The World About Us (Part 2)
The other half of the World
Half way through the Real World Recording week and already there have been some memorable performances - and some unlikely collaborations...
Billy Cobham leaves this morning. He sits eating breakfast looking very tired. "I'm glad it's finished because the pressure was intense. When you've got ten African musicians who all play different instruments with different sound levels and they all want to play together, and all want the same amount of volume and the same amount of their soul coming through - it's pretty difficult." Of course, Cobham managed it and was rewarded by being asked to do the same with fifteen.
But his feelings about the event are passionate. "I'm ecstatic. I have learned so much. There are instruments here that I have seen before and thought I'd like to try, but I knew I wouldn't use them much and the roadies wouldn't like it. But here I have seen them played properly and realise what they can do." He leaves for Switzerland to prepare for a tour and to wait for the new instruments he has ordered.
Hossam Ramzy has hardly slept a wink. "I can't sleep. I am too excited." The guys in the Groove Factory have slowed down on recording because they want to start mixing and taking stock of the vast array of samples they have taken. They reckon they have eight tracks to work on. Ashkhabad are forced to rehearse over at a small production suite by Lulu's cafe as someone has run off with the keys to their rehearsal room. Lucky Dube and his band have turned up after playing the free concert and making amends with the Virgin Islands police. They are getting stuck into recording in the Groove Factory before moving into the Big Room with Daniel Lanois tomorrow morning.
Toni Childs lays down vocal lines to a number of tracks with Peter Gabriel in the Work Room. She is really enjoying herself now and is becoming the centre of a number of collaborations. By mid afternoon Lucky Dube and Farafina (and every other available drummer) are out on the lawn laying down a deafening rhythm which Hassan Hakmoun is trying to control. "It's like a war." he says, "No one knows what they are doing." Daniel Lanois continues his marathon run in the Big Room, recording Kudsi's flute with his own Dobro and footstomp. His deft handling of effects units and EQ give the recording a very haunting quality.
Mike Edwards (of Jesus Jones) and Symon Bye (of This Picture) are working in the Writing Room with John Leckie trying to put a vocal line over the bagpipe and funk guitar theme of the previous night. After a while Edwards takes over the room to work on his own projects with Geoffrey Oryema and other members of Jesus Jones. A few people try to relax a bit. David Defries reads a score by the river.
Michael Brook's small pre-production cell has been taken over by Simon Booth and Ron Aslan who have come up with a great funk groove. Within a couple of hours poet Neil Styles, American singer Carole Rowley and myself have added a lyric and the search starts for a studio. William Orbit has come back to see how things are going in the Groove Factory but things are going so well there is little he can do but join in. Simon Jeffes, on the other hand, is leaving and is very happy with the four tracks he has recorded though denies having finished them. "Finished? You're never finished here." he says.
The big action this evening centres on the Work Room. The technology-jammed attic somehow accommodates about twenty musicians and hangers on. Toni Childs, Peter Gabriel and Nigel Kennedy start things off but the collaboration expands to include Carole Rowley, Karl Wallinger, several drummers (who are exiled to the adjoining drum room), Sagat and many others. The groove they are laying down becomes so infectious that everyone gets carried away, dancing round the room, clapping and whooping. Engineer Dave Bottrill records everything but gets caught up in the excitement and doesn't even notice when the tape runs out. Everyone is convinced it will be a massive track.
When this finishes around half past one in the morning everyone heads down to the Big Room where Simon Booth has managed to oust Daniel Lanois for one night and has started getting the funk track together. The drunken chorus sing backing vocals 'til 5.30pm and Simon and Ron carry on with Carole Rowley singing lead until well into Friday. The result is a great, if somewhat out of context, funk track called 'Take Good Care Of Your Soul'.
Lucky Dube and band move into the Big Room this morning and get down to some serious recording in the hope of making up for lost time. In the couple of days they have they completed two tracks of driving South African reggae. Their energy is not matched by Simon Booth, however, who cancels sessions for the day and staggers off to bed at ten in the morning. Alex Gifford has taken over the Power Of Three Room again and is turning out some beautiful music with Ayub Ogada, Zi Lan Liao, Jane Siberry, Andy Sheppard and others. His music leans towards the jazz side but he has been amazed by what he has learned from working with the likes of Ogada. "We were working on this track 'Mother'; Ayub, Jane and I, trying to fit in a chorus somewhere but Ayub kept saying there were already enough changes in what he was playing. I just couldn't hear it until this afternoon when I suddenly realised the way in which his music works. It made me feel really clumsy."
Jane Siberry is particularly moved by the piece which she started writing with Ayub Ogada a couple of days earlier. She also collaborates with U Srinivas and Michael Brook later that day, but Srinivas' band of elderly Indian musicians find their western harmonies very amusing. "Every time someone played something they thought was wrong they sniggered." says Jane. Nigel Kennedy shatters the peace of the afternoon and wrecks the lawn recording session by rehearsing his electric fiddle version of Purple Haze with his cottage windows open.
John Leckie takes over the production room during the afternoon to prepare for the evening's Ashkhabad performance. Like Srinivas, they are going to perform for an audience but this time it includes the press corps who arrive by helicopters, cars and buses during the afternoon for a press conference which generally shatters the peace of the event. There is definitely a feeling of something drawing to a close today despite the fact that recording will continue at least until Monday.
Jah Wobble and His Invaders Of The Heart turn up just before the conference and Jah entertains the visitors by telling them that the music industry is a bunch of bollocks and that although the Real World set up is a little hippyish for him it was likely to result in something a little closer to God than the record industry could achieve. Ashkhabad's evening concert is a great success and Leckie is very happy with the results on tape. Tomorrow he wants to add various overdubs to take it beyond being just a live album. Ashkhabad are famous for Islamic wedding music but they are closet heavy metal fans so heaven knows what might happen.
The Work Room is much quieter than the previous night as the Electra Strings have returned and are working on a particularly awkward arrangement for Karl Wallinger and Peter Gabriel. This is one of a number of pieces left from last year's sessions which Peter wanted to tie up. As a result it is also one of the few sessions being run on Mitsubishi digital. Late in the night violinist Sonia Slany and viola player Jocelyn Pook are sweating over an unbearably high harmonic note which has to be held for eight bars without vibrato. At five o'clock in the morning, the wild side of Daniel Lanois begins to rear its head. He is to be found playing barman in Lulu's Cafe, pouring a mean tequila for the late night drinkers.
Peter Gabriel leaves the Work Room to Karl Wallinger today and goes to Sting's wedding party. His departure and that of several other musicians makes things seem much quieter. He will be back later this evening, however.
String players, Caroline Lavelle and Jocelyn Pook have found their time here particularly rewarding. They have been allowed to do much more than the usual dry session work... "We've been collaborating properly, which is very unusual for us." says Pook, "We were given a lot of space to do our own thing. We are normally expected to do a little embroidery on other people's stuff and it is unusual to be involved in the structuring from the beginning." Lavelle adds... "We usually come in right at the end but this time there are some production ideas coming from us. String players don't get a chance to have ideas like most musicians."
They also claim to be learning things from the other musicians. "I've learned that it's okay to make mistakes and to learn about other types of music." says Lavelle, "I've been working with Srinivas on some Indian music and I'm using the cello more like a synthesiser - using all the harmonics and scrapey bits that you're never allowed to use in rock music because they would scream in horror and sack you."
William Orbit takes over in the Rehearsal Room to work with Galliano, who have returned after their performance at the concert last Sunday. Unlike most of the producers, Alex Gifford was here last year, but feels this week has produced a much more complete and structured music. The pressure, however, has been incredible... "It's been like being on tour and doing four gigs every day with a different band.". He has formed such a rapport with Nigel Kennedy that he has been booked to play bass at the concert tomorrow.
Caroline Lavelle has also been asked to play on one number - evidence, if it were needed, of the friendships that have been formed over the past few days. Lavelle remembers Kennedy from her schooldays and wouldn't play with him earlier in the week. Now they are like sparring partners. Kennedy will also have his guitarist Sagat and the Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos on stage with him so they all decamp early in the morning for a soundcheck in Victoria Park before he goes to the Villa match in Southampton. Unfortunately, the check overruns and he misses the match.
It is a fairly quiet day with so many musicians up at the park, but it proves to be a good opportunity for producers to get on with some housework. John Leckie has completed eight tracks with Ashkhabad though he is getting bogged down in some fiddly overdubs. Apparently, some of the drum work doesn't seem to gel if the drummer isn't playing with the whole band. Jah Wobble has been working through the night with Daniel Lanois producing wild mixtures of sounds.
Everyone who has heard the work Mark Rutherford and Sugar J have turned out in the Groove Factory reckons there are at least three singles among the eight tracks recorded - most unusual for Real World Records. All the material recorded on the lawn is now being tweaked and mixed by AD, as he calls himself. Although his is the least technological set up - eight track cassette or DAT - he has managed to capture some of the week's finest performances. Apparently, he hid a couple of pieces from Gabriel and Ezrin earlier in the week for fear of hijack, - as with 'Between Two Trains' - and he intends presenting them in a more complete form later. He is, however, going to have a hard time removing the Intercity 125 which runs through the middle of 'Green Lawns'.
Simon Booth, Ron Aslan and Juan Martin have left for London. Martin loved almost every second of the week though he suggests it would be useful to have cassettes of the day's work available for the artists to speed things up the following day. Michael Brook is back in his pre-production cell and is working on some ideas for his session with Kennedy, Vasconcelos and Srinivas later this evening. And Mike Edwards continues in the Writing Room though no one knows what on.
After finishing with Jah Wobble, Daniel Lanois packs up his things and prepares to leave for New Orleans. He has recorded and mixed 19 tracks in about four days and reckons 13 are worth releasing. Admiration for him is quite apparent amongst the other musicians. Dave Bottrill has found to his dismay that the party recording two nights earlier isn't that wonderful after all. He might not be able to save it.
Late in the evening Michael Brook has created an amazingly calm atmosphere in the Big Room as U Srinivas, Nigel Kennedy and Nana Vasconcelos record one of the week's most beautiful pieces of music.
John Leckie is adding the Electra strings to Ashkhabad in the Wooden Room while Michael Brook's continues his work from the previous night in the Big Room. He hopes to add some vocals by Jane Siberry later in the day. Work is also in progress in The Groove Factory but everyone else has decamped to Royal Victoria Park for a very wet but crowded concert. Additional acts include Boy George, The Pogues and Kirsty McColl. A marvellous time is had by all.
During the day Peter Gabriel gets as involved as possible, introducing acts, checking on ticket sales and even working in the guest pass office. He takes a short stroll round the arena and talks very positively about the week. "I think we've done a lot more this time than last year." he says, "There have been some great people here."
Backstage Nigel Kennedy spins the wheels of his awful BMW and manages to coat about ten people with mud. He doesn't find out 'til later in the evening when his mud-splattered victims turn up at Lulu's Cafe for the after-gig party. "Monster, eh?" he quips. At the end of the evening, he toasts Peter Gabriel for the week, "I think we've all had a monster time." he says. Peter responds by making a brief speech but is too choked up to finish and leaves hurriedly. On his return, Kennedy passes a ghostly shape in the car park - his BMW has been repainted in white Dulux emulsion.
Although most of the musicians are leaving today there are a few hanging on to finish what they can. John Leckie will need at least one more day to mix Ashkhabad. The bagpipe track probably won't be finished. Michael Brook has about six tracks on top of the U Srinivas album to complete but he is quite well into it. Peter Gabriel leaves for New York while Dave Bottrill tries to sort out the ten tracks they have more or less completed. Jane Siberry records a vocal onto a song she has written with Gabriel, Lanois and Hossam Ramzy.
Mark Rutherford decides to take the eight tracks he has recorded back to his own studio to finish. "We had a sort of plan when we started and I think we've more or less stuck to it - though lack of sleep makes it difficult to judge. I get a bit of a headache about people who bring ethnic musicians in just to play something over a piece of music. You end up with several minutes of beautiful playing but no start or finish. I wanted complete songs and I think we got that." Rutherford reckons the material he has recorded during the week will stand up to Radio 1 playlisting. We shall see...
In the evening, the fifty staff who have held the whole thing together gather for a party. A few of the remaining musicians and producers join them later. They have completed around 95 different tracks, more or less and about nine albums by Mike Large's reckoning. The concerts turned a profit and the week costed about £85,000 to organise. With nine albums they should clear the costs. Next year, Mike Large hopes to run a two week event.
My ambitions extend no further than a swift return to London and a long night's sleep...