Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Pretender...

More indulgence, as I decamp once again to Pigpen Studio in darkest Essex ( for an evening in the company of That Nice David Booth and of Andy Trill in order to scratch another recurrent musical itch, attempting to record something in the style of long-time musical touchstone Jackson Browne, who I have to thank not only for many years of musical pleasure, but also for gaining me that extra advantage when his name came up in the interview for a job at Andy’s Records many years ago. I correctly identified him as the co-author of ‘Take It Easy’ and the progenitor of the more recent (at the time) ‘Lawyers in Love’ (“Good!” squawked one Billy Gray, who was asking the questions, “Everyone thinks he’s a soul singer”. He then went on to ask me if I had a criminal record, to which I replied that I didn’t realize I needed one, but I digress)*. Having written some lyrics couched in suitably Canyonesque form** I first needed to explain to my willing collaborators the sort of thing that was expected of them and rather than talk them through the heady haze of the 1974 LA singer-songwriter scene with all its multifarious Waddys and Ladanyis, Kortchmars and Sklars (and who doesn’t experience a vicarious thrill at the mere mention of Craig Doerge or Russ Kunkel?) I simply played them a couple of bits from Late for the Sky, asked Trill to concentrate on what Doug Haywood was doing on the bass, and promised him that he could unleash his inner David Lindley once we’d double-tracked the acoustics.

As previously, the combined Booth/Trill axis quickly nailed the feel I was trying to get across with the maximum of empathy and the minimum of fuss (bear in mind that the last thing I’d asked them to do was a six minute prog-metal instrumental, so the very least you can say for them is that they have breadth of scope) fuelled merely by strong tea, and some fruit scones and jam which had been brought along by Andy courtesy of his generous and delightful wife (hi Sally – thanks for the scones!) and which had been the subject of our first and most important discussion of the evening, prior even to whether to tune down to use a dropped D on the acoustics – to whit, whether to pronounce the delicious crumbly bakey goodness as skon or as scoan? They were also a boon to getting Andy to be decisive in deciding which licks to execute during his closing solo, as we said that he couldn’t have his second until he’d completed the part satisfactorily, which he then did in summarily short order and with consummate professionalism – notwithstanding that he wasn’t actually being paid – with no recourse to auto tuning, pitch shifting, patch pasting or dropping , and all completed in a couple of live straight to amp to mic to desk takes.

After many happy hours’ tea drinking, scone eating, guitar overdubbing, and a number of attempts to get a half reasonable guide vocal (that being a consequence of my own atonal honk being the only resource we had to hand and not any technical shortcomings - only a bad workman blames his pro-tools) we managed to drop in not only a piano part carefully arranged, transcribed and performed by myself, (although Dave did operate the pedal for me while I drove in much the same way as Michelle Dotrice and Matthew Garber shared duties in 'The Gnome-mobile') while Andy held the bit of paper I’d drawn the chords of D and G on with big dots on the keys to show me where to put my fingers, but also a counterpoint bouzouki riff crafted by Boothy while idling on the sofa waiting for the kettle to boil.

In the circumstances (it was getting a bit late, I had a cold and besides, the scones were all gone) we decided that the wake of all that activity was probably not a great time to start lovingly multi layering backing vocals and harmonies, and so we will be decamping to Boothy’s new recording space and audio workshop (just as soon as he’s finished building it) to complete and tweak it. After which I’ll probably get Steven Wilson to do a 5.1 surround sound mix for the audiophile market using platinum-coated cables, Zucarelli holophonics and gold-coated eight track cartridge technology. Well, why not? As the platitudes say, there’s only one ‘I’ in "self-indulgent".

*Obviously, the correct answer to the question “Do you have a Police record when posed in an important job interview is “I used to have Outlandos d’Amour on vinyl”, but that’s not what he asked.

** A review of Browne’s The Pretender included the comment "The shallowness of his kitschy doomsaying and sentimental sexism is well-known, but I'm disappointed as well in his depth of craft." which is, coincidentally, as good a clarification of my style as I’ve read anywhere.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Borrowers

As a personal favour to an old friend we’re resurrecting the tired old corpse of The Star Club for one last lunchtime in Spalding next month, and so last night we thought we’d better freshen up on a few of the chord progressions, just in case anyone was actually going to be paying attention. Times have changed from when we first pored carefully over the badly-transcribed Complete Beatles Songbook in order to put together a set to hawk around the pubs and clubs of Olde Ipswich and its environs and so we found ourselves gathered around a laptop loaded with the entire Beatles back catalogue on one memory stick in order to freshen up the part of the cerebral cortex that deals with lyrics and reinvigorate the part of the muscle memory which handles Aeolian cadence.

We’d been Beatles specialists for some while before we had entered our self-imposed hiatus (interrupted by a couple of reunions, even though we swore “…not a second time”) and so after some initial pursing of lips and knotting of brows regarding enforced key changes the chords rang out from rusty strings with ever more fluency as the familiar box shapes of Beatles songs* made their way out of our memories and into Shev’s kitchen – a place long since abandoned by the need to keep the noise down as it was past the kids’ bedtimes.

A couple of hours and thirty nine songs later we decided we’d probably got enough material to keep us going through an afternoon set ("There's a tidy twenty minutes right there...") and besides, a couple of house guests had come back after their football training and were doubtless perplexed at what the earthly purpose of four blokes sitting around a kitchen table playing obsolete things like guitars could possibly be. I know. At our ages.

I looked at the list again this morning. If you only learned the first half dozen songs off it you’d already know more than you ever needed to about the textbook construction of a perfect pop song, although of course whether you were then able to put the theory into practice yourself would be entirely dependent on whether you decided to (to paraphrase Picasso) merely borrow a few of their tricks or just barefacedly went ahead and stole them.

In the year that Neil Harrison bows out after thirty one years of pretending to be John Lennon in The Bootleg Beatles, I think we can be excused just one more trip up the memory lane we still call the A16, can’t we? Besides, I need to impress someone with my Spalding trivia. The first barcode in the UK was used in 1979 in Spalding market. I can’t wait for the crowd reaction when I spring that little beauty on ‘em! 

*Tell Me Why is a good example – most of the song takes place within two frets’ reach of the next chord at any one time. All My Loving is another – up two, down two, across one, that sort of thing. The main difficulty with that one is not breaking into Hold My Hand by The Rutles halfway through