Thursday, May 20, 2010

My dear and long-suffering wife took our baby son round to my parents' for a visit, and during the general chit chat and conversation about sleeping, waking and feeding also mentioned that I'd taken a couple of days off work to go and write songs with Our Glorious Leader James at The Blue House. My mother sighed. "He never gives up, does he...?"

Saturday, May 15, 2010

“Is it rolling, James?”


It occurs to Our Glorious Leader and I that the ‘new’ songs in the SftBH set are coming up for their second birthdays, and as such we should either start buying them some nice presents or, in the great tradition of parents whose toddlers have outgrown the first flush of adorability, get some news ones in to replace them. Thus we convene at The Blue House on a bright Spring Sunday afternoon and cloister ourselves away in The Snug on Lord Tilkey's estate with two guitars, a couple of chairs, some pencils and paper, oh, and enough PC processing capacity to have powered a series of NASA’s most ambitious seventies excursions (and then some). We sit opposite each other, nervously wondering what we’re going to say to each other for the next two and a half days if we don’t come up with any ideas, and contemplate our situation – part odd couple, part evangelical idealists, very much the modern Lemmon and McCarthy.

I had been mucking about the previous evening and came up with a simple repeating guitar figure and idly strummed through it. OGL’s eyes narrow suspiciously. “You haven’t pre-prepared this, have you?” he asks off handedly, almost too casually. I confirm that this is not something I’ve been working on, and he relaxes, almost imperceptibly, back into his seat. “Don’t Fence Me In” reads the legend on the cushion (by which I mean the slogan, not that James has had a tattoo). It's a homily and a mantra. Following the rules of what sounds good, we find the next chord to go to, then a third, a fourth, a bridge (as in “Take me to the…”), a chorus, and before too long the song has taken shape, it has bare bones and merely needs clothing in words, for a couple of people to have a look and decide whether the outfit suits it, and to be offered up to Canens for her approval. 

There is a settling down of guitar and a gathering of pad and pencil, some scritching and scratching (both on the page and betwixt the hambones), a nod to indicate that I should either continue or desist playing the verse through. Eventually, a furrowing of brows and a final decisive, “Let’s cut it”. When we started demo’ing tunes for Songs from The Blue House, at this point in proceedings it was time to rig up a couple of microphones, fire up the Tascam, find a cassette that didn’t already have stuff on both sides, demagnetise the recording heads, try a few levels, listen back to make sure it was recording satisfactorily and then capture the full, immediate intimacy of the moment. Younger readers may be astonished to discover that this was how we accomplished things way back in the Noughties. 

Now, James has merely to plug in a lead, flick a switch, hit the space bar on his PC keyboard and we’re away. Three and a half minutes of bewitching digital vapour trails appearing on the screen, a ‘normalisation’ process, factory-issue reverb and we almost immediately have a demo that some Seventies singer-songwriters would have rejected as being over-produced, and hence the modern disease - just because it sounds good enough to share, doesn't necessarily mean it actually is. We leave that to prove, and start the whole process again.