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Bob Sargeant, Top Post-Punk/New Wave Producer, Passes

UK producer Bob Sargeant has reportedly died, leaving behind a legacy that includes era-defining albums with XTC and The Damned, as well as now-legendary Peel Sessions with Joy Division, Motorhead, The Cure and more.

Bob Sargeant and a taped-up Andy Cox (later of Fine Young Cannibals) in a detail on the cover of English Beat's Wha’ppen album.
Bob Sargeant and a desk-taped Andy Cox (later of Fine Young Cannibals) in a detail from the cover of The English Beat’s ‘Wha’ppen’ album.

United Kingdom (July 14, 2021)—UK producer Bob Sargeant has reportedly died. Across his relatively short run as a producer, stretching from the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, Sargeant produced mainstays of the post-punk and new wave era, working with the likes of XTC, The Damned, The Fall, Haircut 100 and others, before essentially closing out his production career with a string of Billboard top-10 hits for Breathe in 1988. Sargeant’s passing was announced on social media by The English Beat.

Sargeant entered the music field in the 1960s, joining regional R&B act Junco Partners as a keyboardist; while the group released a lone album and a few singles in the early 1970s on Philips, arguably its career high-point was opening for Led Zeppelin’s first gig (which that band performed under the name The New Yardbirds in order to fulfill contractual obligations) at Newcastle Mayfair Ballroom on October 4, 1968.

Leaving the group to work as a studio musician, Sargeant played with Mick Abrahams and Al Stewart before eventually releasing his own solo album in 1975, First Starring Role, on RCA. The following year, he joined Curved Air for a single album, 1976’s Airborne.

Bob Sargeant's lone album, 1975's First Starring Role.
Bob Sargeant’s lone album, 1975’s First Starring Role.

While success eluded him as a musician, Sargeant soon made his mark behind the glass, as he began producing live sessions for the legendary BBC DJ John Peel’s Radio 1 show. A mainstay of Peel’s show (more than 4,000 sessions were recorded over the segment’s 37-year run), they would typically consist of four songs recorded in a BBC studio, often with a rough, demo-like quality to them. During Sargeant’s time working at the program, he recorded Peel Sessions with Joy Division, The Cure, Gary Numan, Killing Joke, Motorhead, Stiff Little Fingers, Gang of Four, Wire, Dexy’s Midnight Runners and many more—a process that introduced him and created working relationships with dozens of then-current or soon-to-be stars of the era.

Simultaneously, Sargeant began focusing on independent record production, starting off with The Fall’s 1978 debut, Live at the Witch Trials, followed by The Ruts’ The Crack in 1979 and The Monochrome Set’s Strange Boutique in 1980. However, he finally became a hot commodity with his production work for The English Beat, recording each of the band’s three albums, including the 1980 debut, I Just Can’t Stop It, reportedly the first album digitally recorded in the UK.

In the years that followed, between the Peel Sessions and album productions like Haircut 100’s lush 1982 yacht funk debut, Pelican West, Sargeant produced the likes of A Flock of Seagulls, The Specials, The Undertones, Any Trouble, The Damned, Friends Again, The Woodentops and many more before slowing down in the mid-80s.

A series of tracks he recorded for adult contemporary balladeers Breathe in 1985 were eventually remixed by producer/engineer Chris Porter two years later, with three—“How Can I Fall,” “Hands To Heaven” and “Don’t Tell Me Lies”—each reaching the top 10 of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1988.