Something I’ve been toying with (in between getting distracted by Scotland, France, Cornwall, and so on) is writing up a blog series on the stories behind the songs on Beacon and how they came about. This is something I’m tempted to do with every release to be honest, so I usually set it aside, but with Beacon it won’t quite go away - I think because there was so much more involved in its making, there is that much more to tell. I’ve worked on production before, for and with other people, but I think when it comes to your own material, as a songwriter there’s this extra dimension of suddenly having all these extra sounds to play with, but also the challenge of, how do I keep the sound true to myself, and communicate that to all the other people involved?
I think also that something I’m becoming more aware of as I talk to people, is how listeners hear the songs can be so far tangential to where they actually came from and the real sources of inspiration behind them. Sometimes I agree this is better left well alone and the beauty of songs is that they can mean so many different things to different people - I remember reading something Seal was supposed to have said once, about not including lyrics in the album inserts because he’d rather people hear the words the way they wanted to. But I think for me, maybe the time has come that I do just need to talk about it all, a bit, so to coincide with the anniversary of the launch I’m make a start and see how it goes. There were also parts of the recording process and moments within the songs that were incredibly exciting and meaningful for me at the time, which I fear will be lost otherwise. It’s a chance to go back and listen to some of the tracks again with a bit more knowledge of what went into them.
So here, setting the scene for your in-depth Beacon experience, are the characters:
Vicky Keohane - Bodhrán
Aidan Keohane - Mandolin
Father and daughter, Aidan and Vicky are friends I know for quite a while from the Croydon folk/folk and blues clubs - Ruskin House, Lime Meadow etc. They play together as a duo and in various other groups. Hilarity and high-energy abound. Vicky also played on the Doesn’t Take Much EP earlier in 2017.
Chris Hyde-Harrison - Double Bass
Maggie Casey - Whistles
Stephen Nurse - Chromatic Harmonica
These are all fantastic musicians who I’ve met through folk clubs or different open mic circuits in central/south London - I think it says a lot about the complexity and wealth of the different live music scenes here that there was no overlap between anyone until we worked on this project.
Gareth Cobb - Bass guitar
Russ Watts - Drumming for Behind The Lines
Gareth was the engineer, mixer and co-producer and it was his studio where we recorded Beacon and Half-light (not to mention These Hours as well). It was so great, after three years of having him work on my stripped-back acoustic projects, to finally have him play bass on Beacon. Russ was introduced via Gareth and the studio to add the military drumming on Behind The Lines.
So that was the palette, and these were the people. We had wind, strings, percussion; a little bit of everything to gently embellish these songs and coax them out of their acoustic beginnings. Piano was recorded at Perryvale Studios just down the road. I wanted a choice of subtle accents rather than a uniform wall of production for this project and was quietly pleased that by accident all the songs came out with slightly different selections for the mix - a couple are just me on guitar plus vocals and harmonies, others have almost everyone on at once, and there’s just about every combination in between. It felt pretty obvious what most of the songs needed as we were going along, and while I suppose there’s always more you can do if you have the time, there wasn’t anything critical I felt missing from these mixes. What was interesting in hindsight, was working the songs up for the launch as an ensemble, and having various members add new things in and swap parts (or even play two parts at once!) - there’s no way we would have done that during the recording stage because the Beacon “band” such as it loosely is didn’t exist until after it was finished - but it’s great to see the songs continue to evolve.
I’m going to be taking you on a tour through bits of the recording process (the bits I remember!) favourite lyrics, live notes and miscellaneous thoughts on the songs and generally feeling grateful for this project and to everyone who worked on it.