Monday, October 30, 2017

"Hello Bongo..!"

We are not entirely strangers to the concept of experimentation over in The Doghouse. Having negotiated the potentially choppy waters of one-take, in the round recording on previous occasions and employing techniques involving things like rehearsing, playing the songs live prior to the session & maintaining exhaustive crib sheets regarding time, tone and instrumentation, we decided to embark on our latest day out at an austere Baptist Chapel in Cambridgeshire in the spirit of those freewheeling troubadours from the seventies, who got it together in the country over a pot of steaming lentil soup, a few massive joints, and the sort of record company largesse that we can only reflect in wonder at these days. Being booked into a five-star hotel for a week’s suite swapping and songwriting might sound like a great deal to some, but you’re hardly likely to come away with something like ‘Dear Mr Fantasy’, no matter how many hours you spend finessing your top line. So, swap the lentil soup for a cafetiere of Dark Roast Italian Blend, the joints for McVitie’s digestives and the record company largesse for some homemade Ginger-free Gingerbread People and you’ve pretty much got the picture. To enhance the period vibe, we hadn’t all rehearsed together for about two months and had decided to do a couple of new songs, one of which we’d played live, once, in 2016. So far, so Traffic.

One might presume that this reckless approach to our limited recording time would stymie the creative flow, but having being through the early stages of the K├╝bler-Ross model of recording (over-anxiety, slight relaxation, knocking it out of the park) we found ourselves at the point where we generally agreed that getting a good performance was going to be more of an end point to aim for than spending many hours of studio time nailing down a stone-cold classic single which we could then give away on the internet to as many as eight or nine of our friends (other oblique strategies in a similar same vein to this included going out in the street and randomly handing out ten pound notes to strangers, which we also decided against as a band exercise). After all, if artists like Richard Thompson, Neil Young and The Rutles could produce classic albums by dint of knocking out three takes of a number, deciding on the best one and moving on, why shouldn’t we? Shoot Out The Lights apparently took three days to record. The follow-up took even longer.

Also along for the ride on this occasion, Sam ‘Bongoboy’ Thurlow, who had incidentally been at that gig where we’d done ‘As Yet (Untitled)’ and had so impressed all of us with his percussive work with Fern Teather that we took the opportunity to invite him along for the day, if only to give Fiddly something to keep us all in time on his behalf. Open-minded, amiable and above all, cheap, Sam did indeed keep things on track, and previously perilously floating tempos became grooves under his beneficient percussedness. Once we’d warmed up with something we did know, time came to start jamming on autologically named new item ‘Snug Song’ (if you think that’s lazy you should have heard the working title*). Gibbon tried some different bass lines, tuned down, retuned, forgot he’d retuned and played a non-dropped ‘E’ by mistake. Turny Winn alternated between squeezebox and harmonica, Fiddly regaled us with another tale from ye olden days – this time about an acquaintance who ate garlic butter sandwiches for lunch and rolled his glass eye betwixt buttery fingertips in between times in order to clean it, and Mr. Wendell attempted to impose some authority upon the situation by striding up to the performance area, a flurry of Christian leaflets in his wake and rallying the troops with a declamatory “Right – now let’s nail this fucker!”

Dude – look around you…” I admonished with an appropriately Saintly import.

As a team bonding session the day struck all the right notes, as did the group albeit – paraphrasing, if we may, a response to the great Andrew Preview – not always on the same take. We ran down a couple of versions of a pretty-much improvised song which took us up to clearing out time. Perfectly, as it happened. As the last chord died ambiently down, an arpeggiate sequence of notes trilled across the fading Dsus2 I was holding on the Tele. I glanced sideward, searching for the gently flailing fingers which would indicate that Turny was finishing off the song with a gentle banjo coda. Helen, next to me at the microphone blushed and scrabbled to turn the alarm off on her phone. “It’s five o’clock. Time for me to put my eye drops in...”

*’None More Eighties’, as the chord progression in the bridge and chorus are...go on, have a guess.