Tuesday, 28 June 2011


I don’t like watching music on TV unless it’s miming. There I've said it.  Unfortunately The BBC seems to spend most of the summer setting up horrible live feeds from Glastonbury, T in the Park, Reading, V Festival, Clydebank Fete, a couple of buskers in Argyle Street , a duck quacking on St Kilda and so on. A festival is best enjoyed by actually being there, getting loaded with booze or other things and wandering around and seeing something you may like, then getting lost, pissing yourself and having an epiphany to some Dubcore in the dance tent and being unable to hear for a few days. You cant really do that on your couch, although I have known some people that could.
I’m not entirely sure it’s about whether Coldplay will or wont or will or wont or will or wont be able to live up to their headline slot at “Glasto”. Jo Whiley seemed really worried about this. She’s obviously been having sleepless nights. To her this was equivalent to the Greek debt crisis only more important. She asked Mark Radcliffe what he thought. He said something bland like “they’ll be alright” (he’s got to pay his mortgage) but deep underneath you could see him thinking “I couldn’t care less if Coldplay played Three Blind Mice on a Xylophone”. Then Coldplay came on. The singer did his dance like he’s got huge welly boots on and he’s stuck in mud. He shouted “how we doing Glasto?”.  I watched three songs. The lyrics were so non specific that they could be about a cat lying on a car bonnet or love. There was lots of footage of pretty girls singing along and being generally very happy. I’d watched the Human Centipede the night before and I was wondering whether my  imaginary human centipede would utilize all of Coldplay with Chris Martin at the front or would I play the joker and put Jo Whiley there?
There was a kind of soul guy in a zoot suit with a name like Argos Batbug. He was wasn’t very good compared to Bobby Womack or Prince but he had a 60's hat on and that lady TV presenter who 's always advertising shampoo kept saying he was “amazing, that was totally amazing, life changing”. She’d probably been swayed by the hat. Then Elbow came on and the thought came to me that even though Britpop was the last British movement that really took over the charts and the festivals (before music was fragmented by the internet) it was the bands immediately afterwards like Coldplay, Elbow, Travis and all the “tonight Matthew I’m going to be Jeff Buckley” bands that have really lasted and people still buy their records in vast quantities in Tesco. Fair enough. After about 30 minutes I watched Wimbledon which was much better.

Red Mountain

On Wednesday at the studio Jimmy offered me some coffee called “Red Mountain” or alternatively “proper percolated coffee”. He apologized about the Red Mountain. I wasn’t bothered. It’s my favourite. It’s the sort of coffee you get when your car is getting a new exhaust and the guys in the garage ask you to wait. It’s cheap and nasty and very tasty. We spent most of our time complaining about the weather, which is pretty much everyone’s hobby at the moment. Nearly every shop in Glasgow, even opticians and butchers, have cheap tents for sale, usually pitched up outside the shop on a nearby roundabout. The weather here has been so grotesque that these tents seem so shabby and sad and most of them are in tatters.
We were tidying up Caledonian Sun(oh the irony!) and Trenchcoat. Caledonian Sun is basically the demo tarted up. We added a few bits of quick guitar here and there and left it as it was. Fili had done some excellent singing where she sang the song in a high and low register and that’s what you concentrate on when you hear the song. It was just a matter of making the drums and multi layered treebells and tambourines more echoey and turning up Joe’s fuzz bass.
With Trenchcoat, Joe had put down a different bassline than the demo. It sounded a bit like Rapture by Blondie and we decided to take the song on a trip in that direction. Fili’s almost rapping the words. We stripped out the synths and based the song around the bass, drum machine and Fili and the patient started to breathe a lot better. I was thinking it needed whistles or handclaps or even the sound of skipping ropes. Nearly there.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

How long should a record be?

Back in the day the vinyl album determined how many songs you could put on a record. It was like a quality policeman. Then CDs came in and changed stuff again. People thought it was a good idea to put 19 songs on a CD. In the 80/90s records got longer. Then i tunes and i pods came in and it all changed again. We're trying to decide how many songs we should put on our new album. We discussed it a few weeks ago when Fili was singing. I'd quite like 7. I think we decided on 10 at a maximum.

I think our best realised record is Japanese Graffiti. Not because it has better songs than the others or better playing but because it doesnt overstay it's welcome. It has 9 songs. Looking back I would now drop Shop Dummies and make it 8. I guess I'm a bit of a minimalist. I like short albums and short songs. It's a skill to get what you want down on a song in 2 and a half minutes and then get out of there quick smart. Dont get me wrong I like all 11 minutes of "Feels so good" by the Move but it would have been just as good at 3 minutes. The original of "Move on up" by Curties Mayfield is 11 minutes long. The version everyone knows is an edit at 4 minutes.

One song I wouldnt like to be edited is the live version "More than I can stand " by Bobby Womack. There's a 5 minute rap with the audience about finding his girl cheating on him and looking in the window and catching her. He does the stutter of the boyfriend and everyone in the audience laughs and at the end he even pretends the police are trying to close the gig down. It's 10 minutes long and worth every minute but would it still only be 79p on i tunes wheras Blitzkrieg Bop is probably 79p as well. Need to go and download them both.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Caledonian Sun

Fili thinks we should call the album after this song. She cant believe someone hasnt used this phrase before. It's a play on California Sun, obviously. Caledonian Sun is scientifically a much rarer event which takes place for 3 days a year at the end of April each year in Glasgow. In fact it is raining as I type this.

We were trying to to write an acoustic track to put last on the album and I wrote this. I then replaced all the acoustic guitars with synths/electric guitars and got a generic drum loop from pro tools. Fed the drum loop through an echo chamber and put lots of tree bells and tambourines behind it and hey presto it sounds like the backing drums on an old Beach Boys record. Joe played a fuzz bass on the chorus and Fili did some great singing. Sounds fantastic. Actually the even weirder thing about this song is the pro tools drum loops sound uncannily like Gordy. Maybe we should ask him if he's been moonlighting doing drum loops.

So we've nearly got the album in the bag. Just needs mixed and some more recording on Caledonian Sun and Fili needs to do a bit of singing. That's 10 songs. Hopefully we'll get something up on youtube in the next week or so showing what it sounds like.

Incredible string fan

I remember when my Mum came into the kitchen and I had a pot filled with boiling water and I was cooking guitar strings. She turned to me with a pained expression and said "are you making soup?"Obviously being a student I was skint and a friend had told me to boil the strings to get the grime and sweat and rust out of the strings and they would sound like new. Anyway, after I dried the strings on the washing line and carefully strung them back onto my Tokai Telecaster, they sounded like a cat being tortured by a crowd of hard nut sparrows.

Just to explain, in the days before Amazon (say pre 2004) you had to go into town and have a difficult encounter with one of the lads that worked in McCormack's or Sound Control music shop or whatever the equivalent is in your part of the world. It would go like this:
"I'll have a set of 10s please"
"10s?"says the assistant with a pained expression.
"Yes I do a lot of gigs"
"Bit heavy. How can you play a guitar with 10's?"
"I get by"
"You'd be bettter with 9's"
I'd look at the rows and rows of Jackson metal guitars racked up behind him and count to 5 trying to control myself.
"Okay. 9s then"
"No you'd be better with 8's". I could see him smirking at the guy playing with the crappy pub band mixing desk.
"Okay 8s then"
"We've not got 8s. We've got 10s"
"Okay I'll take them"
"Sorry, we dont have them. My mistake.They're only for 12 string acoustics"
"I'll take 9s"
I'm thinking I'll take anything. F**king banjo strings just to get out of there.
"Rotosounds? They went out with the Ark. Sure you want them?"
"That's exactly why I want them"
"OOOOOooo!". The guy playing with the mixer gives him a high five.
Then the guy spends 6 minutes trying to operate a huge calculator with a cracked screen. He then moves on to the till. He calls the mixerman over for help. After 2 minutes they phone the manager.In your mind you are dreaming of the invention of Amazon and the "one click to order button".

Maybe the most important thing about recording guitars is not the age and serial number of the guitar but whether you have a new set of strings and the guitar is set up properly. Some bands take the new strings thing to extreme levels. I remember seeing a film of Metallica playing at Milton Keynes and under Mr Hetfield was a little hatch with a roadie down there restringing guitars, tuning them and sending them up on stage to be shredded. The guitars were then sent back down to be restrung, probably with burn marks from the fingerwork.. It was like sailors loading missiles beneath deck on an aircraft carrier.

Maybe I'm misleading anyone who plays an acoustic guitar or a bass. With a bass you want the strings to be covered in mud, slime, salt, make up, grass, horse manure, yoghurt and to have been left on the bass for at least 9 years. I've heard basses where the bass player has said "I havent had these strings changed since the Elephant Man played this back in 1896" and it sounds amazing. Similarly an acoustic guitar needs the strings to have moved and stretched and that can take from 2 days up to 2 weeks. If you pass by a studio you may see an acoustic guitar player furiously scrubbing away and retuning (over and over and over) like these tests they do on new cars to simulate driving 200000 miles in 2 weeks. It'll still sound like a zither whether he does this or not.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Keyboard not plugged in

On Monday night we were back in the studio trying to get the vocals down for “Neon Triple XXX” and “Have Trenchcoat Will Travel”.  I mentioned to Fili that I was going to see Brian Wilson as I know she’s a big Beach Boys fan. But really, I’m just going to say “I’ve seen Brian Wilson”. It’s kind of like rock tourism. A few of the other rock tourism sites I’ve visited are Slade (f**king awesome), Van Morrison (from a distance in case he cuffed me round the ear), Tina Turner ( bizarrely my old band were supporting her and a guy turned to me and said “sing it every week son” during Simply the Best and I had no idea what he was on about), Randy Newman (f**king awesome) Motorhead (I couldn’t hear for 2 solid days) and that guy who was at Woodstock, whos name always eludes me. What a great gig that was.
I’ve seen Brian Wilson on the tv and he doesn’t look a well man. He has that kind of twitchy thing going on where you’re on prescribed drugs. To be honest it’s just the Wondermints with Brian Wilson standing at the front moving his arms like a thunderbird puppet. Apparently his keyboard and bass aren’t even plugged in. As Jimmy said it could have been a “trophy of Brian Wilson sitting on a plinth at the front of the stage” and everyone would have clapped.  After all the amazing music the Beach Boys made in the 60’s and 70’s you wonder why he bothers touring. Maybe someone’s bribing him. You know the answer. It’s so that plonkers like me can go into their work the next day and say “I saw Brian Wilson last night. It was AMAZING!!!”
Anyway Fili got her singing down on Neon Triple XXX but it was too late to do the other one because we’d spent most of the time joking about. That’s the way it goes. I had a keyboard set up  and was playing along up but Jimmy told me at the end of the night that it hadn’t been plugged in. Bummer.