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Bec's Blog

So.... I Recorded a CD...

Becky Blake

  Recording Studio Selfie

Recording Studio Selfie

So… I just sold the first copies of the first cd I’ve ever put on sale to the general public.  I must admit, it felt pretty good! I’ve recorded songs for promotional purposes before and I went through a phase where my close friends were getting married and I’d write and record them a song as a wedding present.  But I’ve never SOLD my own cd TO THE PUBLIC before! After 23 years in the industry I feel like I’ve reached some sort of milestone.

It’s not a cd that’s going to burst into the charts and make me an overnight success.  It’s just something to sell at gigs when people want to hear some more of my music and take a souvenir home with them, and it’s a record of where I am musically at this point in time.  It was recorded in around eight hours in a home studio belonging to the gentle and extremely talented Andrew Bignell, tucked away deep in the Adelaide Hills.  Yes I know, eight songs recorded in eight hours.  No mean feat! I wanted it to have somewhat of a live feel; most of the piano and vocals were recorded in one take with a few bits tweaked here and there.  No pitch bending, no fancy schmancy vocal effects.  What you hear on the eight studio tracks is me. And my keyboard.  And, on three songs, gorgeous tremulous lines, played by the most wonderful Cello Chick I know, Sandy Hosking.  Pure and simple.

 The elegant Sandy Hosking putting her finishing touches on the cello tracks.  Fine as a pine lime splice.

The elegant Sandy Hosking putting her finishing touches on the cello tracks.  Fine as a pine lime splice.

 There are four original songs on the album. The earliest, called ‘Rainy Day’, written around the year 2000, about one of my besties who was, and still is to an extent, having a hard time with men and relationships.  I could feel her pain and I just wanted to take it all away from her and for her to live happily ever after, because that’s what she deserves.  Her pain hasn’t really subsided, but nonetheless she’s changed her mindset and is living very happily ever after in the absence of a man.  You’ll see this spectacular woman at many of my Piano Chick gigs; Daina is the door biatch with the mostest.  And there are still occasions when I wipe her tears away (and she is ALWAYS there for me in a crisis!) and we often stare at each other with incomprehension about the way the world works.

‘Ode to the Piano Chick’ is probably my favourite of the original songs.  It’s a story about what I do for a living and how the show must go on, regardless of what is going on in my life.  Sometimes my kids are sick, a family member has passed, I’ve just had an operation or just had a really crappy and difficult day (all of these things have really happened!).  Sometimes the last thing I feel like doing is lugging my gear into the car, driving across town, lugging it all out the other side and putting up with jeers from the guys at the bar and frowns from the manager (though it’s better than being ignored!).  But when I sit down and start to play, none of it matters.  It all fades into oblivion, because the music takes me away and I fall in love with it all over again. And then somebody requests Piano Man. Again.  And then I get a random round of applause in the middle of the song and I realize people aren’t actually watching me, but the footy’s on the big screen above my head.  Again. And, again, I lose myself in the music.   

‘27’ is the song that I wrote for my latest Piano Chicks show, Sex & the Sixties.  It’s amazing to think that not even a year after Woodstock that Janis and Jimi were both dead and Jim Morrison was to follow shortly afterwards.  All aged 27.  This started somewhat of a cult club with Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse signing up decades later, as well as a host of lesser-known musicians.  And yes, that does mean we have to put up with Justin Bieber for another 7 years! In the show the whole band is playing it live, but for the recording it’s stripped back to piano and vocal, sort of in a Harry Connick style. Thank God I’m past 27!  (Only just, mind you!)

I wrote ‘That’s Just the Boys’ for my 2013 show, Piano Boys, where I opened the show, lounging on the piano singing it, with Paul White accompanying me on the keys.  It’s a burlesquey-tongue-in-cheek style romp, which was a lot of fun to record. 

 Concentrating on getting those piano tracks down in one take....

Concentrating on getting those piano tracks down in one take....

The remainder of the studio tracks on the album are covers of some faves.  Sandy joins me on cello for Real Men and Foolish Games, two of the most popular Piano Chicks & Boys songs from our shows.  Then I do my tribute to one of my favourite Aussie singers, Chrissie Amphlett with a medley of her tunes.  Chrissie’s dying wish was for her song “I Touch Myself” to be a torch song for women suffering from cancer; a reminder of how early detection is currently the best cure.  She faced her fears with such spunk and spirit.  I admire her greatly.

 The final studio track is Miss Celie’s Blues from the wonderful movie, The Colour Purple.  It’s a message to all my girls who might be having a tough time, to dig deeper and believe in yourself.  If I hadn’t done that, I’d never have done my first Piano Chick shows, which have helped define me as a musician and given me so many skills in areas I never dreamed I’d have.  We’re here for a good time, not a long time, sisters, and my message is: Shake your Shimmy and Go for It! 

Then there’s the live tunes, recorded at the gorgeous Promethean theatre, where I did my first Piano Chicks shows in 2012.  There’s the crowd pleasers, the ‘Carole King Medley’ and Carly’s ‘You're so Vain’, then one of my favourites, Tori Amos’ ‘Cornflake Girl’.  We finish up with Alicia Keys’ ‘Superwoman’, which I found difficult to get through for a long time without bursting into tears; it’s such an anthem for the working woman.  My original team is behind me; Gary Isaacs on bass, Andrew Bignell on drums, Sandy again on cello and Paul White on Hammond organ.  I don't want to describe it as a Mastermusic reality journey, but it really has been.

 The  master music maker, Andrew Bignell.  He made the whole process so easy and enjoyable for all involved.

The  master music maker, Andrew Bignell.  He made the whole process so easy and enjoyable for all involved.

And whilst it would be nice to reach my breakeven point with these cds financially, it really doesn’t matter, because I’ve already achieved success simply by putting it out there and doing it; it’s not about the money. All I hope now is that those who make their purchases enjoy the music and that it puts a smile on their faces. 

And that, somehow, it serves as a reminder of what a wonderful thing live music really is and encourages them to tell a friend to go and see a show sometime.

 

 

(Becky Blake's cds are available by emailing her on beckyblake0@gmail.com or messaging her on facebook to receive an order form.  $13 delivered to your door in Australia, or $10 at her shows.  Please enquire for international postage rates)

 

 

 

 

 

Tori Take Two

Becky Blake

The first time I saw Tori Amos perform was 1994.  I had just returned from performing in Asia and Little Earthquakes was one of three cassette tapes I’d taken with me to play in my Walkman.  I’d laughed, cried and longed over Tori’s music for seven months straight.  I’d learned to sing and play pretty much all of her songs and she was a wonderful role model; a talented, strong and sexy pianist whose gyrating at the grand piano made my young head spin.

I went along to the Festival Theatre with my sister and my dear friend, Peter.  I remember Peter agonized over his tie, we missed the support act and my sister was livid.  Tori appeared on stage, muttered something about masturbation and the church, performed solo for about an hour, walked offstage, walked back on, sang and played Cornflake girl to a backing track and walked off again.  That was it.  The audience was a bit stunned; around us, people were shaking their heads and wondering why she’d given us so little of herself.  How had we pissed her off? I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was that had disgruntled us all; she’d played and sung beautifully.  Maybe it was her manner?  Her self-indulgent behaviour? My sister and I staged a brief protest trying to get her to play “China”, a favourite of ours she’d neglected to play, but it was in vain.  Tori was gone.

Fast-forward twenty years.  Whilst Tori and I hadn’t exactly had a falling out and her early albums are still regularly on my playlist, I didn’t really relate to her post-modern era and hadn’t taken the time to listen to anything of hers for much of this century.  But, I chanced to see her concert advertised and on the spur of the moment decided to see if Tori had grown and could redeem herself.

This time my husband and I caught the support act and the tension in the room grew as we all awaited Tori’s arrival. A bespectacled Tori, clad in black leather pants and a wrap dress, still with the trademark red locks, entered the stage and the crowd erupted.  She nodded acknowledgement at the audience, sat down to play and the magic began.

Equipped only with a grand piano and a keyboard placed behind her so she could switch between the two, often playing both at the same time, sitting astride the piano stool (hence the leather pants replacing her usual skirt; so no Beaver), Tori held the audience captivated for almost two hours.  No mean feat.  Her vocals changed from swooping, melodic highs to ugly sneers to bare whispers within a phrase; her sound engineer perfectly in tune with her vocal needs.  A state of the art lighting show added to the theatrics, keeping beat with her syncopated rhythms and soaring countermelodies. I only knew about half a dozen songs, but loved them all.  And when she played China, I wept openly; tears of pride for a fellow piano chick at her awesome best, tears of nostalgia as memories came flooding back and tears for Peter, who took his own life 9 years after our first Tori encounter.  It was an emotive experience only wonderful music could give a person.

Like the first time I saw her, Tori again didn’t engage in conversation, other than muttering something about a guy called Sam.  But this time her performance was real.  She was a musician at her best, confident in her own headspace and well and truly enjoying her music.  It was infectious. 

 So, in a world where information is so easily accessible and we hunger for it, did I again miss a running commentary of Tori’s music?  Yes and no.  Sure, it would’ve been nice to have heard the tales behind the songs, especially for some of the more cryptic ones and when her diction wasn’t clear. But, I remember once going to a temple in India and refusing repeated requests to have a guide with me, preferring my own company and interpretations from my own thoughts, rather than having constant chatter at my side.  I loved letting my imagination run wild.

 Maybe it was that Tori and I had come full circle, moving in the same direction.  We are no longer insecure little upstarts with a chip on our shoulders.  We are mature, confident women with a love of music and nothing to prove to anyone but ourselves.  And when she sang a breathless rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, the question about why bluesbirds fly beyond the rainbow, why can’t I? was not rhetorical.  It was a challenge, an invitation to see how far we can fly, how much we can achieve.  I left the concert feeling uplifted and empowered.

Now, excuse me whilst I go and download some Tori to get myself up to speed.  It’s long overdue.