Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Limbo Diaries. 11. Love Letters and Long Goodbyes/Joshua's Watch: BJ Cole

TJ: BJ Cole comes in today, fresh from working in Ireland with Davy Spillane. We throw five songs at him, and he copes manfully; a couple of ‘’play throughs’ to routine the arrangement and chord structure, then we go for two takes a song. This focuses everyone, and adds a tension to the playing that we like. BJ could come up with variations all day, gold dust in every take, but we like the ‘first thought, best thought’ approach with him. It’ll also make things easier to edit!
First up is ‘Sunburst Finish’. The track is pretty full as it is, but BJ finds some space to inhabit, and loosens the song up nicely.
‘Lucky Limbo’: We like the space on this, so BJ holds back until the M8 and the steel weeps beautifully when he finally enters. (sounds like an extract from ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’!)
‘Way Back When’ is a bit of a challenge, as the arrangement is not yet defined. BJ riffs around the vocal in the verses and lays a pad down in the choruses.
‘Yuri’s Dream’. We get BJ to play some high subliminal stuff on the outro. I think this one is going to be popular with dogs!

‘Joshua’s Watch’ Not a lot on this, just my guitar and voice, with some delicate strings and high glock. BJ plays a lovely simple part that adds to the melancholy.
BJ in action is a compelling sight, and puts me in mind of a puppet puppeteer; he’s pulling all the strings, but seems guided from above by a different hand. No religious conceit intended, just a clumsy effort to illustrate the physicality a player totally lost in his instrument, yet totally in tune with the song. Seemingly fuelled by some exotic petrol, he grunts, moans and sways, while glorious sheets of sound emanate from a distant vintage amp. I could watch him all day!
We crack open a bottle of champagne, not a common event, but Marcus has just completed on his new house, and, as the studio will move with him, this could be our last session here, so the indulgence is warranted. The mid-afternoon tipple does go straight to our heads. I make the mistake of asking BJ to do one last song “a simple part, no problems.” BJ winces at these words, he’s obviously heard them before. As we routine ‘Love Letters and Long Goodbyes’ I realise that I’ve left the most difficult song until last, then thrown the demon drink at it. BJ grapples with the format; it’s not an easy one. Though it is a conventional sounding tune, there are half bars and extra beats akimbo (not to mention what BJ calls ‘the Steely Dan chords’. Marcus calls them ‘Jazz’. I call them ‘wonky’) Although by now BJ is too jazzed to feel inspired, we get a couple of workable takes that I’m sure we can snip. At the end of the last take, on the sustain of the very last chord, BJ breaks a string, the sound of which will definitely make the record, if only to remind me to organise the sessions better next time! We then sober up with a cuppa, and a lively debate on the relevance (or not) of ‘Englishness’ in our multicultural society (discuss).

BJ Cole: It's a long way from NE London to Norbury, whichever route you take. On my way to Marcus Cliffe's studio it occurred to me that this was the fifth time Trevor has asked me to work on a Miracle Mile album. This makes the trip special, for in my 37 years as a session musician, no other artist has employed my Pedal Steel on five consecutive albums, and the last four of them at Marcus's home studio in Norbury. By now the chemistry between Trevor, Marcus and myself is cooking. I set up and listen to the tracks (four in this case) and then enhance the mood of each track. Trevor is a master songsmith, his lyrics are often profound and thoughtful and the musical structures are varied enough to encompass a wide variety of moods. After nailing the four tracks, Trevor pulls a fifth out of the bag, saying: "it's really simple, it won't take you any time at all". This is invariably the cue for the most complex and difficult song of the session, and so it was! After having a light-hearted discussion about this paradox, I packed away my Pedal Steel. As I was leaving, Marcus informed me that this was the last time we would be working at his little studio in Norbury, a slightly sad note on which to leave my friends. Here's to the next time, wherever it may be.

MC: After a less than auspicious start to our recording experience many moons ago (it was a hot stressful summers day, couldn’t get a sound that BJ liked etc) I now look forward to seeing BJ when he makes his annual pilgrimage to Norbury Brook studio. We set up his trusty old fender amp mic’d with an old Octavia small diaphragm mic that BJ always brings with him. I tried it through the amek but decided the Joe meek VCV1 sounded better. A bit of roomverb on the soundscape mixer for monitoring purposes and we were set.
As Trev said, everything went well until the infamous “extra last easy song”! The champagne was duly dispatched by Trev and I, and by the end of the day a warm glow of soft focus had descended on the twilight hours of Norbury Brook........TBC

TJ: This will be our last session for a while. Marcus is about the go on the road for a month. 
Songs in various stages of evolution are:

Yuri’s Dream
Sunburst Finish
All the way to London
Step by Step
Lucky Limbo
Way Back When 


  1. ll and lgs is one of my favourites... must be the wonky bits

  2. Yup, one of my favourite MM songs too...