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The best way to start a new album

It’s been a ten hour drive so far. Molly’s been amazing and the traffic down the M6 / M5 from Fife has been reasonable. We are 15 minutes away from our destination when - BOOM - our car dies - it literally stops, grinds to a halt at the exit to a major roundabout. With the last few inches of momentum I manage to swerve the car onto the verge out of the way of hurtling lorries and push the hazard lights on. Molly chooses this moment to go for a poo.

No doubt this is the morsel of karma we are due in order to balance the fact that something quite wonderful is about to happen.

We look out of our accommodation the next morning, past our car sitting helpless on the gravel which was kindly pulled there last night by the AA. Across the courtyard is a house, a tall 17th country house in the grounds of a large estate - Pete Townshend's country place on the North Wessex Downs. And somewhere, hidden up in the trees, is a hidden recording studio. It’s sides are lined in reddy ochre tiles that seem to melt into the barks and mosses around it. It feels like it has always been there, but in fact it was purpose built a few years ago by Pete. Initially he saw it as a store for his collection of organs and synthesisers from the 60s and 70s, but very quickly it transmorphed into a breathtaking recording studio, looking out onto an adjacent field, patrolled by foals.

We’d met Pete in the baking hot spring of last year. Beth was in for a two day cello session with a musician she often worked with called Reg Meuross who is a friend of Pete’s and it was the inaugural recording session in this newly completed recording studio. I was in tow and on Molly playtime duties - playing in the grass, watching the herds of deer leap the fences and we occasionally popped up to the studio, to geek out and to listen in to the session.

Pete took everyone out for dinner both nights and was so considerate, kind and down to earth, making sure we had everything we could need to look after ourselves and Molly.

In between studio drop-ins and Molly-naps we were also trying to write some new songs - at the last minute in classic Bookshop Band style. Our next stop in four days time was at the V&A Museum in London and we’d been commissioned by them to write a series of 3 or 4 songs inspired by their newly acquired Oz magazine archive, following the death of Felix Dennis, one of it’s later editors. After Beth’s cello sessions had finished we were due to spend two days in London to finish writing the songs, but the weather was SO scorchingly hot, the air here so breezy we rather cheekily asked Pete if he wouldn’t mind us staying there instead to finish the songs. He said of course, told us to leave the key under the mat when we left, and we had a lovely couple of days finishing off those songs before heading off to play them at the V&A. As a thank you, we left a box set of Bookshop Band albums for Pete. We never assumed he’d get a moment to listen to them but about a month later he sent us this message.

“Hi Ben and Beth, I started listening to your CDs yesterday (thanks for sending them). I am enchanted with them. Such variation and delicacy, but such latent power as well, really great work. It reminds me of my days listening to Sandy Denny and Fairport, and The Incredible String Band back in the mid sixties – a great discovery, and inspiration. You are welcome to pass through any time.“

He’d listened, he’d liked. No, perhaps loved. We were over the moon.

What brings us here now is that a few months ago, towards the end of the last year and our thoughts were turning to how we might go about recording some of the new songs we’ve written, we had the idea that perhaps we could see if Pete might be up for recording the Oz Magazine inspired songs. We’d written them at his house, and plus he’d had links with the counter culture magazines of the late 60s and was billed at the famous 14-hour Technicolour Dream concert in 1967, alongside a hall-of-fame’s worth of other rock stars from the era, fundraising for the the International Times. Amazingly, staggeringly, gobsmakingly Pete said he’d love to.

We pencilled a few date ideas into the diary for early 2019. It had to be after our US tour as due to visa issues we did not have the time or certainty of our whereabouts to lock down recording dates any earlier. Obviously we were half expecting that these sessions would never happen. How could something so exciting and positive be real. These things don’t happen to us. And then Pete sent a message about a week before the first pencilled date to say that the recording sessions for The Who’s new album were ramping up and so could we come a day earlier. AND, how about we think about doing a whole album together - not just the Oz magazine songs?

As you can well imagine, we said yes, and so here we are - about to set foot into a studio, a beautiful studio, with one of the greatest musicians on the planet, being handed nothing but kindness, encouragement and an opportunity we’d never dreamed of. A chance to take our music on a recording journey we could not have taken by ourselves. We are quite overcome with excitement to see what comes out from this collaboration. Pete Townshend is producing our next album. Boom! I said it.

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