Caruso, Luciano Pavarotti

I’ve had the great good fortune to work with some of the best pop and rock artists in the world over the course of my career, but an even more unusual privilege was the chance to work on a recording for one of opera’s greatest ever stars, Luciano Pavarotti.

Thoughts of opera and world-renowned tenors were a long way from my thoughts when I first started out in the business. But I’d been working on a production for record company Decca with crossover/classical singer Hayley Westenra at the time, and one of the heads of A&R, Jean-Hugues Allard, was putting together a new album for the legendary Pavarotti, comprised of some of the man’s most well-loved songs.

Decca were extremely keen to get a new version of the famous, ‘Caruso’. And Jean-Hugues had an excellent recording of Luciano which they wanted to base a new version around – but nobody could find a multi-track version of it anywhere within the record label’s archives.

The great man was living back in Italy then, ageing and enjoying ordinary life among friends, and was reluctant to go back into the studio.

One of Decca’s A&R people came down to the studio with a CD and asked me to have a listen to the song. She asked me if there was any way we could get the vocal from it in isolation. Nowadays there is a way, but at the time there wasn’t, so I said ‘no’, but let me think about it…

Lying in bed overnight it occurred to me that the way the recording had been done – with Luciano’s voice so loud in the track, and the keyboard player and musicians more or less swelling in and out in between – it might just be possible to edit the piece into small blocks. From the first part of the transient where he started singing to where it ended, it might be possible to cut in and out, sample and re-order the pieces. Possibly, we could get away with putting a new arrangement around it – without anyone really noticing the original.

I turned up at the studio the next morning determined to try it – and found that it worked! And it sounded really good. Together with friends Mark Jaimes and Danny Saxon we developed it a little, built an arrangement till the end of the first chorus, and I called the A&R team and told them I’d be sending a bike around (this was pre-large email files!) with an idea I had.

I got a very excited call back; Jean-Hugues wanted to come straight over to hear it – and from that point they commissioned me to do the track.

With access to a generous budget, they wanted to use the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – and utilising my new found love of orchestral arranging I set about writing parts for them, asking my very good friend David Whitaker to conduct.

Running in tandem with this was the fact that I was working with Jeff Beck on a second album for him at the time. Jeff asked to hear what else I was up to, and when he heard it he flipped – he loved it and wanted to play on the track immediately.

I called Decca and told them about it, and they were totally thrilled. It’s generally so hard to get Jeff to play on anything that it was incredible he was so adamant that he wanted to do it.

A night or two later he turned up at nine o’clock at the studio – all by himself, with just his guitar in one hand and his amp in the other. He played on the track and it sounded really fantastic. The production was really starting to develop and everybody at Decca was excited.

After that first session, Jeff told me he wanted to come in and do a second session, he hadn’t felt that he’d done his best – so we did another one, which was even better.

With everything finished, we booked a mix for the track in studio E at Metropolis – and on the morning of the day in question I got another call from Jeff wanting to come in again! I told him that he couldn’t, it was mix day – but he didn’t care he said he’d play as the mix was going down – so, I let him do it. And he came in and played again, and this time it was even better.

When it was finally finished, everybody was thrilled with it. Jean-Hugues took it over to Italy to play it to Luciano – and he called me from the train on the way back to tell me that the great man loved it and had had a smile from ear to ear when he heard it; and that he loved what Jeff had done.

The album, ‘Ti Adoro’ was highly successful, and many people hearing the combination of Pavarotti, Caruso and Jeff Beck within that arrangement have told me how much they love it. James Last, leader of the eponymous orchestra even called up asking if he could do a version of the song based on my version. But the wonderful thing was to work on a production for one of the greatest singers of modern times. I hope I played a small part in furthering his legacy. It’s a track that means a lot to me, and I’ll always cherish having done it.