Paddy's Thirteenth KBC article
Stag Night at the Practise

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[Here is Paddy's thirteenth article for the Newsletter. It appeared in the twentieth issue (fall 1986).]

Stag Night at the Practise

The other week I was working up at Abbey Road Studios. It hasn't really changed in all the years I've known it. To me it feels like my old school, it has an atmosphere all its own. I'm afraid that I have a somewhat eccentric reputation with the people there. They are very kind and accommodating as sometimes they have to be. All kinds of professional musicians use these studios, and in the daytime you can find yourself queueing behind an orchestra for a cup of tea and then again, come evening time there may be a berserk Bulgarian drummer spear-fishing choc-ices in the canteen.

There are three studios, and they are referred to by their numbers. Number One is huge--that's where all the orchestral sessions are done. We would occasionally use it for recording a solo piano before the days of the digital reverb; and maybe the odd battleship, as the studio has large doors at the back. The night before a classical session the engineers set studio number One up, and I would often go in afterwards and stand where the conductor would be, looking out at all the phantom musicians with their music-stands, seats and headphones. A session like that could be set up for a hundred people, many of them being placed in soundproof boxes in order to give good separation amongst the different instruments and voices. Film music is often recorded here, too; there are several big, robust projectors in a room on one side, and a large cinema screen opposite. Everywhere in number One are rolling boom microphones. These are very large microphone-stands with wheels on. They have handles for making the boom go up and down and the stands can put a microphone up to thirty feet in the air. They resemble metal birds with thin legs. I would often dance with these when no-one was about. You need a clear studio, but once you get one of these booms rolling and jumping, you can hurtle from one side of the room to the other, performing uncontrollable circles. The knack is to get off the hurtling steel giraffe and make it look like you weren't doing a silly high-speed Tango when the security guard comes in looking confused because there isn't supposed to be anybody in there.

Just across the way is number Two studio, our favourite and the home of many of Kate's tracks. This is the studio The Beatles are supposed to have liked the most. It's really got atmosphere. It is quite large, and its control-room is up a huge flight of stairs. We used this studio for shooting videos and live television transmission. I like to sit up in the control-room on these occasions, as most people don't even realise it's there. When I sit under the air-conditioning outlet and press my nose against the glass and look down into the studio, I get this feeling that is to me the essence of Abbey Road, and hard to describe unless you've done it.

Number Three is a smaller, more modern studio that I always associate with Roy Harper and Abbey Road's chief engineer Haydn Bendall. We've had some really great times in there. They've got a new tape-recorder now, a Mitsubishi Digital 32-track, quite an amazing thing. This studio is where most of The Dreaming was recorded, and indeed where I threw kangaroos at a water tank. This is an area that some of you will remember from the past, and that I'm sure the people at Abbey Road will never forget. Anyway, less of this past nostalgia and into the land of dijeridu present. It's practice, practice, practice. My lips are sore, my teeth go soft, and I'm beyond seeing wallabies, but if one is to get anywhere, the three practices always apply. I find myself practising so many instruments at the moment, I can never tell which one is going to be asked for, but of course the one in most demand is that aboriginal favourite of mine. Yes, indeed, dijeridu session-musicians are in very high demand these days. You won't hear us on "Top of the Pops". That's because most of our work is secret, and so I'm not going to tell you anything about it.

I wonder if you have enjoyed the sounds of summer as much as me this year. I've been doing some wildlife recording especially about insects and birds--it's been quite wonderful. The other day I was recording a hive of bees. It was a marvellous sound. I put a directional microphone in the entrance and stood about twenty feet away in safety. I found myself very taken with them; I like the way they dance. It's so practical and everybody pays such great attention in the hive to follow the details of the dance; and the music that overflows from their society has a quality that is quite unique. I have tried recording wasps and hornets, too, but they have nothing on the bees. The only contender, as far as I'm concerned, in the world of British buzzing insects, is the stag beetle in flight: a bit like a Sunderland flying boat. In some parts of the world people play music on stag beetles. You have to catch one and hold it very near your open mouth, and as it buzzes you can play harmonic sequences by changing your mouth's shape. Sounds fun, doesn't it? Why don't you try it some tim The things we recording artists are asked to do are sometimes astounding. But above all this weirdness, practice is the most arduous and rewarding. It can really drive the neighbours crazy hearing the same tune being played sometimes a thousand times a day, especially when things get loud. I can understand why many musicians prefer to live in the quiet of the uncrowded countryside, and of course stag beetles are plentiful there, and so easy to find.

I've always had a passion for recording things in the field. Many years ago Jay, Kate and I would travel around our part of England looking for traditional dances and music. I used to make recordings on an old portable reel-to-reel machine before the invention of the cassette-recorder. I used to put it in a canvas shoulder-bag so that it wouldn't look conspicuous. However, if one of the reels got jammed, I could wind up with a quarter of a mile of tape, all unspooling in my bag, and then overflowing onto the ground around my feet. Those were the days.

Things are so much easier now. In fact, I am taking the opportunity to write this very article whilst out on a rather special field-recording expedition. Do you remember in my last article I described my supersonic bat plunge of doom after placing my foot in a lion's mouth, etc.? Well, Kate said that she really got off on the sound of it all, and could I do it again only this time on tape. Why not? I thought. I've done it so many times before, a few more couldn't hurt. As I mentioned earlier, it's all a question of practice; and at times, when I feel as though I'm bashing my head against a brick wall, I just remember the three practices, and most things can be as easy as falling off a log.

-- Pad

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©1990 Andy Marvick