Intro | Writing | Recording | Finishing | The Songs  

Even though it was to be a solo album, I knew I wanted the experience of going into a proper studio with the band. This was because I felt we were playing so well together, and also because we hadn’t worked that way since our second album “A Different Lifetime”.

I had been aware of Brian O’Shaugnnessy’s Bark Studio for some time. “Screamadelica” was recorded there, as were the the two Denim albums in the 90s. I adored those records, and Brian came to see Spearmint play live when we were considering who to work with on “A Different Lifetime”. Recently I had been reminded of him because he produced the last two Broken Family Band albums – I am very fond of these and think they sound great.

So I gave Bark Studio a ring and asked if Brian was there. A rich English drawl responded that indeed Brian was there. I waited for him to be called to the phone… a bit embarrassing as it was Brian who had answered and he was waiting for me to continue. We got through the usual awkward exchange about money, and then agreed we would go in and try a couple of tracks. We did this, were happy, and so we booked sessions to record the album in early 2008.

I had been told that Brian is a kind of Michael Winner character who is extremely fussy about how you make his regular cups of tea. Both turned out to be correct. He needs a very strong, very milky, very sweet brew that I consistently failed to get right. He proved to be an affable hard-working East End gent, who was a pleasure to work with. The key thing I always look for in a producer is speed – speed in setting up each bit of recording, speed of getting good headphone mixes, speed of playing back… It is amazing what damage slowness can do in these areas; all spontaneity and inspiration can be lost if you have to wait around for the right set-up. Not to mention how irritable it can make you if you cannot communicate easily while you have headphones on…

The studio is a small “shack” near Blackhorse Road tube, with a live room, a control room and a little kitchen. There is a drum-kit and piano and organ in the studio room, plus several nice amps. hence we could just turn-up with our instruments and get on with it. Brian even has some excellent guitars on site. This made a big difference as it meant we did not need to arrange transport – we could just turn up on the tube.

Days would begin with Andy Lewis from Spearmint and I convening in Cafe Rodi near the tube around 11am. This is a great place – it has that 1960s Italian London feel that is gradually disappearing – easy to imagine Bruce Welsh or Rita Tushingham huddling over cappucinos. Nice grub too, original fixtures and fabulous service. Food is always very important to me, and I associate any recording sessions with the meals that were consumed.

These were exciting times for Andy – he had begun working with Paul Weller as they had made a single together which went into the Top 40. By the time we finished the album, Andy was confirmed as Weller’s new bass player and, as I write this he is two thirds of the way through a long world tour. I get texts from different places, Philadelphia, Sydney, Vienna, Tokyo – he is having the time of his life and it could not be better deserved.

We started by getting all the drum tracks down, with Ronan in the live room playing for real, while Andy and I provided guide guitar, bass and vocals in the control room. Ronan was on top form and got all the drums done really quickly – I was delighted and they sound great! Ronan works best if it is fast (you could say he has a fairly low attention span) so it is best for conditions to suit rapid progress. Brian was ideal for this. Once the drums were finished, Ronan was able to head back down to Hastings where he lives, and we carried on with rest of it. He returned once or twice later on when we decided to add a few more songs to the sessions.

We then concentrated on getting Andy’s bass parts done properly. I do not know if it was a consequence of new confidence acquired by things going really well for Andy, but he played a blinder on this album. Have a listen to his bass-lines; they are really soulful and unfussy, with just the occasional well-judged melodic flourish – great! How many albums to you listen to where the bass stands out? When Andy started with Spearmint I was forever encouraging him to play less, but I now think he gets it just right.

As Andy was feeling slightly better off than usual he was buying new guitars – he seemed to turn up each day with something new, including an eight string bass that he plays on “Dissolving Time” on the album. The sight of Andy arriving each day in Walthamstow in an outrageously camp fur coat, and brandishing increasingly flamboyant new guitars will stay with me…

We then moved onto getting proper takes of my guitars and vocals. I borrowed Brian’s acoustic guitar because it sounds great. I am always trying to find a steel string that sounds good and is easy to play – this one is lovely. I tried to do the vocals pretty quickly so that they stayed spontaneous – all this went smoothly. The thing that lets me down and always takes me ages is my electric guitar parts – this always makes me feel useless. I can hear what I want in my head, but my hands just won’t do it. This is the one part of recording that is embarrassingly slow; I think Brian was getting frustrated by some of my ham-fisted attempts to keep rhythm. Sometimes I give up and just get Jim to play the parts, and he gets it quicker, but then it ‘sounds’ different to my playing, so it is worth me persevering if I imagine the part a particular way.

Jim and Si came in for the final days of the sessions, and then we alternated between getting Jim’s guitars, Si’s keyboards, and both their vocals down. This always involves lots of Pot Noodles (always associated with recording) and packets of biscuits. It went really well and we got through it all quickly. Brian has a Hammond organ in the studio so Si played that on some of the tracks. Andy assisted by operating the – well I don’t know what it is called, but it is an extra bit attached to the organ that alters the way the air moves and hence the swell of the sound. Andy loves doing that and can explain in full if you want to know how it works! At the end of “Upside Down On Brighton Beach”, Andy suddenly screamed “I know what this needs” and ran back into the studio to play the chord that is on the fade-out. It sounds great, but he nearly scared us to death with his excitement… It was lot of fun, it sounds great, and was relatively swift – I think we averaged about a day recording each track.