Clare Teal: Recording straight to disc. What could go wrong?

Clare Teal
Clare Teal
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Last year record producer and audiophile Mike Valentine came onto my Radio 2 show with trombonist and bandleader Chris Dean to tell us about their new direct cut album – Big Band spectacular.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term it means recording straight to disc.Having already successfully recorded a classical ensemble direct to disc, former BBC engineer, Mike wanted more of a challenge and so asked Chris Dean’s Syd Lawrence Orchestra to get involved. There has recently been a resurgence in vinyl and true enough digital forms struggle to capture the wonderful analogue warmth of our favourite records. Pre computers, music was recorded first onto magnetic tape then transferred to disc – the disc in question is usually a record shaped aluminium plate coated with a layer of lacquer. Sound was sent to a lathe which cut into the lacquer forming the necessary grooves. The interview was fascinating. At the end of it Mike and Chris threw down the gauntlet and invited me to take part in the next one… which takes place very soon.

I’ll be honest I’m terrified - but at the same time very excited. All my heroes, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra would have at one point stood in front of a beautiful old valve microphone with a band behind them recordeding direct to disc but usually one song at a time.

In this instance we will be assembled in one of the finest studios in the country – Air Lyndhurst - making a complete album in one sitting. This means recording each side in one continuous take, track after track with no safety net or stop button.

Mike will be relying on the musicians and singer (me) to give a fluff free performance. The music will then travel through the microphones to the neve desk and onwards to the cutting lathe. It is the responsibility of this engineer to contain the various peaks in the music in a controllable fashion such that the cutting process will be successful.

Any sudden squeaks or squawks or kicking of mic stands or unexpected noise can render the disc useless and we have to start all over again – and remember that’s the whole album side. Nervous would be an understatement, but I have total confidence in the producer, musicians and engineers. What could possibly go wrong?