Its a beautiful day! The group called The Semaphore had just plunged into the last, catching lyric of the evening, by then perspiring under blue, red and yellow spots trained on their tense faces. They were performing in the Ombre Rosse, the venue next door to the Cinema Pasquino in Piazza S. Egidio, in Trastevere.
There were contemporary daubs and red-framed pictures of wine glasses on the walls, and the packed audience was swaying to the music. Their eyes were on the two guitar-playing vocalists Louis Brennan and Johnny Butler, and on the bass-guitarist Dominique Chiaverini, while drummer Marco Testa Ryan, on a quarter-moon raised platform in the corner, performed split-second acrobatics on four red drums and glinting cymbals.
Its a beautiful day! Dont let the bastards get you down, they sang. Their fans clapped, shouted approval, banged the tables, girls shrieked and hugged and kissed the band. They had played 15 taxing numbers that night with titles including Morphine, When you cant Sleep and Perfect Body, a sampling of the groups indie (independent) rock, with its escape hatches from original rock.
That evening was the glamour bit, the adrenaline input of the two-year-old group of two Irish players, one Italian and an American, who appear regularly across Rome, singing exclusively in English, with sharp and popular lyrics written and arranged by themselves. However, behind the scenes, the glamour drained away like wax. They were in the exacting business of cutting an album.
The studios of Social Beat are in Trastevere, in sound-proofed, newly-renovated, brick-vaulted mediaeval cellars, in premises once the adjuncts of a carpenters workshop and a furrier. The drummer, Rome-born Marco Testa, of Italian-English-Irish extraction, was at the control panel as both producer and sound magician. He is also a part-owner of the studio. The youngest of the group, 18-year-old Louis Brennan from Dublin, one of the two vocalists, was behind the glass partition, warming up on a guitar. His voice would go through its recording paces days later.
They were about to tackle a guitar track for a ballad by Brennan called Words. A woodpecker-like tick, tick, tick came from somewhere in the 02R Yamaha digital recording console, as the hidden metronome started up at a speed of 70 beats per minute, the vital guide to everything. They started, but stopped at once.
Have you got any loose strings flying about in the breeze? enquired Testa. I can hear them all over the place.
Brennan unceremoniously burnt off the offending ends of his new strings with a lighter.
They resumed, Testa watching the guitar as an advancing horizontal graph on the computer. This time it was Brennan who aborted. Put the snare up, will you?
The snare was one of Testas drums, the flat, penny-shaped one drummers rap on at the head of army columns on the march, to set the step. The snare always falls on the second or fourth beat, he explained, marking the rhythm together with the metronome. Its the accent of any song.
The drums in any piece are always the first to be recorded, the foundation on which everything else will build up slowly. Brennan repeated his own loop half a dozen times. At last he came into the control room to listen. I like that. It feels tight and compact. Can we keep it? So Testa wiped out the previous trials and kept the sixth.
They were waiting for Butler to arrive. Another Dubliner, working as a tour guide in Rome, he takes American VIPs around in big cars. Today, he would be doing the backing harmonies on his guitar. The groups newest member the bass player Chiaverini, born in Munich of Italian parents living in New York is about to return to the United States and The Semaphore is now looking for a replacement
A single song, done in bits and pieces at different times, could take 70 hours to get right, and altogether there were to be 12 or 14 numbers on the album, about three months work. That was not all. After the recording and editing, the album would probably go to Milan for mastering, the complex process of ensuring their songs would be heard at their very best no matter what apparatus they were played on.