I’ve been under the weather for a few days so find I’m not up to making a journal entry this month.
Apart from this: sometimes mind, body and spirit all need a Good Lie Down.
I hope normal service will be resumed imminently.
I spend most of my working life alone in a room and much of that is spent waiting for inspiration. Since there’s no-one else too consult or argue with I listen to the work in progress again and again, examining it from different angles to see what should be added or subtracted in order to make it right. My opinion’s gradually formed by the graduall accretion of listens.
As has always been clear, I’ve been keen to keep a certain element of chaos involved in the recording progress and that’s, actually, pretty easy for me to do. I don’t read or write music of course and, over many years, have approached recording in a way which evokes action painting as much as it does formal arrangement. Certainly, t’s rare for me to start off a song with *any* idea of where it’s going to end up. (At least, that’s the case in solo work – if I’m writing for VdGG I have the imagined musical voices of HB or Brain somewhere in mind….)
So, in fact, most of the time I have to guess what additions will contribute well to the current available musical space. Or, indeed, what will maintain the essential openness. I’ve never had any pretensions to virtuosity as a musician, so in turn I have to be aware of my technical limitations when it comes to what will be overdubbed. Blistering solos are rarelty the ideas which come to mind as being the best way to move a piece forward. Generally, though, I do have some idea of the sonic territory which I’m looking to expand on or into.
It has to be said, of course, that listening to any work-in-progress is heavily skewed towards whatever is the most recent musical addition. It’s this that’s presented in pride of place, even if, in fact, it’s *not* an essential architectural part. Always, though, there’s the knowledge that the final, finished, work will involve a degree of cramming together in order to find a coherent mix for the whole.
Most of my time, then, is gathered up in calm(-ish), gradual consideration. Sometimes, though, a lucky patch hits and I’m hurtled right back into the wonderful hurly-burly and instant gratification which is the real world of the studio. I had such a run a couple of days ago.
The piece I was working on was, to be honest, the one in the worst shape of any on this particular project atr the time. It had a guitar, a couplpe of pretty average and messy stabs at a bass pars and a gesture at lead vox…and, indeed, only rough lyrics. Such notes of prospective amendments as I had seemed to indicate redoing most, if not all, of these p[rts and beyond that I really wasn’t sure where to take it.
The timing was pretty sloppy too. I don’t mind that in principle – there’s always a bit of life in a straying beat – but in this case I’d started without any semblance at all main beat and hence it was all over the place.
So first I retrospectively added some various simple pulses. Having done so, fairly radical editing and shifting of the guitar part was in order. Suddenly it began to sound rather more promising. I even managed to salavage a coherent bass part out of the original efforts, by radically reducing the amount played. This was something of a result, as I’d imagined I’d have to start from scratch on the instrument.
I had enough now to feel much more confident about doing a proper vocal. It’s also the case (pretty obvious, I suppose) that when things are getting real in the L Vox stakes then the final lyrics are also forcing their way forward into the frame.
So suddenly the song was becoming a serious proposition.
So far, so normal, actually. What came in the next 48 hours, though, was really quite out of the ordinary.
I had an inkling that some B Vox might work and set to work in my usual fashion, experimenting with lines and positioning. Over a couple of hours I found a two-part harmony which ran right down the song, sometimes in agreement, sometimes in oppostion to, the main vocal. And in my normal way of working (this is one of the skills I *have* got) I tripled up each line. Very warm.
I also found a couple of places where the B Vox could go off completely on their own, both in the middle section of the song – which had been spectacularly empty up till this point – and in an extended coda, which was also completely new.
The piece was transformed and, perhaps more importantly, structurally sound.
Over the next day I had an inspired – or supremely lucky – period of recording. Every idea I came up with worked out spontaneously and immediately in terms of sound, instrument, approach. That’s prettty rare: usually one has to work through some erroneous first takes and misjudgements. Swiftly, I overdubbed sevral different parts, some purely sonic, using various keyboards and guitars. Each one of these was absolutely instinctive and improvisatory.
All of these dubs were in themselves fairly simple…the cumulative effect, though, was to make the piece fully complete. None of the dubs in themselves had totally altered the structure; but sometimes adding atmos and angle in the background ushers in major change in overall effect.
This is the wonder of recording. What had not been there at all two days before was now safe and complete. That’s why I still love and am fascinated by the studio process.
Still, after all these years, when I hit one of these passages I just keep hitting that replay button going “well, where did all that come from?”.
Yet there it is.
The year’s almost done and it’s only a matter of hours before we welcome in 2014.
Of course this also means that there’s only a little over a month before the release of my collaboration with Gary Lucas, “Otherworld”, which is out (on Esoteric) on February 3rd.
When Gary arrived at my studio in January we didn’t exactly have a grand plan about what we’d attempt. We were simply going to dive into some work and see what emerged. Gary had promised to create some dark guitar soundscapes out of improvisation and also had, in his words, some instrumental frameworks which might become actual songs.
For my part I’d prepped – in the most open way I could – for the project by recording some semi-ambient pieces using loops and long delays and I, too, had come up with a couple of loose song ideas. (These latter were, of necessity, some way away from the “current” solo album in style.) I also had a couple of basic beats which I thought might act as a springboard for other ideas.
Obviously we were coming at things from slightly different angles, since Gary’s a guitar virtuoso and I – though I can hold my corner in my own peculiar way – am decidedly not!
After the usual technical set-up stuff, we were immediately away into the first of several soaring improvisations by Gary, ranging from the ethereal to the fully unhinged. Wonderful stuff. Then he began on the “instrumental frameworks” – which turned out to be pretty fully realised backing tracks, impeccably performed over a couple of takes each.
Advancing to “my” pieces, Gary then overdubbed in a fully sensitive improvised manner.
We charged through the work in a couple of days and ended up with a whole load of material of wildly varied character. It was clear that not only were we on the same wavelength regarding the project but that we emphatically had the makings of an album in the bag.
For my part, I still had a great deal of work to do. The main task was to find the top lines and, of course, lyrics for the “actual song” pieces. There was also considerable editing to be done on the more spacey material and of course I also got to do my own overdubs on top of Gary’s parts.
Eventually the shape of the whole thing was there and Gary returned for a final couple of days of dubbing, this time somewhat more considered.
We’ve ended up, I think, with something quite strange but also strangely powerful. The music veers from some kind of roots territory to wild sound collages. All of it – bar a couple of pieces of found sound – is produced by our guitars and my voice (those beats, having served their purpose, were removed from the mix!).
It has, I suppose, some of the characteristics of a warped folk music…from another world.
Next, as a further challenge, we’ll be performing the stuff live, in a one-off show at the Union Chapel in London on February 21st. Very exciting and somewhat daunting!
Here come some links….
For a sneak preview of the music you can go here: fb.me/6CavaHkPR
To order a copy in advance: http://www.sofasound.com/misccds/otherworld.htm
To book tickets for the London show: http://bit.ly/IPqmA1
And with that I bid you all a Happy New Year. More, different stuff to come in 2014!
Move along, nothing to see here…
Just a chap getting on with recording his latest album. That’s exciting internally but as far as the outside world’s concerned…pffft!
It shows how long the process has taken this time that I’ve gone from having to have the fan going to cool things down to, now, having to put the radiators on well before I go in to start work for the day.
Things are now at the stage where if I were a writer of prose I’d be spending a good deal of time staring vacantly into space. In both that discipline and this one (of music) one has to wait for the right tone to be struck, the word to arrive.
Words (The Lyrics) *have* arrived in the current project and so have top lines, so there’s a semblance of lead vocal now laid down on all tracks. Whether they’ll all survive – or whether they need to be bolstered by harmonies or supported/undermined by B Vox – is, of course, a matter for the future.
So, it’s an album of songs, that’s established. But the nature of the songs here is a long way from conventional, even by my standards. I won’t go further than that at this stage, save to say that only a couple of pieces here come from what might be considered a traditional starting point.
Hence the staring into space. I have to look to fill in on what are already angular and/or skeletal structures. Generally that means deciding upon an improvisational angle to come in on – and, instinctively, finding a sound/instrument which will suit. Once those things are decided I’m doing my best to work quickly and in the moment. It’s the run-up to the moment that takes the time…
I’m not looking to myself for virtuoso stuff , naturally. But by now I’m more or less aware of my own capabilities and am comfortable enough in not having anything to prove that any attempts at showing off would be useless in any case. Economy of effort and of expression are ever more important to me.
As ever, once I’ve decided on a given course of action I go into record from the very outset. Often the first unknowing stab at a part will have a charm and naturalness which more considered efforts lack.
Well, this one’s still got another couple of months in the making, I reckon, by the time the holiday season has swung around. Doubtless it’ll be quite different from the current state of things as well in its finished form.
It’s now at that point where every song could go in a number of different directions and I’m free – and delighted – to follow each one. Later, things which I’ve spent hours on will be discarded. But they all have to be tried and tested to reach that stage…
Pauses, sits. Stares at the screens. Grabs a guitar….
So, November rolls in tomorrow. The clocks have gone back and the early evenings are dark now. Winter won’t be far away.
In a few days I’ll have reached pensionable age, though I’ve no intention of stopping work right now (or, probably, ever, as long as I find stuff to do which seems engaging). I’ve noticed, though, over recent years that I’m definitely slowing somewhat in both word and deed. There’s no surprise there and actually there’s nothing to get in a state about either. All this, like the process of autumn into winter, is part of the natural way of things. And there’s time, now, to spend in consideration rather than in pell-mell activity.
All of which is by way of saying that continuing progress on the current solo album is going at a pretty glacial rate and – surprise, surprise – it won’t be out till later next year. I *am* hoping to get it finished in the next few weeks but now more than ever it’s going to take as long to come to maturation as, it seems, it wants. It’s taking a great deal of “stand back and consider” to get to that stage. Interesting work, though, I think. It’s also definitely an Album.
So 2013 has been one of those rare years when there’s been no release from me at all. On the live front there’s been only the VdGG tour and one four-show solo stint in Tokyo.
In contrast 2014, though still in the planning stages, should see much, much more in terms of shows and recorded music. There’s a long and winding way to go before we get there, mind…..
For now though I’m going to sign off after this brief missive and get back to work. While I still can.
Doubtless more, of rant and/or rumination, will beam in once I’m in receipt of that Pension Book!
I’m not generally a big fan of biographies of musicians or of bands but one upcoming one has caught my attention: “Tune In”, Volume 1 of Mark Lewisohn’s evidently exhaustive account of the Beatles’ story, which is coming out in a few days. Ahead of its publication certain snippets (showing how deep is the research…) have emerged, among which is the fact that “Love Me Do” received *no* UK radio play on release.
Well, I suppose it wouldn’t have done, would it? At the time the only BBC radio station which might have played it would have been the Light Programme. Light, as in Family Entertainment, as in Don’t Scare the Horses.
But *I* remember hearing it on the radio. Of course, it was Radio Luxembourg and I was listening, under the bedclothes, on my transistor radio. I have a clear, clear memory of this. I knew, instantly, that this was something else. I also knew that the DJ was 100% wrong when he announced it as some kind of UK answer to the Everly Brothers. No, please, (I muttered, in my memory) there’s evidently some kind of other edge here….
I was already – at 13 – a complete music fan. And it was purely for the music, as there was little other, going on no, media coverage of artists at the time. And of course I can’t remember how I’d even stumbled on to Radio Lux in the first place. But I *do* remember thinking that this music was MINE.
Now I find out that actually that the play of “Love Me Do” I heard was one of six paid for by EMI on their sponsored shows on Radio Luxembourg. Every record played on the station was paid for by one record company or another…. Like so much that went on back then, it wasn’t exactly clean and pure in a business sense.
Nonetheless, since the memory has stuck with me it’s clear that I knew something else was going on, something had changed.
Yes, the Beatles couldn’t get on the Light Programme in 1962. By 1963 they had their own tea-time half-hour show and I can also clearly remember hearing an outstanding version of “Money” on that, which knocked the subsequent recorded version (on “With the Beatles”) into a cocked hat. Maybe (he remembers) it was the fact that the radio version was guitars only, while the one on the album had piano as well, in some strange way mirroring (I thought) George Martin’s gtr/pno setting on the Dakota’s “The Cruel Sea”…. (OK, it didn’t track in exactly the same way; ok, spot the nascent music geek…or was that, already, someone wo *really* cared about this stuff?)
There again, “With the Beatles” is pinned in my memory for other reasons.
Release date: 22/11/1963. I got my copy on the 23rd. (Yes, advance mail order really worked even in those days, though doubtless paid for by a postal order or two.)
And yes, it was on the morning of the 23rd that we heard of JFK’s assassination on the 22nd, so that the two or three times in succession that I played the album were also burned into my brain in connection with that “Oh, whoops, the world has shifted” moment.
I had quite a few other, later, immediate responses to music. I’ve often spoken about hearing the “Dancing in the Streets” snare sound coming out of a record shop in Derby (‘64), hitting me right between the eyes, the soul, the heart.
Equally, “Hey Joe” grabbed me (‘66) by the throat *purely* as music before I had any idea of The Hendrixness.
These things are, perhaps, hard to credit in the modern world of blanket – and controlled – coverage, be it through mainstream media or viral creep. Back then it was all still stuff of minority interest – although, wow, was that minority interested!
I’m sure everyone can do the timelines of this incredible period. 1962, no Beatles on BBC radio…by 1966, the whole Group explosion been and gone and *already* Hendrix…1967, well, y’know….
And by 1968 this particular music fan, here, who’d begun by getting a harmonica, scratching a “song” together, plunking a tune on a piano, noodling on an acoustic guitar, was, actually, heading for (what some might call) a career in music.
And, along with every other musican who’s ever sparked off on stage, going….
Please, love me. Do.
I’ve been, as I’ve often said, a lucky guy. I chose It and It chose me.
Under the bedclothes, 1962, aged 13.
It’s only eight weeks back, but of course it now seems a lifetime ago that we wrapped up the latest VdGG tour. Alarums and excursions done, it fell to me to spend a fortnight or so sorting out the accounts and inevitable Outstanding Business. Once again, we came through OK on these fronts, which – considering the nature of our joint enterprise and the continuing leaps of faith across many platforms which underlie it – remains a source of mild surprise but also of great satisfaction. Do right and you’ll be done right by. Naturally, there’s an enormous amount of paddling under the water which goes on from everyone involved but, once again, we got there.
Various bits of paddling on my own behalf took up most of the remainder of July. The reality of being a working writer/musician has always been that Business has got to be taken care of and in my view that’s always been right and proper. “I’m only concerned with my art” would be a motto associated with the outlet for that art getting closed down sooner rather than later and/or with the Artist losing track of whatever passes for normality in whatever a normal life might be….
The trick – *if* it’s a trick – is to be absolutely clear about when one’s doing business and when one’s doing Art. If they’re kept apart from each other then both should be able to get along. I hope I’ve been pretty clear over the years that in order to keep going the eye’s got to be kept on the ball and that there’s no shame in that. In any event, I’ll leave the results of my July paddling for another day.
August arrived and – shock – I went on holiday. No, I mean, I really stopped for a couple of weeks. No internet, no mails, no work at all. And what better place for an old school retreat to simpler times than North Norfolk? A long way away from anywhere in time/travel terms and all the better for it. It’s not (surprise, surprise!) that easy for me to slow down, calm down, but this time I managed it. And the lack of internet, that constant need-to-update/be-updated was fantastic. Sometimes I think I should take at least a week-long retreat from the voracious onslaught of Online each month in any case. Oh, but the paddling might suffer? Well, when I finally logged on again it was illuminating to find that, actually, there was nothing of urgency at all awaiting me.
And so to County Durham for two days of the Ashes. (I make no apologies for, once again, bringing sport – and for the most of the planet particularly arcane sport – into things.) Hey, we’re spur of the moment chaps, so we’d only bought our tickets for this game two years ago, the moment they went on sale. Neither the cricket nor County Durham was a disappointment. As if. And cricket is just such a wonderful game. Well, it is now that, finally, we win some matches!
Finally, then, back home, the Ashes won (I’d watched every ball of coverage and also – thanks Adam – had a day out at Lord’s) I got back to That Solo Album.
This has been a long, long process and still has a few weeks at least to run. I’m still diving in and out, playing minute parts which may or may not survive and then switching to attempts to get the big picture. It’s flying solo and actually it’s by far the most complicated of the various things I continue to do.
For that I’m thankful. Stuff continues to be done, to be found, to be honed. I’m back in the Office.