Howard Popeck writes ....
Hello Linda and Mo and thank you both for agreeing to this interview. I’m going to dive right in here re your approach to recording technology, formats, domestic music reproduction and more. Our jazz columnist Tony Andrews in part #2 will be focusing more on the music, your influences and more. So … to start ….
Q: Linda ..... where do your affections lie; is it vinyl, digital, FM radio, live gigs?
A: There’s a tendency for us all to stay with the thing we know, so it has to be vinyl. I’ve always loved recording and haven’t craved audiences, though the right live gig can lift you off the stage with joy. Performance technology in 1969 left rather a lot to be desired, not least of which was being able to hear myself!
Q: And your music in MP3 format?
A: I have to say, the ease with which music can now be sent across the oceans is a blessing. I couldn’t have made The Fetch without this ability, as it was a combination of recording from Canada and the UK. With headphones on, it’s pretty good. And I must say I’m still so impressed with the amount of music you can carry around in the palm of your hand. It’s the way of the world.
Q: How do you feel about headphone listening, both in the studio and at home?
A: In the studio it’s usually my prefered way to work. On the whole, recording studios are, of necessity, dead sound places. Not a lot of ambience, you might say. I have recorded without using headphones on occasion, and it sure lets you know how dull you can sound. What I do sometimes is have ‘one off and one on’. At home I like the music turned up and around me, no headphones. Let the glasses and plates rattle along.
Q: Generally, studio playback either from master tape or digital storage is an exhilarating experience, using state-of-the-art equipment. When you listen to those recordings on a domestic hi-fi system, how do you feel?
A: To start with, sad. Takes a while to adjust to the reality of equipment most of us have. On The Fetch, the song Snowy Night was played back after it was mixed to a group of people in the studio – mostly men- many of whom had a little tear in their eye. That’s what big sound does for you. You get moved.
Q: Many performers say that even the finest audio systems fail to convey the magic of the original recording, the dynamic and atmosphere of the concert performance. Is that your experience?
A: I think you have to be careful with this one as the context is so different. When you are right there, at the concert, it is an occasion. No matter how able the technology is to replicate the sound, it has lost the social quality of the sense that the music is ephemeral, and we shared in the moment. Though I must say, there is a recording of Keith Jarrett playing before a live audience in Rio that almost takes you there. But then, it’s Keith.
Q: From your perspective, what is the role and what are the benefits of the producer in the studio?
A: The producer keeps my feet on the ground, and the details in place. I couldn’t have done my last album without Mo Foster coming to Canada and spending a couple of weeks in the studio with me. More quality work was done then than at the rest of the time. It helps when you have respect for them.
Q: Can they help with interpretation?
A: They can question it. Mind you, I tend to fight back, as I feel that my own personal involvement with the piece is inauthentic under those circumstances. Mo was great about this. His “what do you think of….” statements were usually followed by me baring my teeth. He was right on a couple of occasions, and I chose to do it again.
Q: Do recording engineers, vital though they are, contribute to the characteristics of the recording or do they just ‘push the buttons’?
A: The majority of the last album was made in Canada at the Ontario Institute of Recording Technology. I was lucky enough to have one of the teachers, Mark McDonald, as my engineer. He was a master of tact and diplomacy, never made a judgement about whether something was good or bad and at the same time mentored two or three students who were working with him. What he did do, however, was tell me what could or couldn’t be done.
Part of what you want as the performer is someone who will do what you ask, so pushing the buttons is not to be sneezed at. In the early Seventies, my relationship with engineers was more separate. And they weren’t treated with that much respect. It was interesting to discuss this with Roger Wake, a well known recording engineer, who very sadly died a couple of weeks ago. He worked on and mixed Pieces of Me and The Fetch (which he also mastered in his studio in Lisbon).
Q: I guess Mo was crucial, am I correct?
A: Yes indeed! I laid down most of my vocals at the Ontario Institute of Recording Technology, but Mo did the hard graft over a year at his own studio in London. His ear for detail and drive for perfection meant there was a
lot of to-ing and fro-ing. Somehow we both kept our tempers and
enthusiasm, though there were times I longed for all the musicians to
be in the same studio working, as it was when I made the other two
albums in the late 60's and early 70's. We did manage a bit of this
for a day at Gunn Hill studios in Sussex. Gary Husband letting loose -
what a treat!
Q: Thank you. Mo, would you care to comment on the technology for us please; Logic Pro, Pro Tools and so on?
A: The project was made possible when we realised that I could record using Logic Pro in London England, whilst she could sing (and have the luxury of an engineer) using Pro Tools in London Ontario. We were able to swap WAV files — amazing.
Apart from the writing process, the actual recording took me about a year. I played a lot of the material myself, but brought in the finest players (who happened to be my friends) for saxophone, violin, electric guitar, percussion, and mandolin. Drums were recorded in a large space in Sussex. Some of the players performed their parts in their own studios and emailed them to me.
It took a lot of filing ..... but we got there.
It was only when everything was recorded as well as we could that I travelled to a studio in Ontario to spend two weeks mixing. It was very exciting and very emotional.
Q: Barbra Streisand was reported as saying that the effort of recording was so great - and so draining - that she was not inclined to sing those recorded songs again in concert. Yet as I understand it you’ll be on tour at some point. How will manage to sing your songs with great enthusiasm, night after night. How do you maintain that enthusiasm in the face of that deep familiarity?
A: Let me first say that I will never be going on tour again. Touring was one of the reasons I left the band in 1972. So the problem of singing those songs night after night will, thank god, be a non-problem. Nearly every actively performing singer has had to deal with this. Lord, poor old Frank Sinatra had to consistently sing ‘My Way’ to adoring throngs. Apparently he hated the song, but as Mo says, “..give me one for the money, two for the money, three for the money….” I did do a performance here close to the whole of which was music from The Fetch. It was thoroughly nerve wracking, as it is complex stuff. I ended the night soaked through and unhappy with my performance. Too old for all that.
Q: What do you feel is your greatest musical strength currently?
A: Over sixty five years of singing. I started when I was three. I have finally understood that I’m really a jazz singer. Lots of money in that!
Q: Are there tracks which on reflection you never want to hear yourself – or anyone else for that matter – singing again?
A: Night Flight from the Affinity album. But I’m sure I don’t have to worry about anyone else singing it.
Q: Is the running order of tracks on your CDs a considered process, or merely random e.g. do you attempt to set the atmosphere .. or context with the first track; leave a haunting memorable image with the final track, etc? I guess your approach is best described as album-as-a-book; and I correct?
A: The running order of tracks is extremely important to an album. If the whole thing is worthwhile you have to think about the intial intent (was it a collection, a concept, a statement), the dynamics (loud, slow, thin, heavy, uplifting, demanding etc), and build (strong to strong, gentle to heavy etc.). The Fetch was interesting to structure because as we were recording we had a sense of the meaning and intent. It is, as you say, rather like a book, with the first track introducing all the others while suggesting that it will be mostly about memory. The final track is obvious because I called it Acknowledgements. The ‘chapters’ (songs) in between contain some of my life stories – coded it is true, but nevertheless, there.
Q: So from the artist’s perspective, does it seem right that people dip in, rather than hear the whole gestalt right through?
A: It has to be dippable. It’s lovely to think that people might immerse themselves in the whole thing, but unfair to expect it. I always read the end of a book first.
Q: Mo Foster’s playing is very reminiscent – in part - of Jaco Pastorious, a collaborator of Joni Mitchell. Also reminiscent of Pino Pallidino and Ruari (Rory) McFarlane. Were you conscious of that?
A: Oh yes! Mo is a wonderful bass player, and as long as his thumbs hold up he will always be. His time is divine. My one regret is that we didn’t funk it up really on any of The Fetch tracks. His jazz roots are so strong. Don’t forget, he worked with Gil Evans for some time. What more can I say?
Q: Did you write the bass parts, or did Mr. Foster instinctively know what to play and when? How does that collaboration work?
A: I can’t write music, and even if I could I wouldn’t want to step into such mighty shoes. I worked with two composers, Oliver Whitehead in Canada, and Mo in England. Mo preferred to write the music first to which I put the lyrics. Oliver, who is also a Prof. in English Lit; liked me writing the words first, then we moved both lyrics and music around to make it work. He got all my references to various literature, which was most gratifying.
Q: As an aside, is that BJ Cole on pedal steel?
A: Yes it is. A lovely solo.
Q: Does it irritate (as it does many of your fans!) that far less talented singers get recognition in the music industry?
A: That is a very great compliment. Talent isn’t all it takes. You have to have stamina, desire and a cast iron constitution to survive in the business. I went down too easily under the weight of the discomfort and tiredness. Drugs and booze have never been useful aids for me. So no, I’m not irritated. Let me say that instead I am constantly surprised and touched by how people respond to the work that I have done.
Q: On the other hand, you can still walk, un-approached, through Sainsbury’s; right?
A: Oh yes! Though last year, on a beach by Lake Huron, a woman came up to me and asked if I was Linda Hoyle and got my autograph. The world is a strange place.
Q: Once the recording was completed, were you sick of it and wanting to start on the next one?
A; I’m afraid I’m always like that. Not sick of it, just wanting to do the next thing – writing and recording. I am working on another project right now with Oliver Whitehead, which combines my interest in art ( I have been an art therapist for the last 40 years) with music. It will be performed in front of the original work, in a large art gallery. Two singers, piano and cello, and many strange sound effects. We doubt it will make us rich.
Q: Would you correct anything now on The Fetch?
I don’t think I would. This is unlike me as I relentlessly feel that what I have done is second rate. However, the mistakes I make I decided not to alter. The inclusion of the human is rather frowned on these days. We are all fallible. Let’s admit it.
A: Linda, thank you so much for taking the time to be interviewed.
I need to quote a critical observation that expresses the appropriate summation of The Fetch, cogent in a way beyond my descriptive powers: "Albums like this one are few and far between, and it's true when you have class, talent and soul like Linda Hoyle has, it will always manifest itself in albums as great as this one."
© 2017 Howard Popeck
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