Tuesday, 8 December 2009

June 2009

The first part of this month was dominated by the residential session in Crook, Co. Durham, where I was recording punk electro upstarts The Colt .45's. Already having released one album themselves, the glossy “Let’s Have An Accident”, the four piece were looking to capture a more raw sound for their sophomore effort, and knowing I was a fan had approached me to take up the challenge.

This was the first time I had conducted a residential session since the days of Colerabbey in Portrush, and I admit I relished the opportunity to move my gear wholesale to their abandoned, unfurnished mansion and set up everything permanently. The sitting room had a wooden floor, an old piano, plenty of natural light which came through large patio doors, a kitchen next door, two friendly dogs that frequently invaded proceedings and an old desk upon which I could set up my laptop, mixer and monitoring equipment. Around the room were various amps, guitars and samplers which in turn were close mic-ed by a plethora of SM57 and 58s. Andy made good use of my Fender Jazz bass, and the girls tucked into the Marshall and Laney amps I’d brought along specially. The glockenspiel, stylophone and percussive bits and pieces were also on hand for use at any time. No neighbours to worry about and plenty of time to concentrate solely on the music; in short a perfect recording environment.

The fortnight that followed was one of the most productive, and grueling, sessions I had ever been part of. On an average day I would travel the one hour journey by car to the makeshift studio to arrive by noon, have a coffee made for me by Anne-Marie, start up my gear and say hello to the dogs, then consult the whiteboard to see what we had planned for the day. Work would go right through to the early hours of the morning, upon which I would pack up my Mac and return home listening to the rough mixes on the car stereo.

The band were keen to write brand new material, some of which had already been prepped by Andy and Keith into demos which they played each morning as the band were having breakfast together. From these ten or so sketches, four were selected for our attention. Guitar parts were then worked out, singing duties decided and arrangements fleshed out with keyboards, different guitar effects and various instruments I had left lying around the room. Very often I was able to record the bands’ rehearsals of new songs so they could have instant playback, which helped the creative process considerably. I was keen to capture as much of them playing live as possible for the proper studio versions, so real effort was taken to get a good take upon which to build the rest of the song upon. We flitted between overdubs on older takes (conducted around the time of the Mugison gig last year), doing completely new versions of old songs from the first album, and nailing down definitive versions of the tunes which were being written in the studio. I have never in my life drunk so much coffee.

It was a real privilege to be allowed into such a close knit group, and I went out of my way to only offer advice, criticism or encouragement when I thought it was explicitly needed. The rest of the time I just let them get on with it, and was privy to moments of group inspiration, the odd squabble over the number of verses a certain song should contain, or the late night buzz of everyone being wired on too much caffeine and firing toy guns into the mics as overdubs. A warts-and-all experience of a band that had a work ethic like no other: there were tea breaks and trips to Gregg’s, but it wasn’t long before somebody would pipe up and say “well, shall we crack on then?” and return to their stations. The whiteboard was filled to the frames with vocal parts, structures, amp settings and notes for each of the songs, and the band regularly grilled me for my ideas on extra instruments and structures. A compelling atmosphere to work in, and one which I hope has yielded material far beyond the recordings the band have made in the past.

As these sessions came to a close, I did some very quick work for Haz and Helen from the Star & Shadow one evening. They were both involved in Gay Shame, an antidote to the garishness of the Gay Pride festival in London. Their stall was to feature Haz with two prosthetic breasts, each containing different flavours of milkshake. Punters would be encouraged to suckle at the teats while being stroked by Haz in an motherly fashion, whilst listening to a capella nursery rhymes sung by Haz and her sister Helen on headphones. The idea was to create a fully immersive and regressional experience back to the days of early childhood. Or something. Anyway, it was my job to track their singing, which I did with two mics in the Libris Acres studio, as the two girls worked on their alto/soprano harmonies. Luke appeared with wine, and soon all four of us were having a merry time smoking and drinking in the tiny room. As requested, I mixed the songs into a continuous stream so that there were no gaps between numbers, and ensured it was mastered to be loud enough to be heard through headphones in a club environment.

The month ended with another two sessions on the 29th and 30th with Shin Jin Rui, capturing the songs that were lost in the hard disk debacle.