STARRING MAESTRO, YOUNGBLOOD & THE CRACKLING - art BY PAUL PATE
“I feel like. This. Is. The. Be. Gin. Ning. Though I’ve loved you for a million years!” I sing with gusto. It’s the part I always come in on, as lead, after I’ve allowed Jim Gilstrap & Lani Groves their brief, yet lovely, moment in the sunshine.
It’s Saturday morning already, and I’m going into work early. En route to the studio I stop by Val's burger van to pick up a "breakfast in a bun". Out of courtesy I switch off Talking Book and remove my white earphones. “Alright flower? Brown rockin' on the bacon?” Yes Val, you know it.
I get to my gaff, the studio, and it appears to still be locked up. Bloody Chappers, my engineer, the little bugger has failed to get his arse out of his bunk bed. No matter. I key in the alarm code: 6, 3, 4, -, 5, 7, 8, 9 (yeah I know). I’ve got Maestro directing proceedings, one of the best producers at my beck n’ call, he was probably up late preparing a chart – old school. He can work pro-tools too and knows exactly which knob to twiddle and when. He's no slouch.
Before entering, as is the ritual, I place two fingers on my lips, kiss them, and then touch the four stars label/studio emblem, like I’m saying good morning to a baby. “By the time the session is through, Maestro and the family would have made soul history.” I say, out loud, losing a morsel of bacon from the corner of my mouth.
At 11:14 am the band starts to roll in, some with burgers (courtesy of Val) some without (they couldn’t face it). No doubt they were playing into the early hours at Drakes pup last night, shedding tunes before the floods (its situated on the river Medway).
One by one, they stroll past (with a sheepish Chappers sneaking in, still wearing yesterday's crumpled Sonic the Hedgehog T-shirt):
• The Drummer: “Childs”, a man that can hit better than Chris 'Daddy' Dave in a solo battle (“Shit the top bunk Chippers?” He said).
• The Bassist: we call him “Bottoms” but his real name - Bert, guzzles up the rhythm like he’s got a JB fine hangin’ over him.
• Keyboard player: "Quays", a Roland Vima 88 fingered beast, first name Deep (born of a couple who met at a Sun Ra concert) and an all-round talented geezer who never shaves but still can't grow a beard.
• And last but not least, our guitarist: Lisa "Right Eye" London who plays on her Ibanez like it will soon be mass produced bearing her name. The gentlemanly conduct stopped around Lis, the only woman player in the studio, when we all noticed nobody else in England can wah wah, cha chink, chicken scratch, wail, do explosion noises, swear and pluck like she can (I said pluck).
The percussion blokes always roll in 15 minutes behind, in pairs; we call ‘em Bongo Baxter & Saul Vibes. The horns will arrive from the four corners of Kent later with each horn resembling its owner. Before they begin the muso’s are encouraged to enter the weapon room. That’s where the arsenal is kept. A classic Stratocaster and Gibson guitar; Wonder, Cecil & Margoleouf’s Tonto keyboard (with long lead plug-ins) that looks like it’s been swiped from the Tardis; a green hauntingly out of tune upright piano that used to be owned by Nina Simone - before she abandoned it, America and her firstborn. And lastly, a gold handled Vibes stick once owned by Black Jack. Just some of the tools available but mostly our musicians stick to their own, each instrument with a predictable name like Betsy, Delilah & Chewie (yup, Bert’s)
At 12 they begin to doodle … exquisitely.
The Maestro clears his throat: "Aherm, gentleman, Lisa & Chappers, today we are gonna do something different – we got a bloke sent to us by Ef You En Kay Records from Maryland USA, and he is a REAL talent – so I want you all to have your game face on. Trust me, one day you’ll tell your kids about the music we made here today." They begin playing, with the red light on, and from the first magic chord their on it, in the groove. It’s this sound, these same musicians that have been churning out a succession of hit downloads for the past 6 months, and they just seem to keep getting better. They’ve started calling themselves The Crackling (as in the fat); and the last 3 tracks they played on - our last 3 releases - broke digital records. If this session goes well, next quarter we should have time to cut some vinyl on the band themselves (there'll be no belated posthumous recognition for these cats.)
Then at fourteen hundred hours Ef-You-En-Kay’s new Youngblood arrives - a toddler-faced-soul-beast from Baltimore, US. He looks younger than his photoshop’d PR shot. Amiable enough chap as he was no one expected the note he hit the moment his pearly whites began showing (we're talking proper American teeth - sponsored by Dulux). After his warm up, which was faultless (never seen Bongo get so flushed before) and the track playback, he takes out a scuffed smart-phone, from his waistcoat pocket and says "Maestro ... I’ve been working on some words right ... feel like I gotta say summin’, but been having the damndest time ...". Maestro cuts him off "Fine mate. Just do it. If it’s shite we’ll put it on the deluxe version.”
Instead of singing over the track Youngblood counts in the drums because he wants this live, eye to eye with Childs. He stomps his right foot 3 times and steps to the mic, opens his mouth, and the sound, wow. His voice on that first note ... Maestro for a second looks misty eyed. The kid begins to sing...
"Wohhh, you don't KNOW what hurt is ..."
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
Eye lids open, it’s the alarm clock. It was only a dream.
What a pisser.