Tuesday, December 14, 2010

“Are you going to be long in there…?”

We have enjoyed another weekend recording – and ‘enjoyed’ is the operative word. Pig Pen Studio provides a most convivial working atmosphere – and ‘working’ is the key signifier in this sentence – and is helpfully free of distractions. There are no arcade games, pinball machines, Playstation boxes or Wii-based ephemera, the nearest town is five miles away and the village pub doesn’t serve food after three so if you aren't concentrating on the job in hand, there'd better be a darned good reason for you turning up. That’s not to say there is not fun to be had – there’s a Wifi connection for example, which makes it both easy to blog from the remote countryside and to Google Rihanna when the subject of X-Factor crops up in conversation, leading to the situation where the query “How was that?” from Turny Winn on banjo was greeted with the response “I’m not sure, I was looking at some tits” from the supposed production team on the other side of the glass (an exchange that shall not wither with age, as we do). This was then coupled with the further brief reflection that our Best Folk Newcomer award could have been stymied at that very point all because of Matt Cardle’s temporary squeeze. Curse you and your ungodly works, Simon Cowell!
Introduce someone like Nick Zala into the equation and the whole experience kicks up a further gear, whether it be him relaying the story of bumping into B.J. Cole whilst out walking the dog “…amazing coincidence! If a meteorite had struck, forty per cent of the UK’s pedal steel players would have been wiped out at a stroke…” or simply and sublimely receiving instructions which seem to go straight to his hands without needing to be processed by his brain. At one point I was talking him through the chords to a song and dropped “…and this is where the pedal steel solo comes in” in to the monologue whereupon he instantly pulled off the most sublime reading of a few country licks and still managed to be out by the next verse. In the end That Nice David Booth at the mixing desk gave up offering the option of “a quick run through” and merely started pressing ‘record’ at the front and ‘stop’ at the end of each track as he went down our list of things to do.
By the end of the day we’d cut seven tracks with Nick, a further few with Turny and, as always when we start layering things on, the whole thing was starting to sound like a record. By the end of the weekend and the addition of some of Tony ‘TT’ Turrell’s piano and organ parts, far from the happily acoustic trio with a couple of folky friends in attendance (the first album had a spoons player, remember), this thing was starting to sound ominously huge, powerful and imposing – we'd progressed a bit like how The Waterboys would have if they’d recorded the contents of their back catalogue in reverse order. The thread which links the songs was starting to become prouder in the weave as well. Unconsciously, we seem to have compiled a set which hangs together under the combined themes of politics and love – an all night conversation which starts with a cheery post-work pint and ends with the redemptive power of the sunrise framing those three in the morning attempts to make sense of the whole thing, with us in the middle, clasping the tenets that make sense close, and gazing with disbelief at the things that don’t.
David Hepworth made the point on his blog recently that musicians enjoy being in the studio so much because they like making records but can’t bear finishing them. When they finish them they know they will be judged. They don’t like that one little bit. Which, to be fair, is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from someone who’s spent a large part of the last thirty years getting sent free albums and being asked to comment on them. You could argue that the point where we ‘finish them’ is also the point at which we have to start playing them live in the same fashion as they sound on the record, which is slightly more of a challenge. If you’re Bob Dylan, of course, you tend to skip that bit, but then look at some of the reviews he gets…
Personally, I love spending time in the studio – it’s like a combination between a grown up playgroup for musicians and an all day project meeting where if you lose concentration for a moment you could end up with something that will bug you for decades, but I can’t wait for this thing to get out – for once the phrase “to be released” makes genuine sense. Then perhaps I can stop talking about it and leave it to you to decide? For it to be judged.