How to build a ship in a day

On Monday Suede went into the studio for charity. Tomorrow you can buy the record. Ryan Gilbey was on hand with his pool cue. Below right, Andy Gill admires the final cut

Monday, 4 September is 18-year-old Richard Oakes's first anniversary of playing guitar in the best band in Britain - Suede. "And how am I celebrating? By spending all day and night in a studio." Still, it's for a good cause and all that. But it's going to be no picnic - the equipment arrives late, setting the band back two hours. And the song itself won't be finished for another 19. If you knew all this at the start, you might drop 50 quid in the collecting tin and creep back to bed.

But did that sort of attitude win us the Second World War? No, it didn't. And if anything has helped Suede last this long, it's their collectively stiff upper lips.

The plan is this. Seventeen bands spend Monday recording a song for the Help! album, a musical melange to help children in Bosnia. Tapes are delivered by 7am Tuesday, and by Wednesday 30,000 copies have been manufactured. As you read this, they are making their way across Britain, ready to go on sale at 9am tomorrow. Everyone gets a good deal: the money goes where it's needed and nobody has to sing "There won't be snow in Africa" or watch Boy George and Simon Le Bon share a mike.

Suede have elected to cover "Shipbuilding", a gut-wrenching tale of clashed loyalties during the Falklands War which Elvis Costello co-wrote for Robert Wyatt and later recorded himself. "I don't agree with cover versions generally," explains bassist Mat Osman. "If a song's good, there's no point covering it. If a song's bad, well, there's no point covering it. We chose 'Shipbuilding' because we didn't just want a song that we liked. It had to be relevant."

The pedigree is impeccable. They've plumped for Olympic Studios where much of the Rolling Stones's Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed were recorded. The most pleasant surprise of all is that the song is being produced by the legendary team of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, who oversaw the Wyatt and Costello versions of "Shipbuilding". Langer co-wrote the song, too. "That means we take suggestions from him that we might not take off anyone else," says drummer Simon Gilbert.

Descending the stairs at Olympic, the chipper opening of Bowie's "Lady Stardust" wafts toward you from the piano, where singer Brett Anderson is poised. Throughout the day, he will dip into his repertoire (which also includes "Wuthering Heights" and "The Girl from Ipanema"), smoke cigarettes, wander through the studio practising his harmonies, and smoke more cigarettes. With smudges of stubble, a dandy's lopsided fringe and that confident stride, he might have been dreamt up by Dumas.

As people scurry around in a mild tizzy, Janet Fraser-Cook examines her monitor. She's here to direct some of Channel 4's documentary about the making of Help!, and specifically asked to film Suede's part. "They're great people," she confides.

The great people drift in and out. The speakers eavesdrop on Richard, who is talking shop in the studio and gamely explaining to someone, for the thousandth time, how he came to join Suede.

"What were you doing before?" the voice asks.

"Oh, I was at school," Richard deadpans.

Clive Langer is looking drained. "I wasn't even supposed to be in the country," he tells me. "I'd already said no to doing this project because I knew I'd be in France. But when Al told me which song Suede were doing, I thought, 'Oh, it's got to be worth coming back early for that.' "

It hasn't been quite what he expected, though. "When I thought of Suede, I imagined we'd do it with noisy guitars, a great big goth sound. But I turned up for rehearsal and they were sitting there with a piano! We may still get some guitars on it, though; add a bit of danger."

At 1pm, with the band still waiting for that first run-through, Elvis Costello's assistant calls with a message from him: "Good luck, and thanks for picking 'Shipbuilding'." Brett is visibly boosted by this. A Mirror reporter asks the band to donate something for a charity auction. A cymbal and a fiver are rustled up and signed. "Haven't you got anything else?" the fellow asks, a little disappointed. Brett sates him with the promise of a tour jacket.

Rehearsals finally get under way. They are swift, and the first taped run-throughs promising. "Just like Challenge Anneka, isn't it?", Richard says excitedly, rubbing his hands. "Yeah, I can just see her knocking out a version of 'Shipbuilding' in an hour," Mat replies.

The first signs that a camera crew may not be the best guests to entertain when you've only got half a day to finish a song start to emerge. Janet wants to film three complete runs of the song. "If we can't, you don't get your slot on the documentary," she says when the band voice objections.

"We've got to finish this track," Simon insists, indignantly, "so that's the least of our concerns." "Is it?" she replies. As she leaves, Brett storms back in, furious at the interruptions. "This is ridiculous!" he announces. "Rich, they want you to go in there and mime." Richard looks non-plussed. "What to - 'Disco Inferno'?"

It could be worse. GMTV called earlier and demanded access. Luckily, Channel 4's indomitable producer Helen Terry rebuffed them. But Suede will still have to please an MTV crew before the song is halfway to completion. Clive and Alan, also becoming increasingly disgruntled by the demands of the Channel 4 crew, strike a compromise. Janet can have the band to herself once the final mix is under way. She looks pleased. She has no inkling that her cameras won't roll until after midnight.

The song's skeleton is constructed for the arrival of Guy Barker, who plays a chilling trumpet with wah-wah and distortion over the middle of the song. James Banbury of the Auteurs arrives to record a cello part. Richard, who gets chatting to him but doesn't realise which band he's from, scoffs at James's suggestion that the new Auteurs album will be one of the best of 1996. Mat shakes his head, laughing, when he hears this. "He's a right little charmer, our Richard."

With everything else laid down, it's time for Brett to be committed to tape. We've heard his guide vocals all day, so it's a shock when his newly lush, luxurious voice fills the control room. "Listen to that line," Clive tells us. "He's singing 'winter's coat' instead of 'winter coat'. I was going to correct him, but I like it. It's him."

"He invented a word during rehearsal," Mat reveals. "Instead of 'skilled in', he was singing 'skilding'."

"That's Dutch, isn't it?" Clive asks.

There are still some details to add: a Hammond organ, a tidal wave of harmonies. Richard creates a web of guitar feedback, but Alan decides that knitting it into the mix would add an extra four hours. Simon has gone home to watch EastEnders; Mat takes time out to humiliate me at pool. The band reconvene at midnight for Janet and her crew (who request that Brett doesn't puff on camera), and the mood is still buoyant. But time is bearing down upon Clive and Alan; it will take them until 6am on Tuesday to perfect the final mix. Until then, the corridors and staircases at Olympic are alive with Brett's voice, soaring through the early hours into daylight, the song's opening question - "Is it worth it?" - hanging in the air. On the evidence of Suede's contribution, you don't even need to ask.

Artists for War Child

Help!

Go! Discs 828 682-2

Ethically impeccable and logistically impressive, the music recorded in a single day for Help! offers a compact snapshot of the strength and diversity of current British pop. It's doubtful whether any other country - America included - could have undertaken the same task with the same no-nonsense approach, and extremely unlikely the resulting LP would have been so varied, or of such overall quality.

The album comprises roughly half new material and half covers and re- recordings of old tracks, the latter enabling a few heavy friends to lend their weight to the cause: a guitar-slinging Johnny Depp guests on Oasis's new version of "Fade Away", while the finale of "Come Together" features Paul Weller, Paul McCartney and Noel Gallagher doing just that. Familiarity and faithfulness, though, make these the least interesting tracks. Some covers are pleasantly bizarre - the Manic Street Preachers' "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head", for instance, walks the same kitsch tightrope as their "Theme from M*A*S*H" - though two are among the best tracks here: the Charlatans' shuffling, baggified take on Sly Stone's "Time for Livin' " is at least as good as anything on their recent album, while the moody, blue-country heart of "Ode to Billie Joe" suits Sinead O'Connor's chilly vocal temperament perfectly.

The new material generally plays to each artist's strengths. Stereo MCs' "Sweetest Truth" is a typically irresistible, smooth-sliding groove, the Boo Radleys' "Oh Brother" another winsome strumalong, and Portishead's "Mourning Air" a parched, creepy crawl through a desolate urban landscape. Also in the sampladelic vein, the Planet 4 Folk Quartet (Andy Weatherall and Dave Harrow) contribute a bubbly little melodica dub, and the One World Orchestra (rumoured to be Bill Drummond) offers a sample-collage which thrusts together The Magnificent Seven theme and Serbian radio transmissions, one of the album's few overt references to the conflict.

Current chart champs Blur, in their former guise of Seymour, chip in with a quizzical rococo instrumental - "Eine Kleine Lift Musik", which is as off-handedly amusing as its title. The most impressive track is by Radiohead, whose "Lucky" continues the grand emotional sweep of The Bends. More importantly - amazingly for a charity record - there are virtually no lemons. Kudos to all concerned. AG

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on