Nadia - Jeff Beck

When I first began working with Jeff Beck on what would become the album ‘You Had It Coming’, very few things were set in stone when it came to the pieces of music we would take into production.

He was very open to ideas, and only had fixed in his mind that he wanted to do a version of Muddy Waters’ ‘Rolling and Tumbling’ (which we duly did, featuring Imogen Heap) and a Nitin Sawhney piece, entitled, ‘Nadia’ – featuring the vocals of Swati Natekar, singing in a dialect of Hindi.

The idea of attempting Nadia was really intriguing – and Nitin was excited when he heard that Jeff wanted to do it. He came down and spent some time with us in the studio while we familiarised ourselves with the piece, and was happy for us to play around with the original multi, including the vocal samples that he’d used within the track.

I think from Jeff’s perspective, he was looking to challenge himself with something totally different, which is to his credit – when you hear the original vocal melody, it features quarter-notes, for example, sung at incredible pace. So, the idea of being able to recreate and interpret that on guitar was ambitious by him in the extreme.

To get started, we created a beautiful-sounding keyboard pad on a Roland JD 800 and put a beat underneath it so that we had a basic track to work on for the overarching melody. Because Jeff has so many techniques that are unique to him – with the whammy-bar, for example – he was able to accommodate the fluidity and speed needed – but there were phrases within the melody that we had to slow down to identify the correct notation.

We took the original vocal samples, de-tuned them an octave in an Akai and then played the melody on a Fender Rhodes so that Jeff could articulate the part and figure out a way of doing it from a technical perspective – probably even more of a challenge than any of us had expected.

The amazing thing was that he was able to do it – and then take that away and learn it and practice so that he was able to play it – which, if you ever see him do it live, is something to behold.

In terms of the arrangement, it was a simple enough production, we added some extra percussion and instrumentation – but the whole piece is centred around that beautiful, engaging guitar performance.

Interestingly, we used the same technique for another of the pieces on the album, ‘Blackbird’ in which we slowed down BBC sound-effect recordings of blackbirds, cut all the riffs of the birds singing, detuned them a couple of octaves and picked the notes out on a Rhodes, again so that Jeff could learn them.

Looking back, I’m still amazed that he was able to learn how to play a melody as complex as the one in Nadia. I know exactly how hard the whole thing was.

It’s an outstanding piece, remarkably different – unlike anything else in Jeff’s long catalogue of distinguished work.

A wonderful end result, without doubt.