And so, with an almost delicate flash of stick across toms, a track I recorded 24 years ago roars back into life. Since it was recorded in 1995, as part of the set that made up the album Dancing with Architects, it’s been loitering with intent, waiting for its turn to re-occupy its rightful place in the world, scaring the bejesus out of unwary guitarists. While the original album was recorded in a week, this version, complete with real drums and an extra guitar solo, took rather longer to prepare.
In essence, I, Sybarite
is a much younger me playing with some great contemporary players simply flaying their instruments. How I would have loved to have had access to a drummer as hot as Martin Johnson a quarter of a century ago. A guitarist as adept as Martin Goulding. I was already playing with Mel Gabbitas, mind …
When Martin The Drums sat down to record the new track, his facebook status went as follows:
Today’s session includes fast guitar shredding with multiple tempos and time signatures of 4/4, 7/8, 7/4, 6/4, 11/8, 12/8, all within about 30 seconds and unison phrasing with guitars in odd groupings and matching pre existing guitar tracks. Margin for error…. = Zero! What a start to a day! #drumsession #freelancedrummer #internetdrumsessions #recordingstudio #rockfusion #virtuosoguitarist #counting
There’s a good reason for the looks Jamie Hunt and Pat Heath gave me when I first played them this stuff: part ‘how the hell did you do that?’ and part ‘what the hell was going on in your head?’ And this with a track that, due to the tape having lived in a shed for twenty years or so, breathed a little in terms of tempo. So with no click, and just his own count-in, he just went for it. The track he recorded is a single take, with just the one drop-in. That in itself is pretty astonishing. The parts themselves were derived from (and that’s as much influence as I’ll allow my drum programming to claim) the original parts, which Martin felt (correctly) were strangling the guitars at times. Ignoring Martin’s skill at managing to retrospectively tack on such a great drum track onto an old tune, what I love most about the change in rhythmic underpinning is what it says about music in general.
Every piece of music has a sort of coherence that runs deep beneath. It’s what Ezra Pound called ‘great bass’, and it’s why music sometimes doesn’t quite work. If one or other of the musicians isn’t feeling it, the whole piece simple doesn’t quite … people will tell you that drums and percussion are the bedrock of groove, but I think they’re wrong. Groove is deeper than that. It is the drummer’s job, however, to amplify and codify this groove. The better the drummer, the bigger and more obvious they make it, and in this way the other players can all lock into it … but the drummer doesn’t make it, they merely (merely? This is not a ‘merely’ situation) make it big. This is why you can retrospectively apply drums to a rhythm track and it works. Well, I think it works.
I also love how a real drummer accentuates the living, breathing quality of music in a way that is often bludgeoned to death by a drum machine. The real player can make minute changes to their note placement which can have quite earth-shattering consequences.
The final aspect that Martin brought to the tune was air. When you record real drums and cymbals you’re recording the movement of air, and this air is not confined to the one microphone. Where the original drum track (in terms of part and sound) made this tune a little claustrophobic, it now has the space in which to get down and epic.
Not much can be said about Martin Goulding’s contribution other then I wonder what I was thinking when I agreed to give him some airtime on this track. Martin is an old student of mine, so to some degree I brought it on myself. His solo kills. I pretend it was a pity that he only had a few bars to play with but, well, any longer and I’d have had to do something drastic to stop him making a fool of me (Martin! The dog ate your solo … sorry). Martin is a great guitar player, with thoroughly deserved reputation for hard work and thoroughness to put alongside his ideas, musicality and serious, serious chops. I think the really interesting thing about the two solos is not technical, though technique has moved on in the last 24 years, it’s not sound, though again, our basic guitar sounds are very different, it’s in attitude to recording.
When we were first discussing his contribution to this track, he pointed out that some of the tune’s melody notes are not perfect, and he wondered whether perhaps they ought not be re-recorded. His argument was simple. This style of playing lived or died on its accuracy. Were he to record this, he said, he would play it in small bursts, ensuring that each group of notes was perfect before moving on to the next group of notes, gradually building up a perfect rendition of the tune. I pointed out that the spirit of the whole album was such that it was a set of performances captured that were being re-released into the wild, and that part of the value, to me at least, was that I simply sat down and played.
His response was intriguing. He reminded me that he was a pretty good guitar player (and this I do not deny – he is an awesome player), but that if he was asked to go into a studio and simply crash through this tune, he would (and I quote) ‘run away screaming’. This is not because he couldn’t do it, of course, but that this just isn’t how things are done these days. The past is another studio; they do things differently there.
The difference to me is that when you simply sit down and play, you are performing – this performance is what I always tried to capture in the studio. When you layer perfection onto perfection, you are almost producing the Platonic form of a tune – the ideal blueprint that doesn’t truly exist in the real world. There is no better, just different. And I really enjoy the juxtaposition of the two styles.
The bass track is the original track I recorded, and until I heard the re-recorded drums, I’d forgotten what I’d done. I actually quite like it, so I kept it. The bass ought to have been supplied by Mel Gabbitas. I tried to find another Martin but didn’t have one to hand. Mel I’ve known almost thirty years, and we used to play in a damn fine band called It Takes Presidents, along with Dave Webster (now something lofty in the MU, and an excellent drummist). We rocked. Circumstances (that is, he’s rather too busy) got in the way of that one.
As for the act of tying everything together, that was down to the skills of Mr Keith More. Keith is an excellent guitar player (I remember reading an interview with him in Guitarist magazine when I was a teenager and thinking how cool he sounded), and a fine studio man (who also does amazing hyper-real drawings).
So. Enjoy. The track, the playing, the point. My Parkinson’s makes it impossible for me to operate the guitar to anything like the level I did back then (I find a C Major chord challenging). These guys are great players, and while I think my old self stacks up well against them, we make a great noise together. It’s a little odd, conceptually, but hey, so our timing is nigh on perfect plus 24 years? No biggie.
There is a serious point, of course. While Parkinson’s is in many ways a disease that fucks with your interaction with time, as if our seconds are shorter than yours, so we appear in your world in slo-mo, we can fuck with it back. Ok. So I can’t really play any more. But I could. And old me can play with whomsoever he fancies. So he’s gonna. Parkinson’s may fuck with time, but so can I.
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