‘A Porky Prime Cut’
There’s an interesting new poem by Michael Hofmann in the latest issue of the New Yorker. It’s called “Lisburn Road” and it’s about surveying the scattered detritus of a life. In the final stanza there’s a reference that might be puzzling to some of the magazine’s readers: The ‘Porky Prime Cut’ greetings etched in the lead-off grooves…
The poem has begun with a mention of “A few yards of vinyl records, well thumbed.” The allusion to greetings etched in the run-out grooves (as I would call them) refers to the signature of the cutting engineer who mastered the albums in question. “Porky” was George Peckham, then the finest exponent of his craft in the UK music industry.
Liverpool-born, and a member of the Fourmost before becoming an engineer at the Apple studio in Savile Row, Peckham cut masters in the 1970s at studios on Riding House Street, around the corner from the BBC’s Broadcasting House, and then at IBC in Portland Place, also nearby. He built a reputation and soon, with the record business in full spate, he had more work than he could handle.
When did the habit of etching graffiti into the space around run-out groove begin? Maybe with Phil Spector, who scratched words recording his relationships with his first two wives, Annette Merar and Veronica Bennett, into his 45s. For a while, John Lennon emulated him with a “John and Yoko” message.
“A Porky Prime Cut” was not Peckham’s only signature: “Pecko” and “Pecko Duck” were others. The difference between his marks and those of others was that he was not one of the people who had actually made the music within the grooves, but a technician. For record buyers of a certain level of obsessive interest in the minutiae of the 1970s, they became part of a rich landscape of signs and meanings.
* Michael Hofmann’s “Lisburn Road” appears in the March 6 issue of the New Yorker.
i have a few — and did indeed ‘hold them up to the light…’ –still do sometimes. And there is ‘ remember those pleasant evenings’ on one of them.
HI Porky cut 2 of my band’s lp’s in the mid 80s with run-off writing. The Famous Potatoes on Waterfront Records. Proud to have these little epigrams in his handwriting. best Richard
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Remember doing a radio feature on this in the early 90s. Must go back to the source material to see what I found. In the meantime if anyone wants to talk about the hidden images on the front of John Wesley Harding I won’t be disappointed.
A pal in Kentucky had a Hendrix bootleg LP which said on Side 1’s runout groove, “how to keep a Black Sabbath fan busy for hours? Turn over!”.
When I turned over the platter and read Side 2’s runout groove it said the exact same thing.
I laughed for a good five minutes. 😂
RICHARD, Congratulations on your eagle-eye – such train-spotting is an art form!
George Peckham told me the story over a drink many moons ago. In short, it came about when he was cutting All Things Must Pass for the American label. A know-it-all in the mastering room kept changing the EQ “for the American market”. Test pressings by the US engineer were rejected, Porky recut it with a signature in the run-out groove. When the test pressings appeared without the signature Harrison & Peckham sacked the guy and did it again properly. The full story’s in the ‘run-out groove’ chapter of “One Step Beyond…” (Bloomsbury : 33 1/3rd)
Thanks for reminding me of these, which were fascinating to the 16 year old me. One of the famous ones is, of course, Led Zeppelin III with its references to Aleister Crowley: ‘Do What Thou Wilt’ and ‘So Mote Be It’.
Slightly off topic, but bear with me. I recently discovered a website called Better Records. They offer used vinyl LPs that have been graded according to “sound,” as judged against numerous other pressings of the same record. Red Hot Stampers are offered at prices in the hundreds and there seems to be an active market of (presumably) wealthy audiophiles who are prepared to pay top dollar for a superlative sounding copy of Dark Side of the Moon, or Aqualung, or Tapestry, or (your prog-rock fave here).
I haven’t tested the product, but the premise sounds reasonable to me. A pressed vinyl record will only sound as good as the original cut produced by Peckham and his peers if a) the stamper isn’t worn out, b) the vinyl is top quality, c) the pressing plant is running at peak performance, and d) the final product has been kept clean and undamaged. From what I know of the record business (and music fans) finding a pressing that meets all four conditions by buying “blind” online or at a swap meet is an iffy proposition at best. So most of the records in our collections would not meet the exacting criteria of the Better Records golden ears panel.
Which kind of brings into question the now almost defunct role of the cutting engineer, among others. What does it say about a culture if the best examples of a popular art form are identifiably different from the versions known and loved by millions? And how is it that these wide variations in the quality of a mass-produced art work have gone unremarked for decades by the self-appointed arbiters of popular taste (record reviewers, in case you missed it)?
Does this have anything to with the recent upsurge in sales of new vinyl records? Or is that just a fad? Answers on a postcard, please, to R. Williams, 33 The Cuttings, Keynsham,…..
I’ve had a few things mastered (brilliantly) by Porky’s younger colleague/protege Denis Blackham. It may or may not be well-known but Porky’s nickname arose because he used to be a butcher.
Before the recent trend of naming/crediting mastering engineers on reissues – becoming USPs in many cases – there was a period in the early days of CD when popular titles could go through several printings, a bit like books. I pointed out to Denis recently, when he mentioned a 90s Aqualung mastering job in the context of something else, that there were hordes of people over at (US mastering guy) Steve Hoffmam’s music discussion site speculating at length about audible differences in pre-anniversary-remastering CD versions of Aqualung. Sure enough, Denis did one and recalled having to battle with people at Chrysalis to get better quality audio sources than the ones he had initially been given. I suppose in those days lots of (uncredited) mastering guys bunged out a slightly tweaked version of whatever the label gave them, while others dug their heels in and said, ‘I KNOW you guys have something better than this nth generation copy – go and find it!’
Re: the poem, Richard – does it take its name from Lisburn Road in Belfast (a couple of miles from me). If so, why?
Remember the Fourmost well; didn’t he have a Teddy Bear on the end of his guitar?
It’s always nice when you recognize a fellow traveler (i.e. an obsessed music fan, which Hoffman obviously is) in another venue. Thanks for the tip!
I must own up to being one of those ‘record buyers of a certain level of obsessive interest’. The first thing I did back in the day after buying an LP on the Demon or Edsel label was check the run out groove to see if Porky’s seal of approval appeared there. Prompted by your piece, I’ve been giving play time to my three favourite PPCs – Johnny Copeland’s ‘Copeland Special’, Duke Robillard and the Pleasure Kings ‘Too Hot To Handle’ and the Neville Brothers’ ‘Neville-Ization’. Happy days!
My favourite Porky Prime was “Don’t read this, play it” on the LP “This is Hawkwind, Do Not Panic”.
I started working as a Dj in the RAF in the 1970s and noticed A Porky Prime Cut and many other messages on the run off. When buying my vinyl the run off would be one of the first things I would look at to see if there was anything new. I certainly remember there were a few different ones. I never knew that about Phil Specter or John & Yoko. Sadly CD collectors will never know the joy of looking for a message.