Categories
Its a Grand Day Out music studios

It (Was) A Grand Day Out.

Pabs looks back at how we created and recorded our unplugged album Its A Grand Day Out. Available to buy and download stream from Bandcamp. Alternatively you can stream on all digital platforms including Spotify.

Words Pabs

Photographs Kevin Byrne (cover art, station hotel, Larbert station), various (studio)GDODigDistro

Nearly two years ago I celebrated my 40th birthday, my how time flies. Amid the generous presents there was a gift voucher for some studio time at a place in Edinburgh. It was a great idea for a present but it got me wondering what could be achieved in 6 hours. I’m terrible for procrastination and didn’t book the studio for months. Time was passing and the voucher was due to expire. So I got thinking again.

An album would take weeks, and EP probably a weekend, certainly more than the six hours on offer. So I thought about a live studio performance, recorded professionally. It would be a great opportunity to capture our live sound. I contacted the studio from where the voucher originated and enquired if they would be able to facilitate the band playing live. They couldn’t. They did offer to move us to another studio outside Edinburgh but I didn’t feel this was an option. I suggested a refund for the voucher but the studio wouldn’t budge. I then suggested we strip back to an acoustic album. They agreed it could be done so the band started to prepare.

A couple of weeks before we were due to record the studio contacted me to say they were pulling the plug. Thankfully, perhaps in mind they were letting us down, they offered a full refund it was a turn of luck that I was waiting for.

So with the money safely back in the bank I wanted to fulfill the gift that was given to me and started to look around at studios. After a few emails I to some engineers I decided to go local and contacted Andy Taylor at Homegrown Productions in Larbert. He was happy to do the project but i’m not sure he was aware of how many tracks we were planning…

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I visited the studio and met with Andy, a friendly chap who was happy to advise about the project. He was a little surprised when I suggested that we would be recording 15 tracks, I think he was expecting us to do a lot less. He offered some good suggestions, like different sticks for the drums and one really important point was practise, practise, practise.

The feel of the studio is great, hidden away on a working farm just outside Larbert, you would miss it if you weren’t looking. Its well decked out, a comfortable control room, a live room and an additional area for guitar work (we wouldn’t need this). There was a mixture of analog and digital equipment. I guess I have missed the experience of recording in a professional studio and letting someone else do the work. We agreed a booking, now it was up to us to get the heads down.

Picking the Songs

We got together and had a look through the albums to see what would work with the distortion switched off. There were a few obvious choices and some surprising picks as well.

Songs like ‘Vancouver’, ‘The Rain’, ‘Just For Today’, ‘Culture Creature’ and more recent tracks like ‘I Hear the City’, ‘Wonder’ and ‘Curtain Hits the Cast’ were picked. One thing that was quite obvious for the band was the high number of Whapper Stormer songs that were filling the set. So we looked again and found some of our forgotten favourites. ‘Flame’ has always been one of those songs we regretted not getting properly recorded. It was never mixed as we ran out of studio time. We put the track on Coldhome Street and that was never officially released (although if you are curious it is on our Bandcamp page). When we played at practise it sounded really good, it hadn’t aged much, although the lyrics were written by a heartbroken 21 year old and not the hand of someone of nearly 42 years so that was quite a strange experience stepping back into my old awkward shoes.

‘Side by Side’ was another song we hadn’t officially released (again you can find it on Bootleg 2 on Bandcamp). It was nice to play this track again. ‘Cold Calling’ was a little rusty but once Stu and I synced in it worked really well. Then Derek suggested ‘Industry’.

One of our more heavier numbers I didn’t think It would work but it did. The mood was still there, the intensity of the track was still evident. Now we were growing in confidence and curiosity, we tried ‘Educational Suicide’ but that didn’t work, we briefly tried ‘Three Days Ago’, again that didn’t fit in too well.

We were settling on songs but one was missing, a song that defined the early 2010’s for us, ‘Wonder’. It sounded good on the podcast version and went well when we practised it so it was in. Towards the end of our sessions the Rain was dropped, one of our best known songs from the early years. I was disappointed but the rest of the guys didn’t think it was going to fit with this volume of songs.

On the Day.

There is no denying that it was exciting to be going back into the studio after all these years. As much as I love DIY recording it was nice to think that someone else would be at the helm. We turned up to the small studio on a fairly overcast day broken by the cold winter sun. A sharp breeze passed the imposing wind farm nearby, the large white colossi steadily turning. Stu parked rather oddly and I couldn’t help but chuckle. Then Derek with his large SUV rolled onto the edge of Andy’s lawn. Car parking is not our strong points.

 

We entered into the control room, the desk was fired up and ready to go. We headed into the live room and started to set up. There was a jovial atmosphere, it was great to hear band banter flowing again, we don’t do this enough, I thought.

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I look on as Andy sets up. It was strange to let someone else do all the work!

Andy entered the room after briefing introduction he got to work on setting up the sound. This was when I began to wonder if  we were stretching the session too far. However it didn’t take us long to set up, after a few soundchecks we were good to go.

Playing through the first songs was straightforward, we had tea and coffee so it was all going well until the first mistake. Nerves started to creep into us all and we had to retake a couple of songs. We soldiered on, time was now an issue, we were aware of it and I think it was affecting our performance. There was one song, ‘Sky is Falling’ I think, where I completely forgot the vocal melody despite playing it for weeks on end. Our minds were just going blank as we reached into the 4th hour of our session. But we got there, a little bruised and battered, 15 songs recorded live. Now for the quick mix, could we really finish this album in 2 more hours?

This was where I was trying not to impose on Andy, I forgot we had just over an hour to mix 15 songs. Now I realised how lofty my expectations had been. I guess because I’ve recorded the band so many times that I thought it was possible. I suggested some mix changes during the first song, put the vocals up, nah drop them again, essentially I was now doing what I do in the home studio, spending an age mixing, however time was something we did not have.

So I reluctantly stepped back and opened my first beer and let Andy do his thing. 20 minutes past our time we had a CDR with the raw mixes. I had mixed feelings now.

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Work starts on the mixes. 

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Old Friends back in the Bar

After a healthy wee cheese and ham roll from the shop next to the pub I was ready for a fair few pints and some catching up with the band. We dropped all the gear off at Derek’s and headed around to the Station hotel for a couple. Our good friend Byrne turned up for a blether. We didn’t stay long however, we headed back to Derek’s, the guys were eager to hear the CD. I just wanted a beer.

After a few laughs and drinks by the fire we spun the CD. Already I was picking at it, what was I really expecting to achieve in 6 hours? 15 songs? An album completed? It sounded pretty good but not finished. It sounded thin, lacking in presence, my high hopes for this album were fading, but the guys around me were loving it, I didn’t have the heart to tell them at that time I wasn’t happy.

 

I spiralled into a bit of a downer for a few weeks after it. It was a long winter for me, I just wanted to shut myself off from everyone. I logged off the internet for nearly 3 months and didn’t go near the acoustic album. I still wasn’t enjoying the record, but the performances were good. Perhaps revisiting the mix would work. We still had some money left from the gift voucher and the guys were happy to put some extra cash into the record.

Some weeks later I returned to the album and started to take notes. I asked the rest of the guys to give me their opinion of the songs. They were generally good, one or two tracks were in danger of not making the final cut. I contacted Andy to explore further mixing.

The extra studio time comes to the rescue.

Springtime had sprung, green was returning to the trees and the last of a fairly mild Scottish winter was fading. Optimism was back in my thoughts, I had booked in another 4 hours of mixing and would be attending the studio with Andy during the May weekend. The mixes went really well, he had already started to work on the songs by the time I arrived at the studio. The tracks needed subtle tonal changes, in addition, turning up Stu’s solos and integrate guitar parts worked wonders for the feel of the album. It was now vibrant and full of personality. It was good too have input into the mixes. Andy is so laid back, he listens to all suggestions and will gently disagree if you suggest something that won’t work.

As this was a live session all 15 songs responded well to the tonal and fader adjustments so it turned out mixed a lot quicker than anticipated. There was also a desire not to lose the live feel of the record.

Mastering was booked next. I decided to step back for this. It was a subtle master, with Andy leaving a significant amount of dynamic range. Hearing the single (the Ending and Trying to Grab Hold) it makes sense, there is a good dynamic range in the streaming sound.

The Photoshoot.

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Pic Kevin Byrne. WdB with some of our lifelong friends. 

Kevin Byrne is a great friend, always happy to help the band and he, like many of our friends, has been there from the start (in 95!). He takes a guid photo. We needed a theme for the album, ‘Its a Grand Day Out’ so we decided to head to the pub, the Station hotel, which, as its name suggests is next to Larbert train station. The idea was to invite our lifelong friends and have Kevin shoot pictures as we got drunk. It worked quite well, there was a brilliant portrait taken of us before we left the pub.

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Kevin with Greg. Kevin has taken many great photographs for us. 

As we passed the station I suggested we take some shots on the platform, after all most days out start and end at a train station. These shots were superb and one made it to the cover of the album. The guys suggested releasing a couple of singles, so I looked through the photographs that Kevin had taken but none seemed to fit. Kevin stepped up and took some stunning shoots. My favourite being the speeding train blurring past the static platform, we used that for the Ending.

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Pic Kevin Byrne. Brilliant picture of the station hotel where we had a few drinks after the recording session. 

After the original photoshoot had taken place we headed back to Dereks and drank into the night. Surrounded by friends, listening to vinyl and building beer towers. It felt like the old days that we used to have. We celebrated into the morning hours, after two years of highs and lows we finally had the album we wanted.

Pabs

Coming soon, the track listing and the story behind the songs.

Click here to buy the album. All monies goes towards future recordings.

Categories
1999 studios

Studios In Which We Have Recorded part 3. Red Eye Studios (1999)

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We are heading into our first professional studio in nearly 20 years in January 2019 so we are looking back at our previous experiences before we went DIY.

The end of the 90’s was a strange time for four musicians who loved their rock. Grunge was long gone, rock was out of fashion (again) and Britpop was now a bloated mess of champagne and coke. Everyone apart from the general public were panicking about the millennium bug.

The band was drifting, by now we were treading water, turning up every Wednesday to play some tunes then we would head home for another week. We were no longer playing gigs or making any attempt to promote the band. We were writing songs though, a lot of songs, now we were away from the ‘classic’ Weird setup, I was full time on rhythm guitars.

After the slightly disappointing second return to Split Level we decided to look for a new studio to record some new tracks. I can’t even remember how we booked the place.

Located in Clydebank, just a short walk from the river is Red Eye Studios, an unassuming single story brick building which seem tacked on the old Clydebank Cooperative. Like many studios it’s not obvious that a fully functioning music studio is set up inside.

Greg drove the first day, I had my license by this time but Greg always seemed to find himself behind the wheel in the early days. We arrived at the studio, rather excited to what lay ahead and this time we were prepared. Derek and I would return for a second day of mixing. So here we look back at our session in this studio.  

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Stu looks dejected in the practise room as we struggle to finish Cold Home Street.

Pabs

I thought the studio didn’t look like much when we arrived but this is normal, its whats inside that counts. I couldn’t wait to see inside. I was now getting an increasing enthusiasm for sound engineering. We walked in and there was a long corridor, the guy met us and took us into the control room. We were met by a large control desk and a window that looked into the live room. It was a fairly big room, I think we did all the drums in there, in fact everything. There was no vocal booth or anything like that.

We picked three songs to record. ‘I Tried to Fly’, ‘Hope’ and ‘Sun Shines Brighter’. They were probably our most ‘pop’ sounding songs, quite far removed from the heavier rock we had done previously. They were fairly easy arrangements and pretty straight forward to record. Even when I recorded the vocals I didn’t go for the louder vocals, my style was changing, looking back it kind of lacked the passion that I usually have

I always thought the guitars sounded a wee bit tinny, a bit thin, but we didn’t really cause a fuss, I was starting to wonder if we’d be able to record our own music. On reflection I think my setup didn’t help either.

By the end of the day the only thing left to record was the backing vocals, Stu headed through and started singing the backing vocals to Hope, is quite a high key. There is a bit at the end, ‘la la la la laaaaa’ or something as we head towards the finale of the song. The music was blaring and I looked up, Stu was in the room singing his heart out. I looked back at the desk listening to the rough mix when suddenly the singing stopped. I looked back up and Stu was gone! We all rushed out of the control room, into the live area and there was Stu face planted into the sofa with the music blaring through the ear phones. He’d passed out, it was for a couple of seconds and then he was back up, if a little stunned.  

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I looked up and Stu was nowhere to be seen!

Stu

I remember Bo driving me home after I passed out, my heart was still racing and he drove like a racing driver!

Greg

Ah the days when I had a (relatively) fast car..

Pabs

Greg’s love of cars and big exhausts goes back a long way.

Greg

For Redeye we recorded it all one day but only Pabs and Deek went back for the mixing and mastering. I seem to remember Pabs getting excited about a snare ring?

Derek

For some reason Pabs and myself went back through, just the two of us to finish the mix, was it the Monday? I remember listening to it in Pabs old Toyota on the way home marvelling at the reverb on his vocal at the end of Sun Shines Brighter like we just invented vocal reverb!!

Pabs

I remember the mixing of ‘I Tried to Fly’ the engineer had everything panned centre apart from the toms of the drums, so they really stuck out. The bass had a nice tone, the guitars tone was not too bad although having them all panned centre meant the tracks lacked stereo width. So when it came to Hope I asked the guy to pan the guitars, it did make a difference. I found it strange that I had to ask for this, it was another step to the bands eventual hiatus, we were just letting things pass over our head. I think these songs would have sounded brilliant had we not settled for these mixes. Maybe the sound engineer thought we just wanted a demo, I’m not sure. Maybe the guy was just starting out, you have to remember this was twenty years ago.

We didn’t go back to Red Eye studios, the songs were used on the album ‘Coldhome Street’ an album that arguably proved to be our weakest. This wasn’t the studios fault, we had kind of lost out way at this point, this is the only album that we haven’t released on digital distribution but it can be found on Bandcamp.

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I’ve always had a soft spot for Coldhome Street, despite its sound. Pabs

Red Eye looks like it is still going strong today, judging by the photos it looks well kitted out with rehearsal rooms and the studio is well connected with the local scene. We still had lots of ideas that we wanted to put down for our third album so it was back to the yellow pages to see if we could find another studio. One caught my eye in Stirling.

Categories
1998 studios

Studios In Which We Have Recorded part 2. Split Level ’98 (2nd session)

Split level part 2 February 1998

Split Level Facebook page

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The Firkin Outburst Era and the around the time we headed back to Split Level.

The heady early days of being in a band are irreplaceable from the euphoric high of writing your first songs to the adrenalized buzz of playing your first gig. A band in its infancy can produce a surge of creativity often known as the ‘early stuff’. Then there were the large high school Martell crowds, the first articles in the Falkirk Herald all the first targets were being met.

So as the dust settled on our arrival at the music scene we knew that new songs had to arrive. By now we were students at college, drinking at every practise and generally having a laugh. We wrote many songs, probably forgot more than we remember. The tracks that did stick had to be recorded; there was a need to be back in the studio. There was only one choice for us. Split Level. Around the local scene our first demo had been a massive success, The Rain, Vancouver and Chameleon had been well received by the local radio station. With this in mind we had to pick three songs that would propel us further.

So here are our thoughts and memories for what would be our last session at Split Level. Also joining us for a look back is our long time friend John Baines who with our late great friend Dave Brown visited during the session.

Pabs

The choice of studio was a no brainer, we just wanted to go back to Split Level, it had been around 18 months since we recorded our first demo. The choice of songs would prove to be more difficult. We had written a number of songs, we had forgotten a lot more, so much alcohol flowed and we lost focus, it was just a bit of a laugh at this point. I remember Culture Creature was pretty much certain to be on the demo. Summerhigh was an early choice as well I think but trying to pick the third track was tricky. We couldn’t agree on the third song and the studio was booked so there was like a deadline. So I don’t think we had decided, so on the first day in the studio we were picking the last song and that turned out to be Today Was Insane. I didn’t think it was our best, but we went with it. The excitement was still there are we drove to the studio, the place was still a bit of a scrap yard, a wee house hidden by trees just outside the Edinburgh airport.

Derek

I remember Neil’s cars, he had loads of VW Scirroco’s (in the yard)

Pabs

The set up was the same, the studio hadn’t changed which was fine. Neil arrived, he could remember us from the first time and he still had that laid back approach to everything.

I think the atmosphere was different this time, it didn’t have the same feel for me, I don’t think we were ready to be honest.

John Baines

It’s all a bit hazy now but from what I can remember you’d blitzed through the majority of the songs on your first day and spent (most) your time there on 1 song. Am I right in saying it got a bit smoky in there too? Bizarrely my main memory is of Dave flicking a lit fag into his mouth. Lit end first obviously!

Pabs

I would’ve paid money to see that! I must’ve been in the vocal booth at that time, I spent many takes trying to get Culture Creature right, not only the vocals but the little guitar part in the middle. Stu and I play a strange dual solo that I don’t think we’ve properly nailed since!

Culture Creature was difficult, it’s a sad song with dark lyrics, I remember after a few vocal takes coming back into the control room and everyone just looked flat.

Stu

I Remember deciding to record Today Was Insane either just before or when we got there. Culture creature depressed everybody! Neil wasn’t quite as jovial as the 1st time. Did we crash at Deeks flat in Edinburgh in between days. Can’t remember.

Derek

I didn’t have my flat then!

Pabs

John and Dave were just sitting on the couch. The rest of the guys were quiet and yeah Neil looked a bit bored. I agree with Stu he didn’t joke or have a laugh like he did during the first demo.

John

I’ll put my poor recollections down to repeated concussions (and alcohol perhaps). Was it not Culture Creature that took the longest? Well worth it in my opinion

Pabs

Yes definitely, it took the longest. Summerhigh was pretty seamless, I can’t remember how Today Was Insane took but to be honest I didn’t care much for it. Culture Creature was worth it, it was worth the effort to get it right. I think it is one of our best songs, even if it sits in disjointed (but fun) album, Firkin Outburst.

Culture Creature

John

Is the studio still there? Always look out for it when I’m going past.

Pabs

It is! It’s still nestled behind the large trees, the airport parking edges ever closer though. I think Neil still works in the studio. I’m the same, I’ll take a wee glance over, we had great times in there but to date, sadly, we’ve not been back.

 

Categories
1995 1996 studios

Studios in which we have recorded part 1. Split Level

We did record in professional studios, most were pretty bad but one did stick out as a fantastic place to record. Split Level studios in Edinburgh; we look back at our first recording. We put down three songs in that session, The Rain, Vancouver and Chameleon.

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Pabs
We got this studio recommendation from Chris Mason; Cage had recorded their single there, Collapse if i remember correctly, for Baghdad records. He gave us a number and I got in touch with a guy called Neil. We discussed dates and a price and I booked us a slot. I put the phone down and I couldn’t be more excited.
We had a few songs ready, The Rain and Vancouver were definite choices. We had entered a competition to write a song for an anti drug campaign in Falkirk. So we wrote Chameleon and decided to record that at the studio so we could submit the song.
Greg drove (again), I remember heading to Edinburgh, the studio is just outside the city’s airport, you take a sharp left just after the turnoff for the main terminal. We were heading up this dirt track and i’m thinking we’re lost. Then past the bushes there was this yard, it was a bit of a dump really and there was this cottage and no one was there to meet us.
I remember Neil tearing up the drive in a car and parking next to us, out jumped this tall fella with a mop of red hair, he was a friendly laid back guy who fitted into the ramshackle surroundings. He led us up to the cottage and unlocked the front door. I think we first went into a kitchen and it was untidy, then i think there was a toilet. I was a wee bit taken aback. Then we got into the control room and I was blown away.

There was a huge mixing desk ( I was starting to have an interest in recording) a reel to reel and through the window there was a drum kit and a vocal booth. It was amazing.
I stepped into the recording room, it was small, cosy, and there was this door that led to the vocal booth. It was padded out in green sound absorbing panels at that time i thought we were now a real band recording in the studio!

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This was the first time I was recorded playing the acoustic guitar in the studio, it was nerve wracking! I learned that every chord scrape, every open string was heard and i quickly had to improve my playing.

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I can’t remember the order of the songs or even the process of putting the songs down, i do remember screaming my lungs out on the Rain and Neil gently mocking my lyrics, ‘Trousers that keep us alive’ I also remember Greg placing his amp in the toilet to get the sound for the bass.

Derek has always had a knack of putting drums down quickly, I can’t remember how we did the initial tracking but I do remember the overdubbing.
I felt at ease in this environment, we’d flop down onto the big couch and listen as Stu laid his tracks, we were well rehearsed so the whole thing went quite well.
Greg

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I remember having a bit of a jam with Neil on drums at some point. Also that i felt very relaxed doing the recording. It was also the first time you really heard the individual parts being played in isolation as everyone recorded their part.

Remember thinking that was cool. I still love that shot someone took of me taking my bass off in the sunlight from the window. I recorded my parts Sat next to Neil at the desk I think
Stu
The studio was a hidden gem. A bit like Dr Who’s travelling police box. Just looked like a run down wee cottage from the outside… Then once (we got) past the ‘cold trainspotting loo’ a wonderful studio with huge mixing desk and sound proof glass. Amazing stuff I remember feeling under pressure to nail guitar parts but it was quite a relaxed atmosphere so it felt really easy to layer double tracked rhythm parts.

On the track The Rain i use a lot of wah wah and coming back into the studio on the 2nd day Neil had added a delay effect over the top which sounded incredible…..needless to say I had to invest in a delay pedal shortly after this so the overall sound would be replicated live

Pabs
The mixing was quick, Neil asked if the tracks were for an album or a demo, we said demo, and away he went mixing rather quickly, in the background the tape reel was spinning back and forth. He had an Atari computer with music software and a huge rack of FX. Derek liked the drum sound, later he would reflect that the cymbals could’ve been louder. I was mesmerized at the speed that Neil worked, with a cigarette in hand he flitted between the desk, the reel to reel and the atari.
We started to hear the music back through the speakers and it was amazing, really amazing to hear out songs this way. Neil seemed to like the songs so I guess this made the job easier for him (we’d return a year or so later and it was a slightly different outcome) it wasn’t long before we were done.

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There was time for photographs of us larking around in the studio, it was a fantastically optimist time for us, everything was new and we had youth on our side. We thought the world was waiting for us. I guess deep down I knew it would be a long shot making it in 96, Oasis had exploded and our demo that we had just cut was heavier rock. I shook this thought from my mind when I heard the demo played on the car stereo, it sounded amazing on the tape player.
The story of the demo and what it led to is another story, however the legacy of the Split Level sessions would last until this day. These recordings are what we measure our home recording by and they still stand up well today. The three songs would all appear on our first album Whapper Stormer which remains one of our best albums. We recorded the rest of the album some ten years later on an 8 track, the quality of the Split Level sessions forced us to try and match what Neil had achieved.
It was a fantastic experience, we would visit a few more studios but they would never match our first studio.

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In the years that followed we distanced ourselves from studios, we had a couple of poor experiences and I was getting more involved in sound production. I think the band would’ve loved to have returned to a professional setup, I wanted to learn though, and I suggested we invest in our own gear. Eventually we would take our recordings a step further and higher remote cottages and lodges to record. This was a fantastic experience but we still look back on the professional studio experience with fondness. Perhaps we’ll do it again.

Words Pabs, Greg and Stu