A couple of weeks ago while I was researching another story I was reading about all the people who had recorded at the Wool Hall studio which is just down the road from here. As well as Van Morrison and Tears For Fears who both owned the studio at different times, many other artists used The Wool Hall during its time as a recording studio. The Smiths recorded their final album there in 1987 and Morrissey his first solo album called Viva Hate. Other artists who used the studio included Annie Lennox, The Pretenders, David Sylvian, Sisters of Mercy, 808 State, Stereophonics, and Paul Weller.
|Wool Hall, Beckington.|
The one that really made me sit up and take notice though was Joni Mitchell. I wondered why would an international superstar like Joni Mitchell who would have had the finest state of the art studios in Los Angeles or New York at her disposal come to a rural backwater like the village of Beckington to work? I did a bit more digging and discovered that the reason for Joni being here was that her husband at the time was bass player & producer Larry Klein who came here to work on an album with Ben Orr formerly of the band The Cars. Joni took advantage of the situation and began work on songs for an album that was released in 1988 called Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm. Only part of the album was recorded at the Wool Hall. I also found a radio interview that Joni gave to David Jensen in which she said that she lived in Frome near Beckington from January to June 1987. I decided to order the CD which arrived yesterday. I was a huge Joni Mitchell fan at one time. It is almost exactly fifty years ago in the summer of 70 that I bought Ladies Of The Canyon which remains a favourite album, as does Blue which is one of the greatest albums ever, in my opinion. I gradually started to lose interest after that. I think before this week the last time I bought a Joni Mitchell album was 1977 with Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter which I soon tired of. I think my problem was that I liked the simple folky sound of just Joni, her songs and her guitar or piano. A great artist though needs to grow, Joni got interested more in exploring rhythms and drum sounds and what modern technology could offer, such as synthesisers. She became more jazz influenced as well, which I was not ready for at the time.
|Ashcombe House, Bath.|
When I played Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm for the first time yesterday I recognised the first song My Secret Place because I remember the video she made with Peter Gabriel. Joni became friendly with Peter because her husband and Ben Orr both worked on Peter’s album called So. Peter had just finished recording that album and offered Joni the use of his home studio. This was nearby at Ashcombe House on the outskirts of Bath. This was in the days before Peter built his famous Real World Studios in the village of Box. I know Ashcombe House because I went there one afternoon. I had a friend in Bradford On Avon who knew Peter and did occasional work for him. One day Pete wanted some furniture moving and we went over there in a van to do the job. Sadly, I did not get to meet Peter that day, but I had a look in the studio. Anyway, it is a nice quite sensuous love song duet to open the album.
The second song is called Number One and is all about the pressures of fame. Ben Orr plays on this track which suggests to me it is a Wool Hall recording. I like Lakota because it tells a story. It is about the Lakota Native American tribe and the Wounded Knee & Pine Ridge incidents which I just read about on Wikipedia. There are a lot of guest musicians on this album, Don Henley features here. You can also hear chanting by Iron Eyes Cody. When I read about him, it was quite interesting because all his life he had claimed to be Native American and always dressed in the native garb, but when he died it was revealed that he was Italian. His parents came from Sicily. The Tea Leaf Prophecy, Lay Down your Arms is a song about Joni’s parents and how they met. Wendy & Lisa from Prince’s band The Revolution sing on this track. The unlikely figure of Billy Idol sings on Dancin’ Clown. Tom Petty and Thomas Dolby also play on this track which mentions Rowdy Yates who was played by Clint Eastwood in Rawhide on the telly. I like it, and I also like Cool Water in which Joni reworks an old cowboy song to great effect. What I really like about it is a cameo appearance by the great voice of Willie Nelson. The Beat Of Black Wings is a great anti-war song which tell the story of a damaged soldier called Killer Kyle who can’t get the sound of helicopter rotor blades out of his head. Don Henley shares the vocals on Snakes & Ladders which is a kind of his and her type song. The Reoccurring Dream is a scathing attack on the consumer society in which Joni cleverly samples TV adverts which promise happiness if you buy stupid products. A Bird That Whistles is Joni rewriting the traditional song Corrina Corrina.
I have listened to the album twice now and I really like it. I am pleased that Joni put the time she spent here to such good use. I am glad I bought it. I think it has renewed my interest in Joni Mitchell’s music. I feel sorry for Joni because she has suffered with ill health in recent years, so I hope she is recovered, and I will certainly listen to more of her albums in the future.