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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



anyone got a phone no. for the love unlimited orchestra.

December 19th, 2005 · Comments Off on anyone got a phone no. for the love unlimited orchestra.

OK, so my voice is back, just. The only problem is, everything I say sounds like the spoken intro to a Barry White song. My voice is about an octave lower than usual. And it still hurts to talk, even if it’s now possible.

Add to that how toxic I still feel (body fighting off infection, bound to feel rough), and I’m still an unhappy Stevie. But I do think I’m no the mend. I’m pretty sure this isn’t now going to turn into some sort of huge crippling disease that renders me unable to finish my tax accounts before I go away to the States in January…

Oh shit, before that I need to call the National Insurance people and find out what the hell is happening with this huge bill I got at the beginning of December…

better go do that!

Tags: Random Catchup

just don't bother phoning…

December 18th, 2005 · Comments Off on just don't bother phoning…

Today I woke up with no voice. Not the croaky sore throat voice of yesterday, but a proper only-just-able-to-whisper no voice at all. So don’t phone me, I won’t be able to answer it. Texts and emails are fine. It’s all a bit crap really. The rest of me still feels a little toxic, but generally no worse than yesterday. Guess I got good old fashioned Laryngitis – which could be anything. the suffix ‘itis’ just means infection – so laryngitis is an infection of the larynx, and could be really mild (this seems to be fairly mild) or some sort of ebola mutation that only affects the larynx (and therefor probably makes your head fall off given the speed with which ebola eats people up… i’m guessing in that situation calling it ‘laryngitis’ would be considered just a tad misleading, given the certain death that would follow. None of the usual lines about it ‘not being all that infectious once you’ve started showing symptoms’ wouldn’t really apply…)

In good news, by internet bandwidth thing seems to have been cleared up, which is reassuring.

And now I’m going to collapse in front of the tele with a duvet, cos that what you do when you’re ill.

Tags: Random Catchup

Peep Show

December 17th, 2005 · Comments Off on Peep Show

It’s not often I find myself agreeing with Ricky Gervais – I mean, I found The Office funny, but have never felt any real affinity with the co-writer and star of the show. However, when he commented on stage at the British Comedy Awards this week that it was a tragedy that Peep Show hadn’t been nominated for any awards, I almost applauded the TV (I didn’t, because people who actually applaud the TV are clearly insane, like middle aged blokes who shout at referees on televised football matches).

Peep Show is without doubt the most original comedy to hit the screens in the UK for quite a few years. At least since the Office, if not before. For those who’ve missed it thus far, it’s a sit-com about two losers who share a flat. All the camera work is POV – you’re always looking at the scene from one of the character’s point of view, so there’s no third person camera work – and there’s a running commentary by the two main characters in the from of their inner monologues. Brilliantly observed, hilariously funny, occasionally surreal and a little bit twisted, it’s just come to the end of the third series, and I so hope it gets recommissioned for a fourth.

Til then, you can catch up with the repeats on E4 (oh yes, we’ve finally gone and got a Freeview box!) or buy series one and two on DVD.

Tags: Random Catchup

mad laws…

December 17th, 2005 · 1 Comment

As a general rule, I’m a big fan of the PRS. They send me money when my music is played on the radio, they send me a portion of the ticket price when I do gigs etc. I like them.

However, This story in the Macclesfield Express is just mad – apparently music shops now have to pay a PRS licence if they want people to be able to try out guitars, cos an 11 year old kid playing Sweet Child O’ Mine really badly in a shop is public performance.

That’s nuts. Proper nuts. Making them pay if they play the radio or CDs in the shop is fine – that’s the same for any shop that plays music. But for demoing guitars?? Who are they hoping to benefit? Do the shop owners have to submit a play list ‘today’s songs – 20, minute-long version of smoke on the water; Sweet Child O’ Mine – intro played 9 times, close enough to be copyrightable, 3 of those. etc.’

Come on, PRS, that’s not a proper law. Spend your time and energies elsewhere. I like you, I really do, but this is just silly. Running an instrument shop is a precarious enough job at the best of times – don’t make it harder.

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

Illness and website woes

December 17th, 2005 · 1 Comment

Bugger, I’m ill. Been fighting off a sore throat for days, and this morning it’s finally taken hold. Was woken up in the night every time I tried to swallow – v. painful. And it’s affecting me ears too. So guzzling lemsip and throat-comfort tea, and staying dosed up on Echinacea, Sambucol, Zinc and Vit C.

Was meant to be going to see my grandparents today with my mum, but instead have had to lend mum our car to go on her own, which is crap.

Added to that, there’s been a balls-up with my webspace which is telling me I’m over my bandwidth allocation. Which is balls. it was initially 6gig, I then paid an extra tenner a year for an extra gig (when I first put downloadable albums up and had a rush on those), and then let that extra gig lapse last month. And now it’s dropped to 3gig/month!! Big mistake somewhere along the line, and not what I need in the run-up to christmas at all….

grrrrr. bah humbug.

Tags: Random Catchup

dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

December 15th, 2005 · Comments Off on dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Our present to ourselves last christmas was a DVD player – it had just got too annoying to go to the local video rental place and find that they had it on DVD but not video, and that the DVD had loads of cool extras. So we gave in.

This year, our pressie to ourselves is a Freeview box – like cable or satellite without the millions of shit channels. You just get the free-to-air stuff that’s worth watching – BBC 3, 4 and News 24, More4, E4 and some other vaguely interesting stuff. And all in digital loveliness… which is great til the signal drops, then it goes mental… Anyway, lots of TV fun to be had – from this evening’s viewing, More 4 and BBC four seem to be showing a lot of shows that are like TV versions of Radio 4 shows, which is just fine by me.

So that’s our chrissy pressie to ourselves. And this is my christmas present to you – enjoy.

Soundtrack – Gillian Welch, ‘Time (The Revelator)’.

Tags: Geek

sidetracked…

December 15th, 2005 · Comments Off on sidetracked…

ah, now I remember what I was going to talk about WRT Springer the Opera!

It’s the news story that Woolworths and Sainsbury’s have refused to stock the DVD. How ridiculous is this?? Both shops have no ethical trading policy that I’m aware of, and as Stewart Lee pointed out on the radio, both will receive far more calls to stop stocking Nestle or Proctor And Gamble products, but won’t do that because that’s about money. It’s a marketing balls-up, and just highlights the double standards of the big chainstores…

However, what it will also do is give a whole load of publicity to the DVD release of the show. After the loons at Christian Voice protested the stage show, attendance went up, when they complained about the TV show, it broke broadcasting records, hopefully the same will happen with the DVD…

When will these minority interest groups get their heads around the notion that picketing and complaining about stuff just gives it publicity. The same thing happened with ‘the Last Temptation of Christ’ – not, I’m told, a particularly good film, but a box office smash thanks to a bunch of well meaning complainers who made it a front page news item when it came out.

Right, so my next album is going to be called ‘all religions can kiss my arse… and atheists can piss off as well.’ With track title targeting each of them in turn. Hopefully I’ll get banned and sell a million.

Tags: Random Catchup

art vs totalitarian religion

December 15th, 2005 · Comments Off on art vs totalitarian religion

I’ve just been listening to a fascinating interview with comedian Stewart Lee, on BBC Radio London – Stuart is the writer of Jerry Springer The Opera, a stage show that had a hugely successful run in the west end and then became the biggest watched opera or music in the BBC’s history when it was shown on TV. It also racked up 67,000 complaints from lots of people who hadn’t seen it and probably wouldn’t have understood it if they had.

The controversy arose from the supposed depiction of Jesus in the show – Jesus being a guest on the Springer Show, dressed as a baby. So the show was accused by a few people of blasphemy, and as the church loves a good scandal, an email campaign was started which lead to tens of thousands of complaints to the beeb and threats to the writers and members of the cast (oh yes, how marvelously Christ-like).

Anyway, Stuart on the radio made a very apposite observation, the the effect that ‘Good art is about questioning everything and then leaving those questions open to the interpretation of the audience. Bad or repressive religion is about absolutes and certainties’.

Which is true – I’ve been around a few repressive religious scenarios where questions and doubting were seen as dissent of the worst kind, and blind faith was encouraged. If you’ve got a question, just ask the leaders and believe their response, however bizarre it may be.

Conversely, I’ve also been around a lot of good people of faith, people who see the life of faith as a journey not a destination, one on which we have to constantly reassess our take on things, to question everything, to leave ourselves open to questioning and scrutiny, and keep searching, open to the possibility that we might be wrong. And I’ve met people like that from a whole range of faith traditions, be they christian, jewish, muslim, hindu, buddhist or agnostic/athiest. Whatever it is that you place your faith in has to be tested and questioned.

Which is where art like Jerry Springer The Opera comes in – satire is a very powerful tool in asking questions, a great way to expose elements of belief systems that require exposing, and should be a debate starter not a debate crusher. One of my favourites of late is the Church Of The Flying Spaghetti Monster – a spoof religion set up to counter the decision of the Kansas School Board’s decision to teach 7 day creationism as the alternative to Darwinian evolution. It’s hilarious, both as a pastiche of religions in general, and in its treatment of its main target.

The problem, of course, is that you end up in a situation where the two camps are polarised and the more mystical middle ground is ignored – either you believe that the world is 4000 years old, and God is the supreme bull-shitter who made the world look like it was a lot older just so he could send a load of people to hell, or you reject any notion of there being a creator who was involved in the development of the universe. The evidence for evolution in the trad darwinian sense does have a few gaps in it, but is nowhere near as impossible to grasp as the notion that the world was made 4000 years ago! But neither are where my head is at. I don’t see Genesis 1 and 2 as supporting a literalist interpretation of the jewish creation myth, but neither do I think that all of this could happen by accident.

Ultimately, if your faith in either god or there being no god is reliant on the veracity of the jewish creation myth, you really need to get out more…

Anyway, back to Springer the Opera… So they are off on tour – I’m told the show isn’t actually all that good, but I still really want to see it to support people who are asking questions, to have my own faith challenged and see where the answers sit. I missed the west end run, sadly, but will see what I can do to get to the stage show. And if I’m offended, so be it – it does us good once in a while to have our sensibilities scandalised. I can’t quite imagine what could be in it that would offend me though…

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

Just what I need – another place to blog!

December 14th, 2005 · Comments Off on Just what I need – another place to blog!

I was recently invited to start contributing to a bass news/info/reportage blog called ‘Big Bottom’, which is at 24stgeorge.com – there a whole host of bass writers and bloggers involved.

Here’s the first bit that I’ve written for it, headed ‘You Can’t Do That On A Bass’ –

The strangest – and perhaps most surprising – factor in being a solo bassist is that your main critics are other bassists. General music listeners are more than happy to assess how your music sits with them as music, making the same stylistic and emotional responses they would to a record by Coldplay, Cradle of Filth or the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Some bassists, on the other hand, tend to do two things – firstly, there are the shredders who listen with their eyes, measuring the validity of what you do by how clever it looks and whether or not they could play the piece in question. If it’s too hard for them, it must be cool. If it looks too hard to work out, that’s great. The music becomes some kind of athletic challenge, or like some kind of break-dance move, where musicians are supposed to out-do each other in the complexity and freakery of their playing.

the other response is to say ‘you can’t do that on a bass’ – those players who take it upon themselves to be the arbiters of acceptability for this beloved instrument of ours, as though the decision to play melodies and chords on a bass, or to process the signal so it no longer resembles the tradition sound of a bass guitar, is somehow sacrilegious and insulting to ‘the greats’.

I’ve had hilarious emails and responses from people in both camps – fortunately the ones who bother to contact me are few and far between – telling me that I’m either ‘not fully exploring the potential of the bass guitar’ or that I’m ‘not a real bassist, it doesn’t sound like a bass, you might as well be playing guitar’ etc. etc.

The nonsense here is that the title ‘bass guitar’ is a projection, a label, not an absolute. It helps us to define the thinking behind the design of a particular lump of wood and metal and graphite, but ultimately it’s just a plank with some strings on it. The role of ‘bass player’ is one that is perhaps best fulfilled with a bass guitar, but the possible applications of the sound produced by an instrument made with that heritage go way, way beyond anything that could be constrained by the term ‘bass playing’.

I’ve often considered relabeling the instrument I play. Calling it Baritone Guitar or something, just to get away from the weight of expectation that’s there amongst bassists that you’re either going to be ‘laying it down’ or slapping and tapping like some kind of circus performer. But I have resisted such a shift for two reasons – firstly, I love the bass. I love the heritage, I love playing bass. I chose this instrument because I love the role it plays in a most contemporary music. I’m drawn to the visceral, emotive quality that it injects into music – one listen to the White Stripes shows what happens when you leave it out! And I’m interested in taking that forward. I’m drawn to the work of a lot of the people who are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on instruments from the bass family – Michael Manring, Jonas Hellborg, Matthew Garrison, Trip Wamsley, Abraham Laboriel, Victor Wooten… I like being part of that process, part of the musical dialogue with players around the world looking to further the body of work produced from within the bass community.

I’m pleased to say that those two groups – the circus fans and the luddites – don’t occupy that big a place within the bass world, and I meet a lot of bassists who are just as interested as I in the music that’s playing, who remember that whatever else happens, ‘it’s all about what comes out of the speakers’.

I encourage you to experiment, to see how your bass can fill the gaps in your band, how you can exploit those other registers that the bass does so well – melodies on bass don’t sound like guitar, they sound like melodies on bass, a whole different colour and texture.

Just make it musical.

Tags: Geek

'yeah, I listen to everything'

December 14th, 2005 · Comments Off on 'yeah, I listen to everything'

the daftest answer ever to the question ‘what music do you like?’ – it crops up a lot on MySpace – people who write under their music preferences ‘everything’ or ‘all kinds of music’. That’s rubbish.

I’ve got pretty extensive taste, but I dislike MOST music… There are literally millions of bands in the world. There are probably a few thousand that I quite like, and a few hundred that rock my world. A few dozen that have changed my life. That’s a pretty poor percentage. The thing that makes special music special is that we have to track it down. We look for it, we feel great not only because of what it is, but what it represents.

If I loved all music, it’d be like air. I don’t have favourite air. I might notice the sea air as being particularly bracing, but I don’t get bags of it shipped in, I don’t trawl ebay looking for Berwick on Tweed air just because it reminds me of my childhood. No, because all air is equally fantastic. Air is an amazing thing. It keeps me alive, I’d be very dead without it, and can’t say enough nice things about it. But it isn’t ‘special’.

Great music isn’t like air. There is a lot of great music out there, but you have to hunt for it. It’s rare that a major record label releases anything ‘great’. They often spoil potentially great things by sticking their lame-assed focus-group-led coked-up-executive-with-no-clue oar into the discussion, but they rarely let genuinely great records get through. That’s what makes Hejira so special. Or Songs In the Key Of Life, Plumb, Steve McQueen, Nothing But A Burning Light – they are amazing records on major labels. Extra kudos to Joni, Stevie, Jonatha, Prefab Sprout and Bruce for managing to get past the ‘hmm better make it a bit more shit just to make sure it gets on the radio’ moment…

So stop pretending that you’re into everything, or that you like ‘most music’ You don’t! You probably don’t even like the best of most styles of music – it takes a fairly broad set of ears to deal with the, um, idiosyncratic intonation of Chinese Opera, Tuvan throat singing, Tibetan Chanting, Ana music, or even Tom Waits at his most weird.

If you’re in a band, the likelihood is that it’s not going to rock my world. That’s not your fault, it’s just the law of averages. It shouldn’t stop you sending your CD out to people – I send mine out to all manner of people, safe in the knowledge that it’s not going to blow all of their minds. I hope some of them dig it, and am particularly grateful when people who aren’t already friends email me to say they really dig what I do. Last night, I got a text message from the lovely Jane who was listening to Grace And Gratitude and it was helping her out at the end of a tough day. A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a soldier who said it helped him through the tough time telling his folks that he had to go to Iraq. that stuff is worth a thousand people saying ‘yeah, I quite like your CD’.

It’s OK to not be blown away by everything, and people who don’t like your music aren’t losers with no taste. But remember to cherish everyone who is touched by what you do – it’s a huge privilege to be able to help soundtrack memorable times in people’s lives, whether it’s music that helps them celebrate, or comforts them in dark times, or just fits the occasion – one of my proudest musical moments is when a friend of mine took my CD in to be played while she was giving birth!

Let people know if their music means something to you – that’s one of the great things about having a blog; being able to big up great music, to get the word out about fab stuff that’s out there, the things that move me. And more often that not, the artists will find it while vanity searching, and drop me an email, which is always fun.

Cherish great music – it’s an honour not a birth-right.

Soundtrack – Iona, ‘Beyond These Shores’.

Tags: Musing on Music