During the past three-and-a-half years, I’ve had a go at things that I used to be reasonably good at; things I thought I might not be too bad at; and things I was hoping against hope I wouldn’t be totally rubbish at.
Recording a song came very much in that final category.
True, I had been a chorister whilst at junior school, but my angelic treble tones disappeared in a flurry of teenage hormones, and I was left with a voice that would have been classified as basso profundo… had I retained the ability to stay in tune.
That said when I’m driving to and from work with the window down and the volume up, I genuinely believe I can sing; it wasn’t until I taped myself practising for this particular challenge that I realised that I couldn’t have been more wrong.
It was a sobering moment….
When I added the recording task, I thought it would be a good idea to sing a duet, thereby offering me an opportunity to hide behind someone who had a much better and stronger voice.
The Lee to my Peters happened totally by accident; a random conversation with a colleague at work. That colleague was Georgina Sayers; it seemed like she was a talented singer, so I took the plunge and asked how she felt about singing with me if I was able to get everything arranged?
I was actually taken aback when Georgina said would; although part of me suspected she’d only agreed because the likelihood of the plan reaching fruition probably appeared minimal!
Even so, we chatted over possible suitable songs, and the final choice was on of Georgina’s suggestions: “Set the Fire to the Third Bar” by Snow Patrol (featuring Nancy Wainwright). I didn’t know the song, but even on first listen, I really liked it. It was a was sung as a duet all the way through, so I could hopefully hide behind Georgina’s voice; and although it was essentially of no consequence, I had seen Snow Patrol in concert sometime around 2000—before they hit the big time, so I still felt relevant and trendy… but obviously only a little bit.
The next stage should have been the most difficult to finalise—finding a studio where we could record the song.
I decided to send an e-mail to Lee Tuck, who I’d met a few times when he had been the bass player in an excellent rock-band called The Karma Heart. I hadn’t seen Lee for a good few years, but I thought he might possibly know someone involved with a recording studio who I could contact and ask for help.
Lee did know someone… mainly because he had set up his own studio in South Shields a year or so earlier!
We talked through what I was hoping to do, and he said he’d be happy to get involved, to not only record the song, but video us as we were singing, and also film a short covering video about my reasons for wanting to raise mental health awareness. It was an incredibly generous gesture; something that I could never have expected when I typed the original e-mail. This all happened sometime in February 2017, but we decided to wait until early May before going into the studio because Lee was about to become a father… oh and I needed to practice!
The moment when I recorded myself (with such a dreadful result) came just two days before we were due to sing for real, and my nerves quickly escalated towards anxiety; but I tried to convince myself that Lee and his fellow director at The Garage Studios, Kyle Martin, would have state-of-art computer equipment capable of working miracles—even with voices like mine.
On the morning of May 8, Georgina picked me up, and as we headed north up the A19, we sang the song together for the first time. As I suspected, Georgina had a lovely voice, but much as I was still concerned about how I would sound, we both agreed this was an experience we might never have again, and it was important that we made sure we enjoyed it.
We arrived at the Garage Studios just before ten o’clock; Lee and Kyle appeared a couple of minutes later; we climbed the stairs and ventured into the studio… and it all felt quite daunting. While Lee set up the lighting in the studio, Kyle was busy sorting out the backing track and all things technical. After setting up the studio, Lee joined Kyle in what I would have called the “control room”; they could talk to us, but we could not see them—and as far as our nerves were concerned, that was no bad thing.
Although we had both learned the words, we had a copy of the lyrics on a music stand, just in case one or both minds went blank when the recording got underway. We did a first run-though, which went reasonably well except that I just couldn’t find the right pitch for the opening note of the first and third lines of the chorus. It was the one part of the song where the two voices diverged (if that’s the right word); and, of course, I was conscious that there were two more choruses to come.
Georgina was very reassuring, just as I would have been had I been note perfect! I could sense I was on edge (something that Georgina had picked up as well), but the second rehearsal was a bit better. The third attempt was recorded (audio only) and it was reassuring when Lee came into the studio with a thumbs up.
He then proceeded to position the three cameras; one that would have us both in view, and one pointing directly at each of us. Funnily enough I didn’t feel fazed by the cameras, nor the microphone; I just wanted to do my best and get the chorus right. We both seemed much more relaxed, and the first “take” (as we call it…) went well—as did the second. By then I felt much less self-conscious and thoroughly enjoyed those live recordings. Georgina sounded amazing, and singing together was a lovely feeling.
Lee entered the studio once again; this time to say that they had everything they needed. Basically, they had two video and three audio recordings and could use them to create the best overall finished product possible. They said it was just a case of cutting and pasting, but I’m sure it was a bit more involved than that; either way, I hoped that I didn’t irreparably damage their auto-tuning software; and I also encouraged them to consider auto-chin software for future videos—sometimes one chin is all you want to see!
Lee then rearranged the cameras and lighting for the video, which I did in one take and a ten second introduction… which took two! A couple of photos of the four of us and as the clocked ticked towards midday, the challenge was essentially completed.
Except of course that there was the small matter of the recording: how would we sound… and what would we look like?
I was like a child on Christmas morning waiting for the link to the files to appear in my inbox, but after hearing nothing for the rest of the day, a message from Lee appeared at just after six o’clock the following morning. I downloaded the files, then played the video….
It was amazing. Of course, I could easily pick all sorts of faults with the way I looked, but I thought the piece to camera definitely conveyed the message that it is fine to ask for help; and the song just totally blew me away.
However good I thought Georgina had sounded in the studio, the final recording was stunning; I can’t believe how lucky I was that she chose to do this with me. I sounded far better than I imagined possible (don’t you just love technology); I was in tune, and actually our voices blended together really well.
It was all very surreal—especially listening to the audio. You know it’s you… yet it’s hard to fully accept that it actually is.
What Lee and Kyle did to help me complete this challenge was just fantastic. They have made a massive and lasting contribution, and to be honest, it’s not really possible to convey my thanks through a few written words.
This was the 86th completed challenge, so many experiences and memories… but I’m not sure one individual challenge has made me feel such a range of emotions; and that in itself says a lot about my visit to the Garage Studios.
So, thank you Lee… thank you Kyle… and thank you too Georgina; it was a day I will never forget.