The rather splendidly refurbished and gleaming white Jamm Studios in St Helens played very welcoming hosts to a similarly splendid little event last Sunday evening. Local band Mr So & So, having just completed the mastering of their new recording, invited fans and ‘pledgers’ to spend a few hours listening to an album playback and the chance to grill them on the new material.
With around 40 in attendance, the slight awkwardness of a group of strangers in a room, albeit with a common interest was soon dispelled as the five band members milled about and then took to the small stage with a welcome and explanation of the way the evening would work. For anyone unable to attend, a live stream had been set up and even saw someone logging into the site from Australia halfway through the evening.
Explaining that the ‘pledge’ system had allowed them make the recording much easier for them (basically fans could pay upfront for the album or make an even more generous donation for the greater gain of T shirts, artwork, or even an acoustic gig in your lounge for £1000) vocalist Charlotte Evans went on to describe how the playback party was actually the first time that the five band members had sat in the same place at the same time to listen to the finished effort. It was interesting to watch their reactions as they were able to spot fresh little nuances within the finished songs with their colleagues, exchanging the odd favourable glance in one another’s directions in approval. Dave Foster in particular found himself unable to hold back the odd embarrassed smile when some of his trademark solos cascaded from the speaker system. The whole recording process, assisted ably by producer/engineer and all round good egg Al Unsworth, had been completed with a combination of studio time and a lot of homework – in the case of Plymouth based Andy Rigler, almost essential, although the fact that Shaun, Dave and Charlotte live in closer proximity made their jobs that bit simpler.
Amidst the playback – a few tracks at a time, which had some light shed onto their creation and meanings prior to the playback, a variety of questions were taken by the band ranging from the standard – “How did the band get its name?” to the more considered – “Is there a concept to the album?” (without wanting to spoil the fun there is a loose lyrical concept running through the album) , “Which songs are you looking forward to playing live?” and onto the slightly more ridiculous – “How big are Dave’s flares?” (they were very impressive by the way; oh, and he wears them because his wife likes him in them Whilst on the fashion theme, Charlotte made some reference to something about commandoes following comments by her mum in the social media network that is Facebook the following day, but to be honest I didn’t really understand the army reference.
Listening to an album for the first time is always a bit of a daunting prospect but even at this stage there were stand out moments. The opening song, Paperchase – which Shaun McGowan explained as an allusion to a childhood game – was a harder hitting album opener rather than the traditional ‘ease your way in and build up in a prog sense’ type of song. Jingo appeared halfway through the sequencing in what would probably be classed as the end of side one in the days of vinyl and as a slighter lengthy piece struck me immediately as one of the highlights. Compliance was introduced as something a bit different from what you’d expect from Mr So & So – written by drummer Stu Browne, who had a busy night looking after his young son who was making the most of the space in the studio, it was a departure from the more usual melodic side and showed some ambition to try new ideas and approaches. The album closer Please, on first hearing took me back to The Beatles’ Abbey Road – a compliment indeed – in the way it opened with simple piano chords and then built into a very Beatle style crescendo. Further listening might prove me wrong, but a great choice to finish off the album.
And that was it. All pretty painless really and very enjoyable – a little like that trip to the dentist you were dreading.
With the playback finished, and following a count of how many instruments Shaun had played on the album (most of which began with ‘B’) Charlotte announced “Paul’s itching,” hurriedly adding “I should have added a few more words to make a proper sentence.” Itching in the musical sense of course, as a keyboard and acoustic guitar had sat unused throughout the evening and it would have been a serious shame not to use them. A couple of the tracks lent themselves perfectly to acoustic performance so it allowed keyboardist Andy Rigler to take the lead on Looking Glass with Shaun on acoustic guitar and Charlotte holding two vocal mics for herself and Shaun before ‘The Dave’ was called upon to take the guitar for House Of Dreams. Getting into their stride, the title track was played as an added bonus before the evening ended with band, families and fans all relaxed and mingling and signing some rather smart looking posters (a limited edition of 10 and nice souvenir of the occasion) and with Mr Foster also taking the opportunity to sign intimate body parts. Surely no better way to end an evening.
Photography and text by Mike Ainscoe