Going into a recording studio is always a very exciting time for me.
I first started putting my own songs on tape my nearly a quarter of a century ago. Of course nowadays, tape is nowhere to be seen in your average studio. It’s all Logic this and Pro-Tools that – a world away from reel-to-reel and the era where if you recorded a 99.5% perfect drum take but made just one dodgy snare drum hit, you had to either live with it or record the whole damn thing again -which at £15 an hour wasn’t always the smartest option for a band of eager yet meagre musicians.
My 1st demo was to be with Dangerous Games, the band I’d formed in ’85 with school friend Andy and soon to be best mate Keith. Over 2 years after getting together, playing spit & sawdust residencies in Balsall Common & Sheldon pubs and building our equipment arsenal up to a point where it could be considered ‘passable’ or ‘roughly in tune’, we bravely entered Kings Recording Studios on the outskirts of Sutton Coldfield to record 4 tunes.
I was panning myself on 2 counts. Firstly I was hoping I sounded as good on the drums as I thought I did at that point (aged 19 and a bit), but secretly knew I was bang average – but secondly (and perhaps more crucially) the band’s extraordinary knack of being unable to find a lead vocalist at any point had meant that yours truly was charged with the task of making the magic happen in the vocal booth. My late teens voice was pitched somewhere between the kid on The Simpsons who always seems to be on duty at Krusty Burger and Aled Jones – not as rough around the edges as the material required in truth. Ho hum.
Kings was a basement studio in a residential property run by a Mr Dave King. Genius that he was to move in to that exact recording studio that bore his name, I know…when we’d initially contacted him about our plans and gone for a look round the place, he’d told us that Cliff Richard had recorded there. Or more accurately a songwriter for Cliff. Who’d never met him. And whose song never made the cut.
But that was all we needed to hear. If it was good enough for Sir Cliff’s sorry castoffs, then it was good enough for Dangerous Games and a deal was swiftly struck. The ‘live room’ was essentially no bigger than your average bathroom and so only myself and my brand new chrome Remo drumkit took refuge in there – Keith & Andy sat in the control room with their amps separate from me and we all looked in fear at each other when it came time to record ‘Never Again’, our first offering of the 4.
In actual fact, that session went incredibly smoothly as I recall for one with 3 rookies on their 1st tentative steps towards rock immortality. The drums, guitars and bass were performed with minimum fuss and even my vocals in the end sounded in tune and relatively ‘rock’. But the real eye-opener came when Keith suggested I add a keyboard part to our ballad ‘Stay In My Heart’ to add an extra dimension to what seemed a decent enough stab at my Bryan Adams rip-off.
I needed convincing (keyboards had ruined at least 3 KISS albums by this time) but once Dave had set up a piano/strings sound and I’d picked out the requisite chords, we were all looking at each other funny. The song actually sounded a bit like the sort of thing you’d hear on the radio! And when Keith added a guitar solo of real quality – the kind where you just HAVE to whistle along – I figured we’d be on Wogan by next Wednesday.
Of course, such rapid ascents to fame are only the preserve of talentless karaoke morons that plague our TV screens throughout Autumn time, and super stardom was not just around the corner. However, I had well and truly caught the recording bug and experienced that moment when a song you wrote could sound even better than your mind had imagined.
That was Dangerous Games’ only foray into the fluorescent-lit world of faders and blinking LED lights. Shotgun Wedding were barely out of the studio in the ensuing 6 years. We made at least 1 demo a year from 88-94 with varying degrees of competence and success, both on our part and those studio in whom we’d placed no small amount of trust…and a good few hundred sovs besides.
The incompetence came with SGW’s 1st demo, made only 6 or 7 months after I’d worked with Keith & Andy at Kings, and the contrast was staggering. TVM studios was a first floor studio right in the centre of Brum above Musical Exchanges, with a live room that stretched out for what seemed like half a mile.
The problem came with the arrival of our engineer for the day – a man who’d not long gone to bed after an exhausting session recording a Bhangra band the previous day that only wound down at 4am – we’d arrived bright and breezy at 9am sharp to make our big Glam Metal statement. It was horrid – not helped by the fact that I had to miss the mixing session due to work, and then discover to my horror on listening to the finished product that my bass drum was about as audible as a worm slinking across the studio floor would have been in amongst the wailing guitars and screeching vocals. I would never miss a mixing session again after that.
We had a Def Leppard moment a year later with a producer who looked not unlike the Leps studio svengali Mutt Lange, who’s just tried to make Nickelback sound less boring, apparently – surely an impossible task.
This bloke (name of Rob) owned a beautiful studio near Lichfield with a stone drum room that brought the best out of my kit for the 1st time ever. He owned a plethora of posh effects gear and proudly said at one point as he pointed to one particular rack-mounted contraption “I could switch that on and knock this whole demo right out of the park, but it’d be an extra £20 an hour, guys…” It remained switched off. Robbing bastard.
He was a stickler though, and I remember Paul & I being pushed to our very limits as backing singers, multi-tracking the same harmonies over and over again until our throats were raw. The 2-song demo sounded ok and got great reviews for Shotgun Wedding…and yes, we still didn’t get signed. Boo hiss. Mind you it didn't quite take 4 years to record like Hysteria did - it just felt that way as Paul & I embarked on vocal overdub No. 15 on the same chorus
The point I’m labouring towards 1100+ words in (!) is that last Monday I entered the Arkham Recording Studios in central Brum to hook up with in house producer Alex Cooper. But I didn’t have a band in tow – just me, myself and I, as I started work on my own solo album – something that I’ve been threatening to get going on for - ooh – about 14 years I guess?
I did go and record 4 songs by myself back in early 1998 at the behest of Ron Rogers, T’Pau’s guitarist/songwriter who I’d befriended during my time in Sons Of God during the mid 90’s. That experience with Ron (who was brilliant in the very short time we had to get things done) taught me a couple of things – most importantly that I’m not really a lead singer, even if I can sing in tune!! My voice is fine for backing vocals, but has always lacked the character you need to deliver really strong performances, and so this album will feature me singing lead as little as possible, if at all – haven’t decided yet. But I know a man who can…stay tuned on that…
I know I can handle the majority of the rest – drums, obviously, as well as guitar, bass & keyboards. I will ask a few ‘friends’ to contribute a lead guitar solo as required, but I fancy myself to carry off most of the leads without sounding too tragic.
Certainly after 3 days recording, I’m way ahead of where I expected to be – the target was to record all 15 drum tracks in that time, but in the end I not only nailed those but also 13 out of 15 bass guitar tracks in the can (or on the hard drive as it is in these technologically advanced times) which was a real fillip.
The more time I spend recording this material - some of which has been committed to tape before in previous bands but only on quickly recorded demos - the more I realise what a hard taskmaster I must’ve been to my old bandmates over the years when it came to playing the parts I’d written as I’d heard them in my head, even though it took me some time to reach a level of ability myself which I thought was ‘good enough’ to do the songs justice as a drummer, never mind the other lads around me.
I know for a fact that at least one former musical chum will never ever speak to me again as he told me I became totally overbearing towards him and his playing in my desire for things to sound ‘right’. And he’s absolutely dead right – I’m horrible like that. But the more I get into this project, the more I realise that there’s a damn good reason why we’re both right. Because for the sake of my own critique, it’s probably best that I do the lion’s share of the playing on this thing – I can’t pick anyone else but myself up for correct interpretation, and that’s for the best I think.
The same used to apply to my sketch work on BRMB/Heart, actually – the producers I was given to work with were lovely fellows, but they didn’t share my perspective or vision for how a sketch or parody song should sound to make it the best it could be – and I ended up producing the shows myself…to the show’s greater good, I might add.
Am I conceited/egotistcal? Yes, probably – you don’t get far in broadcasting or music without being that way inclined to some extent. But I can’t & won’t apologise for wanting it right and then getting it right. And when this project is done, I want to feel the same way.
There's songs I've written in my few years since giving up my dream of being a rock star in my late 20's along with re-recorded versions of some demo songs that I feel need the 2012 treatment and have been re-arranged/had lyrics re-written accordingly.
Titles will include 'Prove You Wrong' 'Soulmate' 'Overflow' and 'Cloud 9'
So...would you buy it when it's released?