The studio guitarist’s guide to happiness and personal fulfilment, as told to us by Mitch Dalton. This month: Studio sessions... and how to survive them, part the 6th.
Isuggest that there is a motto, a mantra or perhaps an aide memoire which might to serve to comfort the unwary plectrist as he sets sail on the Sea Of Sessions. And since “Be prepared” is one that the Scout movement has er... prepared earlier, the instruction “Expect the unexpected” might serve as a useful alternative while riffing along life’s Rocky Road. You might reasonably believe that, having acquired the requisite skill set of assiduous study, a smidgen of talent, a generous slice of luck and a car parking space, all that remained would be to turn up, tune up and drop in. The following smorgasbord of the surreal will surely dispel that naive assumption. Here are a few string bending, double-stopping moments drawn at random from my defiantly analogue memory. Only some names have been expunged. Not in order to protect the innocent or to avoid possible legal discomfort, you understand. Quite simply, at this point in my career, the day has been a triumph if I can even recall who I am with a degree of accuracy.
Let’s begin with the studio date that I undertook for a gentleman who is now one of the all-time Hollywood movie composer greats. Back in the day, circumstances and budgets were a tad more modest as I presented myself for overdubbing duty at a small South West London facility. My mission (and yes, I did choose to accept it) was to provide tasteful rock stylings to visuals that featured individuals of above average attractiveness and energy as they went about their daily business. This line of work seemed to place much emphasis on the artistes’ inclination and ability to disrobe efficiently, mostly in groups of between two and four. Paradoxically, my employer seemed considerably more interested in the quality of his lunchtime sandwiches than the celluloid equivalents on offer, pausing only between mouthfuls to proffer occasional encouragement while his tape op stared glumly into the middle distance.
“This one’s in E. Just smash out your usual Pentatonic licks. It builds. Just watch the picture and you’ll know where to reach the er, climax. Yeah, that’s it. Great. The next one’s easier. The one with the two blondes in A. Hmm…I think it’s in A. But I’m pretty sure about the blondes.”
I guess there are harder ways to earn a living. Stop it. Now you’re making up your own jokes. Perhaps we should we move on swiftly to the world of... Comedy.
Very well do I remember a pleasant excursion to bucolic Berkshire and a day’s recording at stately Crutchfield Manor, as imposing a piece of real estate as you could reasonably wish for in your lottery-fuelled fantasies. For it was here that my composer and saxophone playing colleague Ron Aspery was king for a production music day. My vehicle was crammed as he had requested with any fretted instrument that might conceivably lend itself to laughs. Guitars of any flavour were expressly forbidden, so instead the converted stable block welcomed a banjo, mandolin, ukulele, charango and bouzouki to an ample portion of its cramped studio bosom. My colleagues shuffled their stands and chairs resentfully to accommodate this unwelcome intrusion into their space as I clattered through their ranks, tuned up and waited expectantly.
The red light gleamed, Mr Aspery counted us in and the band roared away. The first cue seemed to be a Keystone Cops pastiche, very much part of the brief and skilfully written to boot. The issue for me was that producer, composer and engineer all seemed delighted with the first take despite the fact that I had played not a note in laughter. And for good reason. There was an elegant folder on my stand bearing the legend “Mitch” but containing nothing. Nix. Rien de tout. Zilch. Being a man of rare perception and intuition, I immediately sensed that all was not quite the ticket.
“Er, Ron?” “Yes? Ah, you want to know where your parts are. Didn’t I mention it when I rang you? No? Sorry, mate. There aren’t any. At all. For the entire day. Just sit there and listen. If you happen to think of anything comedic or quirky to play well, just join in! If not, not to worry. I only booked you because you’re funny and I like you. The money’s the same.” Happy days.
Next month I’ll share with you, dear readers, the tale of selfproducing someone else’s session, how to stumble into the Bond films via a demo studio in Luton, how to receive a not insubstantial royalty payment (twice) from blundering about on a banjo for 20 minutes and much less.
But only if you ask nicely...
SMASH OUT YOUR USUAL PENTATONIC LICKS. JUST WATCH THE PICTURE AND YOU’LL KNOW WHERE TO REACH THE ER, CLIMAX
Mitch: with more studio stories to enrich and enliven your summer days