Classic Tracks: George Harrison's "Got My Mind Set on You"

Dec 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson


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George Harrison Cloud Nine CD cover

After George Harrison’s mellow Gone Troppo album bombed upon its release in 1982, the former Beatle all but announced his retirement from the music business, noting that he was going to concentrate on his burgeoning film operation instead. Beginning in 1979, his HandMade Films company helped produce such movies at Monty Python’s Life of Brian, The Long Good Friday, Time Bandits, The Missionary, Mona Lisa and others.

It was working on the soundtrack for HandMade’s most notorious “catastrophe” (as he called it)—the 1986 Madonna/Sean Penn film Shanghai Surprise—that first brought engineer Richard Dodd to the recording studio in Harrison’s 120-room mansion known as Friar Park, in Henley-on-Thames, west of London in Oxfordshire. Harrison wrote a few songs for the film (and appeared briefly in a nightclub scene) and worked closely with composer Michael Kamen on the incidental music.

“Actually, the first time I worked with George was in ’78 when I did string overdubs for him at AIR London for an album he was doing [called George Harrison],” Dodd recalls from his Nashville home. “Then, nothing, until George called a producer I was working with, Mike Moran, who does film music. George was executive producer on Shanghai Surprise and doing the music with Michael Kamen, and Michael brought his engineer to George’s studio and apparently he and George didn’t hit it off. Plus, they wanted to lock picture to sound in this private studio, which was still very complicated in those days. I knew how to do it, so Mike said, ‘You need Richard.’ So I moseyed on over there, and unlike the previous engineer, I didn’t complain about the equipment. I just got on with it.”

Dodd was already a seasoned veteran by this time, having engineered and/or produced many acts since the early ’70s, including Leo Sayer, Clannad and the Little River Band. But getting the call to work with Harrison was certainly a major career step for him. And nothing could have prepared him for the wonderland that was Friar Park: The exotic 19th-century “French Flamboyant Gothic” estate sat on sprawling grounds that included a lake, ponds, underground grottos and caves, cascading waterfalls, meadows, narrow ravines, topiary gardens, a Japanese garden, an Elizabethan garden and even a huge sandstone replica of the Matterhorn built by Friar Park’s eccentric late-19th/early 20th-century owner, a successful barrister named Frank Crisp, immortalized in Harrison’s “The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)” on his Phil Spector–produced masterpiece All Things Must Pass. When Harrison bought the mansion in 1970, it had been owned for many years by an order of nuns, and both the buildings and grounds had gone into decline. He personally restored and designed new gardens—it became his obsession—and also did extensive work on the interior of the palatial home, including putting in a home recording studio on the upper level of one wing during 1971-’72.

“FPSHOT,” as it was listed on album covers (for “Friar Park Studio Henley-on-Thames”), was designed by Eddie Veale. Veale also built a personal recording studio for John Lennon a little earlier; that’s the Ascot studio where Lennon’s Imagine album was cut. Veale had been involved with the London studio scene since the mid-’60s, designing monitor systems, consoles and other gear for Advision, and then branching out from there as an independent. (He still runs the design and acoustics consultancy Veale Associates.)

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