[Here are Kate's article and interview from issue number 17.]
This album all started last summer in my music room at home, with an eight-track Soundcraft desk and tape machine, my piano and the Fairlight.
The first song I wrote started with a musical riff and Del programming a Linn pattern. From that moment, the album "process" has steadily rolled, and Del has been there from beginning to end.
The album has been treated as two halves: the "A" and "B" sides. The "A" side is five songs, the "B" side has a theme linking several. When most of the songs were in some form, we moved from the home studio to the "big" studio, and continued to demo the rest of the songs.
It reached a stage where it was ready for drums, so I rang Paul Hardiman to come and engineer, and Stuart Elliott to play on drums.
Paul is great to work with, a very good engineer: quick, and with a natural feel for sounds. Stuart's drumming is the most emotional I know. He's always interested in the songs and the lyrics, and has a way of creating the right mood for the track. The most difficult thing was working out the compromises between the Linn drum already there as the demo, and Stuart working with it, or indeed, as in some cases, taking over completely but working to the Linn.
In some cases we keyed Stuart's sound off the Linn, it was the only way to really make it sit. It some cases, we kept the Linn patterns and Stu worked in some delicate toms around them. He broke plates and saucers for one track, and became an army of military snares in another, sprinkling fairy dust hither and thither.
The next stage was recording all the pianos. The home piano on the demos was an "upright", and not good enough quality for professional recording, and so had to be replaced by a grand piano. Some of these tracks would be taken to Ireland to do some work on.
We wanted a very delicate piano sound, these tracks being very empty and sad. Paul went for a very live sound--reminiscent of Erik Satie, Chopin: the empty ballroom after the party when everyone has gone home.
The next stage was some Fairlight, and concentration on the tracks that would possibly go to Ireland within a few weeks' time. Rough B.V.s and lead vocals were put down on these tracks, and copies of the twenty-four-track masters were made by our maintenance man and cavalry in sticky situations: Jim Jones--and a very nice chappy he is, too.
During the trip to Ireland, I hoped to write the lyrics for as many of the songs as possible, a lot of it being little odds and ends, which are the hardest to get, I suppose because you're so limited fitting in a couple of lines within a context, rather than creating it from scratch.
However, the main reason for going was to work in Windmill Lane with Bill Whelan. We met in London, and I played Bill the demos, and he started thinking about ideas.
We agreed that we'd need a couple of weeks up front to go through all the arrangements and sort out the musicians and studio time. Not only was Bill a dream to work with, but he made us feel very at home, and we got to see Ireland in a really fun way. We worked with Liam O'Flynn, a beautiful musician and person, and Donal Lunny, whose spontaneity and ideas filled us all with awe.
Bill introduced us to John Sheahan, the fiddle player and multi-talented musician from The Dubliners, who was like Santa Claus. He played a piece that Bill had written, and it was so moving and he played so emotively that I started to cry and felt silly, but what a nice experience. I highly recommend it!
One of the tracks we worked on was inspired by a discovery that Paddy had made of a fascinating Greek ceremony that he managed to get on tape. He knew it would get in to the inspiration centre, and that's what it did. We played the tape to Bill, Liam, John and Donal; and Paddy, who was on his way to the West Coast of Ireland to visit the Lakes, stayed with us in Dublin and joined in the general fun, and as a non-stop shift of Irish musicians put the magic of their race onto the songs, we danced and whooped in the control room.
We consumed the information from Pad's tape as much as we could. I'd only finished writing the song the day before on Bill's piano while his wife brought me cups of tea and biscuits (thank you, Mrs. Whelan). We used Bill Somerville-Large as the engineer. He worked on the Irish sessions on the last album. He has a way of bringing out the natural beauty of acoustic instruments, and it's rare to find an engineer with perfect pitch! And we worked with a nice man called "Pearce" as our assistant.
Windmill Lane is a great studio, very efficient; and they are all lovely people. We all felt relaxed and happy, which is definitely the only way to feel when recording and creating.
This track was built around John Sheahan. Bill conducted him, I played chords on the piano and Donal played bodhran (a small Irish drum). We did this in one studio, baffled off from each other. We got a good take quickly, and John overdubbed fiddle. Then Donal overdubbed more drum and bouzouki; and then, John playing whistle and Liam playing pipes, they jammed together on the jig that Bill had written for the end of the track. Bill is very talented, as they all are, and I think his arrangements and ideas are fantastic. It really is fun working over there.
On returning to England we started again with Stuart to work on the tracks from Ireland. Unfortunately we only had a limited time with Paul, as he was committed for another album, but we had four clear weeks.
We started on some B.V.s, and did bits of Fairlight, and Paul's ideas for sounds were invaluable not only then, but later on when Del came to work on my vocals.
The next stage was bass guitars. Del played beautiful bass on some of the tracks, knowing them as well as myself--I always find Del's ideas are so in tune with the songs. And I asked Danny Thompson to play on one track and Eberhard Weber to play on two of the songs. There are a few songs with no bass guitar at all.
With Danny we used a quite live sound--you can hear him plucking and pulling the strings in the ambient room, which we found attractive. Paul got a great sound and balance between the sound of the bass and the ambience of the room, and Danny got a fabulous feel for the track -- like a jungle cat, and very moody. Danny is a very sensitive player, and again, he loves to know what the track's about, and who or what he's meant to be; he has a real "feel".
Eberhard Weber came over to England for two days. I am a big fan of Eberhard's, and it was really a pleasure to be working with him again. I'd sent him a cassette up front, with lyrics and notes on the "vibes" of the tracks, and he came prepared with manuscripts and ideas. One of the tracks was demanding, as it required so much space: he used beautiful bowed notes that sound like a plane, and in the other track he soars and dips like a stalking panther...oooh, it's lovely.
Next came Paddy's bag of delights; the dijeridu, given to Pad by Rolf, was captured, and joined the track that he'd originally sparked, so Australia joined hand in hand with Greece, Ireland and England.
Next he played shimmering mandolins that waxed and waned. He sang, he dijeridued, as ever waving the magic wand that only Pad can wave.
The next musician was John Williams. There was one track in particular which I hoped he would play on. He was lovely to work with, and full of enthusiasm and interesting stories, and it took very little time to get what he wanted. [Typo? She probably means "we".] (I've always dreamed of working with him.) John played to a rhythm machine, which is not always easy when the track is delicate and needs to sound light, but for him it proved no problem at all. Paul got a beautiful sound in quite a live room and close-miked John's guitar, using the ever favourite Neumann U87 microphone.
Unfortunately, Paul's time was running out, and his commitment with another album was due. It was an interesting situation. I had not really approached any engineers, as we'd reached a stage where I needed to work on ideas and just listen to the tracks and what we'd done up to that point.
There were still Fairlight ideas to put down, a couple of tracks
We were at a stage where I wanted to start on the vocals, to try and get as many as possible done before I'd call in another engineer. The one outstanding thing was a track that needed strings -- real strings. Admiring James Guthrie's work on The Wall, I asked him if he'd engineer the session for us.
Luckily, he had a free day during a busy schedule, and I rang Dave Lawson to confirm the date. (Dave arranged the strings on Houdini on the last album.) I had written this song with Fairlight strings, and they need transcribing and writing out for strings rather than a synthesiser. Dave suggested the "Medicci" players,* and obviously I was into that. He thought a great deal about the arrangement and "construction" of the sextet, and he decided on two violins, two violas, two 'cellos, and was also present on the day to help out with any changes in the scripts or any problems that might arise.
It was a big day for us, and it is always exciting working with strings, and especially when they are such respected musicians.
It was an extremely hot, humid day, and between takes everyone would rush outside to breath in the slightly less hot humid air before returning inside to continue the recording.
We got a very warm, close sound, which was appropriate for the weather, and James remained cool and calm, and the strings grew and grew, and everyone was smiling. And I got an autographed "Medicci" album--it was great. James is an extremely positive, talented engineer, and it was a pleasure to work with him.
[*--"Medicci" players: I have checked all the UK musicians' union records and found no listing for a "Medicci" group, but Kate's great respect for the group makes it seem likely that she's talking about the Medici String Quartet. The misspelling would not be the only one in the liner notes of Kate's albums, as many fans have discovered... Working against this theory, however, is the fact that Kate's part was arranged for sextet; but since the six-part arrangement was apparently developed by Lawson independent of the Medici players' own configuration, and since Kate describes how "the strings grew and grew", it seems pretty clear that overdubs were used. This problem can best be resolved by the players themselves, of course.]
The next layer was voices. Del and I had been working a lot on voices on the demo/masters (which were now really masters). Some of the voice sounds were demanding, and some of the performances (especially from an emotional aspect) were quite difficult. I really enjoy working with Del, I think especially on the voices. I always feel very relaxed and uninhibited, which gives me a head start compared to normal studio situations, where I'm fighting my nerves until I can settle down.
We really did have a lot of work to cover, and in some cases I had to put down the ideas and leave them for a few days in order to know what I really thought about them. Coming back to them, I might want to play with them a little--liking the basic idea, but needing to change it somehow.
The majority of the vocals were recorded using an 87 Neumann mike. Del has a natural feel for the sounds I like, and has really good ideas, so he would get the sound quickly, and the time would go on me getting the performances and us experimenting with ideas.
In a couple of cases the B.V.s on the demos had just the right sound and atmosphere, so we kept these and maybe added to them. Often "demos" create problems like this, and that's why we decided to make the demos the basis of the masters, keeping the feel, the speed, and keeping as many of the Linn drums, Fairlights and voices as we could.
When we had covered a fair amount of ground, I contacted Haydn Bendall (who, again, worked on the last album), and he came in to engineer. Haydn is a very gentle, lovely person and we've been friends for years. Again the atmosphere was relaxed, and Haydn set about cleaning up. We had lots of voices to bounce (which means, for instance, taking four tracks of vocals and recording all four of them onto another two tracks. Then we wipe the original four tracks, leaving us with more to record on, and making the voices easier to handle in the mix.) We also worked on some more Fairlight, keeping most of the original demo Fairlights where the quality was good enough. Haydn is very excited by the Fairlight and works with it a lot. This was nice for me, as it does take me a while to work out the Fairlight arrangements sometimes, but Haydn is very patient and enthusiastic, and it's just what I need in that situation.
We always have the Fairlight going through some effect or other, even if it's just a bit of equalization and a nice echo, but it seems to need it, and it always compliments the effect you want.
There were still a couple of tracks that needed drums to be sorted out, and Charlie Morgan was the man for the job. I last worked with him on the Lionheart album, and it was very exciting to work with him again. He is very open-minded and is well up to date on all the latest drum-sampling equipment, etc., and also happens to be a great drummer.
We worked with Charlie for two full days, and had him pop in for half days to do some more overdubs at a later stage.
We then got into a pattern of where I would work with just Del for two or three days a week, and Haydn would work the rest of the week compiling and bouncing the ideas we'd worked on in the earlier part of the week. This worked very well, as I was uninhibited at trying out the ideas with Del, and Haydn could come in objectively to them. Quite often I was very nicely surprised when things I felt might be a little too obvious, perhaps, were nicely disguised. It is impossible to remain totally objective, especially when the ideas need to be subtle--you mustn't make them too subtle or no one will hear them!
We continued to work this way for quite a long time, and then reached the point where Haydn was again working full weeks.
Paddy came in again and did some vocal overdubs. At the end of the tracks on the "theme" side, Paddy did some beautiful harmonic singing. This is something you have to see to believe. Just hearing it might not convince some people that it's just Pad! they'd swear that there was a synthesiser in there whizzing through the harmonics, but it really is just Paddy's voice, and it's quite celestial--I can't wait 'til you hear it, so you can hear how lovely it is.
The tracks were still growing, though retaining their "space", and two tracks cried out for guitar. Alan Murphy, as I'm sure you all know, has played some wonderful guitar on the albums, and this was no exception. We worked one long day, and it was very exciting to hear how the tracks blossomed with every overdub. There is a good musical communication between the two of us, and I find that inspiring.
We wanted a very "heavey"- sounding guitar, so we used Al's amp in a very live room and miked up the amp. Haydn got a frighteningly raunchy guitar sound, and Al did the rest.
Sound effects, little pieces here and there. Lose this, lose that, create a little space here, a little something there to help the crescendo and all the recording is at last finished. I thoroughly enjoy working with people, especially when they are musicians, engineers and friends of a calibre that I am honoured to be with.
A big thank you to all of them, a special thanks to Haydn for all his work and feedback, and a Happy Christmas to all of you. And a big thanks to you for your communication and support--I'd be lost without it.
Lots of Love
Do you compose your music with traditional written notation, or do you rely entirely on demo tapes? And has your process of composing melodies and harmonies, etc., changed since The Kick Inside and Lionheart? Are you, for example, more specific in writing out a bass line now than in 1978, or do you give more leeway to the other musicians during rehearsals than you used to? [I wrote this question.]
"My notation is very basic. I just write out the chords and lyrics, and I rely mainly on my memory. This does make it a bit difficult when I try to come back to a song after a few years, but I can listen to tapes and bash around on the piano, rediscovering the past. Before the first album it was easy: I used to practice all my songs every day in rotation, and kept them totally in my head. But I just don't have the time any more, so I do rely on the records and tapes to refer to chords--for live performances, for instance.
I think the process of recording has changed very much since the first album, perhaps the biggest change being my involvement with the production. The demos on the first album were just piano and vocal; the demos for the second and third albums were a very big influence on the master recordings; the fourth album was completely influenced by the demos; and the current album is the demos. When working with musicians, I find that it depends totally on the individual, and the communication between the two of us. I will normally guide the direction to start with, but it's up to the musicians to make it really happen."
Have you ever thought of releasing a live L.P.?
How did the session for the film The Magician of Lublin come about? Did you help Maurice Jarre write the song or its lyrics?
"Maurice Jarre asked me to sing the song, which he had already written. The whole thing was a most enjoyable experience."
What is sung at the end of Symphony in Blue? Is it: "No wonder that I blew it"?
"Yes, but you've spelt it wrong: it's 'blue it.'"
I am fascinated by Symphony in Blue, and wonder if I am right in thinking that the musical inspiration was supplied not by Gershwin, as the title implies, but rather by Erik Satie, and in particular the beautiful Gymnopedies.
"Yes, it was inspired by Erik Satie's Gymnopedies (II). [Sic-- number two (of the three) is not the one that the KT Band played in concert and on the Kate special, but all three are very similar.]
Why didn't the single December Will Be Magic Again appear on the Single File video? Did you make a jingle for radio stations the Christmas before last?
"There was no video made for December Will Be Magic Again. Yes, I did make a Christmas jingle for Capital Radio and Radio 1, but I never heard it played and would love to know if any of you did."
Do you enjoy modern art? And if so, who is your favourite artist?
Do you drive?
How often do you get your hair cut, and do you go to a special hairdresser for famous people? I think your hair always looks fantastic, and often wonder whether you suffer from split ends, etc., like the rest of us.
"I get my hair cut about every six weeks by Anthony Jacomine. I am really pleased that you think my hair looks good, as it's still recovering from all the heated curlers and tongs it was blasted with on various photo sessions."
Is it true that some of the singles in the Single File boxed set have been re-mixed? And if so, which ones?
"None of the singles have been re-mixed, but Sat In Your Lap and The Breathing are the album mixes, and not as on the original singles."
What is sung during Delius, after the bit where Delius is dictating to Fenby?
"Can't you tell?"
Your lyrics have always fascinated me, but none more so than those of The Man With the Child in His Eyes. I have often wondered whether you found inspiration for this from Emily Bronte's poetry. It is her constant references to eternity which make me wonder: for example, "The Sea of Death's Eternity" parallelled with your "Telling me about the sea/All his love, till eternity."
"I find your parallel interesting, but unfortunately the only Bronte work I have ever read is Wuthering Heights."
What is your feeling about the Church and religion?
"It is a very powerful, widely influential force that has extreme good and bad effects on people."
What kind of make-up do you use? [Well, you can't fault these questions for lack of variety!]
"I don't bother any more, I use Latex!"
The song style on The Dreaming appears to be more rhythmic in nature than your earlier, more melodic material. Is this a deliberate change in musical direction?
"Since drum machines entered my life on the third album, it's never been the same."
Why is The Kick Inside the only available L.P. on compact disk? What do you think of the quality of CDs, and would you like to see KBV released on this system?
"Maybe you should ask EMI why only The Kick Inside is available on CD. I would like KBV to be out on this system so that I can tell you what the quality is like, 'cause I haven't heard. yet!" [This interview dates from December 1984 or earlier.]
Is the Hammersmith-Odeon video any different from the version shown on TV? How much other footage is not on these versions, and why were the other bits excluded?
"The version shown on TV is the Hammersmith-Odeon video, unless it's been edited to fit time slots. There are about another one-and- a-half hours that were shot that night. The video version was edited from the complete show, which ran for about two-and-a-half hours, and we had to make it a standard length to fit TV slots."
When you decide to tour again, will it be video-ed? Do you think the Hammersmith-Odeon video gives a true vision of the stage show for those who weren't there?
"I dare say it would be video-ed if we did tour. I don't think the video was a true vision at all. You had to be there to see it all. In fact, most of it was missing. You couldn't even smell the heather in Wuthering Heights! But for a video to do that, smellivision is yet to be invented."
Who entertained the audience while you changed costumes on your 1979 Tour? I heard that it was a magician. Is this true? It is impossible to tell from the video.
"There was a fantastic magician in show--Simon Drake. He made things float, glide and fly, not to mention disappear. However, most costume changes were done very quickly over extended fade-outs and extended intros. into the songs."
As many of the press and album reviewers considered The Dreaming to be "weird" and "over-produced", etc., do you mind if the press label the new album "even weirder"?
"I don't mind 'even weirder', but I don't like 'over-produced'.
Who are your favourite band at the moment, and what has been your favourite album and single of 1984?
"Favourite band: Killing Joke. Favourite single: 80s by Killing Joke. I can't give you my favourite album, as I haven't really had time to listen to any this year."
Do the birthday and Christmas cards and presents you are sent actually reach you?
"All the ones I've received have reached me."
If you had to live in another country, where would you choose?
"If I had to, I think it would be Ireland."
Which is your favourite cover version of one of your songs?
"Poor Old Flea by Madame Maria Nanky."
Any New Year's resolutions?
"To try and go on holiday."
KaTe's Newsletter Writings Table of Contents
©1990 Andy Marvick