A bite of Annabel Lamb
Electronic Soundmaker rides out the storm of new technology with Annabel Lamb...
Annabel Lamb is a new name on the popular music scene, but has been around in the world of session musicians for some time. She was spotted as a musician in her own right by A&M Records, who released a critically acclaimed LP, 'Once Bitten', and followed this up with a cover version of the old Doors classic, 'Riders On The Storm'. Her vocal style is backed up by her own keyboards (Prophet 5, Jupiter 8, Hammond organ, pianos and Fairlight) and by an accomplished backing band contributing more keyboards, guitars, acoustic and electronic percussion, strings and horns.
"The first time I ever used a synth was to play bass notes using a Micromoog. I really learned to use it just from reading the handbook; once you've learned what the rules are you can learn how to break them! I've been learning ever since, and I still find things on the Prophet 5 that I didn't know it could do. My training with polyphonics was on the Prophet — at that stage I'd never heard of envelopes, so I went back to the handbook and that seemed to do the trick."
"Now the other keyboard player in the band has a Prophet and his partner Wally Brill, who's my producer, has a Jupiter 8 which I've sort of stolen! I like a basic synth, and I don't really want to get into Synclaviers and things like that. There was a Fairlight at the studio where we made 'Once Bitten', but I don't consider it to be just another keyboard and I'd hate to cover a whole album with it. The Fairlight or Emulator have their own reasons for being in existence and I think they're great, but a Jupiter 8 to me is like an old teddy bear — I have to have one near me as well as the piano to play songs."
"I've always played keyboards, and I have to be near one to get a new idea for a song down. Often it's not enough to sing a top line onto tape because you need to remember the chords as well. I was doing that and eventually started doing demos, although I didn't know what to do with them at the time. Then I started to get session work, which meant that I was able to give up nursing and move to London from Surrey. I had lots of free time in studios, and also there were lots of people in the business who I could ask 'How do I do this?'"
"Going round record companies is pretty disheartening because the majority of people say: No."
Annabel's initial demos consisted of herself and some keyboards and occasional drum machines, and after some time spent doing the rounds of record companies she was signed to A&M a year ago. "Going round record companies is pretty disheartening because the majority of people say 'No'. You have to have high hopes though, because if you didn't you'd never go through with it. A&M saw that there was a fledgling here which they could take and develop, which is what they are doing, slowly but surely."
Annabel's training as a pianist helped to form the basis of her compositional style, but proved a hindrance as she had to move into the world of electronic keyboards.
"I don't think synthesizers will ever replace real musicians..."
"I started playing with a Crumar Piano, the first thing I used in a band because it was small and easily disassembled. I put it through a graphic equaliser, but that didn't do much good. Nowadays I find it very difficult to use anything except a Yamaha Electric Grand. I prefer real pianos, but you can't cart them around with you and the Yamaha is the closest I've heard — I think they're wonderful things. For a piano player it's great to have touch sensitivity, which you have to forget when you're playing synths. I had to get used to synthesizers as something separate from the piano. It takes a while for somebody coming from piano to get used to a synthesizer because you can feel cheated; before you are all these wonderful sounds but you've got to fiddle with them. It's no good using all the factory presets, you've got to learn your stuff."
"When I was first doing session work with the Prophet, people wouldn't believe that a girl could programme it. That's a terrible thing, but it did mean I had to prove myself. It took me a while to be taken seriously, but eventually people began to see that anybody can use a synth and anybody can programme one. People can get sounds, and with the Jupiter 8 arpeggiator they can even get tunes, when faced with a piano they wouldn't be able to do a thing. I considered the synth a great toy at first, being something of a purist about the piano, but eventually you have to give in to it."
"I don't think electronic instruments will ever take over completely. I have a trumpet player who did three of four solos on the album, and there's no way you could get the same sort of expression out of a Fairlight even if you sampled a single note from the same player. You don't get Miles Davis out of a Fairlight! There are some musicians, like Brian Eno, who do get expression out of synths, but they do it by making synths do things that they shouldn't do. The majority of people don't even experiment with different sounds. You have to use synthesizers as real instruments and not pretend they're something else, and that's why I don't think they'll ever replace conventional instruments. If I wanted the sound of a trumpet or a cello I'd get somebody in to play one; at the end of the day you'll never replace real musicians, and I don't think I'd want to."