Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond

The two best suggestions for the betterment of society in 2004

December 19th, 2004 · Comments Off on The two best suggestions for the betterment of society in 2004

So, the two best suggestions I’ve heard all year both came from the radio –

the first was on Danny Baker’s Breakfast Show on BBC London earlier on in the year, in the run up to the Mayoral elections here in London. Danny was getting people to phone in with their suggestions for a platform on which to campaign. The finest suggestion came from a guy who rang in to say that if he was elected mayor, he’s make it so that whenever one of the new bendy buses in London went round a corner, it would play accordian music… :o)

The second came from a phone in show on BBC 5 Live, on the theme of what could do done to make Snooker more interesting. Someone rang in suggesting that they trained hamsters to play in goal across each of the pockets on the table!

Definitely two suggestions that would make the world a better place if they were adopted in 2005…

Soundtrack – Stevie Wonder, ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’; Strongbad, ‘Strongbad Sings and other type hits’; Finley Quaye, ‘Maverick A Strike’, and the songs for the wedding I played at yesterday…

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The Etymology of 'Dude'

December 8th, 2004 · Comments Off on The Etymology of 'Dude'

Some words just have that magic. Dude is clearly one of them.

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More big changes at the BBC

December 8th, 2004 · Comments Off on More big changes at the BBC

regular readers of this ‘ere blog will know that I’m a huge fan of the BBC – I think any Brit that has travelled abroad comes to appreciate the unique resource we have in the BBC, and as the media in general seems to get more and more commercialised, the Beeb is a bastion of publicly funded journalistic marvellousness in the middle of it all. Their track record on commissioning great drama and comedy is fantastic, and their kids programs are the best there is.

So I’m always a little uneasy when I hear talk of big changes at the BBC, such as those announced yesterday in a talk by the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson.

Thousands of jobs are to go, and loads of BBC stuff is going to move to Manchester… I’ll watch this one unfold with a cautious eye.

This spawned a discussion on BBC London about whether a licence fee funded BBC was still valid, and true to form, much of the genetic detritus that makes up the listenership to John Gaunt’s show in the morning seemed to think that they got better value and programming with their Satellite and Cable channels. Sometimes I despair for the future of the country. Most of that despair comes from listening to John Gaunt’s show. Maybe he just attracts obnoxious morons?

Anyway, if there are any referenda on the future of the BBC, do us all a favour and vote for it keeping it’s funding base just the way it is, please. The licence fee would be great value if it just covered radio, or just covered the BBC website, let alone the TV as well… Gawd bless the BBC.

Soundtrack – Zakir Hussain, ‘Making Music’; Pierce Pettis, ‘Great Big World’; Gillian Welch, ‘Time (The Revelator)’; Jonatha Brooke, ‘Plumb’; Indigo Girls, ‘4.5 – the best of’.

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A questionaire…

December 7th, 2004 · Comments Off on A questionaire…

I quite often get sent mini-interviews by students studying music who are doing a project on solo bass. Here’s the latest one – feel free to add to it over in the forum…

1) What is the biggest problem with young (18-30) bass players? What is the main obsticle that hinders young players from becoming well rounded musicians?

I think the biggest single factor is the shift in the west towards a culture of immediacy. Closely followed by the cult of celebrity. Becoming a ‘well rounded musician’ requires years of dedicated and focussed practice, a lot of unglamourous work, crappy gigs, rehearsing, jamming, mistakes, expense, lessons, books etc. Before you really get anywhere. There are no shortcuts, and there’s no ‘secret’ to it. It just takes effort.

Couple that with the tendency with the entertainment industry to value celebrity over integrity, fame over talent and exposure over experience, and you’ve got yourself an uphill struggle to ignore all the millions of distractions and do the work required, then keep doing it, never stop learning. That’s tough.

2) What do you see as the future of solo bass?

I think the music made on bass will continue to develop as more people see past the restrictions of the ‘function of the bass player in a band’ and see it as an instrument full of unexplored potential. The bass guitar has very few fixed physical properties in terms of what’s possible design-wise with the classification ‘bass guitar’ – and those limits are always expanding. I think we’re going to see a lot more hybrid instruments that go beyond the standard divisions between guitar, bass and other stringed instruments.

3) When you pushing the musical envelope on bass, are you thinking musicality or “is this even possible to do on bass”?

The purpose of pushing the envelope is to find the music that’s behind the limitations… pushing limitations is fun, but unless the quest is meaningful music, it doesn’t really hold that much interest for me. I love working on new ways to access sound, process sound and peform music on the bass, and seeing what new textures, sounds, ideas, and compositional processes are facilitated by that exploration.

4) What is the average time you put in per week for practicing?

Not enough. I guess it ranges from about 6 hours up to about 20 hours, depending on what else I’ve got going on…

5) Who has been the single most influential player for you musically?

Michael Manring. As much conceptually as sonically. The feeling of reading an article by someone who was able to articulate a lot of the thoughts I’d had and was already forging ahead exploring that territory gave me a lot of encouragement to head down a similar path. Our music doesn’t really sound all that similar, but the thought process behind it shares a lot of territory.

6) Why do you push yourself musically? What drives you to expand your musicality?

All sorts of things – boredom and frustration are great motivators, as is the need to come up with new material for different projects. Hearing new things that move me and trying to conjure up the same emotions in my own music is a big one for me. Lots of things outside music inspire me to play – nature, cities, people, relationships, faith – big things, small things. There’s a corresponding soundtrack to most of life’s events, and I’m perpetually exploring that space.

Soundtrack – Paul Simon, ‘Hearts And Bones’; Paul Simon, ‘One Trick Pony’; Bill Frisell, ‘Blues Dream’; Wheeler/Konitz/Holland/Frisell, ‘Angel Song’; Theo Travis, ‘Earth To Ether’.

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General update…

December 5th, 2004 · Comments Off on General update…

OK, I’ll fill you in on general goings on over the last week or so.

Last weekend was spent in Holland and Germany. The event I went over for was the European Bass Day, run by Marco Schoots, who publishes the Dutch bass mag, and runs a record label – an amazing guy. I was booked to play solo (actually, I was booked to play last year, but there was a pretty major breakdown in communication with the people who had offered to fund the trip, and I ended up not going… but that’s a whole other story…) Anyway, I was booked to play solo, and also with one of my favourite singers/bassists, John Lester – John, as you’ll know is the guy that opened for Michael Manring and I back in March on our tour here in England, and neither Michael nor I can work out why he isn’t a megastar yet – amazing voice, great songs, friendly engaging stage presence and a fabulous bassist… I’ll never understand this industry…

So, I went over to Amsterdam a day early to see John, to rehearse a few of his tunes and hang out in Amsterdam (oh, life is hard for your friendly neighbourhood solo bassist!). That was Saturday, and Sunday we drove to Viersen, just over the German border, where the Bass Day was being held.

My feelings about bass-days in general are mixed – I really like the idea of getting together with a load of bassists, and I love the chance to catch up with all my bass-chums that are at these events. But I really can’t cope with listening to hours and hours of machine gun slapping; after about half an hour it all starts to sound like someone drilling for oil. I guess it’s just me, ‘cos lots of people seemed to really be into it, but it really gets tired pretty quick. Guitar-fests and drum-fests are the same.

On a gigging level, it tends to work in my favour, as I’m often there as the alternative to the slap-monsters, and certainly both my set and John Lester’s went down really well – good crowds, well received, and quite a few CDs sold.

And it was great to see so many friends there – Stefan Redtenbacher, Jan Olof Strandberg, Jono Heale, Stevie Williams, amd even one very nice guy who’d travelled from Germany to see the gig with Michael Manring in London a couple of weeks ago!

So a fine time was had, and we stayed up in a bar back in Venlo til the early hours of the morning.

Monday was back to England, and Tuesday we collected the cats. So the rest of the week has been pretty cat-centric for The Small Person and I, discovering that these truly are remarkable, friendly and utterly adorable little animals. How anyone could have given them up is beyond either of us. It’s been a week of many snuggles with our new feline family. We always felt so lucky to have had five years with The Aged Feline, and there’s no way that any new cats could replace him, but it’s great to be able to give a home to more abandoned cats, and to then find that they have personalities bigger than most drummers is such a great bonus!

Teaching has gone mad of late – I’ve been doing loads and getting loads more emails from people wanting to learn, travelling from all over the southern half of england, and wales! I really really enjoy teaching, so it’s great to be in demand, but I don’t want to get into a position where I have to start turning people away… maybe I should make street-team membership a prerequisite of having lessons, and whittle them down a bit that way! :o)

Which brings us up to Friday night, when I went to a comedy gig – I’m a big fan of Rich Hall, but this was the first time I’d seen him live, doing his ‘Otis Lee Crenshaw’ failed country singer routine. Very very funny indeed, don’t miss him if he’s gigging near you. He was on at Club Senseless, which is hosted by Ronnie Golden – a comedy songwriter, who plays at the club with his band Ronnie and The Rex – he’s great, very funny, very clever. My only problem with the club is the amount of smoke. The Kings Head in Crouch End has a very low ceiling and really shitty air conditioning, so I end up leaving half way through anything I go to there, choking to death. BRING ON THE SMOKING BAN, says I.

And Yesterday, after a 7 hour teaching day, I went over to Oxford to see Jez and Susan Enan. I hadn’t seen Susan in ages, probably not since I played on her EP, but she’s been very busy working on a new album, getting a management deal and is about to move to the states and become a star. She fab, and it was very very nice to catch up with her and hear a few of the rough mixes from the new CD.

But I got back so late that I slept in and missed church today… doh!

anyway, here’s another piccie of the Fairly Aged Felines –

Soundtrack – Keith Jarrett Trio, ‘Tokyo 96’; Julie Lee, ‘Stillhouse Road’; Eric Roche, ‘The Perc U lator’; John Martyn, ‘Solid Air’; Lifehouse, ‘Stanley Climbfall’.

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New residents in the house…

December 1st, 2004 · Comments Off on New residents in the house…

So Tuesday was the day our new owners moved in. Oh, we would love to think of ourselves as their owners, but it’s more than apparent who runs the show, even at this early stage.

Gizmo and Spender are two Fairly Aged Felines, from whom many lessons will be learned over the next while. They are both cuddly, gorgeous and full of personality. We picked them up from a cat-fosterer, courtesy of HAWS – Hounslow Animal Welfare Society – very lovely people who take good care of lots of lovely animals.

I’m sure I’ll blog lots over the next wee while about their antics, but at the moment, here’s a few pix to give you some idea of who we’re talking about…

this is gizmo –

and this is spender –

they’re currently investigating the house, getting into everything, and pausing occasionally for food or cuddles.

Soundtrack – Kim Taylor, ‘So Black, So Bright’; Chic, ‘C’est Chic’; Julie Lee, ‘Stillhouse Road’; John Martyn, ‘Solid Air’; Paula Cole, ‘This Fire’.

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Great gig with a sting in the tale

November 26th, 2004 · Comments Off on Great gig with a sting in the tale

Had a very bizarre night last night. The gig was at the top of ‘The Gherkin’ – marvellous building in the heart of London (which isn’t officially called the Gherkin, and if you’re hiring it you’re not allowed to refer to it as such, but do any of you know what it’s really called without using Google? Thought not…)

Anyway, it was a corporate do, with Theo and I providing cool jazz inflected soundscapes while people in suits talked about money and made use of the free bar and munchies. The venue is spectacular – possibly the best view of central london that there is (it’s even higher than the top of the London Eye), and it was a great place to play – the fact that we had no direct monitor meant that we were listening to what everyone else was listening to, and it all felt all the more integrated, and lead to some marvellous music. Good response.

The evening got weird when it came time to leave… when I’d arrived I’d borrowed a trolley, come up the building in the service lift, and made my way painlessly to the venue, and no-one had left any perculiar instructions for later, so I assumed the get-out would be the same… not so.

Firstly, I go looking for the service lift, but there’s no button to call it, so I go back to the restaurant and am told to head down to the lobby where security will direct me to the basement. I go down (40 floors), and security say the only access point is on floor 37 (back at the service lift), and I have to go back to the very top to get it sorted. I complain loudly, and eventually go back, this time I’m sent back to the service lift which aparently has to be phoned for. We stand by the service lift for about 25 minutes, before a friendly soundman rescues us, by telling us there’s another service lift, and that one arrives as we get there. All this time we’re carrying my rack and flight cases around, as no trolley was ever forthcoming.

We eventually leave the building one and a half hours after we finish playing!!!!

A shitty end to what was otherwise a spectacular gig (Theo was particularly spectacular on this one – he’s always brilliant, but did play some sublime stuff. I’m very lucky to get to collaborate with people who play that well and are such damn nice people!)

Soundtrack – Prince, ‘Purple Rain’; Gillian Welsh, ‘Time (The Revelator)’; Green Day, ‘Dookie’; Andy Thornton, ‘Things You Never Say’; Del Amitri, ‘Twisted’; Steve Lawson, ‘Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline Pt II’ (now available as a paid download from the e-shop on my site)

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Don't forget Buy Nothing Day this weekend

November 24th, 2004 · Comments Off on Don't forget Buy Nothing Day this weekend

In case it had slipped your attention, this Saturday is Buy Nothing Day – Click here to find out all about it, but the basic idea is not to shop…

Soundtrack – Del Amitri, ‘Twisted’; Mary Chapin Carpenter, ‘Between Here and Gone’; Andrew Buckton, ‘Now But Not Yet’ – Andrew’s album is one of the recording projects I’m most proud of. It was produced by Jez, and I played bass on most of it, with Mike Sturgis on drums. We came up with a whole load of really interesting arrangements in no time at all, and the end result is a gorgeous, intimate, devotional album – songs of pain and loss and a faith that carries through all of it. It’s pretty explicitly christian, so if that sort of thing puts you off, I wouldn’t get it, but for anyone else, I’d highly recommend the album.

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Still can't believe he's gone

November 22nd, 2004 · Comments Off on Still can't believe he's gone

I know I’ve blogged about the death of John Peel before, but this evening I finally got to watch the back to back documentaries about him that were on a week or so ago (thanks Neil!!).

The first was various celebs who knew him talking about him post-death. The second one was a doc that was made for his 60th birthday – 5 years ago, and what really struck home was that then, when he was alive, he was getting more effusive accolades than most people get when they die. His influence on the UK music scene really is immeasurable. I have numerous records in my collection that would never have been there if it wasn’t for Peel – both those that I bought as I direct result of hearing the bands on his show (The Fall, The New FADS, The Pixies, etc.) and those who probably wouldn’t have reached the attention of the listening public if it wasn’t for his championing (The Smiths, Billy Bragg, Pulp, etc.)

Listening to Peel’s show in the late 80s told me that it was OK to have no boundaries on your listening. Thanks to Peel, I knew metal-heads who bought Ivor Cutler records, and I ended up owning a compilation album called ‘Hardcore Holocaust’, featuring bands like Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror, The Electro Hippies and Dr And The Crippins!! The feeling that stylistic boundaries meant absolutely nothing permeated my record buying and my own music experimenting – I bought ACDC records and John Zorn records, Yes albums and Sade albums, Nick Heywards and Charles Mingus, The Fall and Mendelson… I had no boundaries to my listening at that time, and it did me no-end of good when it came to finding my own musical voice. I avoided the musical myopia that people learning instruments often get caught up in, playing along to The Cure and Stu Hamm, The Pixies and Olivier Messiaen.

A huge amount of that can be traced back to Peel and, as was noted in the documentary by Benjamin Zephaniah, the completely matter-of-fact way that he would introduce the most extraordinary music on the planet, juxtaposing hardcore punk with techno, reggae with folk, records from the 30s with electronica from Belgium, Japanese Pop with English protest songs.

I just can’t believe he’s gone. The hole it leaves in the middle of British music broadcasting landscape is crater-sized, with no chance of ever being filled. Johnny Marr commented in the doc that he was a total one off, and wasn’t even training up a protege. There really is no one that can fill that space, and the British radio airwaves will feel the lack of it for ever.

We were exceedingly lucky to have grown up with John on the airwaves – he championed just about everything that’s been intersting in music in the last 40 years. Rock ‘n’ Roll, hippie folk, prog, jambands, punk, hip-hop, electronica, rap, folk, hardcore, techno, indie, protest, african and utterly unclassifiable music. Radio formatting was shown to be the shallow market driven bollocks that it is.

And once again, the second documentary brought it all back to the pain of his wife and kids. Regardless of his legacy, they’ve lost a dad and a husband. I just hope and pray they find some comfort in the way he changed british music for ever.

Soundtrack – Nick Harper, ‘Double Life’; Gillian Welch, ‘Time (The Revelator)’; Mary Chapin Carpenter, ‘Between Here And Gone’; Ani Difranco; ‘Little Plastic Castles’.

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November 22nd, 2004 · Comments Off on

On a daily basis, I read quite a few online bass forums –, the lowdown lowdown, and – then bassworld suddenly disappeared last week… this was odd, the error messages weren’t the usual ones that happen when you get a server crash or whatever.

As it turns out, the server was seized by the FBI for hosting terrorist information… I know some of my ranting is pretty left-wing, but I didn’t think I’d trigger that! :o)

Anyway, it’s back up now at a temporary home, if you want to check it out –

Soundtrack – McGill, Manring, Stevens, ‘Controlled By Radar’.

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