From 2013 to 2016
The night that we wrote 'Help Me Down From The Trees' is etched vividly into my mind.
The whole song spilled out in a single jam, almost fully formed. No discussion about the arrangement, just one of those bewildering, extended moments of telepathy between friends that we were sensible enough to hit the record button for. The version you hear on the album is maybe a couple of minutes shorter than that demo but pretty much everything was sketched out in one hit. It was the first thing we wrote for 'Devil...' and the moment that I began to get really excited about our third album.
Towards the other end of the process I remember turning up to Si's studio to record what would become 'Walk These Streets', the last song tracked for the album. We barely had an arrangement at the start of that night. We played it through and tweaked it, played it through again, tweaking (not twerking) and refining each time, recording every take. We kept going until we'd captured the moment... not quite sure what that moment was at the time... but it had an energy. And the very next day Simon had to dismantle the studio to move house; the song was nailed at the 11th minute of the 11th hour.
I'm telling you this because about a month ago I was asked 'Could you write a few words for the blog Chris?' by Dave, our master of the website. 'No worries mate' I replied (I say this to most things, it's my instinctive response, say 'yes' first, think about the consequences later. It makes life interesting).
How to sum up 2016 though? It would be generous in the extreme to call the last 12 months something of a mixed bag. For large portions of the year it's been tempting to just sort of recoil in horror, pull a face like you've swallowed a fly with the shits and then retreat into a tent made out of pillows and pictures of kittens, and then drink, heavily.
What's more, the winter is a time for ghosts. The veils are thin and the nights are long and filled with spectres. After a year where so many have passed into that realm, it does seem an apt time to reflect.
But there have also been great times that I will always cherish. I'm immensely proud of the album we put out earlier this year which, looking back now, represents the culmination of a chapter we began in late 2013. One punctuated by many moments like those described above, a lot of highs and also some lows, a lot of laughs and some actual tears. None of which I'm going to bang on about here. All I will say is that, for me personally, the spirit in which our last album was created is best summed up by the track 'Don't Throw It Away'. The shortest, least flashy track on the album and not even necessarily a good indication of where we've been or will go musically, but in hindsight, lyrically it's all there in that song.
Don't get me wrong, the making of the album was not a hardship. I want to state explicitly that I hope, really hope, that this won't be confused for an attempt to play the artistic torment card. No. All I'm alluding to is that life can be a bugger (see: ‘English Understatement’) and when it is, it can be very easy to forget what's important.
Friendship. Friendship is what this is all about.
We lose and we gain. Scars and laughter lines. These inevitable creases. And just because something is inevitable it doesn't mean it won’t be painful or surprising. Some years there will be buns for tea, others, the scraps. And looking back over the last couple of years, I think the one thing that the music we make is testament too is the possibility that friendship will go a long way to seeing you through difficult times and bleak midwinters. New friends, old friends, the memories gifted by absent friends.
The night that we tracked the basis of Walk These Streets we had no conception that in a few short months it would be adorned by a string quartet scored by Mr Keith Templeman. When we gathered together to listen to his beautiful arrangement for the first time, we could never have conceived that this summer just gone, he too would be snatched away.
And so all I want to do here is to take the opportunity to thank each and every one of you for your friendship and support, however and whenever it has manifested itself, wherever you are. It means the world.
‘If you have a friend on whom you think you can rely you are a lucky man.' –Alan Price (O’ Lucky Man)
We're very lucky.
THE MAKING OF ‘ALBUM 3’
Taking time out from the studio and live performances alongside Cockney Rebel, FM, The Blockheads and Stray (to namedrop but a few) Lee, Andy, Simon and Chris fearlessly answer the questions everybody wants to ask…
How goes it?
LEE: It goes good! This is a time I relish… when necessity forces my hand to write. I seem to perform best under a certain amount of pressure so when we reach the “new album writing phase” and the band are producing track after track rammed with superb ideas at a hellish rate, the pressure is most definitely on! Without the luxury of procrastination my narcissistic observations are flowing.
ANDY: Like a lizard!! Flat out!! Writing, recording and everything else that life throws at you, but would not have it any other way!! This is what I love doing so no complaints at all.
SIMON: Recording is going really well. We are all very enthusiastic about it.
Third albums are alleged to be notoriously difficult – how do you retain the fire and hunger that were central to the first two albums?
SIMON: I'd say that recording the third album is easier than the first and second by a long way. We are free to record what we want the way we want it, with no pressures of time constraints and deadlines. We've been working on the new material since January or February and playing the new songs as much as possible to hone them ready for recording live in the studio. The previous two albums were mainly created in the studio and were not really played to an audience until they were released. This time, to get them really tight, we have tried some of the new material out at shows, and they have all gone down really well.
ANDY: I think the whole 'story' around the 'difficult 3rd album' is an interesting one because, as with most things, people change, bands change, tastes change so you can debate all day long if a band should have stayed as they were, didn't change enough etc. I don't have time for all that!! I'm double busy!! As far as I'm concerned I love working on the third album. I'm loving the new songs and experimenting with different sounds and structures. This is very exciting!
LEE: For me, both the fire and the hunger are always present. They both age with you. That is to say that they come to mean different things as we go forward. The fire I felt while working on “Colossus” was a youthful, exuberant excitement as we ventured into the unknown - a first date butterfly buzz. With “This Mountain Waits”, the fire had purpose and came from an understanding that this was an opportunity to expand our creative selves, without that unknown element. We could be ourselves, with confidence. Now, at the helm of album number three, that fire and hunger is magnified by the mind popping realisation that we are on top of our game and able to truly capture that “live” moment. So, if “Colossus” was the “first date butterfly buzz”, album number three is asking us up for a night cap!
CHRIS: 'The difficult third album' is just a lie put about by musicians either looking for some sympathy or to create the impression that their work involves a level of suffering, thereby conferring importance on it in the grand scheme of things.
So no concept album or covers then?
CHRIS: There's a loose concept centred around questions regarding what, why, when and who will make the devil's favourite play things.
LEE: I’ve always felt uncomfortable singing other peoples songs. If someone is insincere when they talk to you, you can often tell. I believe the same to be true with singing. I find it difficult to deliver someone else’s passion with sincerity. After all, it’s not my passion. So, I prefer to sing what I know.
ANDY: No covers. We've never recorded one and I don't think we ever would.
SIMON: Definitely no covers! Why do covers when we have loads of new material to record?
Which of the new songs you played live on stage is your current favourite?
ANDY: I couldn't answer that as my favourite changes from week to week.
CHRIS: My main aim has been to play as much four-to-the-floor kick drum as possible, because of my current addiction to House and Techno, and 'Help Me Down From The Trees' is full of kick, so maybe that one. We've just been working on a dark and slinky little number that wouldn't sound out of place on an Underworld album. This may have brought me one step closer to realising my dream of replacing myself with a drum machine so that I can stay at home on gig nights, sit around in my pants and watch Kraftwerk documentaries.
LEE: It has to be “Help Me Down From the Trees”. I’d been trying to write a coherent blast at the social media mess we judge our existence by for some time ;)
SIMON: So far we have played versions of 'Into The Blue', 'Help Me Down From The Trees', 'Loverman' and, only once, a lengthy version of 'Someone Like You'. I'm enjoying playing 'Into The Blue'... which I believe has set the scene for the album.
Chose a fantasy guest artist to play on the album
CHRIS: I've been listening to Janelle Monae a lot recently. If you know her, could you ask her if she'd be willing to come and lay down some guest vocals? She has an amazing voice. There's also a Japanese band called Nissenenmondai who play a sort of live band techno ..... very minimalist, absolutely amazing. I reckon they'd add a certain je ne sais quois to proceedings.
SIMON: Actually I really couldn't imagine anybody else working on this album. It is the four of us that make the PHR chemistry, it wouldn't be right to bring in another artist, on this album at least.
ANDY: Good one!! Tricky! However, gun to my head, I would have to say Rich Robinson for purely selfish reasons but, for the album I would say Dr John.
LEE: I think we’d have a fine time with Dr. John…. but I think he’s too busy being fabulous!
You’ve mentioned the idea of ‘playing live’ in the studio. Please explain.
LEE: Imagine rehearsing with great musicians in the same room for three years…. then imagine how many times we’ve left those sessions elated by the “moment” we have just shared, yet aware that this was just that…. a moment. One that has now passed, never to be revisited with quite the same “feel”. That’s often where the magic lies and the problem with recording after the event is that most of your creative energies are consumed by trying to regain that “moment”. By recording live (one complete take - drums, guitar, keys and vocal all at once) we can devote ourselves solely to the pursuit of that one finite performance, safe in the knowledge that if all the stars align we have captured it for posterity.
ANDY: This time, we are literally setting up, hitting record and playing through the song. If it's a good take, then that's it... next song!
SIMON: We have always been a live band. Playing live is what PHR is all about. To get the most natural, free sound on the album we simply have to record the main basis of the songs with as few overdubs as possible in order to retain that sound. This album is going to be raw, with power, energy and dynamics, warts n' all. We have of course recorded most of our material this way, but we are much more experienced now and we have a much better idea of what we are looking for.
What will be the biggest surprise about PHR 3?
ANDY: Well, it wouldn't be surprise if I told you would it! So, you'll just have to wait and see.
CHRIS: *SPOILER ALERT* As the last song finishes it will be revealed that we were ghosts all along... like in The Sixth Sense.
LEE: That if you play it backwards you will hear the voice of Satan revealing the winning lottery numbers for the following week. Unfortunately this will only favour those who buy the vinyl within the first week of release!
So should we buy the album on CD, vinyl, mp3 or maybe cassette tape?
SIMON: There are plans for a gatefold vinyl... there will of course be the CD version.
LEE: If we make it to the vinyl stage, which I really hope we do, this would undoubtedly be encrusted with various “goodies”. There may be bonus tracks involved, download links, DVD downloads or even a limited run that contains the CD as well …. we haven’t decided yet, but my moneys on the vinyl!
ANDY: Not sure there's much call for cassette tape any more but ….. never say never!!
CHRIS: Don't buy the vinyl if you're planning on listening to it in the car; don't buy the CD if you're planning on listening to it while jogging; don't buy the cassette if you like artwork and don't buy the mp3 if you covet physical objects.
Four words to sum up the new album
ANDY: Psychedelic, Psychosomatic, Evolutionalistic, Space (I may have made some words up)
SIMON: Powerful, warm, individual, psychedelic
LEE: Alive, atmospheric, voyeuristic and honest.
CHRIS: No woodwind on it.
The Creative Process – ‘This Mountain Waits’February 2013
Any truth in the rumour that Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music’ was your greatest influence when you returned to the studio?
Chris: Ha! That's probably one of the few albums that we didn't talk about. When we're writing and deciding on sounds there's usually someone saying something like 'make the guitars sound more Sabbath but with extra whump' or 'play it like Neu!, if JJ Cale was the guitarist'. Oli: We do have a lot of different influences to throw in and around the cauldron. Simon: Actually, there are a couple of songs that are built around drones, so maybe we should just claim that it was? Vern: Good idea. Yes, 'Metal Machine Music' was our greatest influence when we returned to the studio... there you go.
The first album was incredibly well received – so can we expect the new album to be Colossus Part 2?
Chris: What's the plural of Colossus? Colossae, Colosum? Oli: Colostomy. Andy: That aside, it's definitely not the 'same old, same old'. Vern: No, I think we know that it's more exciting for us and other people to venture off the beaten track and push some boundaries. We've definitely grown in confidence, the writing's more intricate and focused than ever before. Lyrically, this album is more character driven, so whereas Colossus was more about man's insignificance in the grand scheme of things, this time people are very much an active part of the force of nature, rather than being separate and in awe of it. The 'Mountain' is the weathered landscape and rocks eroded by life's tribulations, heartaches and woes. Simon: And there's more mellotron on it.
So what new directions does the new album follow?
Andy: Sonically it's very different to anything we've recorded, more experimental. I’ve done a lot of guitar parts with effects that I've never tried before. This was a massive learning curve for me and, I think, for everyone. Simon: There are definitely some Krautrock influences on there and a bit of Dio era Rainbow. Oli: It's certainly heavier in places too. The spontaneity really excited me during the recording, like Chris' utterly surprising backing vocals on "Rabbit Hole"...none of us expected that. We used a ratchet for percussion on "Rattle Your Bones", which is a new direction inspired by... car mechanics. Andy: We almost used the first rattle I had as a baby on that one but Vern came up with a new and interesting use for one of his harmonicas so it got bumped.
What were the biggest lessons you learned from recording ‘Colossus’ and how has that influenced your approach to the new album?
Simon: We're really pleased that people like our old fashioned approach and use of vintage equipment but there's always room for improvement. I took a detailed look into the technical issues we've faced in the past and made some improvements, mainly on the front end, like some very nice new microphones and beautiful pre-amps… plus a few secret weapons! Vern: My mind boggles at how much we've learned, I think we've mastered the art of capturing that elusive "live" feel. Oli: I wanted to play more guitar on this one, to free Andy up a bit. I also wanted to pay more attention to Chris's guitar knowledge, he wrote a lot of riffs in his previous band and his ideas this time around have a played a big part in the way we play some of the songs and have given them new energy. Chris: Stop... you flatter me unnecessarily. I wanted to play faster this time around, I've been listening to a lot of electronic stuff and, there's no easy way to say this, indie music, so I wanted it to be more propulsive.
You are self-produced – How does a recording session take place – do you actually play together live in the studio or does everyone do their own thing separately?
Chris: Simon's the master of ceremonies when it comes to setting up for recording, and then we blunder in and do our best to undo all his excellent and careful mic placement and tweaking. It's a bit like herding cats. Vern: He's a very clever boy. Andy: All the basic tracks are us in the room, playing live, and we do the overdubs and vocals etc together too, because we all have ideas and build things up as we go along.
When you are recording do you have a ‘target audience’ for the album – who do you imagine listening to it – or do you make music for yourselves and hope others like it?
Chris: I get quite contrary about stuff like that! I think you have to be selfish and follow your muse, be creative and also be bold. When I'm listening to music or watching a film or looking at a piece of art I want to be surprised or confounded or to have a strong reaction to it, ultimately, I find that more satisfying. So if it's something that I've created then I'd hope to do the same, throw in a few surprises, get a reaction, that's the exciting bit! Vern: People's expectations do spur you on though. It's been fantastic getting such a great reaction at gigs and online and reading reviews that delve deep into the music and lyrics, we're really thankful to everyone who's supported us and I think if people have high expectations then we relish the challenge of producing music that lives up to that.
How did you feel when the final mix and running order had been decided and you listened to the whole thing in the form we will all hear it?
Vern: Very, very proud. Oli: Yeah... I just want everyone to hear it now. Chris: I feel like there's something for everyone on it. It's fun for all the family... if the family read Alice in Wonderland to their kids, watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on a weekly basis and had singalongs to the Easy Rider Soundtrack on car journeys.
Lastly, Tell us about the fights! Five separate tour buses?
Simon: The only fights happen when someone is stood between Chris and the biscuits.
Pearl Handled Revolver...”The Journey…”
19th June 2011
At first, we loved it....just hanging out and playing some music together. But, when you know it's good you have to have more. We wanted more....we wanted more people to hear our music, we wanted to create the best onstage sound that we could, we wanted to create a visual experience for our audiences, we wanted to play all those venues that we dreamed of playing.....the list grew as did the band. It might have been the realization, that the music we were making was undoubtedly worth "going that extra mile" for, that changed everything. It made our list of wants happen, one by one.
We find ourselves now reading through a list of venues and festivals that have booked us throughout the year. It's a great list...The Rhythm Festival, Amp Rocks Festival, The 100 Club, The Paradiso (Amsterdam)....all top venues with awesome line ups...Imelda May, The Blockheads, The Black Crowes. All dreams we shared not so long ago.
I'm receiving reviews and interviews now on a daily basis, from Blues Matters, American Blues Scene, Classic Rock and so on. Nearly 150 radio stations worldwide currently playing our tracks on rotation, maybe more now. We're surrounded by incredibly talented people who just love what we do and want to help. From Jamie Carruthers, a young, imaginative web designer who has just created the most perfect website for us (soon to be launched!), Jez Brown, a stunning photographer responsible for most of the shots you'll see of the band, to Tom Wild and David Litchfield, whose deft talents are behind our most viewed video releases .
Indeed it now seems that we weren't aiming high enough in the first place!! Our first album "Colossus" is being mastered as we speak by some of the most knowledgeable guys in the business...and it's huge! It even looks like we're to start planning a US tour for sometime next year...
...Last night we found a rare occasion to just sit, drink wine and talk about the journey so far, and where this journey seems to be taking us and it was all quite mind blowing, in a very good way.
Having tripled our fanbase in the last 6 months, this really is down to all of you full time supporters. Well, keep spreading the word guys and girls...safe in the knowledge that we truly appreciate your efforts, and that they work! :)
Till next tme.....may the dirty Blues be with you!
Tuesday Evening Writing Session......
22 Feb 2011
Tonight was an amazing evening with the boys. As you know from my previous blog, six of the songs for the new album are recorded...that was supposed to be the easy part! The hard part was surely to come? With only some sketchy ideas for the remaining numbers, we had to get some writing done....
I should have known it would be a great night when it began with Chris handing me a ream of my latest lyrics, all printed up beautifully! Having set up and exhausted our "PHR news" chat we questioned which of the new "sketches" we should work on first....
.....I'd mumbled through a track called "I Will Rise", written recently and still fresh in my mind, to the rest of the band a few weeks before. Luckily I could remember the melody, so, calling for silence so as not to forget it, I sang it right through on my own in the hope that each would fill in the gaps.
That is exactly what happened. Incredibly to me, the whole band had independently arrived at the same conclusions....exactly how I had imagined it to be. There it was, a complete and stunning song immediately!! Lest we forget, we ran through it once again, this time with a live mic in the room in order to catalogue it's structure etc. Then we listened back.....
.....I can't wait to play this one live. Lyrically, I feel it's one of my best (you can judge for yourselves! See below) but how the band nailed it tonight has taken it to a whole new level. It is going to be a real pleasure to record this for the album....and what an album it's going to be! Every track so far stands up on it's haunches and demands to be heard. Not one single "album filler" in sight and judging by tonight's glorious anthem, there aren't going to be any ;)
Till next time, here's the song I'm so excited about......
New Album Update!
5 Feb 2011
Been very, very busy boys this month. We are always snatching moments in our hectic lives to further our music. On this occasion we have dedicated our Saturdays to recording LIVE our new album.
Each Saturday we have managed to create six of the twelve new tracks we are hoping to choose from for album inclusion. Quite an achievement in itself! Certainly further forward than we had hoped we'd be by now and the only problem we can see arising is which of those twelve we should use....ALL of them are belters that we are very proud of....ummm, tricky!
Recorded so far are;
"Maybe In Time"
"She Can Dance"
"Woman Made A Man Out Of Me"
"Stop Me Dead"
.....Those of you aware of our set would have heard "Maybe In Time" and "Head" but not as we've recorded them now! Each has received a complete over haul and as we had never formally recorded and released these two we felt they had to be included.
All the rest are completely new....some are still being written and a couple are mere ideas in our heads....but great ones none the less. So stand by for a sneek preview coming soon....all we need now is to pick the right "like minded" person to aid in the mastering process. As soon as we know more on this we'll let you know.....some very interesting offers on the table, just too soon to say!
You might want to keep an eye on our rapidly increasing gig list as only a fraction of our prospective bookings are up with some big ones awaiting confirmation...I'm sure we'll be playing somewhere near you soon ;)
If you want more frequent updates and to chat with the band join us on Facebook....if you haven't already!
If it's top quality streaming you're after then join us on Reverbnation ....free downloads and much, much more!
Then there is this....our latest Full Feature Presentation of "Never Liked You Anyway" .....Live at the Bedford Corn Exchange - (track taken from EP "Three")
............For now, be bad...be very bad....it's the only way to enjoy life to the full! Bye for now.
Paradiso and beyond.....
5 Dec 2010
.....Without a doubt we are looking at more video footage than you can shake a stick at. From our full set at Cremer's (Den Haag) to our wild show at the Paradiso....and all the juicy bits inbetween, we have our work cut out in the editing room.
As if that wasn't enough, we go and play another tremendous night for The Bedford Burlesque, using no less than 8 roving cameras to cover every angle and move of our 45 minute set at the Bedford Corn Exchange.
What a night it was to! Burlesque performers from all over the country gathered to fluff their plumage, tease their tassles and dance their ruby slippers off for this Wizard of Oz themed night with a twist. With nearly 500 people present, most of whom were adorned as elaborately as the performers, great sound, great lighting and this stunning venue.....It couldn't fail to be a superb evening. Ironically, we return home to find ourselves on the largest stage we've played on to date, we loved it and we hope it comes across in the video.
We wish to thank Emily for her well organised perfect party and for asking us along to join in the fun.
So, lots of video coming soon, that's for sure. We'll keep you posted.....can't wait to see it myself ;)
Blowing off the cobwebs
5 Nov 2010
It's probably appropriate that our first gigs for what seems like an age were for Halloween. We've led a rather vampire like existence of late, locked away in the studio without daylight, (normal) human company and often oxygen, writing and recording and stopping only to muse upon the relative merits of more Moog and the maximum acceptable length of an album track (opinions vary between 9 and 23 minutes, with one vote for calling them 'movements' not 'songs').
But step out into the daylight we did, pale, drawn and hunched double... no Halloween costumes required... to make our way to The Gipsy Moth in Greenwich. Turns out the Gipsy Moth is a GREAT pub, with an AWESOME crowd and we had an absolute blast... we tried out a couple of the new songs 'She Can Dance' and 'Woman Made A Man Out Of Me' (one sounds like Black Sabbath covering Pink Floyd... the other one sounds like Pink Floyd covering Black Sabbath) and were much relieved that a) we remembered them and b) they seemed to go down really rather well.
The clocks went back... I think we lost that extra hour to drinking... but we made some splendid new friends, and returned home under the appropriately all encompassing cover of darkness chuffed to veritable pieces and full of thanks for the staff (big shouts to Simon and Ruth), punters, the pirates, the witches and the zombies.
Sunday creaked open like the door to an improbably perched Transylvanian castle and we all convened at Bev's for Bev's... or, if you want to get technical, The Bedford Arms, run by Beverley, purveyor of the finest real ales and assorted beverages.
Another Halloween party and another GREAT crowd, some big names in there... Sweeney Todd and Edward Scissorhands, at least one She Demon, Morticia, Death himself and a couple of Trainspotters... enough in fact to absorb Simons thinly veiled tribute to Rick Wakeman... he claims it was a witches hat and cape... we know he was making a grab for the Grand High Wizard of Prog Throne.
Utmost respect to everyone who turned out, on a Sunday dressed to the nines (or 666s); especially since most of you had already had a big Blues fix from the splendid Cherry Lee Mewis at the Sunday Session in Danny's Bar... so THANK YOU.
We feel truly spoilt... It was a joy to play for you all and get such a warm reception as we blew off the cobwebs, literally and metaphorically.