The Dunkirk Spirit

Alexander Smith and I have released a production music album ‘Swinging Through the Blitz’ earlier this year, an album inspired by the British swing music of the 1940s, a strangely appropriate time to reference in the current crisis. It’s an album that we have worked hard on and actually has an interesting story we thought would be worth sharing.

Towards the beginning of March, we approached our publishers at The Nerve with an idea for the album, based on a track we’ve done for a video game the year before. They were very enthusiastic about the idea and asked us if we were able to finish it by the beginning of April. This was particularly important because the BBC's Antiques Show was looking to use exactly this kind of music, and their editing cycle started at this time. We said we can do it, as at this time, the COVID-19 crisis was not on our radar - we thought it would be business as usual. Little did we know...

I’m not very comfortable in this style, so Alex took charge of most of the writing process. Alex is a Trombone player and has been playing with big bands and brass bands for over twelve years, so he knows this style very well! The tracks were inspired by tunes you would typically hear on BBC’s “Music While you Work”. To get our tracks sounding authentic, we had to use the correct type of ensemble (lots of trumpets, saxophones and double bass!) and ensure that the melodies had that uplifting and nostalgic British quality which was typical at the time. I think I can confidently say Alex nailed it...

Once we were finished with writing, we moved on to recording. Unfortunately, this was at the time when the UK government started to put tougher restrictions on going outside. I also decided it was best for me to fly to the Netherlands to stay with my parents. There I was in an empty Manchester airport getting on the last Ryanair line that was scheduled with 3 other people to escape the country. The following day, the lockdown measures were announced. I couldn’t have picked a better day to leave! At this point, we were starting to think there was no way we could finish this album on time. That’s when Scott Pearce at the Nerve refused to let us fail and put us in contact with a talented saxophonist, and encouraged us to keep ongoing. We really couldn’t have done it without him! We got in touch with the saxophonist, Harry Greene, who was incredibly helpful and decided to join the project.

The recording process was also unorthodox, to say the least. We worked with Harry for all the saxophone parts and Jonathan Mitra, who helped us record some of the trumpet parts. We prepped the scores and demos for both of them on Wednesday the 25th of March, and by the 27th, they both sent us back their recordings. I then spent 2 days mixing the track so that they sounded like they were recorded in the same room, together with the other virtual instruments we used. Once finished, we handed off the mixes on the 30th to then be mastered by Richard Kimmings, who then, with an insane turnaround, was finished by the 1st of April.

This was a hectic and stressful couple of days, but it was also insanely fun. Alex and I stayed in touch over the virtual hub we set up in Discord as well as through Slack for shorter conversations. We were in touch with Harry through Skype, through Messenger with Jonathan, and through endless email chains with everyone else. In true Dunkirk spirit, and with the help of everyone involved, we managed to get the album out just on time. Needless to say that a couple of those 14-hour workdays and some sleepless nights were entirely worth it.

You can listen to the album here: