Category Archives: riot act

Riot Act is 10 (part 2 recording)

There are defining moments in every band; a time where the bond between musicians can be strengthened and the foundations laid for a more positive future. The recording of Riot Act was one of those moments.

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The cottage (centre) surrounded by breathtaking scenery

I packed up my old Ford escort with recording gear, my new Tascam 2488 was carefully bundled into the rather ample boot of the old Maroon car. The rest of the gear was flung in any available space.

I met up with Greg, Derek and Stu. Stu would ride shotgun in the Ford, Greg and Derek would team up in the transit hire van which was packed with enough food and beer to sustain a small country (that likes its drink).

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We headed off up the A9 through the epic Cairngorms. Stu switched on the radio and we were greeted with a radio station that I had never heard before. Gone were the annoying presenters, absent were the frustrating adverts, instead Stu and I were treated to track after track of solid rock. ‘Stu what is this station’ I asked? Stu had no answer; he just made the devil sign and smiled. ‘Well wait until we tell Greg and Derek about this radio station!’ I smugly stated. However I did get frustrated as the music would briefly fade away most notably as Gerg and Derek’s van fell behind.

We stopped for petrol in Inverness. I jumped out of the Ford and ran over to tell Greg and Derek about our discovery. As I explained our find, they started to roll of some of the music that we had heard. Alice in Chains? Yes I said. Guns and Roses. YES I said, did you find the station as well? Nah, said Greg, it’s my iPod I had it set up to a radio transmitter. They both chuckled as they walked away to grab a sandwich.

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The road to the Riot Act sessions could not have been calmer

As we drove on from Inverness towards Cannich I started to realise that we had booked a cottage rather far away. As time passed we were soon sharing a single track road with sheep and eventually deer; then it became clear just how breathtaking the Cannich valley was. Further in the distance, sheltered by some trees, was the Leattrie lodge. It looked just like the brochure, that is until we drove up its steep drive and saw it looked a little run down. Just perfect for four lads who wanted to play loud music and drink a lot of alcohol.

The excitement was palpable, a whole week surrounded by the hills of the beautiful valley. The guys charged into the cottage and as I heard their excited voices fade the deeper they got into house I could hear the silence of the valley and a river far in the distance.

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I turned and headed into the lodge. It was modest, it had small rooms that ran into a narrow corridor. The living room was open plan to the kitchen. This was the biggest area and I suggested we record here but Derek pointed out we’d be dining in this room and we’d have to dismantle the drums every time we wanted to eat.

 

We headed upstairs, the bedrooms were small but Derek’s room was a little longer. There was no escaping the ceiling, which due to the nature of the upper level of the cottage, sloped inward, For some reason we decided to set up the drums upstairs. It would prove to be a mistake.

Once all the gear was dropped into the nooks and crannies of the small lodge we started to pack the fridge with beer and had our first meal. I unpacked the Tascam 2488, marvelling at my new purchase. 24 tracks of digital recording. I carefully laid my first condenser microphone; a cheap Stagg, basically a budget version of microphone that I liked. I had recorded the Armour is Broken (a solo lp) with this mic.

As the light faded on the first day Greg lit the fire and we opened our beers. We wouldn’t be sober for the next 6 days.

We recorded Riot Act in batches. Drums and bass for 3 or 4 songs and then we’d layer the guitars and vocals. We’d repeat this process until we had all the tracks down. The drums were crammed into the biggest of the bedrooms upstairs, the low ceiling made the drums sound a bit flat not that I was aware of this at this time. I used various methods to split the signal of the guide tracks and sent a feed through to Greg and Stu who were in another room. It was a crude method but it worked.

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Derek has fun but the room wasn’t suited for drums

The small rooms lended well to a tight guitar sound which translated fairly well on the record. The bass was a direct input. All of the songs were recorded this way with the exception of Weekend All Over My Face where we used Stu’s practise amp to record the bridge that worked really well and room mics for Only Had A Shandy, but that’s another story.

The vocals were sung in another bedroom where the windows overlooked the valley. I remember the guys headed off to the small village at the foot of Cannich. I was left alone to sing It’ll All Work Out In The End. I’ll never forget that afternoon. Alone in a remote part of Scotland, I was singing a song about hope while my head was full of troubles. My late father in law was very ill and it was the first time I was truly alone to think about it. The emotion would spill onto the record.

Every night the fire would crackle and beers would be drank. The laughs would get louder as the darkness surrounded us. Greg would often go out for fresh air… Sometimes I would join him in the darkness of the night, it was breathtaking, There was no orange glow from any nearby cities. Whenever the clouds cleared, stars would hang in the black sky and I’d sway as I tried to focus on the patterns above.

During the day, at down time, we would hang around the outside of the cottage. At times the weather was good. Sometime we’d go our own way and take a walk. A week in a small cottage with the same guys could be cramped and you needed your own space. Greg and Derek took this to a different level. Literally.

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walks led to beautiful country

They headed up the hill that was our back garden. When I say a hill I mean a proper hill climb, the cottage had no fences or boundaries. The hill rose far into the distance, Derek and Greg filmed the adventure, off they went climbing higher and higher. Stu and I would look up, the pair of them getting smaller.

As they reached the top, flakes of snow started to drift in. Most people would head back. Not Derek, he stripped off and shouted ‘I’m naked at the top of the hill!’ and went off on a merry dance much to Greg’s amusement.

Life in the valley of Cannich was serene, we were visited by a cuckoo on a number of occasions and I managed to capture our visitor on record. The days and nights merged into one long party, recording, beer, jigsaw puzzles and music. At night greg’s fire would continue to crackle as we took stock of life in the band and life in general. We were in our thirties, married or getting married but without kids.

Thursday was a special day, I did a half day of recording and settled down to a BBQ in the small woodland next to the cottage. It was the last change to have a proper night of booze. As I wandered into the woods to gather some firewood I heard an almighty explosion.

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Riot Act… lard bombs aside it was a peaceful recording…

I ducked and turned towards the flash of light…peering through the trees I was trying to make sense of what happened. Then I heard Greg laughing, with Derek proudly standing over the fire ‘Lard bomb!’

Then came the dueling banjos, Stu and I pulled the best banjo posies with sticks, only for Derek to snatch mine and fling it in the fire. He redeemed himself with the BBQ’d chicken which was simply wonderful.

The sun slowly set as we got merrier, I left the gang and headed back into the house to set up some microphones. When I was ready I asked the guys to come into the living room. I gave Stu a guitar and some headphones. He played along to the end of Only Had A Shandy as the rest of us sang a drunken chorus of random words. Derek and I spilled over the couch into the floor, mics came crashing down. It was all recorded.

The night grew longer as we gathered around the now small fire out in the woods. I can’t remember what we talked about but it was probably deep and meaningful. We all headed into the cottage except Greg who waited for the sun to rise on the final day.

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a beautiful moment from the riot act sessions

When I awoke on the last morning with alcohol on my breath and hunger in my belly sadness crept into me. I was hungover and despondent that our recording week had come and gone so quickly. A long quiet drive awaited us, the party was over, our jobs awaited our return on the Monday.
So we set off home; there was a subdued mood in the car as Stu stared out the window. I muttered with anger as a Ford Transit overtook us. As I was about to slam my hand on the horn I saw Derek lean out of the van’s passenger window with a big smile, Greg wearing a smug grin as he was overtaking me.

It was a wonderful experience that changed the band for the next ten years. We hired another three cottages after this one. Each growing in size but we never quite matched the drunken madness of the first time.

 

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Riot Act is 10 (part 1 writing)

Behind the Wall Photographs Neil Henderson

Stream the album for free here

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Stu in full flow 2007 BTW, Pic Neil Henderson

Turning 30 was a bit painful; there is something visceral about leaving your 20’s. You think your youth is gone when in fact it’s still around for another few years or so. Turning 40 teaches you this.

Riot Act was written and recorded as we were all heading to our 30’s (Stu had already reached that milestone!) Greg and I were nearly there and Derek was planning to have the mortgage paid off by the end of his third decade.

In 2007 the music industry was about to go through a seismic change. Spotify would launch the year after, itunes was in full flow and people were downloading music only to find the quality was nowhere near as good as physical formats. Radiohead were letting you pay what you wanted for the brilliant ‘In Rainbows’ and Kings of Leon were just past their peak.  

‘this is the hole dam shooting match

where the victims aim high and the victors aim low

where the self obsessed career animals

who don’t want to know’

Underachiever

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Our band was still called Weird and we had had a great ‘comeback’ with One More Solo in 2004. We had gigged that album profusely and after the dust had settled we returned to our practise room and decided our next turn. Derek suggested we started making money from music and that meant learning covers then playing paid gigs. Grudgingly I agreed, the other guys felt that this was a good move. So we learned a lot of tunes and played a number of paid shows. Slowly our band bank account started to look like it had never done so before…it had a balance.

Writing took a back seat; personally I had run out of ideas I thought I had explored all my experiences and thoughts and my pen ran dry. Influences around us were also running low, the Foo Fighters for example were treading water; the albums they released around this time, One By One and In Your Honor could arguably be examples of this (some of the guys will be shaking their heads at this but I feel the Foo’s didn’t return to form until Wasting Light which is superb). Personally I felt that there was no emerging music and even the local scene was not as strong as it is today although its fair to say I was ignoring that as well.

‘Lets face it she’s not very pretty

And she doesn’t look good on the dancefloor

I make my way home from this paranoid city

Turn on the news watch religion at war’

Sky is Falling’

We would attend practise every Wednesday in the same surroundings, low on influences distracted by learning covers and I guess on a come down from the joyful years of 2004’s ‘One More Solo’. Even the very essence of our rehearsal space was changing as the bulldozers came in and cleared the way for another ASDA. Despite all these factors we soldiered on and wrote Riot Act.

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Oh Greg! how you’ve changed! Pic Neil Henderson

Despite my reluctance to learn covers discovering the structure of the songs we were regularly playing in Behind the Wall and other venues that favoured cover acts, I started to become influenced by the punk and rock we were playing. Many of the songs on the album would end up being balls out uncomplicated punk rock that was easy and fun to play.

Our drinking was nuts during these years in the 00’s we drank a lot of beer. Caught up in the insane alcohol deals of the day; we would consume cases of lager without flinching, often during great times at Derek’s old flat. Indeed our old gang of lads were still together; Byrne, Rooz, Wilson to name a few and of course Dave Broon. Unbeknown to us these were the last few care free years and looking back i’m glad we enjoyed them.

Some facts about 2007

  • Interest rates 5.25%
  • Tony Blair steps down as prime minister and is replaced by Gordon Brown
  • US President was George W. Bush
  • There was the horrific Glasgow Airport terrorist attack
  • Average price of a pint was £2.51
  • Best selling album Back To Black Amy Winehouse
  • Average internet speed 3.3 Mb (three times as fast as ours)
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A few pounds more and a few grey hairs less. Pabs 2007. pic Neil Henderson

Alcohol was very much prevalent in the lyrics I wrote then, that and nightlife in Falkirk. Home Sweet Home is perhaps a reflection that I was tiring of the nights this would be a theme throughout the album. However it was a limited view and I grew to criticise my lyrics over the following years. Quiet Act, Riots successor, dealt with the same subject albeit from a Sunday morning perspective. (more on that next year).

 

‘I beat myself up over again

When i realised what i could’ve been

Holding on to a job that pays

For the  house and the car and the microwave’.

Razorwire

 

Personally there were some difficult times in 2007 but I never really learned how to approach them until many years later. Riot Act was like a party with lots of people having fun apart from the one moody guy in the corner ready to start something.

Writing the album was a pretty straight forward, the riffs really spilled out from the covers we were rehearsing. Then one night we heard the scurrying…the rats…even they got a mention on the record.

As we gathered our roster of finished songs I suggested to the guys a new approach to recording; that we hire a cottage in one of the remotest places in Scotland. We now had the money to pay for it. Riot Act would be the first of our ‘lodge albums’ and what a riot that week would be…

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the first ever lodge we used to record. Cannich, Scotland

Words Pabs.