Million Dollar Orchestra
Sometime in 2005 Al Kent got bored with chopping up disco loops to bosh over house drums, and even more bored with the deluge
of pointless disco re-edits flooding the shops. He decided to try taking his music making efforts a step further, using samples from his over-sized record collection and possibly a couple of musicians to create something that sounded like the music he loved, something authentically disco.
So he knocked up some rhythm tracks using drums and percussion sampled from some old disco records and set about looking for musicians to jazz things up a bit...
Keyboard wizard Raymond Harris added some nice Rhodes, Wurlitzer and Clavinet parts, plus guide basslines played on a synth. But synth basslines just wouldn't work, so a real live bass player had to be found...
Enter Stephen Westwater. Having never played disco before, Stephen confidently set up his bass and got ready to play... until he heard some of the records Al wanted to emulate, quickly packed up and went home to practice. But, a week later he was back, and this time he was on fire. Over the next couple of weeks he played over the eight backing tracks, and Al set to work editing it all together.
Sometimes it's a small world - it turned out that five minutes away from Al lived a great guitarist, and a true disco head - Kev McShane. Needless to say he was instantly asked to contribute.
After hearing the work in progress Mark Robb, founder of Glasgow's legendary Buff Club asked about the possibility of a live show at the upcoming Glasgow Jazz Festival. This meant finding a full band to perform the tracks. Thankfully Al had met a couple of sax players (twin brothers Colin and Alan Train - two of the most talented multi-instrumentalists on earth) and a couple of percussionists (Gary Kainth and Ryan Buchanan), and Mark knew of a great drummer, Jim Gash. So the bones of the band were there.
Sadly, Raymond was involved in his own gigs at the Festival, so a replacement keyboard player had to be found. After a quick audition over a bottle of whisky it was obvious Charlie Milne was the man for the job.
Rehearsals began, and it was quickly decided vocalists would be a good idea, and so the Glasgow Gospel Choir was roped in. Colin and Alan brought along Douglas West and his trumpet, and the band was complete.
The gig was by all accounts amazing. Not bad after only eight rehearsals, with only about two of them attended by the whole band. But the choice of musicians proved to be a winning combination.
So now there was a band. It would be stupid to go back to the samples and Al had no choice but to start from scratch, using the tracks as demos for the band to learn... Back to the rehearsal rooms.
Recording a band through a USB device in Al's spare room probably wouldn't have worked out too well so a meeting was set up with Marco Rea, who turned out to be the perfect engineer for the project. The plan now was to record properly without the aid of Pro-tools, and his Barn Studio is analogue throughout. Add the fact that within five minutes of hearing some disco records Marco was explaining exactly how to get the sound required, it was definitely the place to record.
So, ten days were booked to record the band and mix eight tracks.
Hahahahahaha.... TEN DAYS!!
The recording itself was plain sailing, with everything being done in pretty much one take. But extra sessions were being added all the time: The horn section grew to a four piece with the addition of Chris Pugh on trombone, Liza Marie O’Hagan flew in to add her vocals, synth parts were added and it turned out that those Train twins could also write and arrange strings. So they did. And they brought Sarah Wilson, Graham McGeoch, Ruaridh Campbell and Nicola West with them to play. Then editing took on a life of its own!
And so they mixed the biggest sessions either Marco or Al had ever worked on, (Some songs had 44 tracks of strings alone!) and, almost two years on, the project is complete. Hopefully it sounds like what was planned...