Sunday, 9 June 2019

“What’s your band called?” (or "Schliemann, and Other Things The Guitarist Had to Google”) – Part 2:



I call this one "The Invisible Engineer"

After work one Friday in February 2019 I ambled over to Stratford to meet Grant “fuck parmesan” Gordon on his super-speedy train back to Ramsgate. We caught up over merlot and crisps, and once back at the Gordon homestead set to making a veggie chilli and waiting for Gary “how did I not know about this, frankly extremist, position on parmesan?! Weirdo!!” Mackenzie. Waiting for Gary is an important part of being in a band with Gary, but is a small price to pay in order to spend some time and make some music with such a wonderful chap. In the meantime, I got to hang out with Grant and family which was an absolute joy. I even had a drum-off with his young son, and was roundly defeated…

Gary arrived late in the evening, and after chowing down on din-dins we started the serious business of talking about what we wanted to achieve. Gary made a particularly mind-blowing chart of the ten-minute ‘Horse’ which features some funny time-signature moments, and we decided on BPMs and such. Before we knew it, it was bed-time.


THUNDER

We loaded in at the studio and got to work! THERE WAS A SLIDE! We played sort of ‘in the round’, though Gary was behind glass and our amps were elsewhere to achieve separation. We’d decided to record the instrumentation ‘as live’, so what you’ll eventually hear is the live band, one complete take, with minimal overdubs and vocals. We did ‘Alexander’ first; it’s only 3 minutes 30 seconds, so as Grant said after one of our rehearsals “…It’s a hit!”. Once we had a good start-to-finish take we downed tools, listened, and then plopped the guitar solo over the top. The guitar solo on ‘Alexander’ is, in actuality, mostly the guitar solo from an as-yet-unreleased The Mighty Handful track which ended up fitting quite well over Grant’s riff. Not quite Zappa-level xenochrony, but almost!


ChrisWorld

Then it was on to ‘Sea Peoples’. This was a tricky one; the (honestly) self-indulgent instrumental second half is a bit silly in terms of time signatures, so it took a bit of careful tempo-track time signature mapping to get the click track ready before we started. Plus, it’s a bit of a pig to play; we did it in two sections, although it was more than a few takes before we were happy with the performance. It took some time, but we got it. Another guitar solo went on top, and it was time to down tools for the day.


The view from Piano Land

While waiting for the other two to pack up, I sat at the piano and had a tinker to try and get ready for the next day. I think I surprised Grant by revealing my love of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds whilst at the piano. You could be forgiven for thinking I was a pure prog-metal-and-nothing-else kind of bloke, but I’m a teensy bit more complicated than that! One of my favourite of his songs is called ‘Darker With The Day’, the last track on 2001’s wonderful ‘No More Shall We Part’ which was, incidentally, the first Cave album released after my fandom started and the first I bought on day of release. Any time a piano is in front of me that song seems to come out.  Anyway, I digress. We repaired to the pub for a couple of Guinness’ and a debrief, before heading back to the Grant homestead for a nifty takeaway curry and a long, protracted argument about Morrissey and The Smiths…


Gary's actual drums make an appearance!

Day two was all about ‘Horse’. The crew had moved the piano so that I could see Grant and Gary while playing. I did a quick guide-vocal-and-piano take to help get everyone through the five-minute first half, and then we were off. I’m not much of a piano player; I usually describe myself as “a keyboard player with a club-fisted left hand”, but I’m actually quite proud of the way this song came out. We did more than a few takes but I think we achieved the right Bad Seeds / Ben Folds Five vibe I was aiming for when writing it, and so it was time to get on to the rockier second half. I managed to break a string whilst trying to do the guitar solo, so Al the Engineer presented me with a studio Jackson guitar which he described as “a shredding machine”. It did the trick! Grant’s significant other, the fabulous Donna, came along with their son and listened in for the last bit of the day. I think the boy was a little bit bored, but Donna said some very nice things about the guitar solo which meant a lot to me – she’s a proper musician and everything!


Vintage keys, anyone? A crime that we didn't use them, but check out the 'suitcase' Hammond!

Grant had an idea that there should be a piano-and-vocal outro on ‘Sea Peoples’, so we did that at some point. Then, after making sure we were happy with the take and the solo we packed up and said our goodbyes. While we were packing up, Al told me that the 'suitcase' Hammond organ I'd been admiring all weekend once belonged to Duran Duran! Or, as he added, at least that's what the guy who sold it to him said...

Gary very kindly offered to drive me back to sarf-east Laahhndon, and even whilst en-route we received bounces of the tracks from Al via Gordon. Technology! Marvellous.


Grant considers tapping, and if you look really closely you might see Gary...oh wait, that's my reflection.

It was a properly lovely weekend, and exactly what I needed at the time. We all had a great time, seemed to enjoy each other’s company, and it was a real pleasure to spend a weekend in a studio which is something I haven’t done in about ten years! As I write this we’re on the second round of mix notes, so we’re nearly there! Hopefully anyone reading this who wants to hear the music will hear it soon!

Over and out!                       

Chris “cheese wimp” Harrison

P.S. Since the recording weekend, we've decided that the band is called 'Echoes of Ilion', not 'HGM' as previously billed. Hooray! We have a name!

P.P.S. Did I mention there was a frickin' slide?!



Saturday, 6 April 2019

“What’s your band called?” (or "Schliemann, and Other Things The Guitarist Had to Google”) – Part 1: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Troy

Preamble: I’ve gone and made another load of racket.

Aside from knowing that you’re probably going to need a wee halfway through the second or third epic of the night, you never know what might happen to you at a prog gig. My first memory of meeting Grant “Three minutes and thirty seconds? It’s a HIT!” Gordon was in a pub near the Kentish Town Forum just before Transatlantic played there in March 2014. I’m pretty sure he gave me one of his CDs. Then, during The Flower Kings’ set at the Islington Academy a couple of months later, he asked me if I’d come and do a spot of guitar for him. I obliged, of course, and by the end of May ‘The Final Spit’* was born.  I did another session or two with Grant over the next year and enjoyed myself quite a lot in the process.


Christopher "not DeGarmo" Harrison, recording 'The Final Spit' - 13 May 2014

Grant has frequently sought the percussive services of Mighty Gary “…” Mackenzie in the past and, as I understand it, Grant’s various bands would play on the same bill as The Mighty Handful back in the mists of time. In or around September 2015, Grant suggested to Gary and I that we have a go at making some music together. We were game! Within days Grant had sent us three demos, and we later met in the pub (before a Spock’s Beard gig, naturally!) to discuss the project further. Grant had a concept, Gary came up with a title, and I wrote a ten-minute song. As you do. You'd have to ask the other two about the concept - I'm not entirely sure I ever really grasped it properly myself!

Within a month we had nine songs in various stages of completion and did three sessions at Bush Studios in late 2015 to hammer them out. Arrangements were decided upon and lyrics were written although I must admit that I threw a mini-tanty about some of the more on-the-nose historical and mythological aspects of the lyrical content (for which I roundly apologised and am still somewhat ashamed about - although Grant has since said that I might have been onto something!). We even started recording backing tracks; we spent a day or two at Grant’s studio space in West Hampstead recording drums via Gary’s electronic kit and those clever computer things.


The studio white board - I'm not sure what all that stuff on the bottom right is...

Unfortunately, things sort of ground to a halt; Poor Grant had a ropey start to 2016, and ultimately moved to the coast and joined another band (Worcestershire post-punkers ‘And Also The Trees’ - http://www.andalsothetrees.co.uk/). Gary and I kept busy with Mighty-ness, helping one album over the finishing line and starting another one. Then, in September 2018, a reunion at yet another prog gig! The three of us gather to go and see the fantastic Pain of Salvation in September 2018 and, lo, Grant said: “Lads…. do you fancy doing a gig?”.

We found ourselves supporting Sparker and The Scarlet Oak at the Grey Horse in Kingston in November. We did a rehearsal in October getting three of the songs up to scratch for a twenty-minute set. We all rather enjoyed ourselves at the gig, and Grant suggested recording those three tracks properly. Gary and I were up for it, so Grant booked us in to a studio near his home for a weekend in February 2019.

And so the diary begins! Next time…

Chris


* Here’s a video of us playing that song at Sky Studios (!) in June 2015. I could tell you how that came about, but it would ruin the mystery - https://vimeo.com/132340704


'The Final Spit' by The Scarlet Oak from webvideopro on Vimeo.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Still sitting on this blog post

“So … all of time and space. Everything that ever happened or ever will. Where do you want to start?”
The Doctor, The Eleventh Hour. Art by Matt Gould.

I began writing this on my ‘phone on a night bus several months ago. I was a little bit over-emotional at the time; I definitely had something in my eye. It took me a long time to get around to finishing it. In that respect, these words share something with their subject matter.

Back to the front. In February 2013 I received a Facebook message from the wonderful (and Mighty) Gary Mackenzie. I didn’t know Gary very well at that point; we’d met at a Spock’s Beard gig circa 2003 and he later told me that he’d seen me play live with my pal Lee Abraham in 2010. Apart from that, our paths had not really crossed, and it was a surprise - albeit a very pleasant one - to hear from him. 


Drum editing... yaaaay!

Gary asked me if I would be willing to contribute a couple of guitar solos to a concept album which he was making with The Mighty Handful, a band he'd been playing drums with for nearly 20 years. The album was called "Still Sitting In Danny's Car". He told me a little bit about the album, including a vague description of the music (“…in parts it owes more to Philip Glass, musical theatre and/or the Muppets (no, really)…”) and the story the album told. The plan was to release the whole album across a series of five E.P.s. Gary explained that the band didn’t have a permanent lead guitarist and as a result were asking a number of different guitarists to contribute to a couple of tracks each. 

I said yes, of course. Admittedly I do have a crippling inability to say “No” to things like this. On this occasion I had no intention of refusing. I was already intrigued. 


The guitarist.

I did the session on the day of the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest. I think Denmark won that year. Greece had that song about alcohol being free. 

I had such a great time that day. Gary met me at the station and escorted me to the boat (yeah, the boat). He introduced me to Mighty Matt - singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer and engineer extraordinaire. The first track we worked on - which wouldn’t be released for about three-and-a-half years, although we didn’t know that at the time – was called “Slow Reveal” and the session went really smoothly as far as I can remember. We had to repair to the tranquillity of a nearby pub for a tactical Guinness or two in the middle of working on the second track. I think that might have been Matt’s suggestion, and to quote Peter Gabriel, “We do what we’re told…”. 


It's Mighty Tom!

A couple of pints of black custard helped me to be sufficiently ‘inspired’ for the solo on Part 1’s “Cavalier Spirit” which we finished later that afternoon. I really enjoyed Matt and Gary’s company and, as they played me demos and told me more about the album they were making, it was really hard not to be infected by the passion they clearly had for it.

I must have made an impression on them, too. They kept asking me back. Over the following year I ended up going to the pub quite regularly with Gary and as the sheets were thrown to the wind he told me more about himself, the band and the album. It quickly became apparent just how much this project meant to Gary. Later on, I met the other half of the band; bassist Mighty Tom (who I met on his ‘stag night’!), and keyboard player Mighty Ralph who I learned was responsible for a number of the musical curveballs on the album. Lawks, some of that stuff is hard to play.  


Ralph Blackbourn Action Figure #3

Part 1 was finished at some point in late 2013. I was asked to contribute to a couple more tracks on the album during 2014 – Part 2’s “The Beacon”, “Hypothetically Speaking” and “Time Crash”. Part 2 came out soon after. In the May that year the band asked me to cover lead guitar duties for a live gig in Kingston where we played the whole of Parts 1 and 2, along with a couple of bits from Part 5. I really enjoyed that gig.

At some point, I joined the band. I’m not quite sure when or how this officially happened; I don’t think they sat me down and asked, “Chris, do you want to join the band?”. It felt like I became part of the band by osmosis; gradually and unconsciously being assimilated. [Pretentious much, Chris? – Ed.]


In our natural environment. Photo: Jonny Helm

Joining bands can often be difficult. "Who's this interloper? Who does he think he is, making suggestions like that? Trying to get involved in OUR thing? Wanker."  Etcetera. There was absolutely none of that with The Mighty Handful. I felt like a part of it almost straight away. Even when I was occasionally kicked out of the band for making a terrible pun, or not quite remembering who Sparks were (every third time I get kicked out of the band, I’m back in the band…ask Matt!). 


Caption competition, anyone? Photo: Jonny Helm

We kept working on the album, and pretty soon “Prog Night” became a thing. Every Wednesday we would meet in the pub and, more often than not, retreat back to Matt’s base of operations to do some work. We spent the odd weekend here and there working on it too. 

Not to get too tearful or sentimental about it but the more we worked on the album the more it came to mean to me. The album tells a story of friends, love, loss, pubs, bands and comics. It's an album that attempts (and, I think, succeeds) to say all the things we want to say to each other about the passage of time, and about our inherent inability to survive the passage of time. The dream of being a ROCK GOD, and the reality of not becoming one (although it’s definitely, absolutely, one-hundred percent going to happen, RIGHT?). Hazy memories of brilliant nights down the pub years ago, and the inevitability that someone gets left behind, chasing those memories while everyone else moves on. And lots of other things. Y’know. Time-travelling Vauxhall Cavaliers (other motor vehicles are available), a deal with Death, pub sing-alongs about gin. That sort of thing.


Achievement. 

Part 3 took a long time but was ultimately finished in April 2016. Part 4 followed in February 2017. The night I started writing this piece in a feverish fit of emotion, we had finished working on "Still Sitting In Danny's Car". Part 5 was done, dusted, consigned to the streaming service providers and about to be sent off to be manufactured into a real-live CD along with Part 4. I didn’t really want to let it go, but there it was. It was done. It was (almost) out. 

I will be eternally grateful to the boys in the band for having me along for the ride. I have had such a fantastic time working, drinking and generally being around the band over the course of those years. I’ve learned a lot, made a bunch of new friends and been part of a creative experience that I think is going to be extremely hard for any other project to live up to. Except the next one, which is already living up to it. One “Prog Night” at a time. 


Ralph's selfie arm is a sight to behold.

In the meantime, you can listen to the entirety of the album on Spotify (or wherever you get your streams), and you can buy it from us or from The Merch Desk

I love it. 

x


["Release day" isn't quite what it used to be, is it? No more queuing up outside the record shop in the pissing rain for a brand-new album to take home and pore over. Not that I miss the standing-about-in-the-rain bit of that experience.]


Photo credits: 

1: Album art – Matt Gould
2, 5, 8: The author
3, 4, 9: Ralph Blackbourn
6, 7: Johnny Helm

Sunday, 20 May 2018

MARK BUCKINGHAM (supporting THE FIERCE AND THE DEAD) - The Black Heart, Camden - 18 May 2018


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It’s a gig diary! I know, I know, it’s been a while. Just a short one. I promise.

Original art © Mark Buckingham

Over the course of some ‘prog curries’ (yes, that’s a thing) and a few gigs here and there over the last year or two, I have had the pleasure of getting to know one Mr Mark ”drawings, songs… and envelopes” Buckingham, comic book artist extraordinaire. Once I’d got over the initial amazement of knowing someone who has his own Wikipedia page, it was great to get to know Mark as he often joined us on The Mighty Handful’s weekly sojourns to the pub/studio.

It turned out that aside from his frankly astonishing skills with pens and paper, Mark has a knack for writing lovely melodies and accompanying them with lyrics. By the time I met him he had been working with a couple of prog luminaries on an album called “Jigsawman” to accompany a graphic novel of the same name. Within no time at all we were collaborating on some of that (and other) music and, before you know it, there was a gig in the calendar. Mark asked me to accompany him on keyboards for a slot supporting The Fierce And The Dead at their ‘The Euphoric’ album launch; Mark had already enlisted the services of TFATD loop-meister Matt “tomorrow I’m switching my ‘phone off and playing Sonic 2” Stevens for the show.



In March this year we hit the Mighty boat studio to write and record a couple of tunes which we had hoped to have available for sale at the gig. Sadly, due to other pressing commitments that release has yet to see the light of day, but I’m rather hoping we’ll be back at it soon; it was a pleasure to share the studio with Mark and Matt and, of course, with fellow Mighty Messrs. Matt “This is DEFINITELY gonna work!” Howes and Gary “Chris Isaak and a beatbox” Mackenzie.

We managed a couple of rehearsals in the week prior to the gig, which was salve to the nerves of Matt and Mark and an all-round exquisite experience for me – there really is nothing better than playing music when its going well! Mark has a lovely voice, and Matt really does get some great noises out of guitars. On the day I rocked up early and helped TFATD with the load-in and enjoyed their sound-check immensely. The merch arrived, and after a quick pint downstairs the doors opened and we were off!

Photo by Rosamund Tomlin

Set list
  1. Pitter Patter
  2. Jigsaw Man
  3. Lost Piece
  4. Little Glass Heart
  5. Shards 

Our runs of the set during rehearsals and sound-check had been perfectly gig-ready but, in all honesty, I think the performance actually went better than any of our previous attempts. It really made a difference having such a receptive, warm and friendly audience to play to, and having some good-natured banter from stage and crowd in-between songs. There’s no substitute for gigging it! Mark had designed stage gear bedecked with jigsaw motifs and had made himself some splendid light-based props for use during the show to illuminate the themes of the songs. We seemed to go down well; there were lots of really enthusiastic and encouraging comments from punters as we swilled round the crowd afterwards.

TFATD were magnificent. The fans in attendance that evening were a fantastic bunch; it all felt extremely inclusive and as if everyone was a friend of everyone else, including us! The band were on fine form (“Tight as a witch’s cleft”, as you might say) and tracks from the new album were received just as well as their more well-known tunes. I bought myself a copy of their stonking new album and a print of Mark’s art for it, which will find a home in my new home somewhere.

At the end of the night I felt all loved-up and confident; a feeling that lasted right up until I ran in to a spot of bother trying to open the kebab shop door….but that’s another story!

Here comes the thanks list:

- To Mark for asking me to be involved – it’s an honour and a privilege!
- To Matt for being such a talent and an easy guy to work with – it’s been an utter pleasure making a racket with you. I see more interlocking guitar parts in our future…!
- To TFATD and crew for having us – they and their crew really are among the loveliest folk I’ve met in fifteen years of gigging. I hope we didn’t get in the way too much, and hope to see you all again one day! (You can check them out at  http://fierceandthedead.com/)
- To Kunal, Alan, and all at Chaos Theory for making the evening go so smoothly.
- To Mighty Matt and Mighty Gary for coming along to support us
- To everyone who came along, bought merch, showed support and took the time to tell us their thoughts – you’re all wonderful!
- To Roland (endorse me, please! Go on, you know you want to…)
- To Rosamund Tomlin for the photograph - I hope you're off those crutches in no time! 


Until next time...

Chris "If you're not on Wing Fortress Zone yet, you're doing it wrong" Harrison
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