Amidst his hectic schedule, FOUNDRY MUSIC LAB's Graeme Duffin took time out to talk to Lins Honeyman.
Few people will be unaware of Graeme Duffin's work given that he played guitar on the majority of tracks recorded by arguably Scotland's biggest band of all time. Although never an official member of Wet Wet Wet, Duffin's place in rock history was more or less secured even before Four Weddings And A Funeral and a certain re-vamped Troggs song ("Love Is All Around") hit the charts in 1994. After many years on the road and in the studio with the Wets, amongst other projects, Graeme Duffin could be excused if he were to have rested on his laurels for a while and taken it easy.
In typical Duffin fashion, this has not been the case. The fourth of January 2006 saw the launch of a Motherwell-based rehearsal and recording facility called Foundry Music Lab and, together with co-founders Ted Blakeway and Sandy Jones, Graeme has found himself busier than ever. The main idea behind FML was to develop a facility that incorporated a top of the range recording studio with two well appointed rehearsal rooms. However, what makes FML stand out from its competitors is the added feature of a training facility to help develop artists interested in progressing in their chosen trade.
Considering the pressures of training individuals to a standard that today's music industry demands and the added headache of producing an end product that meets those high standards, I asked Graeme why FML decided to combine the elements of production and training. "The idea behind combining these aspects under the one roof," Graeme explained, "was that the people undergoing the training would have the opportunity to experience the pressures, challenges and fun of the real studio environment - something which is difficult to mimic at college or university. When you have a paying client sitting there, it's a whole different ball game!"
Having been in the planning stage for nearly four years, Graeme is very clear about the Foundry's aims: "Through the facility, we are able to provide a comfortable and creative environment in which to record, where the client can have complete confidence in the expertise at FML to produce the product they want to hear. We also aim to train people on the most up to date versions of the industry standard software in a practice best suited to working within the industry."
Based in a North Lanarkshire town most recently famous for having its football club managed by former England captain Terry Butcher, I asked Graeme why he had chosen Motherwell and not somewhere bigger such as nearby Glasgow as a location for FML. "We decided to base ourselves in the Motherwell and Wishaw sector because the area didn't have any facilities of this type. Local bands were having to travel into Glasgow to even rehearse. Sandy and Ted spotted a local need and we needed a local spot. The right industrial unit came up at the right price so we went for it."
"We're also running an NQ module in rock and pop in conjunction with Motherwell College which is on our doorstep so we're getting involved in that aspect of training too," Graeme added. "Our training director, Ted Blakeway, established and managed the School of Audio Engineering in Glasgow for 11 years so he obviously has a wealth of experience in this area."
So what of Graeme's own involvement in the scheme of things? "Well, I'm not playing enough guitar at the moment due to the fact we're in our first year of business, so thanks to JJ Gilmour, Esther and Four Good Men (Scottish supergroup consisting of members of Simple Minds and Big Country) for getting me to play!
"My main role is in the music production side, as well as being out promoting what we can offer in training. That and making the coffee! I tend to get wheeled out to talk to music teachers in schools because we offer short music technology courses for teachers due to the fact that they are now required in Scotland to teach music with sound recording and production."
The production aspect of Graeme's role seems to have been well utilised recently with a varied and plentiful array of artists passing through the Foundry's doors. "'Sky Like Static' by Andi Watson, a young post graduate trendy person from a Glasgow church, was the first full album to come out of the Foundry," Graeme explained. "Since then, we've worked with many other people including Yvonne Lyon (nee Whitty - formerly of Land). Yvonne's new album 'Fearless' was one I was really looking forward to as she sings really well and I loved the songs. She was quite clear about what she wanted and didn't want - no drum loops or electronic sounds at all - and our aim was to facilitate this and produce an album of high quality. It's an album I'm really pleased to have helped make."
"Gareth Davies-Jones' album 'Only For A Short While' was recorded, mixed and mastered in five days. He is a well experienced and a seasoned performer and a great guitar player. It was a brilliant project in that it happened so quickly with such a satisfying result. My studio partner Sandy Jones is fantastic at working really quickly and that really suited the time frame!"
Adding a family feel to the proceedings, Graeme has been helping his daughter Esther O'Connor record the follow up to her critically acclaimed debut album 'The Place Where We Are'. Understandably proud of his daughter's abilities, Graeme explained, "Esther has a lovely way of putting thoughts into words and a beautiful melodic sensibility and her voice is unmistakable. In addition to the new album, we were commissioned very recently to write and produce a song called 'Out On The Water' with her for a sailing charity for people with varying levels of disability. You can check it out on www.able2sail.org.uk or at www.estheroconnor.com
Our son Jamie is also a multi talented musician, programmer and
producer and can be found hitting a strange percussion box called a
cajongo at Esther's gigs."
The Foundry Music Lab was also involved in ex-Shine member and CCM stalwart Nicki Rogers' most recent album 'Feeder Lane' and is continuing to build upon its client base with forthcoming releases from the likes of Spanish-based Scot Beverly Williams, singer/songwriter Kirsty Bell and local boy Jamie Wilson. "Nearly forgot," added Graeme, "we had the Wets in during March doing some new material for an album but that won't be out till next year."
I asked Graeme how the fame he experienced as an associate member of Wet Wet Wet has affected him. "Well, the fame was limited and I don't think it has overly affected my sense of self," Graeme explained. "Other people's perceptions of me have been quite funny at times though. I remember tinkering around fixing the door lock on my Rover Sterling that I was driving during the 'Love Is All Around' season - I looked up at one point to see two older neighbours gazing down at me in wonder and remarking that, having just watched me on Top Of The Pops, here I was behaving as if I was normal! That caused a momentary identity crisis!"
It seems that this view of fame and all its trappings, together with his faith, have steered Graeme in his time with the Wets and also in his life and work today. I wondered what affect his faith had on the band back then: "The band members got to see the best and worst of me. There's no hiding, playacting, putting on a nice persona or some other alter-ego. I was as real as God enabled me to be. Hanging out, chatting, arguing, laughing our heads off and sometimes talking about the deep things in our hearts was all part of our time together. There were occasions when I would back off and not get involved in things I considered detrimental to myself or others. The guys were always very accepting of this. There were times I would flag things up if I thought something was way off but a respect for people's right to make choices is crucial.
"As to how my faith affects my life on an ongoing basis," Graeme added, "Christ has to be my life, or it doesn't make any sense. Jesus, as well as being God, was also fully man with all the awkward issues that that raises and I suspect engaging with him would have been an intense experience. I do feel safe in his awesome presence but I'm all too aware of my tendency to want to be well thought of and to feel good - maybe at the expense of others. I have to remain fully engaged in the process of living and being present to him or, by default, the ego takes over."
Graeme readily pointed out that, although the Foundry Music Lab is not specifically a Christian enterprise, it has already fulfilled an important role in the work of Christian artists. As with many such musicians whose faith is central to their art, Graeme is keen to avoid the dangers of a sub culture ethos creating an artificial division between the secular and the sacred. "The sacred-secular divide is one I'd ideally love to see become irrelevant," said Graeme, "where music is music and people are doing what they do and the message is free to have an influence without being boxed. For example, when financial agendas at a major record label tailor a product for the American conservative-evangelical market, serious issues can get suppressed because they don't fit the market demograph and would destroy the income generating ability of that product. On the other hand, well done to those who are out there living the life God wants them to in the world of music and not compromising."
As if his workload with FML, a possible tour with Marti Pellow later this year and his ongoing connection with Wet Wet Wet wasn't enough to keep him busy, Graeme has been involved with the McGuire programme for nearly six years to help adults who, like himself, have a stammer. "Stammering takes on many forms but is mostly driven by the fear of stammering or being perceived as some kind of weirdo. The McGuire programme is a tough but very community orientated programme which faces the issues, gets you to do the unthinkable and achieve almost unimaginable results."
"It's not a cure or a quick fix," Graeme added, "but the first step in a very exciting and rewarding journey of discovery. It's a profoundly spiritual experience to witness people being unlocked and able to communicate expressively and publicly, maybe for the first time ever. It's not a Christian programme but somehow God doesn't seem to mind too much and shows up anyway."
It seems that this has been the case throughout Graeme's career and certainly remains true of his work in the music industry today and his life in general. After touring the world, playing to hundreds of thousands of people and appearing on Top Of The Pops on over 50 occasions - not to mention the launch of the Foundry Music Lab - Graeme was refreshingly matter of a fact about it all. "It's been a myriad of different circumstances both good and bad and God has used them to teach me about myself and about him." Given all that the music world has benefited from Graeme Duffin's input, this is no bad thing.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.