Sleep Sound track a day blog: Cotton Wool

[Si] This started life for me as a tiny nothing of a tune I played very late one night in my kitchen and recorded into my laptop. (original demo here – I had to be quiet because everyone was in bed!) It was an irrelevance really – just one nice melody in a sort of CSNY way which wouldn’t move out of my head – but it was TOTALLY transformed as soon as we started playing it by the 3-part harmonies Rich and Gary came up with, the really simple rhythm section that moulded around them and the feel of the chorus. It was one of those tunes that we just played over and over because it felt so good to play and sing – and, rarely for us, it had a lot of space.

For almost the entirety of the session it was essentially lyric-less – we just had the first verse which was just four lines we agreed on so we were all singing the same thing to work out the harmonies! I had no chorus melody and very little vocal or lyrical direction to be honest but the chords, the orchestration and the instrumentation were all right. Rich sat back and clearly reveled in the chance to create some beautiful tones and touches, Ed does what he does best with swells and rises, Mr Goff and Gary locked in with detail and precision and I played the 4 chords I know how to play…

Cotton Wool was a turning point for me in terms of lyric writing. I struggled to get going with the meat of this album – I think a combination of our drunken “manifesto” and a lack of time to sit down and think through it all made me panic a little and lock up…but as cliched as it sounds I gave myself a kick up the arse, went for a walk and wrote the majority of the words in about 20 minutes walking through some fields – a bit Pentangle I know, but it worked. There was a time when I would have baulked at the idea of finding inspiration in the fields but things change…

I’m more than aware that this track treads a fine line between craft and M.O.R. which would have worried and embarrassed me a few years ago but I guess a little more age allows you to be comfortable enough with your own ideas and pleasure in a track to silence those concerns, relax and enjoy a good guitar sound, a well used lyric and a load of pleasurable references.

Recorded almost entirely live the track sounded lush and lovely thanks to the Wizzard Ed Waring but was really brought into its element when Mr Goff added the strings. Oh…and I’ll leave it to Rich to discuss the backing vocal during the solo less we come to blows!

[Ed] Yup, all live again except strings and vocals. Even the guitar solo is built from what Rich played live during the band takes. If you listen carefully in the choruses you can hear what sounds like a recorded double of Si’s vocal but it’s just the spill of the guide vocal in the drum and acoustic guitar mics. Luckily it sounds cool…. [wipes brow]

The strings on this are great and all from the trademarked Simon Goff one man improvisational string orchestra. 3 violins and 2 violas all recorded and written on the fly even though it was spread over a couple of sessions. It’s a real skill he has to be able to essentially improvise a whole string section on the fly. There’s a lower part as well which is actually my original keyboard part from the live takes…

All verses where the three guys are singing together were recorded live again with no headphones. I remember joking with Gary “Come on now fella… Get your mournful folk voice on..”

We were very keen that the verses felt like the 3 individual voices singing together together- not just lead and backing vocals. It’s something that I love about this whole album actually. At any part of it I can totally hear the personality of whoever is playing each individual part. There’s nothing cookie cutter or remotely production line about it, even a simple song like this with mainly simple parts sounds just like real people making music, not people doing maths which looks like music from a distance.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Dean Stewart
May 23, 2011 at 3:45 pm

I love this track. What is Rich using to get that lovely “Brothers in arms” tone for the solo?

May 23, 2011 at 6:54 pm

[coughs] Are you sure you’re prepared for this level of geekery? Ok, here we go.

It’s the ’72 Tele Custom with the neck pickup (a mighty humbucker) with all the tone rolled off, through the MXR Zak Wylde overdrive and an MXR line booster… Possibly a touch of compression via the FullTone Full-Drive 2 in Comp-Cut mode.
The signal is split at the tuner, one half going to the Line 6 delay in Multi-Head mode (a Roland Space Echo emulation I believe) with the mix set to 100% effect, and both lines into Mark Parini’s lovely Vox AC-30.

Glad you asked?

May 23, 2011 at 10:31 pm

I think this is my favourite track on the album, certainly the one I’ve listened to the most so far. In fact I’ve got it on right now !!! I think think the guitar solo is perfection itself !!!

May 23, 2011 at 11:52 pm

Ta luv. Very much appreciated.

Dean Stewart
May 24, 2011 at 10:24 am

Rich, you should know by now that I am always ready for any amount of guitar geekery! It really is a distinctive tone though. Is there a harmony guitar part in there too in places or is that just the delay creating the illusion? [told you I was a guitar geek]