Saturday, March 21, 2015

Barbaraville Records and Martin Stephenson, Producer

In about 2009, Martin started to produce artists for the Barbaraville label. He started with a musician who lived close by, Ali MacLeod, whose introspective songs were served well by her low-pitched voice and Martin's subtle and deceptively simple production. Ali's music went on to be played by Radio Scotland and since then she has played Nashville amongst other places.
He produced a CD by Jill Hepburn, which was engineered by Mark Lough at Stirling's Tollbooth Studio, who has a lovely fresh Celtic sounding voice and who plays folk banjo; and later in 2010, he produced my own Take One album, which we recorded at the Cluny Studios in Ouseburn, Newcastle.
Davey Cowan was next, and both he and Dave Fleming had tracks that Martin produced played by Janice Long on her BBC show.
In 2013 Martin produced an album by The Old Town Quartet, a skiffle-influenced band who use a cello instead of a double bass; they recorded in Colin's garage in Darlington, the best Sam Phillips-sounding studio in the UK (slapback heaven). He recorded an EP and a comedy song album by Roberto Cassani, and has recently recorded another album for Roberto's new band, Roberto Cassani and the Tickety Two.
Eliza P came next; Eclectic Kettle is a cult fave in the north-west; Martin filled out her sound on some tracks giving her a sixties flavour that complimented her comedy perfectly. Jimmy Gunn, a Presbyterian minister from Ross-shire, rearticulates gospel in an authentic folk style on his album; and Martin recorded and produced mega-guitarist Andy Gunn while he was in hospital and afterwards when he came out, helping him to rebuild his life through stacks of amplified noise and layers and layers of guitars. Miriam was next; he spent many days songwriting with her and building her confidence as they went out busking. They shared a Stageit broadcast and Miriam now plays in a duo called Mir with her husband around the Highlands.
Amy Corcoran went on a day trip from Tottenham to Darlington and recorded an EP that consolidated her move from acoustic to electric guitar, showcasing her new songs as she moved from Herman's Hermits and Searchers covers to her own very funny and sharply-observed compositions. Newcastle's Gem Andrews' Americana CD, Vancouver, has been very well received on its release in January this year.
Nicky Murray, a young Glaswegian genius guitarist, was recorded in his home town on a laptop and finished in Barbaraville, likewise Phil Ogg, who was recorded in the depths of Northumberland, and Alison Chabloz, who was recorded in Nottingham.
In February last year, I made the pilgrimage to Darlington where Martin put together an acoustic band (Jim Hornsby, John Cavener, and the lad himself) and produced Anarchy Skiffle, my own acoustic skiffle album (Gideon Coe played the title track on his show) , and also the El Cid album (that's his daughter Phoebe's band) which also had airplay on Radio Newcastle.
Martin is a producer in the old fashioned sense of the word, putting together groups of musicians to play on the artists' tracks and building their confidence as performers; but he is also an engineer, taking the stems from the studio and editing, mixing and mastering them over many hours to get the finished result. This work is unseen: it's the real grafting part of being a producer as any studio nerd will tell you. That's a pretty big roster of artists, with a great variety of different styles and a lot of talent. I hope I haven't left anyone out!

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