When I set out on a tour of the US last summer I hoped that I might be inspired enough to write a couple of songs while I was out there. By the time I flew home three months and 11,000 miles later, I had written an album’s worth. The songs just poured out of me. I took the notion of writing on the road to the ultimate – a lot of the time I was actually driving along singing ideas into a digital recorder on the seat next to me. Lyrics were jotted down in diners and bars. Once I had reached my destination – usually a venue dressing room or a cheap motel room, I would then work out the chords behind these tunes. They were finished quickly and put into my live set; this is so liberating for a songwriter – performing a song that is only a few hours old is a wonderful feeling.
Although this has been a busy year with travels to Ireland and Spain, and a trip back to the US to promote my acoustic EP Restless Celtic Heart, I’ve spent any spare time I’ve had revisiting these songs and crafting them; tweaking lyrics, changing rhythms, editing and re-editing. I think I’m finally ready to record them.
I sent acoustic demos of the songs to Tim Bye – the wonderful drummer who did such a grand job on Songs From the Last Chance Saloon, and I booked a day’s recording session at Ian Crow’s Amblin’ Man Studios in Otley, Suffolk.
Tim and I rehearsed the day before the recording. He is an incredibly intuitive drummer and has an amazing knowledge of varying drum techniques. In terms of direction, I have only to reference other drummers and say things like “can you make it a bit more Jim Keltner?” or “I’m hearing Richie Hayward on this song” and he knows just what I mean. We seem to share the same ideas. On one song, I said, ‘I want it kind of sloppy like Kenny Jones of The Faces would play. He showed me the initial notes he’d made after hearing my demos. Written next to that particular song title was ‘Sloppy. Faces’. Right there and then, I knew my songs were in safe hands.
At the studio, Tim set up his drums and Ian placed microphones around them. We recorded Tim playing the kit for a minute or two. In the control room, Ian pushed up the faders, and just like the last session when he recorded Tim’s drums, he said: “Er, that’s it.” There was no need for any equalisation, the drums sounded great as they were.
Ian set up a microphone for me sing a guide vocal into and another for my acoustic guitar.
Within an hour, we had dispatched three songs; Travelling Man – a straight ahead country rock- song (my direction to Tim was “it’s sort of Eagles-ish”) Rambling Days (I told him to think Bob Seger) and Take me Down to the Singing River with its Southern Rock feel. The morning had gone well.
After a cup of tea, three more songs were put to bed. First up was a re-working of my last single Kansas City Won’t Let me Go, a funky Ride the Mississippi and a rocking and rolling When Ginny Gets her Wings.
We finally felt it was time to attack the song which was probably going to be the most challenging: Robert Johnson’s Tears. I wasn’t sure how I wanted the drums to go on this. Tim suggested that there shouldn’t be a definitive drum part that would be played in one go, more a build up of parts that would add intensity to the song as each new part was introduced. I trusted him completely and let him have free reign. For the first run he just plays a tom tom part coming in on the second verse. On the second pass, he adds bass drum and snare on the third verse. By the end of the song he adds more toms, cymbal swells, and finally a shaker; the drums sound massive. Then the drums stop completely, leaving the coda of the song as just rhythm guitar and vocal. It sounds fantastic!
Song nine has a Latin feel to it. I had been listening to Spanish radio stations as I drove through New Mexico. I’d parked up by a lake in a place called Tucumcari and as I watched the sun go down, I wrote a song called Tucumcari Sunset. Imagine Marty Robbins jamming with Ry Cooder and you’ve got the idea. Tim certainly did.
We finished off with two waltz-time tracks Mockingbird and Santa Fe Sadness. They needed subtle brush work and a delicate touch. Tim supplied both.
It’s always a pleasure to work with a drummer who plays exactly what the song needs (his favourite drummer is Ringo). It can’t have been easy playing along to just an acoustic guitar and a vocal, trying to imagine how the song will sound once bass, guitars, keyboards and other musical finery have been added.
I’m terribly excited! I feel we have made a cracking start and I can’t wait to record the bass guitar parts