In this world of blockbuster movies and binge worthy box sets sometimes you just don’t have the time that these types of shows demand. Sometimes all you want is 30 minutes of ‘chewing gum for the eyes’ as my dad used to call it. There are quiz show re runs, there are more programmes about doing up houses than you can shake a paint brush at and if it’s restoring old cars you want to watch, then you are spoilt for choice.
One of my favourite wastes of times is ‘How It’s Made’. It’s the perfect show to dip into. They usually have 3 very ordinary items, say, doughnuts, leather footballs or drums and then they show you ‘How It’s Made’. It’s fascinating seeing what goes on to prepare all of the parts that eventually fit together perfectly to create the finished masterpiece.
With that in mind I’m hoping you will find this week’s column of interest… ‘How It’s Made’, my new album.
I’m right at the end of the process and this week I’ve been thinking back over the past six months trying to remember how I got here.
At the start of every project there is an idea. It might come as a light bulb moment, it might be found in a dream, often people ‘find’ ideas talking to their mates in a café or pub. My idea came out of experience.
Over the years I have learnt that as one major project comes to an end you must have the next idea ready to go, otherwise you get the blues. I know a lot of my actor and singer friends have been going through ‘post tour blues’ over the past few weeks as they completed their run in panto. For weeks its intense rehearsals, then its 8 shows a week, then its…nothing.
The first time it happened to me was when I finished the first theatre run of my musical about the Welsh Revival, ‘Amazing Grace’. It had been 9 months of unrelenting pressure, writing, raising money, casting, rehearsals, selling tickets. Then before you know it we were headed for the final bow. The poppers went off, the curtain came down, we hugged and said our goodbyes and then…silence.
For weeks I kept checking my phone to see if it was still connected; it was, it was just no one was calling.
Now, every time I take on a major project I make sure the next is ready to go as soon as it comes towards the end. Last year was a big year with a week long run of a show to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the city. Even before we packed up the props I was already starting to write a new album. An album is the sort of project you can start on your own, so it feels like you’re working even if there’s no one working on it with you.
There shouldn’t be any pressure at such an early stage, but you put pressure on yourself to try to create the best work possible. In this ‘level playing field world’ of loops and synthesizers we all have the same opportunities to create world class recordings in our bedrooms, there are now no excuses. Just check out Bille Eilish. She recorded an album in her brothers bedroom studio and now she’s singing the theme song for the new James Bond film.
For the first couple of weeks I looped and sampled everything from a squeaky door to tapping an old bucket. Then I saw the light, well in fact I saw ‘From the Heart’, a documentary about record producer Mark Ronson. He grew up working as a DJ and he’s been playing with loops in the studio since he was a kid. It made me realise that while it might look easy, cut and paste, there’s so much more to it than that. For a couple of days, I took a breather as I considered my next move.
I decided that I would go back to the future. What I had done since I was a kid was sit at a piano and write songs. So that’s what I did. Everyday for weeks I wrote a new song. Then I whittled them down to about 20 on a shortlist.
Maldwyn and Andrew Griffiths on the plane to Prague
I’ve known the arranger Andrew Griffiths since he was a kid. At 17 he came on work experience for a week at my studio. In fact, he never properly left. In the meantime, he went to university, played brass with his brothers ‘The Brass Monkeys’ on my TV series and then developed his own studio and a career writing music for TV and films.
One of my sons gave me Elton John’s biography for Christmas and it reminded me that for his first big album he worked with an orchestral arranger called Paul Buckmaster. So, I sent Andrew my new songs and some tracks from the ‘Elton John’ album and asked him if he could do something similar.
It took a couple of days until the first arrangement came through but when it did I literally started to laugh. It was so big, so over the top and perfect for what I had in mind to be different from everything else around at the moment.
Next we got the boys in. My band the Jacks are so busy with projects, this year has seen them play in venues across Europe including Wembley Stadium, that I had to grab a day here and there with them individually.
First I got Ryan Aston, the drummer in Ystradgynlais,
Then Andrew ‘Wal’ Coughlan the bass player in Garnant.
Tim Hamill did guitars in Llangennech
Finally, Nigel Hopkins emailed his electric piano parts from somewhere near Carmarthen.
The big question came with the orchestra. These days synthesizers and samples are very good and its hard to tell the difference between them and the real thing…but there is a difference.
Andrew had recently been out to Prague to record an orchestra for one of his tv projects. It was so tempting and as anyone who knows me, knows…I can resist anything except temptation.
So now comes the tricky part. I now stand in front of my computer with the job of mixing all of these ingredients into the finished record. In many ways it is like creating a cake or special meal. You have all of the ingredients, some strong and dependable, others which add the spice and zing or sweetness. If you put too much in you can spoil the concoction, if you play safe it can become bland.
This week I’ll be playing the songs in the studio, on the car stereo, on headphones and even on the phone itself. That’s how you make a record. Now all I have to do is find a way to sell it!!!