Label: Half A Cow Records
Catalogue: HAC 78
Condition: Stock copy
New, but the slim case has some wear.
01. Matches Cars And Marbles
02. State Of Grace
03. So Hard
Half A Cow Records approached Bernie Hayes three years ago to record a solo album. The result? There has probably been no Australian release in its class for some years: a debut album from a consummate songwriter who is also a remarkably emotive singer, ably assisted by the most innovative and technical crew. (Hey, we didn't write this!)
Bernie had recorded before with popular touring band The Shouties, but his Tuesday night listeners knew there was something special about Bernie's delivery - just his voice and acoustic guitar - his own songs, and interpretations of other people's songs, that had yet to be captured on disc. There was a prevalent notion that, as a vocal stylist, he hadn't yet been given free reign to weave the spell of intimacy that was a feature of the Tuesday night shows.
The Shouties had a fairly rock'n'roll approach to playing and recording, whereas producer Nic Dalton proposed a more acoustic - and more varied - instrumentation. 'There's no electric guitar on the whole album,' says Bernie. 'I wanted a melancholy mood.' The mood was there in the 20 or so songs put down on a 4-track demo, then in the 15 chosen for this album, ending up in the 14 we have here. Paul McKercher, who has produced You Am I and worked with The Cruel Sea amongst many others, got in touch when he heard about the project - keen to be involved - mixed the album at Albert Studio.
The songs - all by Bernie, his family or close friends - were recorded and mixed over a long period of time, which contributed to the individual treatment of each song. Sometimes the quest to get it right involved going back to scratch. 'Mission In Life', for instance, had been written on guitar but was eventually recorded with just piano (courtesy of Tim Freedman) and strings. ' 'Slumber' we did with headphones on, no-one had really played it before, and Andy Lewis (on bass) was in another room. But it just worked.'
Some of the songs have been around for a while, but have never been given a prominent place in his repertoire. ' 'South Perth' is from when I lived in Perth for a while, really just me and the guitar. I worked in a pizza parlour. I almost rewrote the lyrics, but left the song as a snapshot of that time. We got it in two takes and everybody liked it. It's hard to just sit down and write a song without an idea. For me, a lyrical idea is the catalyst, like a bit of grit in an oyster.'
Playing in other people's bands has put Bernie in touch with some of the musicians who played on the album. Bill Gibson, from many respected bands, makes his presence felt here, as does bandmate John Encarnacao, who provided horn and string arrangements. 'He was so quick,' marvels Bernie. 'He'd just have a glance or a listen, and say 'this is what you need.' '
Other members of this line-up took different approaches. 'Jess Ciampa, who plays the drums, is a real percussion anthropologist. He bought in all these marvellous instruments but he likes to keep a few trade secrets, so he¹d often send us out of the room when he was recording something.'
A spirit of what Bernie calls 'artistic compromise' and improvisation reigned over much of the recording. 'On 'Kibonki' we ad libbed. All the players were coming up with things.' Sometimes it was, however, a matter of creating a specific effect. 'With Julia's song 'Lullaby', I could hear a Salvation Army band playing on that, so I wanted that Salvo sound.'
And is it different to recording with a regular band? 'You do end up feeling the weight in the studio, it being a 'solo' recording, the pressure of being responsible for quality control. It can take a long time to get it right, in fact, it takes as long as it takes!'
For Bernie Hayes's fans, then, here is the long-awaited collection, and for those unfamiliar with the songs, and with Bernie¹s sweet and soaring voice, here is their chance to discover what they've been missing.
(James Scanlon, August 1999)