Studio steps with Pete Townshend
No one ever played or sang anything good before 11am in the morning, so recording sessions don't start till then either. (Please feel free to prove me wrong with examples). Beth's dad Tim had offered to come down to look after Molly while we worked, but we all went up to the studio together - Molly toddling around all the precariously balanced vintage microphones, reaching out to twang Pete's beautiful selection of guitars.
The start to any recording session is all about orientating yourself and each other as to what exactly you'd all like to do over the next few days / sessions, decide what you're working towards and find a path that starts you off in that direction. Things always change as you go, and that's part of the process, but finding your first steps and making that together is all you can do. We talked with Pete about how we normally record - playing what we play and then listening back and seeing where we think it could go. We all felt that was a good place to start as Pete hadn't necessarily heard the new material. We could then decide, on listening back, how to proceed with each track. The idea is that perhaps you record a whole bunch, more than you would for an album, decide how to develop them and see how they evolve. It's a dynamic process.
While Myles - Pete's trusted studio engineer and a producer in his own right, and Brian - everyones best friend in the studio - set up the studio for live recording, Beth and I planned which songs to look at over the course of the next few days. We picked as a starter the three tunes we had written for the Oz magazine show at the V&A, which we had finished writing at Pete's house that last April when we first met him. They were the reason we were here and it felt good to look at them first. We also picked one of the Philip Pullman songs inspired by The Book Of Dust, as well as a song we wrote inspired by Carol Birch's Orphans of the Carnival.
What was really lovely about the process was that we set up as we would normally set up for a concert, side by side. No barriers, no sound booths, just playing as we're used to. The recording process captured first that live performance - with a recording quality Beth and I could never dream of doing under our own resources. We were pretty much recording in a way not dissimilar to how people would have done 30 or 40 years ago, through the very same mics, preamps and under the listening eye of someone who was very much a part of that scene.
Pete kept talking about musical echos he hears in the music, and in the way we were all recording it - referencing many bands and producers. Pete Townshend says all this much better than we do and here's a little extract from The Who blog as they prep for their huge US tour. "This past weekend I produced seven tracks in three days with The Bookshop Band at my own studio in the English Countryside, and when I get some free time (ha ha) I will post some video on my FaceBook page. Their music is wonderful, every song is based on a book they have enjoyed, or some great classic, and their style is quite unique – but evokes the best era of English folk music recorded by producer Joe Boyd: Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Incredible String Band, John and Beverly Martin etc. Yes, it’s that good, and that straight cut and poetic. Joe Boyd is tough to emulate as a producer. He always let the music find its own space in the ether, but made sure it sounded wonderful. My engineer Myles Clarke, and assistant Brian Beaver worked hard to do him justice. Check out The Bookshop Band."
It was a really kind, generous and wonderful way of working towards us. We got to present what we do in the best way we know how, just to play it. As the tracks went down, we would then all huddle together in the control room, listen back, make mental notes, and try to feel - surrounded as we were by a plethora of mysterious organs and synthesisers yearning to be turned on - where we all wanted the recordings to go.
But that is for the next instalment ;)
Till next time....
PS: one thing we did do while at Pete's was listen to the vinyl masters of Beth's new album. He took us down to a pair of the most massive HiFi speakers you'll ever see. He rigged up the record player, set up a chair for Beth slap bang in front of the speakers and hit play. I was at the side, listening to Beth listen, the sound filling every corner of the big room and it was mesmerising. I know I am totally biased but you know that feeling you have when someone you love creates something so other-worldly good that you cant help but well up and feel so happy for them that they have achieved this amazing thing - well, that's how I felt. Beth is on tour in with her band in April releasing this album and I urge you to go and find them and listen for yourself. Her band has been re-branded Marshes and you can find out about that, the tour and their new album - When The Lights Are Bright - at www.MarshesMusic.com