Over the winter we’ve been busy making a serious album with Arts Council England support. If you don’t ask etc........And what a glorious adventure recording our album has been!
Why Real World? Mostly because it’s the go-to place for our producer Justin Adams. And Tim Oliver, Justin’s go-to sound engineer is the main man there. But also part of its raison d’etre is that its a residential studio and we wanted the ‘away from home’ reorienting intensity that offered.
The site of Real World Studios is like a WOMAD campus housed in an old mill site in the tiny village of Box, close to Bath. It takes a little finding, back lanes off back lanes, especially if you arrive in the dark as we did.
Straightaway I knew we’d made a good decision. The accommodation was five star. I’d known we were sharing and wondered what that might be like. Just how close were we all willing to get? In fact Ben and I shared a whole house, with a floor each. The others were equally well provided for in the main house. Lush and luxurious. And we hadn’t even seen the studio yet.
Then there was the snow. That first morning, as we settled into the studio, got down to work with Justin, Tim and Katy the studio assistant, it began. Delicately and delightfully at first. Then insistent and settling, fashioning a disconcerting cover-up so by the end of the day everyone who had a home to go to got off as fast as they could.
The day finished for us with dinner especially cooked by Jerome the French cook and an unexpected pub Olympics (table tennis, pool, table football and darts) in a customised shed we found whilst exploring the the array of spectacular and dilapidated buildings on site.
We woke to a depth of virgin snow I’ve not seen for a generation in Lancaster. Beautiful. But we were in a remote Somerset valley - would anyone get in? Justin’s arrival seemed relaxed enough but Jay’s car slid down the final hill and Tim walked 4 miles in a blizzard!
Snowing stopped but the snow remained. Paths were swept, roads cleared, frozen plumbing mended. It lay there unmelting, sparkling in the sunshine, becoming a companionable Xmas card landscape accompanied by pervasive crunching underfoot. Until our last day when it began to slush, flow and disappear. As we drove away to start the journey home the paths, the roads, the hills were all clear. It arrived with us and left with us.
I can’t finish this scene-setting blog without mentioning the heart-warming story of the little egrets. I saw two of them that first morning sitting in the willow tree outside my room. I asked Tim the engineer about them. Because not only is Tim a magnificent engineer but he’s also an artist, a geologist, a bird-spotter and pretty much manages the whole Real World site including the lake and the sluice gates that control the surrounding water levels. He told us there had been been two little egrets nesting here for years but one had died and the other had been solitary and miserable for some time. Mine was the first sighting of a the grieving egret with a potential mate.
For some time now one of my chief aims for Deep Cabaret has been to give us all memorable experiences. From that point of view just being in place like Real World felt like an achievement. Enjoying being immersed in music even when we weren’t making it. Even when we were in the ‘no dogs please, we have cats’ pub. It hardly seemed to matter what we actually recorded and what happens to it.
It does of course though and I’ll give you the inside track on what happened in the studio next time.
- Steve Lewis