RECORDING EVERYBODY POWWOW!
By the time Ian Tompson greeted me at the front gate of Humber Road Studios in Blackheath, on the first day of recording Everybody Powwow!, I thought I was well prepared, and was looking forward to finally getting in the studio with my songs.
I had good demos, click tracks with guide keyboards, bass and vocals to work to, musicians and an engineer I knew well, and the budget for a three-week recording period. What could possibly go wrong?
It never crossed my mind, driving into the studio that day, that I would be making the same journey three years later, still finessing the album! More of that anon.
After a morning with Ian, testing the mics, the click tracks, and getting ourselves generally in gear, Jimmy Copley arrived for the first drum session.
Ian and I had decided to record the musicians separately, and give each performer our undivided attention. Jimmy’s large TAMA kit was already set up, and as he began to warm up, Ian and I exchanged a look that said, “this is going to be good!”
I had recently worked with Jimmy on a film (Punk Strut), so I knew how he liked to work. He is always looking to push the envelope and create something unique. He plays with total commitment, with huge energy, and great power and sensitivity. And he plays till he drops! He gives it everything.
Jimmy is also a master at playing to click. His experience recording with Tears For Fears serves him well, and he locks to the click like a limpet, and yet produces drum tracks that sound completely organic. Unusually for many albums produced today, we never quantized his drums. They are all just as he played them, and the album is much the richer for it I think. (Who wants to have MDF when you can have oak!)
BACK AT SF STUDIO
After a few days recording we had nine great drum takes in the bag, that we were all happy with, and Jimmy headed back on the road to his drum chair with Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. The live room looked, and felt, a bit empty with Jimmy and his kit gone.
RECORDING BERNIE MARSDEN
But very soon another formidable rock presence arrived to fill the vacuum. Bernie Marsden walked into the studio complete with yellow Marshall amplifier, and a brace of breathtakingly beautiful guitars. Bernie was an original member of Whitesnake, and co-wrote a couple of classic rock anthems (Here I Go Again, and Fool For Your Loving), so he knows a thing or two about making rock tracks! I was very fortunate to have him on board. He had played on the original demos, so he was familiar with the tracks; and there was no stopping him during the recording process. He just went for broke, every track, digging in with weaving rhythm guitars, soaring melodic lead guitars, and shining expensive-sounding acoustics.
He was a real pleasure to work with: sublimely relaxed between takes, and ferociously on it during the take. You quickly get on the Bernie Bus, and it’s a great ride! And the Jaffa cakes are good too!
The only thing is, you have to become nocturnal. There is no choice. When Bernie says “Start at 10”, he means 10 p.m., and when you leave home for the studio, you know you won’t be back by dawn!
Bernie and I have worked together before in lots of diverse situations: mostly live performances and sessions, which have included recordings with Bernard Edwards and Tony Tompson (of Chic fame), and live soundtracks for The Royal National Theatre (Henry V, and The Winter’s Tale). We have evolved a nicely complimentary working relationship, and sitting down to make music with him again, particularly on my own project, was a familiar and thoroughly enjoyable experience.
After a three days guitar-fest, Bernie left, and Ian and I returned to earth-time to compile and sub-mix Jimmy and Bernie’s work.
We were working on ProTools, and although we did have the option of recording on one of the two 24 Track 2″ analogue tape machines available, we needed a system where we could throw stems around between us, and incorporate all sorts of archive material into the project, and ProTools worked perfectly in this respect. Only one 24 track machine was working by now anyway, since Ian had virtually destroyed the other in the process of attempting to play the old 2″ multi-track demo recordings. This was before he started baking the tapes to stop the acetate stripping off as the tape passes over the heads. This saved machine #2 and allowed us to get at the demos.
RECORDING SIMON EDWARDS
Next up on the team sheet was Simon Edwards on bass guitar. He is a much in demand session player and, due to his busy schedule, we only had him for one day; potentially a very long day! Simon was my first call for the Powwow sessions because we had successfully worked together in the past on many occasions, and, as well as having a great sound, and being an incredibly talented player, he can read music; really well.
So I turned up at the sessions with nine manuscript scores for the bass parts, and we quickly evolved a method: Simon played my part through once or twice, usually note perfect, and then over the course of the next hour or so adapted and moulded it into something uniquely his. Funky, fluid, and right in the pocket. Thanks Simon! Ten hours later, we stopped. The bass was done. Our ears were rattling. We went home. Very pleased!
A few keyboard sessions later, back in my own studio in Suffolk, I set off back to London for the lead vocal sessions. I had no hesitation in choosing Robert Hart when Ian made his suggestion. Robert has just the sort of rich rock voice that the songs needed, he was working with Jimmy in MMEB, and he came highly recommended from several sources.
RECORDING ROBERT HART
When Robert arrives at the studio you know it. He bursts in, makes the room laugh, and then wants to get on with the work. He’s a real pro, with great pipes, and it was truly inspiring to hear my songs transformed from the demos which I had written and sung, to another level altogether.
Ian surrounded Robert with microphones, and concentrated on recording the full tonal range and intensity of Robert’s amazingly emotive voice.
Over a number of days we completed the recording of 9 songs; Amerikaye, Chase The Sun,
Shine On, This Is The Life, Watertown, This Land Is My Land, Crazy Horse, Badlands, and Everybody Powwow!
Robert’s method was to work his way instinctively into each song gradually building in intensity, and then, when the red light was on, deliver any number of high quality takes at full performance level.
He would work on the current song until he was completely happy, and then some more! Sometimes I would end a session thinking, that’s the take, he’s nailed it; and then next day Robert would come in asking for another go at the track, and his new performance would lift the song to another level again.
Ian and I were very happy to go along with his method. It was delivering amazing results!
WHAT HAVE WE GOT?
Two weeks later I was driving back into town to listen to Ian’s mixes: “It’s work in progress” he had said over the phone. “Come and have a listen. I’ve got an idea.“……
So we sat down and listened to the album all the way through. It was really an emotional experience for me. Finally, after all these years, I got to hear these songs, beautifully performed by my musical friends. I had done it. I had made the album!
We finished the play-through, congratulated each other on our work, talked about what we needed to tweak here and there; and then there was a pause.
“So what’s the idea?” I said.
“Ah“, said Ian.
“The thing is,” he said “I’m not entirely sure the album is really there yet.”
“It feels like there’s something bigger trying to emerge.”
“Okay” I said, cautiously.
“Maybe you should go home and write it then” said Ian.
So I drove home, a little deflated, thinking, “well nine tracks took me twenty-five years to finish, how long will another nine take?!
The lights of Stansted airport faded in my rear-view mirror and I floored the accelerator. I better get home. How long did Handel take to write The Messiah?
Robert Hart sings This Land Is My Land form Everybody Powwow!
Link here to the Everybody Powwow! Face book page.
Everybody Powwow! will be released on Spiderhawk Records on June 15th, 2015.
For further information about Everybody Powwow! and the people involved please click here.