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I cannot remember ever being so exhausted after rehearsals and I can’t think of a time when a band have put in such a hard shift in the lead up to a tour. We finally unplugged late this afternoon and it’s now in the lap of the Gods. Calum Malcolm called in to see how things were shaping up and he was duly impressed after hearing a couple of the new songs. It was the perfect lift we needed and we are all pretty confident we can stride onto stage tomorrow night in just over 24 hours time and deliver a show that will send everyone on both sides of the ‘fourth wall’ home with a smile!
There were a lot of preparations on the technical and creative side to put together. One of out new acquisitions has been the Roland SPD-SX which is a set of drum pads used for triggering effects that augment the songs and fill some arrangement gaps that the musos can’t fill because of a lack of hands. I really didn’t want to rely on loops or anything that we had to play with and that invariably leave you in the lurch when they decide to kick off mid show. The Roland means that Gavin will be hitting the pads to launch effects and loops that we aren’t tied to and can move in and out when we want. It’s been a very tough week for our drummer taking on board learning to use the Roland module, who we have christened ‘Eric’, as he has to get his head round playing rhythms as well as adding sound effects. ‘Eric’ is proving a useful tool and certain things like reverse guitar sounds can be added that set up Robin for actual guitar playing and make for interesting sonic additions. Obviously it also means that as a sampler Gavin has a lot more percussion and actual drum sounds at his disposal with ‘Eric’ at his side but the struggle to get his head around this new toy has meant that his nightly jogging runs started to suffer as he has been totally knackered after a day’s sessions. To give him his due he has been extremely patient and studied hard and the Welsh temper has only briefly flared a couple of times much to everyones amusement as he is so placid and easy going it’s a shock to see him fire up, lose it for and instant and immediately regain composure with a slightly embarrassed smile! 🙂
Another major addition to the equipment roster has been the new Behringer X32 mixing desk ( http://www.behringer.com/EN/Products/X32.aspx ) . Robin and Steve had brought it to my attention a few weeks ago during the last writing sessions. It’s always a problem working at the level we do , moving into venues and having a different desk for Shaun Rogers to work with every night. It takes time to come to terms with an ever changing set up and we’ve had experiences where soundchecks have drifted right up to doors opening as the FTC tries to find the best sound possible for the night. It can be a highly frustrating process and in some cases the FTC has had to rewire venues to get what he wants. With the X32 we have the capability to wire our own desk into the house systems and as it’s a digital desk we can pre-programme and have our basic sounds, effects and mixes already at our disposal which will only require tweaks to adjust to the local acoustic environment. Having our mixes on a ‘dongle’ will save us so much time and Shaun will feel a lot more comfortable having the same desk every night at his fingertips. It’s a fantastic piece of kit with high grade innards which those of you who are technically minded can investigate at the URL above.
Not only is the X32 going to save us time at sound checks, give us a better uniform sound on a tour and make life a lot easier for the FTC and the musos alike it also gives me a conduit to make far superior desk recordings. Not only can we record the stereo mix from the desk on another ‘dongle’ but I can save a 32 track mix onto a laptop and use it for multi track mixes of songs or shows that stand out. I had planned to record and release the UK shows, selling download codes on the merchandise stall but in all honesty we ran out of time and will be keeping this option for the European tour in September when we go out with the album post release.
I had an artists deal with Behringer quite a few years ago and through Steve and Robin’s prompting and the FTC’s high recommendations I got back in touch with the company. They were extremely helpful and excited about starting another new relationship after I described what I was attempting to do and the reasons behind my decisions. Despite the short time before the tour they stepped up to the plate and we agreed and endorsement deal which will be mutually beneficial on a number of levels as we will both be promoting each other through our media platforms in the coming year as “Feast of Consequences” moves forward and my touring weaves into Europe and beyond.
There’s an added bonus as not only am I using the X32 desk but I will also be using the new Behringer monitoring equipment onstage and in the studio. I have not had a dedicated monitor engineer on tour for a number of years. It’s another wage that is hard to find and despite most of the venues we play in having great engineers there is, as with the out front desk, vast differences in equipment as well as the inevitable problems with translations when playing outside the UK in a lot of cases..Setting up on stage sound is an even greater swallower of time than out front set ups and getting everyone’s preferences balanced is a tough job for everyone.With the X32 I also got the option of having an onstage set up which gives everyone their own mini mixing desk to balance their own sound. Without getting too techy the Powerplay P-16M system ( http://www.behringer.com/EN/Products/P16-M.aspx) means that by using Ethernet cable between the outfront desk and junction boxes and the personal mixing consoles everyone can adjust the mix of their own sound at any given point in the gig and thus become independent of requiring third parties to deal with what are very personal preferences. A huge leap forward for us!
After discussions with Calum Malcolm today we will also be able to use this system in the studio during recordings as the musicians will be able to adjust their own headphone mixes in detail and as we are planning to record the entire band in situ rather than piece together overdubs this will again prove a real positive addition.
Shaun has been working with the new system for the last couple of days and is, as I write this, ensconced in the main studio going though manuals and watching You Tube tutorials on the workings of it all. I have to say it’s great to see him so excited with new toys! 🙂
My home resembles a wartime invasion beachhead at the moment as the equipment is readied and prepared for the tour. Yatta is outside in the garage sorting “the Pack” and putting together the merchandise which all arrived today giving him a headache he hates to deal with. The new “Clown Carrier” is a lot bigger than CC1 but we will still manage to pack it to the roof! Angus is grabbing images and footage for the backscreen projection while McKinty has returned to the fold for this tour to be met with various demands to solder and wire equipment that the musos can’t gamble with especially on the first shows when nerves will be raw and edgy.
I’ve been spending a lot of time on the “other side of the looking glass”! I reside for large parts of the day from the moment I get up and to the late hours working here in the control room on the PC dealing with everything else outside Yatta’s jurisdiction as production manager. Liaising with Mark Wilkinson as to the various artwork ideas, the leaflets for the shows advertising the pre orders, the production and the merchandise surrounding “Feast of Consequences”, we’re in touch on almost a daily basis. Coordinating with Mark and the merchandise suppliers, with EMI re the recent titles, lawyers re various issues that require attention, interviews, chasing tour promotion, working with Dave Barras to assemble footage shoots, sorting out a new lap top I need for film retrieval/gig recordings and general office work on tour, getting camera film/new batteries/replacing lost chargers and another new camera, the GO PRO Hero Black for filming special footage that I want to use in the tour and on the “Feast of Consequences” DVD, working out new video clips, assembling the lyric bible etc etc as well as being the singer in the band and attending rehearsals on the other side of the looking glass it’s been a very tough couple of weeks.
In saying that I have to admit it’s been relatively easy being surrounded with so many smiles and so much positivism from the band. There have been no arguments or toys being thrown out the pram, no complaints on workload, everyone has been pulling together brilliantly. It’s a fantastic unit to be involved and working with!
John Reid has also been doing a brilliant job with the fishheadsclub.com web site. The new shop is coming together and will be on line in the next couple of days. Finally we are in the position of offering download options. As well as the audio from Fishheads Club live, both the Derby show and the Studio sessions, I have also elected to go with some other live recordings that have been out of production or were limited editions as Cd’s. I am putting up “Sushi”, “Fishhead Curry”, “The Haddington Tapes” and “Candlelight in Fog” in the coming weeks, starting off with “Sushi” in the next few days. This will be the start of a concerted effort to increase the titles available for download as I embrace this new medium.
I decided not to go with the “miscellaneous” options that I considered to ask for bids for such as the “dinner with Fish” at the studio etc. I think my energies are best served with concentrating on the recording and the management of the various elements I did think of would not necessarily be a good use of those energies in the long run. I talked at length with Elspeth and John about this and we all think that raising funds through traditional means such as merchandising with discounts to those of you who want to pre order but who would like to contribute more is a better option where I can return your support by giving you something back you may want. By increasing the downloads available and offering them at hopefully acceptable prices I’d like to think we can raise funds through that medium which does have a certain irony to it all ! 🙂
Calum’s ideas for the recording are already getting us thinking about June. Resurrecting some of the old recording rooms and using the kitchen as a vocal booth when recording the band as a 5 piece are invigorating. What is at the moment Robin’s room was where we placed guitar cabs to record and with the main floor under the wooden beams having been too “live” for recording drums in the past the present soft furnishings and reconfiguration have made it a far more acoustically friendly space. Robin’s room was actually used to record his amps during the “Exile” and other albums and I had refused to contemplate ripping the existing acoustic treatment out, thinking that one day it could still play a part in recordings. It comes back into play again! The new kitchen could prove an added bonus to the mix as we set up a 5 piece band for simultaneous recording ! I can do the catering during the solos and middle 8’s ! 🙂
I still have some work to do on the lyrics with “The Great Unravelling”, “High Wood” and “The Leaving” still to be completed. I’ll have plenty of time during the tour to whittle and ponder on those verses and I am pretty sure “Unravelling” will make it’s debut later in proceedings. I have a visit to the Karlsruhe balcony immediately before recording begins and I am confident all will be revealed before we move into the studio on June 17th.
It was difficult to imagine at one point last year being in this position where we practically have a finished album ready to be played in front of an audience and having a fixed and firm recording schedule in place. I remember the white knuckles and near panic attacks last Summer before Steve came on board when I wondered if I still had another album inside me.
It seems a natural evolution now and being in a position where we are being able to pre produce the material in front of an audience where I can concentrate on engaging the crowd and projecting rather than fumbling around and being self conscious on a studio floor is a bonus I never thought we would have.
It’s still early stages and there’s still a lot of work to be done on the arrangements. As I have said on the video clips that go with the demos filmed here in the last week and that will be going up on this website in the next month we are still discovering the mechanics of the songs, the subtleties and intricacies that go to making a great album. The boys were a bit reluctant for the demos from the “Circle” to go up but as I said we’ve outlined the plans, laid the foundations, put a roof on and now there are sound pictures going up that show the bare brick walls still requiring plaster and decoration with wires and pipes still hanging out the ceiling. If you have the imagination I have you are seeing where we are headed with the designs. You will get to see and hear more as the weeks and months go by. I am recording all the shows and filming in HD both front of house and backstage to provide you with an overview of where we are at. It will all make more magical sense as the dream unfolds and the reality presents itself!
The studio is getting quieter now as the crew head back to Haddington to their hotel. Everyone is exhausted after an extremely long arduous day preparing the Moveable Feast. I am tapping away here, Shaun is still online getting to grips with the new desk, Steve and Robin are basking on the couch with laptops wired into tech data on assist, Gavin is dead to the world in his hotel room, Foss at home entertaining American guests but I know he is till running arrangements in his head,Yatta is crawling off to his well deserved sleep with aching arms from lifting boxes, Angus has Vietnam movies screening in his head with burning trees while Mc Kinty lays his head down in the “Plough” with lingering soldering fumes. There was a time I would be up on “badger watch” but tonight I draw this tome to a close, I bid you goodnight as I try and empty my mind of lyrics, arrangements, interviews and plans and hope my dreams are not filled with weirdness and worries.This time tomorrow the first gig will be over and I will be writing another day up. This one is over.
I will dream of facing the fourth wall. See some of you later ! 🙂