Monday, October 01, 2018

An A-blog-pology!

Yeah, so it didn’t quite work out like I had planned . . .

As I mentioned a while back, my intention was to blog about the various steps and recording sessions involved in making my album . . . photos, video clips etc.
Unfortunately, after the last blog below, I did three or four sessions which were really productive and interesting but, during which, I completely forgot to take photos or make videos; this was compounded by the fatal mistake of thinking, ‘ok, I’ll get round to blogging about all this later . . .’

I read somewhere that there is a Korean proverb about procrastination which goes something like, ‘saying you will do it tomorrow means you will do it in ten years’. I’ve just been looking for it on Google but I can only find:

오늘 걷지 않으면, 내일 뛰어야 한다
This translates as, if you don’t walk today, you must run tomorrow.

And this one:
오늘 한 시간이 내일 두 시간 보다 가치있다
One hour today is worth more than two hours tomorrow.

Or, as it says on the paperweight which Renate (in Piano Session below) gave me, ‘Übermorgen ist auch ein Tag’ – the day after tomorrow is also a day.

There is also a really great TED presentation about the subject by Tim Urban.

Anyway, you get the point . . .

Then there were also lots of almost never-ending sessions which involved me, sitting all alone in front of the computer, just working on a few bars here, a couple of notes there, a guitar part somewhere else. Highly absorbing and satisfying for me, but really difficult to photograph or describe in a way that would not bore you, dear reader, to distraction. This is the nitty-gritty work you have to do to make sure the recording is as ‘correct’ as possible (and I am always surprised by how much I enjoy doing it) – correcting little bits of timing you missed in the recording session, cleaning vocal tracks of nervous throat clearing or coughs and sneezes, taking out extraneous noises which the sensitive microphones pick up if you are recording in a living room – DHL ringing the doorbell insistently to deliver a package for a neighbour, a dog barking outside at the bloody DHL guy, irritated DHL guy slamming the door of his truck, etc etc.

However, there were great sessions with Gabe and Hector where they played some amazing fiddle and mandolin on Set Me Free. Then Paul came along and did the critical harmonica for the same track.

I did backing vocal sessions with the highly talented Tanja-Maria for Wendy and Love and Understanding.

There were sessions with Katie who played some beautiful viola on Before It’s Too Late and somewhat more aggressive strings on Wendy.

I went to the Express Brass Band’s practice room to record some amazing brass with Teresa, Michael and Simon under the conductorship of my old mate Neil; extra trombone was recorded at Neil and Angelika’s, played with the perfect emotional tone by Teresa.

Then it was again down to me . . .

I did lead and backing vocals, completely redid the bass on Wendy, re-recorded from scratch part of Diamonds for a Dime (ARGHHHH), put on guitar fills for Crab . . .

Then I set myself a two-week deadline to have the final mixes ready to send off to Ruairi in LA for mastering. The deadline was a deliberate tactic on my part to force myself to do all the last little bits I had been leaving till ‘tomorrow’ (see above). That turned into a week of pre-procrastination, where I hadn’t even started procrastinating, four days of medium, rising gradually to pathological procrastination, followed by three days of panic-fuelled intensive work during which I repaired and altered much more than I’d expected (and I think for the better) and in a strange way discovered all these songs anew.

And so, I sent them off to LA – and found that I was utterly unable to even contemplate listening to them again. I had a physical aversion, a stomach-churning dread of having to listen to the final mixes again. This, I am told, happens a lot and it is a very valuable process because it means when you finally get back the mastered tracks, they come as a complete surprise (in my case, thanks to the amazing work Ruairi did on the mixes, a very positive surprise).

So, I have the music! Now there is the cover to do and the ‘paperwork’ stuff with Gema etc and then we will be off to the press!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

So, how do you make a multitrack recording..?

It's been a while but I have finally managed to make the video I promised about multitracking. Please feel free to comment . . .

Monday, April 03, 2017

Too late . . .

With a truly heavy heart I have to sit down and write my tribute to Bernie Bigler . . . it’s been hard to take it in that he is gone.

I’ve know him for over 10 years. We spent many hours together playing, travelling and talking and what I loved most about him was his love of music and harmony; how music fits together and how it works.

Bernie had a great sense of humour, he was outgoing, always interested in others, he was considerate and caring and, something which is very rare, he was able to listen. I guess that’s connected with his musicality.

He was such an easy person to be with. Just last year we had a fondue together at ours. My kids were telling him he’s like a member of the family, calling him ‘Uncle Bernie’. I think he was pleased about that.    

We had planned to do some recording for my album in the New Year. There’s a song of mine I really wanted Bernie to play the flute on. I knew he would have just the right sensibility for it. We said, ‘ok, we’ll do it after Christmas . . .’

I find it somewhat shocking that the song is called, ‘Before It’s Too Late’. Now, sadly, Bernie’s flute will never grace it.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Squeezebox ahoy!

The Shabby Road branch of NewTones Studios was on the road again this week.
Hector Gubbins has been a friend for well over 20 years. He is an immense talent - artistically and musically. He is a great guitarist and mandolin player but he is also one of those people who can pick up almost any instrument and get a sound out of it.

I really wanted to get some of his squeezebox talents onto one of the songs on the album, 'Love and Understanding'. So I popped over for a very enjoyable afternoon last week and we nailed it.

This is an out-take where, suddenly, the spirit of English folk music takes over the song . . .

Hector at work

More from NewTones Studios in the coming week!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Piano session . . .

NewTones Studios was on the road this week. This was session to record piano tracks for the song 'Before It's Too Late', which will feature on the - as yet unnamed - album.

As you can see, it was a hard, hard session. Proof that musicians don't just sit around drinking coffee and cognac and eating doughnuts all day...oh wait . . .

My thanks go to Renate Dienersberger for really hitting the perfect note (and notes) for the piano parts on the song.

It's fascinating to hear the music develop bit by bit.

For the next blog I will do a video on how you build up the tracks to make a complete 'sound'...

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

For example . . .

There should have been a recording session today with my long-time musical collaborator, and highly talented pianist, Renate Dienersberger, but I had to postpone it due to unexpected work commitments.

We would have recorded piano tracks for the song 'Before It's Too Late', which will be on the album.

To give you an idea of what it sounds like when we play together, here's a video of 'Brooklyn' - a song by Steely Dan.

There are two acoustic guitars, one on the left and one on the right which provide the rhythm and a basic bass line. The piano is spread behind the lead vocal and I did some multi-layered background vocals which permeate most of the recording.

I spent quite a long time (hours and hours - in the studio 'long time' really means 'l o n g   t i m e'!!) mixing this and when I was done I saved it to my DropBox folder - however I forgot that these files are really big and switched off the laptop before the upload was done...and when I opened it the next day it was GONE!!! Horror of horrors!! 😱

Fortunately - and this is the point I wanted to make: ALWAYS make backups!!! - I had saved the mix as a WAV and that is what you listened to up there (actually it's an mp3 made from the wav).

Phew!! 😥

Thursday, February 09, 2017

So, how do you make an album . . ?

Yeah, good question.

First you have to write songs. I wrote my first song when I was about 15. And it was a big surprise. Up until then I had firmly believed that it was IMPOSSIBLE to write a song - I know there was a lot of evidence around me which should have proved to me that people could indeed write songs, but I considered it simply IMPOSSIBLE!

So, suddenly, somehow, I had written a song. And this simple fact that it was actually possible to write songs, disproving as it did that my previously held belief that songwriting was IMPOSSIBLE, was a great help to me for future songwriting.

For this album, I plan to go through old material and choose around 10 songs which have been knocking on the door for years to be finished. Some of them are featured on my solo album in a basic version, some you can hear on my YouTube page and some will be new to you.

I would like to go through the process of creating the recording here with sound tracks, photos and videos - still have to work out how to do all that 😉 - and I thought maybe the best way is to take one song as an example. The one I am working on right now is 'Low Ground' which I wrote so, SO long ago, and it also turned out to be my first ever experience in a recording studio (in Liverpool) back in the 70s (the NINETEEN 70s). It was truly a mind-blowing, life-changing feeling to emerge from a studio with a proper recorded!!

Ok, so 'Low Ground' - what's next? Record it!

I use Audacity, in the NewTones Studio, which is an open-source recording software. It's free and it's really good! The main thing you need to do is spend hours and hours using it to get to know what you can do. I'd say I have a fair idea now how to use it.

Normally the first thing you want is a click track. For Low Ground I actually had an idea for a basic drum track.

And here is is, the very basic drum track (15 seconds of it). I'll be working on that for a while. In the meantime, I will also have to work out what comes when, intro, verse, chorus, solo, outro, etc . . . that's it for now!

Saturday, February 04, 2017

New Album News

After years of wondering which studio to record my songs in and who to do them with and wondering how to pay for it all and waiting for the perfect moment and procrastinating and going round in further circles, I have finally reached the point where I have decided to do it myself, NOW!
The plan is to make one new album with my own songs and possibly a second album with cover versions of some of the songs I love.
NewTones Studio
The songs will be recorded mainly at NewTones Studio. As there is no way I can make perfectly polished professional studio recordings, there will be some rough edges but I hope to end up with music which has an intimate and human feel to it.

I also hope to feature on the various tracks some of the brilliant musicians I have worked with over the years and, of course, the fabulous NewTones.
The other aspect of this project, which for me is completely new, will be to share the process here and on my FaceBook page: I will be posting news, photos of sessions and video clips as the project goes on...

I hope we all enjoy the experience!

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Winter Solstice Thought...

I was just thinking about the memorable JFK quote "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" and I thought, "hmm, y'know, that could be extended...".

So, instead of texts from holy books and scriptures, popes' proclamations, ayatollah's admonitions, chief rabbis' recommendations and  so on, what about if we all simply said to each other, "My fellow Earthlings, ask not what other Earthlings can do for you, ask what you can do for your fellow Earthlings"...?

Something, perhaps, to ponder over our puddings.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

How About Thinking for Ourselves?

This latest atrocity, the beheading of Alan Henning by the Islamic State, is another example of concentrated barbarism carried out under a religious banner.
The fact that world leaders have condemned it is good. The fact that religious leaders have condemned it is also good. However, the way some of these religious leaders have condemned the killing is, in my opinion, not so good.
To say this act is “contrary to the teachings of the Qur'an/Bible/Torah/Vedas/etc and that it is a crime against religion x, y or z is not so good.
If you need to go scrabbling through an ancient text to find out whether beheading someone is a moral or immoral act, then there is something seriously, seriously wrong with you.
I am sure the IS would argue that they are only following the words of their religious book whereas other religious leaders are interpreting these words differently or incorrectly.
And this is the problem when you tie your moral values to some “infallible” sacred text of yours. You are going to be confronted by stuff you don't like and so you have to start interpreting the text, but then there are other people who see that text in another way - and then there are people who hold a completely different text to be holy and infallible and who think yours is just a load of tosh.
We humans know intrinsically that killing others is wrong, that killing others in a barbaric way is..well, barbaric. We don't need a fucking book to tell us this.

As a first step, how would it be if we consigned all these conflicting, holy, sacred, infallible religious texts to the literature bookshelf and started accepting that we need to derive our moral code from our own basic common human values...?