The Orchids – Recording Session Diary, Riverside Studios, Busby 18-24th February 2006
DAY ONE: SATURDAY 18th FEBRUARY 2006 – 10.10am
We arrived at the recording studios – it’s in Busby, near Glasgow and is pretty handy for all of us – not far to travel for anyone. Whilst we set up inside we had a cup of tea and the conversation ranges from Christians and Muslims and how Bush is using this to create fear in the world now that the perceived threat of the Soviet Union has gone. We go from there to talk about Europe – Russia & Germany and the impact the break up of the communist states has had on those countries. We started in the studio at 11am; running through our first song but the talking seems to get in the way! By this time we’ve moved onto football and in particular a fine handed out to St Mirren football club (who Keith, our new guitarist supports) by the SFA. We also managed to get some talk in about promotion of the new record we were starting to record and also when we are going to do some gigs. Anything outside our home country won’t be until later this summer, unfortunately, but we’ll definitely do some Scottish dates before then.
GOOD TO BE A STRANGER
There is a lot of work goes into setting up. Whilst Duncan, the studio owner and engineer for these sessions, sprayed lubricant on all sorts of machinery around the huge mixing desk we played through the title track of the album, “Good To Be A Stranger”. We seemed to play this about 100 times and the big studio recording booth, which housed John on guitar, Keith on guitar, Ronnie on bass and Chris on drums, began to get really hot, despite it being a cold, crisp day outside.
Two hours after arriving, we were ready for the first proper take of the song. After three takes, we decided that take two was the best. We had initially started off playing too fast and furious but had relaxed into the song by the time it came to record actual takes.
Bass and guitar parts were cleaned up through “drop ins” to correct any small mistakes or glitches. This took us up to 1pm by which time James, John and Chris had gone through to the TV room to watch Liverpool v Manchester United, which was live on BBC1.
DOWN IN THE OCEAN & CUPS OF TEA
This all took us up to 1.50pm when we started on a relatively new song, only written last month,
called “Down In The Ocean”. We are wondering pic – Chris on drums
where we can sample some seagulls and sea waves
for the opening sequence!
As it is new, this one takes six takes, even after several run throughs before this too. Confusion over timings and arrangement mean we need to work extremely hard to get this one right, but we do it in the end - 1 hour and 10 minutes later.
Chris washes the cups and Keith makes the tea. See, not rock and roll at all! At 3.30pm through in the TV room, whilst bass and guitar parts on the track are tidied up in the studio by Ronnie and Keith, boredom begins to set in, as we stare at the athletics on TV and there is even a request for the Winter Olympics to be put on! I mean, sliding round an ice track on a tea tray – what “sports” are we going to get next?!
I NEED YOU TO BELIEVE ME, HALF TIME & FULL TIME SCORES
Next we decide to do “I Need You To Believe Me” and we talk about the importance of getting to feeling in this song right. At 3.45pm we head back to the recording booth to begin the song - after checking half time football scores. Celtic fans Ronnie, Chris and John are disappointed that nearest rivals Hearts are 2-0 up and oldest rivals Rangers are 1-0 up in their home game against Hibs. St Mirren fan Keith is disappointed that they can only manage a half time draw against Stranraer whilst James, a Partick Thistle fan is also downhearted at his team losing 1-0 to Peterhead so far.
45 minutes later, everyone’s spirits are lifted as we have “Need You To Believe Me” done in only two takes. The fact that Partick Thistle have lost at the end of their game fails to dampen James’ spirits. Keith has no such problems as St Mirren have managed to win and stay top of their league. The Celtic fans aren’t too bothered either about results elsewhere not going their way, as they are well on top in the Scottish Premier League and can only throw the league title away.
The song (yes, back to the music) doesn’t sound like The Orchids but I guess that is a difficult thing – what exactly is our “sound” – I guess we don’t really have one (although if anyone wants to disagree then feel free to add some comments to the message board). This is definitely a very positive progression for us but also a return to more natural sounding songs. This one doesn’t have a proper ending, so we play until we have played long enough for Duncan to fade the track out at the end on the final mix.
By 4.50pm all of the guitar clean up drop ins are done and we are back in to start on song number four, “Xylophone” As this is an older song, that we have been playing for almost a year, we get it down and sounding great by 5.20pm. This is the quickest we have done a song all day. It will be hard to beat that sort of time for getting it right. John’s strange wah wah guitar has bled through onto the drum tracks. He’s not convinced about the sound but everyone else loves how unusual it sounds.
Pic - Ronnie Borland on bass
By 5.30pm the tidying up drop ins are complete and we are straight onto the fifth song, “For Yourself”. For about a year this had a totally different arrangement. In the past few weeks we have changed and it is now a beautiful song that sways along.
7.30pm – Wow, that was hard. The track is down but only after many many takes to get it right. The last part of the song is the problem. The drums are bringing it down a bit at the end when it should lift. Then we do it again and this time it lifts TOO much. Next take FEELS better but we end up going for the one we originally though lifted too much at the end. You can judge for yourself when you hear the album.
More football in the TV room. We are a bit of a football loving band. Watch as Southampton’s goalkeeper is carried off and they have used all their substitutes. Down to 10 men with an outfield player in goals, it’s not looking good for them.
By 7.50pm the tidy up is done and the foundations of the song are complete, 2 hours 20 minutes after starting it.
THE END OF THE FIRST DAY
After some discussion we decide to call it a day. We are all hungry and tired and the fact we took two hours and twenty minutes to get “For Yourself” right probably makes that a good decision. We started to get ratty during these takes and we need to be right to get the feeling of the songs across. We go home, most of us picking up some takeaway food on the way home.
We plan to meet again at 1pm on Sunday to do songs six and seven “Feel The Magic” and “Star Eyes”. Plan for the next two days is to put down the basis of these two songs and start on guitar, percussion and keyboard over-dubs and also vocals.
DAY TWO: SUNDAY 19th FEBRUARY 2006
We all arrive on time at 1pm. This never used to be the case, there was always somebody late or with some problem. In a session when we were recording some B sides back in 1991 (for the “Penetration” EP) Chris even turned up at the studio with no drums after a night on the tiles! This is why you hear drum machines on “Pelican Blonde” and only percussion on “Tropical Fishbowl” but the drum machine was always planned for “Sigh”!)
In the studio TV room hangs a gold disc from Travis (for “The Man Who”) and Silver disc from Teenage Fanclub (for “Grand Prix”). Both are presents to Duncan, our engineer, who worked on the albums at the same studio with these bands. Trashcan Sinatras also recorded “Weightlifting” here. Chris’s older brother, Paul, seems to manage to get in on the photographs at this point, meaning we won’t show you the picture we took of the discs!
For the second day running Ronnie makes the first cup of tea for everyone whilst we all go through a similar routine to yesterday. Duncan gets the 24 track tape and desk ready and his son runs around with electric heaters plugging them in everywhere as it’s freezing inside and out.
FEEL THE MAGIC
Song number six is another new one, written in the past couple of months, called “Feel The Magic” and as the studio heats up we tune up and run through this. Chris changes from sticks to multi rods to help give a softer laid back feel to the song. The hi-hat and tom-toms sound great with these.
We start the take at 2.10pm and after 3 takes it is sounding exactly how we want it to. There are even no tidy ups required, so what you will hear on the LP is pretty much live. By 3pm we have this track down.
It sums everything up, it is a beautiful song and one that we think everyone, old and new fans alike will immediately fall in love with. Perhaps it follows on from the laid back lazy feeling we like everything to have – it includes the lyrics “…cos I know I’ll find a way, to leave it to another a day”!
We discuss “Star Eyes” which is one of the first songs we wrote after our comeback in 2004. This seems to cause us problems as all the time rehearsing it has meant it has gone through a long evolution and some of us aren’t 100% happy with the arrangement, which rocks out a bit too much! We decide that we will record this later as an acoustic song, adding bits of percussion, bass and guitar later if it needs it. That means the drums are complete for this session and they are stripped down, which everyone helps with (this never used to happen either – I don’t know what is going on with this new found team working!!). We all carry the drums and stands through to the other 16 track studio next door to make room for Keith and John to do their additional guitars on all of the tracks.
SECOND PHASE OVERDUBS
So, by 3.45pm we are back to song 1 “Good To Be A Stranger”. This part starts with a listen through to check all the parts of the song. By 4pm, when John starts the lead guitar parts, we have found out that our beloved Celtic FC have won 8-1 away from home. We’d missed the game to be in the studio – there’s a third thing that never used to happen! We must be getting focussed in our old age, and we think this filters though to the quality of the new recordings.
Stuart Borland, brother of our bassist (Ronnie) turns up to do a photo shoot and he wanders around the studio asking us to pretend he isn’t there, but it’s hard to not feel self conscious. We obviously are too shy of publicity, but that will need to change!
5pm – John has completed some excellent big sounding guitar strums and a solo with feedback that he has timed with just enough fade to float over the stops in the song (sorry if this isn’t making sense, perhaps it will when you hear the album). This song is almost complete and may not even need to usual acoustic rhythm guitar. The electric rhythm is doubled up to strengthen the overall sound of the track – it’s now sounding really full and we are extremely pleased with the results.
5.15pm – We move onto track 2 “Down In The Ocean” for guitar over dubs. We listen through, over and over to check all the parts in great detail. People just don’t realise how much goes into making a couple of minutes of music! And we are doing this really quickly. John doesn’t add any lead guitar but Keith does some more and is finished by 5.40pm
The keyboard has now been set up connected Ronnie’s synthesizer module in the corner of the mixing room and James, Ronnie and Chris experiment with sounds and chords using headphones plugged directly into the keyboard so that we don’t disturb the guitarists, who continue to work away with Duncan.
A VISIT TO THE CHIPPY & OFFSALES
We discuss the keyboard part for this song and all chip in with opinions on sounds and rhythm to use but don’t agree on anything. We then turn our attention to food (was it the mention of chips?). Keith and Chris go out for beer and food (we remember the last session; it was us who went for the food then too, so it must be somebody else’s turn next!) I must give a mention to Duncan’s choice of white pudding supper and curry sauce, which is about as rock ‘n’ roll as it is going to get this weekend! It’s not even on the shop’s menu, so they must make it especially for him.
“Down In The Ocean” is done by the time Keith and Chris return at 6.30pm and we eat the food purchased from the chip shop at Shedden’s pic – John on lead guitar
roundabout called “Buon Appetito”. It’s a bit of a celeb
haunt in fact, as Jim Murphy, the constituency Labour MP comes in for chips while Keith and Chris are in there tonight – so much for the government supporting healthy eating! We also find out from Duncan that Boy George has frequented this chip shop once, which seems totally bizarre as it is right in the middle of a small suburb on the outskirts of Glasgow.
Our breaks always used to be much longer too, but as I say, we are more focussed this time. We are back round to song 3, “I Need You To Believe Me”. More lead guitar and doubled rhythm is added. Chris’s brother Paul (also a drummer, but NOT the Paul Quinn who played drums for the Soup Dragons and Teenage Fanclub!) arrives with the bongos for percussion to be added later. He tells us of the Celtic game we missed and tries to win friends by bringing in more beer. The talk is all football again, as we watch Aston Villa v Manchester City on TV. We also talk of Alan Smith’s broken leg (we wish him all the best) and England’s chances in the forthcoming World Cup. Rumour of our old favourite Celtic manager Martin O’Neill taking the England job over is discussed and we even start a rumour that he’ll give Chris Sutton that England cap after all when he gets the job!
ALL WORKING TOGETHER
We start again at 7pm on the guitars. We complete these on “Need You To Believe In Me” and then on “Xylophone”. Like the earlier takes, this one is done really quickly and by 8pm we are starting again on song number 6 “For Yourself”. John works out a great guitar hook for the choruses. Ronnie and James continue to work on the keyboard. The amp is cranked up to help sustain the notes further and John’s deafened in the booth as he plays the riff again and again to get it right. Tension starts to build and then he gets it, but all the bending of strings has knocked it out of tune, so he has to go again!
As Duncan talks to John through the desk link, Ronnie and James shout at each other about the keyboard (they are both wearing headphones!) so John can’t hear Duncan speak – they are not happy at being told to shut up!
9pm – John finishes the lead guitar. This track overall is taking the longest. Why we don’t really know, but it’s certainly worth it. Chris’s brother, Paul goes home with some parting advice to Ronnie working on keyboard – “Think Kraftwerk” he says. Don’t think we’ll take his advice but you never know!
9.45pm – We have tried many different options for a keyboard sound on “For Yourself” and decide that we will only add a hammond organ sound to the choruses. This is played by Keith – Ronnie and James must have been at it too long and have given up on the keyboard! We might not include this keyboard part at all in the final mix, as it’s not necessarily adding anything to it. We also think of adding a flute to this song and we have asked Michael Deans to play for us at a later session, so this will be added then. We have also asked Pauline Hynds to some backing vocals for us again too, and we hope to get her into the studio to add to these too.
DAY TWO FINISHES
10.30pm – After recording the keyboard part we decide it is a natural place to stop for the day. In previous sessions we used to just keep going, sometimes until the next morning, but we are more sensible now – you need to be in the right frame of mind to get such an important thing right. This leaves us with pic Ronnie, Keith & James vocals, acoustic guitar and percussion to add on the third and final day of this session.
DAY THREE: MONDAY 20th FEBRUARY 2006
Whilst this is day three of this session, it is actually day five of the album session, as we have already spent two days in September recording “The Last Thing (On Your Mind)” and “Another Saturday Night”. We arrive at 10am and to spoil all of the things mentioned yesterday that never used to happen, Chris and Ronnie both arrive late! Chris has an excuse as he is the diary maestro and has spent most of the morning writing this up and submitting it to Fabio to include on the web-site. As is usual, we talk about loads of subjects over the first cup of tea/coffee but I’ve bored you enough with all of that. At 11am we head down to the studio booth to start the addition of acoustic guitar, played by James. By 11.50 he is ready to go.
ACOUSTIC RYTHM GUITAR
James adds a smooth rhythm to “Good To Be A Stranger”. It adds a nice texture to what is a wall of sound in the rest of the song. We decide to leave this a single tracked piece, rather than doubling any of the guitar up.
He then adds rhythm to “Down In The Ocean”, which is sounding like it wouldn’t be out of place on Echo & The Bunnymen’s 1984 classic “Ocean Rain”, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the title. This could be a potential single and we talk of how it might be one of the first Orchid’s songs that you might be able to get into a good groove and dance along to at somewhere like NPL. We demonstrate some dancing that you might do – the “chewing gum stuck to one shoe” dance we call it – you swing your body from the hips round an axis of one foot that doesn’t move and wildly swing your arms. The mixing studio is just a little too small to allow any of the required arm swinging that inevitably goes with such a dance, so we kind of give up on the dancing.
James then works through “I Need You To Believe In Me” extremely quickly. He leaves “Xylophone” as it is. Impressively, he has put down the guitar for three songs in just under 50 minutes.
As Chris takes his second turn on tea making duties of the weekend (yes, it might not seem much considering it is day three, but I guarantee you there are some present who haven’t taken their turn yet!), James starts on “For Yourself”. In keeping with the rest of the weekend, this takes the longest. The acoustic highlights what might be an earlier tuning problem on some of the other guitars. We listen through again and again to decide and discuss whether to go back and re-do it the electric guitars or just drop the offending parts out. Opinions are mixed, with some of us not even agreeing on whether there is a problem. Duncan knows his stuff though, and will no doubt turn out to be right. Diplomatically, we defer the decision for now.
By 1.30pm, we have moved onto “Feel The Magic”. A light rhythm is added to what is a lovely sounding song. Half an hour and this done and we have a short break.
At 2.40pm, we move back to song 4, “Xylophone” where James is adding acoustic guitar picks, hence this being left to the end. Duncan has to adjust the levels on the desk for the different playing style and didn’t want to chop and change if we went through the songs in the same order each time.
By 4pm we are back onto “I Need You To Believe In Me” where an additional two different kind of acoustic guitars are being used. One of these is a “Nashville” which means that it is strung differently. I’ll leave that for you guitar enthusiasts to work out but the strings are much tighter than on a traditional acoustic and James and John will need to adjust their playing style to accommodate this and get the right sound. Bet you didn’t know that so much goes into making just a few minutes of music.
This has definitely been an acoustic guitar day as we are nearly at 5pm after additional guitar, including the “Nashville” has been added to “For Yourself”. By this time we have decided that some of John and Keith’s electric guitar will need to be re-done (as per the previous discussion above, told you Duncan would be right!). Looks like we won’t have time to add percussion to the tracks, as originally planned but this can be added later.
BACK TO ELECTRIC GUITARS
Whilst they do this, Ronnie heads off to the chippy to get food and Chris plays Playstation (amazingly it has taken three days for this to be switched on – this, along with the turning up on time and everyone helping to put drums away, would never have happened in the past recording sessions).
Being the most efficient shopper, Ronnie is back by 5.20 for suppers for everyone and while everyone has their meals, Keith works through the tuning corrections needed on “For Yourself”. This needs to be completed urgently as Keith and Chris are off to the Corn Exchange in Edinburgh to see The Magic Numbers and The Concretes tonight. Keith works hard and sorts it out.
At 6.15pm Keith and Chris head off for Edinburgh – Chris having done nothing all day except make one measly cup of tea.
James starts vocals at 6.20pm with “Good To Be A Stranger”. These take longer than expected as there are many stops throughout the tune, and James’ timing has to be absolutely perfect. At 7pm John makes a cup of tea and it is 8.10pm by the time the vocal track is down. It is great to hear the song virtually finished. We put a rough mix onto CD and have a break to allow James to rest his voice.
At 8.40pm, we start the vocal on “Down In The Ocean”. Riverside also has two rehearsal studios and Duncan collects the money from one of the bands in there, a young member of the band asks if he can come through to have a listen to what we are doing. He admits to having many of the Sarah recordings and believes we helped influence many other Glasgow artists. We obviously agree to his request but in the end he doesn’t arrive. By 9.20pm, the vocal for this track is completed and we download this to CD. A decision is made to do one more song before finishing the session.
At 10.05pm we start the vocals on “I Need You To Believe In Me”. John, who lives about 25 miles away from the studio, has to go at 10.30pm as he has to work early tomorrow morning. Ronnie and Jimmy work diligently on (Jimmy more obviously than Ronnie – the latter sitting in the sound room saying “No, that’s not right” and expecting James to fix it. We finish at 11pm, 13 hours after starting the session. Ronnie drops James off at home and then calls Chris and Keith to update them on progress – they are by now driving back from the gig in Edinburgh. They are surprised to hear that we have had to book additional time to finish the vocals for Wednesday (22nd Feb) to finish off the vocals – but it has to be done!
DAY 4 – WEDNESDAY 22nd FEBRUARY
We convene at Riverside in the evening, just after tea time to complete the vocals and rough mixes for the songs. These will be put onto CD format for us to take away and evaluate. This allows us to plan additional instrumentation and overdubs. We will be asking several guest musicians to add to this (hopefully including Pauline Hynds on vocals pic – James on acoustic
for a few of the songs), as well as adding additional
keyboards, guitars, percussion and strings to the songs at a later stage – probably in April.
This evening is very quick and James has the vocals for the other three songs down before we know it. “Feel The Magic” in particular stands out and has a beautiful overall feel to it. Just like The Orchids were always meant to sound, but never have to date.
More diaries to follow in April when we finalise the recordings. Hopefully by then we will know who is releasing the album and when but we hope it is Darla as they have the right attitude and that counts for so much