Diary of a Rock’n’Roll Studio Session : By Jules Jones
Sunday 16th March 1997
It was a perfect day as we motored like the Beverly Hillbillies from Wales to Henley-on-Thames. The car was crammed to overflowing with all those things we were convinced we would need at some point during the forthcoming studio session. More often than not we did not need these things but they gave us security and that was most important.
Four hours later we were in ‘The Dog House’. Henley on Thames is idyllic and this session was going to be fun. The studio is set on the fringe of the Thames and consists of live room, control room, living room, kitchen, bathroom and living quarters above. All cosy and compact. Bit by bit the team assembled themselves. Dick, Od & Slug from West Wales and all their gear; Paul & Mark (Sentient), the programmers from North Wales and all their gear; and Bill (Duffy), (not from Wales) and all his gear.
Barrymore Barlow (drummer from Jethro Tull) owned the studio and Marcus was our engineer. Mike had pinned his chart to the wall. We were open for business. ‘Burnout Syndrome’ opened the account, assaulting the calm and unnaturally warm springtime air outside. The studio also boasted an outside footie pitch. Everybody (except Marcus) was a football fanatic (and football was on the TV every night this week) and so, of course, the boys had to pretend to be their heroes out there. Cantona, Beckham, Fowler, Kinkladze were all at the session (none from Wales) with all their gear.
We started off in the live room with basic laying down of tracks. The first four songs were ‘Burnout Syndrome’, ‘Wasting Land’, ‘Ground Zero’and ‘In Circles’. As a prefix to this, Mike had spent almost a month in pre-production, playing his new songs at soundcheck on the German & French Tour, and attending to detail in West Wales in the practice room. Here, in Henley, there was no real need to pontificate. Mike wanted the recording to happen fast and spontaneously. The homework had been done in advance. In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen Mike so committed in his quest to make the best album ever.
Life in the studio is one of the best bits of rock’n’roll. It is all encompassing. You live in each other’s pockets. There is absolutely no escape. You have no privacy. Maybe that sounds intolerable but if you have the right team, it really isn’t. You are doing something you love and at the same time you’re hanging out with your mates. We wake together, take discussions together, feast together, drink gallons of tea together, argue about who’s going to buy the beers together and finally, hopefully, make a great record together. Aahh. It may sound sickeningly sweet but it’s a fact. Put your cynicism away in the drawer for the moment.
Billy Duffy was hanging out. Billy’s great. In fact, Billy looks so unlike Billy Duffy from The Cult, that it did cross my mind a few times that maybe he was an imposter, but Mike reassured me that his riffs were too good for an imposter. It wasn’t such a ridiculous fear however when you recall that on The Alarm’s ‘Raw’ Tour in 1991, we were accosted and befriended by bass-player extraordinaire, Bootsy Collins who invited himself on the tour for a few days under the umbrella of organising a grand Live Aid-style Gulf Veterans Welcome Home Concert, an event that the whole U.S. music industry was enthusing about.
Eddie MacDonald brought Bootsy on to the tour bus and as no-one really knew what Bootsy looked like without his hat and shades adornments, or had reason to doubt him, we welcomed Bootsy and his pet wolf with fairly wide open arms. It was only when we arrived in Santa Barbara and he began lavishing us all with strange presents from thriftstores, together with an attempt to off-load his room rate and expenses on to our Tour Managers Account, that we realised something was up.
At the same time an urgent ‘phonecall came through from our Management informing us that the real Bootsy Collins was on tour in Europe with Deelite! Shit! Bootsy was an impostor. We’d been framed!
Later, as ‘Bootsy’ returned from yet another thriftstore spend, arms overflowing with useless gifts for us, our Tour Manager had the unenviable task of delivering Bootsy’s luggage on to the sidewalk and sending Bootsy on his way. Bootsy, it has to be said, was not too happy. He shouted something like “You’ll be hearing from my lawyers – you’ll regret this” as he departed in a yellow cab, wolf cub between his legs.
Billy called me tonight. (He had popped to London for the evening, borrowing one of our vehicles). “Hey Jules,” breathed Billy, “I won’t be back tonight, if that’s ok. First thing in the morning instead.” “No probs, Bill,” I soothed, wondering if I would ever see the car again. Was Bill an impostor?? We shall see…
Wed. 20.22 p.m. 19/3/97 – Ian, our Manager and Team Captain had driven over tonight to ‘taste’ the situation. In Studio One, the first four tracks were layering up nicely. ‘Ground Zero‘ (a real highlight of The Gathering 5) waged war with the ‘death disco’ emanating from Studio 2. The ‘Sentient’ twins (Mark & Paul), had been appointed by Mike to create an alternative version of the album, and were busy working an evil spell on the alternative mixof the MPO’s least favourite song (according to the results of a recent internet survey, apparently). ‘White Noise‘. The alternative dance record was racking up and not so far from Mike’s origins as you think. Somewhere between the Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy, the sound breathed the high energy and attack of early punk blended with the finesse and technical knowledge of the nineties.
It was Thursday 00:55 a.m. when I glanced at my computer last and we’re in a good space. Four tracks down. Three days in. Two alternative mixes racked. One Billy Duffy still somewhere in London – hopefully returning tomorrow. None of us are in the Dog House. Not really.
Thurday 11:04 p.m. 20/03/97 – Captains Log. Here we are sat in the living room, recording over for another day. Marcus, had downed tools for the night and we are left, a happy bunch, watching the footie for the ‘nth time this week. Tonight, it’s the highlights of Liverpool.
On the sofa, recline Od and Dick (Drums and bass); perched on the arm, reclines Slug (guitars) attending to the Express crossword and watching Liverpool; reclining on an upright chair, Billy Duffy (guitars) and next to him Mike Peters (vox)- (both discussing their favourite Man. City/Utd. Match, simultaneously); next to Mike sits Vlad, the guitar pedal man and at my feet, one half of Sentient… I sit at my screen, collecting email, browsing the net and generally watching over proceedings.
It had been a good day. Kick started with ‘White Noise‘. This time in Studio 1, (although I was pressed to imagine how Mike could begin to redo this yet again). ‘White Noise‘ has been redone. “Oh joy, oh rapture,” I hear you anti-‘White Noise‘ protesters cry… Personally I have always loved ‘White Noise‘. I loved the raw and primal scream of the ‘White Noise‘ Elevator Session, recorded in the early stages of the ‘Breathe‘ sessions, one snowy night in Liverpool… Anyway, you now have a new ‘White Noise‘ (Part 2 & 3 no less), which grooves and grooves and boasts the additional presence of Mr Duffy on guitar.
As we moved from ‘White Noise‘ to ‘Burn Out Syndrome‘ the day was a mixed bag of sunshine and grey skies, just like the telly said, and whizzed by in a fun bag of footie, training, blinding guitars, mountains of pasta and mascopone…
Sunday 2:15 p.m. 23/3/97 – We had been here a week. 5 tracks were completed and almost there bar the garnish. It was a wet perfect Sunday. Everywhere was dripping in all shades of green. Newspapers clogged the room and we all lay around reading, absorbing another day and another week… Cottage Pie was baking in the oven and we were a picture of British domesticity. Today was ‘Transcendental‘, a perfect Sunday song… written primarily by me, nicked and licked into shape by M.P.
Friday 2:48 p.m. 29/3/97 – It’s been a busy week since Sunday with no time for musings from me. We have just finished ‘You Are To Me‘ with the additional layering of piano from me – very subliminal. We are on course to finish tonight. It has been a week of solitary confinement. It feels like we’ve built a house in 2 weeks. Today, I can feel the intensity welling up in search of release. Mike hasn’t left the studio for 14 days apart from one wild night in Henley. He has displayed terrific focus under the weight and responsibility of the role of Producer. Mike is the perfect leader. He never loses sight of the plot, writing meticulously in a scruffy note pad. He’s barely slept and when he has rested his head, you can feel the melodies transmitting through his closed eyelids. It is all consuming for him. His hobby is his job and his job is his hobby.
There’s a whole crowd dropping by the studio tonight. Danny Cohen, Jamie Cohen, Barrymore Barlow, Eddie MacDonald, Girlfriends, A.N. Others. I have never ever ever experienced a studio session where we have finished punctually and feel absolutely amazed that we seem to be docking on time. It’s a beautiful evening and tonight the atmosphere is very calm. Very early summer.
9:00 p.m. and the last track, ‘Transcendental‘ is put to bed at monitor mix stage. We race to the pub and sit contentedly as we drink ourselves into oblivion. Particularly Mike who is very pissed and very proud. Job well done. Some stagger home along the Thames.
1:00 a.m. and we all gather in the control room. Mike’s chart is completed. All symbols and stars. The comet is shining brightly tonight – it’s been shining over us for the whole session. We sit and catch our breath. Mike’s third solo album. Wow… “Come together, come together, come together, now. Put your loneliness in mine and rise.“.