If I’ve understood the books “Jung- a Beginner’s Guide”, “Understanding Jung- a Beginner’s Guide” and “Understanding Understanding Jung- a Beginner’s Guide”, Jung would have it that life events are not linear, but come in waves. This explains things such as remembering that you owe Dave fifty quid, minutes later finding a photo of you and Dave in the kitchen drawer whilst looking for scissors, and then whilst recounting to Her Indoors about the oddness of this, Dave ringing up to ask if he can borrow your trolley jack. We all know the scene.
Over the last ten days, there has been a bit of a Jungian repeating occurrence of recording studio action creeping into the daily calendar here at The Gables, and not only that, absurdly high efficiency whilst inside. The first episode of this was Monday a week ago when Her Indoors went down to Chris Traves’ studio in a part of south London near Beckenham referred to by estate agents as Definitely Not Penge to record some trumpet for the must-have album soon to be released by a magnificent bunch of chaps who go under the name of The Definitive Rat Pack. In three hours, she’d done the whole album. When you consider that it can take a name pop turn like Bryan Ferry or Elton John to spend months over half a song, you can understand the whirlwind like proficiency displayed here.
Later in the week, I had occasion to find myself in an old water pumping station in a part of West London near Chiswick referred to by estate agents as Definately Not Acton, which had been turned into an achingly trendy recording studio for name pop turns like Bryan Ferry or Elton John to spend months over half a song in, at huge cost. I was there to operate a baritone saxophone on behalf of an Irish vocalist called George Ivan Morrisson, pictured below. Past experience of this sort of thing had me braced for the full onslaught of rock and roll hanging about. This is a dark karmic art involving huge amounts of patience, an ability to sit about all day in rooms with no natural light whilst trying (and failing) to avoid the temptation of the beer fridge and big bowl of sweeties, laughing heartily at weak jokes from the main turn and producer, giving the impression that this particular load of long notes which we are feeding into the can at an agonisingly slow rate is somehow imbued with special magical hit-making qualities, and finally emerging twelve to fifteen hours later into the night air smelling of KFC and, in the good old days, fags.
Not so with uncle Van. My baritone saxophone and I were squished into a small booth in the corner of the main studio, along with the six other chaps in the blowing section. The constricted space, the cumbersome instrument and the act of forced blowing lent a feeling of having to inflate a life raft in a phone booth to the proceedings, but unusually instead of the usual long notes, we had quite intricate lines to play. Unusually too was the set up beyond the acoustic screen in the rest of the studio- everyone was there , all at once, and most unusually of all, there was a place set out for VM consisting of a nice big chair, a nice big Neumann U87 mic sat in its sprung cage like a giant space spider, his collection of harmonicas laid out in key order, a couple of guitars, some ethnic things with holes in, a synth and a rather battered looking alto saxophone. It was a bit like a cross between the conveyor belt on the Generation Game, and clearance day at O’Shaughnessy’s music emporium, Dublin. Surely he wasn’t actually going to sing his songs with the band? Most big pop turns put the vocals on after the seventeen-month process of assembling the backing track molecule by molecule has finally wound up in a remote and hugely expensive vocal studio in Mauritious or somewhere.
By refreshing contrast, we ran each number once to check the arrangement, and then Van came in and sang the pair of them, in the room, with all of us. It must have taken around twelve minutes from start to finish. Obviously his regular lads in the rhythm section are used to his ways, as halfway through the first song he decided to insert a sax solo. He didn’t tell anyone, he just picked it up and off he went. They all went with him, and us in the brass sardine tin went with them. A lesser chap would have stopped, explained the change and then done another take. Van just let the shockwaves subside under his sax solo and ploughed on. Apparently he likes a drop of ad-lib tension in the music, as he reckons it makes it more real.
There is a definite school of thought that when recording a load of stuff, the first take will be the one with the best energy, and should be the one that is kept even if there are minor glitches. Van is obviously a believer in this method, as was Duke Ellington. I’ve made no secret of my enthusiasm for Ellington and his music over the years, and this Monday just gone my enthusiasm manifested itself in the form of hiring a great big recording studio, hiring a great big load of the best players and taking along a great big pile of Ellington’s dots. Financially and domestically, this was something of a high-risk strategy. Costing as it did the price of a nice new kitchen, I was honour bound to return that night to the Gables with some product- at least eight or nine saleable tracks for a new album. Being in the business herself, Her Indoors didn’t have a problem with me using the entire contents of Gables Domestic Saver Plus Account number one on this, but I really didn’t want to let her down.
My body, being the traitor that it is, had a nasty trick up its sleeve. On the morning of the session, I awoke, as normal, at bang on five a.m. in need of a short trip down the corridor to regulate the internal fluid level. Upon my return to the master bedchamber, just before I succumbed to sleep, my bloody body decided that it would flash images of session related disaster-people not turning up, me having a complete brain failure and not being able to play my part, me having a complete brain failure and not being able to play my part but now in just my pants, big shout-ups in the studio, that sort of thing-and then follow this up by shooting the system full of adrenalin. Thus, raddled and knackered, I got the morning train in. Bloody body. It’ll be the death of me one day, I’m telling you.
I am pleased to report that Her Indoors’ sacrifice of the Tetbury Creamware Kitchen from Laura Ashley wasn’t in vain. I was aiming to get eight tracks, including the notoriously tricky Tattooed Bride into the can, or twelve if we were lucky. We did twenty-six. The standard of playing from the lads was simply gobsmacking. I’ve now got so much stuff, I have the pleasant conundrum of not knowing how best to release it. Two albums? Three? A double and a single? It’s chock full of goodies too. Fans of trumpet porn will relish Louis Dowdeswell, the tireless young nurk, playing G’s and A’s above super C! Great big loud ones! Jay Craig takes the role of Julie Andrews, this time in public, for a magnificent reading of Stay Awake from the much maligned Duke Ellington plays Mary Poppins album. James Pearson on piano gives up a magnificent pianistic impression of the Duke himself, teetering correctly between early twentieth century stride and ragtime, and resonant avant-garde modernism. Colin Skinner, known to fans of the old band as Edinburgh’s Voice Of Sex lays on the Johnny Hodges alto sax romanticism with an erotic trowel in “Heaven” and “Jeep’s Blues” Drummer Pite was magnificent as Ellington’s master of proto-rock and roll 1930’s drums, Sonny Greer, correctly getting the feeling going that somewhere behind the band, tropical storm clouds were gathering. Here’s a picture of us at around six pm that day. We’d just done two three-hour sessions, and incidentally been to a very nice Greek for a spot of lunch in between. I’d say we’re looking justifiably quite smug!
In the evening, we had a different look at Ellington’s music, playing cut down arrangements of the big classics such as “A” Train, Caravan and C Jam Blues. This is partly to be able to offer Ellington’s music for those on a smaller budget, and partly to take advantage of the smaller band format to allow greater scope for improvisation. This all went swimmingly too- expect a particularly astringent version of Cotton Tail , and a wonderful bluesy ballad treatment of I Got It Bad by Sam Mayne in your lugholes soon! This is us now at 10.30 in the evening, looking just as smug, but a bit creaky round the edges- you’ll notice that the standard of dress has plummeted also!