Part of James Walsh’s Pledge Music campaign was a unique opportunity to watch the Starsailor frontman record his new record live in the studio. Being the huge fan that I am, I jumped at the chance. As a photographer, I’ve shot several Starsailor shows and written about the band in the UK at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Koko, and even when I lived in the states, but I’ve never had the chance to see Walsh live as a solo artist.
Shortly after the Pledge campaign blew through its goal, PledgeMusic imploded. The money that was pledged by the fans was gone, and there is still no clear picture on when or if it will return at all. Many artists decided to cancel everything as Pledge shut down all campaigns. Queensryche, The Dandy Warhols and many more were left high and dry and directed fans to Pledge for a refund. James Walsh took a different route and vowed to honor each of the pledges regardless of what may or may not happen with PledgeMusic moving forward. This is a testament to the kind of artist that James Walsh is and shines a light on his commitment to his fans.
The original plan was to record the record and invite the fans to Europe’s number one studio, the famed Metropolis. But under the current circumstance, they needed to move to plan B. Enter RAK Studios which was founded in 1976 by the legendary record producer Mickie Most, who was known for his hits with the Animals, Jeff Beck, Donovan, Suzi Quatro, and Kim Wilde, among others. He was also a recording artist, record label boss and TV producer.
In 1976, RAK Studios was opened in a converted Victorian schoolhouse in St John’s Wood, London. Since then, it has hosted some of the best-loved names in music, including David Bowie, Al Green, Michael Jackson, and Pink Floyd – and more recently, Adele, Plan B, Arctic Monkeys and Shakira (as well as Starsailor back in the day!) This place was brilliant and more than accommodating, albeit a bit tight!
I was one of several dozen fans who were greeted by Walsh’s management who were gracious hosts leading us into the rec room of the famed studio. We were then split into two groups. The group that I was in started in the control room in front of the mixing board for the first six songs. We then swapped with the other group who were actually sitting in the recording studio room with the band. While the control room was cool enough, sitting directly in front of James Walsh and surrounded by his band listening to the recording of the album was one of the most incredible experiences of my life as a music fan. Walsh makes it look so easy as he effortlessly sang and played guitar doing take after take of the twelve songs that will make up the new record Tiger on the Bridge. Walsh chatted it up with the fans in between songs even confessing to mistakenly singing the lyrics to one of the songs in the wrong order, but he liked the take so much that it will likely remain as if the brit pop gods were watching from above guiding his fate.
As a fan, I’m clearly biased on the new music as I celebrate everything this man does, but I will tell you that these songs in any order make the perfect follow up and evolution of Walsh as a solo artist. There’s really something for everyone here, the sonic soundscapes that bring to mind the best of Starsailor, the hauntingly beautiful ballads and storytelling that come only from a man and a single guitar, and then the songs that blend these two into something truly unique that only Walsh can do as a solo artist.
The song titles that stuck out to me included “Single Life”, “It’s Over”, “Glitch in the Machine”, “Success in my Failure” and my favorite of the day “Heavy Heart”. We got to hear “Heavy Heart” twice and I have to tell you that this is the most remarkable song that Walsh has written to date. (Even he admitted it was his favorite on the new record). It’s a brilliant mix of lush opening guitar and Walsh’s signature spot on vocals that breaks into a swirling tribal drum rhythm that took the record to an entirely new peak and would make their former producer Phiil Spector envious.
After the recording of all twelve songs James came out and graciously thanked all of us for coming and took some pictures and answered questions. It was a brilliant day with a brilliant artist who gave his fans a once in a lifetime opportunity. I cannot wait to get a copy of the new record. You can pre-order the new record on CD and vinyl directly from Walsh here.
While I did have my camera with me (didn’t bring my massive Nikon, but instead opted for my Olympus Pen F which is much smaller, but not as great in low light) I managed to snap a few shots in between takes. I didn’t want to be intrusive as I was really enjoying the experience, but the shots below should give you a pretty good idea of how the day went. But if you are wondering why they are a bit grainy, that’s pushing the limits of a mirrorless camera : )
Cheers to James Walsh and company for a stellar experience.