Ted Carfrae, My Life In Music: The Making Of Jane McDonald’s ‘Inspiration’ Album – Part 2

In Part 1 Ted Carfrae recounted his initial meeting with Jane McDonald and the steps that lead to recording the ‘Inspiration’ album.

Part 2 Getting it all together – Recording the album…..

At the same time as working on the arrangements with Mike and Ian, I was finalising recording dates around Jane’s hectic concert schedule, selecting all the session musicians, booking recording studios and hand picking sound engineers.

R G Jones Control Room.

We recorded the album at my all time favourite studio, R G Jones in Wimbledon, South London. I loved everything that came out of the studio and I particularly wanted to work with their house engineer, Gerry Kitchingham assisted by John Brant.

Engineer – Gerry Kitchingham.

Gerry has engineered many hit albums and singles for artists such as Cliff Richard, Barbara Dickson and many others. And in my opinion, I still think he is the best vocal engineer I have ever worked with. He has incredible ears, a unique talent and the clarity and depth of his mixes is second to none.

Ralph Salmins, Pete Murray & Frank Ricotti.

I assembled the finest session musicians I could lay my hands on….. many of them went on to work with me on all my subsequent albums. These include the great Ralph Salmins on drums, Pete Murray on keyboards and Frank Ricotti, arguably the best session percussionist in the business. On background vocals we had Sue Ravey and Sue Drake, both long time friends of Jane’s – wonderful people and of course two great voices. I also asked my dear friend, soul superstar Jaki Graham to join us and with me as the male element, we had our choir.

I remember we would all meet at my house and rehearse the background vocal parts, all chipping in ideas. I just remember that collectively, we all made such a great sound, really big and powerful. I wanted this album to sound big and lush with great brass and strings complimenting Jane’s incredible vocal skills.

We started recording in February 2001 on the rhythm tracks with Jane on guide vocals. Jane McDonald never gives a mediocre performance and even when singing guide vocals, she put everything into her performance. I distinctly remember that the second song of the first day was called ‘Maybe This Time’ from the show and film,’ Cabaret’. It was so incredible because the atmosphere was electric, all the musicians locked in the zone and for me, Jane gave one of her best ever performances. Her vocal was so perfect that we ended up using her guide vocal in the final mix because it was an unbeatable performance.

All producers dream of those moments when everything comes together to create something special and even today when I hear that song, it takes me straight back to that amazing day. Jane is not only a great singer but also a gifted songwriter and we chose to include two of her songs on the album. The first is a firm favourite with her fans called ‘The Hand That Leads Me’ dedicated to her mother Jean and the second song called ‘Winner’, both perfect songs for Jane’s powerful vocal delivery.

We also enlisted the services of large string and brass sections comprising; fifteen violins, three viola, three celli, string bass, three French horns, three trumpets, two trombones and one harp. Woodwind instruments; flute, penny whistle and saxophones were played by my mate Paul Fawcus, truly one of the best musicians I have ever worked with. It was a big band indeed, forty-five musicians in all so it really doesn’t get better than that. We recorded over three days before we started recording lead vocals.

R G Jones Live Room.

I always make it a rule to record vocals without anyone else in the room, in this case it was Jane, my two sound engineers Gerry and John and I, that’s it. The reason is that with other people in the room, it is harder for singers to relax and of course there are constant distractions and opinions and the only opinions I am interested in are those of the people involved.

We create a vocal booth in the middle of the main studio space where there’s lots of air. I have always found purpose-built vocal booths a real pain because for me the vocal always sounds boxy and restrictive. Vocals and microphones need air around them to soar and I also want my artist to feel free with lots of space to express themselves and the lyric. We added subtle lighting that was relaxing and just created the perfect atmosphere – and off we went.

Jane absolutely loved working this way and I always made sure that her vocal sessions were a relaxed as possible, but I also demanded perfection and I am known for being a task master when it comes to recording vocals. I am always striving for a vocal that moves me, preferably to tears. I want real, genuine emotion and I want to feel the lyric so I would often direct Jane so that she could open up and deliver a killer vocal and this album contains so many killer vocal performances.

Jane McDonald – Inspiration.

On the odd occasion Jane and I would disagree. Nevertheless, I’d ask her to re-do a line again and she would nail it. I did push her sometimes to the brink but I think she would agree that it was worth it. One such vocal session that stands out in my mind was Jane’s version of the ‘West Side Story’ classic; ‘Somewhere’. The arrangement is so dynamic, it starts off very quietly and it required Jane to be equally as quiet and controlled and then she had to slowly build  her vocal throughout the song until she could finally belt out the big notes at the end. On top of that very real pressure and concentration, I wanted her to put in all the emotion of the lyric and I was very clear about what I wanted and I knew very well what Jane was capable of.

I know Jane found this track above all others very challenging but  I think she would agree that it was really worth the effort and for me, it is arguably the best ever performance of this song. Her vocal is quite simply a masterpiece taking the listener on a journey or wonder from start to finish and together with Gerry Kitchingham’s amazing sound scape, it is one of my proudest achievements as a record producer.

Kevin Metcalfe-Mastering Engineer.

The album was mastered by another dear friend called Kevin Metcalfe. Kevin and I go back to the very early days, in fact I spent six months training with Kevin ‘The Master’ and I owe everything I have learned about mastering to him. Kevin has mastered all of my albums for me because I trust his judgement and skill and it seems only right that he is involved in everything I do.

I would like to thank Jane McDonald. Jane, I want to thank you so much for believing in me all those years ago and giving me the chance to show you what I could do. I have very fond memories of meeting you on trains, in hotel rooms, after concerts just so we could talk about songs and music. I think you are an incredible artist and I sincerely hope that one day, you and I will get the chance to work together once more.

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

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