I only just got myself invited to the first Real World recording week. I’d approached Real World a month before with the suggestion that I work with them and with WOMAD and they invited me along. I’d no idea what to expect.
Perhaps the best thing was the way in which other people’s performances had the power to draw something out of you that you never knew you had to give. I’ve never been a ‘leap in there straightaway’ kind of improviser. I’m by nature a perfectionist and shy songwriter. But in the writing room one day, I heard a backing track which three drummers had laid down simultaneously.
These days, you almost never hear a track like that. Three styles of drumming on full kits recorded entirely ‘live’ instead of on a machine. It was exhilarating. Someone had added a couple of sets of chords which loosely delineated ‘verse’ and ‘chorus’ type structures. And Rupert Hine, the producer in charge of that session asked me if I’d like to lay a vocal over the top.
I said I’d work out which scale the chords suggested and that I’d need a drone. Someone said “Oh there’s always a drone, floating around at Real World” and pushed up a fader. And there was I perfectly in tune drone, which I think was left over from the previous session, just waiting to be used.
…having to get a take right in front of strangers tends to concentrate the mind!
Well I sang the first phrase and realised that really wasn’t going to work. It was too hard to distinguish my voice from the chords and the vocal had no ‘excitement’. With a lurch in my stomach in the couple of beats I had to think, I realised I’d have to do the whole thing an octave up. I had no choice bu to just ‘throw’ my voice at it.
I heard this sound come out – more like an adolescent boy than my own tone. To my surprise, all the right sorts of phrases came to mind, and all inspired by the sound the track was forcing me into producing. Sometimes, stepping out of your comfort zone is exactly what you need.
So if you’ve never been to one, how would I sum up the experience of a Real World Recording Week for a musician taking part? Terrifying. Exhilarating. Awe-inspiring.