Monday, 28 November 2011

The Limbo Diaries. 1

I was listening to Limbo the other day first the first time in an age.
I really enjoyed it; it's far enough away for me now to stop me worrying about high hat patterns or dodgy vocals.
I then came across the archives of the diaries that Marcus and I wrote at the time. I'm going to post them and offer up a download (at the end of every post) of a song that might be mentioned.
We did a similar thing for Glow so I might publish those once I've exhausted these.
So, here you are, unedited, I give you... 
The Limbo Diaries:

TJ: With new recordings in the offing, and a website worth shouting about at (redesigned by Max) we're going to keep a new diary of the sessions, as folk seemed to like to the last one. So, why a new album? I like the hole I've dug for myself, I like how songwriting, singing and working with Marcus affects my world. It defines me, gives me a creative outlet, a canvas and some hopeful dreams. There is no reason to stop.
Marcus and I are always hopeful on the release of a new album. It's still early days for 'Glow', but even with great reviews, and generous airplay (some of it prime-time Radio 2) it seems that we might be swimming in the same water. We resolve to do some gigs to try and break the cycle.

TJ: Onto the M25 for that joyous journey, arrive at Marcus's studio after 2 hours in the company of Roy Harper. I've just bought a retrospective of his work (‘Counter Culture’) and am surprised at how much his stuff has stayed with me. I remember loving 'HQ' when it first came out, for the ambition of the songwriting ('Hallucinating Light') the beauty of Roy's singing and his affecting use of nostalgia ('When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease') and for Chris Spedding's fantastic guitar work (he used to be a Womble you know?)
I really believed that the 'Glow' sessions would be the last time we recorded at Norbury Brook, so this comes as a happy bonus; amazing what you can come to take for granted; people and places. Same cracked mugs, same mad cat, one new guitar (a battered but lovely old Gibson) and Marcus (also battered but lovely) burning incense rather than spraying that inner nose stripping air freshener! He'll be wearing a kaftan next...look our for a sitar solo!
We always look for a working title. I'm struck by the word 'Limbo' for 3 reasons: firstly it kind of sums up the Miracle Mile's position in the music world, secondly it relates to Marcus's emotional and domestic circumstance, and thirdly because I’ve just driven past some orange boxes with'Limbo' written on the side! Friday the 13th seems a fateful date to start our recordings; maybe it'll bring us there's a title; 'Lucky Limbo'?
I play Marcus a couple of things: firstly a song called '(Love Letters and) Long Goodbyes'. This one's fairly close to home, and we both share a 'fly in the eye' moment. Marcus puts down a basic click track while I strum away a waltz on my Taylor. One take Willie! As the mic is up and warm, I go straight into a second song 'Joshua's Watch', a picked piece, which I get second take. Either I'm getting better, or we're getting easier to please!
We set up the vocal mic and I fix us some lunch (smoked ham and goats cheese sarnies, very 'Jamie'!)
Record 3 passes on 'Long Goodbyes' and comp' the vocal. There's a 'Na na na' (hope I spelt that correctly!) section on which I do some harmonies, 6 high, 6 low, then on to 'Joshua's Watch'. This refers to my Grandad, Joshua Jones, who left me his favourite watch when he died. A reference in the song amuses Marcus, about me requesting "the fiver Tony Bennett signed". There's a family story about my Gramps when he was a chauffeur for the Japanese Embassy in London. A huge Tony Bennett fan, he was beside himself when asked to ferry his hero across the city. At the end of the journey he requested an autograph, but had no paper. Bennett tipped him a crisp five pound note and signed that. On the way home to my Gran’ he was so excited that he needed a fag (he used to roll his own, one handed as he drove) so he stopped for some tobacco and papers; got home, told Madge his story and went to his pockets for proof...he'd spent the fiver on his smokes! Spooky moment as Marcus is setting up for 'Joshua's Watch': the heavy metal lid of the mic case falls on him, ...cracking the face of his prized Brietling watch!
Marcus listens through, playing along with 'Long Goodbyes' on a Wurlitzer piano. There are a couple of 'jazz' chords that introduce Les Dawson to the proceedings, but he's soon shown the door, as ten thumbs become graceful digits. Marcus then gets out a bass that he's been hiding from me. It looks like something one of the Glitter Band would play, but sounds great...not for the video then. A couple of takes and he's  done. A fruitful start.

MC: Note to self: I must remember to do the diary when everything is fresh in my mind. Even though it's only been a couple of weeks since we started, I'm glad I've got Trev's notes as a reference, the exact details have already started to become a bit hazy. It is indeed a nice feeling to once again place a new Miracle Mile project folder on my audio drive (a pair of western digital 10,000 rpm raptors in a raid 0 array, for the technically minded) As Trevor pointed out we are still in the 'old' Norbury Brook studios, which will shortly be transferred to my new house, if all goes to plan. The incense spoken of was in fact expensive designer, scented candles, which I thought might set a nice tone' for the start of the new album.
'Limbo', well that’s what the folder on the drive says now, so 'Limbo' it is for the working title. Trev's right in saying that it describes my private life of the past few years, that’s the reason I'm moving house and studio to try and remove said state.
The acoustic guitar was recorded with the traditional AKG 451 but this time I used one of my new pair of Amek/Neve pre amps. Trev's vocal was recorded with the Rhode classic valve mike into the Amek/Neve pre amp. Trev is quite a sibilant singer and I've found the new mic pres help in that regard as they are quite 'thick' sounding which doesn't over emphasize the sibilance.
The bass in question on 'Long Goodbyes' is a Dan Electro Longhorn; the reason for getting it out of storage (under the stairs for the last 5 years) was  that Trev and I watched a new Bruce Springsteen DVD, and I noticed the bass player was playing  the same bass, same colour even, and it sounded great. I dug it out and off we went.


  1. Limbo is my favourite MM lp (although candids keeps a special place as it was one of a handful of cds that we kept in the car on my first trip to the states and had belting out for 3 weeks as we drove around california). I remember when i first read these (was it on the website or did they come in a booklet with the cd ?) they made a great companion to the music

  2. The diary booklet was with Glow. That was Barry Cross's first input. Nick Reddyhoff did the album artwork and Bazza got the arse end but did a fine job. He later went on to do Hopeland & Keepers covers.
    The Limbo diaries were just posted online.
    It's interesting to read about the genesis of the tracks; I think that you always look back and profess that things came out as intended. Reading these notes proves that there's no fool like an old fool, and that you should cherish your mistakes...

  3. I have to concur with Mr. FORW (David is it?). "Alaska" is my first love, a sprawling beauty. But "Limbo" is the perfect one. Both are in my "Top 10 Albums Of All Time". I printed the diary off of Myspace a long while ago, and it's excellent. Hi-lights... Jones changes a tire, Di's reaction to Papillon, inspiration and creation of the tunes, and Trev's perceptive "rant". Oh, I also learned a new word from Marcus... sibilance!

    Toronto Tim

  4. Thanks for that Tim; having 2 albums in your top ten is an honour indeed.
    Please note that I didn't change the tyre, I watched Marcus doing it; sticking his bony arse into the oncoming traffic for me; that's friendship (or stupidity).
    Btw, Mr FORW is indeed David; check out his excellent blog:
    Reading these and the Glow diaries brings it all back; amazing to think that the last MM album 'Limbo' was released nearly 6 years ago. That'll get the Blue Nile comparisons going again...
    Also, please note Toronto Tim, the 10th of the month looms...

  5. Re: Trev changes a tire... I guess I didn't want to give away the classic punch-line following 'Marcus changes my tyre'... "I WATCH".

    Assignment completed quite awhile ago... still hesitant to hit "send". I keep hearing that haunting Beckett quote from your CC draft echoing...
    "No sooner is the ink dry than it revolts me."

    Toronto Tim