San Tropez to JFK – Everybody Powwow!

San Tropez to JFK

I wake to the sound of surf, the sea, lapping at my feet. The light hurts. I push down into my sleeping bag. It’s wet. There’s a heavy dew. I rub my eyes, my skin is sore, the sun is already hot. I reach for a bottle of water, drink and lie back. Soon the beach will start to fill up, but for now it belongs to me and my comrades, sprawled about the embers of last night’s fire. It’s 1971, I’m sixteen years old and this is Tahiti Beach, San Tropez, France, the favourite beach of the beautiful people.

San Tropez
San Tropez Tahiti Plage 1971

Brigitte Bardot has her house on the headland and, like moths to flame, the rich of Europe gather here for the summer. The beach is lined with huts, and in front of each hut, in neat rows, are parasols and benches in many shades of livery. Different groups at different establishments, each with its own favoured celebrity.

BB‘s

BB‘s is San Tropez’ number one and that is where we like to end up at dusk, playing chess, and making a beer last an age.Right now though I’m lying on a stretch of beach a couple of hundred metres wide. It’s the only stretch of public beach in the bay, and for the summer this is our home. We are not the rich of Europe, we are “les freaks”, hitch-hikers, travellers, buskers, students, a group of friends enjoying the good life for a few pounds a week.

LIFE ON THE BEACH

Breakfast is a fresh hot baguette and a can of sardines in olive oil. Whoever gets up first goes to the campsite and, using the money we earned the previous night busking, buys the day’s provisions. We get up early, swim, eat, and re-establish the camp in daytime mode. For the rest of the morning and afternoon, we read, swim, drink, and eat, and watch the people go by. In the evenings, we cook on a camp fire, sing songs, play chess, busk, and generally fool around.Occasionally the police come and tell us to move on, sometimes we get invited to beach parties, but mostly we’re left alone.

On this particular day in August in the summer of 1971, I am lying back in the sand when thump!, something hits me on the head. It is a well-aimed book, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, thrown at me by my friend and hitch-hiking buddy, Tim. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

“Read that! It’ll change your life!” He laughed. Well I did read it, and I have since read it many times, and delve into it often. And Tim was right, it did change my life! Over the next few days, I write a song inspired by Dee Brown’s book:

Bury my heart at Wounded Knee

Lay me down by the cottonwood tree

Yes we know when you come we die

Take me home where the eagles fly

We rehearse it round the camp fire before playing it on the waterfront, in amongst our Dylan and Donovan repertoire. Busking is simple in 1971; there is no hassle; just turn up and play really, and people are generally kind, and generous. We usually get quite a crowd.

Robert Hart sings the song on the album (Everybody Powwow!), and it still retains the bones of the chorus that I wrote on Tahiti Beach, San Tropez,  all those years ago!

So that was the beginning of the journey. A journey that would take me across America into the heartland of Sioux territory.

Everybody Powwow!

JOURNEY TO NEW YORK

The physical journey begins on the slip road leading onto the A1 just outside York (England). It’s now seven years after that fateful hit on the head, I have a music degree, a couple of hundred pounds in my pocket, and I’ve just left my home and I’m hitch-hiking down to London to catch a plane to the USA, to Pine Ridge. I know I’m going to write an album. But I need to make this journey to know what to write.

A van pulls over. The driver says he’s going all the way. It’s my lucky day!

Five hours later, I’m in London, and I make my way through the underground to Heathrow.

Simon Webb

I’m fortunate to have great support with equipment and lodgings on this trip, (I couldn’t make the trip without it), organized by Andrew Coggins, a friend of old. A camera shop in York had agreed to lend me a high-end Nikon camera, 36 reels of Ektachrome film, and a Sony portable cassette recorder.

So I start recording and taking pictures as I travel.

The incredible sound of the ticket hall in Piccadilly Circus is the first recording I make, and later use this as an introduction to one of the songs on the album.

This is my first trip by plane, so it is all new to me, the airport, the plane, the take-off, the sensations of jet travel.

The standby flight costs £64, and I manage to get on the next plane. It’s a VC10, a very cool aircraft. I order a drink, and I sit back and relax. At last, after years of planning, I’m on my way!

We take off and rise through the clouds into a clear blue sky. The sun appears to hang in the same position as we move west. I write a song title down: Chase The Sun. And then start to write what becomes the chorus.

I’ll chase the sun all day

And the moon all night

Straight for your heart

I will follow the light.

JFK AIRPORT

I arrive at JFK airport, and head for the bar. I not quite ready for the next part of my trip yet. New York had a fearsome reputation at the time, and I have no idea what my host in the city is going to be like.I know his name, Joe Eula, and that he is famous, and that he is Liza Minnelli’s designer.

Everybody Powwow!
Liza by Joe Eula

And that he has agreed to put me up for a few days.

A couple of beers later, revived, I take a cab into New York. As we cross the Brooklyn Bridge and the city of New York stretches out in front of me, my spirits soar. This is going to be interesting!.. (more to follow).

New York 1978
New York 1978

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Links to further blogs about Everybody Powwow! below:

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

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…


Everybody Powwow! – 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……


 

Everybody Powwow!

 

 

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.