Wednesday, 9 December 2009

July 2009

The summer was split between three projects: continuing to lay down parts on the Milky Wimpshake album with Pete (including recording cello at his school), mopping up the last of the outstanding numbers for Shin Jin Rui’s second album, and beginning the Cath & Phil Tyler LP which was tracked at Morden Tower.

Situated behind Chinatown, and making up part of the ancient fortifications of the City walls, Morden Tower has been the preferred location for poetry gigs since 1964. People who have read there have included Ginsberg and Hughes, as well as a host of weird gigs by bands such as A Hawk And A Hacksaw and Whitehouse. Famously, the toilet is situated within an alcove set into the wall, and rats can frequently be seen running around the base of the stone steps leading up the thick wooden door. Inside is a single circular room, with books and chairs arranged much in the way one would expect to find a Sunday school classroom. It was within this space that I set up numerous microphones to capture the barren folk ballads of Cath & Phil Tyler.

Having already released work through No Fi Records, the Tylers gained good exposure in the national music press with their debut Dumb Supper, produced by Warm Digits drummer Andy Hodgson. The formula for the second record was much the same: bleak, Irish American folk music set to spartan guitar, banjo and fiddle. I had the guys play live together in the room with plenty of close and ambient mics dotted around the place, and left them to it. Most of the work was done by them, chasing the right take for each song. In two and a half days, they managed eighteen songs which was later whittled down to twelve for the album. Overdubs consisted of violin, viola, box cello, distorted guitar and dulcimer (played to great effect with the lid of a Biro), while their incredibly well-behaved one year old son, Byron, amused himself with my percussion box on the other side of the room. In one particularly surreal incident, Cath breast fed the infant as Phil recorded some cello, and I made sure to stare at the ceiling.

It was during this session that my mixer packed up again; and a replacement adaptor was ordered at great expense while I limped through the remaining overdubs with my usb interface. I suspect that power irregularities caused by the failing device may have prompted the strange unexpected data loss from the Rui session last month. To compound problems further, the atmosphere of Morden Tower was, from a sound engineering point of view, a knightmare. There were dogs barking and children shouting in the park outside, the refurbishment of St. James’ Metro station up the road meant lots of pneumatic drills hammering in the distance, and the extractor fans from the Chinese restaurants located in the back alleyway added a deep whirring to every track of audio recorded. Once I got the recordings home, I managed to remove most of this noise by notching out 50Hz on a graphic equaliser, without affecting too much of the richness of the low end. Despite all this, the atmosphere of the Tower was worth incurring the sonic shortcomings. The place had an other worldly quality that made us all feel quite removed from the modern city around us, and I have no doubt Cath & Phil’s spell binding performances were a direct result of this.

As a postscript to these sessions, I also recorded the poetry of Aaron Tieger, a friend of Cath's who accompanied the duo to the sessions. Hailing from Boston in the US, it marked the first time I had recorded the spoken word. Payment was Aaron's promise of a place on his sofa any time I should be passing through. A pleasure to listen to; his more recent work from his travels around Europe were very sharp indeed.

On the 18th July Ex Libris curated the Star & Shadow part of another Narc. Fest gig. It was a rare opportunity to run amok with the line up: any costs would be picked up by the Arts Council, entry was therefore free and the bands even received a rider. The British Lichen Society unfortunately had to pull out at the last moment, leaving Glaswegian laptop songstrel Plum to open proceedings. As her set progressed, the audience warmed to her warm vocals and icy beats. Her live drummer was an inspiration too, and they both proved excellent company when they crashed at Libris Acres later that night with long conversations about The Wire. Dressed In Wires’ set ended with him chucking his equipment at the floor in a fit of genius that I have come to expect from Simon – he remains one of the most challenging and exciting acts in the country let alone the North East. Bong demanded that all the lights be turned off prior to their set, plunging the S&S into complete darkness before the audience was subjected to their unmistakable brand of very, very heavy drone n’ doom core that attracted a huge audience; at one point the venue was close to reaching its 200 person capacity. The addition of female wailing was also a welcome addition to their arrangements. That just left Khunnt to pummel home a roaring, avian scream attack of a performance that was so loud I lost balance several times while walking between the desk and the stage. Their drummer Matt donned a balaclava and Sam was bent double over his stack, lost in feedback. A seminal outpouring from four bands who got far more bodies in the room than I ever expected, and received the adulation they most definitely deserved. It was satisfying to see that people had chosen to finish their evening at the Libris venue rather than with official headliners The Twilight Sad at The Cluny.