For all of you who have waited so patiently for this recording diary to appear, well done…you passed the test. Don’t worry, you haven’t missed anything as the early stages of producing the next album really haven’t been worthy of reportage, just a lot of drinking of tea and chit chat punctuated with occasional flurries of activity. The aim of these pages is to offer some insight into what on Earth exactly it is we get up to in this little haven of a recording studio.
Guitars – in Mark’s hand Gibson ES5, L-R Guild Starfire 3 (x2), Gretch Country Club 6193, Gretch 6120
As you know, after another great stint on the road last summer, Mark and I resumed work in the studio a few months ago and started work on another album. As with past album projects, we have locked ourselves away in British Grove Studio 2 to start to knock into shape some of the songs Mark has written lately. As has been the case in the past years, there are many to choose from and this time is used to work on songs which he feels might benefit from experimentation and in-depth analysis.
Because most of the time, it’s just Mark and myself in the room with occasional visits from Mr. Saggers to make sure we’re not abusing the guitars, hair and make-up are not on the agenda and photo opportunities are few and far between. Having said that, Ian Thomas dropped in recently as one of the songs just had to benefit from an early drum session in Studio 2. It’s often not until we have a full band session in Studio 1 that drums are added but in this particular case, the song really needed a head start in this department. Needless to say it all sounded great and the small Studio 2 overdub room where we do most of Mark’s vocals and acoustic guitars was perfect for the song. The kit which Ian used was Mark’s Wine Red Raspberry Ripple Rogers which was Bobby Colomby’s drum kit which used on all the ‘Blood Sweat and Tears’ recordings.
One of the many great things about Studio 2 is the console. It’s a 48 channel API Legacy which came from Big Javelina studios in Tennessee and was in fact the desk on which the first Golden Heart session was recorded. When British Grove was in its conception stages, the desk became available and Mark leapt at the chance to become its new guardian angel. The complete console was lovingly refurbished by the in-house team of technicians headed by Graham Meek and was installed in Control Room 2.
An array of amplifiers ready to go in Studio 1.
Because there are few time constraints, in our continual quest for improvement, we experiment with equipment combinations that would not normally be appropriate on a session of limited time. Little discoveries are being made all the time and we often find that some songs sound better using different, unexpected microphones and signal paths. A recent example of this is the old Decca limiter which we decided to try on Mark’s vocal mic (in this case, the ‘old faithful’ Long bodied tube Neumann U47) in conjunction with a Telefunken V76 tube pre amp. The amazing optical innards of the Decca ‘P’ type limiter built in the mid-sixties was featured in a photograph I took during the Privateering sessions which can be seen here. Different songs and vocal styles can very often benefit from different microphone choices and having the time and inclination to travel that path is frequently enlightening.
Here’s a selection of ‘prime’ lead vocal microphones – The Neumann U47, a Neumann U67 and a new Brauner VMX which has proved worthy of a lead vocal already.
1964 Fender Stratocaster: Sailing to Philadelphia
1954 Fender Stratocaster:Heart full of holes/Fish and the bird/Punish the monkey/Behind with the rent/Let it all go/We can get wild/Remembrance day/The car was the one/I used to could/A quality shoe/Two skinny kids/Everybody pays/Summer of love/Shangri-la.
Mark Knopfler Signature Stratocaster: Redbud tree/Occupation blues.
Pensa MK ‘D’: Not on anything released, only recorded live on Kingdom of Gold. (I accepted Kingdom of Gold as the correct answer)
Grosh Electrajet: Yon two crows/Piper to the end.
Gibson ES330: Madam Geneva’s/Behind with the rent/ (the precise year of this guitar is unknown as it has no serial number)
1959 Gibson ES 335: Baloney again/One more matinee/Wag the Dog.
1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard: The scaffolders wife/Let’s see you.
1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard: So far from the Clyde/Before gas and Tv/Cleaning my gun/You can’t beat the house/Remembrance day/Dream of the drowned submariner/Yon two crows/Follow the ribbon/Today is OK/Hot or what/Why aye man/You don’t know your born/Speedway at Nazareth/5:15am/Back to Tupelo/Whoop de do/The trawlerman’s song.
Gretsch 6120: In the sky/Punish the Monkey/The fizzy and the still/Hard shoulder/Yon two crows/Seattle.