composer of music for film & television
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04
Sep

Big Hair Rock

A Blast From The Past

In February 2013 Audio Network asked me if I’d like to compose and record a collection of 1980s ‘Big Hair Rock’ tracks. As a teenager in the late 80s I played in rock bands and I also had very big hair so I told them I would love to.

I have not composed or recorded this style of music in over 20 years but I knew it was going to be a very interesting and fun challenge.

I also knew it was going to be very important to get the right people around me to help with this project. 

Kes Loy and Chris Bussey recording the first demo tracks for the album

Leica M9P with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95


Kes Loy and Chris Bussey recording the first demo tracks for the album 

Leica M9P with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95


A Very Fine Line

One of my first concerns was to make sure we stayed true to the attitude and passion we could see and hear from the classic bands from the late 80s. It was very important not to cross over into parody or let the album become simply, a competent ‘session musician’ album.

Rock music from the late 1980s gets a bad rap.  

Being part of that particular scene myself (as a kid) it’s harder for me to have a negative opinion on this short lived genre but many people still marginalize this music, now often referred to as ‘Big Hair Rock’. Ok, the clothes, hair, lyrics and posturing don’t help build any argument. But this pouting, self obsessed, ego driven Rock is still loved by many millions of music lovers around the world and we were determined to give Audio Network an honest, rocking blast from the past. 

Two Albums In One

When researching the music for this project we started to realize there could be two albums in one.

We had already decided on the feel for the eight tracks to be recorded. The styles would range from Rock with a ‘Pop feel’ to rock with a ‘Glam feel’ all with vocals, but we realised we could also record instrumental versions.

The late 1980s saw the rebirth of the guitar hero and along with it came fully instrumental, lead guitar albums so we composed alternate instrumental ‘Hero Guitar’ versions of all the tracks, with the lead guitar parts ranging from soaring themes to face melting shredding.

Mark Pitchforth recording his guitar solo, Ibanez RG-750

Leica M9P with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95

Mark Pitchforths Stormshadow EVH 150 with extra neck pickup

Leica M9P with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95


Mark Pitchforth taking it to legato town, 

Leica M9P with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95


The Drums

1980s rock music recordings are known for their huge drum sound. It was also the era of insane studio recording budgets with months at a time being spent on getting just the drum sound!

Richard Kimmings’ Pearl BLX drum kit The Chairworks Studios, Castleford

Leica M9P with Leica 18mm Super-Elmar f3.8 ASPH

 

 

Chris Busseys’ Tama drum kit at The Chairworks Studios, Castleford

Leica M9P with Leica 18mm Super-Elmar f3.8 ASPH


All drum recording was done at The Chairworks studios in Castleford.

We now live in an era where it is claimed that sound of a drum kit can be fully replicated using a laptop and performed by simply finger tapping on rubber pads (with the added convenience that you can do this sitting on your sofa or hiding away in your bedroom). 

I’m not going to use this blog to explore whether this virtual world sounds as good as (or better) than the real world but I will say this - 

Listening to a great drummer in a recording session in a studio with a superb live room (Like The Chairworks) and feeling the vibe from the drummer in that environment is hard to top. The environment extracts a different type of performance.

Chris Bussey recording his drum tracks at The Chairworks Studios, Castleford

Leica M9P with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95

Richard Kimmings recording his drum tracks at The Chairworks Studios, Castleford

Leica M9P with Leica 18mm Super-Elmar f3.8 ASPH

 

The drumming we captured is a wonderful recording of two drummers having a great time in a beautiful environment, hitting as loud as they can and enjoying every moment.

It’s 100% physical commitment.

You can actually hear the grins on their faces.

To see full photo blog from this session click this link -

http://barriegledden.co.uk/view-gallery/80s-Big-Hair-Rock-Drum-Session

You can also read Richard Kimmings' blog about the drum session here -

http://www.kimmings.com

The Guitars

Kes Loy recorded the rhythm tracks for the demos with his black, gig worn Les Paul. I laid down the first riff ideas with my Ibanez Steve Vai Jem. 

 

Kes Loy recording the first demo guitar tracks for the album

 Leica M9P with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95


Ibanez Jem - used for my lead guitar parts on this album

Leica M9P with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95

All my lead parts were played on the Vai Jem. The shimmering clean guitar parts were preformed on my Ibanez Jem and Fender ’57 reissue Strat. 

Half way through recording Kes bought a Peavy Wolfgang guitar (he felt he needed a guitar with a locking trem) and this chunk of ‘wire and wood’ changed our approach to recording the guitars, it sounds incredible. 

Kes Loy Tracking lead guitar parts, Peavy Wolfgang

Leica M9P with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95


Regardless of brand or model, finding ‘a good bit of wood’ is crucial to any instruments tone. This Peavy had much more gain, harmonic structure and balls than either the Les Paul or the Jem. 

The initial plan was to track using my Marshall JCM800 amp, with different guitars. We eventually decided to track the rhythm guitars using only the Wolfgang, but use different amps.

The Amps

 

Marshall JCM800, Ibanez Jem and Drum Workshop snaredrum

Leica M9P with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95


I’ve managed to build up a reasonable collection of amps over the years (some expensive and some dirt cheap) with most of them getting used every few months or so. 

For some reason over the last few years my Marshall JCM800 has not been chosen for any project. Perhaps I’d convinced myself that my newer boutique amps we’re superior in tone. Or maybe I felt the Marshall was a bit of an obvious choice. 

I dusted the Mashall down, put it in the booth and plugged it into a Mesa Boogie 2x12 cab. I then spent half an hour placing microphones and checking phase. The result is a wonderful attacking rock sound with solid mid punch and tight bottom end... it sounds exactly like many of the classic 1980s rock band guitar tones.

Marshall JCM800, Mesa Boogie 2x12 cab and Sennheiser MD421 microphone

Leica M9P with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95



Tracking The Lead Guitars

I recorded the final lead guitar parts at the same time as Kes. Twin guitar attack!

We both sat in the control room and played in unison/harmony. Playing together and tracking each of our parts at the same time introduced a conversational interplay that would have been lost if we had tracked at different times. Also recording at the same time produced simpler and ultimately more useful parts.  

I used the Marshall with Keely Compressor and Z-Vex Super Hard On pedals. Kes played through my Three Monkeys Grease Monkey head and 2x12 cab with a Fulltone overdrive pedal.

Ching

During the 1980s a new guitar sound emerged. Super clean, impossibly thin, massively compressed and heavily chorused. It was used by many different artists: Pop acts like Mr Mr, The Cars and Simple Minds. Pop Rock bands like Def Leppard and ‘huge hair’ AOR artists such as Heart and Whitesnake. 

To recreate these clean sounds for our album we used two different rigs. The first setup was my Steve Vai Jem into an ADA MP-1 Tube preamp, Marshall 9200 Dual Mono Block Valve power amplifier and Mesa Boogie 2x12 cab. 

 

ADA MP-1 Preamp, Marshall 9100 power amp, Mesa Boogie 2x12 cab,Sennheiser MD421 and Shure SM57 microphones

Leica M9P with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95

The second combination was my Fender ’57 Strat into a Keely compressor pedal and MXR stereo chorus DI into a fink CS2-FA preamp. ----

The Bass

For many years now my main bass has been my Gibson Thunderbird. It’s also a perfect choice for bass on this album. All the demo tracks were recorded on the Thunderbird DI through the UA 1076.

When it came to putting the final bass takes down we swapped bass duties to my Rickenbacker 4003 it added a bit of growl that was missing from the Thunderbird. 

The signal from the bass was split by a Z-Vex Super Hard On pedal with channel one going to the amp chain - Orange AD200B and Mark Bass 2x10 cab, EV-RE20 mic and to a Neve 1073 preamp.  The second channel went DI into a Fink CS2-FA preamp. This setup gave us a nice balance at mixing between deep round lows and punchy mid growl.

Vocals

The biggest challenge recording this album was finding the right singer.

Whilst we knew we were creating an album drawing completely from past influences we couldn’t let the vocals drift into mimicry. We needed a singer who had his own sound but a sound that was firmly rooted in the rock 80s.

Nigel Bailey

Just as the search for a vocalist was looking pretty hopeless, Kes Loy mentioned a rock singer from Bradford he had overlooked: Nigel Bailey. 

Nigel emailed a demo and I was blown away. We had our singer.

Nigel arrived for the first recording session and I had a microphone set up for him and had the preamp and compressor (Telefunken U47, Neve 1073, Analogue Tube AT-101) all at my usual settings.... when he let loose with the very first line.... everything red lined.... this was a big voice!

Nigel delivered 100% heartfelt, all guns blazing performances day in day out. It’s wonderful that Audio Network is often the seed for these new musical relationships.

A Message On A Balloon

This project has been one of the most, involved yet enjoyable I’ve worked on in the last 13 years with Audio Network. 

Looking to the past, especially such a musically specific past, has taught me many things about, production, composition, musical attitude, performance and mixing. 

Twenty five years on from when this music was released I can't  hear it with the same teenage ears.

It’s been crucial throughout this project for me to remember why this music moved me then and find out what I need to do to let it move us all now.

The album will be released early 2014 via Audio Network

 

 

 

 

 

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