my new album - never let it end
My new album - almost 4 years in the making.
I really had no idea what kind of album I was going to be doing next. I'd finished my neo-classical album, which had done nicely and there was pressure building on me to do another in the same area. I've often had the sense that you write the music that you'd like to be listening to. I wondered what would come out if I kept it totally open, just writing freely and naturally without trying to limit or confine it by genre. What seemed to emerge was electronica with lots of classical elements.
It quickly became clear that some of the tracks needed voices, some spoken, some sung and it was a real pleasure to be thinking about who or what would be great for each track. It became an album of collaboration, woven from different voices and textures.
Some tracks needed spoken words.
The soothing voice and words of Dr Terry Morris the Hypnotherapist (04,05) on "Colours Of The Sky Relax". DO NOT DRIVE or operate heavy machinery while listening to this track! Even hoovering may be dangerous...
My Dad, Artist and Poet David Freeman, gave my wife Vera and me a poem (06) on our Wedding Day in June 2009. I thought it might work well with one of the pieces I was working on. I cornered Edward Fox (07) at my wine shop and he very kindly agreed to come to my studio to record a reading of the poem which became "As Long As Longing Lasts".
Evelyn Glennie (08) and I worked on a Lynda La Plante series a few years ago. One day she was mucking about, playing a standard drum kit in the most unorthodox way - with 2 beaters in each hand. Fortunately I managed to capture it before we moved on. It forms the long 32-bar tom-tom sample on “Never Let It End”. There was also a John and Yoko moment on this track, when Vera (09,10) and I found ourselves running a poem she was writing over the backing track. Now we had words. I asked our singing Diva friend Kim Criswell (11) to come in to do a soprano section. She was due to come at midday as I had to be somewhere else at 15.00h. She finally rolled up at 14.35h. Didn't take her hat off. There was even time for harmonies and I was out of the studio at 14.50h. What a pro!
I was a bit the worse for wear one night with my brother-in-law Ray. At one very fuzzy point he told me how much he liked the tracks I did with Carmel back in the mid-80s. I dug the album out and, fuelled by pints of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, found myself banging out a gushy message to her online. She wrote back a day or two later and within weeks I found myself in Altrincham near Manchester working on a couple of tracks with her (12,13). "Dress of Green" (a backing track I had all but abandoned in the meantime...) and "I Want Your Love". She encouraged me to sing backing vocals. At first I was sceptical but then totally got carried away with it. Now try stopping me...
I was looking for a Scott Walker or Engelbert Humperdinck type singer for "I'm Coming Home", a tripped-out, slowed-down backing track with an orchestral build that I'd written in 2008 and worked-on while driving countless times to and from Germany. I remembered Dominic Grant from 70's boy-girl boy-girl pop group Guys ‘n’ Dolls. When Dominic arrived at my studio he said, "I was listening to it in the car on the way up from Ramsgate and, er, it's not a standard type of song, right?" "Er, no" I replied. "OK let's give it a go." 3 hours later it was there. (14,15)
“No Man's Land” started with a Snoop Dog meets Kraftwerk type drum beat blended with string quartet. I was trying to recreate the feeling I got listening to 78 rpm records of sobbing Italian Tenors like Benjamin Gigli in my Grandad's Living Room in Leicester back in the 1970s. In short I needed a great tenor. Kim Criswell pimped her American tenor friend William Burden (16), in the UK last summer to do Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne. William is famous in opera circles for stepping in at a minute's notice to sing the Pearl Singers at the English National Opera when the contracted tenor was indisposed.
We were recording his bit one morning and he said, "you know, I may regret this but, if you really want that oversung Italian sound, I could try it up an octave....although that top D will be very difficult, particularly before lunch." He went straight for it and nailed it.
“Touching The Face Of God” – I wanted to weave action and drama samples into this track and trawled youtube for recordings of control towers, SWAT comms and fighter cockpits. I stumbled across an amazing passage of three US Air Force fighters coming back from a mission over Iraq. One was in trouble and it’s the unfolding drama of the stricken plane trying to get back to the border. I wanted to contact the pilot central to the episode, Lt Col Scott “Spike” Thomas to ask for permission to use the sample. More online research brought me to the Air Force Base where he is currently based and it took just three phone calls to talk with him personally. Thanks for letting me use it Scott.
"You Couldn’t" - one of the hardest tracks to finish was the first I started, back in October 2007, before a hard drive failure nipped it in the bud. "You did back up, right?" asked the guy in the Apple Store. "Er, not recently". I didn’t really mind losing anything else on my MacBook apart from that one track. So I sent it to Data Recovery specialists who took it apart layer by layer in the Cleanroom. “Sorry, the heads crashed in such a way that we were unable to save a single bit of data.” Damn. I was stuck. I didn’t feel I could move on with the album until I had reconstructed that track. At my parents’ house between Christmas and New Year I got out some blank sheet music, sat at the piano and wrote out every part I could remember before sequencing it again in the studio in January. Vera very kindly told me it was better than it was before. Not sure, but at least I had it back. It was now called “The Lost Song”. The years passed and it was the last track to be finished. I was struggling to find the right voice for it and finally had the idea to try a falsetto countertenor in the verses and a lounge singer in the choruses. Enter Matthew Ford (17) who I saw doing “Singing In The Rain” with our friend Kim Criswell and Michael Chance (18) who we saw doing an opera in the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields Trafalgar Square.
We played “Witnesses” at our Wedding during the signing part of the ceremony. Vera and I had recorded us saying every guest’s name over the piece. On the album it is instrumental.
“Just Keep Going” started as a systems-type piece. I wanted it to sound like multiple pianos. Then strings, then electro elements. Where to now? After a while I thought it needed a choirboy and a rapper. I approached St Paul’s Cathedral school and Andrew Carwood, Director of Music, said “I don’t have a boy who can get up quite that high – yet. But I can recommend a top notch treble-sounding soprano.” That was Amy Haworth (19).
It’s much harder to find rappers than you might think and I was asking everyone I knew. My favourite viola player Mike Pagulatos told me, “I know one. She’s called Killa and she’s the daughter of a friend of my girlfriend. She’s fresh” (which I took to mean really good). Killa (aka Lana-Hayley Penkert) used to live in London - “I was a bad girl, always in trouble, so I moved to sort myself out and now I commute" (20,21,22). A rumour she worked for Ann Summers in Milton Keynes turned out to be untrue. A rumour that she has a tattoo of “Killa” in letters and bullets on her lower back turned out to be true. Energetically working three mobile phones simultaneously, she says, “why is it always me that has to sort out all my friends’ lives?”
Torben Johansen, one of my Danish friends, ex-Gangway, now working at Sony in Copenhagen suggested a startling running order and recommended Bjorn Engelmann at the Cutting Room, Stockholm to master it.
Jonathan, Dan and Jon at Barnbrook designed the sleeve, drawing a little inspiration from a Japanese box of chocolates that I had been obsessed with. (01,02,03)
Although I say it myself, I love everything about the album and I wouldn’t want to change a thing.
I’ve really enjoyed living in it for almost four years. Hope you like it too!