The Making Of The Records

The making of Dave Keir (LP)

The Cabbage Patch, Twickenham
The Cabbage Patch

The “Dave Keir” in question is a record, of course, not the person! And please don’t suggest there may be some allegorical truth in the latter interpretation.

In the early 1970s I was a regular nuisance at the Twickenham Folk Club (now TwickFolk) asking for floor-spots before the main guest’s set. It was here mostly that I became comfortable and gained some confidence playing in front of people and trying out my songs. After some persistence and persuasion with the organisers, I was awarded guest gigs from time-to-time. I did improve! I think it was my experiences here that laid the foundations for my future gigs and tours.

Theo Johnson
Theo Johnson

One evening I was approached by a burly and bearded gentleman who said he wanted to have a chat. So, as he was leaning on the bar, he proposed that I make a record for his record label. Then, in what seemed in matter of weeks, I was firstly in a studio bashing out songs and tunes for the record in a matter of a couple of hours and then in receipt of 500 copies of the resulting LP which I could use to sell at gigs.

The burly and bearded gentleman was Theo Johnson. You can read more about him here.

Dave Keir LP cover

Dave Keir LP

The LP was a mixture of songs and traditional Scottish fiddle tunes that I had arranged for guitar. One or two of the songs have survived the years, either virtually intact, or recast with new lyrics and re-recorded. The tunes have fallen out of my repertoire, however. Nevertheless, I will publish the guitar notation/tab on this website along with some others – which I will need to record.

Dave Keir LP sleeve back

Theo gave me a large number of copies to sell at gigs and I carried them over Europe, selling as I went. They’re all gone now, except for a copy that I passed to Seelie Court records from which they made a digital master for the CD reissue in February 2022 and the single copy I have.

The making of I Can See Dover (LP)

Dave Keir - I Can See Dover LP sleeve front

My 2nd record was released in 1982. Most of the songs were recorded in west London but I cannot, with certainty, remember the studio, although I do have a couple of videos from the session (see below)!

2 songs, however (White Boy & Come On Back To Me), were recorded earlier with overdubs from session singers and musicians. The recordings were made in Chappell Studios in central London as part of a project by Clondyke Records (no longer in existence) to push my music to major record labels. This venture was unsuccessful and Clondyke kindly then allowed me to include the demos in my record. These 2 songs will sound out of character with the rest of the record and to those who attended my gigs. Their arrangement, too, sounds of its’ time: high-pitched female backing voices and popified keyboard, bass, drums and electric guitar.

A few of the other songs have contributions of a different kind. During 1980 and ’81 I met (and sometimes played with) a group of musicians who went by the name “The Mighty Honky Band”. Their music was a blend of Caribbean, jazz, folk and old-time variety influences guaranteed to bring a smile. Two of the members; Mandy Carlton (vocals), Stuart Hall (guitar, mandolin) and aided by Steve Carter (bass) kindly helped me with their talent and skills in the recording studio.

The name of the album was a result of the impressions left on my of my ferry trips between Ostende and Dover for my regular tours in Europe, especially Belgium and Germany. I remember often leaning on the handrail of the ferry looking down at the sea and over to the lands on either side of the English Channel. Each trip I bought some duty-free gifts plus a bottle of whisky for me.

The record was produced variously by Robert Golding, Colin McLeish and myself. The recording engineer for west London studio session was Graeme Jaye.

Shortly thereafter I was delivered several boxes of LPs ready for distribution and private sale at gigs. Not long after, I began to suspect – especially after the birth of my son – that I needed to find a more reliable and dependable way to make a living and decided to put the guitar in its case. And there it more or less remained until around 1986. But more about that another time..

So, here then, are the videos from the west London studio session. I hope you agree that they capture the spirit of these live takes (there were no overdubs). Thank you Mandy, Stuart and Steve!

The making of Interim Reports (CD)

At the end of the day, “Interim Reports” is a collection of songs; some old – and some older. Just for interest, and because I make a note of these things, here’s the chronology of their composition: Red John (1987); The Spaniard (1986); Blah Blah Blues (1997); Entropy (1993); Apropos Of A Working Day (1991); The Tumbler (1988); A Little Bit Of Fun (1977); Mademoiselle (1991); Everybody’s Somebody (1997); The Pretender (1989); Go Down (2004).

There is a span of over 25 years from the oldest to the most recent. I didn’t realize this until I looked the chronology up for the purpose of writing this page. Nevertheless, the collection is not any kind of intended retrospective. The songs on Interim Reports are simply those that were in a state of readiness for “publication” when I was ready to commit to the production of the CD. The CD title is deliberate and, as I wrote in the booklet: “there will be further reports”.

That said, the recording and pre-production of the CD was a pretty inefficient process due to my novice-like approach to the technical aspects of the whole thing. A one-man singer-songwriter, recording engineer / producer, graphic artist and record label CEO all wrapped up in the notion of being an “independent” artist is a fantastic concept ““ but there were areas that I had to learn about from the ground up.

Recording commenced in February 2005 (judging by the timestamps on the earliest audio files I have) but it was not until late 2005 when the content of the record was starting to take shape. I guess I had always known that I wanted Red John, Everybody’s Somebody and maybe a couple of others to be on this first CD, but there were many, many other candidates floating around. I had, I suppose, about twenty, or more, songs in various stages of recording and at rough mix stage in early 2006. There were some 80 others that were previously unreleased and that I had not even started to record. Some of these recordings were pretty awful, it has to be said, and some were”¦well, marginal. In one sense, the songs that finished up on the record chose themselves in large part simply by way of their sonic quality when recorded and mixed at that time.

In the spring of 2006, once a dozen or so songs were fit for purpose, I felt I was ready to put a timeline on the CD. I was already in contact with a mastering house in Cambridge, England, who (bless them) called me regularly looking to book a date for the mastering. That was still a bit premature but it was another nudge to focus on getting the recordings right.

Well, I guess that was the part that gave me most trouble. I now had the songs and I had them recorded. All that was left was to apply a little bit of EQ and a splash of reverb and they would be good to go. Yeah, right. I burned a disproportionate number of CDRs, auditioning them in all the players and systems at my disposal in an effort to get the “mixes” to “translate” as widely as possible. I tried MP3 players, too, but after a couple of months, I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere fast. In reality, deep down, I knew my problem lay in the fact that the songs were recorded and mixed in the same room. A room that was untreated acoustically. Now, it’s not a bad room ““ in fact I consider it a good room – but like all rooms it has its resonant modes and it was fast becoming clear that it would be just not possible to get things right unless I did something about it.

In May 2006, I installed some quick and dirty acoustic treatment in the form of triangular chunks of mineral wool, stacked floor to ceiling, in each corner of the room. This took all of half a day to achieve. I wish I had done it at the outset. The results were like night and day. Suddenly I could hear what was going on and make proper judgements about the sound without futile attempts at compensating for the room’s modes. Very quickly, and with revived enthusiasm for the task, I remixed the songs and was quickly able to bring this part of the work to a close.

I had contemplated the artwork for the CD and text for the booklet from time to time and had concluded that this all was going to be an in-house effort. Only a couple of days spent with my favourite graphics program, some photographs I had taken in the hills, and I had something that I liked. (That’s the complete panoramic image at the top of this page from which the booklet artwork was prepared.)

Finally, in July, I somewhat nervously brought my songs to Sound Recording Technology, not really knowing what to expect or what reaction the output from my humble studio would receive. The mastering engineer, saying nothing at the outset, made some EQ adjustments which were like drawing a veil away from the music. I was duly impressed and the engineer was pleased, too. Four hours later it was all done and dusted and I was handed a CDR to audition at my leisure. I was content. There were no changes to make. All that remained was for the artwork to be submitted, proofs to be approved, and money to be handed over.

“Interim Reports” was released on the 31st August 2006, and although there was no big release party or anything of that kind, a milestone had been met. I had enjoyed the whole process, despite some of its frustrations, and I was deeply glad to let the songs go into the big wide world, at last. Its sales are not so numerous that each is not a little bit special to me and it’s a fantastic thrill when a customer says or writes kindly about the songs, the performances, or the recordings. “Interim Reports” has made something real and tangible. To me, the making of the CD represents an authentication, and its sales a validation, of my songs. Just as importantly, it provides enfranchisement to proceed with the next.

The making of Uneasy Listening (CD)

Dave Keir - Uneasy Listening

I recorded the songs for Uneasy Listening during 2007 & 2008 at Bridge Of Canny, Banchory, Scotland. The guitars I used were: Martin OM-28V, Martin OM-18V & Martin 000-28 (yup, all Martins!).

From the CD booklet:

“I try to avoid having background music in my life because wherever and whenever music is played, I am compelled to listen. I can’t read a book if music pours from a nearby radio. I can’t focus on someone’s conversation while a record is playing. Work on a computer with an MP3 player plugged into my ears is impossible.

Finally, I resist the persistent efforts of the “easy listening” that pervades restaurants, hotel elevators, clothing stores and railway station restrooms to manipulate my mood. Yes, in respect to all of these I will henceforth feign deafness and scowl in defiance!

In contrast, jostling for your attention herein are some reflections on the Highland Clearances in Scotland in the 18th century, insomnia and the consequent imaginary enumeration of sheep, an aspiration to a moonlit elopement, deeds of impish devilry, dazzling daylight and Dionysian revels, husbandry and parenthood, loves won, lost, aborted, discarded and half-remembered, gods invented or merely imagined, and the mantras of self-help gurus.

None of which I trust, dear friend, will assault our ears as we push our trolleys around the supermarket isles.”

The making of Good Grief! (CD)

Good Grief!, like the other CDs, was a lot longer in the making than I imagined before setting off. With about 20 candidates for the album recorded during 2009/10 I took an unhealthy amount of time auditioning them in the car, on mp3 players, on boom-boxes, through my hi-fi… wherever… But I got there in early 2011 and then spent the next months sorting the order, arranging the mastering and getting the photos and design done. Well, well… this is what it means to be an independent musician – and how I love it! Manufacturing is easy – just send it all off and await a truckload of CDs to arrive on the doorstep. There is a frisson of fear as you tear off the shrink-wrap and audition it in the desperate hope that no errors have been replicated 1000 times. Good Grief! was released on the 7th July 2012. That’s over 3 years in the making. For a CD containing 12 songs of one man playing acoustic guitar and singing. I hope you like it!

What about the songs? Well, the booklet notes are below but, of course they only tell a summary tale.

From the CD booklet:

Fast slow fast slow. As far as ordering songs on my records, I can’t get over the habit. I thought I’d try and avoid it this time around. But here I go again…

Why “Good Grief!”? Well, I claim that there’s at least a measure or two of exasperation in each of the songs herein. Can you hear it? Catharsis!

The tunes. The damn’ tunes! I’ve lived with them and rinsed them repeatedly. Some are hot-off-the guitar and some are as old as my hills. Blues influences and modal forms elbow each other. That can cause accidents and evidence of this provided.

The lyrics. A blurting out at a tempo to fit a melodic and harmonic arch. Some verses are cock-a-hoop and others are downcast and trodden but this is of the essence and per the recipe. I hope they are self-explanatory and are not in need of laying out in tiny type in this booklet. Where they puzzle, be assured that I share your bewilderment.

Fast slow fast slow fast. Slow. Finally and at the end there’s a slow slow. What the heck.
I hope you enjoy listening to all of these as much I enjoyed whipping them into shape.”