Thursday, February 02, 2017
Back to the Future
I had the pleasure of reading a great interview with Chris Leslie and Dave Pegg-out-of-Fairport-Convention this week, and in among the expansion and reminiscence there was the almost throwaway comment that one of the bass parts on the new album had essentially been edited together from various takes by Engineer John Gale and that he (Dave Pegg) had relearnt the whole in order to perform the song live. This, I thought, was a fascinating detail in the recording process, although not entirely unprecedented*. The exchange within the interview implies that Peggy is slightly more arm’s length in his approach to overdubbing than, say, my chum Shev, who has the traditional six-gun approach to guitars which befits a man who came of age in the glory days of two inch tapes and wearing sunglasses indoors – also alluded to by Pegg in his interview - or Simon Nicol, who back in the olden days once found himself popping round to a painfully dysphonic Linda Thompson's house with a Tascam four-track and doing a whole song line by line in order to get it right**.
We’re currently sifting through the rough mixes of The Waterbeach Baptist Chapel sessions (there’s one here) and a more forensic, headphone-based approach than piling into the crèche at the back of the hall and running the most recent take through the Gibson Les Paul Studio Monitors has revealed a couple of glitches that we would probably not choose to incorporate in the finished versions, given the opportunity. Fortunately, Producer Sam is as adept with the right-click button as his twentieth century equivalent would have been with a razor blade and the editing block, and has already managed to replace a misplaced line of verse, an over-enthusiastically struck chord, and the word “Don’t” using what we like to refer to as The Old Take Two Switcheroo - that is to say that he has skilfully blended two (or three) takes of the same song – performed live by everyone all at the same time, remember – in order to produce a seamless whole.
Back in the Noughties, when sifting through tracks for the SftBH version of (Don’t Fear) The Reaper we found a brief snippet of Radar’s harmonica somewhere in the second verse which we were able to successfully cut, paste, autotune and compress into a completely different part of the song thanks to the wonders of digital technology (the drums went on last as well, which I understand is not exactly industry standard) but here there’s no going back and dropping something onto the clipboard and then repositioning it where you want it with all the off-notes trimmed off.
It’s an incredible skill, for which one requires application, ability, a steady hand and a firm nerve and, ears to die for. Mind you, it’s not like no-one’s gotten away with it before…
**There are other methods.