U2log.com editor Caroline van Oosten de Boer talks to Gavin Friday about the Chanteys and Sea Songs tribute album and its all star line-up.
(update: more info added April 5, 06)
Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Antony and the Johnsons, Bono and yourselves… that’s quite an impressive roll call.
‘It’s very ‘who’s in town’, very impromptu. Hal (Willner) has been doing workshops in different cities, Seattle and London and New York. No time to rehearse, just go in and learn your part and sing it.’
Fresh from Willner’s Dublin two-day workshop, Gavin Friday rattles off details of the sessions in Westland Studios. He serves up the lyrics of one of his songs with gusto, characterising the sessions as very ‘rum, sodomy and the lash’.
‘I did a song called “The Baltimore Whores” (lyrics), probably the dirtiest of them all. It goes: “Roly poly, tickle my holey, smell of my slimey flue, then drag your nuts across my guts…”‘
‘And that’s probably the most commercial of them all!’
Gavin also recorded a lament called “Tommy’s gone to Hilo” (lyrics) with Andrea Corr. It is the odd couple’s second duet since 2003’s “Time Enough For Tears” from the In America soundtrack.
‘It’s not really a duet, though. They’re all chanteys, which are call and response songs. Except Andrea’s “Caroline and her young sailor bold” (lyrics) and Bono’s song, which are both sea songs or seamen’s songs.’
Bono was only able to get involved because of the postponement of U2’s antipodean tour. To prepare for recording, the musicians listened to old old recordings and looked at words and sheet music…
‘…just for a ‘kick start’. Once we started playing we didnt refer to anything other than the gut and Hal’s instinct.’
How did the singers pick their songs?
‘Hal played us a varied choice but left it up to each singer to make their own choice. Hal knows myself and Bono fairly well so he had a good idea of the ones we’d go for. Bono did “The dying sailor to his shipmates”, quite a dark song and very intense it is. The lyrics are sad and heroic and Bono sang a very intense and emotional vocal…’
And indeed one version of the lyrics of this tune as found online suggest a heavy mood: ‘Oh wrap me in my country’s flag and lay me in the cold blue sea, and let the roaring of the waves my solemn requiem be.’
‘But the heaviest of them all would probably be the song I did with Guggi and Dave-id, “Bully in the alley” (lyrics).’
The song reunites the three ex-Virgin Prunes vocalists for the first time since the mid-Eighties.
‘It was Dave-id as head pirate on lead vocals, and myself and Guggi as his shipmates on backing vocals. Hal said it was probably closest to what pirates really would have sounded like.’
Musicians at the Dublin session include Maurice Seezer on piano and accordion, Zoë Conway on fiddle, violin and backing vocals, Tony Molloy on bass, Robbie Casserly on drums, Anto Drennan on guitar and Andrea Corr on tin whistle. But it took a Hollywood star to get this crazy project on the road.
‘It’s all on the back of Pirates of the Caribbean, really, I think Johnny Depp was interested and he’s executive producing the thing and Hal was contacted to do it. It’s the first tribute album’s he’s done since the Charles Mingus one.’
Willner is often credited as the inventor of the modern tribute album, his 1981 Nino Rota tribute is a sought after collectible and he is probably best known for the 1985 Kurt Weill tribute ‘Lost in the Stars’. What are his strengths as a producer?
‘My Metal Guru… he sees feels talks walks and thinks like a singer/musician/painter. Hal is music like Fellini is movies, a godsend. The last of a dying breed, so pure it hurts… I love him.’
With only two days to record, how did the musicians get to know the material and figure out arrangements?
‘It was all done on the fly. All by feel and all live takes, hardly any overdubs. Musically it’s rooted in Irish and Northern English folk music. It sounds… accoustic,’ Friday adds hesitantly, ‘I dunno, it hasn’t even been mixed yet!’
With contributions recorded in other cities by Nick Cave, Bryan Ferry, Antony and the Johnsons, Tom Waits, Richard and Linda Thompson and Loudon Wainwright, there should be plenty material for a double album. Its release on Epitaph records is pencilled in for July 2006.