Progaid Recording Session - 29 January 2005
Progaid is extraordinary collaboration of the British and international Progressive Rock community in aid of the Tsunami Earthquake disaster fund. It is hardly a glamorous location for a prestigious charity recording, especially on a decidedly chilly day in mid winter, but something rather extraordinary is happening at Briar Bank Studios in the small town of Penarth, Cardiff Bay, Wales.
For this is the home of "All Around the World," a charity single to be released in March, by Progaid, a remarkable amalgamation of skills from many of the best-known bands in the British Progressive scene. There are also some crucial contributions from some key international stars such as Roine Stolt of the Flower Kings, and Neal Morse, formerly of Spock's Beard, plus members of international acts Glass Hammer, Pain of Salvation and Shadow Gallery.But, on Saturday it was all about the British contingent, with members of Landmarq, IQ, Pallas, Karnataka, Blue Horses and Pendragon all in attendance, not to mention new kids on the block Magenta and Strangefish. Organisers of the project, David Robinson of F2 records and Matthew Cohen of Magenta explain how the event came about:
"Originally it came about through email conversations with a guy called Nick Gielkins from Holland," says David "we just wanted to do something to help with the Tsunami relief effort. As I know a few musicians and a few studios, I said I'd see what I could do. I mentioned it to Matthew Cohen and Rob Reed [of Magenta], and from there the whole thing has snowballed into something much bigger than we could possibly have imagined, with over 40 musicians and journalists involved."
Since the project was first announced, little more than three weeks ago, there has been much speculation as to the content of the single. Many people will be surprised to learn that the chosen song is not really prog at all, but an uplifting power-ballad, entirely appropriate for this sort of occasion, but with enough space on it for each musician and singer to add their own moments of magic. Nor is it a new song, but one written several years ago by Rob Reed and then Cyan singer Nick Voyle. Rob, as producer, also has the daunting, yet exciting task of piecing all the contributions together. Unlike other charity singles, the instrumental contributions are as important as the vocal ones, this being prog, which leaves plenty of scope for extensive remixes and re-workings of the same song:
"Some of the stuff we've been getting in already from the musicians has been amazing," says Matthew. "Arjen Lucassen of Aryeon has sent in some amazing guitar, we've got some great guitar and harmony vocals from Roine Stolt, some beautiful work from Troy Donockley from Iona, and Oliver Wakeman's keyboard parts are simply outstanding. The commitment shown by everyone has been fantastic."
"There's simply no mediocre work so far," agrees David, "which gives us the scope to do maybe three or four different mixes. It's amazing how different the final versions will be compared to the original Cyan track. We'll have one definitive version for radio, but while keeping the basic song structure the same, we can experiment with different musicians and singers, maybe do a heavier version and a really quiet version. The possibilities are almost limitless, but in the end it will be up to Rob. He's the one with the musical ear."
The whole event was covered by Jerry Ewing of Classic Rock magazine, who provided regular updates to listeners of Total Rock Radio as the day wore on. The sessions were also videoed in an informal, fly-on-the-wall manner, with both interview and performance material taped, so a video and interview footage may also go on the single.
Recording had began on Thursday 27th January, when Allan Mason-Jones of Magenta laid down a basic drum track "just in case no other drummer turned up," and was scheduled to continue over the next few days with other musicians coming down on the Sunday, and the final session, with Neal Morse, on Tuesday 1st February. Plenty of other contributions from those that could not come to Penarth in person, including those from Heather Findlay and Bryan Josh of Mostly Autumn, and progressive rock legend Anthony Phillips, are expected early in February.
Of course, with so many musicians present, the day was a logistical nightmare. As individual players were invited to the studio to add their own contributions, there was plenty of time for chat, and it was almost slightly surreal to sit around a pub table and listen to Alan Reed, singer of Pallas, and John Jowitt, bass player of IQ, swap stories about life on the road, as if they had been ones friends for life. This was certainly an egos-free zone, and Rachel Jones' comment to me was fairly typical:
"This is the first musical thing I've done since Karnataka split up," she said with a throaty laugh, "and I've got the cold to end all colds, so I'm hoping Rob will bury me in the mix somewhere."
Despite the tight schedule, this was never less than a good-natured day, with elder statesmen mingling freely with young pretenders. An "incident" involving a near-naked John Jowitt and a full-clothed Tracy Hitchings (of Landmarq), remains unconfirmed, but is thought highly likely. "People would be disappointed if I kept my clothes on for the entire day," remarked the affable IQ bassist.
As the day drew to an end, it was time for the centrepiece of the occasion, and a 30-strong choir gathered together to sing the uplifting chorus. There was no option for each of us but to "go for it," and the results sounded breathtaking. As we sang the lyrics, which beautifully describe both a sense of despair and of hope for the future, a shiver ran down my spine, as I hope it does with everyone who hears the song for the first time.
The next step is mixing, mastering and pressing. Then the hard work begins. Sales and Marketing. "We have a lot of options regarding distribution," David Robinson remarked, "but, as the object is to get as much money to the disaster victims as possible, we need to make sure there are as few people as possible taking a cut from the single."
Do they think the single could possibly chart in the UK? "We're not naïve enough to assume it could do that easily, but the song is so strong, and so catchy, that people are going to be singing it for weeks, and if the radio stations that we will be targeting pick it up, people will want to buy it."
In the end, though, everyone agreed – that the only thing that matters is raising as much money for the victims of the earthquake as possible. There was a huge feeling of astonishment at the sheer scale of the Tsunami disaster, and a huge will to pool resources in the only way these people know how. By making music.
This is only the beginning of Progaid, so watch this space for further developments, but in the meantime, this was a day to remember for a lifetime.
For further information about Progaid and a complete who's who, visit www.progaid.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. A small gallery of shots from the day, shot by Stephen Lambe and which may be considered copyright free, can be found here. Chris Walkden's official photographs from the recording sessions should be available shortly.
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