Home | About | Blog | Video | Shop | Mary Hopkin Friendly Society

Tracking the other instruments on Another Road

I outlined in another blog that we had to work remotely in the production and completion of Mary's Another Road. In this blog, I look at the tracking of the other instruments on the album.

One of the best bits for me was that I had to buy a fretless bass because Mary wanted quite a lot of fretless on the album. Oh shame!

So - after my Cort AS4 FL was delivered, I had a noodle and tried to work out the kind of lines Mary would like.

I tracked the bass through my pedalboard - which has a direct injection output on it - as well as through my little Fender amp. I used the direct signal for the detailed top end of the bass, and the signal from the amp for the sub and low end.

As usual, I tried to compliment what Mary had played, whilst trying very hard to not get in the way of the vocal, which is of course the most important part of the song. As I've probably said before - I'm used to playing at 100mph with a lot of 8th and 16th notes (that's quavers and semiquavers in old money), and not leaving much in the way of gaps. So if anything, I tried to be as understated as possible, whilst keeping some melodic interest.

For a player used to playing a fretted bass, playing a fretless is fraught with traps. You have the obvious one, that there aren't any nice lines that conveniently tell you where to put your fingers. Consequently, a lot of players add excessive vibrato on every note, to kind of slur the wrong positioning into the correct position. There's also a tendency to do big legato slides (there are no frets to break up the notes as you slide up and down) - this is great fun, and is an effective trick, but it's very easy to fall into the trap of doing it all the time... just because it sounds great and is good fun. So I had all of this going on, whilst trying not to get in the way, and keep things as interesting and consistent as possible.

I think on 'Love is Gone', I used my Ibanez 6 string, and my Reverend Dub King on another track where Mary wanted a stronger, less airy sound.

Once the bass was down, we tracked guitars with Jessica. She used Mary's Martin 6 and 12 string guitars from 1970 which sound amazing.

Some of the tracks were tricky to record - 'Looking Over my Shoulder' with its persistent driving rhythm is quite punishing on the left hand. Actually, we had to retract the bass after we got the final take of guitars down on 'Looking Over my Shoulder'. My bass was too nebulous for the track - I was trying to stay out of the way, but Mary wanted that more solid, driving bass.

We had to be careful to not get too much pick attack in the mics, but I think we got a good compromise. For microphone nerds, the guitars were recorded with a Neumann U87 and TLM.

The haunting sax part in 'Single Woman' was originally recorded and comped back in 2010, when Jessica played it on her Yamaha alto. She wanted to have another go for the album, playing the part that Mary had comped together. She tried the alto again, but also had a go with her tenor, and it is the tenor performance that is on the track.

There are a couple of interesting points on 'Valentine'. On the track, you can hear two accordion parts. One of these, and I think it's the left speaker / headphone - is Mary playing her mother's accordion, in Studio One of Old Space. Jessica engineered this session - I was recording foley sound effects for Dr Who at the time in Studio Two. I could hear their laughter through two sets of double doors!

The castanet...

I really wanted to give this some prominence in the mix. It is such a small part, but the amount of time and effort Mary put in to getting this to sound right meant it really deserved a bit of spotlighting.

It was the typical situation, whenever we were not in record, Mary could get it exactly as she wanted. But as soon as the red light was on, all bets were off. Mostly because Mary would be doubled up in hysterics...

Ultimately, Mary recorded it at home, and I remember her gleeful phone call telling me she'd got it right!

I hope you've enjoyed this look at the slightly-weird tracking stage of Another Road. Next, I'll look at the mixing stage.

Until then...

Christian Thomas sits in a darkened room and does techie stuff. He engineers, mixes and provides technical support to Mary and Jessica.

You can buy Another Road at our online store or at our distribution partners' site.

Follow Us