Hands of the stringbender! - September 11
Steve plays his harmonica
Steve with Gold Top Fernandes
Dear friend, enter this treasure-trove where you'll find a secret map. Herewith exhumed are the bones of an album and the confessions of a committed stringbender...
Or if you're interested in the building blocks of the latest waxing, here's the latest look at how I employed some of my favourite equipment.
The Japanese guitar company Fernandes have kindly been providing me with custom made instruments for some years now. The sustainer pick-up with its infinitive sustain provides the starting point for the new album's adventure through space and time.
The opening track Loch Lomond features my Black Burny guitar with Floyd Rose tremolo arm. I still insist on using very light gauge strings, mainly because it improves finger vibrato, despite many other guitarists' penchant for heavier strings.
The Phoenix Flown features the same guitar and set-up with Apple Mac Logic and Amp Farm along with my trusty Sans Amp and the Pete Cornish 'iron' boost pedal. My digitech whammy pedal comes into its own as well for unlikely octave jumps. Incidentally a Cry Baby wah wah was accidentally switched on during the opening phrases producing one of the most beautiful full blooded sounds I've ever played with. Those unidentified slow swooping noises are courtesy of classical string players sounding as exotic and mysterious as anything produced with modern gear.
Wanderlust is an interlude with Yairi nylon (again Japanese) steeped in a vast sea of reverb but played as lightly as a soufflé to retain clarity. A small instrument sounding big (more Borodin influence than Bluesbreaker)
Rob in his element!
For Til These Eyes Harry Pearce lent me his six string steel which once belonged to the brilliant Roy Harper. A fabulous guitar accompanied by a beautiful orchestral arrangement by Roger King featuring the heavily tracked string section of Dick Driver on double bass, Richard Stewart on cello, Christine Townsend on violin and viola and Rob Townsend on soprano sax (impersonating an oboe). Rob often uses soprano to conjure sounds as varied as bagpipes or duduk to great effect.
On Prairie Angel there are two guitarists involved. Singer and fine player Amanda and I double up in places. The 'pioneering' theme in 7/8 recurs on track 13. Harmonica makes a guest appearance (my first instrument as a nipper). Guitar crashes in like a bull in a china shop... sorry about the fine Spode collection over the fireplace - but it had to be done!
A Place Called Freedom involves 12 string, banjo guitar, nylon and ukulele (pink) courtesy of Nick Beggs. All appear on this country tinged romantic tune, a Western during which no horses were harmed... spot the vintage Gibson Les Paul on the outro. Amanda plays her Ibanez JS series on Prairie and Freedom as well as adding harmonies that give the band that optimistic bright sound.
Between the Sunset and the Coconut Palms is where I head for the sun. The nylon I play here doubles as percussion. Brother John Hackett and I handle harmonies together for the first time on this wistful tune. The 1930s Hollywood style Choir is created from Siedlaczek single note samples that provide different vowel sounds. Christine's solo violin doubled by synth takes the lead line sounding a tad like a theramin spook noise found on Hitchcock films. Strings repeat the chorus in classical style. A song full of longing that's been given the 'wide silver screen' treatment.
For Waking to Life Amanda Lehmann handles vocals. On this raga influenced rock tune, sitar guitar is doubled by sitar single note samples which give it the Passage to India feel...
Two Faces of Cairo begins with John's alto flute, providing the rhythm for the incoming army of the dead. A piece written at the foot of the Sphinx and honed in the studio. My black Fernandes at times soars one whole octave above normal guitar range.
Looking for Fantasy... Backwards nylon through a Fishman Aura modelling device sounds as gentle as a violin, but with a difference, like the psychedelic era it symbolises. Much of this track including vocals was recorded in a log cabin at Tilford Woods, Surrey, whilst it was icy cold outside.
For Summer's Breath, nylon guitar plus the distant strains of children playing over the sound of electronically generated surf give this a relaxed beach scene atmosphere. A siesta rudely awakened by the next track.
Catwalk... A trio of Chris Squire, Simon Phillips and yours truly take on this blues influenced number. It's the most brutal blues guitar I've ever played. We recorded the Fernandes through a direct inject Sans Amp, then re-recorded the same signal through a Marshall 4x12 cabinet on the studio floor. It meant we could focus exclusively on the sound rather than deal with excess volume until we needed it of course!
On Turn This Island Earth there are upwards of 300 tracks running - the most detailed song I've ever worked on. The size of a mere four symphony orchestras or so... I think the computer blew up and had to be replaced! Shades of Hal throwing a fit of pique on 2001... Lovers of mono abandon all hope here, but if you are a committed detail freak we might just have something in store for you.
The noise at the beginning is Dick Driver's double bass heavily tracked, then de-tuned, sounding like Godzilla's grandfather's first steps around the planet. Don't play this late at night to the kids! To the rest of you I wish many hours of listening pleasure...
From Dr Twang and all his dastardly cohorts... with love from Roger King, Amanda Lehmann, Nick Beggs, Rob Townsend, Gary O'Toole, Dick Driver, Richard Stewart, Christine Townsend, John Hackett, Chris Squire, Simon Phillips, Jo and Steve Hackett.
A lesser played instrument...