Between worlds

There’s only a few days left now until the release of “A Grounding in Numbers”, at long last. I’m currently caught between several different worlds. Obviously, awaiting the release and getting my way through a variety of phone and email interviews ahead of it; thinking about the upcoming touring and starting to prep myself for that, technically, musically, emotionally; getting the ball rolling on the newest solo recordings. Being a tad slower these days than of yore the recording of a solo album starts with a gradual increase in project momentum, as opposed to the headlong burst of frenzy that’s VdGG recording. I’m still at the stage of assembling song ideas and fragments, sifting through things to see where I am and where I’m heading. I should just about have the picture clear by the time I’m into full-on solo rehearsal for the VdGG stuff. Oh yes, there’s a lot of that to be done!

At this moment of between-the-worlds I thought it might be interesting to write about the equivalent period before the recording of “A Grounding” began.

These days whenever we have a period of VdGG activity it’s time constrained and intense; so it’s crucial that we have a clear idea of where we might be going in advance. This is particularly so in the case of new material which we’re going to undertake. In the old days we would roll up at rehearsal places and I’d present such stuff as I had in either a solo live performance or a taped demo. Usually with quite a lot of the old “we need to get from here to here, somehow….” In the trio, we do things and find things rather differently now.

Months before recording, even before dates are booked, we start exchanging stuff. CDs and sound files start circulating between us containing everything from (almost) fully-fledged song ideas, through random riffs and sequences, right up to pure sonic soundscapes. In particular, HB and I work on things in parallel to each other, putting together fragments which seem to collide in a satisfactory manner and warping original ideas into subtly different variations.

There’s no immediate pressure at the early stages to establish which are the front-runners for inclusion, though to be honest the main contenders – and therefore something of the tenor of the oncoming work – quickly make themselves known. The end result of this approach is that when we arrive at the moment of recording we’ve effectively been involved in a silent conversation for a sustained period and the concentration that’s involved in that is immediately transferred into the arrangement process. (It goes without saying that the shape of things isn’t fully established until the drum patterns are there and they can only come about once we’re all in the room together and active.)

There’s usually a fair bit of fine-tuning to be done to the pieces at backing track stage and often bridging sections still have to be written and performed in the moment. And nothing is finished until everything’s on there – all overdubs, all lyrics and singing. Indeed, some things were still being magicked together even in the final week before mixing on “A Grounding”….

Anyway, what I mean to impart in this somewhat rambling screed is that when it comes to the material we play and record in the trio we think long and slow and we act quickly; in both cases we do so absolutely collectively. The proof of this particular pudding, of course, will be with you shortly!

I feel I should say a word or two about Pat Moran, the engineer and producer, who died last month. He was a very important figure in VdGG’s history.

He first worked with us on the (solo) album “Chameleon”. He’d recently pitched up at Rockfield studios and was becoming the main resident engineer there. These were the wild days of Rockfield when one’s morning repose was likely to be blasted by Dave Edmunds’ mega-playback levels of mega-overdubbed guitars and evening sessions were often interrupted by the exuberant arrival of Kingsley Ward, one of the owners, in full effect as only he could be.

“Chameleon” and the following “Silent Corner” were produced by John Anthony. “Nadir”, the next album recorded at Rockfield, was self-produced and Pat, of course, was at the controls. Manfully, at times, as in sticking in the control room when everyone else had retreated from the onslaught of a – rather too loud – lap steel solo.

Thereafter Pat worked on all the following VdGG records, on backing tracks and mixes for the first three of the reformation. He was, therefore, invaluable in guiding us through the choppy waters of record production. He was always a fantastically sympathetic presence, getting far deeper into the core of the music than might have been expected. I’ll always remember his cry of “Psychotic Reaction!” at a particularly “good” bit of playing; and, indeed, his “What is the meaning of this saxophone?” interrogations.

He also came on tour with us once as sound man, on the Canada/NYC jaunt.

Pat was a  really lovely man and I raise my glass to him.