was back home for gigs etc.
“We were always passionate about the same kind of music. I remember letting him hear my album Domestic Blues, that Steve Earle had just produced for me in Nashville. Mudd loved it – and I think he knew he was the one who had set me on that path.”
One of the unique things about Mudd was that not only was he was a great producer he was also a talented – and sought after – musician.
“Mudd was a great musician himself” said Bap.
“He could sing very well and play quite a few instruments, but mainly he was excellent on the technical side, operating the mixing desk and all the outboard gear as it’s called. Very complicated machines.
“Plus he’d learned his trade working in the big studios in London. Places like Abbey Road, so he was a very experienced guy with great ears as they say….essential for a producer /engineer.
“He was a music man from his head to his toes and he had a great sense of humour. In his prime he looked like he might very well be a guitar player from a famous country rock band and was moonlighting as a record producer. Long hair, country shirts and a rock n roll attitude.
“Unfortunately though, he also had health issues. The long hours in the studio exacerbated his condition, and he was hospitalised quite a few times over the years. It took its toll on him more and more as time went by.”
Despite being sick, Mudd’s passion for the music never wavered.
Bap explained: “In 2013 I recorded my Let’s Start Again album with him. He still had the magic touch but his health was visibly deteriorating. He was not in great shape and at that stage he was undergoing kidney dialysis three times a week in the City Hospital.
“Despite that I never once heard him complain, and he always maintained his sense of humour and upbeat outlook.
“I think he lived for the recording process and I’m really glad I made the record in his studio. It was great to be singing from the same hymn sheet. His idea of a musical soundscape is the same as mine.
“Organic instruments and great players supporting well thought out songs and arrangements…and don’t forget the groove.
“Admittedly, Mudd may not have been a household name, but just about every musician in Northern Ireland would know who he was, and he played a hugely significant role in the local music scene. He was a complete one off and a true gentleman and he will be sadly missed.”
Another artist who gravitated towards Mudd during his career was Pat McManus, former lead guitarist for 1980s hard rock/heavy metal group the Mama’s Boys.
Having already achieved a certain degree of fame with his siblings in Mama’s Boys, Pat was looking for someone to work with on his first solo album.
One name that kept cropping up across the business was the renowned Mudd Wallace. It’s no surprise the two quickly became friends.
“I knew of Mudd by reputation, but when I came to look for the right producer for my first solo album his name kept coming up” said Pat.
“Mudd definitely enhanced the ideas I already had. He excelled in guiding an artist to the best possible direction and for me he totally understood where I was coming from and my vision.
“Perhaps because of the mutual musical connection we became great friends, but I’d like to think it was more than that.
“What made him a great producer was his wealth of musical knowledge and the fact he was first and foremost a musician himself. Mudd was as a good natured and easy going man, who was also sharp and witty. When it was needed he could be a tough producer, but more than that I found him to be patient.
“Mudd helped to shape some of my sound when we were in the studio, one would hope that any producer would do that as all musicians need direction.
“We had a mutual love of music and we loved a good old gossip.
“When it came to work, Mudd was the right guy for me personally to work with, as he ‘got’ what I was looking for sound wise and pushed me to find more.
“I have four great albums to thank him for and a few tracks from them have become definite classics in my repertoire.
“As a man and as a friend I will miss him..and the music we could have made together in the future and the chats or texts when I was out on the road. It was nice to have someone to just have a pleasant chat with, no agenda, just good friends.”
For those in the business lucky enough to have met and worked with Mudd they will remember him for his straight-talking, no-nonsense approach and for his fierce love and loyalty to the music.
“Mudd was a music man from his head to his toes. He played a hugely significant role in the NI music scene.
“He was a complete one off and a true gentleman and he will be sadly missed.” Bap Kennedy
“Mudd was as a good natured and easy going man, who was also sharp and witty.
“As a man and as a friend I will miss him..and the music we could have made together.” Pat McManus
“He was such a unique character with an amazing ability and a wonderful sense of humour.
“He was a complete gentleman and absolute legend that’s been taken from us too early.” Andy Cairns, Therapy?
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“Mudd Was A Music Man From His Head To His Toes”: A Tribute To NI Producer Mudd Wallace