Paul Henry Smith live at the Tolbooth Stirling 6th March 2015

Paul Henry Smith at the Tolbooth Stirling 6th March 2015

Thanks to Eve Smith, Dale Ashworth and Greg McSorley for the pictures

Live at the Tolbooth Stirling
Live at the Tolbooth Stirling

I had just returned form Kelso; I had recorded for a whole week with Weird Decibels and my voice was shot. Sitting in the quiet of my house I was desperate to give my wife and boy a cuddle. I hadn’t seen them for a week. The phone rang.

Kirsty was on the line calling from work to tell me that the car was making a bad knocking noise and that driving through to the Tolbooth would not be a good idea.

Slightly frustrated that I wouldn’t see my family I made plans to get the train. So I grabbed a quick sandwich and a strum of the guitar, packed it up and headed out of the door, case and bag in hand.

Whenever I play a gig I’m with the band; I was struck by how alone I felt. I boarded the train and took my place in the carriage beside the bikes hoping that a cyclist would not take my spot. As the train rattled towards Stirling I had the feeling that everything in my musical life was changing. I don’t know why I thought that.

As a worrier I like to be prepared for anything so I went into a shop to buy some batteries for the acoustic pick-up. A fight started outside; I had to swerve by the angry youths with my dads Takamine in hand. Safely avoiding the rabble I headed up the hill to the Tolbooth.

Esperi was already sound checking when I arrived; he looked alone as well, sound checking by himself and playing all the instruments that were set up on stage. He was very meticulous about his sound. Everything had to be right and I admired that.

alone back stage time to burn...
alone back stage time to burn…

I met Kenny Bates, a nice guy who was running the show. He led me backstage to the dressing room and explained what was happening; I settled ticket sales and he left. Again the loneliness kicked in; if the band were there we’d probably dipped into the beers in the fridge.

Something, Someone arrived a little late; a very friendly trio of young musicians were talking rather calmly about playing at the King Tuts. I guess it was just me but I’d be amazed at playing all these great venues. It reminded me that I really need to get out and play these venues.

I sound checked last (I was first on) and I was very nervous. I was glad I had rehearsed so much, the songs were second nature so it made it easier. It was so strange playing alone.

A quick sound check was done; the sound guys (Dave and co) were keen to wrap up and I wasn’t the headline act so I headed off stage and went to meet the other artists in the changing rooms. Esperi (Chris, nice guy) and Something Someone were all exchanging gig experiences. I felt out of place at this point although it didn’t take me long to settle in.

A trainee journalist Sam dived downstairs to ask us for interviews; I was rather taken aback by this. So I headed up with the young guy and he pointed a camera at me and explained what he wanted. He was a nice chap; when he asked my age for some reason I said 38 (not quite there yet…) and he quipped that’s not too old for a rocker. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. I found it funny; the age thing is starting to creep in I guess.

The interview actually ended up being more about Weird Decibels as he was quite intrigued about our 20 years together. I was happy our band was getting a bit of extra publicity through my solo work. I hope he completes and shares his article.

Kenny approached me before the gig with stage times. I noticed I had 30 mins although in the contract it was only 25 mins so I had to find an extra song…

The Gig

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Set list

  1. Looking From The Outside

  2. What Are You Running From

  3. I Had To Turn It Around

  4. Awkward

  5. Let Autumn and Winter pass

  6. Power (extra song)

  7. Hard Working Man

  8. Bluelights

I had not been this nervous since Weird Decibels first gig. Every footstep, when I picked up the guitar, strumming the first chords and singing the first lines felt like so heavy. The nerves eased though. I looked up and could only see bright lights and the stage was hot. I finished the song and the applause was magnificent. Then there was the silence. Its hard to describe what it is like when people are actually listening to every chord and word of your songs. Truly amazing.

I grew in confidence as I played through the songs; I kept an eye on the time and worryingly I was hurtling through the set. I loved playing my old song Let Autumn and Winter Pass and it was nice to fling in Power ( I needed it!). Hard Working Man felt very emotional and then I announced Blue Lights. As I started picking the first notes all the lights turned blue. A truly great moment; I’m gutted I forgot to thank the technicians for that moment.

1487379_10205277325266016_4720673684599392173_nThen it was over (25 mins!); and my kind family and friends told me how much they enjoyed it. That was really nice. I headed backstage an again I was alone to gather my thoughts before I opened the fridge door and helped myself to a free beer!

I headed back out to watch the other acts and I stood with my friends and family. I was delighted they all came through to see me play; humbled to be honest.

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the Recording of Weird Decibels part 3

onto the final part of our extended look at our recording experience in Kelso

the moon shone through the ceiling window most nights. Beautiful.
the moon shone through the ceiling window most nights. Beautiful.

Wednesday 4th March

Hangovers. They hit me hard and I had a belter on the Thursday. Derek looked no better, I’m not sure if it was a hangover or his mood was low. He sat on the stairs for a while deep in thought as I prepared to record some vocals.

We mulled over breakfast, I picked at some food. Derek said he was missing his daughter and he was thinking about returning home. He said he felt bad about leaving the band. I said that we were lucky to be given a chance to do this for a week but you can’t help your feelings. I suggested he should return home to his family. With a heavy heart Derek headed off; the cottage was quiet for a while.

Recording the Vocals

the sun shines through the pop sheild
the sun shines through the pop sheild

I set up the rode just of the centre of the room ( sound reflections can sound worse in the middle of a room) and placed a room mic up on the balcony to see if we would get some nice over spill or ambiance from the louder vocals. The sun shone through the window onto the pop shield. It was a nice moment.

It generally went well although my voice burned out pretty quick; probably due to the alcohol the night before. My head was pounding as well. Greg manned the desk.

Onto Solos

Again using the big room I set up the blumlein mic setup using the two Rodes to capture Stu’s solos. I had a SM57 on the amp for back up. Again Greg thankfully manned the desk. I went outside for a wander.

With shotguns blasting in the farm far in the distance and the cold cutting through my skin I wandered down the dirt track away from the cottage thinking about the band and Derek’s early departure. I wondered if this would be the last time we would do this.

Then I heard Stu’s epic solos in the distance; when I listened back on the desk I was truly impressed.

A quiet night was had; Stu and I drove down to Kelso to get a chippy only to get lost on the way back. When we reached the dirt track in the black of the night Stu switched off his lights…

Thursday 5th March

We had a nice truckers breakfast thanks to Greg and Stu; I was feeling great and headed though to the big room to lay

Pabs and Stu. Victory coffees
Pabs and Stu. Victory coffees

some more vocals. There was a notable difference in the length of time my voice survived. We had to change some lyrics to one of the songs which Greg was happy to help with!

I found a use for my marshall distrotion pedal that I failed to get a sound for my guitars. I fed my vocal through a SM58 and the pedal for ‘Its Who You Know’.

With the vocals complete we took the whole kit back upstairs to concentrate on Stu’s clean guitar sounds. We completed those in a fairly quick time. The full day was a long shift though; when we were finished I was ready for Stu’s Spaghetti bolognaise and a mountain of garlic bread (the man likes garlic)

I missed my wife and kid a lot; we were all feeling it by now but I had a heavy heart as I packed up all the gear and stored it in the hallway for putting into the cars. We moved all the furniture back into its place and the cottage no longer looked like a makeshift studio.

The three of us sat and watched Still Crazy while the fire crackled in the background. It was the perfect movie to end the night.

Going Home

I woke up and thought of the solo gig I was due to play at the Tolbooth in Stirling; the nerves kicked in. So I got up and got ready to leave the cottage.

As I talked to the farmer who had stopped by to collect the bins I watched from the corner of my eye Stu and Greg load the cars. When they were done I nipped back into the cottage! We had a final look around and I knew that we had a fantastic time.

As the car trundled down the dirt track for the final time I turned around had a wee look back; Springfield got smaller as we drove away. It was time to return to our loved ones, a wee smile came over my face. I turned back around and looked to the road ahead; perhaps this won’t be the last time we do this. I’m sure we’ll find a way.

The cottage stands silent after a week of rock.
The cottage stands silent after a week of rock.

Pabs.

The Recording of Weird Decibels part 2

More from our recent week recording in Kelso.

Monday 2nd March

cracking view from our cottage
cracking view from our cottage

Woke up refreshed and went for my second and final run of the week. During his run I started thinking about the lyrics for quoted not voted. It was a beautiful morning; the sun was just coming up and the countryside was coming to life.

Distorted Guitars

Many many pedals
Many many pedals

I returned to find the rest of the band up and ready for the day ahead. You could tell that Stu was itching to play the guitar so we headed through to start. However before we could lay those tracks I wanted to back up our work so far and check the drums, that took a wee while so some records were made at Athlete Kings albeit the wrong athlete got the credit!!

Recording Stu’s distortion has been a bit of a challenge; we have different tastes in our sound so I was trying to ignore my preferences and do the best for the band. I started out trying to get a blend of the rode and the SM57 but the SM57 was coping far better with the dynamics of his sound. Every time I moved the rode from the amp the old phase cancellation was creeping in. Now I’d love to spend hours trying to sort that but time was precious in our week. So I stuck with the 57.

We tried a various number of positions (right on the grill to about a foot away) before opting for just of the centre an inch or so from the grill. It gave us a full sound which at first I though was muddy but by then my ears were shot. It was a mistake to go onto my guitars after Stu’s; I though I had my sound before coming to record but my amp just didn’t sound right so I switched back to my old trusted amp distort and ditched the pedal (that would be used later…).

My sharper sound blended nicely with Stu’s heavy tone; I recorded just under half of my parts but we got Stu’s finished at the lodge.

This was the worst day for my ears; the tinnitus was setting in despite trying to keep the levels low. We had a great night though; refreshed from our rest we went straight back into the drink and some silliness found its way onto the cameras.

Tuesday 3rd March

went with the sm57 for stus distortion it could handle the pressure!
went with the sm57 for stus distortion it could handle the pressure!

I got up a little later with another bad hangover ( I swear I used to able to drink better than this). I started the preparations for the rest of Stu’s distorted guitars. Again the recordings were nailed pretty quick as we started from where we finished the previous day. We pressed stop at 2pm and decided to go into Kelso for a few drinks.

The Day In Kelso

Showered and refreshed with our best (ish) rags on we phoned for a taxi; a few minutes later we could see the taxi. Now usually when you see our taxi approaching its a mad dash to find the house keys however given the length of the dirt track we had time to make last minute adjustments to our attire!

Kelso is a lovely small borders town; we were dropped off outside the Queens Head and had a few fine pints of Best and Guinness. It was a strange pub, you had to walk through an outside close to get to the toilets. We headed out to the Black Swan which was the ‘local’ pub if you like. We didn’t stay long; the faint hint of bleach was creeping into the enjoyment of my rather drab pint.

Next up was the Cross keys hotel where a lovely lady was trying to make us feel most welcome in the rather sterile surrounds. When she finished her brief introduction Greg, as blunt as you like, asked ‘Whaurs the Red Lion?’.

A pint later we headed out; I stood in awe of the swarm of starlings that were forming amazing shapes above the square of the town. Dusk was setting and our stomachs were growling. We reached Cobbles.

Cobbles was cracking; we had our 20th anniversary celebration meal in here. Fine real ales and a selection of fine steaks ( I had a burger, a great burger at that). Bellies full and satisfied we headed off into the damp night to find Greg’s Red Lion.

A fine pint of ale was had
A fine pint of ale was had

When we found said pub a slight air of disappointment descended upon us. The bar was split into two parts. It was dead apart from one man and his dug (no seriously). The barmaid, who could hold her own in a scrum, was nice enough but we decided to head off to the first establishment that served up fine ale, The Queens Head. After another fine pint and a whiskey or two we grabbed a taxi.

Let me take you back to the Weird Decibels 1 recordings. Back then we headed out on a cold frosty evening to the local pub in Ettrickbridge. We had a lodge that was located up a narrow track with a steep drop to the side of the road. Greg drove us in the camper van that night and as we headed down the difficult route Greg decided to wind me up. He switched off the lights of the van and drove in the dark… Now I’m a bad passenger at the best of times…I didn’t help when he put the hazard lights on for illumination…

Fast forward 3 years and the taxi driver who was kindly taking us home over heard us recall this tale; as we approached the dirt track to gain access to the lodge he turned off his lights much to the delight of my fellow band mates! Dicks.

We had a fantastic night in the lodge; four great mates belting out tunes and busting moves on our makeshift dance floor (the drum kit was packed). It was a classic night.

The final part here

The Recording Of Weird Decibels 2 part 1

The making of weird decibels 2 part 1 Springfield lodge

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Weird Decibels would like to thank our nearest loved ones, our children and our friends for allowing us to be away from you for a week.

We’d also like to thank Guy Scott Plummer for the trust he put in us to take care of his cottage while we recorded.

Friday 27th of February we set off.

PATINNG went my phone. I opened up the message; Derek texted ‘Half an hour to go! Come on!!’ He was working, as was Greg, I was sitting with Lewis waiting to go and I hadn’t slept much the night before.

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An hour later two cars pull up. Its two out of three of my greatest and life long friends, Greg and Derek. A pang of guilt prods me. Stu missed the first night (in the cottage) as the date that I had booked clashed with the end of his holiday in Spain.

We ram packed the two cars full of gear, food and drink. As Greg’s suspension creaked he wandered around his WV Passat with a small air compressor and started inflating his flat tyre. He looked around to me; grinning as he knew I’d be worrying. Don’t worry Pabs slight deflation he said.

To be honest I was slightly deflated. We were heading out to have the time of our lives in separate cars and without Stu. When we left for our last album WdB1 we were all together in a fantastic camper van. This didn’t compare; however things improved when Derek brought out a walkie talkie! Banter ensued…

As we headed down the familiar roads to the borders (this is the second time we have headed south to record) I could not wait to see the cottage we had booked. We were all on good form if a little weary having just completed a week of normal work.

As we passed Lauder I was about to send Greg some more walkie talkie abuse, however the battery failed. We learned later that Greg was wondering why no one was talking to him; he had been talking to static about big plans for the bands 20th anniversary celebrations at the cottage!

The arrival

A stunning and breathtaking property
A stunning and breathtaking property

As we headed out of Kelso into the countryside I caught a first glimpse of the cottage standing alone surrounded by fields awaiting the start of spring. From here I could see we had picked the right location.

We looked for the ‘pyramids’ as described in the directions; there nestled in beside the old stone wall stood two modest ‘pyramids’ we turned into the drive of the estate unaware of how massive this land would be.

We edged along the farm road passed a grand white house that looked over its land; perhaps keeping an eye on its latest visitors. We approached what Derek thought was the cottage, we continued driving. We reached a potholed dirt track no worse than the roads in Falkirk. It seemed like an age as we crept along looking for our temporary home.

Finally as we emerged from a hedge row was saw the sign for Springfield and at the top of a small hill was the cottage standing quietly behind a large tree still bare from the colds of the winter.

As we rumbled up the wind swept dirt track towards the gate the place got bigger. I jumped out and opened the gate, the traditional sounding of the car horns beeped when we reached our new temp studios; Derek and Greg glided past with huge grins beaming from their car windows.

I approached the door and stepped inside. Instantly I was struck by the space of the modern part of the property. We went in further and saw a grand and open staircase. Further on we peeled back a curtain to reveal the main room and older part of the building. I looked down the room to the dormant fireplace then up to the high ceiling. I knew that we had picked our best recording lodge.

We headed back out to empty the car, I heard Derek simply say ‘gents’ he was holding a beer for each of us. Cracking open the cans we slammed them together and knocked back the first of our frothy refreshments, we’ve arrived. We carted all the gear into the hall and picked our rooms.

After setting up the drum kit and some general preparation Derek cooked some food, Greg got the fire going and I set up the nights music. We let Stu know how wonderful the place was.

The three of us sat around the now established fire and enjoyed the first of our nights; myself and Derek would later have a pec dance off (don’t ask) Greg was scarred. When I was a little tipsy I looked around the huge room and thought of all the people that had paid for an album or come to see us and raised my tin of Tenents to them; without them we would not be here.

Saturday 28th February

I got up early and went for a head pounding run around the countryside perhaps not appreciating the distance. While I was running I planned the day ahead; this would hopefully see us record some drums and bass.

Stu was quick to arrive and we gave him a huge ‘we’re not worthy!’ welcome. He rolled into the massive drive and headed into the house. Once he had settled the band were determined to get some tracks onto the drive

Recording the drums and the bass

The reason we picked this place was for this set up
The reason we picked this place was for this set up

I have the use of 12 tracks to simultaneously record on the humble Korg D3200. Not a lot but enough. Tracks 1 and 2 were for the Bass DI and a cab mic; for this I placed a Stagg large diaphragm condenser just a few inches from the grill in the middle of the cab. The cab was placed as far from the walls in the corridor of the modern part of the cottage

Tracks 3-10, 8 tracks to record drums. Not a lot by today’s standards but enough to capture a decent sound. The snare was captured by a SM57, the kick with the Audix D6, toms and cymbals were closed mic’d with Stagg’s, small diaphragm that Derek owns. Overhead were to Rode NT 2A’s; they were raised high thanks to the spacious ceiling. The final two tracks were for guide vocals and guitars.

All leads led to the kitchen where we placed the desk in a semi isolated position. First couple of samples sounded promising; the sound was perhaps a wee bit too bright so a couple of adjustments were made to the close mics on the kit. Overall we were very happy with the sound of the drums. The bass blend was sounding good as well; so we went for our first takes. Miss Asphyxia was recorded first to settle any nerves and it got us off to a good start.

A few hours and a few takes later we were done of the day. Six of the songs now had drums and bass. Greg was trying to record an extremely complex line for the bass on Curtsin its the Cast. We literally had to punch in nearly every part of the song. I lost it when Greg said ‘the up bit comes after an up bit which is not right it should be a down bit…’

I had been at the desk so long everything was sounding like mush; my ears were simply tired

After all his fine and energetic work on the drums Derek prepared a fine meal for the hungry band. We scoffed that and sat together listening to some cracking tunes. Eventually the moon shone through the velux window above us. It was a fantastic sight.

Sunday 1st Of March

This was used to record both the bass and the drums at the same time.
This was used to record both the bass and the drums at the same time.

This was the first of my bad hangover days… We had necked a few the night before, celebrating Stu arriving at Springfield and watching the old Riot Act video. So my heid was fragile. Not great when you want to record more drums and bass.

After a hearty breakfast we managed to lay down the remaining six tracks. It was hard work and would take us well into the afternoon to record. We left the newer songs until last; however they worked well as we had rehearsed them last. There were a couple of changes to songs that I found annoying, one being the intro to our newest song ‘Its Who You Know’. An extra bar was added to he intro which there was no need for. However apart from this it went well.

The Guitars

We headed upstairs to the newer part of the cottage. Up on the open plan area is another sitting room, the bedrooms, a table football room and the balcony that overlooks the massive main room. Having checked all the rooms we decided that the football room would be the best for the guitars. We had nice room reflections from the drums so the distorted guitars would be more direct in their sound to avoid swapping the drums.

I would have regular breaks to rest the ears. I stepped outside into the cold wind and took in the breathtaking views of the countryside

The table football room was already an arena with a history, I had soundly beaten greg 10-3. He was not to have his revenge.

Having carted the entire studio upstairs it was time to sit down to a cracking Steakpie. One of the culinary highlights of the week by Mr Menmuir. A lovely red from Stu was going down well however last night or age caught up with me and I spent the rest of the night feeling sorry for myself. I tried to watch the Quiet Act’ video but the shaky camera footage was making me feel queasy. How rock and roll is that!

So an early night for all; the earliest night in recording history!

Part 2 here..