"Sat In Your Lap"
"There Goes A Tenner"
"Pull Out The Pin"
"Suspended In Gaffa"
"Leave It Open"
"Night Of The Swallow"
"All The Love"
"Get Out Of My House"
[This article was written by Kate for issue number 12 (Oct 1982)]
It's been a very long time since I spoke to you. It was last year--can time really keep going faster? I would like to apologise for the long gap since the last magazine and fill you in on what's been happening. It seems that every time I do something, it takes me longer to do. This album has taken one year to record and I have never done anything so involved before. After all this time, I do feel happy with the results and I just hope that you will too.
I have had a lot of help with this album. I never could have done it alone, and each person has contributed something very special.
We worked between several studios, getting time where we could at the studios with the facilities we required, eventually settling in at Advision Studios, where we finished all the overdubs and mixed the tracks. We also worked at The Townhouse and The Odyssey, and at Abbey Road Studios, where all the backing tracks were recorded.
I used several engineers, working with Hugh Padgham, Nick Launay, Haydn Bendall and Paul Hardiman. All of them were very important and all played major parts in how the album has ended up sounding.
Hugh worked on Sat In Your Lap, Get Out of My House, and Leave It Open. Hugh was a lot of fun to work with and as the first engineer on the album, he started it off in a very productive and positive way. I met Hugh when I had the pleasure to sing some backing vocals for Peter Gabriel, and I was very impressed with the sounds and the creative atmosphere. Hugh has worked with The Police, Genesis and XTC, just to mention a few.
We felt very pleased with the backing tracks and were excited at the results; however, Hugh was too busy to continue, and so I worked with Nick Launay, who had been trained by Hugh. Nick worked on Houdini, All the Love, There Goes a Tenner, The Dreaming and Suspended in Gaffa. The majority of the backing tracks were recorded with Nick at The Townhouse.
We were working through the warm summer last year, and much dedication was required from all to stay in the studio all day without succumbing to the sun.
Nick is a very young engineer and has already worked with Public Image, Phil Collins and John Martyn. Again there was a great working relationship and we were all sad that Nick was too busy to continue and that the time at The Townhouse had run out.
I moved on to Abbey Road, working with Haydn Bendall. I met him on the last album when I was working with Jon Kelly. Haydn was co-producing Sky and I found him a very patient and understanding engineer. Haydn also engineered Roy Harper's last album and among many other artists, helps up and coming writers to get their ideas securely on to tape, often securing record contracts at the same time. Haydn worked on Night of the Swallow and Pull Out the Pin. Our assistant engineer Danny Dawson, affectionately known as Dan-Dan, became part of the working team on the two tracks, and it was really enjoyable. It always is fun when you work with nice people.
The two tracks are finished and Haydn's time runs out too, so...I find Paul Hardiman, with a lot of help from Hugh Padgham.
Paul has worked with a great variety of acts, from Slade to Keith Emerson and Soft Cell. We worked at Odyssey Studios up until Christmas , and by then Paul and I had a great working relationship. I felt I could communicate with him very easily and he could get the sounds I needed to hear, very quickly. We ran out of time at Odyssey and Paul suggested Advision, studios he knew from experience. He took me around there one afternoon on a Sunday. The studio was deserted and we went down to a small control room that proved to have a brilliant sound. We were sitting listening to tapes at full blast and I was falling in love with the room when the door slowly opened and a rather anxious looking studio manager edged around the door. He saw Paul and sighed with relief, and explained how he'd expected a gang of thugs to be tearing up the studio while listening to tapes of their choice-- as far as he had known, the studio was empty. We asked him if there would be any time for us to use the studio, and the three weeks we booked were to turn into more like three months. Paul and I were very excited about settling in to one studio, and Paul had some wonderful effects for sounds that he'd put away for a rainy day. I'm pleased there was a lot of rain to come.
Although all the engineers were invaluable, Paul was of special value. He became a constant companion during the album and I would often ask he advice, knowing I would get an honest answer. He is also a very funny man, so he kept us all laughing-- donning silly hats and pulling funny faces.
At Advision we met Dave Taylor--he was the assistant engineer, and he worked with us for months until the album was finished and mixed. Dave was also the maintenance engineer, and on quite a few nights, when we went home to bed, he would be up all night twiddling inside machines or trying to figure out why the digital machines weren't working. Every night we ate take-away food, watched the evening news and returned to the dingy little treasure trove to dig for jewels.
Now it's all finished, I think of the beginning. Twenty demos, ten of which became the album. In these demos all the moods and sounds were captured, and all the way through the album these demos were referred to. Often the session would stop, we'd dig out the 1/4 inch tape of the track we were working on, and with the original flavour and sounds strong in our heads, the session would begin again. In many ways it would have been interesting to have used the demos as masters, they were so spontaneous.
Del Palmer engineered all the demos and every night he would sit up in the cramped little control room, getting different sounds for each track. He sat through hours of harmonies and takes of lead vocals, replying "I'm not bored" as many times as there were cups of tea, and nodding "Yeah, Kate, I think it sounds great!", a phrase to be echoed by Hugh, Haydn, Paul--Bless you all.
Perhaps I could now walk you through the album, track by track, starting with:
Sat In Your Lap
I already had the piano patterns, but they didn't turn into a song until the night after I'd been to see a Stevie Wonder gig. Inspired by the feeling of his music, I set a rhythm on the Roland and worked in the piano riff to the high-hat and snare. I now had a verse and a tune to go over it but only a few lyrics like
"I see the people working,"
"I want to be a lawyer," and
"I want to be a scholar,"
so the rest of the lyrics became "na-na-na" or words that happened to come into my head. I had some chords for the chorus with the idea of a vocal being ad-libbed later. The rhythm box and piano were put down, and then we recorded the backing vocals "Some say that knowledge is..." Next we put down the lead vocal in the verses and spent a few minutes getting some lines worked out before recording the chorus voice. I saw this vocal being sung from high on a hill on a windy day. The fool on the hill, the king of the castle... "I must admit, just when I think I'm king."
The idea of the demos was to try and put everything down as quickly as possible. Next came the brass. The CS80 is still my favourite synthesizer next to the Fairlight, and as it was all that was available at the time, I started to find a brass sound. In minutes I found a brass section starting to happen, and I worked out an arrangement. We put the brass down and we were ready to mix the demo.
I was never to get that CS80 brass to sound the same again--it's always the way. At The Townhouse the same approach was taken to record the master of the track. We put down a track of the rhythm box to be replaced by drums, recording the piano at the same time.
As I was producing, I would ask the engineer to put the piano sound on tape so I could refer to that for required changes.
This was the quickest of all the tracks to be completed, and was also one of the few songs to remain contained on one twenty-four track tape instead of two!
There Goes a Tenner
"Everybody synchronize watches. Remember there's only half an hour to do the job. We've been rehearsing for weeks, so nothing should go wrong. Let's run through it one more time:
"I go in and distract the guard,
Frank's out the back in the getaway car,
The sign on the door turns from open to shut,
We keep them all covered, you blow the safe up,
We grab the cash, make a hasty retreat,
And tear across London using the backstreets.
Remember, be careful, give nothing away,
The arm of the Law is as long as they say."
Pull Out the Pin
We sat in front of the speakers trying to focus on the picture-- a green forest, humid and pulsating with life. We are looking at the Americans from the Vietnamese point of view and, almost like a camera, we start in wide shot. Right in the distance you can see the trees moving, smoke and sounds drifting our way...sounds like a radio. Closer in with the camera, and you can catch glimpses of their pink skin. We can smell them for miles with their sickly cologne, American tobacco and stale sweat.
Take the camera in even closer, and we find a solitary soldier, perhaps the one I have singled out. (Sometimes a Vietnamese would track a soldier for days and follow him, until he eventually took him.) This soldier is under a tree, dozing with a faint smile and a radio by his side. It's a small transistor radio out of which cries an electric guitar. I'd swear it was being played by Brian Bath, but how could that be, way out here on our stereo screen.
I pop the silver Buddha that I wear around my neck into my mouth, securing my lips around his little metal body. I move towards the sleeping man. A helicopter soars overhead, he wakes up, and as he looks me in the eyes I relate to him as I would to a helpless stranger. Has he a family and a lady waiting for him at home, somewhere beyond the Chinese drums and the double bass that stalks like a wild cat through bamboo?
The moving pictures freeze-frame and fade--someone stopped the multi-track, there's more overdubs to do.
Suspended in Gaffa
Whenever I've sung this song I've hoped that my breath would hold out for the first few phrases, as there is no gap to breathe in.
When I wrote this track the words came at the same time, and this is one of the few songs where the lyrics were complete at such an early stage. The idea of the song is that of being given a glimpse of "God"--something that we dearly want--but being told that unless we work for it, we will never see it again, and even then, we might not be worthy of it. Of course, everybody wants the reward without the toil, so people try to find a way out of the hard work, still hoping to claim the prize, but such is not the case. The choruses are meant to express the feeling of entering timelessness as you become ready for the experience, but only when you are ready.
Leave It Open
Like cups, we are filled up and emptied with feelings, emotions-- vessels breathing in, breathing out. This song is about being open and shut to stimuli at the right times. Often we have closed minds and open mouths when perhaps we should have open minds and shut mouths.
This was the first demo to be recorded, and we used a Revox and the few effects such as a guitar chorus pedal and an analogue delay system. We tried to give the track an Eastern flavour and the finished demo certainly had a distinctive mood.
There are lots of different vocal parts, each portraying a separate character and therefore each demanding an individual sound. When a lot of vocals are being used in contrast rather than "as one," more emphasis has to go on distinguishing between the different voices, especially if the vocals are coming from one person.
To help the separation we used the effects we had. When we mastered the track, a lot more electronic effects and different kinds of echoes were used, helping to place the vocals and give a greater sense of perspective.
Every person who came into the studio was given the "end backing vocals test" to guess what is being sung at the end of the song.
"How many words is it?"
"Does it begin with a 'W'?"
It is very difficult to guess, but it can be done, especially when you know what the song is about.
I would love to know your answers.
We started with the drums, working to a basic Linn drum machine pattern, making them sound as tribal and deep as possible. This song had to try and convey the wide open bush, the Aborigines--it had to roll around in mud and dirt, try to become a part of the earth. "Earthy" was the word used most to explain the sounds. There was a flood of imagery sitting waiting to be painted into the song. The Aborigines move away as the digging machines move in, mining for ore and plutonium. Their sacred grounds are destroyed and their beliefs in Dreamtime grow blurred through the influence of civilization and alcohol. Beautiful people from a most ancient race are found lying in the roads and gutters. Thank God the young Australians can see what's happening.
The piano plays sparse chords, just to mark every few bars and the chord changes. With the help of one of Nick Launay's magic sounds, the piano became wide and deep, effected to the point of becoming voices in a choir. The wide open space is painted on the tape, and it's time to paint the sound that connects the humans to the earth, the dijeridu.
The dijeridu took the place of the bass guitar and formed a constant drone, a hypnotic sound that seems to travel in circles.
None of us had met Rolf (Harris) before and we were very excited at the idea of working with him. He arrived with his daughter, a friend and an armful of dijeridus. He is a very warm man, full of smiles and interesting stories. I explained the subject matter of the song and we sat down and listened to the basic track a couple of times to get the feel. He picked up a dijeridu, placing one end of it right next to my ear and the other at his lips, and began to play.
I've never experienced a sound quite like it before. It was like a swarm of tiny velvet bees circling down the shaft of the dijeridu and dancing around in my ear. It made me laugh, but there was something very strange about it, something of an age a long, long time ago.
Women are never supposed to play a dijeridu, according to Aboriginal laws; in fact there is a dijeridu used for special ceremonies, and if this was ever looked upon by a woman before the ceremony could take place, she was taken away and killed, so it's not surprising that the laws were rarely disobeyed. After the ceremony, the instrument became worthless, its purpose over.
It's interesting how some songs attract lots of ideas--this was definitely one of them, and because of the amount of ideas in this song, it made me concentrate on others, so they would not be neglected or left behind. Percy Edwards was among the ideas for this song, and he too was a real pleasure to work with. He really is the only man who imitates the voices of animals to the extent that he does, and is greatly respected for his talents. It is so beautiful to watch him burst into birdsong in a studio in the middle of London. I had images of him waking with the dawn chorus, taking part with blackbirds, the sparrows, the thrushes... but we were in the studio with Percy, and there was work to do, so he became sheep, dingoes and Australian magpies. The light grew dim and we were out in the bush on a warm windy night by the light of Percy, our fire.
Percy is a true professional, and he kept us all in awe with his wonderful ways. He was, however, a little upset by the treatment of the kangaroos, but after Paddy and I explained it was the only way to get the sound we wanted, he completely understood the situation and tried to communicate to the kangas what they had to do. The only problem was he couldn't remember the kanga word for "Dang" so he worked on "Boing" with a "D".
Night of the Swallow
Ever since I heard my first Irish pipe music it has been under my skin, and every time I hear the pipes, it's like someone tossing a stone in my emotional well, sending ripples down my spine.
I've wanted to work with Irish music for years, but my writing has never really given me the opportunity of doing so until now. As soon as the song was written, I felt that a ceilidh band would be perfect for the choruses. The verses are about a lady who's trying to keep her man from accepting what seems to be an illegal job. He is a pilot and has been hired to fly some people into another country. No questions are to be asked, and she gets a bad feeling from the situation. But for him, the challenge is almost more exciting than the job itself, and he wants to fly away.
As the fiddles, pipes and whistles start up in the choruses, he is explaining how it will be all right. He'll hide the plane high up in the clouds on a night with no moon, and he'll swoop over the water like a swallow.
Bill Whelan is the keyboard player with Planxty, and ever since Jay [Kate's eldest brother John Carder Bush] played me an album of theirs I have been a fan. I rang Bill and he tuned into the idea of the arrangement straight away.
We sent him a cassette, and a few days later he phoned the studio and said, "Would you like to hear the arrangement I've written?"
I said I'd love to, but how?
"Well, Liam is with me now, and we could play it over the phone."
I thought how wonderful he was, and I heard him put down the phone and walk away. The cassette player started up. As the chorus began, so did this beautiful music--through the wonder of telephones it was coming live from Ireland, and it was very moving.
We arranged that I would travel to Ireland with Jay and the multi-track tape, and that we would record in Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin. As the choruses began to grow, the evening drew on and the glasses of Guiness, slowly dropping in level, became like sand glasses to tell the passing of time. We missed our plane and worked through the night.
By eight o'clock the next morning we were driving to the airport to return to London. I had a very precious tape tucked under my arm, and just as we were stepping onto the plane, I looked up into the sky and there were three swallows diving and chasing the flies.
All the Love
Although we are often surrounded by people and friends, we are all ultimately alone, and I feel sure everyone feels lonely at some time in their life. I wanted to write about feeling alone, and how having to hide emotions away or being too scared to show love can lead to being lonely as well.
There are just some times when you can't cope and you just don't feel you can talk to anyone. I go and find a bathroom, a toilet or an empty room just to sit and let it out and try to put it all together in my mind. Then I go back and face it all again.
I think it's sad how we forget to tell people we love that we do love them. Often we think about these things when it's too late or when an extreme situation forces us to show those little things we're normally too shy or too lazy to reveal.
One of the ideas for the song sparked when I came home from the studio late one night. I was using an answering machine to take the day's messages and it had been going wrong a lot, gradually growing worse with time. It would speed peoples' voices up beyond recognition, and I just used to hope they would ring back again one day at normal speed.
This particular night, I started to play back the tape, and the machine had neatly edited half a dozen messages together to leave "Goodbye", "See you!", "Cheers", "See you soon"... It was a strange thing to sit and listen to your friends ringing up apparently just to say goodbye. I had several cassettes of peoples' messages all ending with authentic farewells, and by copying them onto 1/4" tape and re-arranging the order, we managed to synchronize the "callers" with the last verse of the song.
There are still quite a few of my friends who have not heard the album or who have not recognised themselves and are still wondering how they managed to appear in the album credits when they didn't even set foot into the studio.
The side most people know of Houdini is that of the escapologist, but he spent many years of his life exposing mediums and seances as frauds. His mother had died, and in trying to make contact through such spiritual people, he realized how much pain was being inflicted on people already in sorrow, people who would part with money just for the chance of a few words from a past loved one.
I feel he must have believed in the possibility of contact after death, and perhaps in his own way, by weeding out the frauds, he hoped to find just one that could not be proven to be a fake. He and his wife made a decision that if one of them should die and try to make contact, the other would know it was truly them through a code that only the two of them knew.
His wife would often help him with his escapes. Before he was bound up and sealed away inside a tank or some dark box, she would give him a parting kiss, and as their lips met, she would pass him the key which he would later use to unlock the padlocks that chained him.
After he died, Mrs. Houdini did visit many mediums, and tried to make contact for years, with no luck--until one day a medium called Mr. Ford informed her that Houdini had come through. She visited him and he told her that he had a message for her from Houdini, and he spoke the only words that meant for her the proof of her husband's presence. She was so convinced that she released an official statement to the fact that he had made contact with her through the medium, Ford.
It is such a beautiful and strange story that I thought I had very little to do, other than tell it like it was. But in fact it proved to be the most difficult lyric of all the songs and the most emotionally demanding. I was so aware of trying to do justice to the beauty of the subject, and trying to understand what it must have been like to have been in love with such an extraordinary man, and to have been loved by him.
I worked for two or three nights just to find one line that was right. There were so many alternatives, but only a few were right for the song. Gradually it grew and began to piece together, and I found myself wrapped up in the feelings of the song--almost pining for Houdini. Singing the lead vocal was a matter of conjuring up that feeling again and as the clock whirrs and the song flashes back in time to when she watched him through the glass, he's on the other side under water, and she hangs on to his every breath. We both wait.
Get Out of My House
The Shining is the only book I've read that has frightened me. While reading it I swamped around in its snowy imagery and avoided visiting certain floors of the big, cold hotel, empty for the winter. As in Alien, the central characters are isolated, miles (or light years) away from anyone or anything, but there is something in the place with them. They're not sure what, but it isn't very nice.
The setting for this song continues the theme--the house which is really a human being, has been shut up--locked and bolted, to stop any outside forces from entering. The person has been hurt and has decided to keep everybody out. They plant a "concierge" at the front door to stop any determined callers from passing, but the thing has got into the house upstairs. It's descending in the lift, and now it approaches the door of the room that you're hiding in. You're cornered, there's no way out, so you turn into a bird and fly away, but the thing changes shape, too. You change, it changes; you can't escape, so you turn around and face it, scare it away.
Lots of love,
KaTe's Newsletter Writings Table of Contents
©1990 Andy Marvick