Recording Diary: Giant Wafer Studios, Llanbadarn Fynydd, May 2019

Trying to gather some thoughts about the recording of my new album is hard to do without making it too mundane (who wants to hear about the constant repetition of songs, tuning guitars, sitting on sofas waiting for the keyboard take to be done) or too technical (how we placed the microphones to get the sound of the floor toms right or the fact we moved the rotation ratio on my Lex Rotary effect just a little bit higher for that song). When you extract these things then you are not left with much.

It may be better to start with who was involved and that is key because six people fundamentally turned the songs I have written into something far deeper sounding, with intricacies and melodies that I didn’t have the musical lexicon to achieve on my own. At the foundation, on the drums, was the incredible talent Pete Flood. I met Pete as part of the Emily Portman Coracle Band back in 2016 when he handed me some wild garlic that had been growing in a car park in Oxfordshire and told me to eat it. Every morning after breakfast and coffee he would sit down with his charts and play these intricate rhythms that we would all follow with excitement. Paul Ambrose on bass knows all my songs back to front (even the ones we don’t play publically) and there is an organic feeling built over so many shows with him that he was an essential choice. Tom Lenthall played keys and sang. He’s been on my last two releases and he has that enviable ability to play  tastefully without over playing and whatever he does brings depth to the whole arrangement. His harmonies combined with Lizzy O’Connor’s make my soul rest back into my frame. He also does an incredible impression of Gollum! I have known Lizzy since we first met playing in the band Deer Park back in the early noughties. She’s an all-rounder superstar who fills in all the bits we’re missing from snare rhythms on ‘I Cannot Lie’ to grunge Guitar on ‘Fan of the Band’. She also knows where my vocal lines are going intuitively. Helen Bell from The Froe is a key part of the sound too adding string arrangements that are really different from the norm – she makes everything sound so classy. And finally, Andy Bell, producer and good friend managed the whole session. He coached all the performances you will hear, challenging the way we approached the songs as a band, hearing the whole as we all sat in our respective rooms listening to our own parts.

We recorded the songs in a studio just over the English-Welsh border in Llanbadarn Fynydd, Powys. Giant Wafer sits on a gentle hill above the village and you access it via a small stone bridge barely the width of a car. The control room backs out onto a small holding with chickens (the cockerel taking pleasure I am sure in waking us every morning around 5am) and horses. I can write about the gear and the rooms but suffice to say it’s remote and is the perfect bubble for me to focus on the job at hand. A few people wandered to the community shop across the river one day however I stayed in the studio for the full five days.

We recorded 15 songs overall, including two different versions of ‘Clifftown’, an up one and a down one. After a leisurely start we would track the main frame of the songs with live vocals and then add overdubs and then move on to the next. We averaged out about three a day and broke the whole thing up with tea breaks, lunch and general aping about which you need as a release from the intense concentration you must have during takes. The only significant challenge was  a song provisionally called ‘Come Back’. Andy felt we needed to make it different from the tumbling circus vibe we were labouring but nothing seemed to fit. We reluctantly abandoned it and it was only when we had a listen to some Joni Mitchell did we hook upon an idea based around Paul’s bass part. Thus it was born.

Recording finished around 8pm each night and following dinner we would head over to the barn opposite for late night sessions of pool. Andy, Paul and Tom were expert shunters while myself and Lizzy occupied the ‘merits for effort’ category. And those were our days, regular and productive. Towards the end of our week people started to drift away and it’s like a holiday, you never want it to end. Pete was the first to go, his drum parts all secured and then Tom and Helen shared a car home to Birmingham. Lizzy went early the last day and not long after myself and Paul gave one final wave to Andy before we all parted, we to Newport for a show, Andy to Hay on Wye.

Hopefully the album will be out in early 2020 and if you really want the technical detail then drop a message below!

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