BAUHAUS: THE BELA SESSION
Bauhaus is a four-piece post-punk band from Northampton, England. The band is comprised of Kevin Haskins (drums), Daniel Ash (guitar), David J (bass), and Peter Murphy (vocals) and was formed in 1978. Although best known as a gothic rock group, the band experimented with many types of music including dub, glam rock, psychedelia, and funk. Bauhaus’, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” is considered the original gothic rock anthem and a launch pad for the genre. Originally released as a 12-inch single in August 1979 by Small Wonder Records, this single has had a huge influence on both contemporary music and popular culture.
“Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, along with four other songs, will be released on November 23rd, on Leaving Records, and distributed by Stones Throw. “The Bela Session” documents the first time Bauhaus recorded together on January 26th, 1979. This will be the first ever release of that recording session, containing three previously unreleased songs. The track list includes: “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” “Some Faces” previously unreleased, “Bite My Hip” previously unreleased and later re-recorded as “Lagartija Nick” in 1983, “Harry” later released as a B-side in 1982, “Boys” previously unreleased; later re-recorded and released as the B-side of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”. The EP will be issued on 180 gram white vinyl (ltd. 1000) and 180 gram Black vinyl; Printed inner sleeve with facsimile of the recording session's tape box; 20 x 20-inch poster of the original "Bela" 12-inch cover.
I sat down with Bauhaus drummer, Kevin Haskins, and discussed the back stories of song writing, smoke filled recording studios, and how to edit records with razor blades.
What lead you to reissue this single as an EP?
Kevin: The idea came from a fine chap called, Andrew Brooksbank. He’s a very big fan of the band, and our official Bauhaus archivist. He has a big collection of memorabilia and writes the sleeve notes for most of the official re-releases on Beggars Banquet. When I was writing my book, Bauhaus Undead, he was a huge help to me so we were in contact a lot. One of the things he provided was a timeline of all our tours, recording sessions, T.V. appearances, and radio interviews. He has a very in-depth understanding of the band, and was extremely helpful in the making of my book. A few months after it was released we were emailing each other and he suggested we release the entire recordings from the day that we recorded “Bela Lugosi's dead”. He said it would be the holy grail for Bauhaus fans and I just thought it was a brilliant idea. I couldn’t understand why we hadn’t thought of it before!
What was the process behind recording the single, “Bela Lugosi's dead”?
Kevin: It was such a long time ago, but I can recall some stand out moments. The session was probably three or four hours long and the main idea was to record “Bela” and a B side to shop around in order to get our first release. So, we recorded, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, and chose a track called, “Boys” for the B side. Once those two songs were down, we had some time left over so the studio owner and sound engineer, Derek Tompkins, suggested we record a few more songs. We just bashed them out without any overdubs; it was very much like we were playing them live. Those extra songs were “Harry”, “Bite My Hip”, and “Some Faces”. “Harry” got released on a Beggars Banquet compilation. “Some Faces,” “Bite My Hip,” and the original version of “Boys” that we recorded that day have never been released.
Thank god Derek Tompkins was there…
Kevin: He was a wonderful guy, very intuitive and smart. I always felt, Derek was Bauhaus’ George Martin. He was much older than us and not privy to or influenced by any sort of fashionable aspects or sounds. I think that was really key. He would come in with a very pure desire to simply make us sound the best we could.
I remember he always wore carpet slippers, like Mr. Rogers, he’d come with shoes on but when he arrived at the studio, he’d change so he would be comfortable. Derek used to chain smoke. He would often times have a cigarette stuck in his mouth while mixing and we’d watch as it burned into this comically long piece of ash and wait for it to drop between the faders on the desk. Eventually it would, and he’d shout, “Oh damn it!” and get this huge can of spray and spray it all over the desk. (Kevin mimics the sound of a spray can.) We would all smoke in the control room too. After about an hour or so of mixing, we could hardly see each other, it was like the London fog! Derek would suggest a break to clear the air. He had this huge industrial fan and he’d open the doors on both sides of the studio and use the fan to blow out all the smoke.
Can you tell me more about the two other unreleased songs?
Kevin: “Bite My Hip” was re-recorded, re-named, and re-written after we had a hit with “Ziggy Stardust.” Our record company was desperate for us to come out with another single. We didn’t have much time and someone had the idea to re-work the music from “Bite My Hip,” which we did and we called it, “Lagartija Nick.” “Some Faces” remains as it is and was never released. If you were to play it to hard core Bauhaus fans, I don’t think they would ever guess it was a song by us. It sounds like a poppy, new wave song from the late 70’s. It’s very light and bouncy with a very cheerful vibe.
The EP is really interesting to me, because you can hear some sounds from previous groups that we were in. Surprisingly, we’d instantly found our voice with “Bela” but with, “Harry” and in particular, with “Some Faces” they could have been songs from the band: The Craze, which was Daniel, David, Dave Exton and yours truly. With “Harry”, you can clearly hear our love of Ska music.
Is there a story behind the song, “Bela Lugosi's dead”?
Kevin: There’s one thing burnt into my memory from that day. We’d written “Bela” about five weeks before and it was our first rehearsal with my brother, David. We’d had a previous bass player but I felt that David was instrumental to the band. Bauhaus was Daniel’s idea so he wanted it to be his vision and he was worried David would change that, but in the end he relented. The first rehearsal that David came to, he brought with him the lyrics to “Bela” and it happened immediately, like magic. We just started playing it. I was thinking, “well what should I play to this?” A few years prior, I had learned the Bossa Nova beat so I figured I should just play that and it all just instantly worked. After we ran through it the first time, we all looked at each other and said, “Oh my God, this is amazing!” I think we decided to run through it one more time but then leave it alone. We were worried if we kept re-working it, we might lose the essence of it. When we recorded it, it was maybe the third or fourth time we’d played it. We knew it was really special.
The released version is nine and a half minutes long but if you can believe it, the original version was three minutes longer, but we decided that was a bit self indulgent. So we said to our producer, “What are we going to do Derek?” and he said, in his wonderful stutter, “Don’t worry lads, I’ll be back in just a moment”. He left the studio and when he came back he had this little silver thing in his hand. It looked like a razor blade that you’d shave with. Now, in the mix, Daniel had tripped all these amazing delays on the drums and guitar very spontaneously, and this is something that you couldn’t re-create. So we were all hypersensitive to how precious this mix was. So when Derek took the tape, and his hand started to descend with this razor, we all jumped and yelled for him to stop! And he was like, “What?” and we were all, “You’re not going to cut it, are you?” and he said, “Yeah. I’m going to edit it out, don’t worry. I’ve done this one million bleeding times!” He actually did a great edit. I can hear where it is now, because there’s so much delay. It’s pretty difficult to edit something with that much delay, but he was very clever with the way he did it.
I know Bauhaus’ 40th anniversary is coming up, was that taken into account when choosing a date for this reissue?
Kevin: It’s just a coincidence but it’s nice that we can time it with that.
Are there any plans for a Bauhaus reunion?
Kevin: Well right now, it doesn’t look likely that will happen. However, I’ve learned to never say never.
Great, well thank you so much. I really enjoyed this.
Kevin: Me too, thank you!