We started recording Different Horizons on March 18, 2019. By our standards, getting it released in under two years is pretty quick.
I kept a kind of blog diary of the recording sessions, posting a pic every day of the week that it took to record. There were a few more hours of overdubs, a bit of remixing here and there and a fair few gaps where life got in the way, but we got there. Musically, it was all finally finished just before Bob died although, as I said in the liner notes, he probably would have tinkered a bit more. Anyway, for posterity and any other bits, here’s what I wrote at the time, just for fun, and the pictures that went with it. Note the different t-shirt for each picture.
#5 Day 1
Storm Warning: the difficult fifth album.
We’re off. Storm Warning are in the studio recording our fifth album.
We’re still arguing about the title, but we have a strong contender. Naturally, I can’t tell you what it is now. [It was Different Horizons or possibly New Horizons – so there you go.]
If you’re interested in the process, I’ll be posting bits about it over the next few days. But I’m tired now, so I’m going to pause.
#5 Day 2
After two solid days, Russ has completed the drum parts for all nine songs on the forthcoming album.
No matter how much you practice, you’re not ready enough. Things that worked in the rehearsal room suddenly don’t work in the recording studio. Memories play tricks, tiredness creeps in, adrenalin wears you down. The trick is to stop before you’re overworking things. There is no such thing as perfection but somehow it tugs at you. “Maybe if we just…”
Patience is a great conductor if you allow it to be and in the end we got there, not least because Russ is a driving instructor in his spare time. You don’t get more patient than that.
Derek is just putting down the bass part for Long Road, the first song we finished. We’ve been playing it live for a while now and it goes down well.
We have three more days. It won’t be finished by then, but it already feels on track. Ha!
#5 Day 3
Bassically, it’s Derek’s day. His trusty Fender has that unmistakable toppy grunt that puts the Rock into every song.
We have approached this as a rock album, where previously we always had a nod to our blues connections. I think it’s much more natural territory for us.
It’s all Focus’s fault. We shared a bill with them at the Bude rock and blues festival back in November and they properly messed with us.
This album was mostly written at a house in Cornwall which we hired for the week after the festival. We arrived on the Thursday and settled in. Friday morning was spent working on basic sounds and structures, then we set off, full of our rock credentials, for the gig.
We closed the afternoon session and then waited eagerly for Focus. We even got the chance to hang out with them backstage, Bob claiming a selfie with Thijs van Leer – an unheard of act of grovelling hero-worship on his part. The gig itself was breathtaking, a stunning reminder of the artistic and technical heights that rock can explore. Bob and I were both close to tears.
Next morning, he and I sat among the wires and boxes of our makeshift studio and gazed glumly at each other. “Hardly worth it, is it?” I said, resignedly, and he slowly shook his head.
But we are nothing if not positive. And we had paid for the house. So we set out resolved to push ourselves harder than ever before and also to focus – Ha! – on the music that emerged, rather than worrying about what people might think. And here we are, finding out if it was the right move.
So far, so good.
#5 Day 4
Working with someone like Bob is a privilege. He is meticulous but not so much of a perfectionist that he sacrifices feel for technical correctness.
Yet still he IS correct, crafting complex guitar parts that sit exquisitely together. For this album we’re all pushing out of our comfort zones (those bloody Focus people) and Bob, as usual, has set himself some technique-testing parts to play. He is endlessly patient and works hard, arriving at the studio ready to put the sounds down with very few retakes.
No matter how many times you go into a studio you never quite get used to the idea of it as a toolkit. Your performance is simply a process of making sound to be captured, but it still needs all the energy and freedom of a live show.
Bob plays knowing that his guitar will have extra layers of effects, without the benefit of the effects themselves. You have to add them later if you want rich stereo and full control of how they work. So you have to have the finished sound in your head and play as though the effects are there. You might make a section that will have delay more punchy so the repeated sounds have more definition.
It’s a bloody nuisance but it’s great fun and intriguing, wondering how it will actually sound. When it’s Bob, it always sounds glorious.
#5 Day 5
The last official day of recording is all about keys. Especially Ian’s Hammond playing, which is in the classic ambient style of Rick Wright or Tony Kaye. Nothing flashy, but ethereal and rich in harmony.
Hammond has been the defining keyboard sound of this album. Not as much piano, probably because it’s much more classic rock than anything we’ve done previously.
Music has always been driven by technology. Every time someone invents something, musicians and composers seize upon it and try to break it, so that someone invents something even better.
Can we blame the invention of the piano for the rise of romantic, self-indulgent composers and performers? Before that, keyboards we’re pretty much fixed commodities. Harpsichords and organs don’t give you much scope for expression except in timing or tempo, although virtuosos like Ton Koopman and Gustav Leonhardt can still make the instruments sing with their their own unique voices.
What we modern ‘artistes’ might call a limitation was actually a liberating discipline that compelled musicians to explore the structure of music itself through melody, harmony and counterpoint.
Then along came the piano, with its weighted, expressive keys, just as humans began to really dig in to the process of separating themselves from God, the Universe and Nature. Or maybe the piano came along BECAUSE we started doing that. Anyway, music having hitherto been about our relationship with the Universe then started becoming all about Us/Me/The Individual.
It wasn’t all bad. We got Charlie Parker, Bob Dylan, Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix out of it. But we also got hours and hours of appalling romantic twaddle, from Beethoven to Whitney Houston. God save us.
I realise, of course, that not everyone agrees with me. And no doubt I’m out of line with all the officially recognised and evidenced academic opinion about such things. But hey, we’re all gonna die, so know one knows. And everybody lies.
Which, fundamentally, is what this album is all about. Though it’s more to do with the solution than the problem. Wake up, it’s time to go.
#5 Day 6
On Saturday we gave Martin a day off. But artistes know no rest so I spent the day wandering around and trying to get sound effects.
We’re straying dangerously into Pink Floyd territory, but they don’t have a monopoly on sound pictures so I thought I’d give it a go.
First landing place was South Stoke, where I knew there would be trains and nature galore. Trouble is, I got mostly Hitachi electric multiple units which sound remarkably like the aeroplane effects on On The Run. We’ll see. [That’s one at the end of Can’t Sleep For Dreaming.]
Then it was off to Camden to see my son Max drumming for the excellent Mountain Caller at The Devonshire Arms. It’s music I’d pay to hear anyway so it’s a joy to see Max driving it. [Check out their album The Truthseeker, released November 1 and previewing now on Bandcamp.]
Before going in I wandered round in search of metropolitan soundscapes and Camden duly obliged with a siren, an alarm bell and a tin can to kick mournfully around, to the bemusement of passers-by.
I’m hoping they’ll make it onto a song called “Stranger”, which is turning into a dark piece of sleaze. It’s not been ruled out yet. [And they did make it.]
#5 Day 7
We have three vocal tracks to finish and the start of the guitar parts.
We also did the harmonica track for the only song on the album that has harp.
As far as performance is concerned, my job is done now. Nevertheless, I will happily interfere with as much of the process as possible.
You’re never happy with your own performance and in keeping with the spirit of this album I’ve strayed a long way from the blues, which is my comfort zone. But it’s been great fun playing and singing rock, which is where I came in, after all.
And these songs are deeply personal, so it’s mattered a lot that I get them how I want them. I did my best.
So that’s it for now. There are still bits of guitar and piano to do and then there’s the mix, which is where it becomes a proper finished work.
On the whole, we’re in good shape. I hope to God you agree.