When I first looked at my US tour itinerary, artfully put together by James Constable of Oh Mercy! Records, Kansas City didn’t really mean that much to me, other than it was a gig destination sandwiched between shows in St. Louis and Omaha. Little did I know that it would become such an important part of my adventure, and that I would become so enamoured of it and the wonderful people I met there, that I would return not once, not twice – but three times; the last time travelling all the way from Santa Fe, New Mexico in a day, to be with my new friends and share in their July fourth celebrations (a bit too keen, according to the State Trooper who stopped and fined me for speeding in Lawrence County, Kansas).
Each time I came back I met more people who took me to different places. Being a songwriter, I naturally made notes on each visit, and eventually these musings wound up in a song called Kansas City Won’t Let Me Go. At the end of my last visit I debuted the song to those present. It went down very well. They implored me to record it as soon as possible.
Normally, my recording regime is to have all the songs ready and record in stages – the drums one day, bass next, acoustics next and so on. Although I was not due to go in to record a new album until this summer, I felt compelled to book some studio time and bring this song to life.
My first port of call was the Drum Studio in Ipswich. Its proprietor – Martin “Webby” Webb – was happy to occupy the drum stool on the session and it wasn’t long before he and I were toying around with different beats. The eventual part that Webby came up with was deceptively simple (well, he made it look easy!) but was exactly what the song needed. The track bounces along but has a great feel.
A few days later, I was in Oh Mercy! Records supremo Pete Thompson’s Halfway House studio, hidden away in the Suffolk/Norfolk hinterland, where I replaced the guide acoustic guitars I’d previously put down at Webby’s. I was also going to replace the guide bass I’d put down but when Pete and I pulled up the faders and listened to what I’d played, we decided there was no need. It seems that my salute to the bass playing style of the sadly missed Ronnie Lane with its lazy sway was perfectly adequate as it was, it even complemented the drum track (note to self – for better results, from now on, every time I record a bass part, pretend it’s only a guide– it makes for a much more relaxed feel!).
It was time to bring in the big guns – on piano, a man with whom I’ve shared many stages and studios with – the redoubtable Adam Whyatt; and on lead guitar, widely regarded as one of the best blues players in the region – Mr Tim Ainslie.
Adam was up first. We simply ran the track a couple of times and Adam played through it. I could tell immediately that between those two takes, we had enough rollicking licks to choose from (as it happens, we only used the first one in its entirety – Adam “One Take” Whyatt!).
When Tim started playing I knew I had chosen wisely. He’s a very laid-back guy and in the technique that he has honed over many years he can effortlessly mix jazz and blues licks. He captured perfectly, the tone and timbre of how I heard the song in my head, and his subtle and cool playing conjured up the atmosphere and ambience of the Kansas City I have come to know.
Another day, another session; lead vocal and harmony vocal dispatched pretty quickly (I come from the school of: “If you can’t get it in a couple of takes, you shouldn’t be in the studio at all!”). We spent longer in the pub than we had in the studio.
After living with a rough mix for a couple of days, I left Pete to work on the final mix, with me coming in at the end to tweak bits here and there (“pan the piano left, a little” / “a tad more bass” etc.).
The next morning I sent the mix to the master of the dark art of mastering – Pete Maher. As a favour, he mastered the track that morning. It was quite a buzz to know that I was pushing in ahead of one of his other clients, maybe U2 or Jack White or the Killers or the Rolling Stones.
I’m very pleased with the results.
I can’t wait for my friends in Kansas City to hear it and hope that they like it as much as they did on the fourth of July last year.
Cover photograph: Matt Mayfield
Sleeve design: Sam Devito
You can hear the song at: