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Elisabeth Troy Antwi arrived last Tuesday after I’d completed a session the previous day wrapping up “Feast of Consequences” and trapping most of “Blind to the Beautiful”. Calum and I were unsure of what tracks Liz would eventually sing on and her credit had to go on the album as a general as we wanted to try a number of different approaches. Foss joined us in the afternoon and was a great help working out some of the intricate harmonies with Liz as she built her contribution..It was a long session as Liz was only up for the day and joining a tour the day after returning home. She was an absolute trooper and dealt with everything put before her with no complaint. Calum, working with her for the first time, was mightily impressed. Even Dave Barras filming on the studio floor while she was performing didn’t phase her one bit!
” Blind to the Beautiful” has really developed into something very special. On the Tuesday morning before Liz arrived Calum recorded a violin session with the incredibly talented Aidan O Rourke, a Scottish fiddle player who has been making himself a serious reputation in recent years both in his own right and with Martin Green, the accordion player, and singer/ guitarist Kris Drever, in their band “Lau”. He was recommended by Calum to bring some extra textures to a couple of the songs and he definitely has brought something to the “feast”. On “Blind” he has lent an Appalachian folky feel that has enough bedding in the Scottish/ Irish style that it works perfectly without overwhelming the simple arrangement with Foss’s keys and Robin’s acoustic guitar. He also added some violin to “High Wood” and “The Leaving” to compliment what Egbert Derix has already given us with his Dutch string section. I was disappointed not to be able to get to be at the session in Calum’s studio as I had other duties to perform but I will definitely be trying to catch Aidan and “Lau” sometime over the summer. Check him out at http://www.aidanorourke.net/
I had heard sections of Egbert’s string contribution while I was working on vocals on “High Wood” and “The Leaving” on my Monday session. Calum was still adding it in to the mix so I didn’t get the full effect until later in the week but it’s a stunning addition that makes the two tracks even more haunting and poignant. With Aidan’s solo violin threading within the Dutch strings and adding some ” special effects” the first and last tracks of the “High Wood” suite have really grown into perfect “bookends”. I finished my vocals on them after Liz left, replacing a couple of sung lines with spoken word which added to the drama and really puts it into the category of “movies for your ears”! I got a text from Simon Moston to inform me that it was 97 years to the week that my Grandfather, William Paterson went up the line with the 8th Royal Scots to the High Wood! An uncanny coincidence and I couldn’t but help thinking about him as I was putting my own final touches to the songs. The occasional thunder and lightning outside added to the ambiance while the heavy rain could just be heard down the mike. We’d hoped to catch the thunder and went as far as to set up 2 Sennheiser microphones in the open doorway leading out to the front garden. We were disappointed to just miss a couple of growling, deep, trembling rolls and caught only a couple of cooing pigeons that we decided to ignore as samples deeming them unfit for battlefield SFX ! 🙂
Liz sang only a couple of cover lines in “Crucifix Corner” and added choral vocals to “The High Wood” itself in the Carmina Burana/ Druidic”trees” section. On “Blind to the Beautiful” she compliments my lead in only a couple of places adding a sparkle in a similar way to Aidan’s violin in the instrumental break. With “Perfume River” she bolsters the end choruses as she also does in “All Loved Up” which has developed into a seriously “up” number reminiscent in some ways to the “Incommunicado” vibe. The demo and the version we played on the UK tour sounds “flat” in comparison, it quite bounces along now and doesn’t hang around! “Feast of Consequences” also has Liz supporting in the choruses but it’s on “The Other Side of Me” and “The Great Unravelling” that she makes the magic work with a couple of answering lines and some full on wailing that lifts the songs into another area. It was a splendid afternoon session that moved into early evening before the Chateauneuf de Pape was uncorked and we called it to an end. She had done an amazing piece of work for us and thrown a shimmering sparkle on the tracks she was involved with. Calum was overjoyed at her contribution. The night was long enough for story boxes and reminiscing and we were joined by my daughter Tara later on as we caught up with the missing years and soaked up the wine that flowed quite freely till sense took hold and we retired for zeds and an earlyish airport run.I had my own sessions to deal with next day. While listening to Liz’s sessions during the day I was also able to evaluate my own comps from my first sessions. I already knew some were pretty close and Calum and I were confident that I could trap finished album vocals by end of play Saturday with Monday and Tuesday as safety zones. I came back from the airport ready for a long day in front of the microphone.
We first looked at “Feast of Consequences” as we had decided to change phrasing in the chorus sections and Liz had already laid her vocals in the track. The verses only needed touches but we ran through the song with full takes just in case we got lucky. A couple of phrases beat the comps and the choruses tightened up with the new speedier phrasing we’d agreed on. “Blind” was conquered next, again with only a few changes and a lower harmony vocal strengthening up the high section which was easy to sing live but with the understating required down the mike it was a challenge to hold tuning without full lung power.My voice was holding together well as we’d set the keys up in the writing where it wouldn’t be straining. In the old days I’d rattle it out full pelt into the wee hours accompanied by wine and other “additives” that weren’t exactly conducive to vocal stamina. Occasionally tapes would be slowed down for those really awkward high notes if continually running and jumping against the wall didn’t get the desired result. I didn’t know enough about music or think of asking the band to move keys in writing stages back then. They played. I sang with them. It would create problems later on as the years went by and I just physically could not sing like the 20 odd year old did on the albums.At 55 I take a different outlook and plan accordingly. My voice has changed over the years as I’ve got older and the wear and tear took it’s toll. I’ve settled into a vocal area where my voice has lost some of it’s range but benefited from the richness and tone working in lower keys that suit my voice. it’s a lot more natural than that false falsetto I used to use that was untrained and forced resulting in long term issues that I had to deal with later on. The vocals on this album are spot on and I learned a lot on the Fishheads Club acoustic tour. There is no point in hammering down a microphone in onstage mode when the mike and the mix should be allowed to take all the strain and illustrate all the subtleties and nuances to create the expression. If I am comfortable with my headphones and the balance then all I have to do is get the feel right. Calum is an expert at getting me into the right place mentally to get the performance. As we listened back to the tracks he had already comped I knew we were in the right place.
Wednesday saw off 3 songs as we finished the day tackling “All Loved up” and nailing it. More low harmonies and spoken vocals under some of the main lead vox tipped the cap to Keith Moon’s “Bellboy” with a touch of “Mockney” accent in one section! With the new edits and tighter arrangement than the original version it does have a possible radio friendly air to it but at this stage in the game I won’t hold my breath! 🙂 It certainly rocks out a lot more than it did! I try not to get my hopes up too much with radio these days after the huge disappointment with “Arc of the Curve” and “Zoe 25” on the last album. It’s a great song and stands up well with the other tracks. It’s the quirky wee number you need on an album !
Calum was spending the mornings “weeding” out the mixes and adding Egbert’s strings that had been sent over.Thursday was the assault on “High Wood”. I’d listened to the songs over the previous weekend and felt comfortable with most of them. “High Wood” itself was a tricky vocal and Foss had to lay a defining keyboard melody to help me pitch in a couple of sections. I finally managed to negotiate what were two lines of vocal and we then had a look at the spoken word intro that Calum had suggested. I wasn’t sure as we already had a great vocal take. As always we tried it out and lo and behold the song sprang open for us.The drama it lent to the performance was incredible. My low vocal harmony adding to the Druid choir also added another dimension. We carried on into the suite and after listening to “Crucifix Corner” agreed it couldn’t be beat. Same happened with “The Gathering” and “Thistle Alley”. The comps were on the button. We added the low vocal harmony to “Thistle Alley” to give it more “oomph” and some extra spookiness. It had been a long day and last up was “The Leaving” . Another fine comp from the first sessions left us with very little to patch up on the lead and we followed the same tack as we had before using a spoken vocal at the front end for dramatic effect replacing the sung verse. More lower harmony work and an added vocal section on the run out using lyric from “The Gathering” finished the day. Another 5 hours for me in the studio and I was staring at 3 songs to finish my vocals on the album.
I had thought about going to Easter Road to see Hibs play Malmo in the second leg of the European qualifiers. We were already down 0-2 from the first leg and I knew we had a tough game against the team currently top of the Swedish league and halfway through their season which meant they were a lot more match ready and fitter than us.I’d held of buying tickets as the vocals came first and as I’d kind of expected the Thursday session finished after 7. Car parking at the stadium is always a nightmare but with an expected crowd of 16 000 I was going to be trying to find a space a long way from the stadium.I resigned myself to the online updates and listening to comps. By 22 mins it was effectively over as we lost 2 goals quickly. Then the roof fell in. 0-7 on the night, 0-9 on aggregate and the worst ever defeat for a Scottish team in European football in history! A disaster! I was glad I’d stayed at home and got on with my work here.
Friday with Calum had us looking at “Perfume River” again. I wasn’t happy with the melodies in the end section and we started running new takes to find another route. It took me just over an hour to discover a new approach and again a couple of harmonies here and there gave it body and soul.”The Great Unravelling” had a fantastic first comp and only a couple of lines of answering vocals we’d not done first time around, which matched Liz’s, brought it into final take. “The Other Side of Me” was in a similar state. I’d forgotten I’d written an answering lyric in a section in this song too and which I’d remembered when Liz was here.She had recorded her contribution on Tuesday and all I had to do was fill in my vocal which took less than 30 minutes to finish. A tidy up on the end section where my phrasing could be bettered and suddenly it was over! We were 2 days ahead of schedule! Calum was coming in next day as he had more “weeding” and comping to put together and I had one more thing to add which was 2 lines of lyric that Simone had translated into German for me that had to be spoken at the end run out of the “High Wood” track. On Friday my vocals on a “A Feast of Consequences” were complete.
It was a strange feeling that evening, sitting on my own in the studio, bottle of chilled Savvy to hand and nothing to really do next day. It was all in Calum’s hands now. Foss had to replace the electric piano parts on the Yamaha Baby Grand down at Calum’s studio, a couple of mornings work and we had brass to add on “The Gathering” but that was it. The recordings were virtually complete! Saturday was a long lie in while Calum tinkered in the control room. The German spoken words took all of 10 minutes and then Calum was off home and Sunday was totally empty. That night I Skyped Simone and we listened to the entire album in it’s vocally comped state together. I admit we were both in tears a couple of times. It had been a long haul to the top of the mountain.Seeing the balcony on her camera behind her added to my emotions and I remembered the near panic at the end of 2012 when I wasn’t sure if I had it in me.
Sunday was a totally nothing day here on my own. I watched movies,ate too much, drank too much wine and generally chilled. I didn’t know what to do to be honest.The artwork was at the printers, the film edits were underway and I was scheduled to see them on Tuesday, after the designated vocal finishing deadline.I was a bit lost and needed to refocus myself into the next demands. I finished off the bottle of cognac I’d been nursing the past couple of weeks and headed to bed at an ungodly hour to wake this morning with an ungodly headache!
Just what I didn’t need when a brass section turns up to record!
Foss had set us up with the brass section and worked with their leader, trumpet player John Sampson on the score. Foss has been a wee gem on the album working with Egbert on the strings and Liz on her harmonies.I’ve always appreciated Foss’s musicianship but on this album he has genuinely impressed and has my total respect. John turned up with trombone player Fiona Lund, tuba player Stuart Watson and Finlay Hetherington with his flugelhorn which he was going to add a short solo to above the brass arrangement in “The Gathering”. Another fine wee session and the team delivered just what we needed to complete the song and bring the central instrumental and intro to life with real brass rather than the synths we had been using so far!
Only the real piano remains to be recorded at the end of this week when Foss gets back from a short break and as it’s down at Calum’s it was time for him to decamp and strike his studio gear from the control room.
At 3pm I was really alone and carting microphone stands back to the garage. The studio was now returning back into my home ( at least until rehearsals in September) and I was taking on the role of cleaner as I have to get the cave in shape before Simone arrives on Friday for a 2 week visit.
Picking up the assorted lyric sheets, reboxing the Behringer monitoring system, tearing the gaffer tape down that held up the wires trailing from the control room, taking the speaker stands out to the garage that needs to be decluttered to take the albums that will be arriving first week of September and repositioning the furniture that had been shifted to accommodate Gavin’s drum kit all those weeks ago gave me a weird melancholy.
Calum starts mixing this week once he has worked out what to leave in and what to take out of the recordings. It’s a huge task but I know he is more than capable of delivering something immense and extremely special. I now leave him to it and he will call when he wants me to hear something. I will be anxiously waiting.
Tomorrow I head into Edinburgh to sit through the DVD edits that Dave Barras has put together so far. The next component to head off to the production plant.
I was on the phone this afternoon to advertising departments getting quotes and schedules in magazines and it struck me just how close the next mountain is.
For now I am just savouring the view and relishing the prospect of sending this album out into the big wide World in just over 5 weeks time!
This is another one of Mark’s images for “The Great Unravelling”. The entire 100 book will be added to the fishheadsclub website over the coming weeks so you can see what you will be getting with the deluxe album version. The standard format will have a 20 page booklet using around 23 images from the near 80 that are in the book!