From the Cauldron 3: Playing with myself
I remember watching Mike Oldfield on Blue Peter when I was a child. He was showing one of the presenters how he overdubbed his recordings, playing each instrument himself, finally creating works like Tubular Bells and Hergest Ridge. I saw him create the new Blue Peter theme tune all by himself. First went down the rhythm guitar, then the drums, then the lead whistle, mix it, bish bash bosh, there you have it! It looked so easy.
My Dad bought me a reel to reel tape machine when I was about 15 – he got it from a jumble sale. I played with it and managed to make a few songs, just like Mike, but mine never sounded as good. Over the years recoding technology improved and became affordable.
It never occurred to me that this form of recording might be unusual. As I’d learned the guitar, the mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, banjo, dulcimer, bass, and drums just fell into place. I’ve only ever recorded one album traditionally with a band and that was None but Seven with Spiral Castle. Compared to my solo recordings that was a breeze. I turned up, played my one instrument, sang, then went home while the other band members did their thing. I really only heard the song a couple of times before it was finished and mastered. Now I must listen to a song dozens of times. Each track is recorded – I always record the rhythm instrument first, then a guide vocal, then the drums and bass, finally the lead instruments. Then go back and re-record the lead vocal, then the backing vocals, make any changes to the arrangement, then the mixing, then the mastering, all by myself, and I love it.
There are times when I know that the instrument or voice needed is beyond me, and that’s when I get on the phone to a friend and invite them to play on the album. This to me adds even more joy to the creative process, as they always do something, some inflection of voice, or solo, that I would never have thought of myself. But then it’s back to just me and my instruments again.
Finally the song is finished. Like any artist I probably could go back time and again making little adjustments here, a added tweak there. I can understand people like the artist Edgar Degas who reserved the right to return to his paintings at any time should he feel they needed more work, even if he’d sold the painting! But you can’t do that with CDs, so when it leaves my home to be pressed that really is it!