Before Breakfast - Sticky Sweet EP

During two intense bursts, in late 2016 and mid 2017, I worked with the incredible Before Breakfast to produce/mix their first EP. As visceral as they are important, as beautiful as they are dark, these five tracks were recorded partly at my old project studio in Sheffield’s leafy Nether Edge, partly in 2Fly studios in one of Sheffield’s old industrial districts (engineered by the super-talented Dave Sanderson @sandersonicus), and partly at Yellow Arch (which was reclaiming disused industrial warehouse spaces before reclaiming disused industrial warehouse spaces was the done thing), and then mixed at my new studio in Brixton.

clockwise from top left: Gina, Annie, Debbie, and Lucy

clockwise from top left: Gina, Annie, Debbie, and Lucy

When we recorded, the band were just a three-piece - Gina (main writer, lead vocal), Lucy (cello, BVs) and Debbie (piano, BVs) - but they’ve recently become a four with the addition of the multi-talented Annie Rushworth (violin, bass, BVs). Here’s a few little bits about the production process which may be of interest.

Voices: One of the most magical moments in the whole process occurred during an early vocal session at Yellow Arch. The girl’s voices blend so beautifully together, and I wanted to capture that live feel rather than layer everything. I set up three mics in a semi circle and Gina, Debbie, and Lucy sang the opening bars of Fat Child. It was pretty special. There’s a video of it somewhere.

Beats: We wanted all of the percussion sounds on the record to be sampled and organic. The kicks are often a sampled thump on the back of Lucy’s Cello. There are taps on cello strings, seagull effects using harmonics, knocks on the body of my upright piano, scratched piano strings, and even a slammed piano lid. Part of the snare sound on body and Fat Child was made up of the sound of Gina, Debbie and Lucy standing round a mic and slapping their midriffs. 

Lyrics: Alongside super strong harmonic progressions and melodies, one of the groups greatest strengths is Gina’s lyrics. She’s hit upon a rich seam of material. Things which haven’t really been addressed in mainstream songs, but which are at the heart of the human condition. Certain lyrical images led to particular production choices for me. For example, some of the drum sounds on caravan are made from the crunch of footsteps on sand. And the overall warmth and syrup-ness of Sticky Sweet came directly from the lyrics, I wanted the listener to really feel the "stomach lining, turned to syrup, sticky sweet".

Synths: The group were keen for there to be a good deal of darkness, grit, electronics, and heavy bass synth on the record. Once piano, cello and vocals were tracked, I set about putting the beats together and finding a bass synth sound that I felt would work with their general sound. I ended up with something super round and warm, punctuated by weird arpeggiated leaps at the ends of phrases. Hadn’t really heard anything like it, and it seemed to work well with the songs, so it stuck.

Guts (actual guts): On the EP’s titular track, Sticky Sweet, if you listen closely, you can hear the intestinal rumbles of Gina’s other half, Phillipe (ex of KOG and the Zongo Brigade, now of Oh Papa). It turns out that, once he’s full of milk, he is as good with the guts as he is with the bass.

I hope you enjoy listening to the Sticky Sweet EP, I think the band have created something super-special. Massive shout out to the girls for trusting me with the record, and to Dave Sanderson @ 2Fly for engineering/producing a couple of the sessions so beautifully, to Yellow Arch Studios, and to Martin Smith @ MU Studios for mastering the tracks.

The EP is available to buy at the band’s bandcamp.


Throughout October and November 2016, I ran six songwriting sessions with the Cathedral Archer Project in Sheffield. The project aims to help homeless people in and around Sheffield achieve a better life by supporting them to: Develop their independence; Improve their wellbeing and confidence; Improve their ability to tackle setbacks; Improve their ability to identify and change negative behaviour.

The aim of the sessions was to explore emotion and musical creativity, through the study of song structure, lyrics, melody, and arrangement. Through specially designed creative activities, the participants composed their own songs working alone, or in pairs, with guidance. I then put together backing tracks at Sounds Like Screaming, and the group recorded all of the vocals at The Musical Works in Sheffield. 

The sessions were full of hard work, not so hard work, fun, laughter, tears, and drama. Never a dull moment. I was continually surprised at the ideas that members of the group came up with and felt privileged to have been given the opportunity of working with them.

Catching Time was initially born out of a lyrical exploration by Micky and Maggie. They chose a chorus lyric that we really liked - the idea of running from life, but time always catching up with you - and I helped them come up with a melody. The following week, Micky came in, having pretty much finished the lyrics and melody of the verses, and with a brand new melody for the chorus. It blew me away how much he'd finished in that short time, how vital it sounded, and how writ through with emotion the lyrics were. Over the next couple of weeks, we finessed the lyric and the melody and added the middle build ("be frail with me at the end of time")

Danielle came in to the third session with a load of lyrics. These eventually turned into I was lost. I loved the lyrical structure of the verse "I thought I knew what love was, but boy I was so wrong, until I met you, I thought I knew", and encouraged her to think of different ways of using that same structure to say slightly different things to create other verses - hence "trust", and "joy". I love how ambiguous the lyrics are, you're never quite sure whether the sentiment is positive - that this other person has shown the protagonist that the love she thought she knew was as nothing compared to the love they share - or negative - that the other person destroys the protagonists ideal of love - and I believe this adds a real edge to the song.

Both songs are availble to download from bandcamp, or by clicking on the picture of the artwork to the right. They are free, but please consider making a pay what you like donation as you download buy clicking on the where it says Buy Now on the bandcamp page. All proceeds will go to supporting the work of the Archer Project, which is of special importance during these cold winter months. With your help we can really make a difference to the lives of homeless people in Sheffield. 

We actually had two other songs *almost* finished, but due to sudden changing circumstances, we couldn't quite get them finished.

Huge thanks to Jayne Hilton and all at the Archer Project; Mark Harvey for his wonderful photography of the recording session at The Musical Works; Jonno and Liam at The Musical Works for hosting the recording session; and biggest thanks of all to Danielle, Micky, Maggie, Wayne, Mohammed, Spence, Phoenix, and Cameron for being fantastic, energetic, and creative participants in the project.