Today, I attend the mixing of the Ellington sessions recorded the other week.
Am at the local station, waiting to go down to the CT International Studio Production Suite in the part of South London near Beckenham the estate agents refer to as Definitely Not Penge. It’s a cold but bright morning, and a twenty minute walk here from the Gables. My horrid body has managed to get all sweaty in the chest and back where the scarf and rucksack were, while the hands and feet are as icicles. The bastard.
Now on the London Midland Chiltern Arrow, hurtling towards Euston. In an effort to limit the sweating, have removed the Jacket and Scarf. My Fashionable Fit T-shirt from the mature chap’s department at M&S has a giant sweat patch on the front, so no wonder that woman opposite moved her children out of the way. The Charisma King strikes again!
There’s been a huge international Airfix-related exhibition this weekend, which gallingly I had to miss as I was engaged mainly in the act of driving the Volvo up and down Britain interspersed with short bursts of operating woodwind instruments. On the Saturday, in fact, I was waving my arms about for Kevin Fitzsimmons, and regular readers will be interested to note that the Curse of St Kev, which smites me about my trousers whenever I work from him, struck again. This time, it was my clip on braces pinging off at all three points whilst trying to conduct the front end of World On A String, itself a high-stress accident blackspot. As a result, I had to finish the intro with the conducting technique of a chap who has suddenly developed a hernia whilst simultaneously trying to summon a waiter in a crowded restaurant. Back to missing Airfix Expo ’14, I was chuffed to notice that WH Smiths at Euston carried this month’s issue of Anorak Modelworld, packed with full colour pics from the show -of small aeroplane-shaped pieces of plastic- and so I eagerly snapped one up, narrowly avoiding the temptation of the till side offer of three tons of Galaxy chocolate for a quid. Am now on the Northern Line nearing Leicester Square, and don’t have the bottle to open the mag in front of my fellow travellers. Instead, I’m doing what we all do on the tube these days, and am earnestly tapping away at a small plastic and glass rectangle….
On the escalator up from the tube at Charing x, the Orwellian LCD TV screens placed at frequent intervals up the walls were all carrying an ad for a knicker shop. The chosen image, unsurprisingly was of a nice kind lady sat in a chair in her knickers, bra and stockings. It made me wonder what the Victorian engineers who sunk that shaft would have made of such repeated iridescent sin- they’d probably have been made to fill it all back in by the local Parson. On the subject of shameful visual imagery, I’ve still not dared to have a peek inside Anorak Modelworld.
Sweaty again now, thanks to an Americano and a portion of Onion Rings from Burger King. Charing x station was occupied by a quartet of British Transport Police toting sub machine guns. Damn glad my Oyster card is paid up.
Am now deep into the task of editing the new album. As is the way with a Day In The Studio, I have already had way too much coffee, and am now feeling slightly queasy. The air-con’s on the blink, so a Defcon 2 state of sweatiness has been declared. As it’s just me and Traves in here, I have assumed the role of Quincy Jones in my t-shirt and boxers. Consider this when you are listening in rapt joy to the album in a couple of weeks.
Hotter now, and beginning to Ming a bit. Halfway through the Tattooed Bride
Trousers back on. Tattooed Bride mixed, skilfully glued together by Traves out of six takes and a couple of little edit sections. It’s a bloody hard piece. In 1950, when Duke’s boys recorded it, they had to all do it right in one go, or else start again from the top. Given that the top is some eleven minutes away from the bottom, you can understand why the original recording is also peppered with minor technical flaws and that the big end is played at quite a cautious and safe tempo. By using digital bamboozling, at least we can turn in a recording with no mistakes! Beginning to form an urge for a curry.
Trousers still on, and now the curry urge is past on account of, well, having had a curry, which although very welcome on account of being hot and available, consisted mainly of onions. I’ve also lost any urge I may have had, it would seem, to ever listen to music again. The good news is that we’ve got an album’s worth of stuff mixed, and earth-shatteringly amazing it sounds as well. The cost of this in human terms is quite high though, as modern digital recording techniques require constant staring at three computer screens in one go whilst listening to the trombones at letter K of Perdido trying to work out which one had the squeaky chair, so that the squeaks created thereby can be digitally removed thus removing from the listener of the future’s ear the idea that Ellington wrote for kittens as well as brass instruments. In fact, at letter L of Perdido, there was a bad spaff in one of the parts which was so loud it corrupted the other two. We needed two more trombones in a hurry, but only for one note, unison D- Traves, being a trombonist player played a new one into the can, and I, with the benefit of three minutes’ instruction and a spare trombone, played the other one. I am going to be legitimately listed on the sleeve as Clarinet, Director, Trombone, but you will all know that there is a heavy whiff of filthy subterfuge about the whole matter. There have been some high spots, mind, such as Colin Skinner’s melting eroticism on the alto sax, Louis Dowdeswell’s high notes which pepper the soundtrack, some lovely wah-wah brass in Just Squeeze Me and Her Indoors’ vocals, which she recorded after a rough night up with a cold. This resulted in a very laid back performance which gives the whole thing a nice feeling of Peggy Lee sitting in with The Duke. James Pearson on piano rocks the proceedings on with characteristic authority, and all is underpinned by the big toned swinging acoustic bass of young Laurence Ungless. You’ll be pleased to know that your jaded scribe had the decency to replace the trousers before jitterbugging vigorously around the control room. Nearing Victoria on Kent and South East Pullman Express now, I find that the late night service is still a shade too populous to open up this month’s edition of Anorak Modelworld. I should have stuck to Razzle. Less shame.
Back in the Command Room, or Kitchen, at The Gables now. All is still, and have just put the data stick from today in the studio into the Gabletron 3000 Media Resource Centre, or Laptop. Disaster! Somehow, in the journey from Definitely Not Penge to Definitely Not Watford, young Laurence Ungless (who sounds like the main man from one of those trendy new cop thrillers from Denmark) and his acoustic double bass has quadrupled in volume, and is dominating the entire soundtrack with great big distorted gloops of noise! We’re going to have to do it all again- Early morning, Transport Police, Pants, Curry, the lot! Damn!
It’s a funny thing, music. We’ve recorded a world-class band, but if one of the principal instruments is out of whack in any way, just one, it will make the whole thing sound like St. Hymelda Of The Nine Wounds’ Junior School Jazz Workshop. Funnily enough, in a Jungian way, this happened the Sunday before last with a recording project put together by Drummer Pite over in Radlett. His idea was to record his Benny Goodman-Glenn Miller concert there to have a CD for sale this Friday at another Goodman-Miller show in London. As turning around a recording in twelve days (which in recording days is the equivalent of about four seconds) is leaving no margin for error, it will come as no suprise that error occurred, in quite a big way. Have a look at the picture below, taken on the gig- notice anything funny, aside from my chins?
The eagle eyed amongst you will of course notice that the microphone in front of the trumpets has fallen off its stand (all evil in the world not caused by money being at the root is usually gravity-related), and given that the trumpets had stage lights shining in their eyes, they couldn’t have seen it. The result was that the finished recording had no lead trumpet, and therefore the glittering tribute to the two greatest white bandleaders of the swing era now sounded like St. Hymelda Of The Nine Wounds’ Junior School Jazz Workshop having a bit of retro study. As luck would have it, it was possible to stop the huge cogs up at the CD pressing mill in the nick of time, drop the trumpet part on again in the studio, send the revised recording up and all then proceeded as per the master plan.
As luck would have it, it turned out that the reason for the bass boom was something to do with the soundcard in the Gabletron 3000 Media Resource Centre, and after a panicky morning on the blower to Traves, all is back on track, the egg on my face being outweighed by the relief of not having wasted all my money, and by default, Her Indoors’ new kitchen. That could have been an acutely nasty situation involving biblical amounts of burning shame, disappointment and guilt for Yours Truly- an emotion which my mate Andy Hague summed up beautifully as Fat Cheeks and Small Willy.