Silvery At The BBC

IMGP1199 copyThe next obvious chunk of recordings to talk about are the BBC sessions. A mixed bag to be honest. We’d been getting lots of radio play throughout the year so far – both singles to date (‘Horrors’ and ‘Devil In The Detail’ had been all over Radio 1, 2 and 6Music along with some album cuts, notably ‘Action Force’ which sealed it’s fate as our third single) but it was still a big step to be asked into the hallowed BBC to play. It was always a dream to do a BBC session of course, and when we got invited by Steve Lamacq to Maida Vale Studio 4 on the eve of the first album coming in August 2008 I was both terrified and elated. This was the same room, almost unchanged, that Queen and David Bowie had recorded sessions in. Not just any sessions, but versions of songs that I had cherished since I was little and in most cases deemed superior to the official album versions. Same during the Britpop years of my youth – all those bands that had done the same in these hallowed rooms. My bootleg collection was bulging with them and to finally get the chance to start on our own BBC adventures was almost a validation of everything we’d done as a band up until that point. That said, I doubt David Bowie got chased down the long Maida Vale corridors repeatedly by his drummer trying to control an exceptionally heavy equipment trolley. We’d just got back from playing Kendal Calling so weren’t exactly on-point. Selection of tracks to play was academic though. A single, a radio hit, and one potential single for this debut sesh. I know we’d all have liked to have done something a bit more off the wall, but this was our first proper national (and in truth international) exposure so best keep it commercial. Or at least, our version of commercial. This one was good because it was all pre-recorded ‘live’ that afternoon so it took the pressure off a bit. Although we were surprised and horrified that we’d be interviewed too. We had a lot to talk about though so it flew by. Fortean phenomena, machines of light rotating under the ocean, Rock N Roll as a steamship voyage. I could imagine the great British public falling over themselves to preorder the album. Once we were done, it gave us enough time to go and get plastered afterwards and round up the troops to listen at home that evening. Super BBC Radio 1 – just on the cusp of it still meaning something. Listening back they are very ragged versions of course (the link up there only is a repeat that only has a couple of snippets) and one or two little mistakes (a nice juxtaposition with Simon playing the MASSIVE BBC Steinway piano) – but nothing to spoil our enjoyment. Believe me, it would get worse. I’ve just remembered too that the album became 6Music Album Of The Day when it came out. Even ‘A Penny Dreadful’ got a spin. Great days. (Songs played: The Nishikado, Horrors, Action Force)

Silvery at the BBC RileyThe second session was a couple of months later up in Manchester for Marc Riley on BBC 6Music. Again, for me, mind-blowing that we were doing what my favourites had done before. I remember falling in love with so many other bands in session with him and Radcliffe in the 90s. This time it was actually proper live and the hours we spent in the car getting up there allowed the nerves to wrack up. But by this point we were a well oiled machine so we knew nothing would go wrong. All I can recall of the music was during ‘Devil In The Detail’ the faders weren’t correctly up so the opening felt weird. That panic was still there once the solo came around and we had a nice on-air joke about the face I pulled as I fluffed it. NOT the song to sing if the levels are wrong. The bass bridge between ‘Foreign Exchange’ and ‘The Drilling Machine’ was marked with a whispered ‘hot lunch’ which I now hear at that point no matter what version of the song I’m listening to. This time we pulled out a slightly more eccentric song selection to suit the more sophisticated evening audience. We had a lot to talk about with Riley as we’d just played with British Sea Power at Tan Hill so banter level was high. A cheeky shout out to Tim Smith made it all worth while, and I think the audience reaction was good. We had a few discussions about who these people might be who had written in to say how amazing we were. Surely pals having a joke? Turns out it wasn’t. Just people who ‘got it’. Amazing. (Songs played: Foreign Exchange & The Drilling Machine, Devil In The Detail, Action Force)

The final session was just the worst, darling! Just on the brink of the second album coming out (August 2010) and after a brutal (and eventually fatal) 75% line up change which hadn’t played a gig yet – or in all honesty rehearsed much. At that point it wasn’t as tight as I’d have liked, and an illustration of how rushed into promoting the album it felt. In those first weeks together, Silvery Mk 2 (if you’re counting properly) had a crash on a golf buggy (2 ribs broken), broke a stage, broke unbreakable instruments, and fluffed unfluffable songs with alarming regularity. So it did feel like there was a cloud hanging over the band, but you know what – we bonded over it! Listening back now, to be fair, the session isn’t toooooo bad. So once again up to Manchester to show off live on air. I was sad and cross and just had nothing to talk about. Terrible jokes and seemingly hours of silence as I stood there politely fuming. (‘But that’s what you’re like anyway?’ Girlfriend Ed.) I took Marc Riley a CD of a rare 1973 Bowie concert as we shared a huge love of Bowie. He looked a bit puzzled at my thoughtful gesture. Later on I did a Bowie impression during the interview and he did a Jimmy Saville one. You couldn’t do that now. None of the beautiful backing vocals from days of yore were lavished over the tunes as no one knew what to do yet. ‘The In Insect Jerk’ and ‘Naked & The Dead’ were buggers to play anyway so that didn’t help, and ‘Two Halves..’ didn’t sit right live for about a year anyway. So naturally, it’s this session that 6Music keeps repeating to this day, most recently a couple of months ago. I don’t even bother telling anyone anymore. Although the 4 songs we played were pale imitations of the album versions, no one seemed to notice and I do occasionally get nice messages about it when it’s repeated. But I noticed and it killed me at the time. Woe. So much so that we were asked back again shortly after and I refused. A shame as by that time, the new line up was pumping on all cylinders. Remarkably, that wasn’t QUITE the end of the story. Maybe that will be the next post….(Songs played: The ‘In Insect’ Jerk, Identity, The Naked & The Dead, Two Halves Of The Same Boy)

So that was it (more or less). Full circle is reached however when I found a blog on-line sharing a collection of all the sessions entitled something like ‘Silvery At The Beeb’. Being a fan of the band, that made it all worthwhile. Our own BBC bootleg! I downloaded and kept, and those are the version I listen to. Lovely.


The 2007 Demo

Well I mentioned it just now, so I thought I’d do this entry while it’s fresh in my mind. We’d spent 2006 gigging and getting those 2005 demos out there with good feedback (airplay, reviews, better gigs, fan base building, all the usual for a fledgling band that had previously alluded us). I’m not sure we actually sent many off to labels etc, but as we were gigging so much it was easy to get rid of our stock (especially when we regularly lost entire bags full and had to run off more). After a busy but uncertain year with rots22aating bassists, by the end of 2006 we had lost our proper bassist after a triumphant KOKO gig (the last of 4 that year, and the last until 2011) as David just couldn’t commit to the increasingly hectic and busy life as a Silvery. This all scuppered plans to record more stuff that year so we made do with the increasingly out-of-date 2005 sessions. Again, the fates aligned and we quickly found Joe through Simon the keyboard player. Joe was a different bassist to David and anchored the songs with the sobriety they required and we all hit it off straight away. After a few rehearsals once again we were ready to play live and started 2007 with a live review from The Metro published in NME, a decent management team and even some legal oomph. We were getting offers and interest from all sorts of new places and we needed to record some fresh demos. Again, we had gone into the new line up and new year with a fresh outlook.

We were rehearsing at Fortress on Old Street the scene of the previous 2005 demo session (Here’s some pictures of the new line up on the roof there back in 2007 – careful lads!) and by chance found on one of the upper floors a little private recording studio called Pinna run by a chap called Kev Feazey. During a break in practice one Sunday we tootled up the stairs and asked him if we could book some time. He came down to watch us and liked that we obvious had our shit together and were doing something very different to the usual Shoreditch thing at that time. Although it’s fair to say initially he had alarm bells ringing due to our tight jeans and Russian naval tops. We all agreed on a weekend to do it that March. Avoiding the problems of last time, we decided to do just 3 songs and get them all finished and mixed by the end of the two day session. ‘Horrors’ had been a favourite in the set for about 6 months and was crying out to be recorded as it had ‘single’ written large all over it. Rather than doing a couple more new ones (‘Warship Class’ was3s less than ideal for the new serious and commercially minded band!) or ones that had previously fallen through the cracks (How we hadn’t recorded ‘Star Of The Sea’ yet is beyond me) we chose to redo previous Silvery favourite ‘That Which Is’, and live staple ‘Orders’ which by this point had developed into an entirely different song to the original 2005 demo.
Recording was easy. Drums and bass were done live and the rough live guitar and keys were either replaced or added to straight away barely before we had a chance to change the settings. Singing (that most hated part of my personal studio time) was effortless too this time (thanks to all the gigging we’d done and the jolly atmosphere in the studio). That is, effortless once I’d actually finalised the lyrics to the still fresh ‘Horrors’. We videoed most of the weekend and watching it back today is a joy. We had so much fun at those sessions. (Note: There is a sequence on the video of Alex adding cowbell to something. I genuinely haven’t a clue which song it could be).
So those three tracks became the new demo, splashed all over the internet and put on CDs for the fans, with half an eye on getting them out as a single. I’d met Paul from Blow Up Records after that January gig at The Metro mentioned above and we forged a friendship over favourite Glam Rockers and Britpop memories. He still doesn’t believe that I liked his old band The Weekenders back in ’94. I got the recordings to him, along with the other older studio sessions (more because I thought he’d like their Glammy Britpopiness rather than actually sign us). The next thing I know, less than 2 months after finishing these new demos, we were signed up to do an album. Simon and myself went out to celebrate in Camden – to such an extent that the following day I had to phone Paul back and ask him if he’d actually said ‘album’. Again, great days tthunderero be alive. Of course, we tweaked these new recordings for official release once we started our album sessions proper that summer (once again with Kev at Pinna, mainly adding handclaps) and ‘Horrors’ and ‘Orders’ became the double A-side vinyl debut. And, I hope you will agree, what a debut coupling that was. Straight onto the radio and even onto the telly a couple of times. Luckily, given the considerable gap between finishing the ‘demo’ version and the official release (some 10 months – which absolutely flew by) it gave us time to get the BRILLIANT video made and the still brilliant WWI lancer stencil single cover done with our friend Dirty Earthworm. For once in our pitiful struggling existence, everything came together. The story continues here.
Geek note: We actually re-recorded ‘That Which Is’ again (hey, why not? I make that 4 studio versions done) but the retake remains unreleased and the album cut is that original March 2007 demo. In a parallel universe somewhere, we released an EP of all the versions on one bit of vinyl. There’s lovely now.