Reconstructing the old Scritti songs live, keyboardplayer Rhodri Marsden explains

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photo: Marco Raaphorst

Here we are in the year 2012 with a new Scritti Politti line-up which is able to perform the classic songs in a superb way. They are a small group: drummer Rob Smoughton, Dicky Moore on guitar, Green on vocals and guitar and Rhodri Marsden on keyboards. Plus a computer, of course.

I felt it was about time for setting the record straight and finding out how these old songs were reconstructed for live gigs. So I asked keyboardplayer Rhodri a couple of questions. And guess what? He was happy to answer them!

Tell us a bit about the reconstruction of these old Scritti songs
Rhodri: I think it’s well documented that Green doesn’t enjoy listening to his old material! So what often happens is that I create a MIDI file with all the parts as I THINK they are. Green then works through it and corrects any mistakes I’ve made, and then creates / chooses all the sounds for the parts on his Mac. So by the end of that process we have a recreated Scritti song in Logic Pro which we then use to work from.

I see that you’re using laptops on stage, tell us about it
Rhodri: Actually, we’ve just slimmed down our setup massively in the last few days. Until recently we had four laptops onstage (very old ones, Powerbook G4s); one for live keyboard, one for live drums, two backups in case anything goes wrong. But the new MacBook Pro can handle everything, so that halves the number of computers onstage. Phew. I use a Nord Electro 2 keyboard to trigger my sounds and Rob uses an electronic drum kit, a Roland V-Kit. Green and Dicky both have amp simulators rather than real amps. So it’s really quiet onstage, which is lovely. You can hear all the detail.

Drummer Rob Smoughton is also playing samples on his electronic drumkit?
Rhodri: Yes, Andy (Houston, Green’s engineer) and I spent a lot of time creating virtual instruments for each song we play, using the sounds that Green’s been working on. One drumkit instrument per song for Rob, about ten for me! Some of the songs, like Wood Beez, are a real challenge to play, getting all the parts triggered from one keyboard.

Where do you draw the line between live-playing and laptop?
Rhodri: We started using backing tracks recently; firstly to get a fuller sound, secondly to keep the timing rock solid. Rob plays to a click in headphones, and the parts that we physically can’t play with four human beings come from the laptop – most of the time it’s just bass. Some songs there’ll be hardly anything pre-recorded (Skank Bloc Bologna only has that fast glockenspiel, for example); we play as much stuff live as we possibly can!

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