World of music mourns mixing desk genius Mudd Wallace
A sold-out audience at a Belfast pantomime yesterday paid tribute to one of the most influential figures on the Northern Irish music scene, Mudd Wallace, who has died after over 30 years of producing records for our top stars.
The matinee performance of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House was dedicated to Mudd, who produced singles and albums for everyone from Van Morrison, The 4 of Us, Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell and Larne alternative rock band Therapy? to the Northern Ireland World Cup football team of 1986.
During the pantomime, May McFettridge read out a message from musicians in the orchestra pit, which was greeted by a sustained round of applause from the audience.
Saxophone player Kevin Lawless said: "We wanted to honour Mudd in our own special way. He was a complete one-off and a real stalwart who worked with rock, country and traditional Irish musicians."
Mudd - real name Shaun Wallace - ran his own Homestead studios in Randalstown from the 80s to 2002, before opening up new facilities in Conway Mill in west Belfast.
The producer, who was diabetic, had been plagued by a number of other illnesses and was admitted to hospital in Antrim earlier this month, although he told friends he was looking forward to getting out and returning to a number of record projects.
Yesterday, Joby Fox, who was part of Belfast cult group Energy Orchard in the 80s, described Mudd as "a genius and a legend with a big heart".
Joby added: "I'm totally gutted. I knew Mudd had had ongoing health problems, but this is heartbreaking news.
"He was a professional to his fingertips. He trained in sound with the BBC in London and I have no doubt that if he'd stayed in England he'd have become one of the top record producers in the world.
"But he came home and anybody who is anybody recorded with him. And there has been an astonishing amount of goodwill for Mudd and support for him in recent times when he wasn't so well."
Joby first worked with Mudd 34 years ago.
"I was a roadie for a group called Uncle Waldo, and Mudd's recording place was out the back of a shop. He later installed top-of-the-range, world-class recording equipment," he said.
In their early days, Energy Orchard recorded with Mudd, and their singer Bap Kennedy - who went on to play with the likes of Van Morrison and American singer Steve Earle - forged a close friendship with the producer.
Kennedy's album Let's Start Again was recorded last year with Mudd.
Kennedy described him as a true master of the mixing desk and said that meeting up with him to record his latest album had been a great experience and a pleasure.
Mudd's move to west Belfast was encouraged by Joby, who said the producer was excited at the prospect of the opening of the Mouth Recording Studio, which also spawned a record label of the same name.
Joby recorded his latest album End of the War with Mudd. "It was a fantastic experience,"he said. "He had the 'ear' and when sound was a mystery for everyone else, Mudd just got it sorted."
The singer added the producer's death would leave a huge void in the music business here.
Mudd's most high-profile successes were with the Larne band Therapy?. He produced their debut single Meat Abstract in 1990, and a subsequent mini-album Babyteeth went to number one in the indie chart before the band were signed by A&M Records, though Mudd was to work with them again through the years.
In a statement on their Facebook page, Therapy? wrote: "Very sad to hear of the passing of NI music legend Mudd Wallace. He was a huge presence on the local scene and a big part of the fledgling Therapy? recording career."
The band said he was the only local producer to encourage and foster their more "esoteric sonic ideas" like heavily distorted guitars, but he always kept a sense of fun and adventure in the studio.
The statement added: "One of a kind, thank you for sending us down the right sonic path, Mudd. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time."
Mudd also produced a number of early singles for Lisburn band Sweet Savage, whose guitarist Vivian Campbell now plays with one of the world's top rock groups, Def Leppard.
But friends said the producer could and would turn his hand to just about anything.
On a sleepy Sunday in February 1986, he engineered a number of songs for the Northern Ireland football team who had qualified for the World Cup finals in Mexico.
I was part of the back-up choir who sang along with the likes of Pat Jennings, Jim Platt, Gerry Armstrong and Jimmy Nicholl on never-to-be-remembered songs like Come On Northern Ireland (We'll Support You Evermore), Bingham's Boys and Here We Go.
Mudd showed tremendous patience above and beyond the call of duty as the players and their guests struggled to find their voices, or a right note.
The record did not trouble the chart-compilers, but last year pictures from a report which I had compiled for ITN about the recording session in Randalstown found their way onto a programme called Epic Fails, and Mudd was seen behind the recording desk.
However, most of his other recording efforts were far more successful.
Radio presenter and musician Johnny Hero said: "Mudd paved the way for others to follow and helped untold numbers of our local musos."
One such man is Seamus O'Neill, who runs an entertainment agency in Belfast but was a member of a band called Bankrobbers in the 80s.
He said: "Mudd was a top, top man. I first met him when he recorded a backing track for our group for an appearance on the Channel 4 programme The Tube. He made it all seem so easy.
"I worked with him for years when I was running bands like Shoot the Crow.
"And when I was acting as a talent scout for English record companies in London, Mudd always kept me in touch with what was happening here.
"He had a great ability to spot a new band. But he knew his music and he was also a talented guitarist in his own right."
At one point in Randalstown, Mudd expanded his recording studio to include accommodation, so that musicians could stay overnight.
And Seamus said: "You'd go to bed for a kip and then you'd wake up hours later and hear Mudd still mixing the tracks in the studio. He'll be sorely missed."