Sunday, 14 September 2014

Solo Album 2: Blog #6 (Before and After The Dawn)

After a string of "album making-of" blogs in quick succession I've been a little quiet here since late June... Sometimes I enjoy sharing the process publically and other times I'd rather just be doing it, getting on with life, and generally keeping my head down ;-) Also, as a self-employed practitioner I often have to prioritise other work (mastering, mixing, master-classes, etc.) in order to pay those pesky bills.

OK, in summary things are progressing nicely. I have no fixed deadline, (though I'm tentatively looking at Spring 2015 as a potential release period), and am allowing myself time and space to make things the way I envisage them. The world can wait ;-) It's important however to emphasise that this "time and space" includes a lot of downtime where I focus on other projects and just listen and/or think about what I'm doing with the album.

I've been editing, physically and mentally - Honing performances and refining the overall arrangements. Lyric writing and tweaking, plus the vocal sessions have recently begun... I'm pretty sure I've already mentioned that I'm singing most of this stuff myself. Previously I've tended to sing the demos then blend my backing vocals / harmonies in with another lead singer, most notably my wife Lisa (who will still contribute to this project), working from the shadows as a vocal arranger / coach / producer. Well, from early on I knew that I needed to put myself on the line with this particular set of songs – it felt like the honest thing to do - and that also goes for the level of instrumental composition and general pre-arrangements. It all seems quite natural to me so I hope people will generally feel that in the end. But either way, this is how it is and I'm running with it ;-)

Several more contributions have been recorded and/or scheduled, including recent sessions with two wonderful guests that I've worked with previously:

Tim Motzer (who appeared on 'FiWT', 'Islands', and contributed a knockout remix to 'The Cracks Within') appears on three songs here, mostly playing acoustic / rhythm guitar, but also contributing an array of electric parts for one particular piece. Tim has a great musicality about him, and always feels the material, instinctively knowing how best to respond to what he hears and my brief.

Here's a snap (taken by Tim) from one of his tracking sessions utilising an AEA R84 ribbon mic - for any 'gear heads' out there...

Pedal steel legend - and I don't use that term lightly - BJ Cole (with whom I've collaborated on both 'FiWT' and the GRICE 'Propeller' album that I produced / arranged / mixed) also makes a welcome return. He and I recently worked together on a song that has undergone many stylistic changes. His beautiful contributions actually inspired me to rework the track in question so that I could showcase more of his playing in the early sections...

I'm very pleased to announce that renowned bassist Tony Levin (who contributed to last year's award-winning Fletcher / Fletcher / Reuter 'Islands' single) is also confirmed to appear. Tony's pretty busy with the all-new King Crimson tour (also featuring Pat Mastelotto who appears on this record), as well as more upcoming Peter Gabriel shows. But he'll be working his magic on two of my songs in the not-too-distant future. I'm mostly handling the bass parts myself, but I had Tony in mind for these particular compositions from the outset so it's great to have him onboard.

Another announcement I'm happy to make is that Cathy Stevens and Udo Dzierzanowski (pictured above) of Europa String Choir will shortly be recording parts for the album. I've known them both for as long as I've known Markus (16+ years), and we've been talking about doing something musical together on and off all this time. Finally this project made it possible and I'm really looking forward to their contributions! Cathy will be performing a number of chordal string parts that I've written, and both will be adding their improvisational spark to selected songs.

There are still further players to announce - Maybe in the next update?...

So, another thing I really HAVE to talk about (more so than my album production) is Kate Bush's 'Before The Dawn' concert series... After initially missing out on tickets and feeling thoroughly depressed about it I was incredibly fortunate to be handed a 'golden ticket' by a friend of a friend (now also very much a friend), and subsequently I attended the second night of her 22-date residency at the Hammersmith Apollo (still the 'Odeon' to me). This was one of the most profound audiovisual experiences of my life, and despite my feeble attempt to write about it here there really are no words to adequately describe the feeling of being that space – both the physical setting and the 'head space' - with Kate. Her work, both as songwriter/performer and producer/arranger has been inspirational to me throughout my life, and the three hours that I shared with her and "The K Fellowship" were absolutely spellbinding.

I ardently avoided spoilers as I knew this would be no ordinary gig and wanted to go in blind. Someone sitting behind me managed to ruin one surprise by loudly telling her friends about it, but hey, by then I'd already been swept away by the alchemy of it all so I didn't let her indiscretion pull me down to earth... And even though the web is now swamped with detailed critiques of the shows I'm not going to add to that noise myself – If anyone reading this is planning to attend one of the remaining performances and has (miraculously) avoided spoilers I urge you to remain as in the dark as is practically possible.

I used the term "audiovisual" because this was an amalgamation of live performance (with Kate in outstanding voice, backed by a wonderful band) together with spectacular theatre, cinema, puppetry, mime, dance, digital art, and a generous helping of "magic". Backing singers doubled as actors, and her son Bertie played a key role in the proceedings... When the inevitable DVD release emerges (much as I look forward to it) I can't imagine how it could possibly replicate the energy and alchemy felt in that room – Part of me is almost afraid to look again, in case it's not exactly how I remember it, and of course it won't be because it'll be edited / presented from someone else's perspective, devoid of context, time and space. But yeah, I'll buy it, and I still can't wait! ;-)

What does this experience mean for the new LF album? Quite a lot actually, though nothing will noticeably change on the surface. Just like the David Bowie exhibition in Berlin (that I wrote about here in May) this has been a stark reminder of why I care about music, what makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and why I'm literally driven to write, produce, and make records. Both experiences, albeit in very different ways, brought me closer to my inner youth, rekindling some of the magic and wonder that can so easily be dampened with the advancing of years and realities of 'life'. I do believe in magic when it comes to music, and artists such as David and Kate (along with a small cluster of special others) have always been there in a spiritual sense on my shoulder, reminding me that artistic compromise is seldom an option. These experiences also reminded me that they are "my" artists :-) Meaning when I 'discovered' their work I didn't know anyone else who felt the same way, and in those pre-Internet times that remained true for a lot of years, with the very few exceptions being people who I would forge strong friendships with...

The cumulative effect of these happenings on my next circular piece of audible plastic is yet to fully unfold, nonetheless my creative cells have been supercharged and this will sure as hell help me to remain true to myself, even when outside trends and opinions are leaning in a different direction, (and they usually are). That's not to say that I don't value input from trusted ears - I do - but if you have a clear vision it's important to never lose sight of it. Music is (for the most part) art, not product. Some people will never fully appreciate that, but that's OK - I do. I also recognise that art doesn't have to be incomprehensible to be true. It can be if that's what it needs to be, but it's not a prerequisite, so the 'pop' format can be as valid as anything. Artists like Kate (well, there aren't any quite like her, but you get my drift) recognise this and use whatever structure best serves the idea. Same with Bowie, (we'll overlook his 'lost years' in the mid-late 80s) ;-)

My pal Roz Harding (saxophonist extraordinaire, who also features on the upcoming album) went to the following two 'Bush shows - Here's her terrific blog about the experience, in which one of my text messages makes a surprising cameo ;-) We met over coffee this week to discuss (well, 'geek out' over) our respective experiences. It's clear that 'Before The Dawn' will be inspiring a great many folk, artists or otherwise...

More at some point. Until next time... x


[All pics © copyright Lee Fletcher 2014 - except Tim's snap]