Thursday, November 30, 2006

Studio Antics

I have come to the conclusion that we are not a very serious band.

Serious bands wouldn't get distracted from listening back to their studio performances by the game of dressing the drummer up in high heeled pink stilettos... would they?

Would a serious jazz singer allow herself to be photographed with a banana in her mouth? I think not.

Yes, photos exist of both of these occurrences, but no, I am not going to post either of them here.

No. Not even if you beg me.

Well, maybe if you give me flowers...

And I think it's fair to say that Honey excelled herself with the contents of her car boot this time. On previous occasions she has magically produced six ukeleles (in four different colours), and about a dozen shoes, some of them even making up matching pairs. This Sunday it was a huge bag of baby percussion - toy tambourines, midget maracas, technicolour shakey eggs, the works. The original intention was to play some hand percussion on Boys Don't Cry, but once the bag was tipped out over the floor in the control room, the place looked like a creche, and the temptation to shake things wildly for no apparent musical reason overcame us all. I doubt that carpet has ever witnessed anything quite so infantile in its entire professional career.

On another occasion our Sound Engineer returned from lunch to find an impromtu blues jam going on, with Honey stealing the show on Kazoo. Sir Fitz was feeling the icy blast of wind on the back of his neck I can tell you.

No, I wouldn't say that we were a serious band at all. I would say that we were a playful band. And I would also say that is definitely the best sort of band to be in.

'Serious' bands probably spend a lot of time having sleepless nights about whether the piano is too high in the mix in the solo. Playful bands like ours make our minds up on the day the mix is made, and decide we like it that way whenever we hear it from then on. Because that's the way it is.

Yeah, sure we probably could have inched our way to a more perfect recording if we'd sweated blood over it - but that was never the point.

The point was always to get a recording that sounded like we do live. And that meant playing live together in the studio. Which, if you were going to take it seriously, would mash your brain with the pressure.

Only by not taking it seriously is it possible to pull off this feat of daring. Having a cool, collected, gleamingly professional Sound Engineer probably helps as well. I never saw one flicker of frustration cross his inscrutable, smiling face. The man is clearly destined for world domination.

Okay, I have to confess, the week before we did all take it a bit seriously. Yes, there were nights of tossing and turning, there was angsting and indecision, there were emails flying to and fro debating whether or not this part or that part needed to be scrapped and re-recorded. And then, magically, we all calmed down and got things into perspective. All it took, I think, was a week of listening back to what we'd got already in the can, and realising that it wasn't half bad - and then, galvanised by the knowledge that we could actually make good music, we rediscovered our mojo.

Beloved was rather shocked by the inattention and childish behaviour displayed collectively by the Slinktet in the studio... but I think it is both advisable and necessary to maintain a lightness of touch at moments of stress.

Think about it - seven people all craning their ears to listen to the ultimate final, this-is-it mix of a track, focusing on the minutest of details... Was there a tiny cymbal sound just before the final stab at the end? Which of the two trombone growls sounds better over the last verse? Does the vocal go sharp at the end of the first line - and if so, does it add bluesy character to the number, or just sound like I can't sing?

All that concentration, all that pressure... you have to let off steam somehow. Serious bands probably OD on coke. We make the boys in the band try on girls' shoes. Take your pick.

When, you may be asking, can we hear these astonishing recordings?

I am going to tease and tantalise you for as long as possible, as any proper jazz vamp should, so I'm only going to put one track on myspace at a time.

The first one is the last that we recorded - in two takes - and it is dedicated, with thanks, to a young man who once declined to accept my offer of a repeat performance. I was pretty miserable at the time, I can tell you, but it just goes to show that something good can come out of the most ill-advised of romantic encounters.

It's called Well I Didn't Want You Anyway.

Thanks to Mysterio and Sir Fitz for making it into studio magic.




Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Self-consciousness: the enemy of creativity

There we all were in the studio in our own little bubbles of stress, convinced we were shit and letting everybody else down...

i was convinced I couldn't sing. Fresh was thinking of throwing in his sticks and resigning himself to a career in educational administration.And Beloved was ready to go and lie in the road - having managed to convince himself he had failed me and us so absolutely as a stand-in bassist...

then we put the cd of the performance bounces on last night... and whaddaya know? it sounds great.


spot of mixing, a couple of cheeky drop-ins, and we'll have another killer track or three on our hands.

who knows, we might even get the album out by Christmas...

thanks guys. And sorry if I was so busy thinking i was crap to remember to tell you you're all brilliant.

You're all brilliant.



Friday, November 17, 2006

In The Zone

Lovely gig last night... lots of warm vibes from all our friends in the audience, and the band were all having a lot of fun, enjoying each others' company up on stage, enjoying knowing the numbers well enough to relax into them like a comfortable bath.

i had the weirdest experience in the second half... it suddenly felt as if the song i was singing had a life of its own, and didn't really have anything to do with me singing it at all. I almost felt like I could have stepped off stage and the song would have carried on without me. Like the music was moving through me of its own accord...

that sounds really wanky probably, but it was a mad feeling - and brilliant.

And I'd only had one rum and coke.

i think it would be fair to say that we are in a really good place to go into the studio on Sunday... even without a bass.

But we've come up with a cunning solution to our bass dilemma:

Honey is going to play bass on her own song - I love you for all the wrong reasons - and is busily practising her part ready for our rehearsal in the Cellar Of Dusty Tramples tomorrow afternoon.

And Beloved is going to play bass on my song, My Side of The Bed, which is, appropriately enough, about the joys of cohabitation. Connie is coming over tonight for a bit of a run-through of the arrangement with him, and I'm going to cook them both a spot of tea while they get down to some musicking (poached smoked haddock in cheese and chive roux sauce, with mashed potato and broccoli, I thought).

Then if there's time in the studio, we might also record some intimate duo and trio numbers: Well I Didn't Want You Anyway, with vocals, guitar and trombone, Is it Because with piano, trombone and maybe a spot of light brushes from Bobby Fresh... and perhaps even a vamped out version of Say Hello Wave Goodbye, with just me and Earl Mysterio, since it went so well last night...

Whatever we end up doing, I know we'll have a brilliant time doing it anyway

better get the chocolate biscuits in for Vanderlay


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bass Race

The good news is we're going back into the studio next Sunday...

The bad news is, we haven't got a bass player to take with us.

Magic J is going to be making punters' watches disappear in Croydon somewhere, so he can't join us - and so, for the last month, the other five of us have been asking every one we've ever met who plays bass if they're free on the 19th (including that guy from the party who said he'd played a bit of bass when he was 17 before he sold his instrument to take his girlfriend on holiday but even though he's now 43 he's sure he could pick it up again really easily). Now Magic J's getting more and more bookings to make things disappear or blow things up, it's getting quite pressing to find ourselves a new magician-of-the-bass, as it were, not just for the studio, but for the gigs as well.

Somewhere out there is the future bass player of the Tricity Vogue Slinktet. I'm dreaming of a double bassist, but at the end of the day I'm not fussy as long as they know their G string from their elbow. (That pronouncement sounds eerily familiar: I suspect that in the past I may once have said something similar about my search for love...)

Of course, there is one last resort... Beloved does number bass playing among his many talents, but I'm terrified of roping him into the band... because what if it all goes wrong and the music doesn't come together, and then me and him end up having a massive row and splitting up? Not that we've ever had a massive row about anything - but the trouble is that when you make music with your squeeze it's never just about the music: the music becomes a metaphor for your entire relationship. One 'bold note' can seem like the end of the world instead of just a slip of a finger. Is it fair on him, asking him to step into an established, tight band, that his girlfriend also happens to run? He's got no choice but to be blindingly good, to preserve his own chutzpah - and that's not a good position to put anybody in. And is it fair on the band either, when I'm getting all cozy with my fella instead of giving everybody equal attention? And if I don't give Beloved the attention that a girlfriend should, he's going to be really hurt because i'm being weird and distant with him... Apart from anything else, this is not the kind of behavioural dilemma i want to put myself in when I go into the studio and attempt to feel as relaxed and confident as possible, so I can deliver that killer vocal.

oh good grief.

One last desperate solution...

last night Beloved gave me a bass lesson and he said I was picking it up really fast and had a really good sense of rhythm and timing... and maybe I should play bass myself in the band???

mmmm... somehow I can't see that quite working. Not before next Sunday, anyway. And yes, girls playing bass do look really cool, but I think I might save that up my sleeve for another band, another day... I'm not really feeling a lowslung bass over a satin full-length gown, never mind trying to play one in evening gloves.

Still, it's a Look...