Seems you can teach an old dog after all…

This week on ‘The Mal and Johnny Show’, Johnny Tudor and I had a chat about how the world of entertainment has changed over the past 18 months.  It has been a terrible hammer blow for those of us who make our way in life performing in front of an audience but in other ways the need to rise to the challenge has had some positives too.

Johnny has been performing and acting for over 50 years. In all of those years auditions have usually meant catching a train to London, waiting in line with hundreds of others and then spending a small fortune on something to eat before getting the last train home again.  For a job worth a couple of hundred pounds you might well have spent £70 and wasted a whole day of your life…and then you never hear another word from the producers.

Initially, due to Covid, all productions were shut down but as the entertainment industry has found ways to work within government guidelines jobs are finally appearing again.  Johnny was telling me that he and his wife Olwen have had any number of auditions over the past month or so and the good news is that although they have had to spend a bit of money on new technology, computers, cameras and lights, they haven’t had to leave their house.  All they have had to do is film themselves reading the script they’ve been sent and then email their audition back to the producers. 

Johnny and Olwen are even more fortunate because depending on which one of them is auditioning for a part the other person can read the other lines to make it more natural.  Even more than that they can get real. For one of his most recent auditions Johnny had to play the part of someone in a hospital bed.  Rather than going to a damp, dusty rehearsal room to pretend Johnny simply took his phone to his own bed and filmed it there. 

It has been a similar story for me making music.  There is nothing more enjoyable in life that setting up in a studio with your mates and making music together.  Half of the fun is catching up with everyone and all of the funny stories we share during the tea breaks.

The last time I was in a studio with real people was last January.  After recording the backing tracks to a new album with my band The Jacks, I took the ‘tapes’, well actually a hard drive, and went to Prague to record an orchestra.  It was amazing to be in such a beautiful studio with so many great players.  Well if it was to be the last time for a while it certainly left great memories.

But just because we couldn’t meet to make music, it didn’t mean that we couldn’t work together.  It really goes to prove how creative people can be when they need to be creative.  It started with me writing some songs at home and recording a very basic track and a rough vocal.  I would then send that over the internet to Andrew Griffiths who works on the string and brass arrangements in his home studio.

Mal and Andrew Griffiths Pre Covid

He then sent the string parts to a violin player he often works with to track up a small string section.  In the meantime, Andrew got out all of his brass instruments to give me a real life brass section.

Next the tracks go to Ryan the drummer based in Port Talbot.  Ryan is a live gigging drummer; well he was until last March.  Over the past 18 months he has created his own studio set up where he now records drums on request as well as making internet TV shows.

With the drums done the tracks went winging their way to Glanaman for Wal to record his bass parts and then finally to Llangennech for Tim to add guitar. Both had their own established studios before lockdown but email order sessions for them both are becoming more and more common.

Mal and Tim Pre Covid

I say finally but not quite.  As you can probably tell I’ve been making records and TV shows with these lads for most of my life. You can’t have one on the record without having them all on the record, or at least trying my best to get them all involved.

Nigel Hopkins is always a problem!  He is the keyboard player for Chris De Burgh and even during lockdown he’s been busy but, well, the rest of the band are on the session, so I thought I’d better try. 

I emailed Nige, explained the situation and said I understood that he probably couldn’t contribute too much but maybe he could record piano part, maybe a little Hammond organ?  I had to wait a little while as Nige had had to go to Ireland to film some videos for a new Chris De Burgh release but when he got back in touch he actually sent me 13 separate instrument parts from Piano, to tubular bells and clavinet. 

In the old days of 24 track tape recording options were limited, you had to decide if there was enough space for each additional instrument.  These day with unlimited tracks available on a computer there is no need to stop.  The only thing is that when you come to mix everything down to stereo it’s a bit like wrestling a monster.

As I sat in front of my computer this week mixing all of their contributions it suddenly struck me.  I hadn’t actually seen any of the people involved in my new recording.  In some ways it’s sad because it’s the human contact of making music that brings its own joy, but needs be, and we have found a way.

My only fear is that we may get used to this way of life; we may get used to making records by email. Having said that although lots of performers have held online concerts from the garden sheds and front rooms there is nothing like a real life audience with a real life band.

A big hello from the Jacks!!!

For the time being we will make it work but I can’t wait for the days when as well as sharing music I can share a cuppa and a pile of really bad jokes and stories with some of my oldest friends.