Last year I took a domestic flight, my first in five years, to help record an album for Craig Sinclair and Rod Vervest. “Peddling Rag” is now available via Bandcamp or Craig’s website, and I’d love to share how we made this gem in Craig’s mountain cottage.

A promotion photo of The Paper Collar Pickers leaning on the backs of wooden chairs and looking cool.

Craig and Rod are two of Australia’s finest acoustic guitarists and songwriters. They recently formed a duo project, The Paper Collar Pickers, based on their shared love of story songs, ragtime and the Piedmont fingerpicking style. Booked for Tasmania’s Cygnet Folk Festival in January 2024, they were keen to record a debut album to launch there. The catch was they now lived 3000 km apart, Rod in Kinjarling (Albany) and Craig in Colomatta (the Blue Mountains), and the only time they could find in their busy calendars was one weekend at the end of October.

Craig is a talented audio engineer, but with time of the essence, they asked me to fill that role so they could focus on playing. I leapt at the opportunity for a cross-country adventure to work with an act I was already a fan of. The only thing I was apprehensive about was safely transporting my audio equipment. I decided to take my delicate ribbon microphones as carry-on, and was relieved security didn’t confiscate these strange looking metal objects.

Via the train up from Sydney, I arrived in Blackheath a couple of days early to get in some exploring. The town lies on a ridge with cliffs dropping down to farmland on the west and the Jurassic Park-like Grose Valley on the east. It’s dotted with fancy English-style gardens that contrast with the dry bush around. Rod arrived next, and on Friday night when a weary Craig returned home from the city, we started recording.

A photo of Rod Vervest and Craig Sinclair on Fort Rock, Blackheath

Our aim was for a natural sound from primarily live takes, making use of the acoustics of the wood and weatherboard cottage. There were no “click tracks” or headphones (except for a few overdubs), and if you listen closely you might hear the birds outside or the rumble of the express train to Mount Victoria on the tracks across the road.

At gigs Craig and Rod perform with a single stylish microphone, called Josephine, and joke they’re really a trio. For recording though, we went with four mics: two of my “old school” chunky ribbons as spot mics for the guitars (a resonator, a dobro and a “normal” steel string), and modern condenser mics for room ambience, vocals or cohesion. Geeks can hit me up for further technical details!

Craig was back to his day job on Monday, so Rod and I did final overdubs (backing vocals and a couple of guitar solos), then in the evening the three of us wrapped up the recording phase by assessing what we’d captured. From 14 potential songs we’d managed to record 11 over the three days. They decided to drop one and go with a ten track album. We were exhausted but content and excited about what we’d achieved

The cover art of the "Peddling Rag" album featuring a drawing of a man riding an old-style bicycle while carrying a copy of said album.

Back in my home studio, I mixed and mastered the recordings over the course of November. I sent draft mixes to Craig and Rod over the interwebs, and tweaked based on their feedback. It was a team effort and we kept making little mix changes right up to the deadline for CD manufacture.

I’m chuffed with the album – it’s warm and sparkling, and above all playful. Craig describes it as a “homage to the courageous and resourceful street corner guitar players who laid the foundation for an infectious style of guitar-based ragtime music that spread widely across the US and eventually infused into jazz, blues and folk styles across the globe”.