Another splendid foray into the flatlands completed, and a reunion with FentonSteve and Sam - our recording Godparents - who it turns out aren't averse to occasionally explaining patiently to their families that they are going to be spending their Saturday spooling out cables, making coffee, rigging a Trace Elliot and attempting not to drop a microphone worth the equivalent of a small family car whilst a bunch of people they barely know emote meaningfully into the ether. We are recording once more, in a chapel in Waterbeach. Steve is so prepared that he has brought crates on which to put the amplifiers, and warns us not to place them upon the raised area in front of the pulpit, for that is where the baptismal font is secreted, which tends to make the bass boom a little. He also has Ginger Nuts. And some biscuits.
Sans Fiddly on this occasion (he has some pre-arranged wassailing to do) we have not only upgraded the main Soundfield microphone, but lessons absorbed from our last session mean that Sam has included a couple of close-mics in case we need to subsequently tweak the vocals and/or bass in the mix*. Multiple takes are run through and over - at one point an entirely different time signature is workshopped (and recorded for future reference) - and the feel is that of a group getting it together in the country, like in the olden days. Sam's production style is very hands-off - Joe Boydian by many accounts - and there's not a lot of listening back to takes going on until he suggests that we have a live one, whereupon two or three folk check into the improvised control room to confirm his gut feel (or not). Others make tea, eat cake, pootle on the piano or pop to the village shop, pausing on the way back only to admire the Mediaeval swordsmanship being played out on the green. There is an easy, relaxed air to proceedings, probably helped considerably by our new-found familiarity with the process, and that this time we don't have to worry about cars splooshing through the rain-swept streets outside bleeding into the mix. We do have to halt one take to let a plane fly over, and as we look upwards the full majesty of the plaster ceiling rose reveals itself. From a certain angle, it appears that we are being watched over by a particularly malevolent circus performer.
There is a song where we are arranged around a single mic singing a five-part harmony. In another I board the DADGAD bus with Mr. Wendell's booming Gibson acoustic** while he channels Tonight's the Night-era Neil Young on my electric guitar. It's not until I'm listening back to some rapid-turnaround rough mixes a day later that the full, flawless beauty of Helen's vocals shine out, Turny's intricate weaving banjo parts, Gibbon's sinuous bass lines (he's one of the people constantly listening to the playbacks - always looking to refine his part in service of the song).
"Blimey" I mail the group "I didn't realize we were that good".
Sam replies almost instantly.
"Just wait 'til I put the kazoo orchestra on..."
*Which we do.
**You know - the one that all the Americana singer-songwriters have.