Sunday, 15 July 2012

'Vela' - by Francesca Baines

 So here at last is Francesca Baines' debut album, Vela. If you had asked me over the two year period 2010-11 what was i working on, the answer would have invariably been, 'i'm working on Fran's album' or as time passed on, '...still working on Fran's album'. A huge undertaking would be an understatement, but one i am very happy to have been involved in and what i can easily say is my best co-production and recording work to date.

 The story of this album and working with Francesca is tied into the evolution of the Lionheart studio and goes back to when i first saw her perform, quite some time ago, at the legendary Tikki Lounge in Cork City. This was an early gig in Fran's musical journey, if not her first and it was a nervous performance and her voice showing the lack of experience but even then i was captivated by her unique song styles and out of the norm folk sound that reminded me of Joni Mitchell or a female Nick Drake - never a bad thing in my book. I had a strong feeling too that we would work together musically.

 After a short period of time and with a some more experience behind her, we made arrangements to record her first EP. At that time i was still set up in my apartment in the city with the difficult conditions of trying to record in a residential block. I had managed to record two albums there already (for Sumu and Rachel Regan), taking advantage of quiet daytime periods when my neighbours were out at work but know things had changed. Different neighbours with more erratic timetables meant recording sessions were being interrupted by external noise more and more. After a few days of aborted sessions with Francesca, we had to except that it wasn't going to be possible to continue with the project, while i was having to come to terms with the reality that i wasn't going to be able to run a recording studio in a residential area. While we took in our disappointment of the aborted EP over a cup of tea, Fran remarked how the location of many studios, in most cases inner-city, sometimes in industrial estates and in my case the colourful Blarney Street, weren't the most appealing or creatively inspiring and how she would love to record in a studio that was in the country-side, out in nature where when you took breaks from recording you could be inspired by the beauty of the natural world. I too wanted the studio set up in such a space, for the natural inspiration yes but also for the uninterrupted silence of the country... though i would eventually find out the countryside has its own set of sounds to deal with.

 With those thoughts and wishes sent out, Fran went on to record her EP with the then Cork Opera House head of sound, Laurence White while i went searching for a suitable location to continue the Lionheart Productions story. About a year later i was set up in a little cob house in seven acres of hazel wood in West Cork and spent the first year recording albums for percussionist √Čamonn Cagney and Tanzanian rap artist Shah Smooth. At the end of that year Francesca returned from her troubadour's travels of Europe ready to record her first album and after a week of further song writing whilst house sitting for me in the woods, we were ready to record at the beginning of 2010. 

 What we thought was going to be a six month part-time project soon expanded in time. The material is very intricate and we were recording multi-track, that is one instrument at a time. There had to be careful planning, for example the songs are played to click-tracks to keep good time as well as to ease the task of editing but to keep the ebb and flow of tempo meant these had to be carefully programed. There are a lot of 'found' sounds on the album, which Fran recorded on a hand held digital recorder then carefully placed and edited on her laptop before being transferred to the studio. We wanted all of the sounds on the album to be recorded, though in the end the piano is a software based sampled grand and we did sneak one other sample in, though i'll leave you to guess what that is ;-) There was extensive editing which is very time consuming, especially on rhythmic instruments as the songs are based on intricate rhythm structures, in strange and interesting time signatures. And there was a lot of consideration about what instruments were to be recorded and the availability of musicians meant having to wait for the appropriate time to record. We had the pleasure and privilege to work with many outstanding musicians, with special mention to Francesca's father Jeremy, who provided a large array of instrumental performances, some inspired arrangements and his playful sense of fun. In all there was around 100 days of recording and mixing spread over two years.

 We then made a trip to Twickenham in London to sit in on the album mastering session with music industry veteran Jon Astley at On The Edge mastering studio. This was a great chance to see a master (no pun) at work as well as to work closely with him to ensure just the right enhancements were made to what had become a precious piece of work. Once some tweaks were made after we returned to Ireland the album was at last finished.

 For me the album fully captures the unique essence of Francesca's creative being with every song wrapped in its own enviroment, though all coming together in one rich musical landscape tapestry. Though the studio is now located at a different location, listening to Vela transports me back to the magical shade of the Hazel, where the cacophony of sounds of dripping water in woodland pools, leaves crushed under foot, birdsong and the drop of an acorn from mighty oaks mingle into rich musical harmony. From Fran i have learnt how to express artistic conceptual idea's through music, an approach that was new for me and in Francesca i found an amazing creative soul mate with who i had the privilege to share the creation, gestation and birth of an amazing musical creation. I look forward to more musical adventures with her.

Vela is available as a digital download from iTunes and as unique USB stick which will have high quality version of the album, artwork, a film and a Dropbox link for special extras.

Vela on iTunes:

You can preview the songs at Francesca's website:

I fully recommend Jon Astley @ Close to the Edge for all your audio mastering needs:

Some Good Rain comes to Lionheart Productions

So in the wettest month of June, a delightful day was had when Kinsale based band The Good Rain came to record a new song, 'Blood Red Dress'. I have already worked extensively with the band in the studio, including the recording of their soon to be completed debut album (currently in the final mixing stages at Sonas Recording in Killarney by Tony O’Flaherty) and when i needed a band to record for a college assignment (for Berklee Music College course in Microphone Technique) they were the perfect choice. 

 As a trade for their help i agreed to complete work on the song for a video that was to be shot in and around the studio on the day by Maurice Supple of Blue Shed Productions. A very pleasant day was had, I'm in the mixing stage now and looking forward to seeing the film and sharing what's shaping up to be a great recording.

The Good Rain:

Blue Shed Productions: 

Thursday, 5 July 2012

'Caduceus' - by Stephen Galvin

So here is the album Caduceus by the wonderful Stephen Galvin, recorded over a three year period at Lionheart Productions and mastered and pressed earlier this year, it is now available on CD from Stephens website or as a digital download at iTunes.

I first met Stephen many years ago in West Cork at Maugha, homestead of the Collard Clan and a long time sanctuary for me. It was the day after one of those now legendary musical gatherings at Future Forest. Stephen was, and still is, a very sensitive man and after the long night before and little sleep he was feeling a little worst for ware. He has since told me he was in a troubled state of mind at the time, a spiritual or existential crisis and that myself and Christy seriously helped him at a time of need. I just recall us making him tea and making sure he felt welcome but i guess i could emphasis with someone who i could see was having a hard time with life... we've all had those times to deal with.  He stayed for a day or two, and then he was gone.

Few years later i was sound engineering the annual spring celebration concert at the Kinsale Community College, called the Springanamagig. There were a number of act's that evening gracing the stage of the impressive wooden amphitheater... the usual mix of bands, singer-songwriters and a performance from the acting students. Many of the musicians were on the colleges' renown Permacultre course and when i saw a certain Stephen Galvin, who was that year a "Permie" (alternative gardener to you and me) student, listed on the line-up sheet, i didn't know it was the same young man i had met a few years previous; either we hadn't exchanged formal surnames or, more likely, my memory had done its usual erasure. We didn't do individual soundchecks for the singer-songwriters as they were many so i was totally surprised when Stephen took to the stage to sing a couple of his songs and i was blown away when he started singing! For someone as gentle as Stephen is, he possesses a powerful voice that commands attention. His guitar playing is an intricate finger-picking style and then there are his songs, poetry if i've ever heard it. 

After the concert had finished, i chatted with Stephen, re-aquanted and caught up a little with what we had being doing with our lives since last seeing each other. I mentioned that i had been recording, was slowly getting the studio together (in its first couple of years existence in my apartment in Cork City) and he remarked that he would like to record at some time. This eventually happened while i was still in the city, where we did one session though little, if any, made it on to the final cut. Two more sessions were recorded in the lovely cob-house in amongst the hazel trees of Coopers Wood near Kealkil were i had the Studio set up for three years and one final session in Stephens house were he was living between Kinsale and Innishannon. Time was taken over the correct selection of the versions of the songs, Stephen wanting the right feeling and energy to be portrayed and projected, to give the meaning of the songs stories their right due. Mixing was done carefully and methodically too, though always with creative experimentation and so in all, the finished album has three years behind its production.

The album deals with the transformative journey of the soul, through often troubled waters. These waters can sometimes overwhelm and be too much for some, resulting in suicide, an epidemic of which has been spreading through this land. This has a lot to do with our society's limited ability to support those who are lost on these existential oceans. The songs Stephen sings deal with these wider issues as well as his own sailings though choppy sea's as well as dealing with the loss of those who didn't manage to make it to the safety of the shore.

The experience of working with Stephen has helped to nurture our friendship, i feel i've met a spiritual brother (not something i would declare lightly!) and has helped my understanding in how to facilitate a space, both physically and mentally, to allow the free flow of creativity to blossom. I have learnt  also from observing Stephen prepare himself to get into the zone to perform a song where the essence of of the story been told touches the heart of others truly and brings about a healing that is real. I am grateful to have been a participant in this albums' birth. :)

The CD is available from Stephens website:

Caduceus is available at iTunes:

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Drum session with Stuart Wilde

So after moving the studio to its new location in West Cork, near to the village of Kealkil at the start of 2012 and re-setting up, re-jigging etc. I decided to take a spring semester online course at the prestigious Berklee Music College in Boston, studying microphone technique in the recording studio. Although I've had 6 years of self study and experience in this field (plus 20 years as a recording musician), there's always more to learn as well as the getting out of old habits and i wanted to try one of Berklee's online courses to see if the online study method suited me and if so, then to continue studying with them later in the year towards obtaining one of the college's certificates in Music Production. Its been going really well, a great chance to delve deeper into the art of capturing the sounds created by a musician's playing real instruments in a real room as apposed to the ever expanding virtual instruments available to the modern day hi-tech studio.

I've been lucky to be helped out in the practical recording assignments by some of the many talented musicians i have had the pleasure to know, play with and record over the last 14 years that i have been living in Ireland, including Ciara O'Driscoll, Fiona Ashley, Caz Jefferys, Stephen Galvin and Seamus Collard. Last month (June 2012) I had the multi-talented Stuart Wilde, a producer and engineer himself as well as a superb singer/songwriter, helping me with a drum kit recording assignment that we doubled up with a chance for him to demo some drum idea's on a new song he is recording for his next album. Here's a few photo's from Stuarts iPhone of the Kit set up with the array of mic's in the new live room, plus a short clip of Stuart funking it up for the assignment piece that we recorded. 

Better quality of this clip can be seen here:

Stuart's Bandcamp Page: