While recording what turned out to be Holy Roman Empire's valedictory single, 'Dante's Inferno', producer Rich Aitken talked about the idea of making an album with us and maybe even putting some real drums on it to beef up the sound. This was obviously a bit of a startling suggestion to me, but I was beginning to warm to it just as HRE split up, so the whole idea went out the window. Or did it....?
In late 2001, after Holy Roman Empire came to an end I made a few calls and met up with contacts around Oxford to see about getting a new band together, but it soon became clear that I just wasn't comfortable with the idea of doing all that with people who were not my actual best mates. So I hit upon the idea that I would hang up my gigging shoes, make a ruddy great album by myself and then, having got that out of my system, just - y'know - get on with life like a normal person who doesn't really make albums.
To that end, I acquired some half decent recording tech, got a bunch of books and subscribed to the relevant monthly mags, thinking I would record this album at home. Apart from my own limitations as a producer/engineer , I eventually realised the wisdom of the warning that if you produce your own music at home, it will probably never be finished. In some ways it seemed like I had wasted a long time going down that road, but it actually allowed me to try lots of ideas and build up a solid bank of songs that were crying out for an album to be on!
So, in 2004 I contacted John Halliday at Shonk Studios and we cut the single 'As Kofi Annan Holds His Head in His Hands'. I liked working with John, I was chuffed with the music we made and I discovered how much I loved singing harmonies in a chorus (something Martin and Emma had handled in Holy Roman Empire). That was it. Shonk was were I was going to record this album and early in 2005 we got that ball rolling.
John Halliday produced and played drums on '...And I Was Sore Afraid' at Shonk Studios, Oxford.
After recording this song early in the sessions, I realised it absolutely had to be the opening track to the only album I ever made (which would of course have to be a concept album about everything) . I began to resent the fact that a song was telling me what to do and was effectively denying me a more punchy opener, but I couldn't pretend the song didn't exist because I just loved it too much.
The verse was rewritten for the album, but the chorus was an old Holy Roman Empire song that we never recorded. It had a working title of 'A Cow's Tale' and at one point was called 'Cattle of the Planets'.
This was one of two songs I recorded at the very start of the album sessions; the other being a song called 'Critical Mass' that was all choir samples and church organs. I really liked 'Critical Mass', but I knew I had to pick a direction and up-tempo guitar pop won the day. There are echoes of that lost song throughout the album that are best explained by my having become enchanted by the Bjork album 'Vespertine'.
At the end of 2005, Ste sent some unmixed tracks to Oxford's Nightshift magazine before moving back to Liverpool. They weren't really ready yet, but for old time's sake he wanted one last review before he left town.
Another influence that loomed large over this album was that of the film Donnie Darko. I wanted to capture some of that cool, doomed romanticism for the album and arguably this song hit that nail on the head! It's become something of a live favourite and regarded as classic Tav, but for quite some time it lay on the cutting room floor because I was worried it was 'too-pop' and maybe a bit Holy Roman Empire. It was both of those things and I'm really glad I picked it up off the floor eventually.
We would always start a new song with the drum sample loops I had brought in to the studio, and somewhere along the line John would pick up his sticks and replace them with a 'live' track. When it came to this song, though, he checked with me first. 'Do you like that big recurring drum fill?' he asked. 'Yeah - it's a bit Phil Collins, but I do!' John put his sticks down. 'I wouldn't play it like that... and I think the loops really work on this.' So, we moved on and it came to pass that this is the only song on the album where the original loops remained intact.
For the longest time before recording, I had the intro and outro of this track attached to a different song and I couldn't let it go because I loved those elements too much. I was so over the moon when I came up with a better song that could put them to use that I used a line from it to name the album.
In 2004 I was booked into the studio to record 'As Kofi Annan Holds His Head In His Hands' and realised I needed a b-side. I didn't want to throw away something I was holding back for the album, so I had about a week to come up with something new. While the A-side to that single features loops provided by the drummer from Journey, John wasn't happy with the loops on this one so he played the drum track himself. It was a gamechanger and became how we did almost everything that followed. I'm pretty sure John could have wiped the floor with the drummer from Journey on 'Kofi Annan', but we hadn't thought of that at the time!
Partly inspired by 'Let Robeson Sing' from the Manics, I really wanted to write a political song that was a celebration rather than a protest. So, I came up with a joyful, upbeat singalong that events actually turned into a protest song. By the time the album came out, the UK had a government that was making worrying gestures towards the NHS. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) used this song in a video campaigning against the 2012 Health and Social Care Act. This song also got us invited by the National Health Action Party to play a show in David Cameron's constituency in the week of the 2015 General Election, but mysteriously none of the venues in Whitney were available for such an event that week.
When the album was all finished, this was my favourite. It had proper loud guitars, was in a minor key, had a bit of 1920s falling-down-stairs piano and a title like something from dusty old theology book.
I thought the intro made this song a perfect set opener, though I knew with absolute certainty that there would never be any such thing as a Le Emu Tavern live show.
In 2011, at the first of many Le Emu Tavern live shows 'In the Garden of Destroyed Universes' opened the set.
This was the last song recorded for the album and I travelled down from Liverpool to get it done. I stayed for a few days with friends Andy and Charlie, and I remember lying in their spare bed the night before the studio, programming the bass for this track. That sounds a bit cavalier, but it's a reminder that none of these songs were played live before being recorded, though they had each been performed and refined a million times in my head.
Part 2 of this song is the second half of an old Holy Roman Empire song that was inspired by seeing Radiohead play 'Paranoid Android' at the Oxford Zodiac a year before it was released. When they did release it, I breathed a sigh of relief that it sounded nothing like what I had gone home and created.
There was a proper 'disco-punk' instrumental version of this that got played a few times at Holy Roman Empire practices, but we never had much use for an instrumental so it went on the back burner. Then while making this album I started listening to Echo and the Bunnymen's 'Ocean Rain' album and found that John was a bit of a fan already, so something like this was perhaps inevitable. John picked up on the gentle sense of dramatic doom in the song, fetched his brushes and with that our journey to the Darko side was complete!
In 2006, with the album mostly finished I moved from Oxford back home to Liverpool. I had a plan, but it became more difficult than I had expected to get down to the studio to finish off. This, coupled with a gradual realisation that I had no idea what I was going to do with the album once completed, led to it becoming dubbed 'The Doomed Album'.
The last session was in 2007, but it wasn't until 3 years later that I had the funds to get the album mastered and duplicated. That was also the year I discovered how easy it was to get music distributed online, and so on Monday 4th October 2010 '... And I Was Sore Afraid' became available to people all over planet Earth for the first time ever.
I took this photo before the album had even been started and liked it so much it remained a constant probable cover throughout the recording. I'm pretty sure it had more than a bit of influence on the music made to go with it.
If you want to read too much into it, the image is made up of a pair of my glasses and 3 pairs of handcuffs from Holy Roman Empire gigging days; part Clark Kent, part superhero. This is definitely not the album I would have made with HRE, but I definitely couldn't have made this album had HRE never happened.