Ted Carfrae, My Life In Music: The Making Of Jane McDonald’s ‘Inspiration’ Album – Part 1

In Part 1 of 2 Ted Carfrae of TCM Music Group recounts his initial meeting with singer Jane McDonald and the steps leading to recording the ‘Inspiration’ Album…..

For those who don’t remember, Jane McDonald was one of the first big stars to emerge from the then new reality television format, in a programme called ‘The Cruise’. The programme featured several characters and Jane was one of the ships entertainers. She was followed from her first audition to headlining the main stage where she learned her craft as an entertainer.

Of course Jane was already a seasoned professional, having worked for years as a singer in local working men’s clubs around the Wakefield area and she even supplemented her income by working as a DJ in nightclubs around the country.

I first met Jane when a friend of mine, PR Nick Fiveash, asked me if I would be interested in producing music for all of Jane’s television appearances. These tracks were all programmed and I worked with a lifelong musician friend Stefan Heller. The first time I met Stefan was at CTS studios back in the seventies and we have remained friends ever since. I also recorded a few tracks in the studio with Jane including versions of Aretha’s ‘Respect’ and the club classic ‘It’s Raining Men’.

This led to my first big production job, recording the music for Jane’s first concert video. By this time, Jane had finished the TV show and was a well established star after having reached No1 in the charts with her first album entitled ‘Jane McDonald’.

The video was shot at a beautiful theatre in Stockport on 12th September 1999 and I mixed the music with a friend of mine called Junior Giscombe. Junior was a pop star in his own right and had a massive worldwide hit with his single ‘Mama Used To Say’ which has now become a soul classic. We recorded the concert using the ‘Manor Mobile’, a huge truck with a full recording studio in the back.

The studio was fantastic and had everything that you would find in a regular recording studio. The engineer was a chap called Richard Bradford who I had not met before and he was assisted by Shaun DeFoe and Alex Goodson from the Manor Mobile team.

An Early Manor Mobile 24 Track Studio.

The thing that stood out for me was the  mix. I remember mixing the soundtrack at the Manor in Oxfordshire in a big field surrounded by pigs, and potatoes in huge piles around us. So there we were, sitting in the back of a truck on a beautiful, hot and sunny day, with the back open, pigs running around foraging with music playing at full volume – all very surreal indeed. The video went on to become a massive seller and this was the start of my serious working relationship with Jane.

Soon after the video was released, Universal contacted me and asked if I would be interested in producing Jane’s next album. This was my dream come true to finally get the chance to make a proper album with a proper budget.

Making an album is a very complicated process and I usually spend around three months preparing every aspect of the production. The process always starts with a series of meetings with the record company to discuss and agree a concept. Then I have to put together a detailed budget and present that to the company. Once accepted, there is the legal side that needs to be addressed and this is where my manager usually steps in to negotiate my fees, royalties and then I start work on putting the project together.

The start is always about the material we are going to record. Jane was on tour so we met in many hotel rooms around the country, or I would join her on the train where we would discuss songs and ideas. Jane was always very creative herself and had lots of ideas that she wanted for the album.

Mike Alexander And Shirley Bassey At Rehearsal.

We decided to work with Jane’s concert arranger and conductor, Mike Alexander. Mike was Shirley Bassey’s conductor for many years so I knew his work well and loved his arrangements. He had also worked with Liza Minelli and Ray Charles, so I couldn’t have asked for a more experienced partner to work with.

Once we had selected the songs, the next step was to start work on the arrangements. I am very hands on with this part of the process. So I went and stayed for a week in Birmingham and visited Mike at his home each day where we would work together in his studio creating ideas and demos that I could play to Jane.

I remember it as being a wonderful experience and I was constantly singing my ideas to Mike. We would sometimes jump up and down with excitement when we created something that made our hair stand on end. I’d call Jane and play it down the line to her and all three of us would be screaming, it really was a joyous time and really creative.

Mike taught me such a lot about composition and arranging music and that knowledge has stood me in great stead ever since. So thank you Mike, for that. We even wrote two songs together in an effort to write a real old fashioned standard and one day when our collective schedules permit, we’ll get round to recording them.

Jane Singing Live On Stage At One Of Her Many Concerts.

The other great arranger on the album was Ian Hughes. Ian was originally brought to my attention by Nick Fiveash. He is a music arranger for top West End shows and I think worked with Jane on some of her TV shows. Ian is a lovely man to work with and his string arrangements in particular are so brilliant and imaginative – truly inspirational and he has since done some great arrangements for me on several projects.

Next week, recording starts at RG Jones Studios…..

Explore posts in the same categories: Music, Recording Artists, Recording Studios, Sound Recording

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