Slide Away the Screen
This was my last album for Warner reprise records. I enjoyed a very happy relationship with this great record company. It was with them that I had the hit with Streets of London and they had hoped for a follow up which did not materialise. I had always regarded my ‘hit” as an anomaly but did enjoy having the support of a major company. They seemed to admit that no one really knew what would make a hit so were prepared to back musicians and writers in whom they had faith. At that time their roster included the likes of Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. These men were huge talents who did not sell in millions yet the label stayed with them and as a result we have some marvellous recordings which otherwise might not have been made.
Having said all that, there was always a slight pressure that I needed, once again, to come up with the commercial goods. I could not really see how this could happen without me getting a bit more commercial and like every true folkie there was always a bit of the rock and roller trying to get out. Elvis the King of R&R played an acoustic guitar don’t forget.
I had been hankering for an augmented sound for several years and in Britain there was now an identifiable genre of music called Folk Rock. My inspiration was always American music and what with the up surge of west coast country rock and my friends in Fairport Convention it was decided to aim at this form for the new album.
My friend Dave Pegg was asked to produce the album with executive producer status was to be held by my brother and then manager Bruce May. Of course Dave did nothing without consultation with me but it was his vision and contacts that assembled the great players who contributed to this recording.
Dave wanted us to reside at the studio and we chose the state of the art Chipping Norton facility in the town of the same name. The studios were set up by Mike Vernon in a converted school and no expense had been spared in their building quality. Our engineer was Barry Hammond and we lived, ate and played on the premises for the entire time of recording.
I had recently acquired a Burns double six Twelve String guitar and it can most notably be heard on the song Love grows. That guitar makes several appearances on the record and I played piano banjo a Fender Stratocaster and of course Miss Gibson on the ensuing tracks. We worked in small groups of three or four and only occasionally with more. Robert Kirby of Nick Drake fame and “ You Well Meaning Brought Me Here” did the string arrangements and brought bonhomie and good humour to the job. Many of the musicians were personal friends and those whom I did not know so well soon became bonded in the workman like atmosphere of the studio.
Recording for me is incredibly intense and as writer and performer it is easy to forget that all the other guys are as nervous as you are; especially on their first takes. My trouble is that as the musicians grow in confidence with the song my performance can drift into “trying too hard” mode. In the main we managed compromise and many vocals are first or second takes. There were the usual few overdub vocals (a job I hate) but all in all I was lost in wonder at the musicality of my accompanists. Richard Thompson was a revelation and his unique approach to the sessions and individual style is a highlight for me. Jerry Donahue overdubbed his solos which gave him time to work out a couple of beauties. The solo on “ One Heart” is a mini masterpiece I think. John Mealing’s synth solo on Heroes and Villains was amazing to me and elevated the tune. Nick Barraclough with his band Telephone Bill and the Smooth Operators did the backing vocals and they are superb. Nick is now the director of Smooth Operations. They make programs for the BBC including Mike Harding’s acoustic music program.
Some particular memories of these sessions come to mind.
This song moves around one chord which was played in conventional manner i.e. bass to treble and then using a high strung guitar (that is to say a guitar strung in the octave strings as if it were on a twelve string) the same chord was picked in reverse order, ie. from treble to bass. This gave a cross cascade of notes which naturally harmonised with each other. The resulting voicing could not have been achieved outside of a recording studio.
This sound provided Dave Pegg with the idea for the fretless bass line.
He played two parts in harmony and I think it was an inspirational approach.
The reprise at the end of the song sounds majestic through head phones and moves me still.
Written by Dave Swarbrick for Sandy Denny. I asked Dave’s permission to adapt the words for a man to sing and he graciously agreed. I tried to maintain the original sense of realisation that although a couple may sometimes hut each other, the realisation that time is passing and that the strength through mutual knowledge of each other could see them through temporary melancholy. The white dress symbol is sometimes seen as a wedding dress, but I see it as a ball gown and as well as something new and old helping to bring two people together again.
My approach was reverent and romantic but Bruce (my brother and executive producer) suggested a more forceful interpretation. I felt I over exaggerated my new version, however I had to agree that is sounded positive and I always sing it that way when I perform it with the band (Fairport Convention)
Gold in California
This was already a tune I had written on the piano around 1972, I first adapted it for a proposed film about a girl called Rosalie and was very excited that I may have got a song in a movie. The movie did not happen and for years the song kicked about and was re written at least one more time. (I lost both lyrics). I was encouraged not to lose the melody and eventually came up with the present words and production. I had always found it difficult to play and at one point in my demo had made a mistake in the repeat chorus. “…Gold in California…” So I sung it again making three repeats in total.
When we came to record it the band were working off chord charts written by Robert Kirby for the string arrangements. I protested that the line should only be repeated once but time forbade a rewrite and the end recording still has that extra line in it!
No one else saw anything wrong but it still seems slightly wrong to me.
Heroes and Villains
Dave Mattacks is an acknowledged world class drummer and always has the latest equipment and percussion. I remember the “Jaw Bone” device on Van Nuys cruise night delighted us all particularly. Around this time the electric syn drums were on every disco record and the temptation was to put them on everything. Dave naturally had a set but resisted using them except for a couple of beats in the song. D.M’s discretion is one of his great virtues and the record is subtly enhanced by all sorts of delicate touches if you listen carefully. (like the heart bet on
Several tracks which were not quite finished found their way on to the Road Goes On Forever re-release and I am glad they saw the light of day, Particularly Sometimes I Wish I cold Pray. After my experience with the amazing London Community Gospel Choir on my London Show Video, I would love to redo this song with them! Maybe one day?
We worked very intensely on this album and frequently once my parts were finished I would go out for walks up the hill to the old cotton mill or to the surrounding countryside to consider what we were doing. All the guys were so involved and their commitment and creativity were not much appreciated by me. We all ate at the studio and ideas were thrashed out their and Liz Marsh ( the in house chef) made sure we were sustained with fine traditional English hot dinners.
Back in the studio we would re commence with renewed energy. I do not like working through the night and we would curfew around 10 pm and repair to the Crown and Cushion pub across the road to refresh. Then back to the studio to hear rough mixes of our day’s efforts. At the Chipping Norton studios, supported by so many wonderful musicians, this recording one of the most enjoyable that I have ever done. Barry Hammond the main engineer deserves special mention and often continued working on the sounds after we had finished sessions.
I would also have to thank Martin Levan who mixed several tracks for the re-release as Love Grows on Mays records. Martin was a joy to work with and we became great friends through subsequent recordings.
My main thanks must go to my long time friend, Dave Pegg.
Dave’s enthusiasm for this project saw him work tirelessly for the end result. His efforts behind the mixing console were matched by his amazingly thoughtful bass playing and he remains one of my best friends after a near forty year association.