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Recording: The Laughing Gnome, The Gospel According To Tony Day

David Bowie recorded the backing track for his single ‘The Laughing Gnome’, along with its b-side ‘The Gospel According To Tony Day’, on Thursday 26 January 1967.

At the time, Bowie’s debut album was believed complete, although a handful of further sessions took place in February 1967.

As with the album, it was recorded with members of Bowie’s former backing band, the Buzz. The additional musicians included guitarist Pete Hampshire and organist Bob Michaels.

The arrangement for ‘The Laughing Gnome’ was by bass guitarist Dek Fearnley, and the session was produced by Mike Vernon. The other song recorded had the working title ‘The Gospel According To Tony Day Blues’.

The Laughing Gnome single – United Kingdom

Although ‘The Gospel According To Tony Day’ was completed on this day, more overdub sessions for ‘The Laughing Gnome’ took place between January and March 1967. All the sessions took place at Decca Studios in north London.

I couldn’t get to grips with who was going to buy this album, who was going to listen to it. Then when he got into things like ‘The Laughing Gnome’ he said, ‘I’m making this for kids. I love children, they’ll love this.’ And he was right – they did. It was hilarious, but David had to live that down forever. We had more fun making ‘The Laughing Gnome’ than all the others put together – we had to speed stuff up, we had to slow it down. We had to double up stuff. Gus would say, ‘Here we go, this is what we’re going to do…’ Then a tape would fly off the reel.
Mike Vernon, producer
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

Attending a David Bowie session for the first time was Kenneth Pitt, the singer’s manager.

On January 26 we were at the Decca studios all day recording ‘The Laughing Gnome’ and ‘The Gospel according to Tony Day’. Bob Michaels, organist with Dave Antony’s Moods, was on the session. David had derived a lot of fun from collecting the ‘gnomes’ for the lyrics and the good humour continued in the studio, where people chipped in with more ideas for the ‘gnomenclature.’
Kenneth Pitt
The Pitt Report

Bowie recorded his vocals on 7 February 1967 at Decca. Studio engineer Gus Dudgeon – later to produce Bowie’s first major hit ‘Space Oddity’ – provided the voice of the second gnome.

We did this bloody silly song and he finished the vocal and decided that he wanted to do a speeded-up voice. I got the tape operator to run it at half-speed, and as we took the tape down in speed, our voices went up. I mean, it’s so corny, it’s pathetic. And somehow we got this idea that we would try and incorporate as many jokes about the word ‘gnome’ as we could think of. I mean, it was pathetic really. Well, in fact, it is pathetic. Somehow or other we got off on doing this. That’s the really scary part. Technically it worked, but it’s bloody embarrassing. We actually came up with those lines between us. I mean, what were we on?
Gus Dudgeon
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

The voice effects were achieved by slowing the tape machines, so on playback at normal speed the voices were higher and faster. It was a technique popularised on the 1950s children’s TV show Pinky & Perky.

More vocals were added on 10 February. The song was completed on 8 March; a note on the tape box from the session stated that this final version contained “less gnome voices”.

The various edits and mixes lasted between 2:30 and 3:30 – the final version is midway between the two. There was also reportedly a version featuring only gnome voices, which was credited on the tape to the Rolling Gnomes.

Live: Town Hall, Lewes
Recording: The Laughing Gnome
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