Steve McFirst – the January 1985 Acetate

Steve_McQueen_Acetate.JPGI hesitated before posting this, because as a rule I don’t like to upload commercially available material which this is to a degree. but because of the significance of this album in the history of Prefab Sprout I’m making an exception. I’m pretty sure everyone reading this site  will have bought a copy many years ago.

First of all, a word about terminology. “Acetate” is a much overused term and can be applied to test pressings and even CD-R advance copies, but true acetates are created as a test step in the mastering process of vinyl records, or as a basis for creating stampers via electroplating. They are usually metal disks with lacquer coating which is cut using a mastering lathe. They’re not a robust medium and are easily damaged just by playing them.

Mastering vinyl is a bit of a black art, and requires skill and judgement to trade off duration against dynamic range, avoiding “loud” grooves being too close to adjacent points in the spiral. In the case of this acetate, the work seems to have been about testing the mastering: it was presented in a sleeve for listening, and certainly isn’t a master for a pressing. The mix is largely as we know it; there will be mostly mastering differences around dynamics and equalisation.

So that’s the background, now for the music. This is an acetate of side 1 of Steve McQueen – all I have – from January 22nd, 1985. The track order is different, with “When Love Breaks Down” moved to the end of the side, and the significance is that this was the first time Steve McQueen was committed to record – or at least as far as we know.

The master wasn’t deemed satisfactory, and the work was transferred elsewhere for the final release.

You’ll hear a high pitched whining in the background: this is on the disk, and there’s a little bit of distortion on the vocals on the “ssss” sounds which is also as it came out of the grooves. I played the acetate once and once only and it’s never being played again, a very fraught process but necessary to find out what was there!

So sit back, put yourself in Paddy’s 1985 shoes, and listen to the music coming off a disk as if for for the first time. Must have been a wonderful experience.

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