We spoke with composer Richard Durrant and producer Paul Cartledge about the creative journey and process of making ‘Travels with my Guitar‘ during the first lockdown. ‘Travels with my Guitar‘ is the latest album on West One Music Group’s label The Scoring House.
Richard and Paul, you’ve been friends for many years and have worked together on a huge variety of projects, so what inspired you to release your first ever production music album together?
Paul: “A little while ago, Richard invited me to record a ukulele quartet in Wales and it really wasn’t what I expected at all. It was a beautiful, textured, minimalist collection of music – a personal revelation, as I’ve never heard the ukulele written for or played in that kind of way. I brought the music home with me to London and introduced Peter Cox (Creative Director, The Scoring House), to Richard Durrant – the brilliant acoustic artist, who I thought would be perfect for The Scoring House label.”
Richard: “That’s definitely the arc of the narrative! I’d written my first ukulele quartet and had heard about this guy called Pete Howlett who was making these beautiful legacy instruments, so we went to visit him to record on his instruments. Amazingly, when we left his workshop, he gave me two of his uke’s, which was amazing as they’re incredibly valuable and there is a long waiting list if you want one! I have been messing around with ukes for many years, they are great for unaccompanied Bach of course, but they also fit perfectly into my own acoustic world with their re-entrant four strings suggesting unusual fingering patterns – a big part of the inspiration behind the music on this album.”
“Further musical ideas came from bicycles! Since I was a kid I’ve always loved the sonic qualities of bicycles and I carried out many noisy experiments using clothes pegs, lolly sticks and playing cards to pimp the sound of my bike! Everything about those sounds is perfectly minimalist, a real interrelation of changing tempo’s and textures. Back in 2014, I did my first cycling concert tour as an eco statement – albeit without much training! I put a PA and my guitar into my trailer and cycled 1,500 miles, playing 36 concerts and losing two stone along the way! I went from Shoreham to the north of Yorkshire and back down to Brighton for a big concert on the beach.”
What was your thinking around selecting which sounds to convey?
Richard: “Paul and I have been really good mates for a very long time, we work really well together so the trust was there for him to be in the driving seat for selecting the music.”
Paul: “I met Richard at one of his ‘Sky’ gigs at the Royal Festival Hall back in the early nineties, I was immediately impressed with his guitar wizardry and have followed him ever since. I’ve helped him record many of his solo projects and I’ve been to many of his concerts. I definitely have an in-depth knowledge of his music! He gave me access to his catalogue and I spent a lot of time going through it and digging out all the bits that resonated with the brief, no matter what the instruments were. I chopped bits out, re-structured and edited to create a selection of tracks that I thought would work well. Richard then took these tracks and re-played and recorded all the instruments again.”
Richard: “I would re-record the music, re-imagining moods, keys, tempos to create something fresh and new. Paul would then feedback his thoughts. At the peak we were finishing a track a week – it was a very creative time.”
Paul: “I kept asking myself, did these sounds belong in the Richard Durrant world of blending tones in his unusual and virtuosic way whilst also delivering on The Scoring House brief.”
Richard: “Like any musician I always aspire to write better, play better and record better. I’m constantly looking to smarten up. So during Lockdown with the cancellation of all my touring, I enjoyed these recordings as if they were a series of mini-workshops..”
Is there anything special in the way the tracks were recorded – how did your creative process differ due to lockdown – Paul?
Paul: “It was very different from normal as we were both in our respective home studios – sending music to each other and hoping what each of us had done, the other one liked. We both got used to Zoom as we went along and, to be honest, it’s the most we’ve ever seen of each other. We met every other day on Zoom and the whole album only took three months in the end!”
Richard: “I’m lucky enough to have a really good recording facility and have been using some fantastic microphones – a pair of German hand-made valve mics which were a real game-changer reproducing the exact sound of the beautiful instruments. Paul also has a fabulous collection of gear plus years of experience so it was a real luxury for me to send him a track to produce in his own way. I could think and play and obsess and then hand it over and wait for his input – it was actually a very relaxed and harmonious way to work. In a way Lockdown allowed me to put my music and playing under the electron microscope – a unique opportunity! The hand-made ukuleles, plus the mics – everything about the sound on this album is super special, plus there’s something inherently filmic about the touches of minimalism which create a web of lovely noises. The project flowed as smoothly as the notes!”
What were your standout moments from the creation of this album?
Richard: “Paul coming down to Shoreham right at the end of it – we swam in the sea and sat chatting in my fishing boat! It was slightly weird meeting up in the flesh after working so tightly together from a distance…”
Paul: “The low point was getting back to Yellow Boat in Dean Street at the end of lockdown, listening to the tracks, and realising there were a few more tweaks needed!”
Do you have a favourite track on the album?
Paul: “’Sunshine Superdays‘ is my favourite track. Just when we thought it was all over, Peter decided ‘there’s room for you to do a couple more’! So, I sent Richard on his way to do what he’d been doing best in lockdown – going out on the beach and having fun! And he came back with this incredible piece.”
Richard: “It’s hard to pick one favourite track because, for me, it’s more about textures and colours rather than a standout melody. This whole album has been beautifully recorded and painstakingly played – so each new track became prettier and more intriguing – like a beautiful acoustic flower opening up.”