Thursday, 6 June 2013

#13. Bowie In A Box – 21st Century Ox


Dion Barker: bass.
Tim Conlan: bass.
Harry Fahey: drums.
Matt Hewson: saxophone.
Brendan Hoffmann: saxophone.
John Hudson: guitar.
Matt Neal: guitar.
Ruben Shannon: bass.
Richard Tankard: keys.
Matt Wearne: flute.

Music by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Written 2002?
Recorded at Motherlode Studios, Warrnambool, 2002.
Produced by Harry Fahey and Tony Peel.
Mixed by Harry Fahey.




Much like The Axolotl, this track was written to capitalise on having two sax players in the band (I think.... My memory – and indeed the band’s collective memory – is a little hazy on the matter). But I'm reasonably sure this was in the setlist so Matt Hewson and Brendan Hoffmann could wail away on their saxophones while drummer Harry Fahey, bassist Dion Barker and myself chugged along underneath.

But when it came time to the hit the studio, the idea was to have more than just two sax players soloing away. Instead, we decided (and I may have to take the blame for this idea) that it would be better to have a heap of musos going nuts over what is essentially a bad blues song.

So we roped in a who’s who of Warrnambool musicians – keyboardist Richard Tankard (Tank Dilemma, Blue Heat, Guy Smiley Trio), guitarist John Hudson, bass players Ruben Shannon (Frisky Go-Cats, Tank Dilemma) and Tim Conlan (Sky Rockats, Slap ‘n’ The Cats), as well as our good buddy Matthew Wearne on flute.

 Tank Dilemma in action. (l-r) Shannon Bourne, Ruben Shannon, 
Brenton Smith (obscured), Matt Hewson, Matt Trenery, and Richard Tankard. 
This band is seriously awesome. "Do yourself a favour." - Molly Meldrum.

Here's Richard Tankard, who very kindly and wittily contributed his thoughts on the track:
"When I was sent this, initially I thought, 'why?'. I had no idea. Then, I heard something 30 seconds in that sounded like me. Aha, I thought; that would be why. Despite this, I still had no recollection on this whatsoever - until about 1.10-1.15 when an extra bar, a 13th one, gatecrashed this 12-bar modulating ... thing. Then, the vaguest of memories came flooding on back. I know not who wrote it, or even if that mystery extra bar was intentional.  I do know that it's a series of 12 bars (except for that rogue 13th) modulating each time, complete with blues ending 1A.

"It seems everyone is soloing at once (this is not something I would have advised). And in the mix, different instruments are brought randomly to the foreground. Hey, this was a new millennium.


"One final keyboard observation - it's a very dry, non-rotating organ sound.  I know there was a period where my Hammond XB2's leslie and chorus effect went completely on the blink for some months. Sounds like this might have been smack bang in the middle."

If Tank took better care of his equipment, maybe these things wouldn't happen.

Here's Matt Wearne, critiquing his flute playing:
"I wish I'd put in some dynamics, put a bit of guts into it and put some accenting in, sheesh, bit embarrassing. I think it was the first (only?) time I've seen Tony Peel's studio and we talked about Volvos. I was impressed with the reverb-baffling, funky-shaped wooden wall with nice bright woodgrain."

The resulting recording is admittedly a mess, but I seem to recall that remixing this song was one of the few things left on the ‘To Do’ list to finish off 21st Century Ox’s unfinished second album, which I had dubbed The Last Sane Man On Earth and which was recorded some time in 2002 (I think) at Tony Peel’s Motherlode Studios in Warrnambool.

Having said all that, someone (most likely Harry) pulled together a mix that got the general idea across of what we were going for – a bluesy riff rippling with cool solos, fading in and out, from some of the best musos in town.

Here's Harry:
"Yep, definitely my mix. I remember mixing it down a dozen times and trying to remember which solo to pull up when (it came in), as it was back in the days of analogue desks - none of these 'com-pu-ter' thingys."


Harry at the mixing desk at Motherlode Studios 
during the recording of The Last Sane Man On Earth.


The riff itself was an inadvertent rip-off. I’m sure it’s 100 things, because it’s based on a basic pentatonic scale, but the thing it sounds the most like, and which I was listening to a fair bit at the time, was the Ben Folds Five song Kate. I don’t remember copying it, but I do remember realising the resemblance later and thinking, “Damn! This sounds like that!”.



I did like the way it shifted keys, starting in F (I think), then moving to A, then C#, before moving back to F. One of the few things I recall about the recording session with all the special guess was explaining (very badly) about the key changes and the way the song moved between them.

As for the song title, this track was named after Hoffa's cat Bowie. Like all cats, he liked to get into boxes. For some reason, that was enough to become a song title.

Bowie, not in a box.

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