January 2013 I was (as seems to be a regular fixture with me) unemployed and without my own home. I was staying in my friend’s box room for the winter and I had been very sick. Being painfully bored too I began writing songs and eventually had a whole album’s worth of material ready to go that was set to be a FunkNSoul/RockNRoll epic. For a catch up I met up with my friend and frequent musical collaborator/guidance counsellor James at Platt Fields to discuss the said musical project and my usual existential angst which he so generously tolerates. As we walked around the pond I saw a magpie and offered my habitual greeting of “Good Morning Mister Magpie” as it swept by. James laughed and asked why I did that. It is a learned superstition from my Mother who insisted on saying it as it was bad luck to see a lone magpie according to the rhyme ‘one for sorrow, two for joy’. Convenient that magpies are solitary birds due to their unpleasant habits and nature but anyway. I’m not superstitious its just a habit I picked up from my Mum and magpies are very distinctive birds. James grinned and said “that’s album four’s title, the one of all piano ballads”. I laughed and we carried on chatting but as these things so often do the idea took root and by the time I got back to my friend’s house where I was staying I already had the whole album planned out. It is of no small portent that it was that month I also downloaded the video app Vine…
Over the next year I bounced back and forth between Kent and Manchester (as usual), but in May 2014 I was renting a room in a house that had my Landlord’s 120 year old Bechstein upright piano in it and the other album project was looking a long way off and expensive whereas here was a world class and unique instrument next to my head when I slept. So I bought some tapes and dug out my brother’s old 4-track Tascam Portastudio and over the course of two weeks recorded 12 tracks on the piano. Once recorded, my fear was that they sounded too similar to my last album ‘He Hath Made Me Glad’ (also named by James) in that it was me alone with an instrument and as I seem pathologically averse to repeating myself (stylistically at least) and my favourite artists always genre hop I needed to add stuff to it. By this time I had gained a following on Vine that later that year would result in a month long trip to America that changed my life. But at this stage I simply put the feelers out to see if anyone wanted to contribute their talents to the album? I got one hell of a response and subsequently got takes of vocals, clarinets, brass, strings and more.
It’s taken 2 years to amalgamate all the recordings and contributions as they slowly drip fed back to me but it’s finally finished and I love it. Whilst I am proud of the material its the contributions that have made me love this album, it’s nothing like what I originally assumed it would sound like and I couldn’t be happier about that. I am so pleased so many talented people agreed to help me out on this and make it better than I ever thought an album I recorded in my bedroom would be. So thank you to all the contributors.
A note on ‘Bedroom’ albums: This is my 3rd album and the first I recorded at home, the others were both recorded in professional studios. If you want to make an album but think you can’t afford to pay for the studio time, don’t. You have more technology on the device you are reading this through than any major band up until the 80s had. Many great musicians have recorded No.1 albums on the cheap: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’, Bon Iver’s ‘For Emma’, The Streets ‘Original Pirate Material’, David Gray’s ‘White Ladder’ are all “bedroom” albums. My favourite album of all time, Whatever & Ever Amen, was recorded at home by Ben Folds Five. Every computer comes with recording and mixing software that the Beatles would have killed for. An iPhone has a dynamic condenser microphone built into it. With a bit of know how you can make an album for practically nothing. Or an EP. Or just a single. Point is, it should be the songs and performance that matter the most. Ignore the gear heads and muso snobs who say it just HAS to sound this way or whatever, the Stones got yelled at by sound engineers to turn down because the guitar amps were distorting. Raw Power was refused by everyone except David Bowie because it was too aggressive. In an age where the likes of Pro Tools have standardised the recording process to a near conveyor belt level it is an act the utmost creativity to make an album the way you want to make it and that may be with Pro Tools but what I’m getting at is: that album you’ve always wanted to make but thought you needed a record contract to do it with, not only can you make it without that, you must. There’s no excuse not to. Not only that, you can get it on every major digital download site too. What are you waiting for? Get recording.
‘Good Morning Mr. Magpie’ is my 3rd LP and will be available online from Monday 1st August. It is the album I am most proud of that I have recorded and I would really love people to hear it. There will be a link to download it on here on Monday but you can hear it on Spotify, iTunes, Tidal, Amazon Streaming and more too. Please give it a share and tell your friends, I love talking about the recording process and how well the contributions turned out so come and chat to me on Twitter or here. Happy listening!