As a session player the idea is that you don’t judge the music or its motives. You just play your part, get paid and go home. They haven’t hired you to critique their work or to insult them. Sometimes it’s really difficult to bite your tongue though.
Sometimes your conscience just doesn’t sit right with a song for whatever reason.
I’m a rock/Metal bass player. I don’t do a lot of session work, probably because I am a rock/Metal bass player. People usually know what they’re going to get when they call me. I don’t play jazz or pop or any of those new fangled types of music. I play rock.
So I was quite surprised when I got a call from a music publisher who was doing a new project with some pop songwriters and producers. They’d ‘worked with the Spice Girls and stuff’ I was told.
Oh great, I thought.
They were doing a theme song for the pitiful England World Cup effort in 2002. It was going to be released as a single and used on a David Beckham computer game.
Yeah, so why had they called me of all people?
And more importantly was it morally right, me doing this kind of thing? Wasn’t it like joining the opposition? Could I be done for treason if this was wartime?
It was a worry, but it was also a very well paid worry. So when they mentioned the fee involved I just said yes straight away and took my bass down to the studio.
And a very nice studio it was too. Olympic Studios in Barnes where Queen, Hendrix, the Stones and Led Zeppelin all recorded. The song’s writers were there, Robert Davies and Rick Forster, as was the producer Wayne Wilkins.
They are all seriously talented folk, at the top of their game. Wayne was recently responsible for writing and producing that appalling Cheryl Cole ‘Fight for Your Love’ nonsense. Appalling nonsense it may be but it’s also hideously catchy and a massive seller. There’s a skill in being able to come up with that kind of thing no matter how un-Metal it may be.
Obviously looking back on it I somehow blame myself for not intervening in some way. Perhaps, if that day I’d only given him a copy of Anthrax’s ‘Sound Of White Noise’ that day things might have been different? There’s nothing I can do now but could I have spared the world Cheryl’s later musical self-immolation?
Hindsight is a terrible thing, they say and that knowledge doesn’t always set me sleeping right at night.
But back on that fateful day in the studio all seemed fine. Talented they all were and very friendly too. Quite a laugh actually. I forgot about the crime I was about to commit.
I got my bass out – this was the moment of truth. It’s a Warwick covered in beer bottle labels and burn marks that I’ve never remembered the exact cause of.
“Cool”, they said in unison. “What we’re looking for is someone to add some rock to the track.”
It could have gone either way then. If they had said any other word than “rock” just then the session would have been over.
It turned out they’d had a bassist in before who’d done some melodic stuff they liked but they now wanted to try the same ideas with a different vibe. I gave them the rock vibe.
As it happened they got another guy in after me for another vibe and blended us all together. It was an expensive bass track for them, but I can still hear some of my funny flukey notes in the middle section. Haha, that’s me!
FC Allstars: ‘Football Is Life’: (that’s not me in the video!)
We banged through the track. I wished I’d brought my RAT pedal. But still in the back of my mind there was that nagging feeling of betrayal. I got a bit nervous, my palms were sweating and that’s not good while playing bass.
It was eventually too much for me and I stopped mid-song.
“Do you mind if I ask…” I asked, but I really wasn’t supposed to ask.
“Are you football fans?”
The one songwriter, I can’t remember which, said: “Yeah, I’ve got a season ticket at…” and he named some London club.
As soon as someone talks about football I instantly forget their name, face and what they’re saying. This happens mid-sentence with me and can be really embarrassing in social settings.
The other writer looked at his feet and said he wasn’t really a fan. He just wrote good melodies.
That was such a relief to hear! I could open up about my fears to these people.
“I’m not going to get credited on this am I?” I asked.
Session players often don’t get credited on records. They don’t have egos. They don’t need credits.
“Err… we’re not sure”, they said, looking at each other awkwardly. I really wasn’t supposed to ask this.
“That’s fine by me”, I said. “I’d rather not have my name on there if that’s OK?”
They looked puzzled so I came clean and told them all my worries.
“No offence lads, but I’m not an England football fan. I’m a Welsh Rugby Union fan. I’m from Lampeter in West Wales and if I was ever associated with an England football hit single, well my name word be dirt.
“I could never go home. My life wouldn’t be worth living. I’d have to wander the wastelands for all eternity.”
Bless them, they fully sympathised and patted me on the back.
The good lads assured me of complete anonymity in the matter.
That said, I finished the track and took my thirty pieces of silver down the pub in time for last orders.
In the end there was some confusion over the release and England’s early exit from the 2002 World Cup.
I recently noticed the same version was re-released for England’s equally poor Euro Cup bid this year.
Better luck next time England but I’d rather have been playing bass on this song any day…
Max Boyce: ‘Hymns And Arias’