In 1993, before I’d begun my career as a producer, I was a freelance musician and programmer when I got the call to work on Massive Attack’s second album, ‘Protection,’ with Nellee Hooper in the producer’s role. The band were part way through the project when their main programming musician, Marius De Vries, was offered the job of producing Annie Lennox – which he duly took. His leaving created an unexpected opportunity for me which I grabbed with both hands. I was already a big fan of Massive Attack, and wanted to work with Nellee Hooper, so it was an easy enough decision to make.
I spent a couple of days with Marius getting all of the work completed to that point from his computer onto mine, and then took over with the tracks in progress, as well as starting from the ground up with anything new.
The band at the time was Rob ‘3-D’ Del Naja, Grant ‘Daddy-G’ Marshall and Andrew ‘Mushroom’ Vowles. Mushroom was the creative musician and he’d done an early version of what would become Weather Storm on a cassette as just a backing track – without really saving any of the parts he’d used to create it. He had a sample running – ‘It’s Time for Love’ by Pieces of a Dream – and a Rhodes Chroma doing a pad part, but none of it was in any kind of format that we could use, so we had to recreate it all again from scratch.
Nellee, around this time, had become quite friendly with the Scottish composer Craig Armstrong – and decided that he wanted Craig to do a feature piano part on the track. He sent it up to Craig in Scotland, this was pre-email – I think it would have gone up as a hard copy in the post. Craig duly wrote a part – and Nellee arranged for him to fly down to London where we were working, at his house. We didn’t have an actual piano available, but I set Craig up with a sound and he played what he had – and Nellee loved it, and phoned Olympic studios immediately to book a session to record it there and then.
We jumped into a car and drove over to Olympic – miced up a piano with Jeremy Wheatley as engineer, and got Craig installed and got him playing.
He’d hardly got started when Mushroom turned up at the studio, walked in on the session, and as a take was going down a huge argument erupted in the control room between Mushroom and Nellee – to the point that they were forced to take it into the ante-room where it continued as a blazing row.
Everybody was pretty taken aback – and Craig wandered into the control room after finishing playing – wondering what had happened. To say it was awkward doesn’t begin do it justice, nobody knew what to say to him.
We booked Craig onto a flight back to Scotland that same afternoon. I actually drove him to the airport and put him on the plane, then returned to the studio and constructed the piano part you hear from what we had of Craig playing up to that point.
In the end, everybody made it up, and all was forgiven. Craig’s piano parts ended up on the track – as a feature. The band also commissioned him to write strings for other tracks on the album – including ‘Sly’ which became the first single from the album.
Weather Storm became really notable for Craig’s having played on it, and even ended up on Craig’s own album.
Whenever I hear it it makes me smile – and reminds me that songs that seem to have arrived in the world effortlessly can sometimes have been through the wringer of swathes of personal politics and inter-band friction – before arriving out into the sunlight on the other side.