Everybody Powwow! – The Master Recordings. (Part 1)

Recording Everybody Powwow! at Humber Road Studios.
Humber Road Studios. Day 1.

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.

RECORDING DRUMS

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.

Everybody Powwow! Jimmy Copley on drums
Jimmy gets ready…

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

Bernie Marsden - Everybody Powwow! Sessions.
Bernie playing acoustic.
Bernie Marsden's Yellow Marshall - Everybody Powwow!
Yellow Marshall – Everybody Powwow!

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.

Everybody Powwow Recording - Ian Tompson
Ian Tompson

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.

Everybody Powwow!
24 Track Tape Machine

PRO TOOLS

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.

Everybody Powwow! sessions
Simon Edwards at work.

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!

Simon Webb Composer
SF Studio

 

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.

Robert Hart
Robert Hart

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.

Longer pause.

“Okay” I said, cautiously.

“Maybe you should go home and write it then” said Ian.

Silence.

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.

A journey into the Badlands.

Everybody Powwow! The back story (part 1)  A journey into the Badlands

On February 27th, 1973, an American public, wearied by the Vietnam War, woke to the unreal prospect of guerrilla war in its own heartland. American Indians converged on a small village in South Dakota and vowed to change the world, or die. As The Badlands echoed to the sound of gunfire, the Wounded Knee 1973name Wounded Knee flashed in headlines across the globe, and the public sat mesmerised as though the whole thing was a re-run of a John Wayne Western.

The history of the 1890 massacre of the Oglala Sioux at Wounded had chilling echoes of the recent My Lai massacre by US troops during the Vietnam War.  Dee Brown’s best-selling book, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee which had been published in 1970, was exerting a powerful global influence, with  revelations of the centuries of injustice meted out on the indigenous population of North America.

And the times they were a-changing. For a brief moment it seemed that Native Americans might achieve justice in American society.

But it was not to be. After 71 days, A.I.M., the American Indian Movement, called off the occupation, Wounded Knee faded from the world news, and the injustice continues to this day.

MY STORYWounded Knee 1890

I was eighteen at the time, just about to finish school in England. My interest did not fade. I was captivated. I read everything I could on the subject: Newspaper clippings, books about Black Elk, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Red Cloud and The Oglala Sioux. I listened to Native American music, and searched out material that presented the Sioux side of the story.

Later, having completed my music degree, sitting in my local pub talking to a group of friends, I mentioned my idea to write a piece about Wounded Knee. A stranger at the next table leaned into our conversation and said “I’m a poet. I’ve just come back from Wounded Knee. You should go there if you want to write about it. I can get you in!”

Six months later, in 1978, I made the journey to Wounded Knee. It felt like a long wayEverybody Powwow! Badlands from Yorkshire. It was my first time in America. I had flown into New York, and made my way west. New York was pretty tense at the time, but the atmosphere on the reservation was extremely so. The repercussions of  Wounded Knee 2 had left a community torn apart and struggling to survive. Goon squads terrorized the full blood Oglala on the reservation, and I heard sporadic gunfire at night. I also experienced real hostility. It was understandable, given the context.

But I dug in, made friends, and stayed for a month, talking to people, walking The Badlands, soaking up the influences, listening to music, taking part in the Sweat Lodge Ceremony and  attending a Pow Wow.

I walked the hills and drove the dirt roads into The Badlands, taking photographs, and recording sounds.

Everybody Powwow!
Pow Wow at Pine Ridge. 1977

It was, on reflection, a magical time.

I MEET LUCY LOOKS TWICE

On the last night of my stay on the reservation, I went to the local village hall to watch a play by a distinguished touring theatre group. The play told the story of the Oglala Sioux, through the eyes of the most famous Sioux medicine man, Black Elk, and was delivered in high melodramatic fashion.

Sitting next to me was an old lady who seemed to be taking a very contrary view to the show, muttering and giggling. She reacted particularly inappropriately to a very sad speech by Black Elk

Everybody Powwow! Badlands
Harsh light in The Badlands.

at the end of Act 1. During which,  having tried to suppress it for some while, she finally burst out into a fit of giggles, grabbing my arm and holding it tightly until she had regained her poise.

In that small hall, her reaction took everyone by surprise, audience and performers alike.

Shortly afterwards, during the interval of the play, outside in the evening sun, I found myself standing next to her. Everyone else seemed to be giving her a wide berth. Drawn together, we introduced ourselves. Her name was Lucy Looks Twice. She was Oglala Sioux, a local, and wanted to talk. She was interested in me. She told me not to believe everything in the show. Said it didn’Simon Webb composert happen like that. She was funny, and quick-witted, and keen to know what a young Englishman was doing in the middle of the Pine Ridge Reservation. I told her. She listened carefully, thought for a while and then gave me some cautious, but kind words of encouragement.

EXTRAORDINARY DISCOVERY

It wasn’t until many years later that I realised just how much weight those words carried. Thirty two years later to be precise. Prompted by a friend, I Googled her name, and there it was. Straight out of the box. Lucy Looks Twice. Daughter of Black Elk. Extraordinary! The show that I had watched all those years back, sittinEverybody Powwow! Badlandsg next to Lucy Looks Twice in that tiny village hall in Pine Ridge, had been all about her Dad!

Her reaction now made complete sense. Her words hung in the wind.


 Later I wrote this song: Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. Robert Hart is the singer. Bernie Marsden is on Guitar, and Alan Stewart on saxophone. I’ll introduce the rest of the band later.

Link here to read more of Simon Webb’s blog about Everybody Powwow!

Link here to the Everybody Powwow! Face book page.

Link here for more information about Everybody Powwow! and the people involved!