Harley And The Hummingbirds Archive
Amsterdam 2015-16

I moved to Amsterdam in October 2015 beginning what would prove to be a particularly unproductive year. I had never been there before but thought surely it had to be more liveable than London. I went over on the ferry from Harwich with Oli, who had graciously agreed to come with me and drive the rental car back to England in exchange for my Teac reel to reel (still in use to this day). There was a thick fog over North-West Europe at the time which surrounded the ferry for the entire eight hour journey, this coupled with the seriously antiquated furnishings made for an almost time travel-esque experience. The first five months were spent in North Amsterdam (Tuindorp Oostzaan) and here my high expectations were soon dashed by the realities of small town Europe. Though Amsterdam is seen as a bastion of Western liberalism, step outside of the city centre and it’s clear how resolutely Dutch everything becomes. We had entered into a close-knit community and were surrounded by people who had clearly had their fair share of foreigners. Every outing seemed to be punctuated with an unpleasant occurrence, whether it was being laughed or shouted at, or in some cases being spat at. Our landlord wasn’t much better. He was an unscrupulous bastard and had turned the fucking over of his tenants into an art form whilst protecting himself in a web of Dutch bureaucracy that rendered the foreign tenants (of which there had been many) powerless and tied to his dilapidated property. The electricity was being syphoned by the pet shop below, the kitchen and bathroom were simultaneously antique and DIY, there were holes in the walls and ceiling and you could hear rats scurrying around at night. The place was huge and there was only one 1920s gas heater that in the end proved too expensive to run. The winter was spent without heating and were it not for my New Balance tracksuit I’m not sure what I would have done. The temperature outside regularly dropped below freezing and inside it was only a few degrees warmer, at points I couldn’t put on my shoes because my feet were too painful and swollen with chilblains. I spent most of the winter indoors attempting to make music but invariably giving up when it got too cold to play guitar properly. I did however complete some short video clips to mark my entry into the world of Instagram.
Cover Photo: Oli and me in Westerpark on his second visit • Oli and me on the Stena Line from Harwich to Hook Of Holland • A playground in the city • Bicycling around some windmills
Thanks to a mistake in the rental contract we managed to get out after five months and move closer to the city centre in an area called Westerpark. As with anything in the Netherlands the move required weeks of jumping through bureaucratic hoops and inevitably paying far more than a Dutch person would. I was happy to oblige though, such was my desperation for decent central heating. We spent six months here and though far from perfect, it was a marked improvement. Spring and Summer showcased a better side of the city where one could go and spend the day cycling around windmills or relaxing in the parks. It was nice enough but the five months in hell had soured things somewhat. Also, no matter how pleasant, I couldn’t help noticing how utterly devoid of 'Indie' culture the city seemed to be. There were some excellent vintage clothing shops but that seemed to be the extent of it. I recorded a few new things in the second apartment but devoted most of my time to consolidating what I had previously done. The first two EPs were released in Spring 2016 without much of a response but it meant a great deal to me that they were out there in this form. I had previously opposed all concessions to recording tradition, instead choosing to release song by song, but I can’t deny that there was something special about my very own EP or album, even if it was only digital. At one point Oli and Tom McLuckie (a former co-worker at the keyboard shop) came to visit for a week but very little else of interest happened. Essentially I hated living there, I was completely uninspired and was miserable in my relationship. All of this however provided me with the impetus to move to Japan which would turnaround my life completely and far more positively. Once I had decided to leave the last couple of months ended up being surprisingly pleasant. I have very fond memories of sitting in the park for hours with my Japanese textbooks and coming back home to watch the Youtube Jvloggers and TV shows to try and learn the language (Tkyosam and Nihonjin No Shiranai Nihongo were real favourites). This was also the time when I took a deep dive into the work of R Stevie Moore. To this day whenever I listen to ‘Invites Comparison’ I get that feeling of excitement and anticipation that occupied my mind in the last days there, it’s always nice to have a record that can transport you back. Eventually in September, after the two months of intensive study and preparation, I left my old life behind. Not my stuff though, I sent a full 2m3 shipping container to my Mum in LA for safe keeping… she wasn’t impressed.
Harley And The Hummingbirds
The first Hummingbirds EP was released in early 2016. There were many songs before these four but none had properly represented the Pop Art ideal in which the group was created. Most of the writing and recording was done in Crystal Palace after the month in Japan, by which time I had the flat to myself and a renewed belief in what I was doing. All the recording on this and subsequent releases would be done using Revox tape machines. These are stereo machines so instead of multi-tracking in the conventional way one has to bounce tracks left to right, right to left whilst simultaneously overdubbing instruments. There isn’t much room for error given that you’re mixing on the go but it gives the process a sense of urgency and prevents one from obsessing over tiny details. One-Girl Heart Attack was in fact the last song I wrote for the EP and it began life as an advertising jingle. In the search for direction I had spoken to a producer who suggested trying to write a number of jingles as a means of practice. At this point in time I was completely invested in the idea of the Hummingbirds as an artistic endeavor so I even considered going a step further and ditching songs entirely. Inevitably though I was lured back from the brink and after recording the jingle version I recorded this one. It’s essentially a 60s R&B knockoff with some modifications. I liked doing this, taking standard song forms and ‘personalising’ them. The backing vocals were recorded on the second Revox and ‘flown in’ once the basic track had been completed. This allowed me an extra three or four overdubs without losing tape generations but it meant having to manually line up the two machines so that they were in perfect time (easier said than done). She’s A Laser is a bit of ‘Children’s Rock’. I was raised on bands like T Rex and The Sweet so these influences are never too far from my music although this might be the most overt display of my affection for the genre. I was being spurred on at the time by Oli Swan who himself was making a ‘Children’s Rock’ record under the name Thin Lizard. Oli had moved from Limehouse to Alexandra Palace and I would go up there on the train every week to encourage him and he encourage me to make ever increasingly juvenile music. Love, Love, Love was demoed prior to leaving for Japan and recorded after having returned. Its a little slice of 60s Pop inspired mostly by The Monkees and Os Mutantes and struck me as having real single potential. Left In Line came about before even the idea of the Hummingbirds, in fact a proto version can be heard on The Kneady Cat Tapes. It was an early attempt at songwriting and was written for a girl I knew but the original recording left a lot to be desired. I was proud of the writing and had always intended to give it another go. This time I managed to capture the sound I heard in my head. During the recording of these songs I was meeting with various producers and music industry people. I had a belief in what I was doing but was unsure about how to get it ‘out there’. I never really found the answer, they didn’t know much more than me, so I resigned myself to making music for its own sake without the expectation that it would be heard by many other people. It would’ve been nice to get heaps of praise but the lack of mass acclaim probably kept my ego in check and pushed me to work harder in the search for the perfect Pop song.
Epiphone Flying V • Epiphone Frontier • Danelectro Longhorn Bass • Minimoog Model D • Philicorda Organ • Arbiter Fuzz Face • Colorsound Wah • Memory Man • Wem Custom 15 • Revox A77 • Revox B77 • Teac 2A Mixer • DBX 118 • Hammond Reverb • AKG C452 • Shure Unidyne • Sony C38B
Surfin' With The Hummingbirds
Surfin’ With The Hummingbirds is in many ways the EP that adheres most the the initial band concept, that of Pop music as postmodern art. Each song is more or less a pastiche of a sub-genre of classic Pop and though this wasn’t entirely intentional I did assemble the songs with this loose concept in mind. The original artwork was chosen to reinforce the theme albeit in Japanese form. For copyright reasons the cover had to be changed so in a moment of pettiness I decided upon the all black design. The Story Of Headlight Betty came about whilst I was messing around on the organ, singing and playing imitation Doo-wop. As is usually the case a brief melody caught my attention and it developed from there. When it came to the recording I wanted to give it the ‘wall of sound’ treatment, really make it sound like Beach Boys doing Spector. I began layering the guitars on the Revox, bouncing left to right, right to left and so on. After about five overdubs in I started losing high frequencies in places and realised that I was on a section of bad tape. I threw caution to the wind and just kept overdubbing, re-recording parts on top of old ones if I felt they were getting lost. It’s probably because of this that I got so close to the sound I wanted. When it came to doing the lead vocal I knew the odds were against me, my voice is naturally low and it took a lot of attempts to get it anywhere near acceptable on the choruses. Even on the best take there were rough spots so I made a note of the best sections and dubbed the song onto the other Revox. I then began manually editing out the bad sections and replacing them with good ones from different parts of the song. The track wasn’t recorded to a metronome so I didn’t know if this would work until I’d actually joined up the pieces of tape, thankfully my timing proved steady. Surfin’ (Cool Soft Sunstar) is another homage to 60s American Pop. The percussive sound was made using the Moog and I constructed a tape loop from a recorded pattern. I’d done this before (Salty Dog on the Battersea Tapes) and it did the job when I needed a rhythm instrument other than tambourine. The guitars were all recorded by plugging direct into the Moog and then shaping the sound with the filter, after which I applied reverb using a modified spring reverb from a Hammond organ.
The Story Of Headlight Betty playback on the Revox, filmed in Crystal Palace
With the exception of one or two overdubs on Headlight Betty all of the guitars on this EP were ‘direct in’ as opposed to using an amplifier (all credit to Tom McLuckie who inspired the change in approach). I had started doing this on the previous EP and found that I preferred the sound. There was also the added bonus of being able to record guitar anytime, day or night without disturbing the neighbours. Rainy Day In San Jose is a half tongue-in-cheek homage to both Bacharach/David and the general Brill Building style of songwriting. Though there is a hint of irreverence I mustn’t downplay my admiration for songwriters of this kind who go far beyond anything that I’m capable of. Still, it was worth a try and perhaps the DIY charm carries the song despite its shortcomings. I was desperate to have something approaching an orchestra on this one but had to make do with my flute and my Moog violin approximations. Left Those Days Behind ends the EP and was in many ways the culmination of my recording methods thus far. I wanted to use a vintage drum machine but didn’t have the money, so I made my own electronic drums by utilising the same method as for the rhythm on Surfin’. The backing vocals and synthesiser solo were recorded separately and ‘flown in’ to save tape generation loss. There are various speed change effects and throughout the whole song you have the organ being manipulated by the Moog. There’s even a sneaky edit I employed to fix a bit of poor singing. Though not as conceptually defined as the other tracks it was a solid representation of the Hummingbirds sound at the time.
Epiphone Flying V • Epiphone Frontier • Danelectro Longhorn Bass • Minimoog Model D • Philicorda Organ • Arbiter Fuzz Face • Colorsound Wah • Memory Man • Wem Custom 15 • Revox A77 • Revox B77 • Teac 2A Mixer • DBX 118 • Hammond Reverb • Shure Unidyne • Sony C38B
Amsterdam Tapes 2016
These are the few recordings from my year in Amsterdam. Mushrooms Always Get So Small is the unedited accompaniment to one of my first Instagram videos, a little homage to Stockhausen's Kontakte and Gesang Der Jünglinge. That The Donut Shop is included speaks to the degree of inspiration (or lack thereof) during this time. I'm Never Gonna Cry Again is a cover of a Eurythmics song. I'd read that the original recording was done in Conny Plank's studio with Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit as the rhythm section so I thought it deserved an authentic Krautrock/Industrial interpretation.
Epiphone Flying V • Danelectro Longhorn Bass • Minimoog Model D • Philicorda Organ • Arbiter Fuzz Face • Colorsound Wah • Memory Man • Revox A77 • Revox B77 • DBX 118 • Hammond Reverb • Akai ADM-14 • Sony C38B
All songs recorded in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
The videos that mark my entry into the world of Instagram: Mushrooms Always Get So Small (HQ Link) • Robot Rock (HQ Link) • Tape Loop (HQ Link)

Photo and video credits: Tom McLuckie • Kirsty Thomas • Yuka Matsumoto • Yuka Matsumoto • Lily Rose-Thomas • H Hill-Richmond • H-Hill Richmond • H Hill-Richmond • H Hill-Richmond