Radiohead recruit new member
Brit jazz veteran Humphrey Lyttleton helps out on new album's free-form epic.
Eight months ago, Radiohead were in the midst of the lengthy recording sessions that preceded Kid A. However, one track in particular - a predictably free-form, experimental number called Living In A Glass House - was proving tricky to complete. Unable to find a solution, guitarist Jonny Greenwood sat down and wrote a letter to the man he believed could help them out: Humphrey Lyttleton, septuagenarian jazz trumpeter and presenter of Radio 4's long-running panel show I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue.
"It's probably an awful cheek and we're sure you're very busy," read Greenwood's suitably deferential missive, "but we're a bit stuck."
Such politeness paid off and with Lyttleton's help Living In A Glass House was eventually completed last summer. It's now set for release on Kid A's successor, Amnesiac, due for release on 4 June.
"It's wild," says Lyttleton, sat in the dimly-lit back room of the Bull's Head, the Barnes pub where he and his band have enjoyed a 20-year residency. "It starts with me doing a sort of ad-libbed, bluesy, minor key meandering, then it gradually gets so that we're sort of playing real wild, primitive, New Orleans blues stuff."
He lifts his trumpet and gives Q a short blast by way of explanation. "Skronnnk!"
Inevitably, Lyttleton, who during the 1950s was at the forefront of the trad jazz movement in Britain, had never heard of Radiohead before their collaboration. After borrowing OK Computer from his daughter and a brief meeting with Greenwood, the trumpet master and his usual quintet joined the rest of the band in a recording studio in Bayswater.
"People had said that they were all crazy but in fact we had a good time," he says. But it took a while for both parties to get familiarized.
"Nobody knew what anybody was going to do!" says Lyttleton. "They didn't want it to sound like a slick studio production but a slightly exploratory thing of people playing as if they didn't have it all planned out in advance. However, I detected some sort of eye-rolling at the start of the session, as if to say we were miles apart. They went through quite a few nervous breakdowns during the course of it all, just through trying to explain to us all what they wanted.
Thom Yorke's behaviour was especially curious.
"Thom was doing his vocals and he'd have vanished from view altogether," says Lyttleton. "He'd be sitting cross-legged in some sort of meditative posture at the bottom of the vocal booth."
The session lasted seven hours, leaving Lyttleton exhausted.
"My chops were getting in a very ragged state," he says. "So when we finally got a take that sounded good to me, they said, Good, we'll go and have some food, then we'll come back and do some more. I said, Not me. It was a very heavy day."
Yorke recently described Amnesiac as "the sound of what it feels like to be standing in the fire". The album was recorded at the same time as Kid A but, according to the singer, "it comes from a different place" and is reputed to be more accessible than its predecessor. But if Living In A Glass House is anything to go by, Yorke's lyrics may still be of the lemon sucking variety.
"The words are very surreal, rather like Procul Harem's Whiter Shade Of Pale," says Lyttleton, who received a letter of thanks from the band. "I wouldn't compare them, because I think Thom's are slightly better, but they're coming from the same sort of area.