Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Fox on the roof

Take the right turn at the little Elf petrol station in Llanorra. 

Keep on the road, don't turn off.
On the hilltop you'll see a big yellow barn.
Take the right fork after that.
Ignore the dead-end sign.
Follow the road, down and around, across a little bridge.
Up a hill. Down a hill.
Past a load of sheep.
Turn right down towards a gate. Open the gate. Drive through. Close the gate.
Keep wiggling.
First you'll see a tumbled down ruin.
Belan Hall is next.
Turn left through the pines...

I always feel that directions best set the scene. We really are in the middle of nowhere. With the sheep and the mountains and the forests and the sky. Big sky. At first there was snow, the guitar player eagerly opened the gate and thrust his hands into the small drift at the roadside. It was pitch black and minus three degrees. We bundled in and lit the fires and kept them going for 10 whole days. We must have used a fair few trees. We set about rehearsing the songs but really it was a futile exercise as we all knew that the producer would change them anyhow. We stocked up on food and all speculated about the week ahead, making jokes and imagining scenes, waiting, waiting, desperate to start but also slightly apprehensive. How much do we concede? Do we hold firm about some things? We had to find a balance. Had to listen to his experienced ear, his industry ear, but also try and remain true to ourselves! But what are we? We all could feel the change, it's been coming for a while now. Ever since How NOT to be in a Band we've veered away from all that sillyness. We're not Odd any more. The name doesn't seem to fit. But more on that later...

The producer arrived late on sunday night. With his dog; Hudson. A beautiful husky/collie type. Very gentle and calm. We sat around drinking ale and small talking; nobody daring to turn the topic to recording our songs.
We slept but hardly slept. All too excited. All too apprehensive.

The morning was spent unloading gear. We didn't begin recording till early afternoon. Basket Man was the first song, we swung it. Drums, bass, keys, rhythm and slide guitars all in the same take. Leaving the vocals and solos for later. This was the process. Though sometimes it changed. Sometimes just drums and bass, or drums and rhythm guitar. Sometimes to a click track. Sometimes just naturally. Some songs worked, some stalled. Some took hours and hours. Those were hard because the fire died down and the cold crept in. The producer was patient and guided us and we all listened in those early days.

The drums were all done by thursday, but we were behind schedule. The list of things to do was increasing daily yet the days were disappearing. The drummer became our chef and prepared the meals as the four of us ploughed on. Mother Goose, written as a foot stomper, doubled back and became a ballad. Judi's Song, well known to many of you, swung like Basket Man. Songs changed, but for the better. All for the better. Most of it we conceded. We let go of solos and grace notes, structures and intros. If one of us fought his ground he was overridden. It was all about the songs and not the individual. Some of us played three different things in a single song whilst others sat out altogether. Too Many Egos, a song poking fun at musicians and their egos was dropped in favour of an old classic. And for the right reasons too, though the lyrics were never more true, as Mr. Ego did occasionally raise his ugly mug, but he was suppressed. And huge thanks must go to the producer and his unflappable patience. He kept his head when all about him were losing theirs...

Instrumentation changed too; double bass was preferred to electric bass. Wurlitzer replaced piano, banjo and mandolin were prominent, beaters replaced drumsticks and kora was maybe the star turn in the song Home.
Our old friend Catrina drove up on the last day, flavouring three numbers with her gorgeous cello and adding harmonies as well.

I believe it will make a beautiful record. Very different from the last. But then we are so different now, we've come a long way from stomping on a Cajon drum to keep time!

10 days we spent tucked away. £200 forked out on food. A similar amount on ales and wine I dare say! 11 tracks recorded. 21 instruments used. Twice we climbed the mountain and sat on the ridge. Once with Hudson the dog. Late night walks to the little bridge to get signal. Snowmen and snowballs and thousands of sheep. Chainsaws and axes and hundreds of logs. Hot water bottles, long-johns and freezing feet. Snow on the mountain, ice on the road. I remember the crackle of the fire and the whirl of the wind.

We did it! By hook or by crook, and we walk away now leaving it in the very capable hands of our producer to tweek and edit and mix and master and all those other cogs that go into making a record.
You can see the pictures here

Goodbye Belan Hall and thank you for housing us and oh what fun we all had! Within your large rooms, your creaking stairs, the largest bath in the world, the fox on the roof. 

The fox on the roof, huh, seems an early front runner for the album name!