The Album ThirtySix: Part Two

The second in a three part series about of the recording my first solo album, ThirtySix

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The Album ThirtySix: Part Two - The second in a three part series about of the recording my first solo album, ThirtySix - by Simon Campbell

Welcome back! To set the scene in the last session I finished most of the basic tracks: bass, drums and guitar. Following a period of reflection in the sanctuary of the Isle of Man, I established what was needed to enhance the songs coming to the conclusion that the next stage was keyboards and more guitar!

Before we start you may want to read part one first!

I contacted Christian Madden and asked if he was interested in playing on the recording. After a little discussion over what I was up to and wanted to achieve, he agreed. Lovely as he had been working with Paul Heaton a few weeks before!

I had never met Christian prior to the session but came on excellent recommendation from one of my of my most trusted musical colleagues, ace guitarist and tone guru, Rob Livesey, who is playing in my touring band (too many guitar tracks for one man to handle)!

Session two

I had travelled over from the Isle of Man again for this session, my Landrover packed with gear.

A few weeks before, we discussed the feasibility of bringing down his Hammond M102 and Leslie 145 down to the studio. 'I don't have a van so can you arrange it, it's not very heavy; my brother and I move it all the time, no problem!' - I foolishly believed him...

To deal with the organ issue, I called one my very best diving buddies, Bruce Mills. He, being a gas-man, had a van, so problem solved...

When he arrived with Fiona (Imalch), his other half, we opened the back to find a pile of vintage keyboards and a frankly, fucking huge organ.

Of course, Christian didn't come down with it, just left us to wrestle it into the studio, it was heavy and awkward, very awkward.

Having thought about it, I decided that, in addition to me TwoRock 2x12 a 4x12 was required to thicken out the tones on some of the tracks. Rob just happened to have a 1978 Marshall for sale. Done deal. Even better, he delivered it to me at the studio.

The first thing we did is re-record a 'Preacher', 'Give me a reason' and 'Brother' which were initially recorded too fast from session one plus a brand new track, 'Princess' and the video track 'Bewagen'.

This time Steve Rowe couldn't make it, so I used my old mate Craig Fletcher on bass (more of him later). We then set about adding some layers to the songs and wanging a few solos in here and there...

The following day, Christian turned up and fired up the Hammond.

I had forgotten how great the real thing sounds; warm, rich but somewhat edgy. The great thing about vintage gear is that you hear the crackling, hissing and bumping; listen closely it's spattered all over the record...

It's rare now to see one of there beautiful devices being used in the studio; as emulators, such as the NORD, are king. It's even rarer to find someone who can mic them properly. Ace engineer Steve Boyce-Buckley is one of this rare breed. A Sennheiser 421 on the bottom and two AKG 414 on the top, not at 180 degrees but at 45 degrees (panned at about 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock) which really gives the big, stereo wall of sound that almost makes you vomit when listening through headphones.

When recording 'Island of Rust', I opened the door to the live room to be met by a wall of pure, loud, beautifully distorted, Hammond glory, straight out of Deep Purple's Made in Japan. There was also a distinct smell of burning insulation and ozone. I asked Christian if we could do anther take. He looked up and said "Could we do something a bit softer, I think if we continue it is likely to catch fire". Enough said.

The rest of the keyboard session involved applying large helpings of Moog Voyager to the tracks - especially the wild solo in the middle of 'Preacher' - lots of Rhodes 73 (Mark II Stage Piano), Wulitzer Electronic Piano, Hohner Clavinet. He also made extensive use of Moogafooger's" to create some weird shit (ring modulator) which some of which can be found in the middle of 'I like it like that'.

The crowning keyboard glory however was the use of Wooly Wolstenholme’s Mellotron.

Craig Fletcher, who played bass on some of the tracks and Kev (Charlie) Whitehead (Drums), play in the current incarnation of Barclay James Harvest (BJH) and managed to persuade Wooly to lend us the fearful device.

Christian was very excited indeed as he had never even played one in the flesh! This particular unit has been modified to include lights in the back, which I am led to believe was adapted for BJH Christmas concert and featured a full snow scene, with Elves, in the back: drugs are a dangerous thing...

It is featured in the middle of "Island of Rust' and 'I'm in love with you', with lashings of Moogafooger phaser and Moonphaser.

My best memory of Christian, is when he consumed a whole, family sized Lasagne whilst playing a Moog part: classic rock and roll action.

The studio team

At this point it's appropriate to mention the rest of the team at Gracieland, who were fantastic through the whole process...

Assisting Steve Boyce-Buckley (who I mentioned in edition one of this article) were Viktor Sigurjónsson and Chris Taylor. Delightful and engaging young men with nothing was too much trouble - beer, tea with Manuka honey and many trips to the mighty Co-Op. Plus of course mic set up and general studio stuff.

Phil (maintenance man and lawnmaster) was lovely, creating a beautiful environment for us all to work. And last, but not least, studio manager, Martin Rhodes, who gave a calm air to proceedings and managed to extract me from the pooh on numerous occasions. Never over-fussing, but there when needed.

What a great place and so nice to see Ian Devaney and Lisa Stansfield maintaining this unique, world class facility.

Session three

Again, I trekked over from the Island, but this time with my excellent new friend, social documentarian, ace photographer and general buffoon Phil Kneen.

Phil had never been to a big studio before and was keen to understand what was happening. In addition, we are creating a video together (which will be released just before the album), and wanted to hear the soundtrack I had created!

Besides more guitar (acoustic this time), it was the turn of percussionist Lea Mullen to do his stuff! I contacted Lea though Kev (drummer) who said he was 'mean dog' (that's good for our US friends) and had recently come off a tour with George Michael!

Lea turned up with bongo, congas and bewildering array of shakers, bells, whistles, duck (and other animal) calls, strange things that went 'boing' and rattlesnake impersonation devices...

Percussion is one of those things that really makes a track 'groove' along, and this is exactly what he did on 'Give me a reason', 'Preacher', 'Sex is the key', 'I'm in love with you' and 'Let it Roll'. Wonderful!!!

Riff it up...

All the riffs on the album were doubled and sometimes tripled with many using different tones and guitars. In every case the same track was doubled (by me playing it again, not some electronic device) and panned across the stereo sound-scape. I tend to record a very clean one first that gives definition to the riff when mixed in with the rest. In some cases I used the Flying V with the tone turned right off which adds depth but no definition.

The only distortion pedals that were used on the album were the Fulltone OCD: to give the British crunchy tones - principally 'Brother' and 'You don't have to... (take that shit)' - and a Textone FuzNutz on 'Princess'. I did use the Fulltone Ultimate Octave (which I was using before Joshua Homme made it famous on the Them Crooked Vultures album :) on a bit of the solo in 'Wait a minute babe' and the big riff's in 'Brother and 'Island of Rust'.

All the rest is good old amp overdrive from the TwoRock 10th Anniversary and mighty Van Weelden TwinkleLand!!!

If you want to know more about my rig, take a look in part one and 'Search for the ultimate guitar tone', parts one, two and three.

Many of the solos and parts were first takes, and as such, have mistakes but I left them, as the whole part just 'worked' if you know what I mean...

Acoustic experience

I have never played acoustic guitar in the studio before. In fact, even though I have owned many over the years, I have never, until recently, played one live and this was all new to me.

For 'Beautiful as you' I used my Taylor GA RS and 'All that I have left', my Collings 002H. They we both miked with a Neumann U87 (neck side) and a Shure SM81 (bridge side), panned hard left and right.

I have to say I really enjoyed the acoustic stuff; more to follow I am sure!!!

Food...

I always have a little section on food, as when you are cooked up in the studio, it's really important to eat well.

This time I have recommend the Cutgate Chippy, right opposite the studio who serve up proper Lancashire Rag Puddings: tremendous.

And finally

Why is the album called ThirtySix?

Is it because 36 is:

Or could be something to do with:

Nope, it's just that I have been playing guitar for 36 years... Simple as that :-)

Anyway, that’s the end of part two.

The final part, recounts tales of the Delta Sisters, the Brigadiers of Brass, use of a real 24 track, 2" tape machine for multi-tracking guitar, the mix - featuring a lovely shot of Steve Boyce-Buckley by Phil Keen and mastering by the legendary John Davis at Metropolis Mastering in London...

If you would like to see more picture of the recording of ThirtySix, take a look at the gallery!

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