The Soup Dragons – making the Lovegod album and recording I’m Free with a gospel choir

The Year Is 1990…

…and I had had some success, by the age of 21 moving up from assistant engineer to engineering Coldcut and Yazz hits for Big Life Records. Yazz’s ‘The Only Way Is Up’ had been number one for five weeks. Meanwhile, the label’s indie guitar band the Soup Dragons had embarked on recording a new album with producer Nick Tauber. The record was finished, but the Soups were unhappy with the results, which sounded fairly unadventurous. Frontman Sean Dickson had other (brilliant) ideas – there had been a ground-breaking downtempo dance remix of the band’s ‘Mother Universe’ the previous year which set something of a template. This was long before the Stone Roses released their debut album, and before Primal Scream had even met Andy Weatherall, despite many later accusations that the Soup Dragons jumped on their bandwagon. With my Coldcut dance music credentials, along with my love of guitars and rock, I was brought in to help. I was engineering, and also programming drums, percussion and loops with my Atari computer and Akai sampler. In a very short space of time we had re-recorded many of the overdubs, some of the vocals, replaced drums with breakbeats and programmed percussion, and added a few unusual ‘found’ sounds. This was done over a series of three or four weekends in the smaller Studio 2 at Livingston – we were working to a tiny budget, but we worked fast and Sean had a very clear vision. It was often just the two of us working together. The album was readied for release. Jack ‘Jacko’ Adams mastered it at Tape One – and later flattered me: “It sounded great; I cut it flat,” (meaning my mixes needed no overall EQ or tonal changes) and it hit the shops. Fans bought it, but it garnered little attention in the mainstream.

I’m Free – How we did it:

Then came the idea of recording a cover of the Rolling Stones’ fairly obscure spirited (but slightly feeble sounding) B-side “I’m Free”. Sean suggested a drum loop around which to base the groove, and said he wanted it to have a “really gospelly feel”. I said, ‘Well, let’s get a gospel choir in then’, perhaps not realising how expensive that was. They were booked in for the following week, despite some hesitancy from the label. We laid down the backing track on analogue 24 track tape with the drum loop, (making it about nine and a half minutes long – a ready-made 12″ extended mix) and in collaboration with Sean I added programmed percussion etc. We had about 30 of the London Community Gospel Choir turn up in to the larger Livingston Studio 1. And pretty much the entire staff of Big Life (it seemed) arrived to witness the session. I think they wanted to make sure we didn’t go over the allotted 3 hours Musicians’ Union session – I think if it had gone on a minute longer, we’d be charged double! I suggested harmonies at the piano, singing parts to them, as well as running around setting up mics, headphone mixes, and recording them. We got them doing handclaps and some terrific improvised bits, and really made the most of their talents!

Junior Reid

Junior Reid (formerly of Black Uhuru) had been courted by the Soup Dragons’ label Big Life. He had collaborated on sessions I’d done with Coldcut, and I later engineered some sessions for a solo album with Dave Dorrell producing – I think some of the tracks came out on his Progress album – I don’t think I got a credit, and never got a copy! Reid popped down to Livingston Studios to do the reggae toasting (he was a sweet a character – see tweets below!) I programmed the clavinet riff, all the drums and invented the little snare fill that brings the track in.  We recorded guitars with Jim. He’s a great guitarist but I remember suggesting one of the blues licks to him, showing him how to play it. And as he struggled a bit with the wah-wah pedal I used the trick of doing the wah-wah afterwards with a GML EQ unit, sweeping the frequency knob to create the wah effect. Hearing my first rough mix, Big Life boss Jazz Summers called me and said he wanted to hear “more of the wacka-wacka sound – it’s a hit sound!” He was right. The single reached number 5 in the UK charts, and the album (re-released with I’m Free included) sold over half a million copies in the US. After we’d finished, the label very kindly offered me a co-production credit, due to the creative input I’d had.


Tim’s Twitter Listening Party for the album was on Thursday June 17th 2021 at 9pm. Here are my contributions from the proceedings…!

1 I’m Free

1/2 The first version of this album was released without I’m Free; we hadn’t recorded it!
Sean told me he imagined it really “gospelly” so I suggested getting the gospel choir in!

2/2 It was expensive – there were about 30 of them. All the management and label came along to the session to make sure it didn’t extend into a second MU session and cost double!

Junior Reid @realjuniorreid was brilliant; I also worked with him on sessions with @Coldcut and his solo album produced by Dave Dorrell.

Junior Reid invariably turned up with a young lady, roll up the most mind-bending enormous spliffs, and was the sweetest, most chilled-out dude ever.

The original multitrack was about 9 minutes long, which made it easy doing the 12” mix! It gave us plenty of scope for getting the choir to improvise.

.@jim_mcculloch ’s fabulous wah-wah guitar was recorded straight, then I bounced it across to another track whilst sweeping an EQ to create the wah-wah effects!

2 Mother Universe

This is different from the version on the first (I’m Free-free) release of the album. Tweaked by Steve Sydelnik and Marius Defries in the studio next door  to where we were working for the second single release

Marius went on to work on some amazing records including Madonna but this didn’t quite hit the dizzy heights of I’m Free in the charts!

3 Backwards Dog

This was pretty much my favourite on the record. Had great fun with the studio tricks on this one with backwards stuff, gating, and programmed loops.

We were working on 24 track analogue tape, with my trusty Akai sampler and Atari ST computer synched up – running Cubase!

4 Softly

Had some fun with the beginning of this track – inspired by a soundtrack album opener from the late 60s.

5 Drive The Pain

Another great song… I programmed the drum loop using my Akai sampler and Atari computer – nothing too complicated there!

6 Lovegod

I kept the sample disks that we used for many years but I think I junked them all a while back. Lots of Bel Flanger on this one!
The spoken bits on this are rather bizarre!

7 Dream-E-Forever

We tracked this one from scratch as a B-side I think. Bit of a Suicide vibe with the drums!

8 Sweetmeat

I programmed the percussion on this I think, using Roland and/or Alesis drum machine samples in my Akai. Probably used the same fake wah-wah trick as on I’m Free here!

9 Kiss The Gun

Some triggered gate fun was had with the guitar on this. I used my Atari Cubase and my Akai sampler to generate a pulse to open the gate in rhythm!

10 Kiss You To Death

We used to layer up drum loops taken from records. They were hard to find. I haven’t listened to this for ages and I’m surprised how good it sounds. I remember the mastering engineer Jack Adams said he cut it flat (i.e. no EQ!)

11 Beauty Freak

The band were between drummers when we were doing the album. Paul Quinn joined (I later worked with him in @TeenageFanclub) and learned to play all the loops for the live shows


I got employed to work on this album after the success I’d had with Yazz, Coldcut and Lisa Stansfield – all Big Life artists. They’d already burned the budget with another producer so we worked weekends in the small studio at @Liv_Studios

When the album got remastered and put up on Spotify some of the extra bonus tracks which had come out as extras on 12” singles had obviously been remastered from the vinyl… No one asked me, but I have digital copies of the original mixes, so they needn’t have done that!

What the Soup Dragons say…

“George always understood the method in my madness back then even though technically I was naive. Always trust those who put their trust in you no matter how much learning is involved in the process.”
Sean Dickson (HiFi Sean)

“The Soup Dragons worked with George over 3 fascinating and exciting years. His innate musicality and peerless technical expertise helped us transform our slightly chaotic kaleidoscopic dreams into solid musical reality with what seemed hardly any effort at all- and always with a patient smile on his face! Thanks again, George !”
Jim McCulloch

“It wasn’t only the golden ears of George Shilling that made it a pleasure working with him during sessions with the Soup Dragons. It’s how he put you at ease in the studio… working as part of the team, he quietly helped steer the ship and facilitate the making of our sonic fruits. A wonderful man. A wizard of sound.”
Sushil Dade

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