At the encouragement of Iglooers Caz and Hayley on Facebook, during my lunch hour I filled in the form on the Heart website that was looking for musicians to contribute to their new theme tune. Not really thinking anything of it, and not expecting to hear anything, I went back to work. However, within a few minutes my phone rang and it was Joe, the producer from the Heart Breakfast Show. Conversation went something like this:
“Hello, mate, you just filled in the form on the website, that’s really great, thank you. I, er, don’t suppose you be up for coming to the recording and playing guitar would you?”
“Oh yeah, that’d be great, sure, when were you thinking of doing it?”, says me, thinking he’d say next week sometime…
“Err, yeah, tonight at 6. At River Studios, in Southampton, can you make it? I’ll mail you a rough copy of the track and some music.”
“Oh, wow, right. Err, can I call you back?”
So, some hastily rearranged meetings later, I’m off in the car to Totton to River Studios with my guitar (and ukulele, just in case!). I was met by someone from the studios who took me into the actual recording studio that was full of slightly nervous people, and an array of instruments, and an array of mixing desks, screens and computers. Joe, did some introductions and made every one tea, and we were put in the hands of Olli Dafarn, River Studios genius sound engineer. There were also two young brothers, one who was going to drum, and the other playing the trumpet; plus a cornet player from a local brass band and a trombonist. The new tune had been composed by a chap from Heart in London who normally writes the studio’s idents and jingles, and he’d actually written a brass part out in musical notation, whereas I had a set of lyrics with scribbled guitar chords over the top. The brass players looked incredulously at my charts, and asked me how on earth was I going to play off that? Thankfully, my Igloo experience from the jams and the classes meant that I was fully prepared for playing off that kind of chart, so I wasn’t phased by it.
I was paired up with the older of the two brothers, who was perhaps 12, and we were sent off to separate booths to lay down the acoustic guitar and drums parts. Again, Igloo experience with microphones and sound man sign language proved invaluable! We rehearsed playing together a couple of times along with the guide track, then ran through a couple of full takes. Biggest issues for me were, getting fret buzz on my guitar, but only one fret, meaning I switched to the studio’s acoustic guitar, and then having to enforce the discipline of standing still whilst playing so that I stayed in line with the microphones. So, once our version of the accompaniment was laid down, the sound engineer was able to ditch the guide track, and use our guitar and drums track to start rehearsing and recording the brass parts.
The next surprise was working out that whilst I’d played exactly what the composer had written, but that it had a slightly different chord sequence than the guide track, and what was needed as an underlay to the brass part. So, in an amazing twenty minutes Olli worked out where I was playing chords 1, 4 and 5 (Bb, Eb, F), and effectively cut and paste them into the right order on the recording.
Olli and Joe then asked if I’d be willing to play in a bass guitar part as well, as Olli felt that was now the missing component to driving the song along. Thankfully, the studio had a bass that I could play. I stood in the main studio room, plugged directly into the desk and whilst everyone else had a dance around to the track for Joe to take photos off, I recorded a bass line in two takes, with some nice slides that Olli liked. I was proud to have been able to add two instrument lines to the song.
Amazing to think that a minute and a half’s worth of music actually took 3 hours to put together including some rehearsal, co-ordination, dry runs and retakes. Working in the studio requires patience and calm, and needing to just put something creative together with a cool head and focus.
Joe then recorded members of the public, the ladies of Asda and some schoolchildren over the top of our backing track which was glued together by Olli to produce the track, leading to a big launch by Rich and Zoe the following Monday morning.
All the best, James