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Another studio session… doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?

A bar has opened at the other end of Birdcage Walk. It is very busy, good for them! Although I am rather disturbed by the sign in pretend Gaelic script (you know, the As and Ts are a bit wonky, and there are shamrocks sprinkled liberally about the signage) declaring “Bus Workers 10% Discount!”

It hadn’t occurred to me when it was being refurbished that this may have an impact on recording, or how we felt about being there late at night.

Sunday night is Karaoke Night!

I was convinced it was an Elton only affair, but Dan assured me he had during the evening, tuned into the inevitable murdering of Robbie’s Angels. The confident but drunkenly off key renditions increased in volume, as the door opened to let more singers in, and more smokers out.

As you may be aware, for some of my recordings, this is like gold! I love to hear the sounds of the town around me as I sing. Sometimes these are exaggerated, and sometimes they are cut, minimised, or digitally altered and used. Sometimes they are a pain in the bum and we have to keep rolling and do it again!


Sunday night we revisited “The Gate” – a song we recorded right at the beginning of January. Strangely, I can sing better now, my delivery is more nuanced, I can get to places I couldn’t before, so we are going to re-record my vocal. We have also got into the swing of things now, so we know how these songs should feel, so we are going to alter a few things, strip a few things out, and add in some strings.

We also recorded “Distracted” – a song about sex. It was originally an exercise set by Dan in the Songwriting Circle. My friend Nicki Kelly and I decided, as the only women, we should definitely write sex songs from the woman’s point of view. Nicki’s song was brilliant, a definite celebration of the joy of sex. Mine was more a serial killer/obsessive stalker sort of take on the whole thing – rather worrying really –  but there you go. I decided though, in this project, a song about sex was a definite necessity, so I dusted off the original Garageband file this weekend, for us to have a go at doing properly, as this had only taken me a couple of hours to put together for a laugh.

I handed the file to Dan, and toddled off to go to the loo, put the kettle on, open the biscuits, that sort of thing. When I got back, Dan had stripped the file down to see what it was made of. He was listening to my track of rather blatant heavy breathing… looked up at me and said “You’re a fucking weirdo, e!”

From that point on, the evening went swimmingly, and the new recording sounds brilliant. But I think you can tell, on the recording, there are a couple of moments when I am on the edge of losing it and starting to laugh.


I am fascinated by the different ways people write songs, and being in the Circle gives me a chance to see this in action. I sometimes am astonished by the methods people use to get from A to B, from verse to chorus, totally bamboozled by their path!

Have just listened to “Same Tune, Different Song” on BBC R4 here’s the link, I don’t know how long it will be available for:


I can’t conceive of being given a fully formed tune to shoehorn the words into. For me, it is always the words that come first. There isn’t usually a chorus, and sometimes it doesn’t even rhyme. Then a bit of a phrase of melody will be forced from me after much groaning and experimentation. Once I have a few words attached to a melody, I’m on a roll then, and the rest generally flows. Once I have my words to a tune of sorts, I then get someone – at this point generally Dan or Dave Sutherland to take it and sort it out… then it will be assigned a key, chords, and from that point it becomes a more structured thing. This is my process. I am becoming more able, more confident in many of these stages, but at the age of 54 I will never be able to afford the time to learn fast enough to play an instrument well enough to do the crucial bit in the middle on my own. I am resigned, even happy about this now I have decided NOT to learn an instrument. My thing is making sounds, recording sounds, manipulating sounds so that I can pretend they are music. I can sing layers of vocals and manipulate them digitally. A few of these songs rely totally on my voice. Some on my voice and built loops from recorded sounds… that’s my thing… besides which, guitars never seem to come in the right cup size.


It’s more that half way to the date when I should have a finished installation, and we are more than half way through the songs, so I’ve decided to unleash another recording on the world, another sneak preview. This isn’t a finished recording, but that sketch/plan/design we take into the studio to work from.

This is how it got to this point… I wrote the words, there aren’t many. I had a melody in my head* for the first couple of lines, then sang them to Dan, who played them on the guitar, then we built it from that, recording each bit as we went. When it was a complete song, short, but complete, I decided to send it to Dave, as it would sound great with mandolin instead of guitar. For me this is a cheery song – I don’t write many of those. After a bit of sound file emailing, Dave came up the goods… the really goods!

So, yesterday, we recorded my vocal (bit dodgy) over the mandolin, small issues of delivery were discussed, a little bit of mandolin was snipped from the middle and copied as an intro, and Dan played a little bass over the bridge. This is the perfect recipe now, all the ingredients are there… I’ll book Dave in for a studio session and we will iron out the lumps and bumps and then this one will be my favourite….

Lyrics: Elena Thomas
Music: Elena Thomas and Dan Whitehouse

*I’ve come back in to edit this, on listening to bits and pieces of old recordings, I discover the bit of melody in my head had been put there during a session with Nicki Kelly, who deserves a credit for it!


Vocal: Elena Thomas
Mandolin: Dave Sutherland
Bass: Dan Whitehouse