songs from the shed
International musicians queuing up to come and play, and over 3 million hits on YouTube: high-tech recording studio in some cool urban spot? No. A beat up, old garden shed on the outskirts of Clevedon in North Somerset. Passenger, KT Tunstall, Natty, Tim Minchin and Steve Harley – they’ve all recorded sessions at Jon Earl’s Songs from the Shed. It could only happen in Somerset.
The shed originally housed WWI soldiers while they were building the house in which Jon and his family now live. Its transformation from garden shed to recording studio came about after Jon and some cronies decided to set up a cheese and cider society in the shed and invited some local musicians to play at the first meeting. Word got around, other bands asked to play and Jon posted the first recording of Lenny Savage on YouTube in 2009; many others (over 1,500 to date) would follow. An appearance on Bob Harris’ Radio 2 show and the Shed of the Year Award in 2011 took things to a different level, with worldwide coverage (he even made it into the New York Times) and international musicians queuing (and continuing to queue) to record in the Shed.
Have a gander: here’s Passenger with Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark:
Jon’s not a musician (his background’s in printing and he and his wife run the very nice Saker Stationery in Clevedon’s Alexandra Road) and says he ‘plays music terribly but hears it beautifully’. Anything that sounds ‘right’, of any genre, can make it into the Shed (apparently beat boxing works particularly well). Any opera singers out there want to give it a go?
Musicians just rock up and go into Shed. Only about a quarter of the space is used for recording, so the ‘studio’ is only about 10 x 8 feet large – incredibly, a 26-person choir once squeezed itself in here.
It’s filled with all sorts of interesting bits and pieces that Jon’s picked up or been given by locals or visiting musicians.
This is the high-tech recording equipment that Jon uses to film and record the sessions:
You might have owned one yourself about 15 years ago – it’s an old Canon Ixis 960 with a pinhole mic (now discontinued, so if anyone’s got one lying around, let him know). The sessions are totally acoustic, with the loudest musicians at the back and the quietest at the front. There’s no post-production editing – just volume control – and sessions are usually completed in one take. This is all deliberate: the ethos of Songs from the Shed is to keep things as simple as possible, so that the recording is as close as you can possibly get to hearing a band play live.
Requests continue to pour in every day – I peeped at his inbox: there were 900 new messages there – and Jon posts a new recording on YouTube once a month or so. Demand has been so great that he once invited 15 bands over for a mammoth recording session. A young bloke who’d come along with his mate, asked if he could record a song too but there just wasn’t enough time; a few weeks later, Ed Sheeran released his break-though best-selling single The A Team. If you’re reading this Ed, give Jon a call…
Date for the diary: Songs from the Shed are presenting the first Curzon Music Festival at the wonderful Art Deco Curzon Cinema in Clevedon on Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 May, with an eclectic line-up that includes Midge Ure and Magic Numbers.