Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In The Company of Strangers

A while ago I wrote here about doing some recording I’d been curating with That Nice David Booth at his studio – The Pigpen – in darkest North Essex. I recently wrote up another piece inspired by the experience and the good folk at The Rocking Vicar published it on their website - I’ve included directions below - which was terribly exciting, not least because their blogs have a slightly wider circulation than mine, but also because they know how to write properly and had duly sprinkled some fairy dust on the piece on its way through. One of the many gratifying things about seeing your own work filtered through the grammar check of another and then displayed in grey and white for all the world to see is the improvement that a good solid bit of sub-editing can do for it. I’m consistently prone, for example, to add in as many commas as I can get away with, I’m an adjective junkie, and I have a terrible habit of putting in a multiplicity of asides until the finished article contains more footnotes than a chiropodist’s to-do list. Here’s the opening of the piece as I submitted it;
I’d say I have been recording for about thirty years now*, but it’s not always been a matter of free coffee and biscuits in the private lounge while a highly trained engineer listens back to the most recent take of that tricky middle eight looking for stray plectrum clicks on my behalf**.

Look at that – that’s two in the very first sentence!

So anyway, to summarize, I recently went up to TNDB’s new place, The Recording Booth (now satisfactorily relocated on the civilized side of the Suffolk border) with one Tony James Shevlin in order to finish off the track. Mr. Shevlin has a wealth of writing, performing and recording experience to draw on and I was hoping to use his nous in these areas to complement my insistence that it would be possible to deliver a certain number of lyrics in a row without taking a breath. After many years as a professional musician, Shev is one of the most creative people I know***, not least in the disciplines of composing expenses claims and in negotiating the elasticity of the opening hours of licensed premises, and so I felt confident that he would be a good foil in the recording studio. In addition, he was also in a position to persuade his unreasonably talented sister Jules to give up one of her perfectly good evenings at home in front of a roaring fire in order to add a third and a fifth harmony and then double track them in the time it would have taken me to work out which end of the mic to sing into. I was enormously pleased that she was happy to perform the function of diva at beck for the evening, partially because of her amazing vocal range and partly because of her amazing cheekbones, which are only two of the many reasons I’ve also had a bit of a crush on her for the last decade and a bit.

And so we spent a lovely evening dubbing and bouncing, drinking tea and eating cake, oohing and aahing, and here – I have attached a handy copy-and-paste link below - for your entertainment…(imagine Leonard Sachs doing the rest of this intro)… it is. As before, I tender over-and-above the call of duty credit and thanks to Andy Trill for his instinctively appropriate bass and lead guitar, and to David Booth for recording, mixing and playing drums on the track - he also came up with a little bouzouki riff that we slipped in at the end. We left my original guide vocal out of the finished version and so all of that singing and harmonizing is the solely work of Shev and Jules, who created a positively Fleetwood Mackian chorus under the guiding hand of TNDB at the controls. When they’re not helping me out, they take care of business at http://serenityzest.com/aboutus.cfm

I’m also indebted to Steve Constable (Mr. Wendell Gee) who prompted me to come up with the song in the first place after lending me the excellent Dawes album Nothing Is Wrong and whose band The Company of Strangers inspired the working title, which phrase I am pleased to say occurs nowhere in the final version of the lyrics. I played the rest of the guitars, and eight bars on the pianner.

*”Blimey – you must be tired!”

**During the recording of the first Songs from The Blue House album Our Glorious Leader and our engineer Steve Tsoi became so frustrated at the incidence of random clicks and scratches on one take that we ended up gaffa tapping a duster onto the body of the guitar underneath the strings in order to try and muffle them.

***Shev and I once formed a band specifically for the purposes of allowing us to have every one of our collectively owned guitars on stage at once, and he wrote and scripted an entire back story for the group and all of its individual members, one of whom - Jules – performed as one of The Mandolin Sisters. Thanks to songwriting royalties accrued from The Troggs’ Athens to Andover LP he has been retired these fifteen years and living like a King in Patagonia.