Below you'll find Sean's thoughts on the making of his acclaimed Walk With Me album (written at the time of release in 2010).
Like everything I have ever done this album came directly from live performance. The songs were developed in a variety of ways. Some of them were written very quickly, such as Perfect Candlelight which came together after reading Lorca’s Poet in New York. Others I started writing years ago. Fare Thee Well started life as a gigging riff eight years ago and has become more and more powerful over time.
Following the success of Calcutta GroveI wanted to develop both my sound and my songwriting.
Musically, I have listened massively to Van Morrison and The Stones, particularly Exile On Main Street, as well as the usual tonics of Tom Waits and John Martyn.
Lyrically, I have explored different writers such as Frederico Garcia Lorca and Wallace Stevens. As well as continuing to read the ‘Beats’ of Bukowski, Ferlinghetti, Kerouac and Ginsberg. I also dipped into Shakespeare.
I was fortunate enough to work on the album with Trevor Hutchinson of The Waterboys, Luansa, and the Eric Bibb Band. The recording didn’t feel like previous sessions I have had in studios in London, which were often very impersonal and uninspiring. It was recorded at the studio attached to Trev’s home, and the atmosphere we created reflected a particular intimacy and warmth. The songs were also accompanied by the affections of Nina, the family red setter - her constant presence and happy excitement added to the album, although she didn’t enjoy the saxophone and cello as much as we did.
The recording began in December in Dublin, with just myself and Trev recording all my guitar, vocal, piano, and harmonica parts. We put down 11 songs in 7 days. I spent the weekend break in recording wandering around Dublin city centre, visiting squares and parks where Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, and WB Yeats were celebrated with monuments and statues. Although I am from London my family are Irish and being in Dublin I felt part of a truly magical city of writers and poets.
I returned in January, during the heaviest snowfall in Eire for forty years. Everything seemed to stop and I was very lucky to make it back over at all.
The first musician we brought in was Dave Hingerty who was in The Frames and has also played with Josh Ritter and Luka Bloom. He lives in Wicklow which at the time was crippled by the snow. With the help of his neighbours, who pushed his car down the road, he somehow made it in one piece. Dave is an amazing drummer – who is incredibly versatile and he brought with him a huge choice of drums and different types of percussion, nearly all of which were used on the album. This is particularly evident on Slow Dance where the ambient sounds are absolutely perfect.
The next musician we recorded was Trevor himself – a great bass player. We wanted to create a similar rhythm section sound to the R’n’B bands of the sixties with the bass and drums almost locked together. Trev nailed this, and his and Dave’s playing brings a rare muscle to the sound, particularly on tracks like Feel Alright.
After growing up on diet of soul and funk one of my favourite instruments has always been the saxophone. We brought in the amazing Michael Buckley, who has toured with Mary Coughlan. Michael’s playing is simply sublime. He came into the sessions, listened, whistled the parts out, and then recorded them immediately. Within three hours he nailed everything. This is particularly evident on For You where the melancholy sound of the saxophone perfectly counterpoints the melody. Magical.
The next musician we brought in was the amazing Vyvienne Long, who has been Damien Rice’s cellist for a decade. Vyvienne’s contributions on Poets and the Shakespearean sonnet 149, which I’ve called Love Hate On, were stunning. Again she worked perfectly to the melody and the lyric. She is a truly fantastic musician.
We then brought in the Hammond Organ player, Justin Carroll. He has toured with Van Morrison. The songs were crying out for the old B3 sound of the sixties and Justin provided this with stunning playing. Particularly on ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ and ‘Hold On’ his playing is magnificent. A great musician who is unbelievably versatile.
The final musician we worked with was the legendary BJ Cole, who has played and toured with just about everybody from Sting to Elton John. He is an amazing virtuoso pedal steel player, with a unique sound. His playing on the title track Walk With Me is one of the album's high points.
The album was mixed and mastered in between touring and finally finished in May 2010. It is the best thing I have ever done, and since I started writing songs, it is the album that I aimed to record. Now I have recorded it, I can’t wait to do the next one.
Tracks from the album will be available on this page shortly.