Part 4: The 2009-10 Sessions

🥁 ANWAR MARSHALL AND THE PHILADELPHIA DAYS 🚒

Back in Dublin I immersed myself in setting the Bahá’í Writings to music, working my way through books like The Hidden Words and sending rough demos to Kelly whenever I had a new song. 

In the summer of 2009 I moved to America for the second time, this time with a pile of songs and a goal: to record an album with Kelly, Diane, Adam, Jason and Ian.

Kelly had moved to Boston where she was working as a visiting scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studying what made the MIT Media Lab innovative. She was still connected to Washington DC and was frequently back and forth between there and Boston, driving up and down the East Coast in a big old-fashioned red firetruck she had acquired at a city auction. 🚒

With Diane in New York, Kelly between Boston and DC, Jason in Pittsburgh, and Ian and Adam in Philadelphia, I decided to use Philly as a base and come and go from there. Shortly after I arrived, Ian and Adam told me about a friend they often played with in jazz clubs around the city and they suggested inviting him to work with us on the album.

The first time I heard Anwar Marshall play drums was a revelation. Anwar’s musical sensitivity spanned from zen-like calm to unrestrained ecstasy. Never before had I heard someone play the drums as if he were singing. We all wanted him on board.

Now with a core group of musicians, I spent the next 10 months traveling almost constantly, either north to New York to rehearse with Diane, further north to Boston to work on the song arrangements with Kelly, west to Pittsburgh to practice with Jason, or south to Washington DC (or wherever the big red firetruck was currently parked) for more production work with Kelly. It was a welcome break on those days when I could simply walk around the block to rehearse the songs with Ian, Adam and Anwar right there in Philadelphia.

We rehearsed dozens of songs (too many for one project!) and, little by little, we began the process of recording each musician whenever and wherever we could. We tracked Anwar’s drums and Ian’s bass, Adam’s saxophone and Jason’s mandolin (and bass too), and of course, Diane’s voice. We set up Kelly’s mobile recording rig in friends’ living rooms and in the enormous reverberating atrium of the MIT Media Lab. Occasionally, through the help of friends, we were able to book a day at Philadelphia’s legendary recording facility known as ‘The Studio’. But mostly we worked at Kelly’s own It’s Not Rocket Science Studios in DC and from the autumn to the spring, we laid the foundations for an album of devotional songs, unwilling to stop recording even during the great Snowmageddon blizzard of February 2010.

During those sessions, the songs were still maturing and it seemed as if the more we advanced with the album, the bigger it became. Our vision for the music surpassed what our time and resources could facilitate and by the time the following summer arrived, the very notion of a finished album seemed like a distant fantasy. Kelly was going through monumental changes in her career as a scientist and the spaces between our recording sessions grew longer. By the end of 2010, I was still surfing the couches of the East Coast and the album was nowhere near complete. Exhausted, I went home to Ireland, uncertain of how we would ever finish the album.

Anwar contributed to almost every song on Year of the Nightingale. Check out his sublime drumming over on the Facebook Album Release Page

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Anwar playing drums and talking songs

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