Back in July 2015 I upgraded my bog-standard PC to a super gaming machine with 48Gb of internal memory. Previously, I had been used to machines running 4GB, at the most 8Gb of memory, so this was like driving a Ferrari after pootling along in a Mini. The score-writing program Sibelius had been one of my chief music software tools for a number of years previously but with limited memory it would never play back satisfactorily. Suddenly, with the increased available computer memory, new vistas opened. So I put Sibelius through its paces with a Rolling Stones-style riff which, at the time, sounded pretty impressive to my ears. This was before I started using ProTools so I had to make a demo version of the song using the Export Audio function in Sibelius.
And there the track sat for over a year as I learned more and more about the subtleties of ProTools. During that time my home studio setup was augmented by a Rode condenser mike and Fostex monitor speakers.
By October 2016, Cavan, Mark and I were looking for a title for our 2017 show at the Phoenix Theatre in Bordon. This year, our fifth at the theatre, we plan to feature original tracks written by each of us, and “Better Late” seemed an appropriate overall title for the show. I returned to the abandoned track which by now sounded very primitive, compared to what I had been recording during the intervening year.
So I rejigged the chord sequence of the song, undertook some research on Charlie Watts’ drumming style – in particular his individual use of hi-hat patterns and his tribal-sounding floor toms. Then my next step was to put together a virtual set of drums tailored to reproduce the exact specification of Charlie Watt’s drumkit, which had been recorded in Abbey Road studios with each drum individually miked, and with proper stereo overhead and room mikes. I went through the drum part, which I had composed in Sibelius, adjusting the velocity of every single note to give it a “live” feel. It was a long-winded and painstaking job but I knew the end result would be worth it.
Keith Richards’ guitar style was easy to reproduce, as I have been using an emulated version of his 5-string open-tuned Telecaster (which he calls “Micawber”) in the band for years on my Line 6 Variax guitar. The alto sax solo, however, is a virtual instrument, although Cavan will be playing it for real at the Phoenix shows.
The bass guitar part was also recorded using a virtual instrument, a Rickenbacker 4001. This was in the days before I bought a Variax bass; nowadays I would probably use it on its Steinberger setting which Bill used a lot after he left the Stones. (Did I tell you about the time I met Mr Wyman in Harrods back in 2000?)
The lyrics were modelled on the classic Stones tracks from the mid-60s such as “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “19th Nervous Breakdown” with an overall theme of discretion being the better part of valour so I used that phrase for the middle eight in a very un-Stones-like section of the song.
This track will be the finale of our Phoenix show on June 23rd and June 24th so don’t forget to book your tickets early.