How much material is there in George’s home library?
“He was a very diligent archivist, he seems to have kept just about everything. The engineer I most regularly work with, Paul Hicks [son of Hollies guitarist Tony], is a good friend of George’s son Dhani, they were neighbours in Henley as kids, so he was a lot more familiar with Friar Park than I was.
“It’s essentially a vault, the word ‘library’ doesn’t really do it justice, and it’s in pretty good order. Olivia used to work for George when he was running Dark Horse Records, so everything is relatively well catalogued, it’s not as if it’s a room full of unmarked or unboxed tapes.
“We went through the stuff marked ‘demos’ first, a lot of different reels, half-inches, quarter-inches, even cassettes, then we made an Excel sheet and wrote down song titles, keys and tempos.
“We’d also add comments about whether the tapes were any good or not. That’s not me being a pompous arse, but some of them were just things George had taped off the radio for some reason. Also, you’d occasionally come across, for example, a tape marked ‘Ringo, Klaus, George, Eric’, thinking it would be something great, but it might just be them tuning up and chatting for half an hour!
“It’s a bit like panning for gold. There was the odd day where we waded through boxes for 10 hours and when Olivia came in to see what we’d found I had nothing to play her. It’s a funny process, you can spend a lot of time going round in humdrum circles, but then there’d be these huge perks when you found something great.”
Clearly, you were looking for usable takes to put on this album and future volumes, but were there things you found interesting that didn’t fit the bill?
“We actually came across some recordings of George’s first sitar lessons with Ravi Shankar, and some of that was used in the Scorsese documentary. You hear Ravi teaching George how to count in the unusual time signatures of Indian music. Yes, it’s probably something fans would be keen on hearing, but it doesn’t really sit well on an album.”
When it came to preparing the tapes for the album, was it just a case of transferring them to digital and rebuilding in Pro Tools, or was an effort made to use vintage studio gear to stay true to the original vibe of the recordings?
“It was very important to us to keep things authentic. Quite often the recording had already been affected by analogue gear anyway, in which case your responsibility is the master it into digital in the best possible form. As is the case with all archive material, you want to make sure you’re doing the best possible back-up, so that what you have on a drive is exactly what’s on the original tape. You need to keep it as clean and untarnished as possible.
“Then, when you come to mixing stuff, you can go back through the analogue gear. Converters are so good nowadays that it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference when you’re going back and forth. We tried to use as little digital manipulation as possible, so as not to colour the sound or change the tone.”