A slight departure from our usual interview format this week as DPRP’s Phil Chelmsford spends a day in the studio with Sean & Jeff:
It’s a cold, foggy November Sunday morning as I head off from Essex to spend a day with Jeff Green and Sean Filkins at Hicklin Studios in Reading.
Why the meeting, you may ask? Well Sean has very graciously offered his vocal prowess for Jeff’s new album, ‘Elder Creek’, due out 2012 – but we’ll come to that shortly. This came about after both musicians first became aware of each other in the chat room of http://aiiradio.net/, where they were both being featured on the same Prog show. The idea of a musical collaboration then materialised, a couple of months later, after ‘yours truly’ just happened to be having a casual conversation with Sean, on Facebook, about both his and Jeff’s music – when he offered his singing services for Jeff’s new album.
‘Elder Creek’ is to be Jeff Green’s second album featuring a great mix of Prog which is both melodic, and traditional in style, with influences from the likes of Rush and Yes. Other guests include Alan Reed (vocals) and Mike Stobbie (keyboards), both ex-Pallas, as well as Pete Riley (drums) who has toured with the likes of Keith Emerson and Wetton/Downes Icon.
I speedily make my way around the M25 and then the M4 (well as speedily as the fog will allow) to arrive at the studio of Garreth Hicklin, in Reading, before anyone else arrives. On arrival I see I have a missed call and a voicemail… both from Sean… uh oh!! Maybe there’s a problem? Maybe he can’t make it? Listening to both messages, apparently it’s just a matter of Sean not getting away as early as expected… Phew!!
I then wonder where Jeff and Garreth are. At that very moment they drive up the road behind me (spookily) in Garreth’s monstrous yellow van… it’s so big I could probably park my car in it. Perfect timing, it would seem! Jeff and Garreth both play in the superb Eagles tribute band The Illegal Eagles and had been gigging in Luton the night before and had just got back from their overnight stay in Bedfordshire.
We say our ‘hellos’ and they tell me tales of their gig from the night before, after which we retire for a much welcome cup of tea (how rock’n’roll, huh!?). I try to play that very childish but effective joke of telling Jeff that Sean called and can’t make it today… but I couldn’t be that cruel and keep up the pretence!
A word about our venue: Hicklin Studios is a brand new recording studio designed, built and run by Garreth and his dad… so it has that new carpet/new paint smell etc. The studio comprises the main control room, studio space and a vocal booth. The studio is excellently equipped – quite impressive by any standard!
The phone rings again: “Phil, it’s Sean… err I’m lost!” – not being a native to the area, I hand over the phone to Garreth who guides Filkie to where we are… 10 minutes later Sean arrives and the day is all set.
Of course we have never met Sean before in person – our only communication has been via Facebook and email until now, so we greet and introduce ourselves and chat over another cup of tea. After 10 minutes you would have thought we were all long lost friends as everyone just ‘clicked’ so easily. The chatting moved from the kitchen into the studio where we continued to discuss music, bands, artists, family… After about nearly 90 minutes we suddenly thought “Hey, are we not supposed to be here to do some recording?” (Oh yeah – good point!)
Garreth readies the vocal booth while Jeff and Sean discuss the song in question and perhaps how it should be sung, phrased etc. Sean is singing on the title track to Jeff’s upcoming album – so is very keen to make sure everything he has rehearsed is ‘spot on’ and to Jeff’s liking.
Now it’s worth pointing out at this stage that Sean had been suffering from flu all week long and, although over the worst, was still struggling a little vocally; although, needless to say, after he had a few practice runs, got warmed up, plied himself with a honey and lemon drink, he needn’t have worried as he sounded superb. There’s the ‘Silky Filkie’ voice we know and love.
So the remainder of the afternoon was spent going over the song, singing lead parts, putting together the harmonies and laying down the backing vocal parts (with copious amounts of swearing and verbal self-abuse coming from the vocal booth when a bum note was hit or a word missed). “Mr Filkins… such self-abuse! You shouldn’t call yourself those names – that’s our job!”, is the jokey comment in response.
Garreth sits very quietly in the background the whole time, ready to pounce and assist if a ‘mic’ isn’t working or something seemingly goes wrong… Sean has no fold back; Sean can’t read his vocal lines (no Garreth didn’t pounce this time with reading glasses at the ready – he isn’t an optician – it was a lighting issue!). Garreth himself is a very talented musician and singer. He plays guitar, bass, mandolin, keyboards and drums – to name but a few instruments, and is a very talented singer – not to mention a brilliant Studio Manager! He also features on Jeff’s album – ‘Elder Creek’ – singing lead and backing vocals on a number of songs. Garreth would be an outstanding asset to any recording musician or band!
As an onlooker, supplier of endless corny jokes and ‘blogger of the day’s proceedings’ – it was great to see these two ‘Progunderdogs’ getting along so well, and producing what will turn out to be an excellent title track for Jeff’s new album. They share a great love and appreciation of music, a similar laid back approach to people, and the burning desire to share their artistic talents with music fans. They have both found out it’s not always easy getting people interested – but wholeheartedly deserve recognition for their extraordinary, creative efforts.
Sean and Jeff also discuss the rudiments of being independent vs. being with a ‘Label’. Jeff’s first album ‘Jessica’ has been made, pressed and sold almost entirely through Jeff himself (he does now have a distribution deal via Gonzo Media), whereas Sean’s album ‘War & Peace & Other Short Stories’ was released through F2 records. Of course both have their advantages and disadvantages, but the general consensus was that Jeff should try to get this new album ‘Elder Creek’ out via a suitable label (if any ‘Label people’ are reading this… please get in touch!!).
Through conversation, all the guys echoed the same experience where they find some fans (bless you all!) live in the misconception that if you have an album out and/or play on stage to large audiences (referring to The Illegal Eagles), you must be rich, live comfortably and music pays all the bills! “It’s like some people believe we must live at ‘Prog Towers’!” laughs Jeff. Prog artists, like other musicians and performers who perhaps sit in a ‘unique genre’, probably have to work harder than the more ‘run-of-the-mill’ Popular artists to support their music, families, and lives just to make ends meet (often composing and creating alongside other forms of employment); hence why support and recognition for their music and craft is so paramount.
Of course the afternoon was interrupted every now and again by… yep you guessed it… breaks for ‘Rock’n’Roll’ cups of tea, and even biscuits! (Oh! How grown men fight for the biscuits!!) There were no televisions thrown through windows, no ‘groupies’, no addictive substances (apart from caffeine) or alcohol excesses in this rock’n’roll environment… ‘Prog on’! Every tea break then produced its collection of music-based stories from Jeff, Sean and Garreth – and as we music fans often do, conversation turned to ‘putting the complete music business to rights’ with discussions of: “What is Prog?”, “Who really cares – if it’s good music and you like it?” and talk about those amongst us known affectionately as ‘Prog Snobs’!
Prog Snobs: people who think they own the definition of Prog. It must sound like King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, ELP or Floyd or it’s not real Prog. They tend to have a very tunnel-visioned view and can be dismissive of new acts and new music – and probably without even taking the time to listen to it.
The recording session finally comes to an end. A mixture of many takes, Sean’s voice finally struggling because of his ailment and the inability to drink anymore tea! In now true rock’n’roll style (Ed: about time too!!), we retire to a local pub for a couple of pints and a lovely Sunday roast. The remainder of the evening is whiled away chatting about private lives, the music business and strengthening what is turning out to be a great rapport and new friendships between all four of us.
It’s fair to say that we started out the day with three of us knowing each other and, with regard to Sean – we all met a Facebook acquaintance. We proceeded through the day as music fans; I observed the professionalism of Jeff, Garreth and Sean in a studio environment – appreciating their work ethic and enthusiasm, but more importantly, we finished the day as firm friends.
Special thanks to Jeff Green for inviting DPRP along, to Sean for contributing his vocal services, to Garreth for use of his studio and to them all for being thoroughly very nice people.
Dates for the diary:
8th Feb 2012 – 5pm – 7pm (UK time)
Jeff Green is a guest on ‘Inside the Music’ Live show on Aiiradio with Nick Katona – http://aiiradio.net/
9th Jun 2012
Progmeister 2 mini Prog Festival – Jeff wil be supporting ‘The Tangent’
Hickling Music Studios – http://www.hicklinmusic.co.uk/
Jeff Green – http://web.mac.com/jeffrgreen/Jeff_Green/Jessica.html
Sean Filkins – http://www.seanfilkinsmusic.co.uk/