For a week, around 20 musicians occupy an old, disused, hospital on the edge of a small town.
Late nights jamming and recording means walking around in near dark along echoing corridors with shadows at every turn.
And then there’s a statue. Moonlit. You just catch a glimpse of it through a window.
The wonderful way to approach the Outland Sessions, at least for me, is having no idea what you’re going to do when you arrive. Everyone gets to ‘lead’ a song, but you can collaborate with anyone and everyone. And I did!
Waking for the first time there, on day 2, I just had this germ of an idea. A malevolent ‘presence’, trapped in the statue for a long time, awakes. Sitting in my room at the tiniest desk known to mankind, I sketched out a rough ‘story’, complete with guide lyrics. I think in pictures, so the story unfolded as I typed;
A young lady wakes up in a hospital room. Drowsy, she puts on her shoes and opens the door. There’s nobody there.
She walks around, her footsteps gently echoing in the empty hospital ward, and slowly realises that the place is deserted. Closed down, like she has been asleep for too long and the hospital was abandoned, leaving her behind.
Then, quietly at first, she starts to hear sounds. Normal hospital sounds; the opening and closing of a door, a laundry trolley wheeled down a corridor. A tap being turned on and off.
Perhaps she is not alone after all. In the darkness.
She starts to feel uneasy. Who, or what, is in the abandoned building with her? At night. Did someone, or something, else awake when she did? Is it following her?
She finds a hiding place and locks herself in as slow, measured footsteps move down the corridor towards her, then fade as a door is opened and closed in the distance.
Silence. Silence, except for the sound of her own shaking breaths.
She opens the door. Peers as keenly as she can into the darkness left and right.
[The song of IT]
Am I awake?
Ah, I have been trapped so long in the statue, the coldness of stone.
Ah, I feel it. Yes, the echoes of this place. From my time. The time it ended. Faint glimmers of sound, but no light.
Am I alone?
Ah no! I feel it. A presence. It is not empty. There is a trace. And I have been asleep so long, now I am hungry again.
[The song fades]
She walks in the near darkness, as quietly as she can, faint traces of moonlight the only help. Silver-white and cold.
From a doorway, a faint echo of an old fashioned tune played on piano. She creeps closer and for a few seconds she listens. Then it stops suddenly, mid phrase. Like someone heard her. Someone is coming.
She panics, she runs, she tries door handles that do not open, a window that slides up, but only a little and gets stuck.
And then the voices. Many whispered voices, too jumbled to pick much out. Loud whispers like she is in a crowd of ghosts.
From outside, you can hear her hammering on a pane of glass. Hear a faint cry for help.
She hears a drumming in her head. Energetic, chaotic, rising as she runs again.
[The song of IT]
I feel alive!
And now this place is mine again.
And you, you are mine. I’ll take my time, but I am hungry once again.
[The song continues as an instrumental. And now we realise it picks up on the melody from the piano, warped and made loud, powerful. Then the song quietens.]
She tries more doors as she runs. And then, relief! A door that opens.
She runs through, down the concrete and out onto the gravel. The crunch of her steps, the ragged breathing, calming and slowing. Quiet enough to hear the faint sounds of ‘outside’; the sigh of wind in grass and trees.
But then, faintly at first, the piano tune again. It rises in volume, closing in. Then stops, suddenly, mid phrase……..
And gradually, over the course of the next five days, the recording came together. I had the melody worked out, and it deliberately starts in the middle of a bar, joins again at the end, in a never ending loop.
So now to find the band members and jam out the two sections of music. It was Bruce’s birthday, Evil Joe had got him drunk as a skunk, which didn’t help, but we got something worked out.
Next day, Bruce was tight as anything. following the white board structure I sketched in Ian’s studio. Tasmin recorded the rest of the band. Rock band for the first section, Black Sabbath for the second. Jesus Joe stepped in on bass and was perfect from the first note. I just love working with such talented people.
We were getting somewhere. But missing the vital ‘star’ performer; the girl.
And Katie was awesome. I sketched out the ‘sounds’ I wanted, and where around the old hospital to record them, and over two late evenings and a bit more Tasmin and Katie got everything done. Creeping, running, panicking, hammering, breathing. Doors, switches, taps, showers. I was the trolley pusher and creepy footsteps of ‘IT’, by the way (tricky trying to walk to that 6/8 time signature too!)
Katie was the star turn again, improvising piano to the main melody I gave her. Haunting or what?
Assembling the ‘choir’ in Andy’s studio was fun. And they had two jobs. The easiest was a rising chorus of a chord. Multi tracked.
And the real fun stuff. I tore a large sheet of paper into strips and on each wrote out a line ‘relevant’ to the story. ‘The doctor will see you now’, ‘maternity ward this way’, ‘he’s awake’ etc. They chose their own, and boy did they whisper. The way it came together still creeps me out.
Reece and Steve dropped into Felix’s studio to track out the awesome guitar solos at the end of part 2. Without me asking or being there. Just another example of how everyone just gets together and makes things happen.
Nathan has just the most sublime mastery of African drums (and he has plenty of them). His chaotic drumming added the finishing touch. It deliberately uses a different, changing time signature to the main 6/8, but comes back together every so often to build impact.
Andy recorded my frame drum (which was much tighter than I would have liked, but it was January, hot and dry). It’s the ‘heartbeat’ you can hear almost all the way through.
The vocals were tracked on the final evening. I originally envisaged Andrew screaming out some lines, based on the guide I had written, but it didn’t happen. So…. improv. I just laid them down as a spoken word, with Andrew roped in at the end to add some echo vocals. Ricky did a great job in recording those, and keeping Andrew on track.
I did a rough first assembly final night on my wheezy old lap top. Rough as guts but the first time people had an idea of what was in my head. Enough for real engineers and producers to work with anyway.
Almost everyone was involved. Here’s the track credits;
Words & Music – Nigel Parry
Lost girl – Katie Morton
Guitars – Reece Davies and Steve Starke
Bass – Joe Murphy
Drums – Bruce Wenzlick
African drums – Nathan Bregmen
Piano – Katie Morton
Choir and voices – Rose Easter, Steve Starke, Jess Beveridge, Tasmin Pritchard, Shaun Hutchinson, Andy Woodd, Nigel Parry
Voice of ‘IT’ – Nigel Parry
Additional vocals – Andrew Hutchinson
Band – Tasmin Pritchard
Drum kit – Ian Moir
Lost girl and hospital sounds – Tasmin Pritchard
Aftican drums and choir / voices – Andy Woodd
Vocals – Ricky Hunt
Additional guitars – Felix Nesbitt
Piano – Ian Moir
Post production – Andy Woodd
Final mix – Ricky Hunt
That’s one hell of a team effort!