Making notes

Playing the guitar to a reasonable standard isn't very difficult. It's like most things, a bit of dedication and self-discipline and it works out fine. Same goes for singing - as long as you haven't got an ear like a foot and are in possession of a larynx in reasonable working order, you'll be able to hold a tune soon enough as long as you put the hours in.

There's one musical skill, however, that I'm not convinced is a question of practice at all, rather an innate gift that only a few special souls possess - singing close harmony backing vocals.

We've been recording a few demos recently and we're at that stage where we're adding backing vocals to the choruses of the songs. Now, in spite of the hours and hours I've spent performing this very activity over the years, it never gets any easier. There you are with your outsized headphones on, listening to the song in question, pootling along, ready with the harmony vocal all shiny and brilliant in your head. The chorus arrives and you lean into the microphone and open your mouth, sporting a look of earnest determination.


The noise you've just recorded bears no relation to the angelic chorus you had in mind because every pore of your being was screaming at you to join in with the original melody for a good old singalong. You gaze at the sound engineer with pleading eyes, begging him to erase this wholly sorry effort from the archives for all eternity. Eventually, he shows mercy and does so, barely disguising his mirth in the process.

No biggy, you may say. We all make mistakes. Well yes, but this one, unfortunately, is destined to be repeated over and over until eventually by some fluke you do finally nail the correct notes, only to discover that the engineer nodded off several hours ago and, consequently, hadn't pressed record.

This is all uncomfortable enough in a recording studio. How people sing harmonies live on stage is completely baffling. If it were me, I'd be standing there quite rigid during the verses, wearing a rictus grin and drilling myself mentally.

"Here come the chorus, son. Relax. Do not follow the melody. Just remember the harmony line. Here it comes! Here it comes! Here it comes! .....Squawk!"

Just to rub it in, a lot of the old vocal groups indulged in intricate dance routines while they were performing their exquisite harmonies, which is just madness, frankly.

Tomorrow we're back in the studio to do some more backing vocals. I've been practising all day but I fear it'll make little difference. Let's just hope there aren't too many witnesses present, although you know what they say - you'll never squawk alone.