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Page last updated at 15:25 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009
Pangbourne producer to the stars
By Linda Serck
BBC Berkshire reporter

Martin Rushent
Martin Rushent has a studio at his home in Upper Basildon

Meeting Martin Rushent 45 minutes later than planned does not phase him.

Living off a tiny lane in leafy Upper Basildon in a place called The Dutch House, he's both chilled and busy packing for France anyway.

The gruffly bearded 61-year-old looks relaxed in lounge clobber as he sits in the living room he uses to record drums in for his current projects.

However it is his stories of Shirley Bassey and Marc Bolan that we have come to hear today.

He is dubbed as a legendary producer for his work with The Human League, whose seminal 1981 album Dare he produced to world-wide acclaim.

This was at a time when he had garnered the confidence to state how a record was going to sound, with a "my way or the highway" attitude.

But his days as a fledging sound engineer in his 20s offers up a range of situations that have helped mould the way in which he works with these larger-than-life musicians.

'Shirley Bassey threw a mic stand at me'

Rushent was around 25 in the mid 70s when he was told he would be working as a sound engineer and co-producer on the next Shirley Bassey album.

Already a world-renowned star thanks to her affiliation with James Bond themes, Rushent was understandably nervous about working with the diva.

Dame Shirley Bassey
Dame Shirley Bassey performed at the 2009 BBC Electric Proms

"It filled me with dread, she had a reputation for being difficult," he says.

"She had been headlining on the Royal Command performance the night before we were due to start.

"She arrived and swept through reception looking like thunder and disappeared into the studio.

"I thought 'I'm the first here, I'd better go in and introduce myself'.

"I walked in and I said 'Morning Miss Bassey, my name is Martin Rushent and I'm going to be your new engineer and co-producer. Whereupon she threw a mic stand at me."

Rushent laughs at the memory. "She told me to get out!"

"She apologised afterwards I hasten to add."

Her bad humour was, according to Rushent, because she had not been invited to the Royal Command performance's after show party.

"Was she upset? Just a bit!"

"She did calm down in the end, and over the period that I worked with her we formed a really close relationship.

"I figured out pretty early on that she didn't like mealy-mouthed 'yes' people. If something was wrong she wanted to be told that and discuss things like two adult human beings.

"To people who can talk to her straight up she is the sweetest person you could ever meet and we formed a very good friendship that survives to this very day."

'Jerry Lee Lewis chased us round the studio'

Working with Bassey was a good grounding for working with future artists and their tantrums, including an incident when Jerry Lee Lewis was annoyed that Yes had been booked into the studio when he was not quite ready to leave.

"He chased us all round the studio and we had to lock ourselves into another studio to prevent him getting us," says Rushent. "He was a big guy".

He adds: "He came in the following morning and he was alright.

"I think his management had had a word and said 'look this album is going really well, it's not a good idea to frighten the life out of people who are helping you make it.

"He was quite pleasant, but he never apologised."

'Bolan wrote Get It On in ten minutes'

During his time working as a sound engineer at Vision Studios in London Rushent worked with producer Tony Visconti on T-Rex's Electric Warrior album, which was released in 1971.

Of Marc Bolan Rushent says: "He was an extraordinary bloke. First of all he was very funny. He was straight but very camp."

Working on Get It On, one of the album's major hits, was Rushent's first taste of Bolan's extraordinary talent for writing.

Marc Bolan
Marc Bolan's real name was Mark Feld and he grew up in London

"Marc came in and Visconte said 'right, what are we doing?'. He said: 'Well I haven't got any material, I've just got one guitar riff."

"So he played us this guitar riff. It sounded a bit like Chuck Berry to me but I didn't say anything.

"He went out with the band and after two hours he said 'right, got a song'. So we recorded it and took a few takes. He then said 'right I've got a bit of a tune, just give me half an hour'.

"In ten minutes he came back and said 'right I've got the lyrics and got the tune'.

"So he'd written Get It On in ten minutes basically.

"He went out there, sang it, and in four or five takes we'd got it. There it was. The guy was absolutely astonishing."

'We couldn't believe what happened with Human League album'

The Human League
Rushent won a Brit Award for his work with The Human League

Rushent sealed his reputation as a producer when he worked with The Human League on Dare, which was released in 1981 and features the hit Don't You Want Me.

Recording with the band at his then studios in Streatley, Rushent made it clear who was boss.

"They came up and we did Sound Of The Crowd. They were under the impression that I was going to work on what they'd done so far and improve that and carry on.

"I said 'no I'm not doing that, we're starting again', which was a bit of a shock for Phil (Oakley, lead singer). He argued about that but I said 'no, if I'm going to produce you, you're going to do what I tell you to do.

"I will listen to your arguments and consider them, and if I still think I'm right we do it my way or it's the highway."

"This is my attitude to everybody I produce, it's a sort of democratic dictatorship!"

After the single became a hit Rushent was assigned to producing the album, which won him a 1982 Brit Award.

"I'd got all this new technology and we spent a year making the album, programming all these primitive computers."

Rushent used a Linn drum machine which "sounded so much like real drums it was difficult to tell it apart".

He adds: "The tempo was absolutely precise because it all ran to a digital clock and the record just was precision itself.

"It was also very simple. If you actually analyse what was going on at any given moment in time there may be only four or five things going on, but it does the job."

Despite the novel sound Rushent was not expecting the album to have such global and long-lasting success.

"We couldn't believe it," he says. "We were just making a record and suddenly it just exploded all over the world and has since become a legendary record. It's just mad!

"If somebody had told me then 'do you realise that you are making history with this record?' I'd have said 'yeah alright, calm down and have a cup of tea'".

Rushent is currently working on a new album by his son James Rushent's band, Does It Offend You, Yeah? and has just finished producing new albums by beatboxer Killa Kella and girl disco outfit The Pipettes.

Click here to get in touch with Martin Rushent via his MySpace.

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