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Mark(Marc) Wirtz/Teenage Opera anyone?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Mike the Fish, Nov 5, 2007.

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  1. Mike the Fish

    Mike the Fish Señor Member Thread Starter

    Anybody else here like his TO stuff?
  2. kentb47

    kentb47 Forum Resident

    Hot Springs Ark.
    I do, yeah. Just ordered the CD comp that I didn't know was out with 'everything' on it. But I love all the stuff that's on the Keith West/Tomorrow CDs.

    That 'Grocer Jack' video is a favorite of mine, as well. One of the best 1967 videos.
  3. willy

    willy hooga hagga hooga

  4. mark f.

    mark f. Forum Resident

    Major fan.

    In another thread I mentioned that I transferred all of Mark's memorabilia, photos, records, acetates (what he had left) and tapes to digital. The best things in the whole collection are the acetates of the various stages of the three Teenage Opera tracks. Mark's use of percussion is astounding. Clem Cattinni told me that he'd spend a day on just one particular drum.

    Nice to see this topic here.

    EDIT: forgot to say that the reason I mention the "archives" is that I'm thinking of making it all available on the web, including downloads of the tracks the backing tracks and other rare things. Originally we were going to do a video documentary that would expand on the one done by Dutch TV but that idea didn't go anywhere (not enough public interest in such esoterica). The web seems like the best thing.
  5. mark f.

    mark f. Forum Resident

    If you really want to hear a range of Mark's production abilities I suggest this CD:


    If you're only into British pop psych it's not for you but if you like solid big production pop this is the one to get. The soundtrack is interesting but it's not a real thing. It's mainly just tracks that fit the idea of the Teenage Opera. Only three songs for the Opera were ever completed. Mark insists that the B-sides were never part of the planned album. The soundtrack CD is still worth getting but Mark's true production ability is way beyond that CD IMO.

    What's not covered on the CD are his later production and arranging jobs as Marc Peters. He coproduced two Helen Reddy albums with Kim Fowley and did a lot of other arranging jobs with folks like Dean Martin and many others.
  6. Mike the Fish

    Mike the Fish Señor Member Thread Starter

    Yeah, I've got the soundtrack - I like the session stuff on there. Mark says that the stereo mix of Sam is not his though. - I'd like to hear that - and the radio edit. He also said he did a stereo mix of Weatherman. Would like to hear that one also. The Wonderful Story I picked up as well as the Hollywood Years 1 & 2...
  7. mark f.

    mark f. Forum Resident

    Bits of the backing tracks were used on the Soundtrack but they are chopped up. I'll post the full versions for you to download. You'll really like them.

    Weatherman is great because the bed track was done without edits so you get silence between the verses where the orchestra should be. At some point Mark or someone starts cracking up. The backing tracks to Sam are great. All in all I think I have 6 session takes. I'll try to get those to You Send It tonight.

    If there was a stereo mix of Weatherman it's gone. It's possibly in the EMI vaults but I'd be surprised. Since EMI have dug up every other stereo take I'd think they'd have that available if it was still around. The stereo mix of Sam isn't bad but it's not clean and you can vividly hear where the punch-ins occur.

    The Sam radio edit was done by Mark but it's literally just an edit. No further mixing was done. The fun thing about Sam was that the original promos came with a slip warning the DJ of the time on the track. I found a copy of the single with the PS and the slip.
  8. Mike the Fish

    Mike the Fish Señor Member Thread Starter

  9. mark f.

    mark f. Forum Resident

    At the risk of boring everyone.... I had designs on writing a book about Mark and his Teenage Opera. I interviewed just about everyone who would talk to me and the only guys I never reached were Geoff Emerick and Keith West (Geoff told me to talk to his agent but by then I had bagged the idea). Anyway, I find the story interesting but no publisher that I could find agreed with my assessement! Here are some "excerpts" from what I did write but be warned, they are unedited and uncorrected:



    On Monday, January 2, 1967 Mark Wirtz began his career at EMI. Before that, he had operated his own production company, licensing tracks to the company who was now his employer. Wirtz’s ‘Touch of Velvet, Sting of Bass’ had been a near hit for Columbia and EMI saw the opportunity to attract the young potential hit maker into it’s production stable.

    Mark became EMI’s first "independent producer." The title appears to have been a half-hearted attempt on the company’s part to give artistic control to its new producers. If he had artistic control, Wirtz did not exercise the full range of it initially. His first recording session at Abbey Road was a track for vocalist Jackie Lynton, a Spector-ish version of the song ‘Only You.’ Two days after Mark’s first day in the studio The Beatles returned from Christmas break to resume work on ‘Penny Lane.’ Wirtz’s competitive nature could not help but be inflamed and by March he began using Mood Mosaic session time to record a new song, a grand concept piece he claims came to him in a dream. The unnamed backing track would be recorded over several sessions and later, according to Geoff Emerick, edited together to form the finished product. But Mark’s bosses were not aware of his extracurricular activities.

    In approximately the same time period, Wirtz had signed the band Tomorrow to a recording contract. The band’s lead singer, Keith West, was young, good looking and best of all represented the underground movement, the final ingredient Wirtz needed to complete his new song. West was invited to hear the nearly finished Mood Mosaic experiment ‘Excerpt from a Teenage Opera.’ Upon showing some enthusiasm for its Pet Sounds-like quality, he was offered the chance to enhance the lyrics and sing the lead vocal. Keith agreed to the deal though he later said that he thought his vocal was for demo purposes only.

    Seemingly at complete odds with each other, the recording of the Mood Mosaic album, Tomorrow’s ‘My White Bicycle’ and the secret completion of ‘Grocer Jack’ commenced around the same time. The EMI bosses would finally learn of the Teenage Opera when Mark called to Abbey Road to hear the completed first track. Apparently no one at the preview saw the track as releasable.

    The success of ‘Grocer Jack’ came down to its publisher Robbins Music with whom Mark had inappropriately signed a separate deal - a deal which ultimately cost Mark half of the royalties on the song. But publishing details aside, Robbins had excellent contacts and was able to secure airplay for the song. Two months after its release ‘Grocer Jack’ was a number 2 hit, briefly making its producer/writer and its vocalist the toasts of the music business.

    Only two more singles were issued before Mark gave up on the chance of an album release. EMI were never committed to such an idea anyway. But music papers had been anxiously awaiting the Teenage Opera album. In addition, word quickly spread of a Teenage Opera movie starring Cliff Richard (as Jack?). Apparently an animated version of the Opera even got to the pilot stage but that is not yet verified. Failing to deliver the much-touted album, Wirtz was considered a has-been just one year after his rise to stardom. Keith West moved on to lesser heights as well and the writing team on whom the music press had pinned so much hope was no more.


    Teenage Opera session details are hard to track down because all of the related tracks, aside from ‘Sam,’ were recorded under alternate or misleading names. It’s important to understand that while Wirtz and others have laid out what appears to be a clear plan for the Teenage Opera (singles followed by an album etc) things were not quite that way. Mark’s method of working was to record backing tracks around his melodic ideas then to fit the lyrics and vocals in later. So while the Teenage Opera was a real idea in Mark’s mind the tracks he ultimately used could come from anywhere. The only recording officially done for the Opera was ‘Sam’ and that was because EMI backed the song after the first single was a hit. There were never enough backing tracks available for an album.

    What follows is an attempt to document every recording that has been thought to fall under the Teenage Opera umbrella. Most of the songs on RPM’s ‘Teenage Opera Soundtrack’ have been left off this list because they are not connected to the Opera except in spirit (though technically it is possible that had Mark been granted permission to do an album he would allocated some of the tracks accordingly). Mark has consistently maintained that only three songs represent his vision for the Teenage Opera: the A-sides of the three singles. My information is based on various recent articles, session recordings on acetate, contemporary press accounts and interviews with Mark Wirtz, John Carter, Clem Cattini and Peter Eden:

    1. Theme from a Teenage Opera (B-side of Grocer Jack) - the first track in the chronology of the Opera but never, according to Mark, intended to be part of the final concept. In fact the existence of a vocal version of the song (on the RPM CD ‘The Fantastic Story of Mark Wirtz’) indicates that it was recorded relatively early in 1967. In its final form ‘Theme’ is considered by Wirtz to be a throwaway B-side. Apparently, it gained its name only later when a B-side was needed for ‘Grocer Jack’. Steve Howe plays the lead guitar on the track and contrary to popular belief this is the only Opera related track on which Howe appears. Howe’s guitar, the mandolins and balalaika were added later. Despite Wirtz’s feelings about the track it’s certainly a strong number melodically and the production is excellent. A fairly sloppy re-recorded version of the song was later issued on LP and at the end of the RPM Teenage Opera CD.

    2. Excerpt from a Teenage Opera - as mentioned previously, the instrumental track was recorded under the name Mood Mosaic. Though ‘Sam’ would present more complications in editing, ‘Grocer Jack’ has at least three distinct sections, one of which has Wirtz doing his best Motown impersonation (evident in the section starting with "his arms and legs don’t feel so strong"). Existing recordings show that the rhythm section and keyboards were recorded live, followed by percussion overdubs. At least three more sessions would include orchestra and vocal overdubs. Though Wirtz has claimed that his use of mandolin and balalaika were influenced by Russian classical and dance music, the string band he used was from a local restaurant. More than likely the roots of his influence lie in this eating establishment - a much better story, I think. Exactly who played on the track is unclear, but Clem Cattini was the drummer. Vocalists included The Ivy League, The Ladybirds and Peter Lee Stirling. Jim Sullivan and/or Vic Flick were more than likely the guitarists and Mark believes that Russ Stableford played bass. The children’s chorus was made up of students from the Corona School (a performing arts school in London) and Charmain (sic?) Clark, after whom Mark’s first daughter is named, sings one part of the kiddy duet toward the end of the song. Mark claims to have paid the Corona School out of his own pocket, Keith claims the kid’s vocals were his idea and Geoff Emerick says that they were fed milk and cookies. Wirtz made a stereo mix of the song, probably in anticipation of it being on an album. That stereo mix is on the RPM Teenage Opera CD.

    3. Sam - roughly the same history and musicians as ‘Grocer Jack’ but session recordings indicate even more percussion overdubs, which were later mixed down or totally removed. The heavy use of percussion had been a Wirtz trademark since 1964 and it sounds like Mark wanted to recreate his old sound. Sample edits of the backing tracks show that the sections were originally considered to be in a different order. The music papers of the day have Wirtz covertly recording train sounds at railway yards. He did in fact record the church bells at The Dom in his hometown of Cologne, Germany. The 4th Central Holloway Brownies Pack sings the children’s chorus this time because, according to Mark, The Corona School was not interested in participating. The issue may have come down to money. It is unclear as to whether the Brownies required milk and cookies. Lyrics printed on the promotional picture sleeve show a spoken word section with a girl (singer Penny Gold) asking Keith if Sam will come back. Promotional copies of the single had no B-side because the original B-side had been rejected (see below). Promo copies also contained a slip warning DJs of the track’s length. Wirtz later edited ‘Sam’ for radio play when it became evident that it was too long. Copies of those edits appear to have been hastily pressed. Advanced publicity claimed that Sam took 80 hours to record but Mark says that this is rubbish. In any case, publicists seemed please to announce that EMI were concerned about the cost to make the record. As with ‘Grocer Jack,’ Wirtz made a stereo mix but the location of that mix is unknown. He claims that the stereo version on RPM’s Teenage Opera CD is too sloppy to be his work. It is in fact quite sloppy. Interestingly, the Beatles’ ‘Hello Goodbye,’ which was released around the same time as ‘Sam,’ was EMI’s first single to be issued in a stereo version.

    4. Possum’s Dance (B-side of (He’s Our Dear Old) Weatherman) - according to Wirtz this track was recorded at the end of the ‘Sam’ sessions while the mandolin and balalaika players were still around. It’s possible that the main track was recorded even earlier as Mood Mosaic. Again, despite its charming melodic qualities, Mark considers this to be a throwaway B-side.

    5. Paranoiac Woodcutter’s Theme - the first reported B-side to Sam was this instrumental that would later form the foundation for ‘(He’s Our Dear Old) Weatherman.’ It’s unclear whether the song was even recorded around the same time as ‘Sam’ and Wirtz claims the title was a joke name on the session sheets - his obvious Disney influence at work. The name "Paranoiac Woodcutter" was actually released to the press in 1967 but in recent writings Wirtz uses the word "Paranoid" instead. The subtle but more dramatic "Paranoiac" is really a classic Wirtzian tendency.

    6. Children’s interviews with Tim Rice - the second Mark Wirtz idea for the B-side to ‘Sam’ was to have kids being interview on various topics. Papers quoted Mark as saying that the interviews would address the kids at an adult level with the hope of gaining their perspective on various serious topics. The interviews were conducted apparently with the girls in the ‘Sam’ Brownie troupe but EMI rejected the idea for the B-side. It’s somewhat frustrating that the tapes have not been located - if attempts have even been made.

    7. Thimble Full of Puzzles (B-side to Sam) - a Mood Mosaic track and a big let down given the previously proposed idea.

    8. (He’s Our Dear Old) Weatherman - the backing track is the result of the Paranoiac Woodcutter sessions. Wirtz claims that he gave up the search for a suitable vocalist but its possible he didn’t try all that hard sensing that he needed to get the track out fast. It can be argued that no other vocalist could have performed it as well as Mark. One existing backing track shows that the rhythm section was recorded live with timed sections of silence left for the orchestral overdubs. During the first silence Wirtz can be heard laughing hysterically. The main features of the instrumental track are the prominent accordion and the heavy percussion - again played by Clem Cattini. The children’s vocals were performed by the Irish kiddy folk act The O’Briens, with whom Mark recorded one single. The song contains a mildly insulting in-joke directed at the much-hated studio manager Alan Stagge (referred to as Staggice in the song). It seems that no stereo version of the track exists, evidence that Wirtz realized his Teenage Opera album was dead.

    9. Little Canoe - apparently the working title of an intended Teenage Opera track. Wirtz now claims that he may have invented the title - or at least its connection to the Teenage Opera - to appease Opera fanatics. However, an acetate from the Teenage Opera period exists with the word "Canoe" on it. The track is too embryonic to indicate whether or not it would have been suitable for the Opera. Wirtz has alternately claimed that this recording formed the foundation for another planned Opera track called ‘The Sad Story of Simon and His Bugle.’

    10. Two’s Company, Three Thousand’s a Crowd - a comedy record conceived by Mark during his Teenage Opera period but in no way connected to the project. The recording has a couple (Tim Rice and Samantha Jones) making love, only to be interrupted by an ever-growing crowd of people who break into a song aptly titled ‘What Goes Up, Must Come Down’ [come to think of it, on paper the idea sounds rather funny]. The idea of the crowd entering the room has a striking resemblance to The Beatles later recording of the ‘Hey Jude’ chorus, an irony not lost on Wirtz. The full recording of ‘Two’s Company’ has not surfaced but a partial version is hidden at the end of CD 1 of ‘The Fantastic Story.’ A re-recorded version of ‘What Goes Up’ was later released under the name Cellophane Mop.

    11. The Sad Story of Simon and His Bugle - a completed backing track under this title appears on ‘The Fantastic Story of Mark Wirtz.’ However, that track was probably made after Mark left EMI. Unlike other Opera tracks was recorded completely live and was not recorded at Abbey Road. It does have a distinct Opera quality to it but for Wirtz it’s a fairly ordinary arrangement. It also lacks the multiple sections that have come to distinguish the three Opera singles. The opening segment the track on ‘Fantastic Story’ was used on ‘The Song I Sing’ from Wirtz’s solo album Balloon. Later Mark added vocals and used the full track as ‘The Chug-a-lug Song’ on his unreleased recording TEMPO. It seems likely that ‘Sad Simon’ was never recorded and even Mark admits that the idea may have been a last ditch effort to revive the Teenage Opera. Mark says that he had intended to recruit Cliff Richard as lead vocalist on ‘Sad Simon.’


    By the middle of 1968 Wirtz had formed his own production company claiming that he needed to regain his artistic freedom. Not surprisingly, given the number of personal dilemmas in Mark’s life, the departure from EMI coincided with the break up of his marriage to Ross Hannaman.

    From late in 1968 through 1969, Mark recorded one Teenage Opera cash-in single (‘Daddie is a Baddie’) for CBS, a handful of bubblegum tracks and a fantastic album with Kris Ife under the name Judd. He produced a stack of decent pop singles and was asked by Paul McCartney to produce Grapefruit, the results of which remain unreleased. With lyricist Chas Mills he announced to the press that he had invent a new musical production style called "satangelic" (we’ll save that story for later!). But everything he did failed. In 1970, he convinced Less Reed to back a concept album called ‘Philwit and Pegasus.’ Despite decent reviews and obvious links to the Teenage Opera the record sold very few copies.

    Moving to America, he signed a contract with Capitol Records and flew back to the UK to record his first solo album ‘Balloon’ at Apple Studios. The record showed that Mark still had a knack for excellent arrangements and the ties to The Teenage Opera are still apparent. But despite consistently good reviews the album did not sell. After one last solo album, ‘Hothouse Smiles,’ Wirtz changed his name to Marc Peters and focused almost exclusively on arranging until 1981 when he left the music business.

    But the three Opera singles stand today as tour de forces of production and musical arrangement. They have never been successfully imitated. While there is a distinct dividing line between the people who like the songs and those who hate them, there is no doubt that almost every radio listener in the UK over the age of about 45 remembers ‘Grocer Jack.’ There is also no doubt that the story of the grocer who dies unappreciated, is partially autobiographical and that the crazy engineer behind Glory is really Mark Wirtz with kids in tow.
  10. willy

    willy hooga hagga hooga

    That was a brilliant read! Thanks for that, mafru2!
  11. Gazman

    Gazman Active Member

    6. Children’s interviews with Tim Rice - the second Mark Wirtz idea for the B-side to ‘Sam’ was to have kids being interview on various topics.

    Didn't Mark Wirtz marry Time Rice's ex-girlfriend...the gorgeous Ross Hannaman?

    Fans of orchestral 60's pop should check out '1969', an early Lloyd-Webber-Rice effort sung by Ross Hannaman. I think it's a great record.

    I'll definitely have to get that double cd. I have the 'Teenage Opera' cd which I really enjoy.
  12. mark f.

    mark f. Forum Resident

    Thanks Willy!

    Gazman - Yes, Mark swept Ross Hannaman away from Tim. She did two records with Rice and Lloyd-Webber. One of the guys I interviewed was David Daltrey of Tales of Justine told me that Lloyd-Webber was glued to Wirtz. By the way, Ross did two singles with the team. By pure chance I found this promo copy of one of the single that was from Tim Rice's personal collection:

    View attachment 59522

    View attachment 59523
  13. Chris M

    Chris M Senior Member

    Baton Rouge, LA
    Wow. Thanks for posting that Mark. Fascintaing. Grocer Jack is one of my favorite tracks ever. I tear up everytime the kids start singing :laugh: BTW, where is the best place to get Grocer Jack on CD?
  14. mark f.

    mark f. Forum Resident

    Chris - I think the best source is the mono version on either "Hits of 1967" (Music for Pleasure) or the See For Miles "Great British Psych Trip 3." Any early EMI source is better than the sound of the RPM, I think. Don't remember what appeared on Rubble but those tracks should be fairly unmessed with as well.
  15. mark f.

    mark f. Forum Resident

  16. mark f.

    mark f. Forum Resident

  17. Jamie Tate

    Jamie Tate New Member

    Whoa! Very cool Mark! Thanks so much!
  18. Mike the Fish

    Mike the Fish Señor Member Thread Starter

    Very interesting. Were the acetates used declicked for the Soundtrack CD? Nice to hear the clicks of authenticity. It's makes it all the more exciting to hear something so historical.

    Interesting to hear the second arrangement of Sam - which is my favourite single of the three - it's that horn finish that really does it for me and the obvious complexity of the finished piece. I'm glad he went with the first arrangement you posted. I am told that Grocer Jack is made from 24 bits of tape!
  19. Mike the Fish

    Mike the Fish Señor Member Thread Starter

    Are the mono mixes of Grocer Jack and Sam on CD free of that harsh limiting? I played Sam on hospital radio last night and there was a very clear peak on the record - particularly as it approached the end. By the way - the stereo mix of Grocer Jack is longer than the mono mix but I'm not sure where the longer bit is.
  20. Thanks for those samples Mark! It's hard not to sing along to the instrumental tracks! :laugh:

    I love those flutes in "Sam" that come in at 2:16, I wish they were on one of the acetates :agree:
  21. mark f.

    mark f. Forum Resident

    The soundtrack has just a selection of what I posted so they are either declicked or edited. I was going to do some edits but decided that I liked them just the way they are. I'm also assuming the CD has a good bit of EQ and noise reduction so you're getting to hear the raw file on my clips.

    It is interesting to hear the way Mark arranged the sections of Sam - the clips are different as you observe. I know that Geoff Emerick has said that Grocer Jack has a lot of edits but I don't think that's right. It may have a couple but that was a Mood Mosaic recording at birth and a lot of it would have been done live. Sam was clearly done in sections and then edited. But still I don't hear a lot of editing despite what Geoff says. What the acetates show is that Mark is remembering correctly that the end section, with the Christmas theme, was an after thought and edited on after a lot of recording was done. There was supposed to be a spoken section with Keith talking to a little girl about Sam. That never got recorded but the words to that section are on the promo picture sleeve posted here.

    What Geoff did tell me that seems plausible is that Mark did so many percussion overdubs that they had to bring the orchestra back in. Again, I think this was on Sam.

    My quess is that Mark made the acetates to listen to the percussion and to decide on the final arrangement of the sections. I love those flutes too but they must have been added later. I'd love to hear a complete instrumental backing track. Odd how mixed back the percussion became in the end. It's clearly there but not half as wild as the way it sounds on those acetates.
  22. mark f.

    mark f. Forum Resident

    I'm not exactly sure of what you mean by harsh limiting. The mono mixes are fantastic but the best sounding version of each song (aside from the records) is on the Hits of 1967 where the are not maximized and seem like straight transfers of the tape. The Keith West "Group Sessions" CD on RPM has the mono tracks but they have heavy-handed EQ and I think some NR. The stereo versions are more airy but my preference is the mono where you get all of the sound and the punch of Abbey Road. If you're not a fan of mono then you'll probably disagree.
  23. Mike the Fish

    Mike the Fish Señor Member Thread Starter

    Have you got the 7"s for the TO singles? There's a lot of limiting going on there. I gather this was at the single mastering stage and not on the original mix. I do like the airiness of the stereo mixes (and the fact they sound so much better than the singles - at least for the first two) but Mark has said that the mono mix (in the absence of his stereo mix) is the definitive one. If the Hits of 67 are without the heavy limiting I would possibly consider picking those up.
  24. Mike the Fish

    Mike the Fish Señor Member Thread Starter

    I can also understand why RPM faded up at least one of the Grocer Jack out takes now. Was the skip on the acetate irrepairible? Do you know who cut them at all?
  25. mark f.

    mark f. Forum Resident

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