Athens, Georgia, USA.
It was Fall and still warm, humid and gold. We were in Athens to record an album at a studio made famous by REM, Cowboy Junkies and Widespread Panic, with producer John Keane, who worked on ‘Green’ ‘Out Of Time’ and ‘Automatic for the People’.
It was a dream for us. We might finally escape the rigors of life on the pub and club circuit.
We were staying out of town, in a beautiful house over-looking the Oconee River. It had old American quilts on the beds, a sauna, huge open log fire and a hot tub outside. It had been loaned to us, rent-free, by a local musician.
So, the whole thing should have been heaven and paradise rolled into one, but it wasn’t. It had become ‘difficult’.
We had been working between 13 and 16 hours a day for weeks and were all wired, tired and stressed out.
We had hassle with our management, a time limit and contractual pressures. We were also getting on each other’s nerves.
Each day, we would get up, drive to the studio, record, wait, listen, record, wait, listen – from 9am til 1am the following day. It was a tough schedule.
People think making and recording music is easy. They are wrong. It requires stamina, focus, creativity on tap at any given time, day or night, and total commitment.
Don’t get me wrong, it beats working in a factory or unloading trucks for a living (both of which I have done), but it comes with its own set of trials – including a condition known as ‘studio fever’.
Studios are pretty much the same the world over. They have areas where you actually play the music, either together or in isolation, a control room where the engineers record the music you play onto tape or hard-drive, and try to make it sound as good as possible.
There is usually a kitchen, toilets, lounge and some kind of ‘demo’ room, where you can rehearse without annoying or distracting the engineers or producers. Some studios, like Rockfield and Monnow Valley, have accommodation too.
Studios are like ‘safe houses’, shuttered and inhuman, anonymous, like tiny ‘Big Brother’ houses – but smaller and more intense.
The four of us were recording as a band, and so we spent a LOT of time together in small spaces – travelling, rehearsing, gigging, writing, discussing, eating and sleeping. It had taken years of hard work to get to this point and there was a lot of pressure.
My ego alone required a forklift.
Like every band that has ever walked the earth, we developed an intense camaraderie, full of in-jokes, pecking orders and savage, merciless humour, which kept us from physically attacking each other. Violent bursts of irrational and ego-driven rage is an omnipresent danger in the highly-charged, claustrophobic and creative atmosphere of a studio – and requires an outlet.
We had decided on a no drink and drug policy in the studio, so that we would all be sober if called on at any time to perform – we were trying to be professional, I guess, and didn’t want to squander studio time. We also had enormous respect for the engineer and producer, John Keane, who was working twice as hard as we were. The guy has more ability and focus than anyone I’ve ever met.
We were close to the end, at the mixing stage, and tempers were fraying with each hour that passed. Everyone wanted their instrument or voice turned up and no-one could agree on anything. Issues from years ago, from old pub gigs or ‘The Transit Van Years’ were suddenly brought up and used as sticks to batter each other with.
We were no longer rational.
Tiny, normally insignificant differences of opinion became enormous, life and death feuds of catastrophic proportions that could, at any moment, escalate into extreme physical violence, even homicide.
Each band member sat in separate armchairs in the lounge, silently hating the others, harbouring unresolved, disfigured resentments and death wishes.
While John worked his magic in the control room, we glared beneath the whirring ceiling fan and nobody said a word.
We had all come down with ‘studio fever’.
The piano player (and Welsh Jack Daniels Champion), B-Side Bob, who bought an old Alcoholics Anonymous book to use as his beer mat, picked up one of my CDs – “What’s this?”
I shrugged, “I just bought it. They’re called ‘Goldie Lookin Chain’. I haven’t listened to it yet. They’re from Wales.”
B-Side Bob took my CD out of my jewel case, put it in my ghetto blaster, put my fucking headphones on, lay back and closed his eyes.
I was seething with misplaced rage, chain-smoking and literally dying to get fucked-up.
Then the miracle happened.
B-Side Bob laughed. Quietly at first, and then louder, in bursts, and then continuously, until he was convulsing, tears running down his face as he fell off the sofa. He ripped the headphones out of the ghetto blaster and started the CD again. He literally couldn’t speak, he was laughing so much.
‘Guns Don’t Kill People, Rappers Do’, ‘Soap Bar’ and ‘Your Mother’s Got A Penis’.
Welsh accents rapping genius rhymes about smoking cheap, shitty dope that burns holes in your tracksuit, about Cardiff, Newport and cross-dressers. B-Side Bob, who is from the Newport area, gasping and howling on the floor – it was too much.
It’s hard to put into words how funny those 40 minutes were. I still cry with laughter as I recall B-Side Bob, rendered incapable with hysteria from listening to ‘Goldie Lookin Chain’.
John had to stop mixing because even through sound-proofed glass, he could hear our laughter.
It was better than cocaine.
The tension was released and we realised why we were there – because we loved music and each other.
I still listen to that album, ‘Greatest Hits’ and still marvel at the cleverness of the rhymes and the raucous, bawdy wit.
They are the Shakespeare’s of Newport, Gwent.
Their new single is called ‘Baneswell Express’ (“They sell porno mags to give you an erection and spotted dick in the frozen section“) and I bought it the moment it was released.
I advise you to do the same.