Episode 17: Golf Girl by Caravan

Episode 17: Golf Girl by Caravan

The latest regular biennial (and a half)-ly episode takes inspiration from Golf Girl by Caravan.

Our takes

The Inspiration: Golf Girl by Caravan

The album version of Golf Girl
Golf Girl live on Beat Club

It’s a long time since I first bought In the Land of Grey and Pink by Caravan. I think it was probably the early 90s. Around this time I was mainly listening to Genesis, Van der Graaf Generator and Yes. I was a little out of synch with people at school/college who were mainly into The Smiths, James and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. I branched out a bit when I started frequenting The Wheatsheaf in Stoke-on-Trent and people like Daevid Allen and Gong started turning up on a regular basis. I listened to In the Land of Grey and Pink a few times and the only track that grabbed me was Golf Girl.

Caravan somehow stayed just beyond my reach during the nineties. I remember staying in a bed and breakfast in Canterbury on a family holiday once. I picked up a flyer for Caravan/Caravan of Dreams in a local record shop and the address for the band was in the same street as the B & B. I walked over to the address where I found a decaying tour bus parked in the drive. At the time, my friend Jon Goodwin and I were producing a prog fanzine called A Flower? I thought about knocking on, but thought better of it as I didn’t know very much about the band and I didn’t want to get them out of bed unnecessarily.

Many years later I repurchased In the Land of Grey and Pink and wondered how the rest of the album could have eluded me. I guess I just wasn’t ready for it at the time.

English Weather Album

More recently, I’ve been discovering early Caravan. My girlfriend, bought me a copy of English Weather, a brilliant compilation of early 70s prog and psychedelia put together by Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs which features Love Song With Flute from their eponymous debut album.

So here they are. Two eclectic interpretations of the classic Caravan song, Golf Girl.

Frosty 1973’s take (featuring Mystery Girlfriend)

What to do. What to do…

I usually go one of two ways. Either I write something completely new with lyrics echoing the sentiment of the song, or I recreate the song without sticking much to the original melodies or instrumentation.

For this one I wasn’t sure which approach to take but then after Clive Sinclair died we watched the BBC Drama Micro Men which documents his exploits in the 1980s. It was at this point the idea that Richard Sinclair (singer/composer) could combine nicely with Clive SInclair (80s 8 bit technology pioneer) emerged.

Incidentally, when I told a slightly geeky young friend at work about the Micro Men film, starring Alexander Armstrong, he became really excited. He’s a big fan of Alexander Armstrong, but had never heard of Clive Sinclair. This made me feel simultaneously old and confused.

I’d played around using 80s chiptune sounds before when I recreated Iron Maiden’s Run to the Hills for a colleague’s leaving do. For that I got hold of some midi files and an exposed vocal and substituted in some 8 bit sounds. He loved the daily visit of the sandwich man to the office so I substituted in his voice shouting, ‘Sandwiches!’ on the first chorus.

This was great fun to do but this time I didn’t want to do something that was purely constructed from 8 bit sounds. I used the Sinclair theme very loosely, re-created the vocals and invited my girlfriend to sing on the second verse. This proved REALLY hard for her as I’d changed the vocal melody significantly. As usual the instrumental section wandered off in its own direction at the end. It reminded me a tiny bit of Fleetwood Mac’s the chain which is why I brought the grand prix/C5 footage into the video towards the end. There’s also some footage of girls playing golf in there. There seems to be quite a market for this on YouTube.

Recording-wise I used Propellerheads Reason along with some clever visual mixing software from Izotope. Mixing and mastering is always the hardest part for me and I’m not 100% happy with the sound of this one but it’ll do. Unlike The Parsnip I haven’t wrangled with the latest versions of Reason but I’m already experimenting with Ableton Live for the next episode.

The Parsnip’s Take

Once again, it’s been a long time since the last episode. Promise to do better next time. One big change since last time is I’ve moved from Reason to Ableton Live. Here’s a long-winded explanation of why I switched.

Farewell to Reason

I have abandoned all Reason and have switched exclusively to Ableton Live. This was triggered by Reason Studios introduction of Reason+ but it was a decision a long time in the making. I’d been a Reason user since Reason 1.0 back in 2001 and had upgraded through all the evolutions of the product including the introduction of Record for working with audio. Prior to Record, I’d bought Ableton Live and used it with Reason and ReWire to add audio to my Reason projects and continued to use it for electronic music mixes so I’ve been a long-term user of Ableton too. I upgraded Reason and Ableton Live with every release over the years and was happy with both products. For a long time, Propellerhead (as they were then) could do no wrong and I was delighted every time a new Reason release came along. Happy Days.

So good I paid for it twice

My delight was diminished when the practice appeared of bundling rack extensions that were previously separate paid products for free with later versions of Reason. Some of the rack extensions I’d paid full price for became bundled so I was effectively buying them for a second time when upgrading Reason. Equally, the new Reason releases were of less interest because I already had the bundled extensions that were supposed to be a selling point. All a bit disappointing but I learned my lesson and stopped buying Propellerhead rack extensions and waited for them to get bundled.

Reason Suite, “pay for it twice”++

Then along came Reason Suite. This just took the buying things twice aspect to another level. I didn’t see much (/any) value in upgrading to Suite. There were no discounts if you already owned a good proportion of the rack extensions and I wasn’t much interested in the others. Also, I’d upgraded to Ableton Suite by this time and was thinking about making music with it rather than just mixes so I questioned whether I could afford to keep both products up to date if both were Suites. I held off for a long time but in Jan 2021, in a holiday-inspired music making fervour, I decided to buy Reason Suite regardless of the ‘paying for stuff twice’ problems. This was about a fortnight before Reason+ appeared.

Reason+

Introduced by a car-crash livestream on YouTube on 27 Jan 2021 (see the comments section), Reason+ is a subscription service that allows you to use the latest version of Reason, all Reason Studios rack extensions, weekly Sound Packs with patches and the Reason+ Companion app for managing sound packs and rack extensions. Because it is a subscription service, once you stop the subscription you have no access to the software or anything you have created using it.

Subscriptions – the amazing disappearing product

Subscription models generally don’t work for me because I tend to make music in bursts of activity so I might not do anything for a few months at a time. Paying for a subscription and not using the software that month would feel like wasting money. Annoying. Turning a subscription on and off every time I want to have a burst of music making would be equally annoying. If ever I couldn’t afford the monthly subscription, with no perpetual licence to fall back on, I’d no longer be able to make music. I wouldn’t be able to access anything I’d already created. It just doesn’t work for me. A model that works better is that employed by JetBrains, who make software development tools. Their subscription model provides a perpetual fallback licence for a product so if you stop the subscription you can carry on using the version you’ve got at that time. That kind of model would remove one problem with subscriptions – the amazing disappearing product.

Perpetual licences – like Reason+ but not quite as good

As eventually became apparent in the Reason+ introduction livestream, the subscription service was not replacing perpetual licences. Perpetual licences would still be available as an inferior option to Reason+ because Reason+ would have new sound packs arriving weekly.

No more Reason Suite

The Reason+ livestream also confirmed that Reason Suite was no more, so not a very good investment on my part there. Even if I could overlook the subscription model problems, the half-price subscription discount offered to people who had purchased Reason Suite was a bit ridiculous. £20 a month for a bunch of sound packs, given that I already owned the rest of Reason+ because I had Reason Suite.

The Reason Rack plugin – now with added DAW?

“Reason as a plugin” seemed to be the direction Reason Studios were heading. The DAW hasn’t had many improvements in recent releases and it hardly got a mention. I can see why Reason Studios want more people to know about the Reason Rack plugin as they can try to attract users of other DAWs, but, as I have found out now I am using Ableton Live more, the Reason Rack plugin is useful for accessing rack extensions you’ve already bought. There’s very little incentive to buy more rack extensions or Reason-only products when VST plugins will work in any DAW.

No rhyme or Reason

Thus, it was time to say goodbye to Reason after 20 years of making music with it. Thanks to Propellerhead for the years when Reason was consistently fantastic. It really was a great product. Now the struggle is to stop getting tempted by VSTs.

Anyway, that’s plenty on that tpoic. On with some kind of explanation for the madness I’ve produced this time around.

Golf Girl

The struggle

I was struggling for musical ideas so I created a basic electronic reproduction of the original track as a starting point. I Intended to make it a darker story about haunting a golf course with a fellow having his soul stolen by a girl back from the grave. I created lyrics, changed the chords and melody a bit and recorded layered vocals with loads of harmonies. The aim was to sound something like Steeleye Span with a folk-rock kind of vibe.

I liked the idea but it suffered from two problems once recorded. 1. it was my voice. 2. it sounded crap. So I abandoned that idea.

The ‘art piece’

I liked the solo and the verse chords most in the original so I played around with chopping other sections out and eventually slowed it down because golf (girl) should be played at a more sedate pace. From then on it was a case of fleshing out and embellishing the music so it started simple, rose to a crescendo and then gradually faded back down to atmosphere. Oh, and with a gratuitous tape stop. Think of it more as an art piece than a song.

EQing the mix was a nightmare. I had seemingly endless revisions and was never happy with the bass. Every time I was happy with the bass, the mid-range decided to disappear. (As usual) I’m still not totally happy with the sound but it will do.

Plugins

The most useful plugins for this track were:

Audiothing Reels

https://www.audiothing.net/effects/reels/

Needless to say, I used this for the tape stop effect in the middle.

iZotope Ozone 9 Match EQ

https://www.izotope.com/en/learn/how-to-use-match-eq-in-ozone-9.html

When EQ wrangling had me going around in circles, it was Match EQ to the rescue. I used a well-balanced EDM track as the reference and applied a tasteful bit of EQ bending towards the reference to get a better balance.

iZotope Neutron 3 EQ

https://www.izotope.com/en/products/neutron/features/equalizer.html

I carved out space to hear the key components in the mix using Neutron EQ on key tracks with dynamic EQ sidechained to tracks that should be more prominent in the mix.

Flux:: Session Analyzer

https://www.flux.audio/project/flux-analyzer/

I used Flux:: Session Analyzer to analyse output on the master track. I’ve been after this for ages because I love the Nebula Spacial Spectrogram (the Christmas tree on the left). This shows what is happening in the stereo field across the frequency range. Even when you’re not using it to analyse your sound, it’s just gorgeous to watch.

Golf Gurl – listen and read along

Golf course. Uneasy atmosphere. Birds. Lovely girl that doesn’t sound or look at all like Worzel Gummidge proffers tempting Camelian-based refreshing beverages including a special three for the price of three offer with patisserie-based optional extras. Tee offs abound. Chimes from the Mandolin of the Gods. Brassy lead. Rick Deckard’s weekend bagpipes. Snippets. Tantalising. Resounding. Reverberant. Heard it before. A fluttering! The most harmonious crickets you’ve ever heard. Look in the long grass. Golf continues. Bit of a pause… Bass! Like Thor is hoovering his fairway. The Solo. I remember that. A lascivious lad, polyvinyl chloride-clad (probably not pipes) exposes his position apropos the aforementioned infusion-monger. Celestial xylophone sails the clouds. A melodic wind in the air. A deal is struck. The lad is smitten. The solo returns. Some leans on the tape machine. Uneasy atmosphere. A brief interlude. It’s hard to play progressive music. It is. “Come on grandad, hit the play button”…and we’re back. Cheeky key change. The solo is here again. The lad is back. The wind has got up. That xylophone is back. Sounds like a bit of a crescendo may be on the cards. Things are getting higher. The solo lingers on the last note and floats away on the breeze. Things start to settle. The wind dies down. The mandolin departs slowly. Plinky things pop off. The crickets are all aflutter again. A train passes. Plinky things pop back. Golf ensues. Lots of wows. The golf girl claims there is no shortage of supplies. They depart for the future. Someone tees off…

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