David Tickle (born 5 September 1959) is a British record producer and engineer. As a producer, he is most noted for his work with Split Enz, and in Canada, for his mid-1980s work with Red Rider, Platinum Blonde and Gowan. As an engineer, he has worked on best selling albums by artists such as Blondie and U2; as a mixing engineer, he worked on several hit 1980s releases by Prince.
Tickle was born on 5 September 1959 in Guildford, Surrey, the only son of a university professor father and an artistic mother. By his own account  he was mixing Red Buddha concerts at the age of 16, and mixed three singles for pop-rock quartet Liverpool Express which achieved modest success on British charts in 1976 and 1977.
Through a friend he was introduced to New Zealand band Split Enz and laid down some tracks with them in a Manchester studio in early 1978.
He was hired soon after by Terry Melcher for a job at Ringo Starr's Ringo Records, and appointed the in-house engineer for the label's newly acquired recording facility, Startling Studios, at Tittenhurst Park, John Lennon's former house and studio near Ascot, Berkshire. Tickle helped them convert the studio from 16- to 24-track and lived on-site, later telling one interviewer:
"It was a great mansion, an 82-acre house, I was the only one to live there full time. I lived like a lord. Cooks, maids, the whole thing."
At Startling Studios he produced a further session with Split Enz, recording "I See Red", a punk-influenced single that would become a hit in Australia and New Zealand. Although the band was keen to have Tickle produce their third album, Frenzy, they were overruled by their Australian management, who wanted a more experienced producer. American Mallory Earl was drafted in for the album. The band would always regret the decision, sensing Earl's work had failed to reach the levels of intensity and creativity their earlier sessions with Tickle had achieved.
In 1978, Tickle responded to an advertisement offering work for "the best engineer in England, money no object". The ad had been placed by noted producer Mike Chapman, whose run of hits in Britain was almost over and who was by now working in New York with Blondie on their breakthrough Parallel Lines album.
Tickle was hired as a trainee producer and contributed mixing and engineering duties to Chapman's first US hits: Blondie's "Heart of Glass", The Knack's "My Sharona" and Exile's "Kiss You All Over". The experience provided Tickle with even more skills as a pop/rock producer.
In October 1979, Tickle reconvened with Split Enz, this time in Melbourne, Australia, to record what would become their breakthrough, multi-platinum selling album, True Colours, which included the single "I Got You". In the wake of their unsatisfying Frenzy album, the band was adamant their next record would be a Tickle production. As recording progressed and Tickle's strategy became clearer – creating more space in their sound over resolute drum tracks – the band became convinced the album would be a turning point. In the band's biography.
|“||Tickle's production had fostered a less frenetic, more layered and ordered musicality on the band; people who were new to the band or who had been unable to assimilate them previously found the space and economy much easier to digest. The hooks were now prominent, almost naked, and the sparser rhythm tracks allowed lyrics to be heard.||”|
By mid-1980, Tickle was back in Melbourne to record a follow-up to True Colours. The band, however, were dismayed to find their wonder kid had undergone a dramatic change. Chunn explains:
|“||This was a different situation to True Colours. The previous album was recorded by a band and producer both poised to crack their respective, mid-level reputations wide open and that is exactly what happened. And while Split Enz, then in their late twenties and quite ready for huge success, had absorbed the attention and heady acclaim in an orderly fashion, the same can't be said for David Tickle.||”|
|— Mike Chunn, Stranger Than Fiction: The Life and Times of Split Enz, p.151|
According to the radio documentary Enzology, Tickle particularly clashed heads with Tim Finn. In an interview for the program Tickle says that in the wake of "I Got You"'s success, Tim sought greater involvement in the engineering process. He says that in one argument Tim asked why Neil's songs always sounded better than his own; Tickle replied it was because Tim never left him alone to do his job.
Early to mid-1980s
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Tickle never worked with Split Enz again, though he did produce the Practical Jokers album for The Swingers, the band formed by Split Enz co-founder Phil Judd. (Judd, however, was not a member of Split Enz while Tickle was their producer.) The Swingers' album included the major Australian/New Zealand hit single "Counting The Beat".
|“||David Tickle really didn't understand where we were coming from. He'd lived in America during the London punk explosion. I tried to do everything in one take, with as few over dubs as possible. We'd be sitting eating lunch in the community kitchen and he and the Producer would be extolling the virtues of The Dark Side of the Moon and we'd be talking about Kraftwerk and The Sex Pistols. He really didn't get it. But that said, it could have come out a lot worse. We just kept the overdubs to a minimum.||”|
Later in the 1980s, Tickle produced hit singles and albums for several Canadian acts. Production credits during this era include Canadian and US chart hits by Red Rider (including "Human Race"); the first album by Platinum Blonde, which featured the Canadian hit singles "Doesn't Really Matter" and "Not In Love"; and two albums by Gowan, which featured his Canadian top-10 hits "A Criminal Mind" and "Moonlight Desires" and "Strange Animal".
During this same era, Tickle began a long-running working relationship with Prince, for whom he would work as engineer, mixing engineer and co produced portions of six albums, and as live sound engineer on his "Purple Rain" tour.
- We’d start with the drum machine and I wouldn’t leave the studio until it was mixed. That could be 24, 48 hours, and on a couple of occasions we got into about 72, 76 hours. - David Tickle
British engineer David Tickle was also involved in the recording of the new material. Tickle had worked front-of-house sound for the Purple Rain tour and mixed some of the singles taken from the soundtrack. As with Susan Rogers, this was the first time he had been involved in a Prince album from its inception.
“There was no clear objective with what the next album was going to be,” says Tickle. “It wasn’t like it started out and it was gonna be this specific focus. Prince would literally write a song a day and every three days or so we would go and do a full production on something. If you listen to the album, there’s actually quite a difference in the context of the songs themselves, and even in production and sonic value. That’s because when you worked with Prince what happened was he would say, ‘David. I’ve got a song. Get a studio’ - maybe after a show one night, or we may have a couple of days off. We’d start with the drum machine and I wouldn’t leave the studio until it was mixed. Right from the first bass drum being printed. That could be 24, 48 hours, and on a couple of occasions we got into about 72, 76 hours. Without going to sleep. That was his thing. You go in, you start it, and you don’t leave until it’s done. And that moment in time is encapsulated.”
“Some of it is raggedy,” says Tickle. “It doesn’t sound like it was done super high end in a studio, particularly at that time, when a lot of stuff was very pristinely recorded. That’s why everything is so unique. We’d go in, do a song and once it was done, we’d leave it.”
“They had more input,” agrees David Tickle. “Prince would put down a drum machine, do some kind of guide vocal, because he may not have figured out all of his vocal moves yet, then say to Wendy and Lisa, ‘Hey, you go and put background vocals on this’ and we’d build the thing up for him.”
Relationship with Crowded House
Despite the issues with Split Enz, Neil Finn made tentative plans to use Tickle again, this time as an engineer, on the first Crowded House album, which began recording in 1985. The album was to be produced by Mitchell Froom at a studio selected by Tickle, with Tickle receiving a higher payment than Froom in recognition of his experience.
Ultimately no fewer than five engineers were used on the album, but Tickle himself was not one of them. He did not engineer any of the actual finished album, and his name does not appear in the album credits or the extensive "thanks to" section.
Tickle continued to work as a producer during the late 1980s and 1990s, with credits on albums by Joan Armatrading, Belinda Carlisle, Toni Childs, and Joe Cocker among others. His biggest international successes were as producer of the Divinyls' hit 1991 single "I Touch Myself", and as the sole producer of 4 Non Blondes' only hit, 1993's "What's Up?". He also engineered all the studio tracks at A&M Studios Los Angeles of the best-selling U2 album Rattle and Hum (1988), and mixed The Police's archival 1995 album Live!.
Tickle built the 120-track Avalon Studios at Kauai, Hawaii, where he lives with his wife, Ann West, and their two children.
Tickle, according to his website, is furthering the development of 5.1 surround sound and is now embarking on a filmmaking career, producing an as yet unreleased documentary about the pyramids of Egypt.
Albums produced by David Tickle include:
- 4 Non Blondes: Bigger, Better, Faster, More! (1992)
- Adam Ant: Wonderful (1995)
- Joan Armatrading: What's Inside (1995)
- Barney Bentall and the Legendary Hearts: Barney Bentall and the Legendary Hearts (1988)
- Belinda Carlisle: A Woman and a Man (1996)
- Toni Childs: Union (1988)
- Joe Cocker: Night Calls (1991)
- Eric Johnson: Tones (1986)
- Gowan: Strange Animal (1985), Great Dirty World (1987)
- Platinum Blonde: Standing in the Dark (1983)
- Red Rider: Neruda (1983), Breaking Curfew (1984)
- Ellen Shipley: Breaking Through the Ice Age, (1980)
- Split Enz: True Colours (1980), Waiata (1981)
- Larisa Stow: Moment by Moment (1999)
- The Swingers: Practical Jokers (1981)
- Tito & Tarantula: "Strange Face (of Love)" from Tarantism (1997)
- El Último de la Fila: Astronomía razonable (1993)
- Ann West: En Chante, Live for Charity from The Blossoming Lotus, Kauai (2006)