The studio guitarist’s guide to happiness and fulfilment, with Mitch Dalton. This month: Studio sessions... and how to survive them. Part 2 in which our fearless hero enters through the portals of the immortals.
What can possibly await our starry eyed, hypothetical friend? Well, if he is intent on a lengthy stay in this glamour profession, an early arrival made possible by an implausibly earlier reveille is mandatory. Personally, I favour ‘Marimba’ on the iPhone menu to set the mood. That and hurling the alarm clock at the cat usually suffices: as close to attaining perfect pitch as I will ever get.
The ludicrous spare time allowed will be consumed effortlessly by attempting to gain access to today’s work place (thereby inconveniencing staff at reception and their diligent perusal of Heat magazine), unload and... park. For there will be no car park access for you today, my friend. Or ever. By 8.00 am, deluded dreams of stardom and privilege lie shattered beneath the grimy wheels of your Mondeo GL (part taxed, irregularly serviced, runs well downhill).
For the sake of your self esteem, it’s best to ignore the ‘reserved’ signs allocated to the MD. And the engineer. And the cleaner. Or the singers, who must schlep their back breaking clutch bags almost unaided to catering. This is the hierarchy. Or in your case, the lower-archy. Get used to it now, for the long day has yet to begin.
First off - The TV ‘Light Entertainment’ Session. An oxymoron, as ever was. The first thing to understand about the Televisual Environment is that ‘visual’ is the key component in the title. Notice that the word ‘sound’ is nowhere to be seen, if I may be permitted to mangle my metaphors. Consequently, expect to be made to feel that you are a necessary evil, an impediment and an inconvenience as you struggle to your allocated space. On set, if you’re lucky, but it may be that you are secreted beneath a set of stairs, wedged behind last week’s scenery or even banished to a separate room with a video link supplied.
No matter. You will traipse through a forbidding hinterland whose floor is infested with labyrinthine cable spaghetti plus a side serving of cameras, in semi darkness and with semi interest from both floor crew and technicians. Should you negotiate your way through this initial irritation without breaking your neck, you will discover that there is half the required room for your four guitars, banjo and amp, you are seated (assuming they’ve remembered your chair) directly in front of the trumpet section and the drums, there’s no electricity supply and Sound are on their lunch hour. (Note. Sound are always on their lunch hour. It’s a moveable feast).
Suitably encouraged, you enter into territorial negotiations with your colleagues that make those concerning the Occupied Territories look like a game of Scrabble and, after an hour of escalating persuasion, cajoling and threats, a messy compromise is achieved and it’s finally time for a line check. After the inevitable hum from your gear has been identified instantly as YF (Your Fault), it turns out that it in reality it’s TF (Their Fault), caused inevitably by RF (Radio Frequency) emanating from approximately 20 miles of sprawling wiring. Quelle surprise.
No matter. We move on to the music, the raison d’etre for this expensive enterprise. Before your apprehensive eyes there will be a folder of music cues, beautifully orchestrated and exquisitely copied, if all has gone to plan. Sadly, the band call, your one opportunity to nail the charts before rehearsals begin in earnest, will have been compressed to the length of a Winter’s day in Antarctica. But without the charm. An ability to sight read music to a tolerable standard suddenly assumes considerable significance, at least to a level that precludes hilarity from your colleagues and the Death Stare from your MD.
And so the endless day wears on. The show is routined to death. There is a camera run/dress rehearsal. The occasional tea break. Finally, a meal break and a frantic few minutes to slip into something a little more uncomfortable.
And it’s... Showtime. At which precise point you make the astonishing discovery that you’re absolutely knackered. The ability to render even Three Blind Mice in recognisable form suddenly seems an unattainable dream.
Can our hero escape the clutches of evil Doctor Terror, wriggle free and escape to the marginally calmer waters of Record Dates, Commercials and Film Sessions? Tune in to next month’s tolerably exciting episode!
BY 8.00 AM, DELUDED DREAMS OF STARDOM AND PRIVILEGE LIE DASHED BENEATH THE WHEELS OF YOUR MONDEO
Mitch with another joyful tale of life as a session musician