Blues For The Mahavishnu by Colin Harper (Dec.2015)
Between 2012-2015 I worked on three books on music:
Bathed In Lightning: John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond,
The Wheels Of The World: 300 Years of Irish Uilleann Pipers (w.John McSherry)
and Eyes Wide Open: True Tales Of A Wishbone Ash Warrior (w.Andy Powell).
During that same period I was occasionally recording original compositions
at Red Box Studios, Belfast, with producer and multi-instrumentalist Cormac O'Kane.
Being in touch with several great musicians
through researching the books, and being immersed in the musical worlds
that the books covered, there was definitely a bit of an influence!
I wrote one piece, for instance, specifically for piper John McSherry and
guitarist Andy Powell (co-authors of two of the books) to play on, and it seemed to work.
Another project I worked on in that period was a huge booklet
for the RPM Records box set Turtle Records: Pioneering British Jazz 1970-71,
celebrating producer Peter Eden's short-lived Turtle Records label.
Peter, of course, had produced Chris Spedding's Songs Without Words album in 1970,
and spoke fondly of it when I interviewed him for the booklet of the Turtle box.
I heard a track from Songsc online and thought it sounded terrific.
I was already a big fan of the playing Chris had contributed to
several late 60s/early 70s British jazz-rock albums (by Mike Gibbs, Nucleus,
Jack Bruce and Mike Westbrook).
I got in touch with Chris, through the website, I think, and asked
if he would like me to look into the rights ownership of Songs Without Words,
with a view to licensing it for release on my friend Brian O'Reillyfs Hux label.
Chris had already had a good experience with Hux through other releases,
and was okay with the idea of Songsc reappearing, particularly if he could
make some edits, given that the album had originally appeared,
albeit in Japan only, without his knowledge and unfinished (unedited)
as he would have preferred.
To cut a long story short, the rights owner was found (Warners) and
a master tape transfer was delivered to Chris for editing.
I had suggested Richard Williams should write the notes, and Chris was in agreement.
Richard was up for it in principle but was very busy at the time. In the end,
with Hux wanting to progress the project, Chris asked me to write the notes,
which I was happy to do.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, in October 2014, I asked Chris
if he was available for hire, to help out with one particular track
on my own ongoing recording project. I had recorded 'Blues For The Mahavishnu'
back in 2012, with former Mahavishnu Orchestra member Premik Russell Tubbs
recording a soprano sax part in New York and blues maestro Shane Pacey
(of the Shane Pacey Trio and Bondi Cigars) recording electric guitar in Sydney.
Partly because my trips to Red Box Studios were happening only every few months,
as a sideline, some time had passed and in that time a combination of oversights
and technical upgrades had meant that Premik's sax part and most of Shane's guitar part
were not saved properly in the multitrack and had, of course, long disappeared
from Dropbox! This was, I should add, my fault rather than the studio's.
One should always keep a back-upc
Premik very kindly re-recorded his sax part for me, but by this time
I was in touch with Chris and had an instinct that his kind of playing
could really help the track ? could 'glue it together' and perhaps
add a bit of the unexpected to it. Shane Pacey is a fabulous player,
and Sunset Cavaliers features his playing on another track,
but I knew that 'Blues For The Mahavishnu' had still been missing 'something',
even when all the original parts had been 'there'. I had an idea that
Chris could possibly be the missing ingredient ? and I was right!
Chris was never influenced by 'Mahavishnu' John McLaughlin, although
they had both begun their careers following similar paths
? working in guitar shops on Charing Cross Road, playing with
several of the same people (Jack Bruce, Pete Brownc) in London in the 60s,
before going on to become very distinctive voices
in early 70s jazz-rock guitar playing. Chris was voted No.2 'jazz guitar'
behind John McLaughlin at No.1 in the 1970 Melody Maker Critics' Poll.
After that, their paths diverged: Chris moved into session work and pop/rock records
while John (who had already gone through a period of session playing in 1966-68)
sought out the Emerald Beyond.
Anyway, none of this was a problem for Chris: I sent the track over
(acoustic guitar, bass, keys, sax, rhythm track) and he completed
a take at his home studio the next day and half of it was brilliant.
He asked me to give some pointers on what would make the first half
what I was after, which I did, mentioning some of his Mike Gibbs tracks
and the solo he had performed on the 2001 Roxy Music tour and live album.
He completed a 'take 2' of the first half and, sure enough,
it was exactly what was required ? as if by magic!
With Chris' solo in place, the track could be completed, with some new
keyboard additions from both Cormac and myself, real drums from Louise Potter
(a local country/bluegrass musician) replacing a digital rhythm track,
and some harmonica from Lee Hedley (a local blues musician). I should add
that when we were mixing the track, Pat Gribben ? the songwriter/guitarist
from Belfast band The Adventures (who had some hit singles in the late 80s/90s)
? called into the studio. We played him the track and asked for his input,
which is why Chrisfs lead solo is so loud! It was the right mixing decision. Chris's
fearless guitar really brings the track alive when it comes in at that point,
along with Louise's drums.
The track was nearly six minutes long. Rather than cut any of it we created
a 'radio edit', as Track 1 of the album, with the full version appearing later on.
I hope Chris' fans enjoy it!