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 away to meet Grant “fuck parmesan” Gordon. 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.


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!


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 home 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 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, then joined another band (Worcestershire post-punkers ‘And Also The Trees’ - 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 for a weekend in February 2019.

And so the diary begins! Next time…


* 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 -

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