What’s happening now?

Never mind all that 1980s, messing about with noisy cables and crackly boxes; what’s happening now? Are you recording anything new?

Well, sort of. Over the past two months I have worked on two pieces. Anna and Back to summer.

Anna

I am still mixing Anna, despite a version already being available on Sound Cloud. But I think it’s getting close to being ready so I am now commissioning the artwork.

Here is the creative specification for the work. It will probably go through several iterations:

The piece is designed to be broken up for TV/Film scoring. The version on Soundcloud is a composite piece.

Anna is a young orphan girl who has managed to survive on the streets after the death of her guardian and last living relative, her uncle. Anna’s uncle had also retreated from society living on less savoury skills to chisel-out an existence. He reluctantly passes his knowledge onto his sister’s daughter. Anna is even better than her uncle at exploiting others, though she harbours more compassion for those less fortunate than her. She targets only the people who can afford to ‘share’ their wealth. Enhancing her skills through others she attracts to her. Wrongly accused of a crime she retreats to the forest where her adventures really begin. May be this is my next novel?

Back to summer

Originally “back to mama” is, and was, a sad song. The latest version, Back to summer, is about the perfect relationship between the perfect couple and it being shattered in tragic circumstances. The bittersweet memories that haunt and lift the person left behind, twist through the music.

I am really pleased with the instrumental piece, which has become a complete work in its own right. That said, I can’t wait to get a vocalist working on their interpretation of this song.

 

I will share a little more about this soon, including what sounds were used and what recording kit I am now using.

The Seduction during 1987’s storm

Before Simon and I decided to go our own ways, musically, we decided that next project called for a dedicated singer. Someone we could write for.

We advertised and Louise replied.

A Lancashire-lass with a sharp Annie Lennox haircut and deep-made-up eyes, a hard, rebellious front to a lovely, talented girl.

We did some photo-shoots at Stamford Station and at Rutland Water and it was probably the freezing temperature or the sheep poo that was the final straw and in 1987 Shake The Tree returned from being a trio to a duo.

So, to take our minds off these events, Amanda who is now my lovely wife of 25 years, decided we should have a break – a cosy, out-of-season break. Only it was October 1987 – The year (and month) the UK experienced the worse hurricane in  modern times.

It was a scary few days, in the middle of nowhere without any power, but it was at this time I wrote ‘Seduce me’.

The production notes have long since disappeared but here’s what I can remember.

Drums were programmed on a Roland TR707 and percussion on a TR727. They were linked using midi and I recorded the whole drum arrangement in the machines before dropping to tracks 1 and 2 on the Fostex 8 Track – The Model 80.

The very new replacement for the R8, the Model 80 ran at 15 IPS, used ¼” tape and had Dolby C noise reduction.

The bass on Seduce me was played, not sequenced, straight along to the drums into track 3 on the Fostex. I used a Roland S10 sample recorder / player, and used its slapped bass sound, which was pretty ‘hip’ at the time. I wished I had made it a little warmer.

The pads and pianos were from a collection of keyboards and sound modules including a Roland B110 and a DX27. The horns and guitar mutes were from the S-10. All these I bounced around the remaining tracks until they settled on tracks 4 to 6. Again all the keys were played into the Fostex direct; my hands were a little faster in those days.

Louise’s vocals occupied the final two tracks. I used a Sennheiser MD 441 U microphone, which suited Louise’s voice really well.

These production notes pretty much describe the equipment and techniques used on most of the ‘Too Late’ album including ‘Yesterday’, though Simon did sing along with me on this latter track, to provide a richer backing vocal sound.

Both Seduce me and Yesterday had long versions.

The extended version of Seduce me was very old school. I selected and mixed various parts of the original multi-track to provide all the material I needed and then with John, my trusted editor (and his even more trusted blade) we physically cut the resulting ¼” stereo master into an extended mix. It took hours and at one point so much tape spread around the room that an accidental tug caused a lamp to fall off a desk at the other side of the room.

Yesterday followed the same pattern, though due to a problem with the original multi-track, I used a re-recorded version. Doing this meant far less re-mixing and physical editing.

The Seduce me extended version is now lost, but here is a digital safety copy of yesterday.

Off the Backboard.

At 16, I loved basketball. Its was while playing this at an after school club, I met someone who became a very good friend. Simon is a very talented musician. We met up for drinks and after talking about all the things we had in common we decided to explore music together.

Our first venture was mobile disco road show. It was great fun but we also found ourselves creating music of our own at his place – an old English Country Hall in rural Lincolnshire. It wasn’t very long before we formed a band and did a couple of gigs. I drummed for the band, but what I loved best was recording our work.

At that time, 1981, home recording was in its infancy. I had to make do with two cassette-tape decks, a small Sony mixer and an assortment of very dodgy microphones and leads. Sometimes I thought I was more like Igor from an old Bela Lugosi movie handling HT leads to wake the dead rather than a suave George Martin audio engineer or producer.

While I enjoyed this, I found it frustrating that when the band went home my ‘hobby’ had to stop. It was at this time I purchased a Casio VL-1 and wrote and recorded my first solo piece, Digital Native

This version was recorded in 1993 for my Big Man Album and digitally remastered this year on Logic Pro X Software. It used an Atari computer (see below), C-Labs Software and Synths from Roland, Emu Systems and Yamaha.

 

atari-stf

 

I gradually worked my way through the new cutting edge technology being made available at that time. From 4- track cassette Porta-Studio, 8-track Porta-Studio, 1/4” 15 IPS 8-Track to finally using an Atari based MIDI studio running C-Labs software. I synchronised analogue and digital worlds together using the SMPTE time code: MIDI was not as elegant for this requirement.

Though Simon and I recorded our work together, I recorded for other bands of many different genres, either as producer or engineer or both. Things were going really well and we had just completed our Wild Romance Album using the stage name Shake The Tree (before anyone more famous to use this phrase!) for which we posed for the Stamford Mercury looking like less-photogenic version of Tears for Fears, when, in the truest tradition of the music industry, Simon and I decided to have a break from working together on Music.

Although we remain good friends to this day we only ever collaborated on one other recording since that time.

 

 This is something from Simon’s latest repertoire. My favourite of his latter pieces.

A new beginning

I have been a bad boy. There I have said it, but what do I mean?

I had grand plans to write about my music, what I was recording and all about the techniques and kit. I promised myself I would but I failed.

Why? Well because I had so many things going on. I had a lack of readers and feedback. I didn’t really understand WordPress, and I didn’t know what to write about, or how to write it.

Has this changed?

Yes. Well, I hope so. Okay, we’ll see.

So what will I do differently? Let’s start with that.

I have three hobbies: music (this failed blog) photography (another failed blog) and writing (a personal, cathartic outpouring).

The Writing, you would think, would be an ideal subject for a blog. With WordPress filled with so many top-notch writers, however, I fear exposing my writing to them would be disastrous for my confidence and self-esteem. May be I should have more faith. So keep my dream of, one day, finishing my book making a modest fortune and retiring to Tahiti or the North Norfolk coast.

The Photography was a failed blog. Not because my photos were bad but because I found I was writing the same things again and again. It was also very seasonal and dependent on me getting time to go out.

The Music offered a new outlet coinciding with me finding WordPress; but again the words dried-up.

So what next? This is still a place where people can listen to and hear about my music. This is still a way of allowing people needing my help with their music to get in touch with me.

Should I write about all three – Writing, Photography and Music?