Good Grief

I was recently asked for advice from a wonderful friend who I care a great deal about. This is my response, drawing upon my own life experiences, which I wrote in one sitting as a direct reaction to someone I care about asking for advice on how to cope with bereavement. Afterwards I was keen to give the person something to reflect upon in the future, and asked permission to blog this, as it might help others who have also recently lost someone incredibly special and important to them too. Here is my response.

Advice used to be hard to give, but as my scenario was so long ago now, it’s utterly normal for me to be able to be objective enough to help someone I care about who is grieving. It’s been 17 years since my dad passed away. I am still grieving, but now, I am happy to.

In many ways I find it easier to advise only knowing a very small amount about what has happened in your situation. This is because I am on the other side of the grief that you have just started. Your grief is a journey, an old kit bag that you learn to hide away when the in-laws come round, but where you always know how to find it, and what is inside it, and how it can help you as you carry it around for the rest of your life, slowly loving it more and more and more and more. You are going to fall in love with the grief years down the line, and you will let it hurt you, and make you laugh forever more.

Level one.

Guilt. You feel guilty. This is FAKE guilt. This is your mind picking at the loose cotton ends on the reel. You will learn how to put your reel into your kit bag in good time. Guilt will make you think simply untrue things, and will try to stop you from being happy and content. It will attempt to bring you down by surprise and it will sometimes succeed. It doesn’t matter if it does. You get up again afterwards. It’s a bit like stubbing your toe. Do you know how many times you have stubbed your toe? No. You won’t remember how many times guilt makes you think incorrectly either. It just will, but you will learn to spot it and stop it when you are ready.

Level two.

The hole. The hole is the hardest thing to live with. At the start it is all you can do not to think about it. It aches. It tries to remind you at the worst times and can bring you down like a jab to the back of the knees if you let it. You won’t let it. But it will anyway. You will stop and glaze over in Sainsbury’s looking at the cheese section and lose minutes and hours of your life wandering into daydreams. This is normal. They get smaller and happen less frequently over time. This is where your kit bag comes in handy. If you have to get on and have things to do, go and get your kit bag, pull out the smelling salts you stored in there earlier, and put ‘the hole’ in the kit bag. You will put a lot of holes in the kit bag over the next few years. As holes don’t contain anything your kit bag will never get full. Your kit bag will remember everything that you think you have forgotten. That is part of the hole. You will start to convince yourself that you have forgotten unforgettable things and memories about your loved one. A smell? A conversation? A favourite colour? You have not forgotten a single thing. It’s in your kit bag. If your kit bag chooses not to let you have that memory back when you ask for it, then it is because your kit bag knows you are still in shock. You will remain in shock for anything up to and beyond three years. The hole knows how to read you, and how to get your attention. During anniversaries and birthdays, the hole will visit, either a day or two early, or a day or two late, before it will start arriving on time. This is not a worry but is the way your kit bag knows when you are able to cope with a little more of ‘the hole’. At first you fight with the hole, and then you recognise the hole, and then at long last, you cherish the hole, and in turn, eventually it will make you feel at peace, as you learn to live alongside it forever, and that that is no bad thing.

Level three.

The strength. The strength begins to show up immediately, only it’s the hardest thing to spot. This is a resolve, a sternness and realisation that a clock always remains ticking somewhere and that you have somewhere to be. You have someone to meet, a different person, who you love. Your life is divided between many people who you love, and the strength will stir and guide you into the arms of those who will not speak, but will shut the fuck up and give you a hug. The strength finds your true friends and reveals them to you when you are at your lowest. It will supercharge them and turn them into heroes. It will guide them unquestioningly to your heart when it begins to crumble, and they will deliver it back to you as a rhubarb pudding, all warm and sweet and smelling of memories.

Level four.

The truth. The truth will take the longest time to reveal itself, as it has all the guilt to sift through, and it has to negotiate with the kit bag for your belongings. Once it has access, in two years or in ten years, it will present you with a clear picture of what has only just happened. You will understand it in a way that brings you peace, and that leaves you feeling full of love and with clarity of feeling. You will at this point understand your feelings once again, and you will recognise pain and anger as separate things once more, and be able to steer those emotions back to the positive things that you did before the grief had a reason to be there.

Level five.

The end. The end does not exist. That is what everyone does not have the balls to tell you. You will always feel an amount of pain, and you will always know that a hole exists, and although you know it will never close, you will also know that it gets smaller every single day. When I spend time with my father, (which I do whenever I can) I laugh. I used to cry, but I laugh and I remember and I sing and I curse and I laugh some more. I can never change that he is gone. I can change what he sees as a spirit, whether he is really there as a spirit or not, and that’s good enough for me. I feel him standing next to me, hugging me sometimes. That took years to find but it found me, not the other way round. I don’t believe in God personally. I believe in humans being wonderful to each other and that’s about it, but I do FEEL my dad. I don’t need a book to explain that. It’s eternal, whatever the fuck it is, and it’s a damn sight bigger than me. The end is when you realise that there isn’t one, and that it’s ok that there isn’t, because your kit bag has it covered.

With all my love

Ryan xx

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(The Making Of) Are You Sitting Comfortably?

This blog entry is more for those who have followed my progress and have been involved in some way with the making of my new album.

First off, it seems odd to be writing a ‘making of’ of anything to be honest. The main reason being that it has taken so much longer to produce this album than first intended that I really have doubted at times whether I would ever get anywhere near finished! When you mix with that the last eighteen months I had personally then it really is a little miracle that I have anything to show for it at all. A ‘making of’ therefore seems appropriate, as much as a way for me to objectify this whole process as much as anything else to be honest.

The album started as most do, with a personal word with myself that my newest run of a couple of songs needed a home and they sounded on a similar quality level to fit on the same street, and so the idea of this album began to form.

The first song written ‘for the album’ was Complicated. This was and still remains the strangest song I believe I have ever written. It reeks of it, even through how I wrote it all the way to the video that emerged at the end of the process. So I started writing Complicated on ‘Steve’… my new Resonator Chrome guitar that my step dad Rod had given to me very generously around Christmas time in 2012. During my “can’t put it down” stage I began tuning Steve in many open tunings and tried writing blues based songs on it. I got out a slide and everything, but in-between the hard work of writing a different song that ultimately never made it, this other song was jumping out at me from the 12th fret in open E tuning. It certainly was not blues; it was a strange progression that I was playing in a plucked style with each finger simultaneously. It mimicked an electric piano and in the following months I got to record some ideas with it. The guitar part left altogether when I put each strings part onto a different note on an Electric Piano and mixed it in to a very different track.

The lyrics were starting to reflect a personal situation but then many other things at the same time, pushing the verses to each have their own individual theme… it was getting more complicated by the minute and soon enough I was layering idea after idea of melodies that were leaping out at me, each being more catchy than the last, but each fitting its own unique space in the song… they were starting to stack! Complicated turned into a computer heavy track that had a personality all of its own, and in many ways, it was the challenge of writing an album which would suit this and all the other songs yet to be written that got the album going in the new direction it was to take. I was also experimenting with videoing and animation at the time Complicated got its momentum and so I built a video that reflected its multi-purpose nature, but also hoped that I would capture some of my quirky sense of humour into the film. I *hope* I achieved that. Anyone including something intended to be tongue in cheek runs the risk of people not getting the joke and so it was a brave move on my part, but the video almost wrote itself once I had decided its storyboard hit points.

After that the song existed for quite a while as my health slowly started to slow me down after shooting the video and finishing the single version of the track. Even back then I knew that an album version would likely have the guitar part put back in and a more organic version being delivered in its final incarnation.

The second song to be written was actually The Pilot. I was in a reflective mood but wrote The Pilot before I got really poorly and was just about still gigging at the time. It was written on my Martin guitar (called Allan) and before long I began messing about with non-sensical melodies and rhythms, a method I often use when writing songs. The subject matter came through some words that were forming in the chorus and the theme seemed to be new adventures in love, along with a side theme of trepidation that comes from past experiences. I’ve been hurt before… who hasn’t? This song is about the worry that a new adventure brings and having the faith to go ahead with it anyway, despite your worries. The nervous tapping style of the guitar part seemed to suit that ethos and at the time I was experimenting with percussive guitar and open tunings thanks to the likes of Ryan Keen and Newton Faulkner as influences. When I showed The Pilot to my mum she instantly reacted well and said in her opinion that it was one of the best songs I’d written. Mum’s are great for that, but it sounded like she meant it this time and so I have deliberately treated this song with great care ever since and hope that the album version is as organic and subtle as I want it to be when it’s finished.

Shortly after that I got a burst of good vibes and a new upbeat track seemed to leap forward within days of The Pilot… a song called “Thirty Something”. This is the first sign that I was starting to worry about my health, and the lyrics reflect that in its quirky theme. The song is a note to my body, asking it to hold out for long enough to give me the children I so would love to have before anything happens to it that might stop that from being able to happen. It’s a song about feeling your age and noticing that things don’t do what they used to. I wanted the pace of the song to be the irony, in that it is a hard song to perform and takes some energy… a bit of a body tester. Silly I know but all these things add to the soul of the song in my opinion.

Smiling Underneath was next as I took my first steps in to a Hospital to have 3 molar teeth removed under general anaesthetic. I have had a mortal fear of dentists and surgery since I was 20 and so I was always going to be moved enough to write a song about it. Smiling Underneath is about beating your personal demons. I had never been under general anaesthetic before and my only real experience of Hospitals was the endless visits with dad’s treatments until watching him pass away from Cancer after a myriad of botched surgery attempts that took his life earlier than the Cancer was going to anyway. I simply could not bring myself to trust a surgeon or dentist for fifteen years. I do now though, and that’s because of the wonderful staff at Bradford Royal Infirmary and how they are looking after me so brilliantly.

A song I had previously put away which then came forward to be finished properly, and I’m glad it did, as it has turned out to be the strangely likeable song I look forward to playing and listening to. Diddly Dudi Yabadu Dadi Dey-Dey was half-written before Complicated but only ever remained as those words without any verses. Now I developed it and had the main idea for what I wanted the verse lyrics to be about. It was a song that needed some digestion time but eventually turned good… I think. In its jazzy style I wanted non-sensical lyrics to be the main star of the song, and to give contrast in almost contradicting lyrics in the verses. It’s the first song I’ve written purely in 5/4 and the bouncy style of it always told me that one day if I got the chance, I would put it on a Double Bass. At last that chance has arrived and I simply had to have a go at playing it myself. It seems to have worked! I am influenced by many people but the vocals in this song were deliberately layered to give a certain feel that was achieved by one of my favourite artists, Donald Fagen on the album The Nightfly. I wanted the jazzy feel of that atmosphere and hopefully the 26 tracks of layered vocals help to deliver that to some level.

After Diddly was sorted I was still struggling with my health and it took the next bad turn. I had to take some time off everything and as I went through the worst of the operations I longed to have the energy to play my guitar and to write. I slowly aimed towards one song at a time and during my recovery I began to play a song, and then two after each other whilst extreme fatigue tried to hold me back. I couldn’t walk properly for 5 months and this was a big factor in my losing confidence in all my abilities and lack of practise on my guitar was starting to move me backwards. I HAD to write… I HAD to play. I was dying inside.

Then Save My Skin leapt from the depths of my soul. It is quite rightly a gentle and subtle song which documents my health troubles somewhat through some descriptive and suggestive lyric writing, and this song was very deliberately written to help aid my recovery during the worst and most painful time of my life.

Shortly after that as I gained a little strength I wrote Wish, closely followed by Never Say Never Again within days of each other. Both upbeat and hopeful songs which reflected my positive character trying to fight back from the rather rough cards I’d been dealt that year. Wish was rather obviously about the hand life deals you and the desire to beat what it throws at you. Never Say Never Again was about a personal love interest that I’d previously ruled out and rightly corrected my stance upon. This was shaping into a rather eclectic mix of songs!

I wrote The Subject Line as I attempted my first phased return to work when I was on weak steroids and never knew that I didn’t stand a chance of succeeding back then. I was to be off work for a further 8 months, unbeknownst to me. I even asked my doctor for advice, and she instructed me to use music as an aid and to measure my fatigue with. This couldn’t have helped more. Music and the building of this album is one of the main things that got me through the tough times, that and the unrelenting support from close friends and family. The Subject Line though was a little strange song that tackled the sillier quibbles that happen in everyone’s office, in everyone’s love life and in everyone’s day to daily grind. It’s about the way that people speak to you behind the protection of a work email or Facebook message… adding that certain gusto that they would never dream of saying to your face. That.

The Twist was a happy accident that happened late one night in my video room. I had a little riff that wouldn’t leave me alone and it grew into something that clearly needed no assistance with heavy handed words. The Twist seemed obvious to use as a bookending instrumental track.

I have always been a fan of Spinal Tap and at this stage I realised I had a potential 11 track album. My new album could go up to eleven. It all seemed to make sense.

To finish off, the album title had to reflect the home of all these personal songs. During my illness phase I had kept a private online blog, which I shared with very close friends only, which documented my entire journey through getting Crohn’s disease and every other negative thing that occurred during 2013-2014. I had named that diary “Are You Sitting Comfortably?” due to the nature of my illness, as it started out with symptoms which made it uncomfortable for me to sit down without being in excruciating pain. The diary finished after about 14 months and went a good way past 100,000 words in length by the end, highlighting the irony in its own title. The phrase seemed more than appropriate to cross the medium to my new CD and ultimately it made so much sense when it finally occurred to me that it just simply had to be. I had this in my mind whilst writing Save My Skin and the line developed in the bridge of that song quite naturally. It all tied together brilliantly.

At that point I was ready to experiment with another side project video which would see the creation of my two friends Sebastian and Reg. These were two sock puppets I made back when I was first off sick as I stayed at home trying to quench my thirsty mind with activities that were not strenuous. The two seemed very photogenic after my initial designing and after running them past close friends it seemed I was on to a winner. I intended straight away to use them in *a* video, but the use of their pearly white teeth when designing them really did mean I could only use them for one song. Smiling Underneath.

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I again drew up a video storyboard but this time it was very different. I had a completely different idea which despite my being ill would be filmable and useable to my needs… I filmed at Bradford Royal Infirmary who were looking after me at the time, and ran the base video in reverse. I then used a green screen donated by my wonderful friend Marion to record the musical parts over the top and worked with Seb and Reg to get their backing vocals into the video. The two are representatives of my alter-ego… 2 sides of myself that have come to life. Seb is a nervous one word answer type of guy, and Reg is a no-nonsense welsh Rastafarian who tells it as it is. They now have the means to feature in any number of future videos and they reflect my quirky side rather well I have to admit. I fully intend to make them a feature in their own right one day, giving them their own spin-off comedy YouTube show… When I get time of course. I’m thinking of a sketch based show which puts the two in some well-known scenarios, such as on stage playing Richard the III or sat across the table from each other putting the world to rights like Alas, Smith & Jones. The video seemed to be really well received and our two heroes are still receiving fan mail today.

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Since then the album process has been delayed and restarted many times and various health issues have been on-going, whilst other things have been achievable. The album has ended up being a very well organised project, which has needed many other people’s help to come together.

Despite having my own recording equipment I knew that this album was to be an organic and acoustic album with real drums and instruments throughout the songs. The intention was to remove that “Cubasey” feel you sometimes get and focus on layering with what is needed rather than what just sounds nice. Despite this attitude I have still managed to layer a great many sections but have tried my best to contrast that in the right places with thinner textures and different instrumentations. This time, the main bulk of the album is real instruments and the occasional ear candy part is played in, meaning that so far I have played or recorded every single part, be it a double bass or a keyboard playing a whistle sample. I wanted to do this properly, with attention to detail.

To do this I needed to borrow some equipment and two wonderfully generous friends came to my rescue. Jess Rowbottom and Sebastian John. I borrowed a recording desk from Jess with some extra leads and a Tascam X48 recording PC from Seb and plenty of microphones and wires and headphones and stands. I set my drum kit up in my bedroom and plonked a duvet around it to keep any noise away from the microphones and got busy. Thankfully I had been practising along to click tracks of my songs for a couple of months and had decided what to play for every song. I got busier still recording all the new vocals and guitar parts and bass parts with clean signals and before long I had the beginnings of a rough draft album.

Then, DISASTER! Well… a few disasters! The Tascam recorder of Sebs first of all wouldn’t work, and so when Seb came to swap the cards over inside it, I remarked that we should leave the cover off for a moment just in case. We turned it on and it went on fire! The wires inside began melting, and within seconds real flames were coming hotly out of a metal box in a small sound-proofed-with-duvets bedroom. I quickly turned it off whilst Seb dealt with the flames. It went back to the shop and they thankfully dealt with it and got it back to us as quick as they could.

After recording 4 songs on drums, I tried to boot up the Tascam the following day and suddenly the black screen remained black. The hard-drive had failed. Thankfully I’d backed up everything, but it meant I would start working on the first 4 songs whilst it gets looked at back at the shop again.

As the first 4 songs came together I began to show a couple of trusted friends the mixes that I had in mind to get some much needed feedback. The initial reports were great! Something caught my ear though.

Marion pointed out that it was a rather special thing that I was playing all of the parts and instruments myself.

I admitted that I struggled to comprehend this, and I meant it. As a music teacher and musician I have always just got on and played stuff, regardless of whether I think I can play it or not. I just get on with playing it. The high point for me during this album though was recording the Double Bass part on Diddly Dudi Yabadu Dadi Deydey. This is NOT something I do on a daily basis. I play electric bass and have done for years, but I have never had the wrists to cope with a Double Bass. I guess I just don’t get put off if I haven’t done something before and as I play many instruments anyway it seems as though now I have been playing those instruments for long enough to be able to play most ideas that I seem to come up with on pretty much anything and if I can’t, I practise on it until I can. It’s only after years of doing that and turning around to reflect now that actually reveals what I have achieved. Hopefully I have done the parts justice, as just because I’ve had a go at playing all the parts, doesn’t mean that I can and that I have succeeded! I guess that is up to you to decide. I’m happy with how it has all gone though. When I say I struggle to comprehend it, what I mean is that when I hear the recordings back I genuinely can’t believe that I have played the track I’m listening to, never mind that it’s every instrument! We jokingly commented that I am a control freak but it’s a joke that is true. When it comes to music, I have 2 modes, music for others and music for me. When I play with other people I love to play ‘their’ music. By that I mean that I do my utmost to play the parts that are required with as much sensitivity and emotion as I physically can. When I do music for myself I consider it a different thing altogether… I see it a little like an artist who locks themselves in a room with a full set of paints and blank canvas and crafts eagerly until the finished product is ready. This is not by design but just how I grew into it. I’m no Michael Angelo, I just use those methods as my musical head is constantly full and always desperate to either perform music or record it in some way. I simply HAVE to get it out of me. I hear orchestras and multiple layers in my head when I compose and I suppose that is something that exists thanks to so many years of training and practise with my fingers AND my ears.

There is another reason though.

The playing of all the instruments was always an accident. It had to be. I didn’t sit and decide to do it. My health told me to.

I withered away so much when I was at my worst with Crohn’s that I simply HAD to use the playing of guitar and drums and singing to aid my recovery. I used it as Music Therapy. A drumkit makes a wonderful gymnasium! I literally was playing for my life as I see it. I would hear the parts in my head, but would crave playing them enough to beat my pain threshold and play through anyway, as the endorphins that “getting better” were releasing were keeping me sane and maintaining my momentum of building my body strength literally back up from scratch. Every bass-line, every funky guitar part and every vocal line assisted me in getting my health back to where it is now… which is not perfect, but at least I can walk and play guitar and drums a bit now. I had no choice… music means that much to me that it just took control and rescued me. I really did have minimal say in the whole debacle… but making this album saved me.

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So I haven’t used a fancy studio for loads of money. I’ve used… me, and the resources of my very kind friends mixed with my own to get hold of everything I needed to record the album. Apart from the double bass and an organ on two songs, the rest has all been recorded in my little terraced house in little old Wakefield. I’ve used a PC with Cubase 5 and Pro Tools Lite and a half-decent set of ears. I’ve mixed and sound-engineered for many years now and my First degree in Music Technology and Popular Music was not wasted here. I have been busy, and I think I’ve managed not to cock-it-up so far.

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I have left the trickier songs til last as they are more sentimental and will need that extra dash of being on-form to get absolutely right, being The Pilot and Save My Skin, but I’m doing my research and hopefully all should go to plan.

During all this I also made a rather shrewd decision to get a little help in the form of Tom Higgs and his extraordinary artistry. It was time to design the album cover and artwork and I had a very specific direction that I wanted to go in. Now Tom is an ex-student of mine who I have always got on brilliantly with. Whilst drafting up some booklet images he played around with his own idea and shared it on Facebook. I was amazed! It was that good that I HAD to get him on board as he totally understood what I was after. The plan, was to create an image that represented each song, with the lyrics to be put alongside. The images were to be carefully made and would be connected somehow to the song it represented for inside the inner booklet. The main idea here was putting me in scenarios that I wouldn’t normally have been in, and to “sit comfortably” within them, whilst the outer artwork would reflect me sitting rather more uncomfortably, on a railway track. The railway was chosen as it is an abandoned and disused track near where I am from in Ackworth. The image chosen as the cover is trying to represent the danger that may or may not arrive in the form of a train, boosting the meaningful nature of that cover, but it also reflects my roots, which is inherently American due to my blues upbringing, even if it was in leafy Ackworth. It seemed the perfect fit.

Tom began processing some wonderful colour filters on the photos and I fell in love with what he was doing to them. The photos themselves were taken by my amazing friend Cat Thompson, as we struggled up the side of the embankment with a guitar and a tripod and my little 550D camera. We took a great deal of shots of me being silly on a railway line, but the dusk settling brought thoughtful moments that encouraged the shot that made it to the cover. A great deal of time (about 2 months) was spent on the photos and creating the images for the final artwork. I decided I wanted to make a small amount of CD’s but I really wanted them to feel special. Here’s why.

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The bad year (eighteen months really) started with my first ever operation under general anaesthetic. This was to have 3 of my teeth removed and saw me facing my worst personal fear head on. This was when the first songs of this album had been created and the bad year and the album went hand in hand like Zig and Zag. The album was always intended to be the one good thing that came out of such a bad set of circumstances, and I still hope that to be the case when it is finally finished. From there I developed Crohn’s disease and Psoriasis between my legs and couldn’t walk for 5 months of that year. I had two operations, two colonoscopies, various MRI’s and millions of steroids and spent most of that year in severe pain and discomfort. Then my mum got breast cancer just before Christmas and had a mastectomy where complications meant we nearly lost her. Then I had to be at my strongest when I truly was at my weakest. This album kind of documents the entirety of those events, just as the ridiculous blog diary of 100,000 words did. It’s a big slice of my life that I simply have to put behind me, and completing this album has very definitely turned into that burning passion that I MUST finish to get closure on the whole bloody lot of it. I don’t mean I can’t move on if it never gets finished, I just mean that the album has turned into a personal battle of achievement that, once completed, and real, will hopefully give me a sense of completion that none of the other albums I’ve ever done have managed to match. They couldn’t do.

So I had to get this album out of me. I also have to do it for the people I love.

They haven’t asked me to, but the people who rescued me, my closest friends, and my wonderful family, have all added to the melting pot that is the album in a unique way. They are responsible for my carrying on… for my rehabilitation… for my being able to cope now that the worst is over. I have to do this for them; to show them what they rescued was worth rescuing.

To do that, as I have gone along, I have tried to write the catchiest bitch of an album that I can muster. If I can get the few people who will listen to the album to hum the songs afterwards then I will consider it a success.

I am not being pessimistic here, that simply is not in my make-up. I am going off previous experience and album sales from three previous self-released albums of mine and the news is this. In terms of physical copies, I have sold around 40 copies of each album I have ever made. Digitally, I have sold a fair few more of “The Musician” but I’m talking actual CD sales now. It matters as I have to plan how many actual CD’s to have made. I think the only safe option is to get 100 copies made, just in case, but I will knowingly have 60 potentially expensive coasters on the way… but I will make a resolute effort to get gigs and to remember to actually try to sell them this time. Another thing, is that social media is more helpful than it used to be and so if I get lucky and a few well followed people get wind of it and share it about a bit I may make the money back that it will cost to get 100 made, which is around £350-£400.

Now I don’t believe in pledge campaigns as such. I don’t have a problem with others doing them, I just don’t see it as a pathway that would suit me. Apart from the fact that I would only raise a small sum of what I needed, the truth is I wouldn’t want to make an album with other people’s money, regardless of the album reward at the end. Maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I wouldn’t let someone buy me the silk and sequins if I was trying to make a fancy cushion that I wanted to sell, even if I was giving them a free cushion at the end. It seems… the wrong way round. An album is something that you make yourself, at your own expense in my opinion and run the risks of trying to sell it, knowing that you made it yourself. You don’t go to a café with some eggs and some bacon in your bag do you? It serves a purpose for those who choose to do it and there is certainly no right or wrong about the issue, it’s just how I am and was brought up I suppose. I guess I wouldn’t really get a lot from an album that was pledged for. I’d get the finances earlier maybe, but it would feel horrible to finish the CD, give a few away and that be the end of it. I *need* the act of trying to sell them to motivate me to get the gigs and to get me back out there. Strange but important reasons, I think you’ll agree.

In that case I know that I need to do a run of gigs and save the money from those gigs to pay for these CD’s. I’m prepared to do that happily, however my health lets me down just when I need it not to at the moment, but hopefully I’m a lot closer to that changing. I cannot wait to get gigging regularly again. It’s where my heart is and where I feel the most at home.

The next stage sees me tackling a bunch of songs that have never existed in any format other than as a simple acoustic song with one vocal and a guitar part. That means that I am composing and arranging again and that is extremely exciting and rewarding. Only today I finished 20-26 tracks of vocals for The Subject Line, of harmonies I literally improvised over from the fresh ideas I’m having as starting points. This means until I edit it, I won’t hear the layered harmonies lined up together for quite a while yet which just keeps the carrot dangling to get finished and hear the full effect.

The way I do it is to maximise the chances of getting the takes I need, I record 4 main vocal takes, and make mental notes as to which lines or phrases haven’t been done well enough, and then focus on getting a ‘good’ version of that the next time round. That way I end up with a much clearer vocal and I can pick and choose which lines are the best and then edit my way through to a final “perfect take”. After that the harmonies start as single lines that come into my head, and then I might record those as they happen on my iPhone so I don’t forget them, and then I listen back and start to layer them, muting the ones I’ve just done as I go. I focus on lines ending at the same time and the rhythms all moving together and experiment with melody directions until around 4 or 5 of them sound smooth together. This is when the song starts to really take-off as the layering that has been catered for during the arranging stage starts to form a much bigger soundscape or picture. It’s a bit like looking at a square image from far away, and realising as you slowly walk towards the image that it is actually 9 smaller squares, and some of those squares are closer to you than others, but the perspective stays the same as you approach. A bit like those Channel 4 stings where passing at the right angle reveals different elements of the 4 logo lining up to show the full picture.

I’ve got a method as to why I chose to record the songs in the order that I have done. As my energy has been a rare commodity, I have simply had to consolidate my efforts into short stints of recording here and there. What I choose to record can be either very difficult parts, and if they are then I follow those up with the next song choice being a much easier song. This means I record hard-easy-hard-easy as it balances my energy levels. I also bunch together takes in this way. I may do 3 guitar takes and feel utterly exhausted, and so then I might finish with the bass drum take as that is easy and I can sit down to do it. In fact, the more my fatigue has been issue, the more I have been forced into playing the drum parts separately, as in just the Hi-Hats on their own and then just the snare part. Even though when I wasn’t as poorly I learned all the songs as full drums, it has helped me to simply break those parts down, as playing a full drum-kit sometimes is just way too much for my body to cope with. At the moment for example, the medication I am on has given me severe joint pain, and so I’m having to focus on the easy drum parts and can barely manage to get through one take before I’m exhausted.

Wish was the next “hard” track to finish and I am glad that I recorded the drums to this before I got really bad with the joint pain. I concentrated on the careful arrangement on this one and had to be very careful not to over-cook it. I *think* I succeeded… if anything it certainly is a funky song. I found it difficult at first to settle on a bass line for Wish as I normally play bass lines that are pretty continuous, but this song definitely benefitted from having a carefully crafted bass line that played in a call and response fashion, as it gave space for the complicated drum parts to “sizzle”.

Then another revelation. I got greedy and excited and bought myself a second H2 Zoom handy recorder, so that I now have two identical ones. These are amazing and record at studio quality, with no background noise as they are SD and have no moving parts. I also got an iRig Pro for my birthday recently and that also allows great quality recording with no background noise whatsoever. This is a very powerful tool, as background noise is the evil enemy of all sound engineers, and it is the only thing that holds back home producers, as most use a PC which has a loud fan which somehow manages to get on the recordings. Not now. Not anymore. These devices have enabled me to record at a phenomenal quality that I have never achieved before.

I moved onto The Twist (Intro) next as I knew it was always ever going to be a guitar opening to the album, and that it would be in a different key to the “full” version at the other end of the album so the main focus was playing it with the right feel and recording the guitar really well and in such a way as to make it sound full and rich as it would have nothing else underneath it to help it along. I setup both recorders in front of my guitar and also plugged her in to the iRig and into my iPad. This gave me what I can only describe as a 3D sound for my guitar that I have completely fallen in love with.

It. Is. Gorgeous.

I’ve achieved this guitar sound *just* before recording the guitar featuring songs where the texture relies upon the guitar parts a lot more. I went on to record the guitar for “Save My Skin” as that was a relaxed song and again the guitar has come out sounding beautiful. I’m over the moon!

The Twist (Intro) and the (Instrumental) were delicate to get right but I made sure I mastered them within the same session file so that they are exactly the same harmonically. The drum parts for the Instrumental version were a treat to play. I grabbed some brushes to give a nicer shuffle sound taking some of the attack out of the part and concentrated on “dancing” the brushes to the melody so that the feel of the track bounced along. I wanted to raise the second version from the first and putting four bass drums on the beat with the open hi-hats on every other beat really makes the track sizzle for me. The bass part wrote itself and I had great fun using my ’59 Fender Bassman Re-issue to maximise sustain on the longer notes of this particular bass track. I wanted to maintain a simple instrumentation as it is quite simply a modern instrumental folk song, designed to be catchy and clever as the melody doesn’t rotate around your normal 4 or 8 bar structure. The end result is a happy-go-lucky ditty that makes me smile and hopefully it will have the same effect on any listeners.

It was time to move onto the “scary” songs.

When I say “scary” I simply mean the songs that I had put pressure upon myself to get right and not over-work in any way. The remaining songs were all difficult in their own ways. Never Say Never Again required an amazing drum part and bass part, The Pilot needed crystal clear guitars carefully layered and played perfectly, and also had a previous version that I needed to forget to make a brand new feel come to life this time, and Save My Skin needed singing absolutely on the money, with the instrumentation of the song being particularly critical too. I had my work cut out and my energy was disappearing fast.

So I prioritised what needed the most energy first, which was the drumming. Again I was without the multi-tracking Tascam recorder of Seb’s and so I was reduced to improvising with my portable recorder and PC to record the individual drum parts. The aim was to not have any “bleed” which happens when lots of microphones are on at the same time, each part of the kit has another part on the same track when you play everything at the same time. I had learned to play my songs as full drum parts and so now I had to break them down. With this song being so busy though, I actually put a cushion on the snare to mute my snare hits, meaning I didn’t lose the feel when playing along, but I needed to play along five times, muting all but the next part of the kit to record. The final result is a wonderfully clean kit sound, which is easy to mix and control as when you turn the snare up, you’re not forced into turning up the bass drum or hi-hats at the same time. It’s a neat but patient trick that has worked wonders in my particular recording setup… This was a wonderful accident from simple improvisation and I think the album sounds infinitely better because of this approach. It means the album sounds much closer to a multi-thousand pound studio than my house with a microphone or two dotted about. The real trick though has been minimising any background noise. If this is done right then any recording can be made to sound amazing by the right ears. I’ve had a voice reflector and careful timing of when the neighbours aren’t screaming at each other, mixed with the lending of some noise cancelling headphones that you can wear without any sound escaping that I borrowed again from Seb. This means that the recordings just have what is supposed to be in there, without lots of hiss or low level headphone bleed. It’s all about technique, and attention to detail, along with incredible patience. I‘ve simply had to be patient though, as health has dictated so many of my decisions over the last two years, so actually I saw myself not having anything to lose, as this started out as a project for myself.

Being off work for 15 months over 2 years has an effect on you. In that time I had absolutely nothing whatsoever of a positive nature happening in my life. I was in constant pain. This album is the one positive thing that has come out of that time as a response, but throughout the worst of the illness my guitar and my songs kept me going when I was at my absolute lowest ebb. To even dream of finishing this album now, after everything that has happened, seems a miracle to me. It means everything, because if I don’t finish this album and do something with it at least, then 2 years of my life have been wasted merely being in pain. I can’t let that happen. That is why this album started out as being very much a vehicle for my recovery. It worked. It has kept me motivated and given me purpose through the toughest of times when I haven’t been much use to anybody. I’ll never go through anything as hard again in my life, so I’ve endured to make sure that this is the best album I could possibly have made. I’ve just had to use my brains, my ears, my musical skills and my determination to wrestle the record into the perfect replication of the full sound of the songs that were always in my head. This is what I always intended them to sound like, and there’s not one bit of the album I am not happy about decision-wise. I’ve made sure I don’t release it early, only to say to myself… “Bugger… the guitars are way too loud in this one.”

After the drums for Never Say Never Again were sorted I began to build the bass part and made sure I gave it some umf. I was delighted with the result and the rest of the song began dropping into place before I knew it. I then jumped on YouTube to listen to the Theme tune to the original James Bond film of the same title, to see if I could utilize it or stay away from it, depending, and the first thing I heard instantly made me smile. I chucked it on a Clavinova after improvising it a little and sped it up. It worked a charm. The vocals would be done later as I knew my voice needed some stamina building work doing before I finished the final tracks off. It’s been a while since I’ve sung! The draft vocals were a great guide though and the draft mix came out really well. This song surprised me and is funky enough to be some people’s favourite of the album I’m pretty convinced.

Then Save My Skin needed me to maintain being on point. I did my best and came out with another gorgeous guitar take. Again the vocals would be left till later, but the bass parts and the harmonies began to gel even at this early stage and I focussed on the instrumentation to get the balance and temper of this song absolutely right. I decided to go for it and asked my friend Ross Moore to have a go at recording some Lesley organ on it and left the song in a nearly finished state, ready to mix once Ross gets back in touch.

And then it was the biggie. The Pilot.

I set up the mics and tried a few different positions but found a gorgeous setup that maximised the percussive sounds of the guitar and the harmonics. It is 2 stereo microphones and a direct signal from the pickup going into my iPad. The results are amazing and the guitar part alone makes the hairs on my arms and neck stand up. Listening back, I can’t believe it’s me. I move onto the bass part and remember to keep it simple, and focus again on instrumentation. I played in a Karimba part to give it that continental feel and shoved some Blu-Tac onto my drums sticks with some cotton wool wrapped around them to make orchestral beaters for the cymbal, which made it a more Chinese cymbal in sound that warmed and swelled and really fit the soundscape perfectly. I was getting it right, I think. With things moving along nicely I went on to finalise the structure and ended up with a totally different version that was a million miles from the old version I’d recorded 3 years ago, which had a dub-reggae feel that I didn’t like in the end. That was the hardest thing with this song to be honest… trying to forget the previous version so that this one had a totally fresh feel. Hopefully any listeners will approve of this more organic direction. I left things again ready to record the vocals on a final swoop. For now though, I needed a brief respite.

Some rest garnered and a little vocal strengthening and I was finally ready to record the last vocals. Three songs with harmonies, and “oohs” and “yey-yo’s”. Awesome.

I got a weekend where I felt a little brighter and gave the last vocals a bloody good go. Without hearing them initially, I feel in my head that I have the recordings I now need, to edit and finish off the album in one last push, knowing all the recording is now done!

The next stage is extremely important. As with a great many things, the secret to a good album and making it work as intended is all about your head. I now have a huge map in my head of where everything is, how loud it is and where it sits in the mix along with what effect or equalisation is needed or has been set to maximise the soundscape. Everything has a different colour in my mind. Teal parts that are concrete and finished, orange parts that need editing together, and red parts that have been re-recorded and need to be replaced. The most difficult part of this map was the actual mapping stage when the mapping is “happening”, when you are finalising decisions of what lives where and what structure things should have, whilst remembering what needs doing still at a later date, once everything else that needs to happen first has happened. An album is an extremely complicated business.

I cannot begin to count the amount of word documents I have called “Mix-Run 23” or “AYSC things to do 11-11-2013”. It is a massive undertaking, and the converting of sound from your head to the sequencer is utterly mesmerizing. Many people don’t start by knowing exactly what they are after. They might begin with a direction, but not have finalised decisions about instrumentation or song structure even when they rock up to the studio and say hi to their session bassist. I have a different type of head. Music in my head happens in full. I don’t just hear chords or melody… I hear hundreds of melodies, and hundreds of chords and sounds and interacting rhythms, and for me it is normally extremely frustrating to record something as until now I have always been a musician who was always just behind the means to produce what was in my head. This album is inherently different. I have finally grown mature enough and well-practised enough to actually represent my ideas accurately on several fundamental instruments. With Guitar, Bass and drums now well and truly added to my toolkit, I have to now work in a different way. Now, when I compose on Bass, I am thinking a little as a snooker player might, and seeing several moves ahead with what the drums will end up doing and therefore what the guitars ought to do well in advance of being able to hear them all at the same time in reality. I have to imagine them all together in my head first, which I do, and then I have to build the parts from the bottom up to build the soundscape that my head has put together. Then when you add the complicated nature of remembering which files you’re recorded, which are draft takes to guide the recordings and which are keepers, which are in need of processing to make them do what you originally intended, like delayed vocals that sound like they are being sung through a telephone and things like that. It all adds up to a huge organised chaos of mapping in your mind that dazzles you unless you stay absolutely resolute in striving forward to achieve your idea. In my case this turned from a collection of songs and into an album just as I recorded the video to Smiling Underneath. I suddenly foresaw the finished product in my mind… cover, songs, sounds and design, all as a concept at once and knew exactly what I needed to do to produce it. The only grey area was my health and how much that might slow me down.

Well it did for a good long while, and I can only be thankful that now I have longer bursts of energy before burning out which is allowing me to progress at all.

I have about 2 weeks of editing to do with the 5 or so recording sessions that were finished off in the same blitz of four days. Then I will master the tracks and send them to some fellow trusted ears and ask a couple of close friends to make notes on anything they spot that I might have missed. I’ll also play the album to myself on various sound systems to see a bigger picture of what frequencies need tweaking to get the best mix across all devices. Once that’s done, and any last minute problems ironed out, then I can finally call the CD production company I’ve chosen and haggle for a deal to get 150-200 CD’s made, after sending an initial draft one for inspection.

Then the tracks are uploaded to CD Baby, who distributes the album to iTunes and Amazon so it is ready for release by a certain date. I’m still deciding that date, as it’s looking like a few weeks to finalise mixes and finish completely and it takes a week or two to get to iTunes et al.

It’s looking like a January release though and that makes me happy. It’s the New Year, a fresh start, and by then I may be well enough to gig again and support this venture with some promotion gigs and hopefully some radio appearances if I can get organised to get the album out into the big wide world.

The next stage is the most difficult and tedious and requires more determination than ever before to make sure that every niggle is ironed out so that I can listen to it myself and not judge it anymore as a sound engineer. Sadly that means it has to be perfect, but it suits my pedantic nature and thankfully I have tried to raise my game yet again even from the last album I did called “The Musician”. I had a unique and wonderful experience working with Ruby Macintosh on her album and found myself telling Ruby just the other day how much working on her project had taught me and shaped how I’d approached this one. We spoke during a little feedback session, one of a few I’ve chanced along the journey where specially selected friends have had the opportunity to hear tracks at different stages and their reactions have helped to shape some of my decisions too.

In this final stage, I had to start back at the beginning and analyse what I had so far and make notes over and over again to remember to pay attention to every detail. I did the remaining editing first, and asked my friend Ross Moore if he would record some organ for me on “Save My Skin”. He obliged and came up with a delicious part that was a real cherry on the cake when the mix came together. I did a total re-edit of vocals for Smiling Underneath to get a better doubled vocal as the first one was loose, and added another harmony to The Subject Line in the bridge verse and then moved onto doing some harmonica for Save My Skin to replace the five failed attempts to sing a simple harmony melody once I realised they were struggling due to the size of interval between the melody notes which meant the low notes were way too quiet. Adding Harmonica was a very inspired idea in the end as I went for a folky harmonica rather than my usual distorted bluesy sound.

Then it was time to master the files. This involves mixing the tracks down to a single stereo file and then processing those files with multiband compression and equalisation and some clever file cleaning and some volume boosting to make all the songs sound at a similar volume and at a level which is similar to other professional CD’s. When the album came back from Mastering it suddenly sounded a lot more punchy and sparkly and it just “popped!”… I couldn’t be happier with the end result! It sounds exactly as I wanted it to and how it did in my head before I made it!

So on the 25th November 2014 the album was finished and finally ready to be sent off to the CD printers to produce the hardcopy CD’s that Tom and I spent so long designing. I literally can’t wait to hold a real one in my hand, and it’s only a couple of weeks away from this point!

After a brief chat with the wonderful Marion I accidentally arrived at January 24th as a potential Saturday night that could be doable as a launch night! It would give me 2 months to rehearse up the band and advertise and organise everything which is doable, although it will be hard work.

I’m even nervous about asking the musicians I have in mind as I’m not sure they will have the time to be able to help me out. I can give them a CD to learn the tracks from now but I’m still anxious that I get the right set of people. I know who I want, and the ideal band would be incredible. I just hope they all say yes!

I need to find a venue that suits me now which is hopefully available on that night. It will be in Wakefield of course… but I am at a loss to even guess the numbers that might come along… Twenty? Forty? Sixty maybe? It really needs to be the *right* venue.

Decisions, decisions!

It pains me to think it might be 2 months yet before anyone hears or sees the album! Do I release it before the gig?! I might do an online poll…

A few days pass and the decision is made. I have found a perfect venue! Henry Boons in Wakefield are letting me have the back room to myself which has a great stage and some comfortable seating and will have someone on the bar. I have to drop a deposit in but it’s all arranged. The date I have to accept is the 25th January, as an event is already on the 24th, but it suits just the same and accept the deal graciously. I now have posters to do all of a sudden!

I bravely bare my soul and finally ask the musicians I’ve pencilled in perfectly in my mind.

Every one of them said an enthusiastic “Would love to!” and I am still reeling from flattery even several days afterwards.

Within three days I managed to organise a venue, a date and a full band.

Rob Taylor on Drums.

Matt Bradley on Bass.

Ross Moore on Keys.

Chris Sharp on Lead Guitar.

Ruby Macintosh and Sebastian John on Backing vocals.

I am one very lucky guy!!

I also decided to have 2 special guests to support and as yet am awaiting a response from my first enquiries.

The next stage is making sure everything will be at the venue and to organise the band rehearsals. That means giving people CD’s with their own mixes on and doing some lead sheets to keep everyone sharp and focussed. I need to sort a rehearsal schedule that everyone can make and rehearse the vocals separately and add them later.

Facebook event pages created and tickets organised it’s at last time to get back to the venue and pay up with some posters in hand. Tickets for behind the bar are produced and will be guillotined tomorrow. I’m old school, me.

I venture to Henry Boons and happily hand over my posters and tickets and deposit and take a gentle stroll back home, shaking my head in disbelief that this is actually going ahead!

AYSC Launch Poster 1

On my return I send a band message out with the album attached and the rehearsal mixes all sorted to give them a head start on learning the songs and then sit down rather exhausted to finalise in my head what else needs doing.

Later that day a thread I posted about finding some album reviewers bore fruit of a different kind. I’ve been offered a live radio session for Yorkshire Music Collective Radio Bradford! I’m in the studio on February 10th to promote the album and play some live songs from it! It’s amazing what opportunities a little networking can bring you!

After no reply from my first support choice I again have some decisions to make as to who to invite for the 2 available slots. I do hope I decide this soon… I’m drawing blanks at the moment and I am even a little miffed that my first choice didn’t reply.

I finally get around to putting my songs into Sibelius and making lead sheets for the band to follow. As amazing as it would be to have a permanent band, the assumption at this stage has to be that this is for one gig only. As that is the case I don’t have the luxury of doing a few gigs to warm the band up and so the structures of the songs will be of utmost important to get right. Even well-rehearsed and gigged bands make structure mistakes and so I have to minimise this as much as I can and doing simple lead sheets with the chords on and the bars with repeat sections in and the like mean that the band will always know what’s about to happen. If we get that right then we should sound tight as hell. *Should*. ;)

5 songs done so far at the pace of about an hour and a half per song! I’ll continue this into the week but I’m also aware that I have to get some other admin type stuffs done to sort out my self-employment journey. Momentum is gaining rapidly now!

After some deliberation I finally decide on the 2 supports for the gig. I get in touch with a young male duo called “Strung To The Sky” – who are a pair of local lads who remind me of myself and Antonio Lulic when we first started our duo as The Heat. Very musical chaps with gorgeous melodies and their music is mature and beyond their years. My wish to showcase a relatively unknown act who would benefit from a little gig like this has really come to fruition with these guys. Once contacted, they were delighted at the opportunity and are really up for it! I’d heard of them through my friend Cat, who saw them in a battle of the bands recently, and they really got her attention… I checked out their live videos and they are indeed very talented gentlemen! So thrilled to have them on board!

I then contacted my second chosen artist “Laura Kelly”. I’d pencilled her in anyway, as I have known Laura for a year or two and saw her at my Open-Mic night and she blew me away. She uses a loop pedal and manages to arrange everything such, that it doesn’t come across as fiddly or as a distraction… she uses it as an instrument and as an asset instead and creates some beautiful soundscapes that match her wonderful and pure voice. A real talent who has helped me get the odd gig in the past… It was the least I could do to invite her along to showcase her and she was delighted to be even considered! Laura is a very humble lady who is destined for success.

I get to tackling the remaining lead-sheets with more momentum still now that I’m so close to being ready to rehearse the band. I’ve done this before and learned valuable lessons every time. When rehearsing a band is saves SO much time to be organised and go into rehearsals with as much info as you can give them. Ideally, I’d love the lead-sheets to be not needed eventually, but I’d much rather have the musicians choose not to use them, than not have them as an option at all. Fundamentally this is a complicated album which will need everyone to really focus to get the parts right.

I venture on into the night and finish the remaining lead-sheets. It feels AMAZING to get them done and to see them altogether. It looks like one of those piano music books you get with your favourite bands songs in! Just because I happen to have a poster protecting the outer pages if anything. I’m very satisfied. Things *should* go smoothly when we finally get together.

After a few days the invoice comes in for the actual CDs. I ring up the company and tell them the proof pdfs look amazing and to proceed and I pay for the order to be processed. It felt like a big deal paying £500 but I know that at £10 each I have to consider that I need to make £1500 back from these CDs. To actually go ahead and self-fund this venture with a great deal of faith is a hard and brave thing to go ahead with. I was rather shaky when I put the phone down and realised there was no going back now. They are either going to come back perfect or not… 150 of them. Eek!

I really can’t wait. As it is Christmas the CDs should be ready around the 2nd or 3rd of January, and so I’m hoping to have them with me on the 4th or 5th. I cannot wait to hold one in my hands!!

I get itchy feet as Christmas goes by and rehearsals are still not underway, but I know I have to let the holidays happen. People are now letting me know which days are doable so my confidence that it will work out whatever happens is starting to come back to me a little.

As the 28th arrives at midnight I check iTunes to see if the pre-order version of the album is up yet. It is!! I feel all squiggly and giddy as I see it in front of me in the iTunes store all real and preview-able. This is very real and actually happening! I still can’t quite believe it.

I get the status ready to announce the pre-order and decide to pay a little extra to boost the audience the post may reach. It’s a risk but I have to promote this thing and any idea to increase my chances seems good at the moment.

After a few days the post gets over 3,000 views which is a new record for me!! I won’t find out from iTunes for a good while (about 3 months) if I’ve sold any pre-orders of the digital album but I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

The 2nd of January passed and so did the 3rd… So I decided to get in touch with the CD makers to see what was happening. They have at last told me a date which is Wednesday the 14th of January… a day after the full band rehearsal!! I am rather excited and cannot wait now! It’s so close!!

Brilliantly, a few ticket sales come in for the gig and my fantastic friend Marion tells me she’s booked her hotel! It’s all very very real now!!

Tuesday the 7th of January. Rehearsal time.

I asked Seb and Ruby round to begin going over the harmonies and ironing them out. It was SO exciting!! Hearing my lyrics and ideas coming out of other people was fascinating! It really put my mind at rest too… to finally get a mark on the canvas and see things come to life. We even got Seb and Reg (the puppets from Smiling Underneath) and practised with them, making sure that Seb and Ruby knew the parts properly… :D

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Ruby has been an absolute superstar and has found me a rehearsal space!! So I now have a full band rehearsal on Tuesday the 13th! It’s in a garage… So it’ll be a bit cold… but if I take heaters it will be brilliant and no one will be able to disturb us. I’ll be setting up my own drumkit for the drummer so that it saves time and will be ready for when he arrives so we can rehearse instead of waste time setting up. I also need to prioritise the hardest songs and rehearse them in a very specific order to maximise how well everyone remembers everything. I can’t wait for that either!!!

As of the 8th of January 10 tickets have been sold and I’m delighted with that!! Most people will get them last minute but it’s great to see things moving along now.

I have also been contacted by my local radio station to send them a couple of tracks as they are plugging the gig on air this Saturday the 10th January at dinnertime! When I consider that only a few days ago, Never Say Never Again got aired on the amazing Sine FM, it really has been a week of positives and productivity, despite my health wavering at the moment.

It might be the stress of this venture that is slowing me down for all I know. It is quite strange to feel elated at album things going well when I feel really ill. Very strange.

Whilst waiting for the albums to arrive I sort out the lead sheet photocopies and rehearse myself up a bit. The airing of Never Say Never Again on Ridings FM was fabulous and they were really nice and plugged my launch so I am rather delighted. That is three radio plays now!!

The rehearsal is on Tuesday and I have some sorting to do before then including what songs to rehearse and in what order. So far I’m thinking of keeping the simple ones until the end…

Smiling Underneath

Thirty Something

Complicated

Save My Skin

The Pilot

Never Say Never Again

Diddly Dudi

The Subject Line

The Twist

The rehearsal situation:

I have to admit that my ill health has played a big part in how late rehearsals have technically begun with the full band. Until now, I had always intended to rehearse before now, however my fatigue levels have simply ruled out any rehearsing of the band until this point. I have rehearsed the backing vocalists and will do again a couple of times, but the band being in the same place at the same time was also always going to be a big ask, and so I knew it would come down to a mammoth rehearsal with good organisation needed. Thankfully… it seems to have worked a treat!

It soon became apparent that Tuesday the 13th January was a mutual date everyone could do and so we confirmed that date a little while ago, knowing that it meant things would be “tight”. I asked the right people to be in the band.

Leading up to the main band rehearsal I was under instruction to look after my energy levels as Cat and Ruby bossed me around for a couple of days and ensured between them that I got fed and rested in preparation. When the big day arrived I knew I also had to have a final decision time to inform people if the rehearsal was off due to my health. I woke with a tummy full of butterflies. It felt anxious but excited. I was good to go, for me.

I grabbed a shower and thankfully the night before Cat and I had brought the drums downstairs. I gathered the remaining lightweight items and got ready to rehearse. Cat arrived after work and we loaded the car, Cat lifting all the heavy stuff, and as we arrived at the rehearsal space Ruby joined in carrying armfuls together to minimise my energy outgoings. What a brilliant pair of friends they are!? Got your back love, that is.

It takes two trips but Cat has me back and setting up the drums for Rob Taylor in good time. No rushing about today. I could not have done the rehearsal without everyone’s help, but especially Cat, who made sure I ate, drank, and took breaks when I got pale. She is a superstar!

The rehearsal itself began once everyone had dribbled through the doors and had a drink and exchanged big hugs. It is an awful long time since all of us were in the same place together, and between us, from my point of view, we’ve known each other for a collaborative 60 years all told, which is rather amazing when I think about it.

Matt Bradley struck up on Bass and seemed to have a whale of a time playing Smiling Underneath. Chris Sharp had a sweeper role, which was that he had certain hit points to definitely include throughout the show, but that he plays in a different register to my guitar part to fill things out and his ears are wonderful! Chris is an extremely talented guitarist who has a gorgeous sense of musical taste and he grabbed the parts with both hands! Rob Taylor was a hammer on my lovely sounding drumkit and he really nailed his structures and tickled the ambient parts up lovely!

Seb and Ruby sat casually in the distance, just far enough away to hear their vocals between them, but not amplified or loud enough to distract me from rehearsing the backline of the band, which everyone understood was the priority. In that vein it seems I was rather caught out in fact. My iPad led me astray during Complicated as I’d not updated my lyric app to be in the right song structure, and so whilst faffing around looking for the lyrics I needed it seems my illustrious and sharp-eared bassist had indeed done his homework, and revealed to me what the structure of my own song was. An incredible moment I shall treasure forever!

We grabbed a couple of small breaks and the first was welcomed. Cat had sat quietly doing her schoolwork, whilst setting the camera going and reminding me to do human things like eat and drink. She made me a coffee and I made sure I got a breather. One thing this rehearsal taught me… I need more stamina! I did get rather pale at one stage but adrenaline pushed me through and the butterflies had long gone.

We soldiered into more songs and went over the changes and people actually used my lead-sheet booklet! As an ex-teacher… I was secretly delighted, and also took a little too much pleasure from sharpening a box of pencils to take to the rehearsal earlier that day. The outcome was we were efficient and got a great deal more under our belts than I thought we would. The videos taken are extremely useful to debrief with after such a rehearsal as this, because it’s clear to see which parts everyone feels confident with when you’re not playing at the same time.

A second break and I ate a sandwich and drank more Lucozade which was a saviour in all honesty. I couldn’t believe Chris didn’t even take a break… he happily continued playing parts and trying ideas out and worked his blinkin’ socks off, as did everyone and I could not have got through the night without that wonderful support.

We called time at a sensible half past ten and everyone mucked in to pack all the gear away. Seb and Cat lifting on my behalf this time. Seb even stuffed my drums into his lovely Clara (Mini Cooper) and gave me a welcome lift home, where I awaited Cat with the second load of equipment.

A tough but utterly productive evening!

RMS - Rehearsal Pano

I started to ache all over at about eleven and again, on direction from Cat, took the decision to do nothing but rest the following day, and to speak minimally to protect my voice and recover properly. I had to take some painkillers on getting home, but the elation I felt from the rehearsal kept my head whizzing for hours afterwards, whilst I also got excited that although a rest day, tomorrow sees the arrival of the CD’s! I got an email just before setting off to the rehearsal that they have been dispatched! I’ll be sleeping on the sofa from 8:00am to make sure I don’t miss them knocking!

It felt like an age until the web page finally said “out for delivery”, but at 12:38pm there was finally a knock on the door. I had barely slept and leapt from my temporary dozing spot on the couch to the door and fumbled the door open to gratefully receive 150 CD’s!!

I was SO giddy! I left the box on the table for five minutes as I digested that they had arrived and prepared myself for the mammoth occasion that was about to unfold. I grabbed a coffee and some scissors and with extreme care opened the box. I could almost hear choirs singing as the rows of CD spines began to reveal themselves and the cold temperature of the outside world had given the CDs even more crispness. I pulled out the first CD.

Perfect.

I didn’t breathe as I carefully took out the amazing looking disc and put it in my CD player to test it.

In. 42:00.

Play.

The joy was uncontrollable. I started crying like a baby from the outset. I managed to calm myself down and took the obligatory photos but could barely stop my hands shaking. Under extreme scrutiny even, the CD’s have come out better than I could ever have dreamed. The booklet was exactly as it was in my mind and the whole package sat well together and felt special in my hands. I could not be more delighted or elated and the euphoria has yet to subside I have to admit.

I listened all the way through intently and as hoped the music before me was as I had left it. I simply had to text a few friends and share my giddiness!!

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And so here it is at last… The end of the journey. The gig will have a separate blog and the album is finally finished and all that remains is for you to grab a copy and listen to it for yourself… If you’ve read this blog until the end… then good for you! You have now been a part of a secret project and by reading this you have supported me and taken your precious time to understand my journey. I cannot thank you enough for sharing this journey with me, whether you are a casual reader, or someone who has been featured in this article. Everyone who has joined me on this journey has helped me to get better in some way and I cannot thank you enough for that support.

I’ll hopefully see you at the gig!

Ryan Mitchell-Smith

** To pre-order the album just visit this handy link! **
http://www.ryanmitchell-smith.com/cds/4587953533/are-you-sitting-comfortably-(pre-order)/9267918