Sunday, June 03, 2007

Why Butcher Boy Likes Babies

As I was walking home a ragged troubadour on Ashton Lane was playing "Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter" by Black Sabbath. Butcher Boy have a new song called "Why I Like Babies", but I assure you, there's nothing sinister about whatsoever. It's completely innocent, so I don't think it will be material for the street troubadours of the 2030's. Yes, I was walking home from John Hunt's flat where Butcher Boy had spent the whole day recording songs for a new ep. And when I left John and Garry were still at it. They're innocents, but most of all professionals. They're not young. Basil was saying he's really too old to be doing this. Christ, he's buying a house with eight bedrooms. But that doesn't matter. They're doing it because they need to. John Hunt started writing songs in 1998. He didn't have a band, but he felt the urge. "He's a true artist" Basil said, and listening to the lyrics to their first album Profit In Your Poetry, it's obvious he's got something to say. "I'm far too old. I'm far too cold. I don't want any trouble I just want to find my way home." Would you have written that? Butcher Boy is about Glasgow to a large extent. John was saying how he felt more at home on the South Side. And that's something only a true Glaswegian would say. He's moving back there soon, which means he's giving up his gorgeous flat on Woodside Terrace. I mean, it's fifteen feet from floor to ceiling and the living room is just huge. Yes, I was walking home from there, along Park Terrace which is just above it and my favourite street in Glasgow, down through Kelvingrove Park and the descending dusk. I love the light in the West End at night. And I knew then that this post was going to be as much about Glasgow as it is about Butcher Boy. I'm been living here for nine months now and I can't believe I'm leaving in just another month. I'm going to miss the foxes. No, frankly there are too many things to mention that I'm going to miss. I've been thinking about Glasgow quite a bit lately. Because I did come here in part because of the Glasgow I had an image of through songs and stuff I've read. My favourite music video is Belle & Sebastian's "Dog On Wheels". It's just Stuart strolling down Byres Road, wearing his hat (though I've learned he's got several that all look they same). But it's hard to imagine Glasgow as it might have been for him in 1995. Or for James Kirk in 1980 for that matter. The Glasgow that "Just a Modern Rock Song" is about. "Le pastie de la bourgeoisie" was sprayed on the wall of Gregg's just round the corner from where I live. And I've seen Stuart strolling down Byres Road too. But he said "hi" to me. He didn't do that in the "Dog On Wheels" video. But I've learned enough from him trough the years, anyway. Alistair Fitchett said he thought the old Glasgow was forever vanished. He might be right. I love Glasgow, but it's not like in a song. Not until I heard Butcher Boy. What I like about Butcher Boy is that they don't sound like you'd expect them to sound. Just like Glasgow isn't what I expected. They are a pop band in every sense of the word. But the melodies sound as timeless as old Scottish folk songs. And they use instruments like cello, viola, autoharp, accordion, mandolin and Spanish guitar. John's voice is simply unique. So, why was I walking home from John's just half an hour ago? Or why was I there in the first place? I was surprised, and very happily so, last week when Basil sent me an email asking if I'd like to come along to a rehearsal on Thursday and the recording session on Saturday. I said yes of course. That's not an opportunity you would pass up. Just think what a privilege it would have been to hang out with Belle & Sebastian when they recorded the Lazy Line Painter Jane EP. Because I do think Butcher Boy have the same potential. They wanted me to take same pictures and write something about the whole thing later on. I guess they wanted to document the life of Butcher Boy. Well, I've definitely got a good idea of what they're about now. Cause their people as well of course, and some of the nicest I've met. A band is so much more that the records they make and the gigs they do. And they chose me, because hopefully someone might read about them. I don't know about that, but at least You are reading. The rehearsal on the Thursday was not as planned because only John, Basil and Findlay could make it. But it was good to see the Berkely Annex from the inside, and especially the rehearsal rooms themselves. It was very clean, spartan and professional and apparently all the 'real' bands rehearse there. They worked through some of the songs that will be on the next album, mainly trying to get the drum parts right. It was interesting to see how determined John was about the arrangements. He obviously had a really clear vision of how he wanted each song to sound. He would record quite elaborate demos of the songs before he'd let the others hear and practise them. And they happily oblige to his wishes, cause after all it's his dreams they're fulfilling. Findlay is the drummer, he lives and works in England but had come up for the rehearsals and the recordings. He's really one of the most good-humoured people I've met. And Basil is just as humble as John is. He's played in bands and made music on his own since the 80's. He might not be a 'real guitarist' and he might be self-taught, but he can play that guitar better that I can ever hope to. I was quite surprised to hear that the guitar he's using it still pretty much his first guitar. And then today I went round to John's flat at around 3 pm and the recording was already well under way. They were planning to record new and quite different sounding acoustic versions of three album tracks and two new songs called "Eighteenth Emergency" and "React or Die". To be released hopefully as an ep by How Does It Feel to Be Loved? this year. The takes that I heard take shape indeed sound very different from the ones on the album. They benefited hugely from the acoustics of Johns spacious living room. The album was all recorded at the legendary CaVa studio, which is not very far from where he lives. But these songs where recorded onto an 8-track porta, totally acoustic and clean, without any effects. Garry was handling the recording, and as an aspiring Phil Spector disciple he was very pleased with what they had accomplished today. He also plays bass guitar of course. Alison (who together with Garry make up the wonderful All My Friends) is the band's multi-instrumentalist, if you will. Today she played piano, accordion and did some harmonies. And then there's Maya who's joined recently as their cellist. She seemed very competent but didn't mind just sitting around for several hours until it was her turn to be recorded. And she'd done a beautiful cello arrangement for one of the new songs. In contrast, Aoife turned up last, recorded her viola parts and then headed off again. That's efficiency if I ever saw it. And we all got to stomp along to intro of "There Is No One Who Can Tell You Where You've Been", including me. But I think that part might not be included in the final mix. It was great to see John's flat before he moves out, and I'm glad the band got to do a recording in there as well. Look out for the ep, because the sound will be great I tell you. And it was all captured with a small photo shoot on the stairs to the house. Maybe it will be a site for future indie pilgrimage? I'm very thankful for being invited, and I hope I can return the favour one day. The last thing I heard before I left was John recording his vocal for "React Or Die". That's another thing I like about Butcher Boy... they recognise the importance of decent song titles. I think I read somewhere that The Long Blondes want all their song titles to sound like old film noirs. Butcher Boy's song titles sound like novels. And that's what I think you should aim for. At least Belle & Sebastian did. But no one but John would write a song called "Why I Like Babies". What IS that song about then? Well, you'll find out when the next album arrives.

A small photo reportage:

Basil plays the guitar.

Half of Butcher Boy rehearse at the Berkely Annex.

Woodside Terrace, Glasgow 2007.

17 Woodside Terrace.

Butcher Boy recording in John's flat.

Garry listening to the sound of guitars.

Maya warming up for recording her cello parts.

Garry and Aoife checking the levels for the voila.

John sings in the darkness.

A small video:

1 comment:

O Captain said...

The Butcher Boy album is probably my favourite of the year so far. Everything you say is true; I could (and do!) listen to it for hours on end.