Graduate’s reworking of ‘Golden Brown’ is a hit

By Dav Williams

Updated Posted

Reaching almost 3 million views on YouTube and described by Craig Charles on his Funk & Soul Show on BBC 6Music as 'quite excellent', Laurence Mason’s reworking of The Strangler’s 'Golden Brown' has been a hit. Reimagined as if it was performed by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, the result is a grooving and soulful instrumental version of the well-known track.

Catching the interest of London-based Jazz DJ Paul Murphy and his label Jazz Room Records, the track is set to be officially released on vinyl today.

We caught up with BA (Hons) Music (Classical) graduate Laurence to learn more about the inspiration behind the reworking, and understand how his grounding as versatile multi-instrumentalist shaped the track’s creation.

Your video has reached almost 3 million views. What do you attribute to its success?

I posted it as a tribute to Dave Greenfield (The Stranglers’ keyboardist), following his passing earlier this year. So I think people were searching for The Stranglers songs as response to that.

Around the same time, completely by coincidence, the original version of ‘Golden Brown’ was used as a track in Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy and a string quartet version was used for the soundtrack of a film called Babyteeth (by the Zephyr Quartet).

I feel pretty lucky in that a lot of different audiences were coming to the track from various routes, and maybe something due to YouTube's algorithm boosted its popularity!

Golden Brown

What was the inspiration behind choosing these two tracks – Golden Brown and Take Five, and how did you realise they might work together?

I wanted to do a cover of Golden Brown after hearing of Dave Greenfield's passing. Initially I wanted to do it on this antique harp I have been restoring over the past couple of years, but it’s unfortunately still not playable. Instead, I tried it out on my alto sax and realised immediately how similar it was to 'Take Five'. There’s definitely some similarities – they're in the same key; both a wonky lopsided jazz waltz, with an uncommon time signature (5/4 for Take Five, and 3 bars of 3/4 and a bar of 4/4 for Golden Brown). The accompaniment patterns in the keyboard parts are pretty similar too.

I definitely wasn’t the first to realise the similarities between the two tracks, as there are a number of versions on YouTube with bands switching between the two pieces. However, I don’t think anyone has displayed the similarities in quite the same way I have.

Could you tell us a little bit more about the process involved in creating this track? When did your interest in Music Production and using Digital Audio Workstations to rework tracks begin?

I started off by sampling the drum intro from a 1964 live version of the Dave Brubeck Quartet performing Take Five. I chopped it up in Logic Pro X into groups to create a drum loop, similar rhythmically to Golden Brown. The bass part was sequenced into Logic Pro X before playing the piano part in. When I record keyboard parts, I play them in through MIDI to create the piano roll, so that I can edit anything I didn’t like, whilst aiming to keep it as natural as possible. I then play the MIDI file back through my keyboard and record the audio outputs from that. This means you can get a natural sounding keys track without the stress of having to nail the recording each time. The saxophone part was played over the top. I wanted it to sound like it had been recorded decades ago, so I went with a very low-fi set up of resting an SM-58 microphone on the edge of the desk whilst playing into it.

I did Music Technology at A Level, and soon after finishing Sixth Form and starting at Leeds Conservatoire, I bought my own recording gear so I could continue with my interest in this area whilst studying on the Classical degree programme - worried that I’d miss it otherwise! I used it as a really effective practice tool, recording myself to get that audience and distanced perspective as to how you sound. I also utilised it to explore different areas of music I found interesting – experimenting, multi-tracking and exploring on my own terms. I see knowledge of Logic Pro X and the ability to manipulate sounds as an extremely versatile creative tool, an extension of being an instrumentalist.

What can we expect from the extended version and the EP released on vinyl?

After a few weeks of it being on YouTube, I received a message from Paul Murphy (Jazz Room Records). We exchanged a few emails back and forth about what he wanted to release. He wanted a longer version – something over 3 minutes long. Also, because the drum loop was sampled from Take Five, he wanted something that didn’t include samples. So I asked my friends John Settle (Senior Lecturer at Leeds Conservatoire) and Josh Cavanagh-Brierley to record the drum and bass parts respectively. The extended version also features a longer solo section from myself.

For the vinyl release there’s also a B-side, which is a version of ‘Walking on the Moon’ by ‘The Police’, attempting to emulate the baritone sax sound of Gerry Mulligan.

How does your grounding as a versatile musician naturally lend itself to creating this type of track, using multiple instruments?

I’ve always been quite fickle when it comes to dividing my time to a particular area of music. I tend to be really interested in something incredibly specific and this’ll take up my entire interest for a week or so until I’ve learnt what I feel I need to do about that subject, before moving on. I’m always looking to expand on what I already know, and what I don’t know.

It’s this accumulated knowledge and experience of different subject areas – jazz, arrangement, music technology and listening to lots of genres and types of music, which has essentially met in the right combination for this particular reworking of the track.

By Dav Williams

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