My Physics Teacher Was a New York Record Producer and I Had No Idea

I grew up and went to school in Hereford in the 1980s and 90s - a small, old, and averagely average rural English cathedral city with a bit of a leftie/peacenik 'muesli belt' that definitely included my family. Since a few biggish musicians or bands have had some connection with the town over the years, maybe also because of its hippy side and its proximity to the legendary Rockfield Studios (just down the road near Monmouth), the Herefordshire of my youth seemed to be full of people with tenuous and exaggerated claims of involvement with the music business. Anyone who had ever helped the band that became The Pretenders to unload their van (all of them except the American Chrissie Hynde were local, but had long since fled), played bagpipes on a Mike Oldfield album (he briefly lived just inside the county at the height of his fame) or soldered a jack plug for Mott The Hoople's keyboard player dined out on it for years. It was all a bit tedious and you learned not to be particularly impressed.

I have only the vaguest memory that I might have mentally lumped one of my teachers together with this crowd at the time. I might have heard things about some previous doings in the music world, and if so, I probably thought he was another one of those 'yeah, right' people. There was perhaps something a bit eccentric about him though I couldn't have backed up that view with anything more concrete. He had a beard (hip before then, and since; at the time definitely not) and thick-framed glasses. I'm picturing him in a shabby, faded green corduroy suit. Possibly even a knitted tie. He seemed to smoke a lot. As far as I know he was never involved in any of the school's musical or cultural activities. Concerts and musical productions (the only area in which my school really excelled) were sometimes recorded by one of the teachers, you know the type, who 'knew a bit about recording'. But not by Geoffrey Haslam - MISTER Haslam to us: he very much kept himself to himself. He taught me for a year and while I probably remember quite a lot of the physics, I can't recall much about the lessons. Just that faintly eccentric vibe.

Years after leaving school I remember hearing something perhaps a little more definite about Mr. H having been a record producer at some point. I still didn't check it out properly; these things weren't as easy to investigate as they are now. So, I guess I forgot about it again. Easily dismissed... yeah, maybe he'd had a 'studio' in his garage for a while and recorded some of the cassettes that local bands sold at gigs, and maybe something had made it on to vinyl. There were a few of those people around in Hereford too. Good eggs, mostly.

After all, if you'd been an in-house producer for Atlantic Records in New York for most of the seventies - if you'd produced or engineered seminal albums by The Velvet Underground and MC5 as highlights of a resumé that also included Hall & Oates, Yes, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler (casual Grammy nomination there), Gil Scott-Heron and J. Geils Band - if you had been personally commissioned by Ahmet Ertegun to re-mix portions of his back catalogue including names such as Duke Ellington, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, what on earth would you be doing only a few years later teaching physics at a dull school in a Crap Town in England? By all means re-read this last paragraph and let the question sink in.

I have absolutely no idea. It blows my mind that this question could ever be anything other than hypothetical. But as you will have gathered, it's entirely factual.

I only came to know about any of this very recently. I was working on what I hope turned out to be a reasonably authentic-sounding, easy play-along version of the Velvet Underground song "Sweet Jane" for budding guitarists, among a bunch of such tracks for the Trinity College London Rock & Pop syllabus when Bo Walton - my accomplice in some of these endeavors, who also attended said school - casually threw my way, "You know Mr. Haslam produced this, don't you?"

He might as well have said, "You know Mr. [games teacher] was one of the first men on the moon, don't you?" or "You know Mr. [caretaker] invented the jet engine?". I felt a bit like a character in a Douglas Adams plot, who has casually learned how to disrupt the space-time continuum to skip between possible universes at will, realizing his frame of reference has quite suddenly changed forever. The creator of the Infinity Improbability Drive would have loved this:

Incredible as it may seem, it's all true. It all happened in this universe. It's all here.

I have SO many questions. They have been going around in my head since this bombshell discovery landed about four years ago. At the time, I could only find one interview where Mr. H has ever talked about his years at Atlantic. Perhaps appropriately, he granted this to the infinitely improbable English language newspaper/website The Buenos Aires Herald. The publication and website have now disappeared, and the only trace I can find now is a typographically mangled version on a Bette Midler fan site.

So many questions, but mainly: why, Geoff? Why give all this up? Why would anyone make such a bizarre career move? Did you honestly enjoy explaining Brownian motion to a generation of Herefordians more than pointing microphones at Lou Reed? If so, to me at least, you were unfathomably eccentric after all.

The Buenos Aires Herald interview may hold some answers:

[On New York] "It was hell. It was a dreadful place, filthy, falling apart, nothing worked, the potholes in the road, indescribable, drunks everywhere and there was violence, it was a violent time. It was so violent that I actually got held up at gun point in the elevator of Atlantic, going to work."

[On the music business and rock stars] "Their behavior was insane. It was terrible, drugs, drugs, drugs. And a lot of people died. Overdoses happened quite frequently. It wasn't a very happy time."

I can see that you might end up so bruised by all this that you'd want to get as far away from it all as you possibly could. Herefordshire certainly fits the bill. It still seems strange that he didn't take that CV and head to one of the other great record-making cities of the time - Los Angeles, Nashville or London - where things might have been a bit less wild. I think I might have tried...

But wait, there's more.

Most of the later entries in the discography seem to be reissues or compilations, but the Hugh Masekela album Tomorrow (1987) stands out. Our Geoff seems to have produced most of this, and as far as I can see it was actually recorded in 1986-7, mainly in London. Bonkers. This happened while he was teaching, full time, at my school while I was swapping and copying Prince, Dire Straits and (yup) Falco albums with friends and above all else for a while, getting really into the South African township jive sounds on Paul Simon's zeitgeist-defining Graceland. All of this was feeding my dreams of a career very much involving microphones, tape machines and mixing desks. I do remember - probably, I'm afraid, just because he had a wonky nose - a physics supply teacher who we saw quite a lot of, so unless this all happened in the holidays, I guess Geoff was calling in sick and bunking off to go and make records with a living legend and icon of the anti-apartheid movement.

Well you would, wouldn't you? Something to be said for a universe where this could happen.

Tom Fleming is a British musician, arranger/producer and author. In recent years he has specialised in creating authentic 'sound-alike' play-along versions of classic rock and pop tracks, mainly for use in music education. This often involves going many extra miles to research the most obscure details of the original recordings. Fortunately, there is nothing he enjoys more.

COMMENTS
abelb1's picture

Thanks for sharing!

davip's picture

...this is what you get when your Analog(ue)Planet Contributors aren't 14 years old...

Well-written, entertaining, and certainly beats my own modest anecdotes of being too drunk to stay awake backstage through the last Joy Div concert at Leeds Futurama, and being sent down the pub with a tenner by Roy Neave at Fairview Studios with orders not to come back until I was pissed enough to sink my backing vocal properly...

Michael Fremer's picture
Room here for both...
marker1323's picture

Amen. I think it is great what your young friend has brought to the site as well as always loving your work.

Andy18367's picture

...Malachi is great! One of the best additions to this site. I enjoy his fresh, enthusiastic writing, his choice of material (a lot of which is new to an older person like me) as well as his David Bowie infatuation.

atblumenthal's picture

Absolutely. I'm 43 and I love hearing Michael's stories because they remind me of my (late) father and i enjoy reading Malachi's entries because I kind of wish my 12 yo was as into music as he is. Sure some of the writing is a bit juvenile--but so is Mikey's. Let's keep encouraging the next generation of hobbyists before they start collecting vintage video games or something.

Chemguy's picture

I concur...well-written and entertaining.

And you are so right about the 14 year old. Sorry, Michael...there shouldn’t be room here for just anyone.

davip's picture

Quite so when that 'anyone' turns out to be so young as to make stupid statements based on inexperience regarding the superiority of nobody artists over historical acts such The Who just because she has her tits out on her album sleeve (or about some rapper who is greatest artist in world etc., etc. just cause it seems that way to you as a 14-yr old).

Such a 'contributing editor' is an embarrassment to this site Mikey, as apparent from the reader comments every time he offers forth of his 2.5 years of musical experience -- but you appear not to care.

Tom L's picture

to use the comment section of a review to attack a different reviewer.

Glotz's picture

But perhaps we should have a vote?

AND I vote that both Chemguy AND Davip get banned from the site FIRST!

(I bet we'll get more votes for that, than getting 'rid' of Malachi!)

MUhahahaaha..

Davip, you're embarrassment to all adults extant.

There's NO accounting for taste.

Anton D's picture

If you aren't more cautious, you might melt a snowflake, or two.

;-D

Glotz's picture

Yes, sorry to all of the targets of my vitriol.

I wouldn't you all to turn into a puddle!

Keep on, keepin' on Malachi!

MalachiLui's picture

but what you're forgetting is that 'pop 2' is the best charli xcx project, better than the self-titled album that i'd still listen to over any who album. so the album cover really does NOT affect my enjoyment of the actual music (and tbh, her album art is merely average).

and anyway, if you went through all of my album ratings, you'd find that i REALLY LIKE A LOT OF OLDER MUSIC. 11 of my 23 10/10 scores are of albums over 20 years old. i just prefer artsy electronic shit over straightforward rock n roll. that's all.

my database of album ratings: https://rateyourmusic.com/~MalachiLui

Roy Martin's picture

...Harpur College Geology professor in 1969 was a musician. A couple of years after graduation I found an LP called "Mike Corbett and Jay Hirsh with Hugh McCracken," Mike on flute and including Eric Weisberg on pedal steel, executive producer, Ahmet Ertegun.

I don't remember anything about geology but I do remember the extra credit question on the geology final exam:

Q: What is 24-hour geology?
A: Rock around the clock.

I got a "C."

Michael Fremer's picture
I think I had, or have that record! Have to look for it...
Jim Tavegia's picture

A great story.

Cam08529's picture

Nice article. Would not have recognized the Velvet Underground Loaded album if not for me hearing Rock and Roll on the satellite radio yesterday and then buying a copy of the album.

Tom L's picture

If so, and you could locate him, you should call him up!
It would be great to see a real interview.

marker1323's picture

Was spot on. Born and raised there and couldn't wait to get away for college in 1973. I'd had enough muggings and robberies amidst the filth and decay. So much of that time has been glamorized and fictionalized. I totally understand leaving it and teaching physics in a civilized English town. Would never have believed the comeback NYC pulled off but glad it did.

rich d's picture

This kind of story invariably brings a wistful smile to the face of any music lover. Thank you for publishing it.

Babysharks's picture

It must have been mind-blowing when you came to the realization of how it all fit together.

RubenH's picture

Very enjoyable read; is Mr H still with us? I too lived in NYC during the 1970's and it indeed was not what it is today, so perhaps it's understandable he got as far away from that scene as he could.

hi-fivinyljunkie's picture

According to Discogs he is still around and there is a more recent photo of him. https://www.discogs.com/artist/253082-Geoffrey-Haslam

Anton D's picture

I have a friend whose college math class was taught by Phil Allen. That pales in comparison to this story!

Dean Colin's picture

Nice article. Would not have recognized the Velvet Underground Loaded album if not for me hearing Rock and Roll on the satellite radio yesterday and then buying a copy of the album.

Best Regards,
Dean Colin

Trevor_Bartram's picture

If so, what a talented family! I enjoyed your article, we need more like this!!

chadrah's picture

where is he now ?

marmil's picture

I was once talking to my cousin-in-law (guy who married my cousin), someone who I'd known for several years and he casually mentioned that he'd been in The Bell-Notes of "I've Had It" fame. Not exactly the Velvets, but...

seth's picture

I knew that my law school Contracts professor at Columbia in Fall 1980, Kellis Parker, was a musician as well. What I didn't know until later was that he was the brother of Maceo Parker.

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