Last year"s best‑selling UK single came no from Westlife or all Saints, however a pre‑school kids" TV series. Sam Inglis asks the composer and also producer just how they turned the theme into a hit...

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Just occasionally, a tune comes follow me that strikes an unanticipated chord with the record‑buying publicly and completely upsets the carefully laid plan of record companies, promoters, radio stations and also chart pundits. No record much better illustrates this phenomenon than "Can We resolve It", an adaptation of the theme track from the renowned BBC television series for pre‑school children, Bob The Builder, which swept aside every competition in ~ Christmas come sell more than 800,000 duplicates in just 4 weeks. A song originally intended to appeal to the under‑fives had somehow become a football‑ground anthem and also a college student disco hit, also though it received very tiny radio airplay. So how did those responsible go about giving it this crossover appeal?

The Theme"s The Thing

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The single that conquered the charts is, for all its additional production, very much the very same song together the 45‑second ditty that introduces Bob The Builder on TV. The original theme come Bob The Builder to be written and recorded through freelance television composer Paul K Joyce, v lead vocals offered by the show"s major actor, Neil Morrissey. Once the production agency Hit Entertainment chose to turn it right into a single, castle drafted in producer grant Mitchell, last watched in SOS functioning with former Take Thatter Gary Barlow (November 1998), to offer it a more contemporary sound.

Paul describes how he obtained the job of creating the music for Bob The Builder: "As a composer, the method it tends to work-related is that you"re approaching suppliers regularly trying to find projects that they can let you key for, and I"d contacted struggle Entertainment countless times and also got to recognize the music guy there. After several unsuccessful pitches for shows I was invited to pitch because that Bob, and I gained it. Lock didn"t want to go under the familiar route the pre‑school shows, i m sorry is to perform a reasonably gentle theme; they wanted something with a bit an ext attitude, an ext "laddish", ns suppose, since it was going to feature Neil Morrissey"s voice and also was all about talking machines. Ns couldn"t think of anything that rhymed with "builder", so I thought the only method to carry out it was to build a chorus v the location sandwiched between "Can we settle it?" and also "Yes we can!" and also do a very an easy rock song, basically. Together it turned out, there space only 4 chords in it. For something like Bob, the creating was every done on guitar, however generally, I"ll sit under at the piano and have a little tape recorder going, and also just bash out some ideas, and then listen ago to castle the next day and also pick the end the bits that ns think work.

"The many important component is the briefing. I met the producer and the director, and quizzed them around what that was the was most important about the series, the character profiles and also what emotions essential to come out. It"s very technical, however at the same time you desire to come out v something that sounds unselfconscious, like you just trotted the off. I might quite understand anyone speak to me "I could have created Bob The Builder". I mean, it"s only 4 chords and a couple of mentions that the characters. Yet it"s much more than that, because the native have obtained to scan well. For the words come fit perfectly, the melody"s acquired to job-related with the words and also vice versa.

"At the end of the day, you"ve got to reject some the what they say in the briefing and think "Well, all right, they"ve claimed that, but that won"t occupational musically." I dislike it when I"m asked to make alters which median that the music and the words don"t fit correctly together, since then the musical focus can loss on the wrong part of a word and also destroy the rhythm. There"s nothing much more satisfying than as soon as the melody and also the native fit together perfectly. For instance, one heat in the song had actually to begin with "Scoop" since it"s so solid and positive, and would be wasted at any kind of other position in a sentence.

"The main idea that came out in the briefing was that the characters in the display were a team. A lot of the points that I created down walk straight right into the lyrics. They had actually to work together, and also they got the project done — phrases choose this end up being like adjective which need to be there, in my opinion, due to the fact that they crop up again and again — castle have fun, but they"re a team, and they start work-related in the day and also they work until the sunlight goes down. And, of course, they had the catchphrase of "Can we settle it? Yes us can!"

"These build up and you begin writing a few things down, and you think "Oh, that sounds every right, and it scans rather well". I like to write the lyrics and get the lyrical principles early on, yet the most essential thing is acquiring the chorus right, and not trying to modulate the entirety thing also much. If friend modulated the chord sequence right into the chorus, the would mean that the whole thing would lift as well much, whereas keeping it in the same key and top top the same chord at the end of the verse just makes it really solid — not childish, also though it needs to be an extremely catchy. You"ve got to be instantly pleased v a children"s song.

"As a composer, you have actually to challenge that horrible allude at the start of a track where you think "Now what perform I do?" You"ve gained this blank canvas in prior of you, and you think "I don"t desire to carry out what I"ve excellent before, but I"ve obtained to you re welcome the producer and also I"ve gained to you re welcome myself." yet the great thing, if you can do it, is to you re welcome everybody. At the finish of the day, if I"ve excellent the demo and also I really desire to hear that loud, it means that I"m pleased v it. If ns don"t prefer it, i can"t intend anyone else to choose it. I execute it to you re welcome myself and also nobody else, and once I"ve done that, they can take the or leaving it."

Recording The TV Theme

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For his successful pitch come Hit, Paul Joyce had developed a complete recording of his Bob The Builder theme in his Nottingham home studio, i m sorry is based around Cubase VST running on one Apple G4, a Yamaha O2R desk and also Emu samplers, all mastered onto a Fostex D25 timecode DAT. The demo record featured guitar, organ, programmed drums, bass, and also sampled trumpet, together with Paul"s very own vocals — a straightforward setup (see the display shot on web page 42) which survived largely intact in the variation that was actually provided for the show, the only major change being the substitution that Neil Morrissey"s vocal for Paul"s: "They want to make it even rockier than my initial pitch, yet the track was precisely the same. The lyrics were tweaked a little bit to please them — it"s always good if you perform a pitch and also essentially they favor it, and you only have to do part fine‑tuning. That was all to length, they wanted a 45‑second theme, so the was all i wrote.

"The succession of the song was the very same as on the demo, however they didn"t recognize what Neil"s voice was like, so we had to send him the unstable demo and see whether he would certainly be ready to execute it. That was, so I suppose really the record session to be as much a test for his voice, because we weren"t sure how it was going to sound. However as it turned out, he to be absolutely brilliant, perfect for the voice. A born singer, I"d say. On the TV theme, all the voices room Neil. The record of the vocals to be done in ~ the now‑defunct CTS studios in Wembley, through a Neumann U87. Us did the in September 1998, and also completed all the post‑production and also mastering earlier here in my studio."

From TV to CD

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The workstation area in Paul K Joyce"s studio.

When the decision to be made to record a single based about the theme from Bob The Builder, Paul Joyce was asked to write extra material to expand the 45‑second track right into a three‑minute popular music song. He climate handed end his production to producer grant Mitchell: "For the single, give Mitchell oversaw all the record sessions, so I provided all the original audio records from the TV layout for him come basically use or not use, at his discretion. Several of the vocals and also guitars survived right into the single. There was a significant adaptation from the TV design template to the perfect single, in the the TV theme had a much more straightforward rock rhythm section to it, and obviously it only lasts 45 seconds. So because that the single I composed extra music and lyrics to offer them much more room for manoeuvre, and also basically approve Mitchell had totally free rein to create something that would have actually as broad an appeal as possible. Obviously that made the decision to placed a type of breakbeat in and also give it an ext of that pop sensibility, which worked really well. That suprised me how thick the music was in the single, due to the fact that my variation for the TV present is very clear and also transparent, there"s just guitar, organ, bass and also drums and also some sampled trumpet, and also that"s it. His setup is much more dense, i beg your pardon is miscellaneous that i would have actually been an ext inclined to do, so ns was quite pleased that he"d done this. There room so many terrific sounds in there."

The single version had a protracted gestation period. Give Mitchell explains how the project obtained under way: "It come out of the blue. Struggle Entertainment approached my manager in the summer that 1999, due to the fact that the original idea was to placed a single out because that last Christmas. I don"t know if lock were established that it was going to it is in a Christmas single, it simply seemed the most natural time to placed it out, i guess. We gained three‑quarters of the method through that then, yet I don"t think Neil was available, and also ultimately us reckoned the it was far better to wait. Because the record was made end a long duration of time, though, us kept adding to it, i m sorry is the pretty thing about having the deluxe of revisiting something. Normally if you"ve to be thinking about it for a bit then after three months girlfriend think "Ah, why don"t I do that?", or "Why don"t I adjust that?" yet in a means it was quite good that it to be delayed, due to the fact that over that duration of a year, the programme itself obtained a little much more profile. Ns think it acquired a bit an ext interesting together well, because to be honest, I"d never ever heard the it once they approached me. They sent us some videos, and in the beforehand programmes, the characters weren"t as well‑formed, and it"s emerged since and also got a bit more interesting.

"At the outset, the production agency had the idea that actually placing out just an extensive version of the theme. However then they thought "Well, why don"t we shot to do a pop record out the it?" and that was whereby we started. For this reason Paul sent out us down the computer files native his record of the theme, and he had actually written other bits because that it. In fact, he"d written about 18 verses, the was turning into a bit of an oratorio or other — Bob The Builder, the concept single. So it wasn"t tough just come pare that down.

"It was tricky, due to the fact that we had to keep the essence of the programme, but make it right into something the would work on a couple of different levels. We wanted it to sound good on the radio — no that it was played large amounts, but that to be certainly part of my reasoning behind the — and also hopefully to try to cross over so you obtain the kind of student thing. However at the very same time, that was component of the short to shot not to alienate any kind of of the TV programme"s audience."

Getting The job Done

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Grant Mitchell (right) and also his partner at G2 Productions, Graham Dickson.

Apart from their vocal recording chain, which is composed of a luscious Neumann M49 tube mic v a high‑end Avalon intake channel, the recording setup in the studio co‑run by Grant and Graham Dickson is rather ordinary. Every audio and MIDI record is taken on by Emagic"s Logic A udio, to run on a beige apple Mac G3 with a Digidesign Audiomedia III soundcard. "We usage the converters in the dat when we"re mix stuff, that"s why we"ve only got a poxy little desk," says Grant. "Everything lives in the computer — we"ve got screeds that plug‑ins and also virtual synths. We"ve acquired this really quite big room, and also there"s bugger every in here other than the computer and a pair of keyboards! but it appears to work really well."

Grant and also Graham approached the job in precisely the same method they would any type of other popular music single. "It is a new record, there"s no getting away native that, however you go through the same process no issue what it is you"re doing," insists Grant. "You occupational through the exact same sort of criteria — do the efforts to do a vocal sound right and feel right and also be in tune, make the efforts to make the drums feeling right. It doesn"t matter what sort of record it is, it"s just obtained to work, and all the component components have obtained to interlock. Ultimately, you finish up having actually lots and also lots of different things, and just gradually pruning the down and moving ingredient around."

The result of Grant"s pruning and moving about was one impressively dense and busy mix — as the screenshot over amply displayed ("That"s the give Mitchell wall surface of Shite that I"m famous for. More is more!" the laughs). Its pop sensibility was emerged through the addition of a lot more complex rhythm arrangement, consist of of a big‑beat‑style loop, a garage‑style loop, and also some percussive samples and also clapping indigenous the show, all superimposed: "My original intention to be to turn it into a type of big‑beat thing, for this reason we had actually the guitars, and then us laid a couple of big‑beat loops on height of them. Climate I had a entirety garage loop and also I chopped that up and used that on peak of that. We had all these structure effects that we chopped up, placed in and moved around, and panned them left and also right so they"re kind of relocating around. There"s a little of a crowd underneath over there too, and also some timp rolls from the programme, with other timps ~ above top."

The liven feel also resulted in component from the barrage of sound effects, snatches the dialogue, and fragments that incidental music that grant introduced. "It"s really all the results that room bits of the programme that offer it character. There"s small bits of speech, little bits of etc from the programme that I"ve thrown in. It"s about trying to acquire the character of the programme across, for this reason you"re constantly searching for little bits of identity that you deserve to take from the programme. But that, initially, associated watching about 50 programmes and listening come the sound. Foolishly, we got the BBC to obtain the production agency to dub off around 20 programmes to DAT, and also we just sat below for around two job listening to it all."

"For some of the time we had the monitor looping, and played the programme over the top, therefore you"d acquire a flavour of exactly how it would sound," defines Graham Dickson.

"You have tendency to listen through to things and also think there"s a really good bit the humourous speech, or a heat of music, and also you think "OK, we"ll have actually that,"" proceeds Grant. "Consequently, you construct a library the loads and also loads of things, and also cut them every up there, and also run the monitor and try to find spaces. Sometimes you"d obtain a little of music, and you"d think "Ah, that"s good, if I track it under a semitone and also move it fifty percent a bar later so the it"s in time..." It"s amazing how countless happy crashes you acquire that way. You get something that"s yes, really close come sounding favor it was intended to it is in there, and you simply need come chop it up a tiny bit. We started with the vocal and guitar, and also we added an ext guitar, we added an acoustic and two electrics, and then finally, Kev, among the lads that works follow me in the other studio, come in and also played part "hooligan guitar"."

The only significant compositional adjust made by grant involved including a crucial change in the direction of the end of the song and also altering the chord sequence under the critical chorus: "That was simply to rotate it into a bit more of a hooligan thing by transforming it indigenous I‑IV‑V, just moving it right into that slightly darker area — not the appropriate minor, but a similar sort of thing to do it contempt bluesier."

The Morrissey who Can song In Tune...

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Before and after: the straightforward arrangement for Paul Joyce"s original Bob The Builder template in Cubase (top) contrasts through the thick final mix of the single "Can We settle It?" in reasonable on approve Mitchell"s Mac (above).

Paul Joyce had sent grant the audio papers with his original recordings that Neil Morrissey"s singing, and also Grant i ordered it a 2nd session to record added vocals. "I obtained Neil to carry out some harmonies, and then i took a bunch of them and tuned them in odd ways. Us went v the normal procedure that comping them. You"d perform the very same with any kind of vocal, whether it"s the ideal singer in the world or not. He deserve to hold a tune, and also with this it"s much more about the basic character the the thing.

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"The "Can we settle it?" little bit is Neil and also the 2 other cast members, Kate and also Rob, who space absolutely brilliant. They do all the voices because that the rest of the show. As soon as they came under to work on some various other tracks it was like having actually 20 or 30 different people in the room, since they can do every these amazing voices. Usually, if you"re making records, you end up making up stupid text for castle anyway, just in the studio, so it"s type of an extension of that procedure — saying "We"d actually really like you to perform that please. Spout nonsense!" The "Can we solve it? Yes we can!" thing dated the demo, but what ns did was ns looked with all the other programmes and found various locations where they stated it, and also laid castle on height of the other ones. So sometimes there"s rather a the majority of them."

As work progressed on "Can We deal with It?" over the year, Grant and also Graham had actually been editing and also processing the numerous different parts using plug‑ins in Logic, so over there was no a separate mixing stage as such. "That"s the an excellent thing around working in the way, due to the fact that you deserve to constantly upgrade your mix," enthuses Grant. "You never get to that thing where you supplied to have it every sounding really good, and you"d carry out a demo and also sling it down onto a DAT, and when friend came ago to it, you couldn"t obtain that sound any kind of more. You"re not stuck with that any more."

A finished master was gift to the production firm on file — and also the remainder is history. ~ a an extensive duel because that the peak spot with Eminem"s "Stan", "Can We fix It?" secured the coveted title of Christmas number one because that Britain"s favourite animated building worker. Struggle Entertainment are, naturally, to crawl to exploit the popular of your new‑found popular music star, and also as a repercussion of the single"s runaway success, Grant and Graham are currently working on — what else? — a Bob The Builder album. It is in afraid...