How We Recorded February

Recording of ‘February’ at Craigenrea Cottage. Sat 9th Nov to Thurs 14th Nov

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Looking for the pub in Straiton

Grey clouds hung in the sky over my house as I waited for the guys to arrive and help transport the growing amount of gear we use for recording. In the corner towered a substantial stack of beer. I looked at it, surely I wasn’t going to finish all that.

In the silence of the house my excitement was growing, it had been over four and a half years since the WdB 2 sessions in Kelso. It was a fantastic experience and I had hoped that this would be similar. As I pondered the decision to stay for just five days instead of our usual seven, the doorbell rang. Stewart was on time as usual. As I greeted him Greg rolled into the drive wearing his usual big grin. The packing began.

The mood was jovial, there was a buzz around us as we packed the gear. Derek was still absent, so we had time for a quick coffee. What lay ahead was on our minds, could we really record an album worth of songs in four days?

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Now…How to get in

Derek appeared; we checked the maps. Greg then emerged grinning with three walkie talkies so that we could communicate as we drove. After a comical radio check, we were on the road. I had decided to hitch a lift with Derek.

Falkirk fell into the background; the rain was trying to fall but it failed to dampen the spirits of the band as various bursts of banter flew between the radios. Our three vehicles snaked in a convoy through the M9. It wasn’t long before the towering sights of Glasgow whizzed past. We took the turn for Ayr and gradually civilization fell away as we headed into the country.

Eventually as we made our way through Ayrshire we took a turn onto a small B road that led us to a small village called Straiton. Apparently, there was a pub here, it was just a few miles to the cottage, so we decided on a quick pint as we were running early. However, finding the pub was proving problematic. We asked a local who pointed at a white painted cottage that looked like the rest of the building in the village. Now confused we thanked the lady and headed to the house.

I tried the door, it swung open. For a minute I though I was in someone’s house, a rack of folded umbrellas lay in a hallway, stairs led up to some unseen area however to the left was the welcome site of a small pub, the Black Bull.

A gruff man poured us a few pints of lager. A fire crackled nearby, a small dog, with a fine shaggy coat was clearly enjoying the warmth as the amber light reflected on his fine brown coat. The pub was quaint, it was us and a local that were supping on beer. Refreshed we headed back to the cars (under the limit!). We had to double check the maps, given the remoteness of the cottage it was rather hard to find. After a couple of attempts we found the right road.

As our convoy twisted and turned through the winding narrow single-track road leaves of gold and red fell from the autumnal trees. Above were deep greys, the clouds started to open, and the rain fell.

As we climbed higher into Galloway Forrest Park snow started to fall. The road quickly turned white, I nervously gripped onto the seat as Derek seemed unfazed by the worsening conditions. I however was unfortunate to see the drop that would greet us should we have left the road. However, Derek was in control and the car was capable in the conditions. Greg commented on the radio about the weather, something he is used to through his job.

Just as the snow got worse, we turned a corner and we could see that the road dropped to lower ground. Thankfully here the snow wasn’t falling. After a few more miles of twists and turns Craigenrae was before us, the cottage nestled into the side of a small valley. It stood alone, surrounded my marshy land and just in the distance was a canopy of tall Evergreens. Some had fallen over, a sign of viscious storms that have blown through before.

Our convoy pulled up and we jumped out. The first look at a new cottage is always exciting. Before we opened the door, we grabbed a beer and slammed them together in celebration. Beer fizzed over and spilt on the ground. We greedily gulped our first taste of what would be a few beers.

Derek fetched the keys and attempted to open the door. It was a puzzle, which key was it? We wandered around the property but alas we could not find the door that would unlock! Stu stood by the front door and pointed at the second lock, success! We poured into the cottage and made our way to the living room.

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The idea for this setup came from Sound on Sound. Crazy when you look at it, the overspill etc. But playing live together has worked wonders for the recording.

What greeted us was a large room with high ceilings that was promising for the drum sound. We were taking a different approach to this recording this album and the large room would lend itself to this.

Armed with our cameras we did our tours. There was four bedrooms, two of which were large and spacious. Upstairs was snug with a low ceiling that you had to remember to duck under (possibly a problem for drunken musicians.) It was a nice first impression, a spacious cottage, perhaps a little old fashioned and needed a little upgrade. However, we prefer it this way. We’ve been in modern posh lodges where we were worried about breaking stuff. Not so much here.

With all the equipment, food and drink loaded in. We turned our attention to setting up and getting a decent sound. The big difference this time? We were recording the drums, bass and guitars live and in the same room. A big gamble? Yes, it was.

The drums were placed just off the centre of the room facing down the longest part of the room. I set up the amplifier stands and placed the amps next to the kit, but they faced away and up towards the ceiling. These amp stands were brilliant. They really helped cut out low frequencies you get when you have an amp nearer the floor. Greg had placed castors on his bass amp, this also helped lift it off the ground and greatly reduced the boomy sound we often get. With the amps facing away from the drum the idea was to try and cut spill. There would be mic spill and I would embrace it to give an overall live sound however it was important it wasn’t overbearing.

The drum kit was miced up, a SM57 on the snare, Audix D6 was on the kick with the mic placed about halfway into the bass drum. I added the Stagg condenser to help with the ‘slap’ of the kick. The two Rode NT2-A’s were placed lower to be nearer the kit (cutting bled from the amps but not eliminating it). We placed mics around the toms and fed this into a mixer that we then wired into the Korg D3200 (our multitrack) this helped cut down the number of tracks we were recording (the Korg allows up to 12 tracks recording simultaneously).

On the guitar and bass amps we placed SM57s placed near the centre of the grill, Stu’s mic was angled slightly away to reduce the proximity effect and clear up the sound. The SM57 worked well on Gregs amp. I wanted to DI the bass, but earth problems prevented this. I had a spare mic for guide vocals.

With us all set up we played a few tunes; Derek needed a monitor so I provided him with a small mixer and a set of headphones. The rooms sounded great, it was loud, despite our amps being down fairly low.

After some technical wizardry we managed to get the Liverpool Man city game streaming on the big tv, Derek was delighted.

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Relaxing on the first night

After we were done Derek heat up some pizzas and we sank beers. The first night was a laugh, we listened to some of our forgotten tracks from the WdB2 sessions. We really went for it. Outside the weather was getting worse, the winds howling sleet, snow and rain falling. So, we drank. Greg necked half a bottle of Gin, I finished all my lager, Stu and Derek did a fair bit of damage to their beer stack. Derek started to fall asleep sitting up with his nose dipping into his cider (he swears he was just sniffing the drink) We partied into the early morning then staggered to our beds.

Day two, Recording live.

I was up first and entered to a scene of destruction, Tins everywhere. After a quick tidy up the rest of the guys surfaced and we had some breakfast rolls with coffee. Greg was struggling, he looked around the room then quickly left to go to the toilet. He was looking a little green around the gills…

He felt a bit better, so we got ourselves tuned up and started to record. The first songs went down quite easily. We played live and we all had to make sure that we didn’t make a mistake as it would be heard on the overspill. We got off to a good start, most songs were done in a couple of takes but I did lose it with ‘Be Here’ a song I find tricky to record live. Tensions flared a little but it didn’t last. After a few hours we were halfway through the album!

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Its a take. Note the large glass of water for Greg

Delighted with the progress we stopped just before dinner. I had a bad headache now, the drink from the night before making itself known. Derek had started tucking into his beers in the afternoon, I joined him. Listening back to the recordings was promising. Sure, they were a few little ticks and glitches but nothing that was causing me concern.

After a superb dinner (Chicken dish, Derek had prepared it and it was wonderful) we settled down for more beers. Stu had set up the Sega Saturn, which is now a traditional part of the recording weeks. Greg laid off the alcohol, Stu wasn’t as thirsty as the night before, but Derek and I had a few. It was a quieter night; the second night usually is.

Day three Mad Monday

We had a hearty breakfast and we all felt a bit better than the previous morning, so we set up and recorded the second set of songs. The tunes were fairly straight forward with the exception of ‘The Plan’. I decided to simplify the riff and overdub the more complicated guitar line later. I didn’t want to keep making mistakes. Recording live is quite psychological, you start to tense up and you don’t want to let your bandmates down. We had to take regular breaks with one or two of the songs, this helped reduced the tension that was building. Not between each other but in ourselves. (or maybe just me)

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Level check, we did loose the tesco bag… how unprofessional!

We finished with ‘We’re Not Supposed To’, of all the songs this was the one that we weren’t sold on. We started to play it, but we didn’t feel the same vibe as we had with the others. We recorded a quick version (turns out I had forgotten to record vocals!)

Here we were in the late afternoon; we had all the songs down! It was an incredible feeling. I checked the songs and we fixed all the minor errors that had cropped up. I even started to lay some vocals

Derek cooked another blinder, this time some spaghetti Bolognese that Stu raved about (until the steak pie the night after). We opened the wine…

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We started early everyday!

We watched some of the old band videos (as we do) and the atmosphere went a bit flat. We were all quite tired and low in energy. So we switched off the video and started to play some heavy music through the monitors and we played it loud. Wine flowed, Stu was on fine form and eventually was dancing up and down the kitchen. When I looked to see Stus best moves a pair of legs rose up from behind the kitchen counter, Derek doing a handstand… Derek and I then dived on an unsuspecting Greg only for me to be (somehow) lifted up by Derek and spun around. He does like his wrestling! It was a great laugh, we were up until early morning, Derek and I stayed up and listened to some of our old music. It was a great day.

Day Three

With the main songs all down we turned to vocals and solos. Stu had recorded sketches of all his solos and really helped make recording them easier. I spilt the vocals over two days, some were recorded easier than others.

As I recorded the rest of the guys were trying to set records on Athlete Kings, so between takes all I could hear was the furious button bashing, I think one or two long standing records were broken.

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Look at the concentration!

On the first day of overdubs things generally went well. The songs were now taking shape and we were far more relaxed than we would normally be during a recording week.

Time flew and it wasn’t long that Derek prepared his Steak Pie which was another cracking meal. We knew in advance that Derek was going home the next day however unlike the last time, this was expected, and we had a good night listening back to 80’s rock. It was however not a hectic night as the one before.

Day Four

After a leisurely start to the morning, I headed out for a walk around the cottage grounds. The air was so fresh, crisp touches of winter frosted the ground and there was a gentle mist hugging the trees.

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Get someone decent on the desk…

It wasn’t long before I was back onto vocals, Stu had nailed many of his solos so there was not too much left for him to do. On the other hand, I had, for some reason, left the louder vocals to the last and it was a bit of a struggle to get them done. My voice did hold out though and I managed to get the vocals down. There were some songs that suited the gravelly sound I started to get as the voice burned out.

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Stu had wrote the solos beforehand and it paid off

Derek left (work and family commitments) and then there was three, we continued to work away on the recordings and to our amazement everything was done by the afternoon.

It was my turn to make a meal, so I simply flung a lasagna in the oven and it was done. With us fed and watered we settled down to some Phoenix nights which was classic, then No Country For Old Men, another brilliant film, (there was a whole shelving unit full of DVDs and videos). It was such a chilled-out night. After Stu and Greg retired for the evening, I decided to go for a walk under the star lit sky. It was an amazing night; the bright white moon lit the surrounding of the cottage and everything was still. Thankfully the generator hadn’t kicked in to recharge the cottages battery, every time that went off it made you jump as it shattered the peace and quiet. The hut in which it lay was like something out of a horror movie and it creeped me out…

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It was remote, there was always time to clear your head. The only sound was a small burn trickling past.

With my wine in hand I took a sip and looked up into the night sky, another recording experience was over but I was happy at this point I felt it went really well and it was far more enjoyable.

Mixing

It was great to be back home with the family. Once we were all caught up my thoughts turned to mixing the album. I started work on the mixes soon after I had unpacked all the gear. From November through to the time of writing I mixed for an hour or so a day. We decided against overdubs and layered guitars and that really helped unlock the sound of the record. There are a few little glitches, but it gives the recording a live feel and it has energy. As I write this, I am planning the final touches before sending the tracks off to be mastered by Andy Taylor at Homegrown productions.

February, our new album will be released 2020

Pabs

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