Featuring the vocal talents of Aurora Colson accompanied by Mike Collins and his various musical friends, this EP features ‘covers’ of classic pop hits from the 60’s and 70’s, two classic ‘seasonal’ offerings, and a tribute to Amy Winehouse.
A series of musical collaborations and interactions throughout the past 30 + years lies behind the genesis of these recordings, as Mike explains: “I introduced Clive Mellor to the harmonica and played blues with him as far back as 1977 up in Manchester at the Band On The Wall. Similarly, I met drummers Marc Parnell and Graham Dean as far back as 1978 or 1979 when I did gigs with Graham in the Lancashire area and recommended Marc for his first professional gig with a band called “The Inversions” just after I moved to London.
I worked on recording sessions in London back in the 80’s with keyboard players Keith O’Connell and Damon Butcher, with sax players ‘Snake’ Davis and Jamie Talbot, and with bass player John McKenzie. In the early 90’s, John McKenzie introduced me to drummer Blair Cunningham who, ten years later, became an important collaborator and co-writer. In 1998, I started a series of creative collaborations with Jim Mullen that is really starting to ‘bear fruit’ since I launched Rude Note Records with the release of three instrumental albums on the label.
In February of 2004, I started writing and recording with Blair Cunningham, and in May of that year I bought a Ludwig drumkit for my studio so that Blair, Marc and Graham would find it convenient to come and record. Blair invited Winston Blissett to record with us for the first time later that month and Winston has become one of the most valued members of the team since that time! More recent musical ‘friends’ include Roger Beaujolais who plays vibraphone and glockenspiel, Rowland Sutherland who plays flute, Bill Mudge who plays Hammond organ and keyboards, Anselmo Netto who plays percussion, and Jay Stapley who plays rock guitar.”
Recording The Music
The arrangement for “It’s Too Late” started out as a demo session in Y2K with programmed bass and drums. Real bass and drums and other instruments were added in 2004 for an instrumental version that featured saxophone. The vocal version was developed in stages, with overdubs of harp, guitar and new bass guitar in 2010. New drums and a saxophone solo, bottleneck guitar and harmony vocals were recorded in 2011 until the final version was mixed in September of that year.
Guitar and vocals for “Fortune Teller” were recorded in November 2010, with drums, electric guitars and more vocals added in April 2011. Because there were so many overdubs and so much comping and editing needed, this took about a week to record and mix by the time it was completed. On the other hand, “Light My Fire” and “Love is a Losing Game” both came together very quickly – each taking maybe a day or so to record and mix.
“White Christmas” started off in 2004 as a basic sketch, but the full arrangement was not completed until Christmas 2008 – with Noel McCalla singing. It was not possible to release this at that time, and a further unreleased mix with a Wurlitzer electric piano overdub was made for Christmas 2009. When Aurora heard the arrangement, she loved this so much that she asked if she could sing a version for Christmas 2011. After a hectic few days recording vocals in both English and French, with a new guitar solo and even some steel drums in the middle section, two mixes were finished in time for release early in December 2011 – one first sung in English then in French, the other, included here, with French lyrics throughout.
“Auld Lang Syne” started out as an instrumental version for which Aurora recorded a guide vocal. Initially, she did not want to sing this song, but when she heard the full arrangement, with Mike expertly ‘doubling’ her vocal using ‘bottleneck’ guitar, she changed her mind! After adding vocal harmonies at the end, Aurora suggested using these as an acapella introduction, and this worked out just great! This all took about two days or so to record, at a number of sessions between November 1st and December 19th – just in time to release for New Year’s Eve 2011.
1. It’s Too Late
(Music written by Carole King, Lyrics written by Toni Stern)
“My favourite track from Carole King’s Tapestry album, “It’s Too Late”, is a song with lyrics that many people whose love affairs have gone wrong can relate to – I certainly can!” says Mike. “Aurora Colson breathes new life into this – interpreting the lyrics with great passion and feeling! I had big fun leading the musicians on this recording along their musical journeys. And I joined in the fun myself, playing lots of electric guitar rhythms and licks. Then I overdubbed various bottleneck guitar parts – triple-tracked in sections (at Aurora’s prompting) to create the distinctive harmonized ‘hooks’. I also played some pedal harp to add a little ‘spice’! There is lots of great playing from Damon Butcher and Keith O’Connell on keyboards, Winston Blissett on bass and Marc Parnell on drums – and listen out particularly for the great sax solo by Jamie Talbot, who went home with a sore lip after recording this!”
2. Fortune Teller
“Fortune Teller”, originally a hit for Benny Spellman, was covered by the Rolling Stones and many others in the 60’s and more recently by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. This is a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ love song about a guy who is looking for a bride, asks the fortune teller where to look, comes back to complain he can’t see her anywhere, then realises he has found her already…
Written by Allen Toussaint under the pseudonym Naomi Neville, “Fortune Teller” was first recorded by Benny Spellman in 1962. Michael plays all the instruments on this version, including acoustic and electric guitars, bass guitar and various hand percussion instruments, with Aurora joining in on handclaps. Graham Dean plays drums on this mix. Michael and Aurora both sing the lead and backing vocals along with the ‘whoops and hollers’ and vocal effects.
3. Light My Fire
(Written by Robby Krieger and The Doors)
Are you ready for this? A ‘no-holds-barred’, funky, slamming, jamming version of the Doors classic song, “Light My Fire”, featuring sultry vocals from Aurora Colson with ‘hot’ lead guitar licks and solos from Jim Mullen!
“Light My Fire”, originally released by the Doors, became an enormous ‘hit’ for Jose Feliciano in the summer of 1968. As Mike explains: “This version of the song was influenced more by the Jose Feliciano version than by the Doors version. It all started when drummer Marc Parnell asked Aurora to jam along with him – playing an Iranian tombak hand drum – and they didn’t even realize that I was recording them at the time! Over the next few days, the rest of the guys added their bits into the mix… Jim played guitar, Winston Blissett played bass, I played tambourine and cowbell… then Aurora came back to sing lead vocals, harmony chorus vocals, and vocal effects during Jim’s guitar solo, to complete this version.”
4. Love Is A Losing Game
(Written by Amy Winehouse)
Amy Winehouse wrote this poignant song about how she wished she had never played the game of love because she made such a mess of it – many of us would feel the same way!
Mike originally recorded this as an instrumental tribute to Amy Winehouse, playing guitars, bass and several hand percussion instruments. Later, Winston Blissett and Marc Parnell added bass and drums and Mike invited Aurora to add vocals – enjoy!
5. Noel Blanc
(Written by Irving Berlin, Francis Blanche)
This is a ‘foot-tapping’ jazzed-up version of the classic Irving Berlin song, “White Christmas”, sung by Aurora using the French lyrics for “Noel Blanc” written by Francis Blanche.
Jim Mullen plays the jazzy guitar – with Roger Beaujolais on vibes, Winston Blissett on bass, Blair Cunningham on drums and a guest appearance from Bill Mudge on Wurlitzer electric piano. Mike plays pedal harp, percussion, accordion and the guitar solo in the middle section – which also has a ‘cameo’ appearance by steel drums player Samuel Dubois.
6. Auld Lang Syne (A right good willie waught)
(Written by Robert Burns, Arranged by Mike Collins)
New Year’s Eve is the one night of the year that people all over the British Isles have a good will drink together (“A right good willie waught” in the Scots dialect), join hands and sing Auld Lang Syne to make sure that their friendships will never be forgotten… Here is a quirky rock/pop version of the song we all know, featuring Aurora on vocals. Mike worked out the basic arrangement on acoustic guitar for a ‘Michael & Aurora’ duo gig on NYE 2010 and produced this full group arrangement for NYE 2011 – ‘Should auld acquaintance be forgot…’
On this recording, Clive Mellor plays great blues harmonica; Mike plays the main rhythm guitar parts on acoustic and electric guitars; Jay Stapley plays the ‘power’ chords on electric guitar; Jim Mullen plays several supporting guitar parts; Winston Blissett plays bass guitar and Marc Parnell plays drums.