Big Speck oratorio and album (2017-2020)

The Big Speck project started out in 2017 with the aim to provide a vehicle, a band, to bring to the world more developed versions of my music than my solo piano versions. Some of my songs were developed and performed live and on record in the 1980s and early 1990s and a few in the 2000s. But many of my other songs were waiting for me to do them justice. And I wanted to perform and record them with strings. Also, many of my songs have lyrics that nobody has heard yet and most of them were informed by my story of the interstellar traveller Jonnē Krōm. I had in mind to build a group approximately like Philip Glass would build, except more poppy and with more focus on lyrics.

The group was very slow to come about. Actor/singer Rosemary Jeffery and I met in the summer of 2017. We started practicing music in September, just before her long-time actor/singer friend Cam Culham joined us. We started to build repertoire. Early in 2018, Pablo Diemecke invited us to perform with his DieMahler String Ensemble for what would be our first gig. We performed a few songs on our own and then joined with DieMahler to perform a few songs that I had arranged for string quartet. Not yet having a band name, we called ourselves the RANDOR Ensemble for that concert. (RANDOR, for ‘random order’, like the universe)

By the time that we became Big Speck, in September 2018, we had performed only two other gigs, both recitals. Just after that, classical guitar specialist Doug Hensley and cellist Laura Backstrom joined us. Luckily, Doug also plays electric guitar and bass guitar. In November, drummer/percussionist Jon Miller and violinist/violist Kate Rhodes joined the group.

For the next half year, we worked on repertoire for an oratorio that I was writing. The oratorio was an abridged version of the aforementioned Jonnē Krōm story. In May, we performed the oratorio, double-billing with folk-rock group from Surrey, Medderick and the Jokers and Prophets Band, compatriots of mine going back to the 1970s.

With a live full-band concert now behind us, recording was next. Laura left the group to focus more on her other music interests before any recording began. The large size of the group and that it was difficult for us to get together to record as a group dictated that the recording be multi-tracked. We recorded the drums at Jon’s studio. Alex Olson also recorded double bass there for one song on the 16-track album. All of the other recording was done at my own home studio that I was slowly building in an old garage. Cellist Alasdair Money was the last to record, in January 2020. Glen Hollingshead engineered the recording and mixing, finishing in May. And finally, Evan Rabby mastered the album.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 struck in March 2020, in the thick of the mixing process, though luckily, after the recording was done. Like all other musicians pretty much the world over, we could not meet. The album would have to be released virtually and with little live fanfare. And the group would not have performed together in more than a year.

Realizing that, I decided to co-opt the name Big Speck by using it as the label for the collection of my music projects of which the Big Speck band and album are one. That could change. Everything is in flux.