Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Bass player leaves studio, wants peace and quiet

Sing into this
Once you finish in a studio, that's not always the end of your involvement with the songs. Even though you may have got most of them down second or third take, sequences and parts of those tracks go round your head for days afterwards. I was getting something out of a cupboard today, three days after this latest Inca Babies session with the same part going through my head, round and round. That had been going on since Sunday. And just the process of isolating your playing or singing on a single track can be quite .. well, 'instructive' is perhaps a kind way of putting it. It's like looking at yourself very, very close up in one of those shaving mirrors. Sometimes not nice.

In the creative crucible of the studio, band members often seem to default to their popular stereotypes. Take for example, the bass player. Bass players are generally easygoing people, used to holding a song down while flamboyant guitarists or vocalists (or worse, both) show off their showbusiness chops. Bass players apply certain mottos to their lives - perhaps because they have to - like 'Less is more' and 'It's not what you play, it's what you DON'T play' (copyright A. Brown of Doncaster). Both these mottos are true to some extent, both to the art of bass playing and the experiences of bass players.

Most bass players turn up to rehearsals, learn their parts and then work on getting the best groove or flow out of the bits they've got to play. This is often done at high volume in a cold and draughty rehearsal room with an often-psychotic drummer battering seven shades of merry hell out of a practice kit on one side and a guitarist playing at ear-splitting volume on the other. Hmm. Maybe Monday night Coronation Street isn't such a bad option after all.
Drummer and guitarist at rest

In recent years I've taken to wearing ear plugs in the practice room. Excessive volume is just part of the business I'm afraid but I'm less willing than I used to be to be deaf all week for the sake of a practice. I met a guy who was training for the Olympic clay pigeon shooting finals who fired 200 shotgun cartridges at clay discs in an evening. He gave me some expandable ear plugs that cut out the deafening crack of a shotgun fired countless times right underneath your ear. They work a treat against a Fender Strat through a distortion pedal with the treble right up. Now I just need some flesh-coloured ones.

Such an intense workspace as the studio leads to pressure, and the pressure starts to mount when bands or band members don't get their playing right. Once you've stumbled over a part twice you might as well forget it, because you're either going to have people standing over you cursing that you get it right, or - perhaps worse - praying silently in the control room with their fingers crossed that this time you don't mess up. Which you invariably do. They tend to be the ones who are paying for the studio, and will often follow you outside while you get a breather and kick a few doorframes to encourage you, tell you how good your playing's been and how when you go back in they really believe you'll get it right.
Engineer Tim tweaks his eq settings

Then you have the engineer, the poor guy who has to get the whole sorry episode on tape and make something usable from what is often a total shambles. Engineers are notably and noticeably eccentric: they walk that fine line between genius and despair every day... or more commonly every night, as studio night rates are cheaper.

Someone like Tim Woodward at Courtyard (above left) has been doing it so long there's not a sight he hasn't seen, and that's great, because instead of letting a band corner a musician who's messed up he'll just run the tape back and get them to patch up their mistakes with barely anyone noticing that he's done it. At least that's what he does with me. There's been many a Mexican stand-off in the courtyard at Courtyard and Tim's too wise and too experienced a hand to let the bickering get to that stage nowadays.

Band members celebrate completion of recording
 And finally, of course, where does all that nervous tension go, having been stored up for days while you record and before that while you write, shape, nurse and deliver your musical baby, clocking up countless pints and miles and texts and phone minutes in its genesis.

Some people celebrate in time-honoured fashion: by going off and getting absolutely hammered. Others go home to their families and carry on where they left off. On Sunday I packed up my bass and headed down the stairs with the strap engineer Tim very generously gave me to replace the one I snapped at the gig in Blackpool - he also sells guitar strings and accessories online - with a quiet sense of achievement. And all I wanted was some fresh air and some peace and quiet.


  1. Tim Woodward = AVOID, we recorded at his (rundown) studio and he disappeared with the money and the recordings, now a court matter

  2. Yes we know of this swivel-eyed gimp Tim Woodward, already reduced to selling strings and straps and now to stealing customers music and money judging by the above.