This is the story of the Beggars' Hill folk-rock album from 1976 which is now much sought-after by collectors of vinyl records. In 2010 it was professionally restored and officially released on CD for the first time by Talking Elephant Records.
Recording the Album
Peter Butcher remembers the weekend in the recording studio:
"For me, memories of the actual recording session time hinges around a fairly early set-off in my car to the studio in Reading along with several other people. We didn't all know each other very well; the common factor was that Dave had invited us all along to be part of the recording experience. I can remember taking Laura - I'm not sure who else - but probably my car was fairly full of people and/or instruments; it usually was!
The day itself was mapped out for each track to be multi-track recorded, so each voice/instrument source was added in sequence until finally we had a complete song. This multi-track method was new to me! I was much more used to simply placing a couple of mikes in front of the singers and then monitoring levels within the constraints of some very basic equipment - with the severe limitation that there was no going back afterwards. With the studio multi tracking it was possible to review and amend with impunity. I think the snag with that was that we ended up using a lot of time to get things as right as they could be. A particular memory is of "Who Knows Where The Time Goes?" where the final few bars were effectively re-arranged on the hoof as the process of building the song up by adding tracks became quite unwieldy, and the time constraint really began to close in on us.
I don't remember being particularly prepared for being there for such a long time - I have a recollection of running around the corner periodically to a small parade of shops, in search of whatever food & drink we could muster to keep everyone going!"
John Davis has a few random memories of the recording session:
- "For me, the moment it all came together was nailing the rhythm part to New St George after a lot of messing about on Fire & Wine. Once I’d got that right I thought 'that’s OK, I can do this recording lark' and sort of sailed through the rest of the weekend on a wave of misplaced confidence.
- Building a new dulcimer for the sessions because I’d sold all the good ones. It wasn’t my greatest effort though; you can hear bits of it rattling in places.
- Before we recorded it, there was the time that the line 'leaping green fishes' in Sailor Home From The Sea somehow became 'bleeping green fishes' to our huge merriment – nearly stopped Chris being able to sing it for a while".
Recording Programme - Saturday 13th September 1975
Using the 8-track recorder, for each song we recorded a minimum of one or two instruments as a backing track for the full duration of the song. Listening to these played back through headphones, additional vocals and/or instruments were then added. By keeping the component parts separate, if any were below standard, we could re-record those individual parts without losing all the satisfactory parts. Eventually, we had enough tracks to mix together to form the complete song. Despite several attempts, one or two tracks had to be abandoned without a satisfactory recording, with the intention of returning to them later.
- Here's To The Last To Die - DF vocals, JR concertina
- Fire And Wine (intro) - JD, RH, DF vocals, JR concertina (abandoned)
- New St George - JR concertina, JD 12-string guitar, DF bass, PR drums
- Let It Be Me - CW, JD, DF, MI vocals, MI piano, LD flute, JD 12-string guitar
- If You'd Been There - JB vocals, JD dulcimer, DF acoustic guitar
- Who Knows Where The Time Goes? - JB vocals, DF autoharp, JD dulcimer
- Cannily, Cannily - JB vocals, DF concertina, JD dulcimer, PR drums
- When Will I Be Loved? - JD 12-string guitar, NS electric guitar, PR drums, DF bass
- Here's To The Last To Die - PR percussion
- Fire And Wine (backing track) - JD 12-string guitar, NS electric guitar, PR drums, DF bass (abandoned)
- Let It Be Me - MI bass, PR drums (abandoned)
- If You'd Been There - MI bass, PR bongos
- Who Knows Where The Time Goes? - PS electric guitar, PR drums, DF bass
- Poor Ditching Boy - JD dulcimer, PS electric guitar, PR percussion
Recording Programme - Sunday 14th September 1975
Although all the performers had recorded on Saturday, only five of us were needed on Sunday.
- Here's To The Last To Die - JD whistle, RH mandolin
- Here's To The Last To Die - RH mandolin (on a second track for a fuller sound)
- New St George - JD whistle
- New St George - RH fiddle (re-recorded later)
- Cannily, Cannily - MI bass, JD banjo
- When Will I Be Loved? - RH electric mandolin
- Poor Ditching Boy - RH fiddle, CW & DF acoustic guitar
- Poor Ditching Boy - DF bass
- New St George - RH fiddle
- Here's To The Last To Die - JD, RH, CW vocals
- New St George - CW, JD, DF vocals
- If You'd Been There - JD, DF vocals
- Who Knows Where The Time Goes? - JD, CW, DF vocals (replaced by string synthesizer before release)
- When Will I Be Loved? - DF, JD, RH vocals
- Poor Ditching Boy - JD, CW, DF vocals
At this point, we were all pretty tired and there was still a lot to do. Fortunately, the great experience of engineers Martin Maynard and Dick Jones helped us find a solution on Sunday evening - we took a break and went to the pub! After a modest intake of alcohol to make us refreshed and relaxed, we returned to the studio and recorded the last three songs live at the first attempt. Martin and Dick adjusted the sound levels and balance between three vocals and three instruments by ear simply by moving the mikes backwards or forwards. I think they did a great job.
- Wild Rover - DF vocals & acoustic guitar, RH fiddle & vocals, JD whistle & vocals
- Sailor Home From The Sea - CW vocals & acoustic guitar, JD whistle & vocals, DF acoustic guitar & vocals
- Jack Hall - JD vocals & 12-string guitar, RH fiddle & vocals, DF autoharp & vocals
Smoothing The Rough Edges
On 6th October 1975, JM and I returned to the recording studio to re-record some of the vocal harmonies:
- If You'd Been There - JD vocals
- New St George - JD, DF vocals
- When Will I Be Loved? - DF vocals
We did the mixing of the 8-track recordings for each song on 19th October 1975 in the studio with Martin Maynard and Dick Jones. This involved adjusting the bass, treble and reverberation for each individual voice and instrument to obtain the best sound for each, then the volume levels to get a good balance between each of the voices and instruments, and finally the location of each between the left and right channels for the stereo sound.
After hearing some faults on the first test pressing, when the rhythm wavered a little, we re-recorded some tracks on 19th February 1976:
- Let It Be Me - JD 12-string guitar
- Who Knows Where The Time Goes? - JD 12-string guitar, DF bass
- Who Knows Where The Time Goes? - string synthesizer added by Rob Boughton (engineer) to replace the vocal harmonies which weren't smooth enough to complement Jo's lead vocals.
There was to have been one other song on the album, "Fire And Wine" by Steve Ashley, which would possibly have been the star track, but unfortunately this had to be abandoned in the recording studio - we had difficulty getting an acceptable standard for the intro or for the backing track, and time constraints prevented us from trying again later.
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Dave Frohnsdorff (bass) & Pete Roberts (drums)
Jo Battley (vocals) & Laura Dixon (flute) waiting for their turn in the recording studio
Robin Hamilton (electric mandolin)
Rob Boughton (engineer) at the 8-track recording desk
Chris Walker (acoustic guitar)