Thursday, 30 July 2009

Ferals Of Fortune

Liam with (recording engineer) Mark.

Steeleye Span / recording

Monday 6th July. Propagation Studios, North Tamerton, Devon.
It had to happen eventually; I’m talking about the album, the new one, the 40th anniversary one. I have to admit to a growing sense of weariness; all these late nights, and all my early mornings are just beginning to take their toll.

This studio is a long way from Preston; yesterday when I put the address into my GPS I saw a milage of 221 miles, or thought that’s what I’d seen; it became quite apparent when en-route today that my selective brain had chosen to downsize the distance by slightly more than 100 miles.
The SatNav itself, of course, could’ve been giving a false reading, but if I’m honest I’d say it was most likely me who was guilty of the false reading.
I set off at 7:20 a.m. After three LPG/Coffee Nation* stops I eventually located the studio in an area more remote than any studio I’ve ever previously struggled to locate; this was at 2:30 p.m., that’s over seven hours of travelling by my calculations.

You might ask if such a long journey effects whether or not you want to get stuck into some recording on arrival, and let me tell you that - yes, it does effect whether you want to record or not, and the answer is ‘not’.

We’re here for a fortnight. Next week though I do have to leave for three days - having three shows to play with Phil; I’m truly hoping to get all my parts done and dusted by next Tuesday (the day I have to leave) so I won’t then have to return here and do a repeat of today’s journey.

In the past few days I’ve had two - producer related - moments of reconnection - or maybe synchronicity.
First was about a week ago when Carol and I were sat out in the back garden barbecuing. I looked towards the pond, and I recalled the time my Father was sat just to one side of it in one of those outside picnic style of chairs. The chair began falling into the pond - taking him with it. Someone, I don’t recall who, did manage to pull him back in the nick of time.

I often replay this event in my mind, and as on this occasion, it is always such a vivid picture, probably because I’m always in the same position looking towards the pond from the same place I was sat when it happened. My Dad was quite ill at the time, still, he, along with the rest of us could laugh about it. This event is one of a few that I associate with my Father’s illness; a marker along a process of gradual decline. Another marker is at the very beginning of that process, it was when I performed a concert at the Worden Arts Centre in Leyland, about five miles from where I now live.

It was probably 1994. I used to do these big shows once a year - well they felt big to me at the time - I used to call them ‘Across The Spectrum’ because I’d play music that covered so many years and styles of my music. It was at this show, sitting next to Carol that Dad spoke of his anxiety; he was having to visit the bathroom repeatedly, and was nervous about an impending doctors appointment.
It turned out that his fears were well founded; he had prostate cancer. He had another five to six years of life after that, most of it quite normal - apart from the odd pond he had to negotiate.

Back to the BBQ, and as these pieces of old footage were playing before my mind’s eye, I asked Carol, “and who was that producer that came to Worden to see me that night?”. “John … something, John Rav …?”, I asked. “I know who you mean”, she said, “it’ll come to me”.
It was time to clear things up and take the plates, napkins, leftover food, and those big long things you use for cooking at barbecues into the kitchen.

I walked into the house then looked over and saw my Macbook on the kitchen table; ‘might as well check the emails’, I thought to myself. Sure enough, I had one or two new ones; one was from John at Park Records; it was entitled: Producer.

This is exactly how it read … . . Hi Ken A while back there was mention within the band of finding a producer for the forthcoming recording.. Im not sure what your views are on this. I had put some feelers out .. and had some interest from a Producer called John Ravenhall.

He had been in America.. so have only just got to talk to him in depth He is interested and I feel he could do the job... for a reasonable price. I guess if we are to have a producer this is the time to think about it.

John Ravenhall has said that before we all commit it would be good to get together in a rehearsal situation.. I have spoken to Maddy and she is in theory up for it.. but could only do Wednesday and Thursday. Next week are you available and what do you think about the Idea.
I have emailed everyone else for a view.
With Best Wishes,

“Carol! Christ almighty! You will not believe this”. I think these, more or less, were my words. As it turned out, John Rs involvement has not come to pass; we couldn’t all make the rehearsal, and John felt that at least one such meeting would be absolutely necessary in order to move into a recording situation with the band.

The second piece of ‘producer reconnection’ occurred, or to me was apparent almost as soon as I arrived today at the studio. It was announced that the band was now considering using the production skills of a certain Joe Partridge, someone I’d worked with a good number of times when the two of us lived in London some thirty years ago.

As far as I was concerned this was great news; I always liked Joe, and I certainly always admired his guitar playing - not that he’d be playing guitar, but as a guitarist myself it’s quite reassuring to work with a producer who is particularly sensitive to how a guitar should be recorded. For the record, Joe had played with a host of top people which include names like Kiki Dee and Elton John.

Joe and I first met through mutual friends and colleagues who were associated in some way with Sarm Studios in London; it’s now called Sarm East, I think. This is where I recorded with Easy Street in 1976/77.

Maddy & Rick

From Sarm 'then' to Propagation 'now', and Mark our engineer, who has worked more recently with Joe, announced that Joe would call by at the studio at some point during the day to talk with the band. This actually happened quite late in the day, 6 or 7 p.m. perhaps. I was half expecting–after all these years–an ageing figure of a man to walk through the door (I bet he was expecting the same, also); well, my expectations were way off the mark - he didn’t really look any different, In fact I was quite taken-aback.

After the introductions, he watched as the band went back for a while to recording the song in progress; we were struggling with the arrangement somewhat, to tell the truth, and I had a strong and growing sense of collective self-consciousness in this disorganised attempt to illustrate to Joe how we go about our work. Eventually the band’s consensus was that we were heading nowhere with that particular song, and maybe it was time to sit down and talk business; to find out what Joe’s feelings are about producing Steeleye Span; and to tell him what the band’s vision is. All seemed to go well.

Next it was down to Joe and John Dagnell to do a little negotiating; to talk money–deadlines–percentages. Alas, I can tell you now that somewhere along the line these ‘high level’ negotiations broke down.

I would’ve loved to have worked with Joe again. In truth, it’s probably too late in the game in this project for a producer to either ‘take over’ or ‘blend into’ the process; such a thing would normally involve weeks, if not months of preparation and exchanging of ideas.

Plan B looks like once the recording is completed we’ll put it in the hands of someone who will mix the tracks; someone who might be able to add a little of the proverbial and illusive ‘fairy dust’.

Our accommodation is fairly basic here in North Tamerton; Liam, Rick and I are staying in a bungalow that sits adjacent to a farm, and from what I gather belongs to the farmer. In the interior it’s kind of old looking; Liam says it’s like ‘visiting your auntie’s.
We’ve befriended three farm cats that hang out at the back of the house; see the pictures I took. We couldn’t help but take some pity on them; they’re really not in very good shape. At first they were very timid - very frightened of us, and very, very hungry. Now they eat like kings. They will never forget this fortnight.

I can’t tell you how painful it is for me to see anything live like this - and I’m fully aware that it’s only because it’s there in front of me. I’m also fully aware of how easy it is to project one’s own pain onto something or someone that lives in a manner in which most living beings have lived since time began.
We, in our ‘developed’ and ‘privileged’ existence, by default, consider ourselves to be the fortunate ones, yet we’ve largely become detached from the fullness of what we are; the process that created us - and largely that which we are in constant denial of being a part of.

And despite all the repercussions of our evolved order; the anxieties, depression, alcoholism, violence, and at least a pervading sense of unfulfillment; we then feel sympathy for those who don’t have more food than they actually need.

I’ll still go on feeding them though. I can’t help it. One thing is certain though, back home our cat Flossy doesn’t know she’s born.

*Coffee Nation is, in my view, the best coffee to look out for when you're 'on the road'. One of the problems with many of the big names, for example Costa, is how incredibly inconsistent it is on the motorways as opposed to the high street. Many times I've spent good money on a cappuccino that's either bitter, or over-milky; and once you're back in the drivers seat it's too late to do anything about it. With Coffee Nation you know what you're going to get - and it's good. I recommend the cappuccino with a double shot - but with a little extra chocolate dusting mixed in. Coffee Nation.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ken another great blog.
    I thought my life on the road was tough till I read your itinery for the year, hope to meet up with you in the autumn if and when we are both back in the uk at the same time.
    regards Keith