With albums recorded in the studio certain things you can guarantee. Each note and every frequency will have been pored over – typically by more than one person – so that what the listener hears is polished to perfection.
But with live albums, a different type of perfection is reached. James Brown Live at the Apollo, The Last Waltz by the Band or Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York are all examples of albums where the energy generated by playing in front of a live audience leads to something transcendent and unique.
Hackney three-piece Mercury Heart had been in the studio for about six months recording their debut album when they took some time out to play a gig at Oslo in May. Well rehearsed from spending time in the studio, the band wowed the Oslo faithful as they hared through a set of original modern day rock ‘n’ roll numbers.
Afterwards, sitting down with a celebratory beer, the group put on a recording of the gig snaffled from the mixing desk. “We were amazed,” guitarist and lead singer Simon Hardeman recalls. “We couldn’t stop saying to each other ‘this is just amazing, this really rocks’, and we knew it was something we hadn’t been able to capture before.”
There seemed little point going back into the studio when the band already had a recording that, in Hardeman’s words, “nailed the songs with an energy we could never recreate in the studio”. And so Heart Attack was born, an album of punchy, original garage rock – clearly modern, but in a tradition that can be traced back through Jack White to the early Kinks. Apart from some mixing and mastering, the album is exactly as it was played, with no overdubs.
“There’s a great history to live albums,” Hardeman says. “The Who, Dr Feelgood, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, James Brown… they all released wonderful stand-alone
live albums in the days before the multimedia box-set, when these could really break a band. I like to think we’re in that tradition.”
But what do we gain from listening to a live album over one recorded in a studio? “I think it’s all about that energy, and anyone who’s been to see us know we’re
all about energy,” Hardeman replies.
“You ought to be able to record this stuff live. We’re a three piece, and we’re not old fashioned in the sense that we’re playing sixties stuff but it is a fairly pretty timeless type of music – just guitar bass, drums, vocals and, I hope, good songs.”