Recording and production
The acoustic guitar and vocal was already recorded from the session for the stripped down version. I “just” needed to add the other instruments.
I made these notes two days after coming up with the arrangement, in Logic Pro X:
‘It was Friday 18th December, 2015. I was feeling energetic, which was unusal for a Friday evenig after a week of work.
‘I was also feeling musical and had listened to quite a lot of music before starting recording. I remember listening to China Crisis and OMD, amongst others. For all its clever pop sensibilities, both bands’ music is fairly simple in its arrangement. I think this rubbed off on the arrangement for Common.
‘I’d always planned on the arrangement coming in on the second verse, all guns blazing. I knew I wanted strings and I knew I wanted a solo brass part for my ‘la, la la’s’ – similar to the film soundtrack.
‘The very first thing I did was to reduce the volume of the acoustic guitar. Not by much, but by just enough to make sure it didn’t overpower some of the delicate instrumentation I expected to bring in.
‘Having used the drum track as a ‘click track’ for the recording of the guitar and vocal version, I set about bringing that up to scratch. It was mainly building it up throughout the song. But there were also some timing issues, where my guitar-strumming was slightly ahead of the beat in a couple of places. Rather than try to move the guitar strum, I opted for nudging the drums.
‘The upright bass was a fairly obvious part. I’d imagined that is what I would use for the bass, as I was looking for an acoustic sound overall, and I was delighted when it seemed to hit the right vibe.
‘The strings came next. It took a while to find the sound I wanted and I tried cellos and violins before settling on ‘Romance strings.’ The ‘held’ chord was a bit of magic I happened upon whilst I was trying to work out the chord changes on a keyboard! ‘Oh, well two chords then!’ That China Crisis and OMD effect.
‘I then moved on to the brass part. The French Horn suggested itself immediately and I was happy with it straight away.
‘Possibly the most tricky bit was coming up withe the piano part. I was looking to add a little something as the song progressed and I can probably say that the tinkly piano was all I could come up with. Maybe the weakest element of the track?
‘Then some more magic, as far as I am concerned. The final beat – that cooncides with the slightly delayed final guitar strum. Cymbal and French horn, both with a long sustain to match the acoustic guitar.’
For the first verse and chorus, I kept the video basically the same as the solo acoustic guitar and vocal version – using the same footage as I’d always intended – but aimed to make it feel even more intimate and ‘closed-in,’ in order to make the contrast with the rest of the track as marked as I could.
The ‘wide horizon’ footage was shot on the ferry returning to Malta from Gozo, using my iPhone. This was not planned. I was taking in the view from the stern and I suddenly realised that the view was the kind of thing I wanted. I had to keep a steady hand, as I had no tripod with me.
Picking up from the earlier video, in Final Cut Pro, I did very little to the footage of the Gozo Channel. I felt it kind of spoke for itself and I didn’t want lots of distracting changes. So all I did was fade in and fade out a threshold filter and superimposed some opaque flying birds towards the end. If it’s not obvious, all of this is meant to symbolise the freedom that is perhaps unjustly denied to some of the young men convicted under England’s common purpose laws.