How it happened
2. The Miracle
Orchestral Queen and the thought of Venezuela.
I wasn’t convinced about Carlos’ suggestion to add strings or any other accompaniment for that matter. Recording the album as a solo guitar project was something I understood fully. I had sourced a network of distributors and guitar shops worldwide when promoting the DVD, and at the very least, I knew I could sell the album through those same outlets. This of course was still possible if the album featured instruments in addition to Carlos’ guitar, but there would also be the inevitable increase in cost to consider. With the appropriate planning, a solo guitar album could be recorded by Carlos in a couple of days. The artwork and manufacture could be completed at an affordable price, and I felt confident that I could recover my outlay if we went down this route.
The addition of accompanying instruments took the album into a slightly different genre, more of a general classical album and less a clearly defined guitar record. Despite my reservations, I started to explore the costs and practicalities of adding “ a few strings” .
Straight away I contacted Gary Hind. I had worked with Gary in June 2006 when he was brought in to arrange music I had co-written for a rock musical. The musical was called Bloodbath and was being showcased in London’s West End.
Bloodbath featured a script written by top television drama script writer Tony McHale. Tony had written the script a few years earlier but had struggled to find music writers who fully understood what he was trying to achieve. That he was attempting to create a completely over the top shock-rock horror musical parodying films such as Scream and I know what you did last summer seemed to stump the musicians he had collaborated with so far. A mutual friend mentioned this to me, and asked if I’d be interested in having a go at writing the music with my song writing partner, Julie Maguire.
The writing process for Bloodbath culminated in the showcase at The Venue, Leicester Place in June 2006, where a packed theatre watched Frances Ruffell in the lead role alongside Ben Richards. Members of the cast from the Queen musical, We Will Rock You, also appeared in the show, although at that stage I was unaware that I would be playing guitar in We Will Rock You myself less than a year later.
Gary had been brought in through one of Tony’s associates to act as musical director and arranger for the showcase. An extremely gifted and experienced musician, Gary had extensive experience working in the West End on shows such as Starlight Express and Thoroughly Modern Milly with Anita Dobson to name a couple, as well as being musical director on three separate Royal Variety Performances. It soon became clear in the rehearsals for Bloodbath that Gary was an excellent arranger and MD. We worked very well together and the showcase was a success, with most of the audience suitably impressed with the script and the music.
Although I had witnessed first hand how skilled he was in that particular environment, I didn’t know whether Gary could arrange more orchestral and classical based music, although I assumed that he probably could! I contacted him with the general details of the project I was planning with Carlos. We arranged to meet at Gary’s house in Hertford to discuss the likely cost of adding other instruments to Carlos’ album.
It was good to see him again after our collaboration on Bloodbath and we caught up on all things musical as well as our other joint passion, football, before getting down to the nitty gritty of costs.
What became clear very quickly, was that we wouldn’t do justice to Queen’s music by merely adding a few strings. The album would have to remain a solo guitar CD or have the full weight of a symphony orchestra behind it. We agreed that “Queen for guitar and chamber orchestra” really didn’t cut it! Gary was confirming my original concerns about straying from the solo guitar concept, although I had to admit that I was excited by the idea of hearing the Queen catalogue performed by Carlos and an orchestra.
We came up with a compromise. We would record three of the tracks with multi layered strings and horns in London at a figure I could just about afford. This would act as a type of demo within an album. Perhaps a record company would hear what we were trying to do and stump up the money to record the whole album with an orchestra; meanwhile, I still had an album that I could sell. We would therefore record an album of predominantly solo pieces with three of the tracks being coloured by the strings and horns. Gary would arrange the orchestral parts around my initial guitar arrangements.
I pondered the plan as I drove home from Gary’s in the pouring February rain, becoming less convinced the further away I got from his house. It was starting to feel like a solo guitar album with what to me seemed a disproportionate expense being thrown at three tracks. The concept felt confusing, part album, part demo, although I was rapidly becoming seduced by the potential grandeur that came with the orchestral angle.
I decided to consider my options for a few days until I met with Carlos the following week. I collected Carlos at Beaconsfield railway station a few days later, noticing as he stepped off the train that his normal Russian winter fur hat had been replaced with a straw summer hat, presumably purchased in much warmer climes during his recent stint of globe trotting. Still, it looked a little incongruous in England in mid February.
I explained the dilemma on the short car journey back to my house. Carlos thought he may have a way round the problem but needed to make a phone call. As I put the kettle on back at my house, Carlos punched some numbers into his mobile and proceeded to have a conversation in Spanish for the next 15 minutes.
I had no idea who he was speaking to, but the conversation seemed positive and friendly as far as I could hear despite my inability to speak Spanish other than to order coffee.
After hanging up, Carlos informed me that he had just called a man named Marco Tulio Mendoza. Mr Mendoza was cultural secretary of the Centroccindental University in a town I’d never heard of: Barquisimeto in Venezuela. Marco Tulio had to consult with colleagues but had told Carlos that in his opinion, there was a good chance that he could supply an orchestra and recording facilities at the University in Barquisimeto free of charge. This would be on the condition that the University would be given full rights to the album in Venezuela.
I struggled to take in all that this would mean. On the one hand I was being offered a full symphony orchestra and recording facilities which was an incredible break. On the other, I had to consider the cost of having seventeen tracks arranged for a full symphony orchestra as well as paying for us all to get to, and stay in Venezuela for two weeks in addition to the obvious expenses of manufacturing CDs and creating artwork etc. It was simultaneously terrifying and exciting! My biggest worry was that a great deal of money (that I didn’t have) would naturally have to be spent up front, but what would happen if the recording was poor? Or if we couldn’t get the masters out of South America? I didn’t even know if Queen would grant permission to record their music!
Carlos and I spent the rest of the day making a list of things we needed to find out from Marco Tulio, before I could possibly commit to travelling half way round the world.
In the early evening we drove over to my girlfriend Lisa’s house, and collected her on our way to the local pub for dinner. Carlos waxed lyrical about what a beautiful place Venezuela was and told Lisa that she must come on the trip to see this amazing country and his beautiful house in Carrora. He had worked with the orchestra from Barquisimeto before and gave them the highest recommendation.
An album of Carlos performing Queen songs with a symphony orchestra in South America was increasingly looking like a bizarre possibility!
Chapter 1. Dreamers BallCarlos Bonell, classical guitar and Queen
Chapter 3. Don't Stop Me NowPreparation, Arranging and a boost from Dr May.
Chapter 4. Spread Your WingsPlanes, strains and automobiles.