Blog 20: The Making of Modern Love

We have always tried to tailor our sets as best we can to suit our likely audience. At a Bowie convention, where diehard fans know each and every word sung and note played, we can get away with playing some of the less well known tracks from albums but these would be unlikely to suit an audience with more mixed musical tastes. In the space of four years, we have amassed a sizeable and constantly growing repertoire of songs that we can call on with many of these being well known to both lifelong and more casual Bowie fans alike. Within this cohort of better known songs, Modern Love was one that we had wanted to cover and having tried it a few times in rehearsals before Alex joined us, we weren’t able to get the right feel. The main problem was that the lead/solo parts are played on a sax as opposed to a guitar and although Andrew was able to recreate them, it didn’t sound right so we consigned the song into our “one for the future” category. On Alex joining the band, the song became an immediate and very obvious choice to re-visit and after a few run-throughs, it all just fell into place.

Modern Love is the opening track on Bowie’s classic 1983 album Let’s Dance and was subsequently released as a single in September of that year, reaching number 2 in the UK charts and 14 in the US Billboard Hot 100. The song features a wide variety of styles ranging from new wave to soul and features guitar work from the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan who contributed some seminal guitar work on other tracks on the album – his solos on both the title track and China Girl being of particular note.

With its upbeat tempo and catchy feel, it’s a great song to play live and as it only needs one guitar, Mel frees herself from the confines of her guitars and effect pedals to allow herself a few minutes of light relief on backing vocals. As always, she complements Jane’s lead vocals (and dancing) beautifully. Given its relatively late introduction to our setlist, we have only played the song live a handful of times and so with some online charity events asking for contributions last year, we decided to record it and make a video, in which we invited our friends, fans and families to contribute short clips of themselves performing along with the song. Social distancing meant that we had to record our parts separately and with a variety of video entries submitted, Mel set about the monumental task of trying to piece it all together – no mean feat trying to sync together music, vocals and videos!

Mel writes: –

Hi all! It’s Mel here, rhythm guitarist, backing vocalist and de facto technical consultant for the band. For this edition of the blog, I’ve been asked to ramble on a bit about the video of Modern Love we released last year and how it was put together. If you haven’t seen it yet (err…why not?) then you can have a gander here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBbLS1WoC6o

With bands unable to gig or practise together, lockdown (the halcyon days of lockdown 1.0) saw the emergence of the remote, group music video. Things like the One World concert (my condolences to anyone who saw Elton murder ‘I’m Still Standing’) and countless celebrity virtual ‘duets’ gave rise to the myth that isolated musicians could just log onto Zoom, plug in, and play seamlessly together. Unfortunately, even with the best kit and all the technical know-how you could ask for, achieving this kind of online performance is next to impossible. In reality, all of those glossy of cross-continental collaborations we saw were recorded separately, edited together, and then broadcast. As, we were itching to put out some content for our lovely fans, we thought that doing our own music video like this would be the perfect way to keep the Bowie love alive until we could gig again. Jane then had the brilliant idea of including friends and fans of the band in the video so, after we put out a casting call, production began!

As my day job largely involves video and audio editing, and apparently, I’m a glutton for punishment, I volunteered to take the lead on this project. We started with the drums and took everything else from there. With Allan not being super comfortable with playing to a click track, I decided that the best approach would be to have him record his drums first and then, one by one, each band member would add their part, and then ‘pass it on’ to have the next part added. That way, we guaranteed that we’d all be perfectly in time with one another. To make things easier, Allan played his electric kit – miking up a full kit is quite a palaver and mixing acoustic drums is way beyond my pay grade!. A rough mix of the drum track was sent to Phil to record and film his bass. His audio was sent back to me to mix it in with the drums. Andrew added his guitar, Jane and I added our vocals (I also played the tiny keyboard), and then, once everyone else was mixed in, we had Alex do her sax. Talk about saving the best ‘til last  It was then up to me to do a bit of studio magic to get it all tidied up and that was the audio done!

The next thing to tackle was the video side of things. Along with the footage of all of the band playing their parts, the wonderful Miss Bowie family sent us loads of great videos of themselves dancing their socks off to Modern Love. After laughing myself silly watching through all those brilliant videos, I had the quite daunting task of putting everything together! I divided the video canvas into a grid, fit the footage of each band member into their own rectangle, and these clips were then all synchronized to the audio. That was the easy part done – getting our backing dancers sorted was no easy feat. As we hadn’t released the audio yet, everyone filmed themselves dancing along to Bowie’s studio version on Modern Love. Being a stickler for details, I noticed that because the studio version was at a slightly different tempo to our version, when I started trying to sync up people’s dancing, everybody was out of time! That definitely wouldn’t do so I ended up changing the speed of each clip so that it matched our audio. Added to that, while some people filmed the whole song, others did a little snippet. Now in theory, this wouldn’t have been a problem except for the fact that Modern Love is such a banging tune that pretty much everyone was singing along! My inner perfectionist had to make sure that everyone was singing in the proper places so a snipped and chopped until everything fit. After over 40 hours of editing, and more than a few expletives, the video was ready.

Since it was first aired as part of the online Lady Bay Festival, we’re so chuffed to have received such amazing feedback about it (to be fair, it has a cat section and a dancing ice cream cone – what’s not to love?!). Every time I watch it, I can’t help but grin. To me, it’s a nugget of joy and positivity that, in its own small way, helped brighten a really bleak time. I’d like to thank all of our beautiful dancers, you really made it a joy to create. I hope you’ve enjoyed this somewhat rambling insight to the making of our Modern Love video. Despite my grumblings, I promise I enjoyed myself. I’ll get back to the tech now and let someone else do the writing!

As Mel mentioned, the video featured in last year’s online Lady Bay Festival in Nottingham and later in the year at a Cask Bah Virtual Open Mic event and as pleased as we were to be supporting these events from afar, we really want to be out there playing live, enjoying ourselves and entertaining our audiences. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we can do that again.

We hope to see you all soon,

Alex, Jane, Mel, Allan, Andrew & Phil