Oor Stevo

"If a record takes longer than a week to make, somebody's fucking up." Steve Albini.


Albini is a hero of all of ours. The records he produces are usually the highlight of the band's back catalogue, except he won't take credit as a producer. But I think he's way off the mark with this quote, a post-script on the letter he wrote to Nirvana pitching his take on their third album, and not just because I'm friends with Andrew Gardiner.

I just think its an ultra-limited way of conceiving of when the 'making of' a record starts and stops. We're not all The Magic Band; we don't all spend 6 months rehearsing in an empty house and then cut the record in four hours.

Thing is, I can say that, because I've been that soldier. When I was in Bruised Pilgrim, we did spend 6 months rehearsing and then record the album in a weekend; and it's an album I'm massively proud of.

The story doesn't stop there, because the album took about a year and a half to be mixed (including time before Andrew got around to it).  I don't think this bucks Albini's point, in fact it adds urgency to it. The reason it took so long to be mixed is because of fuck -ups in the recording process, largely poor equipment; the snare and the poppy bass guitar being the worst culprits, but there was a huge amount of automation that had to be very carefully engineered by Andrew in his mixing suite. Those corrections took a lot of time and could have been avoided by getting it right at source. The album could have been done in its entirety, in a week.

But what about the song writing? the rehearsal time itself? Does that not count? In terms of the albums I've made, most are home recorded, and once you include the years of material that went into that record, 'a week' is a ludicrously narrow view of what the production process is. If Albini is talking about punk bands, that cut their teeth live, and capturing their raw performance, then you have to include all the gigs they've played in order to get to that point. It's still not a week.

Making music is not necessarily about live performance any more. there s no hard and definite line between song-writing, production, and post-production. It can all feedback into everything else. Maybe making an album on my own is still within Albini's conception of 'something going wrong', and maybe I'm reading too much into the words he wrote 20 years ago, and maybe he's even changed his mind in that time. But the quote is too seductive, too ballsy a mission statement not to pick an argument with.


Bright Phoebus reviewed

So On A Friday, Dan and I went for his birthday to see the Waterson-Carthy clan and guests play a gig of the 'great lost album' Bright Phoebus, at the Barbican.

The Barbican is, of the last year, now my most-frequented music venue. In the last year, I've seen Sparks, John Zorn, and now this gig in their main hall. I saw Eliza Carthy over summer, and she'd played a couple of Watersons' songs; and then, reading the gigs in advance, seeing that her and Jarvis Cocker would be sharing a stage was something i put in my diary about 6 months in advance.

So we went, and I thought, seeing a hall very nearly full, that this could all have been a Victoria Coren-esque hype trick; like when she announced the funeral of a fictional man, just to see what freeloaders would turn up, the story of the 'folk Sgt. Peppers' album that only ever had 1000 copies printed could just be a ruse to see who's going to turn up and pretend they know the words to sing along to. And, yes, there was a new book that Marry Waterson had compiled of her mum Lal's drawings, poems, writings, and a new cd of unused demos by the Mike and Lal Waterson, so there was a plug in it all somewhere. The night showcased all the songs from the Bright Phoebus LP (credited merely as 'songs by Mike and Lal Waterson'), plus a few songs that had only ever been demoed.

But onstage, we had almost the entirety of the remaining Waterson-Carthy lot: Lal's children Marry Waterson and Oliver Knight, Mike and Lal's sister Norma, Mike's Wife Ann and (their daughter?) Ella, Norma's husband Martin and their daughter Eliza. and through the evening, the emotional performances from Martin and Norma who had played on the original recording, it just became blindingly obvious that this wasn't just a public celebration, but a private one too. Given that Martin and Norma got together through the recording of the album, the night had an extra resonance. By the end, I felt like we'd been allowed to see this family celebrating the life and talents of their deceased, and that if they hadn't done it on stage in front of hundreds, they'd have been doing it at home anyway. That made it a real night to cherish.

Not knowing the songs made the rollercoaster of styles even more surprising, although it turned out I knew two of them: 'fine horseman' as a cover by Anne Briggs (I never realised it was a cover) and 'magical man' from my mum's 'New Electric Muse' compilation. The band (a four-piece backing band behind the changing front-people taking centre stage) played these pop songs, ballads, and dour psychedelic folk; and as the jaunty pop songs did that folky thing of throwing in and dropping beats wherever they liked, I realised, yes, this is beatley. This is what Beatle-ness is; the audacity to write intelligent pop songs and intersperse them with genuinely moving art songs. I'd never realised that before. I've been thinking about it recently, because I tried to make a Gorky's compilation, and couldn't. I couldn't fit them onto one disc, partly because of the variety of kinds of music they played. So then I realised, I'd have to make three separate mixtapes: Go Pop! with Gorky's, Chill Out with Gorky's, and Freak Out with Gorky's. Then it could work. Now I see that it comes from (at least) the Beatles, who were progressive enough to include pop music in their repertoire.

With the guest artists, highlights for me were John Smith singing a song (I can't remember the title) which was delicate and gorgeous and dynamic as anything, followed up by Jarvis singing 'The Scarecrow' which was the most mind blowing thing I've heard since... last time I was at the Barbican, for Zorn's 60th birthday gig. That performance was mentally scarring. The words were so descriptive and suggestive, the performance so in tune with them and emphasising of them, the music such a mix of happy, sad, and wistful, and the moment so unique and fleeting, that as Dan remarked, it was worth the price of admission alone.

So it was a great night. The music left me puzzled sometimes, wondering if it were that great or if it was just familiar memories that made it appear so; sometimes, the familial nature of the whole thing was the point; other times, there was no doubt that this was incredible song writing.