Thursday, December 06, 2018

"My style is not so good. As a matter of fact it's minimal".

Come hither, young shaver pull your coat and scarf tight around you, for the winter chill seeps inst through the door and wraps unwary limbs in its cold embrace. Sit here by the fire, and I shall tell you of the hinterlands, the dark places where old lore hast not yet been driven out by the briskness of modernity. The hoot of an owl, the scurry of the muntjack, a bustle in your hedgerow – don’t be alarmed now…

Mr. Wendell and I are on our way to an undisclosed location in Mid-Suffolk where, behind a hedge of epic proportions lies The Hovell and inside the rambling adjunct without, Fiddly Richard – a man as drawn by Quentin Blake as an approximation of what the protagonist of Roald Dahl’s great unreleased “The Woodcutter and The Canoeist” might best resemble.* We wipe the mud from our boots – he’s vacuumed in anticipation of our visit, after all – and put down guitar cases. We are here to embark on perhaps the most magic alchemical process of all – that of overdubbing the electric guitar onto an acoustic demo.{FX: Roll of Thunder}. It’s the sort of process which used to beget all those outtakes and alternate versions that now turn up on remastered reissues of classic albums, but with the advent of computer technology much of this “ it rolling, Bob?”-style malarkey has been superseded by the mere touch of a button.

To my left, sits Mr. Wendell, fully armed with a Fender Telecaster, an amplifier and an electronic effects board, which has a bewildering number of knobs, dials, pedals, and numerous flashing lights aglint. “I mainly use it as a tuner” he explains. Fiddly bustles off to make tea. At this point I should explain that Mr. Gibbon and I have already contributed a bass part and an acoustic guitar to proceedings, La Mulley has donated a guide vocal so we don’t get lost half way through the bewildering middle-eight and Neighbourhood Tony is due in to record some melodeon and harmonica the next day. He’s the banjo player, for those who haven’t been keeping up. We have experimented with many examples of the long-form recording format, however with the dearth of solid Baptist chapels in the area and conflicting diary commitments ever at our backs, we’ve decided to entrust recording the latest example of our ouevre to Fiddly. In his shed. 

He’s using Cubase which, again for those not overly familiar with the white hot development of recording technology over the past few years is - if you ask some people - somewhat akin to holding up a ghetto blaster outside a rehearsal room, pressing Play and Record at the same time and hoping the sellotape doesn’t fall off the C-90 your big sister used in order to enable her tape the top forty off the radio at the weekend. I’m not saying it’s old school, but he has to keep a spare elastic band in case the hard drive starts running slow and if the system needs rebooting he has to rub a balloon briskly against his jumper whilst pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL. This is why it’s obviously handy if there are two or three of us involved in each session.

Nevertheless, the actual sounds he records in the room are as the surroundings suggest – warm, woody, rustic. For someone who regards Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night as the modern apotheosis of production capability, as I do, this is welcome fare. We’ve already had a discussion about Helen’s vocal take on the new song. “It fades in and out and there’s a bit where it wavers a bit at the end of the phrase” runs one argument. “It sounds like her...” I counter “...singing in a room”. Mr. Wendell runs down the chords, adjusts his vibrato and delay settings**, confirms that he can hear the monitor mix in his headphones perfectly and goes for the vibe. The tension rises as we reach the bridge – has he remembered the double-stop arpeggio and 6/8 chord reversal which introduces the breakdown before the penultimate verse? He has! We both relax – me with a gentle exhalation (we’ve got a DI from the Boss rack and a mic on the Marshall combo, so quiet please in the room) and him with a desultory swipe across a capo’d Em which breaks both the rhythm and mood of the song. Fiddly, in the control booth awakens with a start. “Do you want to hear it?” he enquires solicitously. “No thanks, let’s go again” responds Wendell. The endgame is in sight - but as the kids say these days, it’s not over until Ed Sheeran sings. The hum of the amplifier hangs sonorously in the room. “It’s what an amplifier sounds like” I say.

A couple of takes later and it’s almost in the bag. There’s one more chord to drop in – at the very last Mr. Wendell’s nerve has failed him and he’s waited a nanosecond too long to hit the climactic Am in tandem with my ringing double-tracked acoustic. One quick flick of the mouse to get us on to a new track and he’s paused ready to caress the strings of steel. Job done, we ask Fiddly to put it on the big speakers so we can listen back to our work. It’s already full and resonant, and the lengthy (five minutes plus) running time leaves little room for error in a one-take working scenario. Just before the last chord, we hear it. Someone suggests hesitantly “I think you fluffed that picked note just before the end”. I think I did, responds my internal monologue.

“Fuck it” I say out loud. “These box sets don’t compile themselves”.

*Spoiler alert – it’s the same guy.
**I know – once it’s down, it’s down. No post-production remix and remodel for you, Mister.