Gilded By Association: Does The Golden Touch Rub Off?

I was just sent a video, attached to a fan letter, from a Boston area songwriter named Corin Ashley. He says he enjoys The Pulmyears Music Blog, so we automatically have that in common (ha!). His video was for a song he’d recorded called “Badfinger Bridge” and if I’d known about it sooner, it would have fit in nicely with last weeks posts about songs with the names of other artists or people in the title, but that’s not why I’m posting it here. His video celebrates the sessions for the song, recorded in the historic EMI Abbey Road Studio Two, which featured guests Ed Ball (from Television Personalities), Martin Carr and Rob Cieka from the late, great Boo Radleys along with Ken Stringfellow from the (now recording again!) Posies, who also played in Big Star and plays in his own band The Disciplines.

This got me thinking, we’ve got the Badfinger reference in the title, the mid-90’s Liverpool reference in the Radleys, the Memphis pop reference in having a Big Star member who also lends an early 90’s Seattle blessing on the thing which is recorded at the Vatican of the Beatles Church. In an age where pop eats itself (and I’m certainly not knocking the concept, I probably do it more often than not in my own songwriting) it seems to me that articles of faith (borrowed Beatle basses or vintage Mellotrons) and retracing the steps of the giants (location, location, location) plays a big role in lending an air of authenticity to our work.

Here’s Sigur Rós recording “Ara Batur” with a 67-piece orchestra and boy’s choir, at Abbey Road…

Studer 24-track tape machine at Phase One Studios

I can recall a few events from my own life which spoke to me about this phenomenon. One was when I was in my second  teenage band and my drummer/singer friend, Mark Pallin had enrolled in a recording course which worked out of Phase One Studios in the suburbs of Toronto, where I grew up. Mark had volunteered our band to act as the guinea pig for a student session (I’ll bet a lot of people have had similar circumstances surrounding their first recordings) so here we were in a 24-track studio with actual Gold Records on the wall. Phase One’s most famous client at the time was, if I recall, the Canadian prog-pop rock group Saga (who were also big in Germany, of course !?!?) and I’ll never forget seeing their “Saga” logo stenciled onto their roadcases, which were stacked by the loading doors, as we loaded in. “We’re recording in the same place that Saga is recording. Just a matter of time before we’ll be big in Germany too”. A later band of mine had the fortune to record in United Media Studios in Richmond Hill, Ontario, where not only was Kim Mitchell (local guitar god of my childhood) rehearsing his road band in the adjacent complex, but the recording console was the same Neve board that other local legends Rush (and later Klaatu) producer Terry Brown had used when the board had been over at Toronto Sound. You can never underestimate the cool factor of having one’s signal pass through the same channel strips that may have at one time had the name “Alex Lifeson” scrawled below it in wax pencil.

Westlake Audio's Studio A

Also, I once stood for a second in the vocal booth at Hollywood’s Westlake Audio’s Studio A, where Michael Jackson had sung for Quincy Jones on the Thriller sessions.

But back to Abbey Road. On his blog, Corin Ashley describes his emotions and motivations in great detail:

Thursday, April 10, 2008: …Studio 2, where it all went down. I got a bit light headed for a second, just taking it all in. First off, it’s huge. 30 foot high ceilings. I had seen it in photos so many times that…I felt like I had been there a hundred times before, knew exactly where everything would be. Martin [Carr] and I kept smiling at each other…Producer Charlie [Francis (REM, Robyn Hitchcock, High Llamas)] was up the famous stairs and came down with a couple of assistants from Abbey Road to say hello. And then, in all his splendor and magnificence, I finally met Ed Ball…also a major, major Beatles geek and there was some concern that if the three of us (Martin, Ed and myself) got together at Abbey Road that our heads might actually explode. Ed… immediately sits down at the Steinway Baby grand, the one used on “A Day In The Life” and starts playing my song…

…we troop up the stairs to the control room, which is small but comfy. There’s a ginormous Neve desk and, on the side, looking out the window a gorgeous old EMI TG mixing desk from around the Dark Side Of the Moon session. It was actually the desk George Martin used when he worked on the Anthology series. Guy from Abbey Road says” You can use that one if you want” Oh yes, my friend, we’re having that. I was just trying to remember to breathe… Charlie mics [the drums] just like I asked: like the Beatles. AKG D20 on bass drum, A D19 between the snare and hi hat and the Coles ribbon mic that looks like a shower head right over the drummer’s head. Mind you, these are the actual microphones used on Ringo’s drums. There are also dozens of old German mics on boom stands throughout the studio…All used by the Beatles at various points…

You get the picture. I was reminded how another colleague of mine, Luke Jackson, brought in the late Robert Kirby, a key arranger on classic records by Nick Drake to arrange and conduct some orchestral parts for “This Life ” and three other songs from Jackson’s impressive album, …And Then Some, which is available from Popsicle Recordings. “Why not,” says Luke in his press materials, “make an album with my favourite musicians on the planet?” So he was off to Malmö’ and the Aerosol Grey Machine studio along with his producer Christoffer Lundquist (Roxette, Cardigans) Robert Kirby and nine players from Malmö’s Opera Orchestra.  Of course Luke would want someone so amazing (who had worked with Drake AND Elvis Costello AND John Cale) to work with him, and the results were as predicted, beautiful and unique. Sadly, Kirby died within a years time of the sessions.

Here’s Luke’s video for the “This Life” session…

…and another song from the sessions, “A Little Voice”

The people, the places, certain instruments, all of them have power.

I’ll leave you now with Beatles associate Klaus Voormann, who made this little clip to share his special feelings for Ardent Studios in Memphis…

And I almost forgot, I used to frequently record using the same technology Bruce Springsteen used to make Nebraska!




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