How Ed Harcourt recorded his album in one night at Abbey Road

Ed Harcourt recorded his sixth album, Back into the Woods, at Abbey Road Studios. It was inspired by the studio itself and the desire to make a stripped-back honest album.

Available now as a high-quality download via Society of Sound, the album is officially released 25th February 2012. Here he explains how the recording came about:

“I was in the midst of writing a different record, albeit one that was more production and sample-led – lots of weird samples and noises, electronic glitches etc – and it was starting to drive me mad, so I decided to have a month-long hiatus.

Being the kind that needs to scratch an itch, I ended up writing a different record, one that I suppose was on the opposite end of the spectrum: no frills, just myself and a piano and guitar. Having been in a session playing piano for a comedy duo from Canada, I ended up in Studio One of Abbey Road with Pete Hutchings, the engineer of the session, chatting about life and music in general, sitting at the piano. By the end of the night we decided that I should come into Abbey Road and make a record in one night, all live, one or two takes only; so that’s what we did!

I arrived at Studio Two around 6pm and we started at 8pm and finished recording at 2am. There were 10 songs in all but I ended up taking off one as it didn’t suit the mood of the record (it was a silly drinking song called Thy Name Is Delirium). It wasn’t too different to how I make a lot of my records – I tend to sing live as I play, and a lot of the time we end up using the guide vocal. I prepared for the session, as I seem to always do, by constantly re-writing lyrics and editing and deconstructing the songs, attempting to improve them into fulfilling their potential. I knew that we only had one night to do this so I think this implanted a sense of momentum and the importance of performing to my best ability with no ‘fixing in the mix’ on this one.

We had three pianos set up, a holy triptych of the Mrs Mills tack piano, a Steinway Full Grand and a Challen upright.  I used the Hammond organ and also the Celeste piano (famous for its role in the Harry Potter scores) and  for the guitar-driven songs I had my Fender Jazzmaster ’63 going through an original Ampeg Reverb Rocket guitar amplifier. We also had my wife Gita on violin and some BVs and Arnulf Lindner playing Cello on ‘Hey Little Bruiser’. There was never any plan to not include drums or bass but they just didn’t seem necessary. I pretty much let Pete set take control sonically, mics and compressors; I didn’t feel the need to stick my oar in as I trusted him and we were on the same page.

We recorded the whole record in it’s running order, so the moment that resonates the most with me was when I finished ‘The Man That Time Forgot’ and noticed that the bottle of Wild Turkey had slowly been finished without me even realizing. It really was the most easy and special experience to make this record. I also had a few friends revolving in and out of the session who witnessed the arduous purging of my tainted soul and spurred me on, which perhaps made me perform a bit better. A once in a lifetime event that I’ll never forget.”  Ed Harcourt


  • Yasmin Selena Butt says:

    That’s a really sweet tale, sometimes it’s the stuff that’s made with no real pre-meditation that works best of all. I look forward to hearing the night’s work : ) x

  • Roger Fye says:

    Spectacular recording! It’s real, right now and wonderfully listenable. I wasn’t really that familiar with Ed Harcourt, but this recording made me want more.

    Polished spontaneity would be the closest description I could give.

    This will resonate and ultimately be one of those classic “got to have it” recordings.

    Well done Ed Harcourt and great choice for Society of Sound.

  • Gary McN says:

    I have quite enjoyed this album and as I listened, the mix of sound and lyrical style reminded me of the Australian Band My Friend Chocolate Cake and it’s compositional (member-wise) variant Not Drowning Waving.

  • Micke P says:

    What a masterpiece! I have already listened to it 20 times at least. Great work, I really enjoyed the presence in this recording. Thanks =)

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