Monday, March 16, 2020
I have been recorded many times in the past. In fact the other day I was trying to work out how many tapes and CDs we have amassed between us in Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogs, but it started getting over-complicated when I couldn’t decide whether The World Service five-song demo that Me, Wendell and Gibbon did at Spaceward counted as one example or three. Nevertheless, between us we’ve been in church halls, sports halls, Baptist chapels, converted pig pens, garden sheds, cellars, caravans, twenty four track custom built digital facilities, radio stations, and – that one time – the BBC Studios at (in?) Maida Vale and come out with some sort of reproduction of our – or at least ‘a’ - performance.
We made a decision at the start of the latest cycle of the seasons to write and record something from scratch, thereby avoiding all of that tedious “Well that’s not what you did live...” entrenchment that can sometimes occur when you’re trying to recreate a performance in the studio and it turns out you've been playing an A minor against a C major root. You might be able to get away with that sort of shizzle on a Friday night at The Coggeshall Beer Festival, but the pristine digital modern studio will highlight that missing relative major as clear as the nose on your face. Happy is the producer who can work up a track all on his own, fly in a vocal recorded in a hotel room and held somewhere in the ether, whack on a bit of autotune and have it on the kids’ iPhones before their parents even realise what Grimmeh thinks of it on a Friday teatime. Yes, I have been listening to Radio One in the car, how could you tell?
Our de Facto producer – Fiddly – has been patiently recording various contributions to the sum of our parts over the past few weeks, building from a simple guitar and vocal demo which I put down to create a canvas which if not entirely blank*, certainly left room for everyone else to do a bit of colouring in without having to worry about going over the lines. It’s not like we had to rewind the tape over and over again in order to get down the perfect take – we’re not in the eighties, for goodness’ sake – but we thought we might make it slightly easier for the rest of the group by ensuring that it was at least in time.
You may or may not be familiar with the idea of The Click Track. This is the metronomic beat which was initially put on recordings to make sure the drummer played in time without speeding up or slowing down** before industrious recording engineers with one eye on the clock (and the other on the attendant studio bill) decided to largely replace the latter with the former, thereby coincidentally saving a fortune on vacuuming fragments of Vic Firth 5As off the studio carpet. I’ve never been very good with click tracks, and after a couple of run throughs with the default Cubase metronome fighting against my uniquely rhythmic stress and weave approach to strumming the backing track, we decided that alternate methods of keeping in good order were required. Cutting the odd extra beat out of the two inch tape with a razor was no longer an option, and neither was slowing down the tapes by judicious application of the tape brake.
This is where Fiddly’s approach to accomodating studio kit came in extraordinarily handy. There is a long and noble tradition of repurposing surfeit gear at The Hovel – essentially anything which fellow recording folk believe is obsolete, surplus, outmoded, outdated or just overly complicated to operate will be gratefully hoovered up and stored until required with the result that he has accumulated quite the collection of equipment which, with the cycle that these things inevitably follow, has become highly desirable. It’s a strange combination of classic tech and Heath Robinson invention at the business end of the studio complex, which is where we now found ourselves.
One reasonably modern thing he had acquired was one of these new-fangled*** loop pedal thingies they’re filling Chantry Park with these days and after a flash of inspiration he scuttled off to the main house to track it down and one extravagant unboxing and a crash course in stomping in time later, we had a chunka-chunka**** rhythm perfectly suited to the syncopation required for a succesful take.
Later we added a guide vocal, a few tracks of backing vocal - building, building, gently building. “I’ve got a proper pop shield” said Fiddly from behind the control room glass as I sang into another vintage mic through some indeterminate gauze stretched across a coat hanger “...but this works, and so much better.”
“You don’t want to know how long those tights have been on there” he chuckled in my headphones.
“How long?” I asked good-humouredly.
“What did I just say?”
*One of my favourite jokes from the eighties was that the real name of the bass player in Linx – nicknamed ‘Sketch’ - was ‘Preliminary Drawing’. Obviously the only correct response to this was to reply “You’re lying.”
**You don’t find classic album bands like Bucks Fizz wang on about this sort of thing, do you? [checks earpiece] Oh...