The Albion Christmas Disc
PRODUCER: Stewart Campbell and Nick Maldini ENGINEER: Nick Maldini, Assisted by Mike Hukins EDITED AND MIXED: Nick Maldini TRACKS: The Truth From Above, Salutation Carol, Away in a Manger, The Angel Gabriel, Advent Antiphons, Sussex Carol
ALBION‘s musical director, Fraser Wilson, approached me a few months ago to engineer a disc of christmas music for the choir. The disc features new arrangements of some traditional Christmas pieces. Fraser is a very gifted director and arranger (he arranged all of the music on the record) and the choir are very very good (comprising some of the best singers in Sheffield who are largely drawn from the Cathedral and the University) so I didn’t hesitate. I suggested Stewart Campbell to help produce the album. Stewart singas with me at Sheffield Cathedral and is a stunning musician with a great ear so was an obvious choice. Mike Hukins – a post-grad at Sheffield University – helped engineer the sessions. He’s a whiz with Cubase and was invaluable to have around. Adrian Moore from the university’s Music Department very kindly lent us some microphones for the project.
We recorded over two 3-hour evening sessions at Holy Trinity, Millhouses in Sheffield using five close mics (AKG C414s) picking up two singers each, two Neumann 184’s as a stereo pair about 15 feet back from the choir, and a further stereo pair (two Rode NT1s) about 40 feet away. This final pair picked up the glorious acoustic of the church, and bought the recordings to life when mixed in subtely underneath everything else.
A Second session evening took place the following week at St Matthew’s Carver Street. During this session we tracked two soloists (Jennifer Atkinson and Jessica Brown). We only had 2 inputs to play with on the laptop, so we place an NT1 as a close mic (about 3 feet away from the singer) and another NT1 about 30 feet away to pick up some of the acoustic.The church had a very different (and far less pleasing) acoustic, a fairly busy road outside, and a loud group meeting going on in the hall. This meant that we couldn’t really use the room mic at all, and nearly every take was interrupted in some way or another. a far cry from the peaceful surroundings of Millhouses. The differing acoustic presented a few problems on mix down, and I had to custom build a reverb patch to match that of the church in Millhouses. The results were fairly successful though.
A third session took place in the Holy Spirit Chapel of Sheffield Cathedral during which we recorded 30 singers from Malin Bridge Primary School. They sang the first verse of Away In A Manger. We later edited this together with Albion’s version of the track. It will form part of a special edition of the CD. We used one stereo pair of NT1s positioned about 10 feet away from the singers. This captured a good mix of
We edited all the tracks in one five hour session. Most of the singing was great – it was just a case of finding the absolute best bits and fitting it all together. Getting edits to sound invisible in a choir recording is always challenging – just because of the nature of the sound – and it was made more so on this project because we used so many microphones and because the acoustic was sizeable. The end results were great though.
Myself, Stewart and Fraser tackled the mixing in one session. The focus was getting a pleasing balance between the close mics and the room mics, and also trying to subtly enhance the already very good dynamic contrasts in the singing. The mics sounded amazing and we wanted a really natural sound so I did very little with EQ. Just rolled off the very low end on the room mics to get rid of the odd road rumble and the somewhat noisy central heating.
ALBION sings the musics of “these islands” – England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales… The choir draws its inspiration from music and words ancient and modern, and from a deep connection to the land and its peoples.
Working without a conductor and singing largely from memory, the choir strives to create a natural, beautiful sound that springs from a place deep within.
The music is drawn from these islands’ rich traditions of folksong, plainchant, madrigals, and partsongs, and from a literary heritage that spans a millennium and covers Burns, Blake, Chaucer, Traherne, and Owen. Albion’s repertoire is composed and arranged by Fraser Wilson.
In their unique performance style, the singers aim to communicate directly and sincerely with an audience, sharing in a unique and moving experience of beautiful, timeless music.