Yeah, sorry the title is less than original. But we’re catching up, aren’t we? I left you in Barnstorm Studios, shivering in the cold, guitars going out of tune after every song, and me, still in the early stages of learning to play lead guitar. It was Bob who said we had to find a rhythm guitarist. He was right. Cream could do it with one guitar, but that was Eric Clapton. We needed a bigger sound, someone to cover my inadequacies. So we started looking around. One or two guys came and gave it a go but it didn’t work out. I needed to get better. My guitar playing was the weak link. So it was that I asked my mate Andrew Baird if he’d like to step in. He agreed, I practised my fingers off and our songs started to sound recognisable.
After our first gig at The Airfield Tavern we were offered 30 minutes at Horley Carnival. Razz was immediately wary. His experience was more topical than mine. I’d done open air gigs in Africa and they seemed to work OK but that was then. Anyway, we turned up. We were informed that SUSY Radio would be broadcasting us live. I still was more excited than nervous. Then reality kicked in. The sound was beyond a nightmare. The stage monitors didn’t work. I couldn’t hear what anyone else was playing. It might work like a dream at Glastonbury, but Razz’s pessimistic forecast was absolutely spot on. Lessons learned. Luckily, again, listeners were friends and, generally, kind. Or drunk.
12 July 2016 is a day that I’ll always remember because everything seemed to come right. We were back at the Airfield Tavern. We weren’t perfect. Our timing was way off. But the audience was brilliant. They even applauded our sound check. Any muso will tell you that if you get positive energy from the crowd it enhances your playing. My left forearm cramped from the tension, I must have lost 2 kilos, but it just worked. On YouTubeLAVENDER HILL-LIVE@THETAVERN there is a rough video of us playing ‘Back In The USSR’. Sound is awful but it gives you an idea of the energy.
Next job was to record. We decided to put down 4 tracks and do a limited CD print for live music venues to get more gigs. Only problem is the nightmare of recording someone else’s material. You need to get permission, it takes forever, you’re subject to all kinds of issues. So I had introduced 2 songs: we played ‘Tucson to L.A. in 5 Hours’ and ‘Rock and Roll Life’ at the Tavern gig. Then I wrote ‘Somewhere In The Desert’. It’s a slow, Southern Rock song very evocative of Arizona where my daughters live. It’s also very personal. Maybe in a later post I might talk about it some more. The fourth one is called ‘Pop Star’. Razz wrote the lyrics and e-mailed them to me in France. It took me five minutes to write the music. That happens sometimes. The words speak to you, and tell you the melody you need to add to them. They told me about the riff that goes with it. Listen for yourself on the EP due out on 1 October.
So after a lot of rehearsal during the autumn we went into Barnstorm Studios in Outwood, near Redhill. Razz was to produce, Rob Barry to engineer. I learned a lot of lessons, beginning with a major blow to the ego. Rob is a serious engineer who has worked with some big names in the music business and he doesn’t pull his punches. After we recorded guide tracks for the songs and listened to them, I understood his frustration. Even though these tracks are discarded when individual instruments are recorded onto them, we fell in and out of time.
Nevertheless, Razz laid down 3 drum tracks in a few hours. The guy is a consummate professional, he knew what he was doing and he did it. Then it was Bob’s turn. Bob is a great bassist but it just didn’t work for him. I don’t think he felt comfortable with the material – he prefers putting his own individual stamp on covers; my fault. I have written 12-bar blues numbers but some of the songs we do are unconventional.
So we parted ways. And you know how it is when you’re looking for a taxi in the pouring rain. No bass guitarist in sight. So there we were in February and I decided to bite the bullet and learn how to play bass. I borrowed Andrew’s 5-string and practised. It’s really different to a guitar and the last time I played I was 16. It wasn’t easy. I downloaded an app, but in the end the most effective way to do it was to play the songs and feel my way into it. So there I was, learning on the job. I went back into the studio having lost 3 months and laid dow the tracks. Oh well, it’s another string to my guitar….sorry, bad joke.
Then in April, just after I’d finished laying down the bass tracks, that joker who plans the universe found us a… yes, you guessed it. A bass guitarist. Robin is a calm, serene Canadian, a biker like me (or how I used to be) and a real addition to the band. He works hard, practising assiduously. He works on every song intensely and every time we rehearse, he’s improved. Razz is a fantastic mentor for him, explaining how a drummer and a bassist work together to provide a solid foundation for the song.
Next delay was when a VERY BIG BAND came to Barnstorm to record. I can’t say who it was, but yes, they’re a household name. And while they were there we had to find somewhere else to rehearse. We found The Tomb, just down the road from us and waited to get back into the recording studio.
Next time I’ll tell you how we finally managed to finish the record.