22 Feb, 2013 Version Immersion
Whenever I search for a Simple Minds song on my laptop I am usually overwhelmed by how many different versions appear.
For example with any given song of ours, it is commonplace that I will come across umpteen various demo versions occasionally listed as “very early” demo version, “scratch” demo version, “sketch” demo version, “rough outline” demo version, to name just a few.
Among that lot there will be demo versions with vocals, as well as instrumental versions. Often I will have stored Charlie loud in the mix versions, Charlie quiet versions, next to Jim vocal up, Jim vocal down versions. Jim loud in chorus, Jim down in chorus, Jim vcl for radio, Jim low vocal…for German radio version, even? Oh the tedium. And that is only the beginning.
For acoustic guitar versions might appear also, whereas piano solo versions are commonplace with songs from 15 years ago or more. Electro versions of the same songs are probably more common now. Versions of songs with Mel’s drums pounding away will most likely turn up sooner rather than later, and alternately, programmed drum versions will feature, as in fact will versions of the same song but with various amounts of verses, intro’s, and longer coda’s.
Versions with keyboards augmented by Andy G can appear out of the mists of time, likewise a version of the same song but played instead with a broken keyboard that Charlie could have found in a dusty junk shop may well appear. Unsurprisingly perhaps, for many songs there may exist raucous versions as well as minimalistic – so-called – chill out versions. And no, it does not end there either.
Lately I am sure to have various studio versions as well as “home studio” versions of the same song(s). A Rockfield studio version will feature, as could “The London Studio version”. Jez Coad Studio versions are a plenty, meanwhile Real World Studio versions 1,2,3 and 4 of the same songs, cram my hard disk. Even new versions of different and same songs recorded with various producers that recently include Jez Coad, Andy Wright, Steve Hillage and Steve Osborne are stacking up as I type. In fact I received some “rough mix ideas” only yesterday. Not to forget, days in the studio sometimes means we have “before dinner take” listed beside “after dinner 10 minute band jam”. Really, I am too scared to even contemplate listening to something with a title like that.
Additionally I will find versions of songs recorded on the run at sound checks in various cities, on various tours, from various years. Then lying in wait within another folder, I might discover something entitled “Quickly snatched vocal version from hotel room in Norway”. Or an equally random version entitled, “Demo arrangement recorded on Charlie’s mobile/Hotel Terrace, Marbella.”
Jeez. I have dual copies of versions of songs edited and put together on our tour bus by Andy Gillespie? Side by side I might have a version of the same song(s)from “somebody’s pal who is now an up and coming hot shot re -mixer and works from his own New York loft complete with stunning view of Brooklyn Bridge! Blah de blah de blah”. To confuse matters I will most probably have another version, again same song, but this time cobbled together in a damp basement in Glasgow…that is often the version I end up loving. Or at least I think I do until I come across another mp3 containing a version with vocals, recorded by a Sicilian DJ in his converted bedroom studio. Featuring no less a vocal track that if you listen carefully enough, you can hear the overspill of the TV commentary from a Champions league football match being watched by the rest of his friends and family next door. And I am not exaggerating here. Understandably as much as that will be the version for me, it is really not usable, except for laughs.
And what about live versions? Simple Minds are known for their great live shows – in some quarters at least. Yes, we play around and try to come up with versions featuring different arrangements just for the concert stage. Big and bombastic works well in the outdoors, which will come as no surprise. But keep it short, sharp, and mean and lean for the clubs. Check out the sweet and tentative, baby step version of a new song being played for the first few times on a tour. (Broken Glass Park) Then hear how it often develops a swaggering confidence that is unrecognizable 12 months later. If, that is. It even still features in the set 12 months later. (Light Travel. A great tune, played once miserably, then binned! Soon to be resurrected though.)
And so what does this all tell me about the process of writing and recording within Simple Minds? I am not sure really, plus I feel dizzy after writing the previous paragraphs.
But it could tell me that anyone might easily think we are clueless, continually chasing our tails as we try to capture the right recording of what we hope might be considered a good or perhaps great song. It certainly tells me that although technology is usually meant to make things easier, somehow the decision making involved in creating records has become harder than ever, thanks again to the unlimited possibilities that the same technology has made available. And again technology has made it that everything is recorded these days anyway. There is no single version therefore, it’s all up there on Youtube and in myriad shape and form, right there for the world to see, hear, or both, should it be interested that is. Yes, there it is filmed and/or recorded in the crappiest ways imaginable usually, and that of course incudes live versions, versions from radio sessions, free download versions, versions where you sang it with a snotty nose cause you had little flu and really preferred to be back home in bed eating Rolo’s. None of which I am complaining about incidentally, least not much.
More positively however, considering all the pros and cons involved in the process most typified by all these versions of the same song idea, well, it tells me that we are probably like most other artists who work in music, painting, film, literature, ceramics even…you name it? We get these notions of how things could be. Or at least within our heads we sense how an idea could or should be, and then just as we are about to commit, we get another angle, sometimes entirely different, as to how it must be surely. Meaning that everything is up in the air once more. But it does not stop there. A week later, that newer vision may have morphed into something else entirely.
Finally, what I love most about all the maddening variables that occur during the creation of a piece of work, is this: It tells me that our art and our work is very much a living thing. It lives, it breathes. It ebbs and it flows. It rises and then goes flat on us. Just like life itself in fact. But it also tells me that our imagination is as energetic as ever, and our vision broader still, as we consider a multitude of ways to cut our creative cloth within an old game that surprisingly seems to matter still – for some people – within this relatively quite new century.
And as for all those differing versions? What does all that demonstrate that to me? It tells me that there is never, least in mind, a ”definitive version” of a Simple Minds song.
As I understand it, each and every one of them usually has something unique, something we would want to capture or try to recreate, something to broadcast. But simultaneously they also all appear with their flaws, some subtle, some truly catastrophic. In any case why do I have to have a favourite version of anything in life? Why out of so many versions of a song can I not have my 3 favourite versions for example? 6 favourite versions even? Really, why can’t I be expansive in my preferences, do I need to be narrow? Do I need to fit in to a criteria that others might crave, just to suit? What would be the point in being an artist if that were so?
But back to all those versions for one last time. Well, I like them all in someway, I am a fan of the vision behind all Simple Minds output. I would have to be after all, given the fact that I might listen more to the music during the making of our work than anybody. I listen repeatedly, from the seed of an idea to its absolute fruition, that probably means I listen to an idea for days or weeks even, on end. I wake up to it. I sleep with it in me. Shamefully I am still listening as I gulp down food. I just like the sounds in all shape and form. But I dislike all of our results equally, for different reasons. None of them ever hit the target 100%, and none of them fill the hole completely. No bad thing though that slight dissatisfaction, in fact it is the very thing that makes us want to continue to create, as we have throughout our lives to date.
And with that I am off for a lie down!