Making a Record with Josienne and Lukas

I’ve shared a few photos of the sessions but not said much about it. Busy, busy, busy.

First time I met Lukas has significance to me, I’m an imprinted baby duck. I was walking around London with Josienne, feeling thoroughly out of my depth, a little scared of how big & proper it all was, when this famous bloke said hello to us both. Not just to Josienne, though he seemed to mean his hello to her as well, but also to me, like I had just as much right to be there as her and like he was pleased to see us both! In a town where most people at best treated me like I was in the way or on many occasions, openly expressed derision at my presence & involvement. Here was Lukas frickin Drinkwater just casually saying hello to me, in the street! I probably didn’t even say anything back because I couldn’t believe it. Later, we went to the Americana Music awards and Emily Barker treated me like an old friend. I could’ve cried. I might actually have done, because Patrick Stewart’s partner asked me if I was alright while I was standing at the bar and I said I was, it was just a bit overwhelming and thanked her for her kindness and I thought to myself, damn. Maybe I can do this, maybe some people won’t mind me being in the room, one day.

Anyway, here we are a few years later & I am doing it. Living some kind of life. Being the person I appear to be. Living in an honest way that I wrestled from the jaws of loss. Surrounded by love & support. It takes a while to recognise it when it changes, but lives can & will change and I think it’s important to call it what it is when it happens.

And so I wrote some songs about that, about that hope, about that progress, because what else am I going to do? I didn’t have lots, but it felt like a whole thing regardless, a signpost of where I live right now, still yearning for more, hoping the stairs lead up & that there is a reason to climb, however distant it might seem.

My last album, ‘I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot’, I once described as like that tiny dog who goes around starting fights with all the bigger dogs, barking in their faces as they look on bemused. That’s how I feel I sound, listening back, now. I’m still very proud of that record and what I achieved with it. It grounded me, made me certain of exactly what my place in things was. I had as much right as anyone else to exist. Songlines Magazine reviewed my record & didn’t hate it.

But these new songs, they’re bigger. I knew I needed more instruments than I had last time. And there was really only two people I needed to help me. Josienne was going to produce, that was always clear. What else would I want to do? It’s her decision making. Her discernment. Is an idea good, or bad? She just knows. But I had this dream that Lukas might be able to help, too. What a line up that felt like. So I out & asked him and he went and said yes.

We spent 3 days in his studio, Polyphonic Recording, in Stroud. It’s a dream location, and I don’t just mean because it’s a one minute walk from a waitrose with a sushi counter, though it is that too. It’s a perfect playground. Tbh, it’s everything I ever dreamed of that I never made happen for myself. I don’t really understand sound like I understand light. Light is obvious, sound is a twat. But not to Lukas – his level of skill in every instrument he plays (which is, best I can tell, all of them…) is unsurpassed. His judgement, creativity, approach to creating a safe space, sense of humour, it’s all perfection. I knew it would be. He’s funny & serious at all the right times. It’s hard to get me to perform stuff, vocally. These lyrics are pretty raw to me. I can’t do it just anywhere, in front of just anyone. But I could do it easily, with him. If this all sounds a little saccharine then, good, it’s meant to. When I called him one of my favourite people, I meant it. If you’re considering making a record then you should have him & his studio on the list. I can’t imagine a thing he couldn’t do. Recording is such a weird type of magic, but not if you understand it intuitively, in a way that I don’t. Lukas does.

We recorded 5 songs, an EP. Lukas is mixing it now. It’s a bigger sound than the album, a full band. I don’t want to say too much about it other than that for now, but I do have (…no shit…) lots of photographs from the recording sessions. I took these because I loved it, and taking photographs / using cameras & lenses is fun, like microphones & guitars are to Lukas, and also, so Lukas could use them on his website.

See what happens if you work in an atmosphere of mutual respect, lifting people up & being lifted yourself? See what can happen if you work, free to fail, free of shame, free of threat? In an atmosphere that encourages individuality of expression, where some ideas are awful but have them anyway and believe that your friends will have your best interests at heart when they say “do it” or “shut up”? What if that led to everyone being a little better after than they were before, to some kind of personal growth & the making of honest art?

Well, here are some photographs of that happening.

Thanks for working with me, Josienne & Lukas.

Between Cry Chapel & Misery Hill – Documenting Josienne’s Ireland Tour

It’s been a crazy start to 2020 – Josienne & I spent a week touring Ireland then headed off to Scotland to make a music video. We drove the whole way. Covered something like 3,000 miles in a car. I wasn’t sure survival was an option during the ferry crossing from Holyhead to Dublin, 3.5 hours in 4 metre swells – I’ve never felt so travel sick. We stayed in a fascinating series of places & met some wonderful & terrible people. Truly, touring is a train wreck of the best & worst of humanity.

Here’s Josienne before the Waterford show.

I was doing my usual thing – driving, photographing, tweeting, tour managing, arranging stuff, carrying boxes, loading in, loading out, fielding questions about whether or not I’m playing myself, helping on the merch desk & generally just having a fucking ball of a life with Josienne.

I don’t know, does it just make no sense to anyone else that I’d want to do that with my time? Folks look at me like I’m mad because I’m there, just sort of quietly helping. Not trying to make it about me. It’s her show. Not mine. I play the guitar & bass. I write & play my own songs. I love doing those things. Josienne helped me make an entire album that I’m releasing soon! I don’t play with her band, though, and folks struggle so hard with that. I bothered to come along, so why don’t I take part? I’m a bloke & she’s only a little female. Man up!

Think of it like this – I happen to believe that she’s an important, valuable artist and a terrific, fun & inspiring person, so spending time with her is just good. It’s where I want to be. I enjoy supermarket shopping with her, too. She likes it, it’s useful, I can do things that help her out. Gigs are her job. It’s harder work than you’d think. It takes a toll. She needs things, and sometimes, it’s not what you’d expect. I try to give her those things freely & to the best of my ability. It’s an exciting & rewarding life, hanging on her coat-tails, watching her through a lens, dreaming of playing to her, helping her do her thing. I could be no happier. If I tried to insert myself into that, into a redundant sideman role that doesn’t exist, if I made her hang a percentage of her life’s work on my shoulders, took the applause for a thing that was not mine, that I did not make, then what kind of man would I be? She wrote those songs, recorded them, played them & sung them. That’s how they go. They don’t need a bloke wanking all over them. They never did & you know it. If I tried to steal credit, use her to access a life I never earned, I never worked for, I never gave up anything for then how could I claim that I was in this for the right reasons? I’m right here, and if she ever needs a mediocre bass player or guitarist, she’ll ask & I’ll do it. Until then, I’m a pig in shit right where I am, sat by her side, doing my own thing while watching her fly & sharing my view with you.

Bit of an unplanned rant there! Ha. Better out than in.

Here’s a few other shots that I grabbed of the locations we found ourselves in. Shout out to Derek at Spirit Store in Dundalk – a great venue that seems like a perfect nightmare when you’re driving up to it and then – boom – there it is, a perfect little place. Reminds me of a venue in Paris I’ve forgotten the name of. Nice work. Also, Tom, Patrick & Garret who run nights called Subterranean Sounds at the Phil Grimes pub in Waterford are truly best of us, they are. What a show they put on. If you’re near, be sure and go. Garret says they’ll book me to go play in their room and I reckon I’d die happy right there onstage if that ever happened. I told him, have a listen to my record first, mate. He said OK. We’ll see.

There’s our hotel room in Dundalk, the ferry crossing, a swan on fire in Dublin, Waterford in a canal, Josienne relaxing after the show in Waterford & the time she visited the afterlife on Paul McCloone’s show on Today FM.

Here’s Misery Hill, Cry Chapel & a Hostel that I am sure is fine & safe:

Then we drove over to the north east coast of Scotland, through the Cairngorms to shoot a music video. I cannot tell you a thing more yet, which is a bit mean to even mention it, apart from, you will know who it is for and from spending the afternoon scanning through the footage as I import it into Premiere Pro, this is the best thing I ever shot. We got so lucky on the day, it was one of those ‘everything fell into place’ things and the results will be along soon. It’ll be worth the wait, I promise.

Here’s Dublin port as we were about to set off of the return journey, a much more relaxed affair and a Dundalk candle, burning in a bar.

Day 1: Making I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot

… and we’re in. First guitars for 9 out of 10 tracks are down already & sounding lovely. This is an acoustic guitar album, so this is an important foundation. I’ve heard some delicious warm wood tones coming from the monitors. Andy is a demon with a mouse, knows exactly where to place impenetrable metal objects & hang them all together with wires. It’s an archaic & esoteric skill, compressing, limiting, reverb, delay, EQ & channels & stuff. Thankfully, Andy just makes all that stuff happen so you can get on with playing.

Josienne is a sharp pointy stick with lovely soft edges; as the producer, she’s there to keep focus, get the result we discussed, keep the musical considerations of the songs front & centre, make decisions on direction, offer arrangement & technique support, throw in ideas if I’m fucking up, do it for me if I can’t, explain what I can’t to Andy, get it to sound right, be the energy in the room. It’s a role I wasn’t always sure I understood, but it all made sense to me like an earthquake during the tornado of the ‘In All Weather’ sessions.

I won’t forget her directing Dave Hamblett’s drums in the chorus of ‘If I Didn’t Mind’ from a shambolic & clever but complicated tangle into a strange & powerful pulsing drive with a flaw in the heart of the engine. There were a million other examples. It was a beautiful experience and she’s already taken a song of mine, entitled ‘Leaves’, which is so complicated, I can’t even play it properly it turns out, and has already made it sound like a beautiful epic.

Here’s a few snaps that JC took from the control room today.

Tomorrow, we start vocals. Think about that for a second. I’m gonna sing, in a studio, with Josienne Clarke in the next room, listening to every flaw.

Think of me…

Josienne Clarke Live at Bush Hall, London 19.11.19

Last night, Josienne Clarke assembled a dream cast of accomplished musicians & performed to a packed house at Bush Hall in London. It’s a lovely venue, beautifully faded but with attention to detail in all the right places. It has a wonderful sound system. Roland, the guy who comes & sets up tables & runs the bar is there to make it as good a night as it can be. The owner was there early to make sure everyone had what they needed & genuinely cared that it went well. The security bloke was just the right amount of friendly & terrifying. The sardonic girl on the door wouldn’t have let in anyone not on the list. It was a textbook load in & setup.

The band were total professionals & (according to someone who shall remain nameless..) total babes, so really, what’s not to like? Mary Ann Kennedy, who was going to play the harp, couldn’t make it as she wasn’t well. I am hoping her & Josienne will plan another show for sometime in the future… anyone else think thats a good idea?

Immy from Green Note, who was promoting the event, was gleeful to be involved from the start and her excitement shot the whole thing through with an infectious vein of delight. Thanks for everything, Immy!

It was beautiful to see so many friendly faces & loads to meet so many folks I know but had not met face to face before – I’m sorry that I didn’t get time to have an actual conversation with anyone, but I know you could all see that I was headless chickening 🙂

I spent the evening tweeting, instagram living, ferreting around, loading in, carrying things, making sure there was someone manning the merch desk – though, usually there wasn’t – I thought everyone would want to buy things at the end, but no, you wanted to buy things all night! Thanks to the folks who helped out selling & thanks to everyone who grabbed a CD, record or book. You are appreciated. I also tuned guitars, took photos, held microphones, retuned guitars, and generally looked encouraging. Josienne played two sets, so there were lots of low-level things to do.

The first set was some old classics of hers and a few new ones, then, in the second set, the band played the whole album. The encore was a Sandy Denny cover, ‘The Sea’ and then she finished solo with a new original called ‘Unbound’.

It was a beautiful evening. I’ve lived inside of Josienne planning & executing this, and I have to say, even writing about it now is kind of hard. I tweeted this from the side of the stage last night:

“can you see, it was always her, there never was anything else, she just can’t tell you that, but I can. last time i saw her sing Chicago in front of an audience, she was broken & now she is not, I am sat at the side of the stage shaking with pride…”

I don’t think I can say it better than that without being more explicit than I can be. You saw her. You know. It was perfect.

Thanks for coming, everyone. I’m humbled by it & I know just how deeply grateful Josienne is for you all, too.

Here’s my night in roughly chronological order…