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John Cale at 70: Cale and Catatonia

James McLaren

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In 1999 the cream of Welsh musical talent gathered in Cardiff to work with John Cale on a performance film called Beautiful Mistake, directed by Marc Evans.

One of the acts working with Cale was Catatonia. We caught up with Catatonia guitarist Owen Powell to talk about his experiences of working with Cale, who celebrates his 70th birthday on 9 March.

"We were asked by film director Marc Evans to work with John Cale on two songs for the film Beautiful Mistake in 1999. We recorded Whispering Room, one of our songs written specifically for the project, and his song Close Watch from his album Helen Of Troy. We rehearsed in The Point, formerly known as St Stephens Church, and then moved down the road to record on set at The Coal Exchange.

"From the very start John was very polite and friendly. He doesn't say a great deal but he seemed to like our song and the version of Close Watch that we had routined before meeting him. He was very easy going and seemed to enjoy watching us laugh, swear and argue our way through the process. It struck me that he doesn't like to mess with people's method of working. That's their business. When the red light goes on to record, everybody does their bit.

"We recorded Whispering Room live and at the end of the first take we went to the mobile truck to listen to the playback. As I put my guitar down he turned to me and said quietly, 'It fell asleep a bit in the middle'. He didn't come to listen to the track, preferring to read his book on set. Sure enough as we listened to the track it did indeed 'fall asleep a bit in the middle'. Take two was the one. I knew it was the one because he said 'That's the one'.

"'You coming to have a listen John?'

"'Don't need to, that's the one'. I suspect that his wonderful instinct comes from years of experience.

"We recorded Close Watch in one take. Cerys sang the verses and he joined in for the choruses. He smiled. We were happy with it. It's very easy to make a great song sound great.

"He was a real gent. When I ran through the chords to Whispering Room with him, there was one chord that I didn't know the name of. He seemed baffled that I'd written a song and didn't know what one of the chords was. I held up my guitar while playing the chord to show him. He just gave me a curious look and we carried on."

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