Lost in the hills to the south of Perth is a former schoolhouse, one of the four or five buildings in a hamlet gloriously named Path of Condie. The place feels like an eyrie, with brackeny valleys plunging away below and steep green hillsides reaching above.
These are the views that greet one from the picture windows in both the control room and the main ‘live’ space of the recording studio into which the old schoolhouse was transformed some twenty-five years ago. Suspended between earth and sky, free of internet and phone signals, Tpot Studio is a retreat in the true sense of the word, a place where there’s no choice but to let go of the world and allow creative energy in.
Earlier in January I spent two days there with my daughter Anna. For two years until last November, she had been in Canada on a working visa. With that expired, and an application for Canadian residency now under way, she has been living with us for the last couple of months. This time with her has been a gift.
I connect with each of my four children in different ways. With Anna one of the main ways is through words and music. She’ll be thirty this year. Throughout her twenties she has turned to songwriting as one way to chart her progress through that challenging decade of search for one’s place in the world.
Over time she has developed a highly distinctive voice and style, ‘both retro-sixties/folky and really contemporary’ as someone recently said of her. But being on the move she has recorded very little of what she has written, and none of it in a professional setting. So we rehearsed two of her songs and dusted down an old one of mine that she liked, then took the narrow, winding road up to Path of Condie.
Robin Wyn Evans is Tpot’s owner, recording engineer and producer and veteran of the 80s music scene in London before he moved to Scotland in the early 90s. With his relaxed, easy charm and humour, and his obvious professionalism, he put Anna quickly at ease, despite her never having been in a ‘proper’ studio before. Me too, if I’m honest. It’s several years since I last recorded, and I felt the pressure to make this the best possible experience and get the best possible result for her.
Informal to the point of being almost chaotic—with instruments hidden behind sofas and spilling out of cupboards, buddhas perched on window ledges, tangles of cable under the piano—the quirky atmosphere of the studio played its part too. And so it turned out that our session at Tpot exceeded all expectations. At the end of the second day we drove back down out of the hills in a state of exhausted exhilaration.
Anna must speak for herself of the experience, but for me the joy was threefold. In the first place it allowed me to see as if for the first time how intensely musical my daughter is: how she took instantly to the process of recording, was not the least intimidated by it—and it is very unforgiving, one stands naked before the all-hearing microphone—and seemed to understand intuitively how to use it; how clear and confident she was about what she wanted, how quick to add either an apparently discordant note, or a sweet harmony, just where each was needed.
Thanks to the natural repetitiveness of the process, along with the arrangements we had worked on together, I was also able to hear her songs in a new way and to appreciate the subtlety of the music and lyrics more deeply. But most of all I was overwhelmed by the pleasure of being in this eccentric but wonderful place together, making music together, sharing the experience of creating something together. Washed along on waves of paternal pride and love and admiration, I thought: even if this never happens again it will be a moment of magic I have had the rare good fortune to have been granted.
In retrospect, it reminds me also of the importance of finding ways to live in the moment. Being absorbed in the way we were at Tpot, even for a few hours, is a powerful antidote to the craziness that exists everywhere we currently look. Such absorption is by nature intense and leads to experience being heightened, perhaps especially when shared with someone one is close to. But its effects can also be grounding, both in an immediately physical and emotional way, and in the broader sense of their power to restore one’s faith in what is good and positive in the world. How necessary that is.
You can hear the three songs here (The Stranger, Lay Me Down and The Rodeo – thanks to Richard Pelletier for suggesting the title of this post). You can visit Tpot Studio here. And on 23rd February, Anna and I are supporting songwriter Mike Vass at the Comrie White Church – tickets here.