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The Seventeenth

Pabs recalls the story of the Seventeenth 2000-04. With help from Jon Shaw, Derek Menmuir, Greg McSorley and Kevin Byrne. As we gather old scrap books and recordings we will edit this document as memories come back to  us. 

While we often celebrate that the band has managed to stay together for over two decades there was a spell where the band took a hiatus; at the time however I thought Weird was finished. Around mid 2000 an increasingly frustrated Stu announced that he was leaving the band to try something new. I guess we all suspected that it was coming. From our relatively bright start we had withdrawn from the scene and spent months simply putting songs down onto the four track and doing nothing with them. These rough demos would eventually become Coldhome Street.

When Stu announced his departure Greg, Derek and myself sat in Derek’s flat wondering where to go next. I was adamant that we could continue as a three piece just like my sonic heroes Nirvana had done. I was now more confident with the guitar and had a number of ideas floating around my head.

Greg was happy to carry on regardless of the set up.

Derek disagreed; he felt that finding a replacement guitarist would be the best bet and he knew someone that could fill the vacant post. This musician would be Jon Shaw an accomplished bass player to trade but a dab hand on the guitar.

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Jon Shaw, an accomplished guitarist. Pic Kevin Byrne

I submitted and agreed that we should meet Jon and it would not be long before we were having our first practise in the very room that Weird had used. I found Jon to be a likeable chap; tall and unimposing he was approachable and open to ideas we had. He had many ideas of his own and a wealth of musical knowledge. I could tell he had a vision for how our sound should develop. He was not afraid to speak his mind, nor was I, this worked for a while but it would eventually lead to friction.

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A pensive Greg ponders life? Pic Kevin Byrne

Things started well. Jon had a big influence on our sound, we went from rock to a more alternative sound. He has a very open, flowing, bluesy style that provided a nice texture to complement my more basic rhythm. I toned down the aggressive Weird vocals for something that was more familiar to my solo music.

In the four years we stayed together we wrote 3 eps, a total of ten songs that we released ourselves. I recorded our records and this did cause Jon a lot of frustration. He was keen to get involved however as Greg and Derek would testify I took control of everything. The records had some great songs but the sound was uneven; I was developing recording skills on a small Tascam 788 and I had a lot to learn (I still do). I did however put my own money and time into the recordings, it could be a thankless task at times.

The democratic approach we took to songwriting for Weird was still in place for the Seventeenth, I would arrive with an idea or lyrics, Jon would also have ideas, Derek and Greg would contribute at times as well. It’s fair to say that I liked to have control of the writing process as well, still in my early 20’s, I would be jealous if anyone had an idea that was better than mine and this sometimes created a tension.

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Our first ep released in the early 2000s

EP1 had four songs. Alternative Disco, All the Girls Know (Jon plays a great solo on this track), Pop is Killing Me and You Set Fire which has a nice repeated solo towards the end. The early days were fun, and this showed on some of the first songs with the exception of the sombre All the Girls Know.  A lot of these riffs were hanging around from Weird so writing the first EP was pretty straightforward. This did flow over to EP2, arguably the creative peak of the band.

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2003 saw the release of the Unit Manger ep

With bright red lipstick, a broad set of eyelashes and a hidden set of sharp claws the unit manager was an interesting character. This particular chap had targets to meet and would go to any lengths in which to meet them. Greg’s looping bass riff opens Unit Manager and Jon’s clean guitar is kept subtle as I create the monster through my lyrics. Staying in this Town was taken off my solo album, the Armour is Broken.

Eight Inches closed EP2 with a sombre look at crumbling relationships. Big changes had happened in my life around the early 00’s, a new job and a new relationship so at the time of writing these songs I was in good place, I guess I had the past to deal with before I could truly move on. Of course the Unit Manager would be one of the early cast members of my characters that I’ve created to write songs. He remains a wicked favourite to this day.

I remember Jon asked someone to listen to the music and offer some advice; it was pretty brutal, with my diction getting the most criticism. I had no idea who this guy was, Jon placed a lot of weight on his opinion. This annoyed me and when we went to write the third EP things were getting difficult.

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Jon in Derek’s flat beside the small 8 track Tascam 788. We recorded all the eps on this.

We recorded all the EPs in Derek’s flat, these were great times. There was a lot of drink in the red bull fridge and friends would come and go as we put the songs down onto the Tascam 788. It was a pretty painless process although Jon wanted to attempt a remix of the songs. He plugged it into his computer and my Tascam crashed. Naturally I flipped but it restarted. I remember Jon and I disagreeing with how the record was sounding but both of us were inexperienced at that time. Jon did like to wind me up, I can remember one afternoon once a session had finished taking the gear back to my old car. There he is, big grin on his face, playing catch with the Tascam 788. Throwing it up, not far, and catching it. It was a small desk, light and portable but at the time it was all I had so that didn’t go down well.

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The third and final ep released early 2004

Writing the third EP was difficult, Jon and I argued constantly. Derek had also said that he was leaving for the states for 6 months, he was looking to be away longer, so this had implications for the band. He was there for the writing of the last tracks though.

It was yet another Wednesday night where Jon and I would disagree and argue about the writing of the songs. This was something I was not used to with Weird. The songs were taking ages to write, ideas would be dismissed, riffs would be discarded. Things got so bad that Derek and Greg left the room and stood outside, they were now considering quitting the band.

Despite the difficulties the recording of the third EP went fairly well although it would take a long time to put the record together. Derek had recorded the original takes for the drums but for reasons I can’t recall we drafted in our friend Kevin Byrne. Greg secured us the Three Kings for recording the drums and bass.

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Recording at the Three Kings

Hindsight 2002 was experimental in its sound, influenced by the Radiohead craze of the time (although Grandaddy would be a bigger deal for me). I used delay pedals and distorted the sound by changing the settings on the pedal as I recorded. The Hindsight computer is another character that appears and I guess this fictional machine was someone I created to take the blame for my mistakes.

Pigs at The Gate is one of Jon’s crowning moments with the Seventeenth although the following track Get Home Someday came a close second, Greg’s swaying, flowing bass line is superb on this track. I vaguely recall Jon pouring scorn on the production of this EP, particularity Hindsight 2002. In terms of songwriting and composition I feel we were starting to find our stride as a band. I can hear all the mistakes but I think this is part of the music’s charm. This was the first record that Derek hadn’t been a part of; things were all getting a bit surreal.

The demos and lost tracks

Greg worked at Sky and knew and guy who knew a guy who was a DJ and remixed tracks. He took our songs and attempted to remix them. Eight inches was the only tune for which Jacob and Mendez could work with and it turned out fairly well. Very sombre in its mood which fitted with the Seventeenth; I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this when I first heard it, it was strange to hear our work interpreted in a different way.

There were other songs that we started to work on including ‘Still in the same place that I left you’ but this never took off. Derek had an idea ‘I Talk to You’ but on the recording of this song it appears that Jon and I were not taking this seriously and rather rudely recorded stupid backing vocals as he tried to demo it; this wasn’t a nice way to treat an understandably nervous friend trying to share an idea.

We also managed to capture a live recording of some songs in the practise room. We sounded jovial as we played through: ‘Wishing My Life Away’, ‘Right Back to the Start Again’, ‘Unit Manager’ and ‘Pigs at the Gate’. It’s a rough recording but it sounds like a band having fun.   

The Seventeenth Live

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Derek has a laugh at behind the drum kit, Behind the Wall

We played a few gigs over our four years together. Behind The wall saw us play a stripped down set of our own tunes and some covers. We hit the late nights at Whistle Binkies; we played a couple of gigs there and Derek was in the audience just a weekend after he had returned from the USA. He was watching Kevin play and couldn’t resist asking if he could step up to the stage and drum on a couple of songs at the end of the set. Our highlights was perhaps the battle of the bands at Rock Gardens (now Max’s bar) we had a couple of frantic gigs at that venue. I remember back stage was downstairs and somehow we made it through the first round I can’t recall winning that night but it was a good experience nonetheless.

Our last gig would be at Barfly in Glasgow; we played to just a handful of people that night, including a certain Mr McCairney, by the time we were packing up the headline act were filling the place. The Seventeenth tried to get gigs and we tried to bring a crowd. We had a small following but the momentum never really got going.

The breakup.

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Jon and Pabs. pic Kevin Byrne

Now this is one of my biggest regrets; not being clear with Jon. By chance I had met Stu at Behind the Wall, we spent the whole night reminiscing about the old times so we had an idea to record all our best songs for an acoustic album, a sort of ‘best of’ Weird. It was now nearing the end of 2003, at the time Jon and I had problems trying to write music and we struggled to get on in the practise room. Many of our battles were fought in front of a beleaguered Derek and Greg. Writing was laboured and we could not produce music.

Another nail in the Seventeenth coffin was Slablo (more on this later), a project created by Derek and I. Over 9 hours we wrote and recorded a whole album. Now it’s not a classic but it showed that songs (some of them decent) could be written without the epic struggles that the Seventeenth were experiencing. With our old friend and guitarist back on the scene and the evidence that we could write songs we came to a decision over a pint in the Graeme Hotel that the Seventeenth was not working, Jon was not at this meeting.

We contacted Jon and we all arranged a pint in the Wheatsheaf to discuss the future of the band. Over a few ales we talked about the difficulties that we had and I explained that the band had come to an end in a roundabout sort of way. It was a difficult thing for me to say and I did not handle it well. As we all parted ways at the Wheatsheaf I thought that was the Seventeenth finished. I was now turning my attention to what lay beyond.

However Jon turned up at our next practise and it was clear that I had not been entirely honest with him; there was some sort of misunderstanding. Jon loaded his amp into the practice room and started to set up. I looked at the rest of the guys, they headed outside and it was up to me to ask Jon to let Stu set up instead. That was horrible and no way to treat the guy. Jon sat and watched us jam, it was really awkward and a terrible way for us to part.

Jon and I regrettably lost touch, away from the Seventeenth we had a passion for music and spent a few good nights drinking beer, listening to music and going to gigs, he is a decent bloke. As for the Seventeenth I look back (now) at those years with fondness. We recorded an album’s worth of decent tunes. The sound was uneven; however there were some great moments and I’m still moved by the music.

I want the Seventeenth to have a legacy, as a band we have been forgotten and that is regrettable. We had some good times and thankfully we recorded the few songs we created. It was great to meet and see Jon play alongside us at the 13th Note in 2015. Back on the bass it was clear that this is his weapon of choice as he played superbly. When we caught up it was a pleasant meeting and a good night for all.

Legacy

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Listen to all the recordings here

The Seventeenth is the forgotten but significant chapter in the history of Weird Decibels. We often share the fact that Weird Decibels have been around since 1995 and we are proud of that. However we haven’t acknowledged that in the four years that Stu was away, Jon and Kevin were in the band and they helped to keep it all together. The Seventeenth was a huge learning curve, I learned a lot about dynamics of being in a band and trying to make things work when you have musical differences.

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As I researched our history I looked through the old recording photographs and the sleeves of the eps, there are some great memories of the antics we used to get up to. Some of this spills onto the recordings, particularly the demos where you can hear us having fun, that’s what being in a band should be.

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Jon and Greg relax with a beer

Then there was the music, we wrote some great tunes. Unit Manager, Eight Inches and All the Girls Know saw us come together with force and forge some great songs. 

It was just under four years that we were together and we recorded three Ep’s and played a handful of good gigs. Without the Seventeenth, Greg, Derek and I might have lost touch, lifelong friendships might have been lost and many future albums and gigs might never have happened. So I’ll always be grateful that Jon, Kevin, Derek, Greg and I kept the music playing when we could’ve easily given up.

Words Pabs

Additional editing Jon Shaw

 

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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