The Sorcerers - Last minute monkey business

The purpose of these blog posts was to offer some insight into how we do things at ATA records. Sometimes this will take the form of something technical, like the equipment we use or a particular mic’ing technique, and sometimes it might be more conceptual or about the process of recording itself. This one is more on the conceptual side of things.

 We’ve got an album coming out soon that I am very pleased about. Across the board I feel like we have, for the first time, got a lot of it right. From the recording to the artwork, conception to execution it has been solid. It has only taken a decade of building a recording studio, writing music, 5 years of running a label and releasing music to get there. I have a lot of things that I want to talk about around the making of this album, but it won’t be released until January 2020. Since it’s a few months away I’m not going to talk about the album just yet.

 For this last year we have been trying to follow a pattern of a 45 preceding every album release. This is often recorded at the same time as the album and tries to offer something that is not available on the LP itself. Currently with 45’s we have conceded that the material has to be more DJ orientated. We would love to get to the point where a 45 can be any style, tempo or mood but we are not there yet and don’t want to be left with a cupboard full of unsold vinyl which isn’t good for morale, cash-flow or available domestic cupboard space. So, for example with the second ‘Lewis Express’ album ‘Clap Your Hands’ we recorded a couple of the album tracks at a faster, more dance floor tempo using a Wurlitzer electric piano instead of the upright piano.

As for the B side….. we had a track which we envisioned would be the play out from the end of the last scene of the film as the credits began to roll, hence the imaginative title ‘End Credits’. During recording we ended up with 2 takes of the track and decided to make the alternate version available on the 45 as it would not be featuring on the album.

 Why do we have 2 takes of this tune? Well…. It’s unusual for us to have alternate takes of stuff when we are recording an album because of the cost of tape. One reel of the excellent ‘Recording the master’s 911 2” Tape’ comes in at around £250 for 30-33 minutes of recording. As a small, self-funded independent record label we just don’t have the budget to be buying numerous reels. As a result, we have quite a strict process and if it’s not quite the take we’re looking for we rewind the tape and record it again. I have seen expressions on folk’s faces like I was about to shoot a puppy when they first experience this; “why can’t we keep it? I promise I’ll look after it”. My thinking is fuck the puppy! We are all good musicians and we can do it again.

 So, what’s the craic with ‘End Credits - Alternate take’ I hear you all scream.

Our next album release which I’m not going to talk too much about (out in Jan 2020) is a soundtrack to an imagined film: “In Search of the Lost City of the Monkey God”. As the track list was mounting up we were unsure of how much of it was going to fit onto an LP so were thinking that we were going to have to make some sacrifices of who would make the album cut and who would be destined to live a solitary existence on a 7” single. Luckily all the tracks fit comfortably on 2 sides of an LP, so we were ok there. There was one track on the album that I felt summed up the flavour of the project and always had the feeling of a single if ever there was one. The album version of ‘Summoning The Monkey God’ was too long for a 45 (which is restricted to 4 minutes) so we decided to edit it down into a punchier take for those who wanted to move their feet rather than summon the ancient spirit of the Monkey God.

We had completed 2 days of recording the rhythm section for the album: drums, bass and percussion. It was approaching 4pm and Pete (my label partner & Percussionist/woodwind for The Sorcerers) had to leave as he had child-care duties to attend to. It was a long couple of days, we had what we needed, and I was happy to call it a day there, but Sorcerer’s drummer extraordinaire Joost Hendrickx was riding high and suggested that the two of us do some more. “Why not?” I thought whilst secretly wanting to go home.

An idea rolled out pretty quick and we hammered out an arrangement. Plenty of space left on the reel. Feeling excited as it’s a nice and heavy drums and bass thing. It’s a pretty short tune, just under 2mins. Shouldn’t take long.

 Shouldn’t take long? It took us about 3 hours!

 Each time we came back into the control room to listen back we knew we didn’t have it.

 Fuck. Ok. Again.

 This time, we’ll get it this time. We even had to take a break and go for a walk. We bumped into a couple of other Leeds musicians who were carefree and unburdened in contrast to our weary thousand-yard stares. Am I exaggerating for effect? Nope.

 Our problem was that each time we hit the B section of the tune we felt that the wind came out of our sails slightly and there is nothing worse on a tough, heavy tune.

 “We’re tough, We’re tough. No. We’re tired. Yup we’re tired. We’re tough honestly, please believe us.”

 After a while we resorted to playing it to a click, not something we favour often but needs must… Once we had a version down that we were happy with we figured “hey we’ve done it once we can do it again but without the click”. Several tens of takes and false starts later we finally managed it.

 One of the takes sounded a bit more aggressive than the other which gave us the idea of doing an alternate take of the track and instead of having guest flautist Chip Wickham play the written head, we elected to have him blow a bat-shit solo instead which we were all very pleased with.

 This experience does remind me how lucky we are to have a studio space that we pretty much have access to 24/7. The studio experience must be so nerve-racking knowing that you only have a limited about of time to get something right. It also gives us the time to find out that there are many ways of getting stuff right, that things can be recorded from a different angle and that material can be reworked. I feel like only having a limited amount of time is such a big pressure for people and often stops them from recording stuff in the first place; that it has to be exactly right, or it isn’t good enough.

 I don’t have an answer to that as paying to have your music recorded or setting up a recording space can be so prohibitively expensive that not many people can do it. It took me over a decade to build/work up to the studio I have and that is not counting the years that came before that particular studio. The fact that I have it is a result of a mix between stubbornness, luck and hard work. I have gone slightly off-piste here, but I do hope to write some more blogs soon about how I got round some of that stuff and if you are putting together a recording set-up, where best to put your money.

All hail the Monkey God!

By Neil Innes

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