For a band that likes to work quickly, it doesn’t half take us a long time to get anything done. We recorded our first album, Found Drowned, over the course of about ten days in a house we shared in Withington, South Manchester. That was in early 2008. We didn’t have enough money to press the thing and we didn’t know much about online distribution, so we sold CD-R versions of it wrapped in cling film. In 2010 we were awarded some money from the Northern Residency Fund and were finally able to press a thousand copies, but with so much time having passed it was hard to feel excited.
We vowed we’d never let a record hang over us for that long again. Bands are like sharks – they need to move forward or they become U2.
Towards the end of 2010 we recorded an EP, Get Religion!, in a studio that Dan had built in an old farmhouse in Cheshire. (Don’t ask where the money came from: it’s not a pretty story.) There was a baby grand piano in one corner and a tape machine in the other. We felt very authentic indeed.
The EP featured six of our newest songs and we rushed the release out as quickly as possible, terrified of stagnation. That same catch-me-if-you-can philosophy informed the decision to make the launch party (in February 2011) double as the recording of a live album. This became Live At The Dancehouse.
While EPs and live albums are all well and good, we still didn’t have a full LP that we all felt effectively represented the sound of the band. So at the end of 2011’s festival season we locked ourselves inside a house on the south coast of England for five days and recorded eight songs. We would’ve done more, but time was against us. Our singer Alison Cegielka had also become very unwell, which led us to postpone the final vocal sessions until she had regained her full powers. Our European booking agent, however, was keen for us to have a new record to plug on our Spring 2012 tour, so we decided to release the four songs sung by Louis as the Memoir Noir EP and then follow up later in the year with Ali’s songs once we’d completed those recordings – a sort of His & Hers album in two 10” vinyl chapters. Unfortunately we parted company with Ali in June 2012, the recordings still unfinished. Memoir Noir is the only release associated with that time.
Of all our recording sessions, Memoir Noir had definitely been the most successful musically. The live chemistry was there, the opportunity to experiment, the freedom of having our own work space. What a home studio lacks in customised spaces and soundproofing it more than makes up for in good vibes. So we resolved to do it again at the end of 2012, but this time BETTER.
We booked three weeks in the same house as before and set about working on pre-production, going over the songs and logistics, working through all the angles. We gutted the ground floor and set up our recording space in three adjacent rooms (there’s more about this in The Specs Of Tech). Our bedrooms were upstairs and the socialising/dining area was at the other end of the house to prevent too much noise spill. Each morning we’d rise at 8.00am and play together until dusk. We recorded everything. Our model was The Band’s Music From Big Pink – a bunch of guys living together and making an album. It doesn’t get simpler than that. Or better. We didn’t care about perfection; we just focused on the feel. You can definitely tell a dishonest record from an honest one. (You can read a day-by-day account of our progress in Louis’ Studio Diary.)
For a while we toyed with the idea of creating a gapless album with linking passages and repeated motifs. We reasoned that, in an era where forty-minute LPs are becoming something of an anachronism, what’s the point in simply bundling a bunch of songs together? Surely we had to dress it up in some way that leant more towards the long-player than the MP3 shuffle – creating a product that would best be consumed as a single meal rather than a platter of morsels to be nibbled at indiscriminately? The further we ventured into the recording process, however, the less we wanted to dress these songs up. If they can’t exist on their own and fend for themselves then they were never meant to survive at all.
Over the years we’ve recorded in a lot of different ways. Onto computer, onto tape, in “proper” studios, in makeshift ones, live on stage, acoustically around a single microphone, in public, in private. We’ve come to the conclusion that the hardest thing is not the laying down of a quality or definitive version of a set of songs, but rather the preserving of moments – capturing something of the personality of the contributors and the context in which the songs are performed. This was our aim on Youth, to get a sense of that moment.
The album begins and ends with the sound of the tide, recorded just down the road from our studio house. We won’t bore you with the metaphors; we all know what tides can symbolise.
We’re a band that’s been together a while now. Over the years we’ve had some fall-outs, we’ve lost people and gained people, we’ve been to a lot of places together and learnt a lot of things. We hope there’s more of that in front of us than behind.
We moved into a house for three weeks and made a record. This presentation of a bunch of songs is, we suppose, a bit old-fashioned. But it would be a lot more old-fashioned if we tried to disguise the thing as modern.
We just hope you like it.
The Bedlam Six
POST SCRIPT October 2016: Since writing the above the band has released a final studio album and a live DVD. We continued touring happily for three years, the crowds growing but the opportunities shrinking. It is inevitable for a band to drift apart and we felt it happening in the final year so resolved to go out on our own terms. Our final show was a great celebration and we all parted as friends. We hope you have enjoyed the music as much as we have (if your memory needs jogging there is a timeline of our adventures here). For a final word on the band click here.