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2003-06-24 Tenors' greatest buzz comes from recording an album

The combination of a good live performance and an appreciative audience has to be one of the greatest buzzes in this business.

 

However, if there is one thing that gives an even greater buzz, it is the creative and organic process of recording an album. Recently, we returned to Westland Studios off Dublins Pearse Street. Our producer on this occasion being the legendary Eamonn Campbell from The Dubliners, who lent us his expert knowledge and valuable experience.

Those unaware which Dubliner Eamonn is  hes the amiable one with the shock of white hair, a bit like a Liberties version of the mad professor from the "Back to the Future" films.

The album was a special one for EMI Germany who had requested an all-Irish album. This influenced our choice of producer and guests. On the first day, it is usual to put down the guide-vocals, where the voices alongside the lead instruments (piano, guitar, bass and drums) set the tempi (speeds) in order to guide the remaining instruments.

Buzzing with tension and excitement, we were shoved into a tiny sweaty, stuffy booth as we set down the basic tracks. The breaks were spent revising harmonies, and hiding the junk food from James. I always try to memorise the music and have it well sung-in in advance, as it is near impossible to achieve a real performance if you are staring at the dots, as they say. We came up with the vocal arrangements. The orchestral arrangements were created by our own hugely talented and hilarious MD, David Munro.

David and Eamonn are from either end of the musical spectrum but nonetheless the perfect team. After nine hours of full concentration in an enclosed space, it was off to the Mansion House for a corporate gig.

The next morning we travelled to Hillsborough Castle to film a TV show with Brian Kennedy. It is amazing how on the week of a recording, one gets into the groove, so these normally welcome appearances merely acted as a disruption to our creative flow. Back at the studio the following day, the texture of our tracks had become richer in our absence, by the addition of strings and other choice instruments.

The real vocals were recorded in the main studio with the use of dividing screens to isolate the voices, in case of any slip-ups. If a mistake is made, it is not always necessary to go back to the beginning, as a drop-in is often possible.

With a drop-in, the culprit has only to re-record the faulty phrase. At one point, for example, one of us sang a word so stage-Irish, it sounded like Barry Fitzgerald on Charley!

It is interesting how one learns more and more about the psychology of recording. In a confined space, it is easy to develop hang-ups about a particular corner of the music  it happened me in Abbey Road  and if you slip up paranoia can set in as the people behind the sound-proofed windows who are waiting for you to get it right, sit shaking or nodding their heads. But remember, though you cant always hear them, they can always hear you.

One headphone on, one headphone off, we recorded late into that evening as we were on a roll. There are giddy moments of course, often sparked off by a stray character in a song (James frightening Widow Cafferty for example), and there are the emotional moments when something special happens and we record something in just one take. "Thats a take!" The important thing to remember is that we have to live with this for years, so dont do anything that could come back to haunt you! The next day, our guests arrived  that talented Irish musical instition - The Dubliners.

When you are lucky enough to have the services of the most talented sound engineer in the country  Bill Somerville-Large  you stay very much in the background when the mixing is happening.

Trust me, when you see the mixing desk in the control room with over 3000 buttons and faders you will leave it to the experts.

Hearing the finished tracks makes you realise yet again how fortunate you are singing for a living, and it hits you again  that buzz!

For more information about Westlands visit:
http://westlandstudios.ie/