The UK recording process began a long time before we ever reached an actual studio. We knew we wanted this to be a collaborative project and so the emails and phone calls to other musicians started in earnest months before the recording dates. We were working to a tight budget that allowed for limited studio time, and fitting so many musicians into those few studio days proved a challenge. Our Cornish engineer Brendan described it as ‘musical tetris’ and it really was. But somehow, over the months it all began to come together. Another cause for concern was that we were taking risks, in some cases bringing together musicians that had never met to work together as a group. Gut instinct played a big role, and although there were moments that we wavered and questioned ourselves, in the end those instincts proved trustworthy.
Our first day of recording saw us being invited into the wonderful world of Cornish brass bands. We stepped into the band room of Camborne Town Band and entered a new musical world, unfamiliar to most of us. Learning about the band members dedication to their music was inspiring, and as we began to record it was clear that this dedication and professionalism paid off in the skill all the musicians displayed.
The following day we were at Cube Recording studios, laying down our parts, when we experienced something akin to the best kind of dream. At 3 o’clock we were suddenly joined by Choral Scholars from Truro Cathedral. They had never even seen the music before, and yet sung a verse of And Am I Born To Die as though they had been singing it all their lives. Before we could barely take a breath or blink they were gone, the beautiful sounds being played back through the recording desk the only thing to convince us that we hadn’t imagined the whole experience.
A couple of weeks later and we were back at Cube, this time entering the world of Shanties as we were joined by members of The Aggie Boys Choir. We had known right from the start we wanted them to sing on the album, long before we’d even written the song they would sing, and they didn’t disappoint! The vision we’d held in our heads became reality as they sung.
Next it was the turn of the ladies. Laura had recorded a track about the women of KGF whilst in India with Venky DC and Carnatic singer Gayatri Chandrashekar, which had then been added to by Nyla Saldhana from KGF. In Cornwall we wanted to create a sense of just how many women contributed to life at KGF and so a makeshift choir was put together to do just that. It was a sleepless night before the recording day, some of the women had never met, one had been drafted in the previous day and we weren’t sure if it would all come together. Thankfully it did! All the singers involved were professional, competent and each brought something really beautiful to the track.
Our final day at Cube also saw us joined by our final collaborator, international flautist Dr Jessica Quinones. Laura had first met Jessica a few years ago and on finding out Jessica had spent time as a flute player in Bollywood it was clear she would be a great contributor to the project. Her flute interpretation of a Tamil song collected by Dr SriKumar in KGF added the final sparkle to one of our favourite pieces on the album.
Along with all the musicians involved in the Cornish recording we also need to say a special thank you to recording engineer Brendan McGreal who was professional, encouraging and didn’t flinch at the daunting task we had given him. Thanks also goes to Max Rowse de Franco who turned up to each recording session with his cameras and captured the whole process for our project film.
Finally it was time to reunite as a band for our final recording sessions, this time in a stormy Suffolk. Our location for recording was the beautiful 18th Century Wrentham Chapel. Tom and Richard set about turning the chapel into a recording studio, a lightning storm providing a dramatic backdrop to their work! After reuniting with the Cornish contingent recording began in earnest. The Chapel proved to be an inspiring location and creativity was soon in full flow.
The weekend wasn’t without it’s challenges, technical issues on the second day adding to the already sleepless nights Tom was experiencing thanks to terrible hay fever! Thankfully the issues were resolved, and with the computer behaving itself a moment of inspiration hit that led to the writing and recording of what had up until then been the rather elusive final track of the album.
Our time at the chapel gave us the opportunity and freedom to experiment, improvise, and new layers were added to tracks we had thought were finished. The church organ, thought to be one of the oldest working organs in Britain was put to good use too!
On our final evening we took a break to head down to local beach Covehithe for some band photos in the evening sun. En route we stopped off at a ruined Abbey, the peace of the surroundings shattered by fits of giggles as we tried to haul and squeeze ourselves onto crumbling ledges and look nonchalant for the camera while being spiked by brambles. We then walked down to the beach, constantly changing due to coastal erosion and hauntingly beautiful with bare, sea stripped trees lining the shore. Our beach trip was a family affair, with Richard’s children braving the cold north sea and wife Kat kindly stepping in as photographer, proving far more accomplished than our usual one (otherwise known as a tripod!). We then headed back to the chapel where final organ touches were added, and we said a sad but satisfied goodbye to a building whose founders would probably never have imagined it would one day be used as a temporary recording studio!
Thanks are due to the custodians of Wrentham Chapel, for making us so welcome and providing such an inspiring, acoustically beautiful space to work in. Thanks also go to Ian, Bridget, Samuel and Daniel who shared their home with us, providing a much needed place to relax, refuel and rest during a intense recording schedule. Tom also deserves a special shout out, it’s not easy juggling being engineer, musician and photographer, but to do it on next to no sleep and constant hay fever is really quite something!
So what next? The coming months will be a time of intensive behind the scenes work, the recordings will be tidied up (a enormous task when some songs have over 50 individual tracks!) before being sent off for mixing and mastering. The album artwork will be put together and the project booklet written. With a limited budget and no access to fancy PR companies or radio pluggers we’ll also be beginning the slightly daunting promotional work ourselves. This project feels like it’s shaping up to be something rather special and so we will be working hard to make sure it reaches as many people as possible and the stories we are telling are heard.
For us this is more than just ‘an album’, it’s a record of people’s life stories, that have gathered dust for over 50 years. It’s about the community that has grown up around the project, that crosses cultural divides, language barriers and brings together people with a shared history, a love of music, or both. We’re proud to live in a world where the racial divides that once separated communities are now seeping away, allowing collaborative projects like ours to happen, and friendships to form that once would not have been possible. Who knows what the critics will make of this album, it’s eclectic, unusual, raw, and unashamedly ambitious… but it’s not for the critics, it’s for the people who hold KGF and Cornwall in their hearts, and for all of you that have supported us in this endeavour.