In this feature, from a contemporary issue (10) of "the Sentinel" newsletter, Graeme ran through the tracks on the album. We have followed this with Alan's section from issue 10 which includes his thoughts on the recording of the album and the period leading up to it.
At long last the new album is completed, after a sojourn covering half the recording studios in the UK, seeing different instruments recorded in different places, songs being rewritten and rearranged as we went along and found new sounds on the good old Emulator II. Anyway, Alan has covered the travel arrangements elsewhere in this "ish" so I shall tell you a thing or two about the album itself.
It will have two sides, one and two, (ha! ha! smarty) with a total of seven songs, four on side one, three on side two. The mathematicians with long memories amongst you will realise that this is one track more than the Sentinel album, even better value. The titles run as follows (at the moment, tho' the track listing may in fact change before release)....
Side 1 (a) Dance Thro' the Fire:
This is a raucous rocky opener to the album featuring some spectacular drumming from Dek and definitely one to bang the old head to. We are considering this as the opener on our forthcoming mega touring stint so keep your heads down. On the album, we've got some ace orchestral stabs in this one with thanks to John Williams Star Wars soundtrack for the original.
Side 1 (b) Throwing Stones at the Wind:
This is an odd one this! I don't quite know how to describe this track actually. I suppose in a way this has got to be our "I Know What I Like". It's certainly not typical of what we do. "Quirky", that's the word, featuring some of ZZ Top riffola from Niall and some very weird bits and pieces from everyone else. This is most likeIy the first single off the album and a firm favourite at Manchester Square?*! Whatever that means. The lyrics of this ditty may give you a little insight to what the music business does to people and may let you understand what we've been thro' over the last year. I suppose this applies to most of the lyrics actually, you tend to write from the heart and that’s just what Alan and I did this time. Still, enough of this.
Side l(c) Win or Lose:
Some of you may have heard this one live as we have been playing it for over a year now. If not, then I can tell you that it's a ballad giving the Sprout a great chance to rip your hearts out with his soulful tones. This also features a great solo from Niall and some great stuff from Ron Brown and EMU.
Side l(d) The Executioner (Bernie Goetz a gun):
This song deviates from the general theme of the album lyrically. Most of you will have read about Bernard Goetz, the subway vigilante in New York. This incident captured our imaginations a bit and this track is the result. This is definitely one of my favourites on the album, hope you lot feel the same way. Anyway, this ties up side one with a bit of aggressive atmosphere, heavy Peter Gabriel you might say, to give you a rough idea of what you are going to hear. And so to side 2....
Side 2(a) A Million Miles Away (Imagination):
Yes folks, its another title in brackets! This is a cheery, rocky, mover to open side two up with a smile. We played this one live on the Uriah Heep dates and it proved quite an instant hit with you. I think we managed to capture the liveness with the ace drum sound from Townhouse III and hopefully we'll hear those voices sing along with this one on the tour. The subject of the song is getting rid of the "Monday morning feeling", i.e. hangover, boredom, getting out of a rut etc. So if you feel in a rut or down, this is the song for you (hopefully).
Side 2(b) Rat Racing:
Aah! this is a cracker! The 'epic' for this our second album on EMI. Alan wrote some great lyrics one sleepless morning whilst looking out his window across Aberdeen's rooftops and from that inspiration grew Rat Racing. This is a long song (surprise!) with 4 movements and lets the lads flex our collective musical muscles. Another of my favourites this, with some brilliant atmospheric keyboards from our Ron. Don't take my word for it though, buy the album!
Side 2(c) Just a Memory :
To close "The Wedge", we have something very different for us. Some of you may remember a 'b' side called "Stranger on the edge of Time" from before we got a major deal. This track probably sowed the seeds for the song that closes the album. This is definitely a 2 in the morning headphone or heavy petting session track. The rhythm track is sequenced on the EMU with a whole pile of unusual samples i.e. not conventional drum sounds. This sets up a great, floaty rhythmic feel. The skeleton of the song was written at 2.00 am at the Townhouse while we were recording the EP and thankfully, we succeeded in capturing that late night dreamy feeling when we recorded it for real on the album. Some great soaring guitar on the outro floats the song off into the dark and leaves me feeling I wished the track wouldn't end.
Well, this is just a brief account of what the album is all about. I must say that I'm very proud of the album, and really enjoy listening to it. This may sound odd, but often muso's by the time they've finished an album, are sick of it. Not so with this for me. The album is very varied and, I must warn you, quite a bit different from the Sentinel.
The Wedge is intentionally different from the Sentinel as, what we needed to do was balance up the long songs with some shorter ones as we did have problems finding enough rocky stuff for live work so this album solves it. We also hope that we have broken some new ground as a rock band and have been "progressive" (oh that word!) in a TRUE sense.
Well hello again!
It has befallen me as the only one left of us in a fit state to write (between bouts of celebratory fervour) to let you know what we've been doing lately, where we've been doing it and even perhaps why we've been doing it!!
Okay, here goes. Once upon a time there were five little bunny rabbits - No?, perhaps not!?
Well anyway, after spending many moons at the cottage under the benign dictatorship of Mick "the whip~ Glossop, writing, re- writing, casting aside and starting again, more re writing etc., we finally sifted through the many hours worth of material to decide on those we felt would best make an interesting, lively and well-balanced album.
Unfortunately this left but a short time for rehearsals for the forthcoming Uriah Heep tour . so it was with only a few sleepless nights of rehearsal and a chaotic dress rehearsal/gig at Ritzy's in Aberdeen that we headed down to Manchester, and my first encounter with the concert hall stages of the Uk. I must admit to being more than normally nervous on that first night, remembering all to well the fate of many a support act at Glasgow Apollo (my local gig) but the sight of so many Pallas t-shirts rushing down to the front immediately put me at my ease - thanks folks!
The rather confused looks on many of the faces of Uriah Heep fans towards the back of the hall showed that the show you guys were putting on was having as important an effect as what we were doing. It was good to see you all again!
As normal, Glasgow was just that bit special. Maybe I'm biased (of course I am!) but true to form, the Apollo audience well and truly let their ~hair~ down. It was the last Rock gig at the Apollo before they closed it to knock down and redevelop/vandalise. So just like at Wembley the year we- won (which was that - Mike), people were taking souvenirs! After the gig, we were signing bits of fire curtains, arm-rests and one guy even had a complete chair!!
Glasgow was also the scene of Graeme (normally virtually teetotal) outlasting manic Mickey Box in the brandy stakes - who also got lost several times trying to discover where he'd hidden his hotel room; before being eventually carried there!
Birmingham Odeon saw the band take total amnesia in the middle of "Dinosaur" and Ronnies Hi-tech MIDI keyboard system scrambled it's brains leaving the first half of "Sanctuary" to Niall and I making the events of the evening just that little bit unusual.
Sheffield; okay, which one of you stole my shirt!!? It went walkies around the end of "Crown of Thorns". I felt it slipping from beneath my left foot, looked down just to see it disappear over the top of the monitor wedges (hence the album title). I wasn't too bothered apart from the fact that I didn't have a spare. Luckily Glyn and Diane Barker came to the rescue with one of (ssh! don't tell anybody about this!), Diane's blouses. Thanks again.
And so to Hammersmith - long and legion are the stories that say if anything can go wrong at a gig, it'll be the London But luckily my fears were groundless. What can I say - I've never been so scared in my life (what again!) and I enjoyed it immensely - a strange place to play at last, but I'm looking forward to the next time
The one thing that marred the evening was a problem caused by a member of Hammersmith Odeon staff, who, true to the tradition of "No encores for support act" brought the house lights up just as we were halfway back on to the stage. A bit of a disappointment - but next time!! And so to the party!!
Deciding that it deserved formal dress, I turned up wearing full Highland regalia, kilt etc and the Sentinel himself deemed the gathering fit for his presence - having lately become a bit of a socialite on the Aberdeen scene! My kilt caused no end of enquiries as to what I was wearing underneath, even to the extent of several EMI'sers chasing me around trying to grab hold of it, and "Sounds" Tiny Mottram crawling camera in hand along the floor to get a good shot! Perhaps we'll get that cover story after all!! ... And of course there was much of the demon drink!!
Next morning, clutching a severely damaged head, I made my way to Camden Palace for the recording of our forthcoming "Live from London. show (on LWT - I think!!). Thanks to all of you that managed along - completely unadvertised as it was! (I was going to mention it during the encore - but ah well), especially the Sheffield contingent (Diane obviiously didn't trust me to post her shirt back). Having seen bits of the final product, it was well worth it - but oh my head!
Later that same day, we started a weeks intensive rehearsal to get the album tracks back into our minds along with final adjustments before launching into recording proper - but that my friends is another story, best left to chapter two - just after this commercial break. well, it's opening time and I'm off down the pub! Back soon! (maybe!)
Several opening times later, I find myself mysteriously transported to Amazon studios near Liverpool and the final day of mixing "The Album".
"The Wedge" - How can I explain it? I suppose it comes from our dissatisfaction at the current state of music . In the rock field as much as anywhere else - so many people plundering tried and tested formulae and turning once great ideas into well-worn cliches.
Without going into it too deeply, "The Wedge" signifies how we feel about ourselves and what we're trying to achieve in destroying both the complacency and the bigoted Tribalism that surrounds "modern" music! We've consciously tried to transcend barriers without hopefully having compromised ourselves! (we're not trying to sit on the fence, we're trying to break it down" - Vim' Bad News).
Anyway, enough of my NME application form! The recording of the album itself is what I intended to talk about.
First of all, two weeks of backing tracks at Townhouse III in the shadow of Battersea power station. The place used to belong to The Who (it was called Ramport then) and the spirit of Mooney certainly seemed to have fired Dek with boundless energy. Despite a bad bout of 'flu, he thundered away like he never has before. Townhouse III is appartently haunted by an old lady, who although we never saw her, apparently forced the cancellation of a Reggae session a month previously - she obviously approves of loud music.
Then to Bath. The Wool Hall is a fairly new studio owned by "Tears for Fears", and with ourselves being one of the first full sessions there, we were treated wonderfully both by the staff and the locals from the picturesque village in which it is situated. Meals were provided by the village pub, The Woolpack and it certainly began to feel like a home from home. Being new, the studio also had a couple of "free" video games which resulted in Tempest all-star space warrior league being set-up. Eventual hi-score winner was Niall "Luke Skywalker" Mathewson with Dek "Boba Fett" Forman but a thousand or two behind!
Another toy we discovered was the studio Manager's sitar and there were very nearly a couple of Mantras on the LP (!) However, "Smoke on the Water" does sound surprisingly good on a Sitar so I think you might see Niall with one on the next tour!!
Ronnie, meanwhile, was grappling with the Emulator II. Like the Fairlight we used on the EP, it's a sampling keyboard - that is you record something into it and can then play it as a keyboard sound on any part of the keyboard. This time not only did we try for unusual keyboard sounds, Orchestral Stab, and percussion effects, but we went further using its built-in sequencer to construct unusual rhythmic patterns built from both percussion instruments and other instruments like in "Just a memory" where we used a drum machine in conjunction with keyboard sequences to build a series of interrelating patterns which form the basis of the song.
Anyway, back to the book of the film ... having come to the end of our time in Bath, we were faced with a slight problem. We had run out of time and still the album was only half finished.
EMI however were so impressed with results thus far that our budget miraculously grew in structure and we found ourselves zipping between studios in search of time to record. First of all Aosis in Camden where we spent 4 days, These were particularly hard on Niall (who'd had static problems (!?) in Bath) but Ron, Dek and myself decided to culture suntans in the strangely wonderful weather that we had at that time. We also discovered a really good ice-cream shop on Chalk Farm Road which kept us suitably amused .
After Aosis, we all went home for a week, being both physically and particularly mentally exhausted after more than two months without a break. Making my own way back to London for the last fortnight of recording, I miscalculated and arrived a day early only to discover that a certain fellow EMI band were inhabiting the Townhouse to record their single. When I went to investigate however, I found myself rushed to a couple of London nightspots (which shall remain nameless) to exchange criticism and discuss TFF's contribution to modern art with members of said band (thanks for the pint, Derek!)
I'm quite sure that this otherwise innocuous meeting is particuarly responsible for my strange collapse from nervous exhaustion two days later and my subsequent night in hospital. I must mention thanks to everyone who wrote to say "get well". Enough of my shortcomings (pun not intended) and back to the matter in hand ...
First of all, a week at Powerplant - home of Robin Millar's acoustic finesse and the place where Sade records. What can I say - the food was phenomenal (ta to Keven and Declan for making eating once more a fun activity). Due to reasons already stated, I missed most of the time at Powerplant but according to the others, it was well worth it. Time was running out however and desperation started to set in with so much left to do!!
A week later and another studio - Rooster!! This one was tucked into a basement flat just off Shepherd's Bush Green and was perhaps the most difficult place our equipment has ever had the misfortune of trying to get into. Naturally, our crew was in Aberdeen so we had to do it all unaided (everyone say ahh!) Here at Rooster though, Dek discovered Computer games!!! Nick who owned the studio, possessed a home computer which was duly borrowed off him and thus "Skywalker" and "Bobba Fett" battled it out once again over "Manic Miner" and "Hunchback".
Meanwhile, back at the front (?) the troops were -getting restless as the final tracks neared completion only to be replaced by the discovery of yet more things to do. It was going to be close! Deadline was 2am, Sunday morning but at 11am, I was still doing vocals and Graeme re-writing a bit of lyric!!
Finally at about 7pm on Sunday, we staggered back to the Townhouse for dinner, album complete-as it was ever going to be, and only about 32 hours elapsed since we had left the previous morning!
So here we are in Liverpool (Graeme and I that is) and the mixes are just about complete. I have four tins of lager in front of me, 2 Whispas and there's a good film on the telly (Go on Keith, make me another toastie!?!). And it's all been well worth it? but I'm sure you'll let us know anyway if it was or not.
An experience to remember (oh my god!) and Graeme wants to start the next one tomorrow!!!!!!