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Bruce Cockburn interview from Nov '99

March 25th, 2008 · Comments Off on Bruce Cockburn interview from Nov '99

Back when I was writing for Bassist magazine in the late 90s, I mainly used interviews as a chance to meet up with my musical heroes. The bass ones were easy to sort out, but on a couple of occasions I used the magazine connection to interview my guitar playing heroes as well, and did this interview for Guitarist magazine. Given that Bruce Cockburn is my favourite musician of all time, and probably the songwriter whose songs have had the most real-world impact on my day to day life, it was always going to be a little hagiographic, but I think I’ve kept the ‘you’re amazing, tell me about being amazing’ type questions to a minimum.

This is my original transcript of the interview, which is a fair bit longer than what actually got printed, I seem to remember. It was just after Breakfast In New Orleans, Dinner In Timbuktu had come out, and was conducted in the restaurant of some hotel in Ealing, I think. Bruce was a fantastic interviewee, and this is one of my favourite interviews to read back. A couple of my questions are a little crassly put, but it was 9 years ago, so I’ll cut myself some slack. I’ve met him a few times since, and he’s always been a very friendly, funny person to meet…

Bruce Cockburn Interview
(Reproduced from the November 99 issue of Guitarist Magazine)

Impossible to pigeon-hole, but equally brilliant whether finger-picking ragtime instrumentals or giving it what-for on a distorted electric, Bruce Cockburn’s artistry continues to climb 30 years into his career.

Once described by Melody Maker as ‘Canada’s best kept secret’, singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn has, over the course of 25 albums, built up a substantial following world-wide and is a bit of a superstar in his native Canada. He’s had 20 gold and platinum records, won 10 Junos (the Canadian version of Grammies), and does seriously big tours, but remains a cult act in the UK (albeit a cult act capable of playing the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank last time he visited these shores!)

Bruce’s body of work ranges from lilting country folk to the dark brooding punk and reggae influenced political ranting of his eighties albums. His recent move to the Rykodisc label has been accompanied by a shift back to the jazzier acoustic sound of his late seventies albums. Always focused, Bruce is one of very few singer/songwriters to last 30 years with no embarrassing period whatsoever.

Initially inspired by Scotty Moore and Buddy Holly, followed soon after by Chet Atkins and Les Paul, his guitar playing encompasses a huge range of styles, taking in ragtime and blues influences but combining them with jazz, country, rock and avant-garde in a unique melange that perfectly supports his heart-felt prose.

– When did you start playing

I started playing when I was 14 which was 1959.

– Why?

Scott Moore – the early Elvis records. Buddy Holly… well, the sound of the Crickets – I didn’t really associate it with particular people it was just music. That’s what got me excited about music. I started taking guitar lessons at the age of 14 and was very quickly introduced to other kinds of music. The teacher I had was into country swing like Les Paul and Chet Atkins, and all the tunes that were on Willy Nelson’s ‘Stardust’ album were the tunes that I learned to read music on the guitar with, to learn chords and all that stuff. The first tune I can remember actually working out off a record was ‘Walk Don’t Run’ by the Ventures. It just kinda moved on from there – I got interested in jazz pretty quickly, and through that moved into folk-blues. By the time I got out of high school I was doing some rudimentary finger-picking and was starting to compose music, and dabbled in writing poetry. I went to Berkley for three semesters out of a four year course, and did what all honourable Berkley students that are any good do – drop out! Last year they gave me an honorary Doctorate so I finally got my degree. When I was at Berkley I was shown by John Lennon and Bob Dylan that you could actually put poetry and music together and make something.

– So Dylan was the catalyst?

That’s what interested me about it. I had no interest in imitating the songs I liked – old Elvis songs, ragtime tunes – those were the product of a time and place and an experience that I had no part of so it made no sense to try and write those songs. It was OK for me to sing them, that made sense, but not trying to write anything like it. But it hadn’t occurred to me that you could do anything else until Dylan came along, and it was like ‘Oh wow, you can actually say stuff.’ So I started writing songs. When I left Berkley I joined a rock ‘n’ roll band in Ottawa where I had grown up, made up of a bunch of folkies that I knew, and we all were writing songs at that point, and that’s when I really started taking it seriously. It kinda grew from there’

– So that was the beginning of the solo career?

Yeah, except I did it with my wife at the time. At first I wasn’t really on the road – we were on such a small circuit, that it didn’t qualify as on the road. There were clubs in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal that I could play and the occasional folk festival, and in the early says that’s what I did. I was in bands for the second half of the sixties but had started to do solo stuff in the latter part of the 60s. ’69 was a fairly busy year for me as a solo artist, and that’s when the first solo album was recorded. In the spring of ’70, I bought my first truck, I was started to get paid for gigs so I had some money. It cost three thousand dollars, which was a big deal at the time. And we put a camper on the back of it, and spent the next five years driving back and forth across the country, staying with my in-laws or my parents during the winter and hitting the road again as soon as it warmed up. So for 7 or 8 months out of each year we’d be on the road.

– Was there a sense of the emerging Canadian sound?

There WAS an emerging Canadian sound, but there wasn’t really a sense of it. People started thinking about it after the fact.

– It must have really pissed off the Americans.

That Canada had all the best song writers? I don’t think anyone thought about it – in those days you didn’t say you were from Canada – most Canadians were embarrassed about Canada. Most Canadians didn’t know that Joni Mitchell was Canadian, or that Neil Young was Canadian. You’d say it to people and they’d go ‘What? Nah, that’s bullshit!’ It’s like ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth???’ Same thing.

There were a lot of us around that time who thought this was a bad thing who were right behind Joni, Neil and Gordon Lightfoot, who was the first to opt to stay in Canada rather than to move to the US. It was a cliche of Canadian culture that in order to be accepted by Canadians you had to prove yourself somewhere else first – you could do it in England or the US, but not in Canada.

But there was kind of a wave of nationalism that we were all affected by at the time that said it shouldn’t be that way, so I just thought I’m going to build up whatever audience I can in Canada before I think about going anywhere else, and then we’ll see where it goes. Over the next ten years – it took about that long to build a strong national audience, but by the end of the 70s I did have that, and I was also starting to work outside of Canada, a little. But hardly in the states at all – it was Italy and Japan at first. The states did really start to get interested in me until ’83 when Stealing Fire came out, when we started to do national tours.

– Didn’t you get some adverse press for Rocket Launcher?

No, it got no adverse press, it got nothing but positive response – it blew my mind! The Religious Right to my mind said nothing about it. I got the odd letter from somebody who were disappointed in it. One woman I remembered writing saying how could I write an anti-American song like this – her husband was a jet pilot and didn’t I know what awful things the Russians were doing in Afghanistan? Well yeah I do, but it doesn’t excuse what you guys are doing in Guatemala, and it’s not your husband who’s guilty, it’s other people.

I got the occasional letter like that, but what I also got was a huge amount of air-play for that song, which I hadn’t really had before – the one exception being Wondering Where The Lions Are which got played in the US as well as Canada. WWTLA was the first song I’d had that got big time national air-play in Canada and it got on the Billboard chart in the US. But whereas it was the start of something in the Canada, in the sense that the next few records I put out also got a lot of air-play, in the States that didn’t happen, so with Rocket Launcher it was like starting all over again. And that time it did take, and it’s been progressively better since then.

– How did your music develop through the 70s?

The finger-picking that I’d learned to do was based on Mississippi John Hurt and Manse Lipscomb, mainly, and other old blues guys like that, but I’d also learned how to play more complex chords. When I went to Berkley I went majoring in composition, with guitar as my instrument and I had this notion that I’d be a jazz musician – I hadn’t thought about it one way or the other, but that seemed like the thing you do when you went to Berkley! And then I realised part way along that I wasn’t prepared to do the amount of work, and I wasn’t interested enough in jazz harmonies per se to pursue it the way they were teaching it. But I still loved jazz and continue to love jazz, and whenever there’s an opportunity jazz creeps into the music – more now than ever, partly to do with increasing command of the instrument over the years, and partly to do with exploring options as a writer.

– Did you continue to study?

I didn’t study formally in anyway – I taught myself this and that. But I listened to a lot of stuff – you mentioned the world music thing – through the late 60s and into the 70s I was listening to music of every culture that I could get my hands on. I was particularly infatuated with European Medieval and Renaissance music – you can hear that in the records. I was also listening to African records, Tibetan Ritual music. I guess I got started on that track at Berkley because a lot of the jazz players were interested in Arabic music. That interest in Eastern music was prevailing in the jazz scene at the time and I got totally captivated by it.

So the guitar style was partly having started with a blues style that featured alternating bass with a melody over the top or a droning bass with licks over the top, the melodies and the licks got more complicated, and the harmonies never were as simple as blues harmonies so. So on top of that would be a song like Joy Will Find A Way, where the guitar part is an attempt at duplicating an Ethiopian thumb harp piece that I had on a record – it’s not the same notes, but an attempt to get that feel into it. I found that a lot of African folk music suited adaptation to finger picking guitar, which wasn’t lost on the Africans either, but I hadn’t heard African guitar music then. It was obvious to me that you could take these complimentary drum and xylophone type instruments and translate that music onto the guitar, and that became part of the style and then everything I heard that I like really.

And then in the 70s I discovered Reggae and then Punk came along and revitalised rock ‘n’ roll for me and so then I started getting those elements in there to.

– Was electric guitar an anathema – with prog rock etc.?

I used it a bit – all through the 70s there was also the Stones, don’t forget, so there was goo guitar around of the sort that I related to as roots based. And there was good jazz guitar, although there was a period in there where I didn’t listen to much rock or jazz – I completely missed David Bowie, for instance, until Heroes in the late 70s, then I went back and discovered the rest of what he’d done. Then I started to look into rock music again. Yeah, I missed a lot, but I also gained something in the freedom I had from that influence at that particular time. When the influence came around it was affecting me as a more developed artist.

– So the addition of electric stuff happened around Humans, or Inner City Front…?

Inner City Front was really the big one. There’s electric guitar on many of the earlier albums, but it didn’t start to take over until I was playing with heavier bands with more drums and more emphasis on rhythm, and then it was an irresistible pressure to pick up the electric guitar – to hear myself on stage for one thing – but also to keep up in intensity with the other guys. There was a big learning process in there. on Inner City Front I got away with it, but there a lot of learning in front of people going on. I was applying the same techniques to the electric as I used on the acoustic, but there’s a big difference in touch and it took some time to kind of get the feel for it.

– Was there a parallel between the music and lyrics in that development?

The earliest album that has a real noticeable amount of electric guitar on it is Night Vision, which is also a dark kind of record and I hadn’t thought about it but I guess that’s true, it does contribute to it, though unconsciously – I must contribute to what I was doing. The choice wasn’t unconscious the connection was’

The tone of the albums really changes with Humans, which also coincides with my divorce, and the end of a decade and a point in my life that was partly triggered by the divorce and partly not where I spent a lot of time looking at how my inner being related to the big picture, the cosmic picture, and it was time to include other people in that search for an understanding of relationship. To put it in simple terms, as a christian if you’re gonna love your fellow mankind you gotta know who they are, you can’t love them in the abstract. So it was time to kind of be among humans. It started with the album humans and the songs there come from those first travels in Japan, and Italy – the first ventures outside of North America, and the greater understanding of human interaction on mass which translates into politics, and that carried through into inner city front, and all through the 80s.

– Your one of the few artists who was around in the 80s, when all the world’s singer songwriters went electric, who has no embarrassing period…

I was pretty careful, but I look back on certain of those things with a little embarrassment, but only a little – more the live gigs that the records cos there were more chances taken on stage than in the studios.

– Influences –

The Clash, Bob Marley that whole new wave thing had a broad non-specific effect but I remember thinking on Trouble With Normal, on Tropic Moon, and I could figure out how to get the right feel, so I remember thinking, ‘what would the Clash do with this?’ so I did what the Clash would’ve done with it, that was a conscious decision in the studio – it doesn’t sound very much like the Clash at all, but you can hear that mental process’ Bob Dylan was still an influence – Blood On The Tracks – he hadn’t had much of an influence on me for years and then Blood On The Tracks came out and that was a big album for me. Life in general – at that point I was starting to write life and looking outward’

– But there’s a musical sophistication that goes beyond those influences, more of a Peter Gabriel kind of vibe –

That has partly to do with the producers on that album, although I listened to a little Peter Gabriel, though I don’t think it was as much Peter Gabriel as listening to the same things that he was listening to and translating them. The producers, John Goldsmith and Kerry Crawford, who worked on World Of Wonders and Big Circumstance – their understanding of album production was bigger in scope than I was used to working with, and that’s one of the reasons why I was interested in them. So they got bigger sounds, and used more instruments and tried out more ideas, the music lent itself to that. At that point I’d been in Central America, and been to the Caribbean a bunch of times and I had more direct influence from those cultures – see how I miss you, down here tonight, world of wonders – on that song the imagery is all European, but the music is Afro-Caribbean.

– Influence of the Stick?

That had something to do with it as well. That was the thing that interested to me about the Stick. I was excited when I discovered that I knew someone who played it. With Hugh Marsh I’d explored the possibilities with Violin and Guitar, then Hugh’s brother Ferg (Fergus Jemison Marsh), turned out to be this incredible Stick player who was very Tony Levin influenced with the bass strings, but added on all this treble stuff that you don’t hear Tony Levin doing, and it seemed to me that there would be incredible textural possibilities with that part of the stick and guitar. So that became a big deal.

During the period that I was writing the material for Stealing Fire, I’d rented a little office space that I’d go to to practice and or write each day, and I had a little drum machine so I’d set up drum rhythms, and I have the lyrics and I’d be pulling at the lyric and the rhythms and that would spawn the guitar parts, and I got Ferg coming over and work on Stick parts that would go with the guitar parts, and then I’d modify the guitar parts if he had something better than I did. So the presence of the stick was in there early on in the process of building up to ‘Stealing Fire’.

– There are strong polyrhythmic possibilities with the Stick –

and then when you start adding drums to that the trick is to get people to start leaving things out because you can get so many things going at once.

– Guitars – who were you listening to?

I don’t think I was really listening to guitar players much through there. Since about 1960 I haven’t really tried to learn anything off a record in a ‘OK, how he’s doing this’ kind of way. I get influenced by the feel of things and I sort of take what my ear will grasp and then I mess with it, so the learning process has been slow, but also kind of less conspicuously influenced by any one person that it might other wise has been.

– And that helped to maintain originality?

It has had that effect, I don’t think I did it on purpose that was, it’s just my nature to do things that way. I would hear things I like, and any time I heard one I’d either find a way to do it my way or it would just become a kind of general influence – there were lots of people, Mark Knopfler was the most conspicuous fingerstyle electric player around, but I was always sort of slightly uncomfortable with that, even though I really liked his records, everyone would be telling me that I played like Mark Knopfler, once I started playing electric guitar, and it kind of was a little irritating, so I made a conscious effort where possible not to sound like Mark Knopfler – there was already one of him and we didn’t need another one.

– You started fingerpicking on the electric before Knoplfer, what lead to that? Naïvité’?

There was no question in my mind of ever picking up a pick – there was no reason to. I’d played electric guitar when I was in rock bands in the 60s, and I’d had lots of experience playing electric guitar with a pick. But through the 70s I’d developed enough facility with the guitar that it just seemed like OK now how do I apply this to this other instrument, and by the end of the 80s I’d sort of almost learned how to do it!!

– It gave you a unique sound, and a continuity between the electric and acoustic.

They’re not polls apart

– sometimes it’s pretty hard to tell which you’re playing.

yeah, depending on which guitar I’m using – the National Resophonic that I’ve got is an electric guitar but I’ve got it strung with acoustic gauge strings and it has this chunky sound that has much of the attack of an acoustic.

– What electrics were you using in the 80s?

I had a couple of Strats, and a couple of hand made flying Vs, made by Emory Deyong, in Canada. They were really nice guitars, with humbucking pickups, but I’ve always had a problem playing Gibson style electrics cos the necks are to flexible and I’d always bend them out of tune, I grab them too hard, whereas Fenders, or anything with a Fender feel didn’t present that problem so I tended to lean that way. Also the attack on Fenders in more finger friendly, more like the acoustic.

– A kind of natural compression to the sound?

yeah, so it suited’ it easy to overplay an electric guitar when you’re used to an acoustic, whether it’s fingers or a pick. One of the most flagrant historic examples of that is Django Reinhard – when you listen to his records on electric guitar they sound horrible next to the genius tone, not to mention the content of his acoustic playing. He’s whacking the shit out of the electric and it hurts! And I did the same thing -everybody that switches, has to overcome that same tendency which was made easier on certain guitars than on others.

– After the darkness of Big Circumstance, you came back with a far more commercial album in Nothing But A Burning – a shift to new country?

The term new country got invented after we made that album, but the conscious effort made in those songs was definitely a shift. I’d had this big dry spell and at the end of the 80s, from the middle of 88 to the end of 89 I didn’t write anything,

– was that scary?

It was very scary, it was sort of like well OK, either I’ve got to think of some drastic thing to do or I’ve got to go and learn a new trade! So I decided to declare myself on sabbatical, I was gonna take 1990 off, which I did, and I just announced to the world that I was going to have no public involvement with anything, and I more or less did that. And within a week of having started on my sabbatical I started writing, and I wrote Child Of the Wind, and the songs started coming that ended up making up ‘Nothing But a Burning Light’.

But there’d been this big clearing of the slate before that, like the whole 80s was cancelled. The thing that I’d realised during that dry period was that I’d be looking around at songs and I noticed that I had no virtually no songs that someone who was an untrained guitar player could sit down and make work, and I thought that was kind of a lack, so I deliberately made an effort to write songs that you didn’t have to play like I do to make them sound good, you could just strum the chords and they’d still work. So Child of the Wind was like that, and most of the other song on NBABL fit that description. That was on purpose, that had the effect that it wasn’t an attempt to make the songs commercial, it was to make the accessible to someone that wanted to have fun playing them. And that kind of carried over into Dart to the Heart, and then I kinda dropped it – I got bored with that!

– Any label pressure?

No – well, record companies like radio air-play – but nothing that affected the content of the songs, or even really the way we recorded them. The choice of T-Bone Burnett to produce those records was a process that involved the record company, but we had a list of people and he was on everybody’s list. The sound of those records owes everything to T-Bone, and to the particular to the writing of the songs that set that up.

– Burning Light is an amazing sounding album

Nothing But A Burning Light came out really well. Dart To The Heart we didn’t get as lucky on, although there’s still a lot that I really like about that. But NBABL was one of those instances where everything falls together exactly right. It was such a great band on there – Keltner and Michael Been, Edgar Meyer and Booker T.

– Two albums with T-Bone on the major.

..and the Christmas album which was done sort of in between, which I produced though I owe a lot to T-Bone for that, for the inspiration of his attitude towards production more than any of the technical stuff. I guess it was the same as my process of learning from guitar players, I didn’t study what he did, but I picked up an understanding from him of how to focus on the essence of a song without screwing it up in the process of adding instruments to it. there are many many ways that you can mess with a song in the studio so there’s something very important about uncovering that essence and keeping it in the forefront.

– Was that a chance to re-indulge your love of folk music?

Well, in a way.. circumstantially I guess’ The Christmas album was something I’d wanted to do for 20 years because I’d loved that music and thought I could do something with it, but it took that long to get somebody to pay for it. We were doing these radio shows out of New York, we did 5 in the end, which became the Columbia Records Radio Hour, which became a monthly show that they did, I ended up doing all the Christmas ones.

– And you duetted with Lou Reed on Cry Of A Tiny Babe????

I know, it amazes me too – you should have been there when it happened. We’d rehearsed it but he was reading the lyrics off. There we were playing the song, and it came time for his verse and that’s what he did, and I just started laughing as you can probably hear on the ensuing chorus.

– New York was a favourite of yours?

Yeah that was a great album – I don’t really know the body of Lou’s work’ you know who else I really liked through that period was Laurie Anderson, or course they’re now a pair which is pretty interesting. She did some marvellous stuff. I don’t go to many shows, especially big shows, but I remember going to see her at Massey Hall in Toronto and it was maybe the best show I’ve ever seen, for sheer entertainment and content’

– now your on Rykodisc – it sounds like your back in a love affair with the guitar…

It’s what came out of the experiment – it starts with Dart, or maybe even Burning Light. It’s like I said, but the end of the 80s I’d finally learned what to do with an electric guitar, and you can start to hear that on the records, and it continues, I’m still learning all the time – the more I learn, the more I want to do with it, though the new album doesn’t feature that much electric, there’s a couple of prominent bits, but the Charity of Night features some extended leads and stuff. It’s the first time I’ve felt confident enough to allow myself to do the jazz part of the record – I’d always imported other people to do that, you get John Goldsmith on keyboards, or Hugh Marsh on violin adding the jazz into it, but as of the Charity of Night it was time for me to try and do some of it myself, though on the new album it’s not so much on the electric but the two instrumentals have a lot of improvising in them. I’m just letting myself play – we’ll see what happens when we put the band together to tour’

– And live? At Greenbelt the guitar playing was really front and centre…

That’s always been part of the live shows – Dialogue With The Devil, although I’m playing different thing in the solo part of it, it’s basically the same way I was doing it in 1974. To some extent those little lead things have always been in the shows, more so than on any of the records, and with the band shows there’s always been more electric guitar leads, until now when it seems to be evening out a bit. It’s fun to play, you know? It’s partly getting older and allowing myself more freedom. I’ve always had this built in limitation of things supposed to be a certain way, I’ve a limited concept of how things can be and how stretchy you can make things, and over the years that’s gotten a lot looser.

– The record sounds unfettered. Fun, passionate and full of energy.

There wasn’t much restraint – the restraints on me are my technical ability more than anything, and I suppose ones technical ability limits to some degree what you can imagine, at least in my case it does! It doesn’t stop at the same place, but you hear things projected from what you know how to do.

– your guitar now is a Linda Manzer, right?

I had a Larivee – I had the first cutaway guitar that Larivee ever made. Larivee was the first Canadian guitar maker to work with steel string guitars, and he developed a whole style of guitar making that owed nothing to Martin or Gibson, having a different concept of bracing, ‘n’ all that. And Linda along with a couple of other people was one of Larivee’s apprentices for a while – there were three of four of them who were spawns of the original Larivee thing, only Larivee has moved into more a shop thing, with helpers – not a factory as such, but more like that than it was. Linda continued to make guitars on her own.

I had two Larivee guitars, and a David Wren, who was another Larivee apprentice. I had two Wrens, one got destroyed in a fire, at a rehearsal space, which was right before one of the tours of Italy, so I had to play electric guitar – my telecaster was all I had left, and the Italians were really pissed at that, and were yelling out ‘acoustica, acoustica!!’ They didn’t want to hear me playing electric at all, and didn’t believe that my guitar had been burnt – they thought I was putting one over on them.

Anyway, I ended up moving from that to a Manzer. I’d experimented with a few commercial guitars that people were trying to get me to use, and I didn’t like any of them – that was in 86/87. The guitar that Linda made me then I had until the beginning of this year and I traded it back to her for a new one with slightly different characteristics. It was a particularly deep bodied guitar with a cedar top, slightly wider than average neck to make room for finger-picking. When I got it that’s what I wanted, but over the years as I started switching back and forth between electric and acoustic more often, I started wanting my acoustic strings to be closer together so it wasn’t such an adjustment moving back and forth. I found to that I developed a problem over the Charity of Night tour I started getting a problem with my right hand fingers, and what had happened is that because of the extra body depth – we’re only talking about a 1/2 inch but with a guitar that’s significant – the top corner of the guitar was pressing in the nerves in my forearm and over the 10 years that I’d played the guitar it had started to cause problems with the nerves in my arm. So I approached Linda about getting another one from her and she makes a kind of guitar that’s sort of wedge shaped – narrower on the bass side. You sacrifice some bottom end tone, acoustically, but no-one listens to guitars acoustically any more live anyway – very few people even know how to mic one anymore’ The wedge shaped one is not extra deep, mainly because survival is more important than the bass end! That’s what I used at Greenbelt – it’s slight, and not really noticeable to the casual observer, but it does have enough of a slope that it doesn’t put pressure on that particular spot. I knew this from playing the Dobro which has a very thin body and I wasn’t having any trouble playing that so duh! Make the connection, it’s obvious! But so ended up with the new Manzer, which I really love. As I said, it sacrifices a slight amount of bass tone acoustically, electrically, with the fishman pickup that’s in it, it sounds as good as any other guitar with a Fishman. Just the latest generation of piezo. It’s got a really nice neck – it’s a beautiful guitar to play.

– Mic and line in the studio?

Normally I would just mic it – we probably did some of it plugged in, but we never used it, it’s kind of more for safety – if we get a little noise on the mic, or we have to punch in…

But I don’t really like the sound of it plugged in when you don’t have to have it – it’s there live because there’s no other way, but the new Manzer is not what appears on the new album – that’s a Collings that I have that I’ve had for three years. It’s the one that like D28, big body. You hear that on the Charity of Night and on Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu, because the new Manzer was still too green – it hadn’t opened up yet’

– Electrics on the album?

On Blueberry Hill, it’s a black and cheesy Charvel Surfcaster, And a Strat that a friend gave me that she’d had lying around is doing a lot of the leads of the album.

– which artists have you seen recently that class as ‘ones to watch’?

Ani Defranco well enough known at this point that she’s not really one to watch unless you haven’t heard her yet in which case you’d better! But she’s to me the best thing happening now, in terms of acoustic style songwriters. And Kelly Joe Phelps is running right up there behind her. They’re both completely original really interesting players playing very different styles of music, but very distinctive in their approaches. For guitar players, Bill Frisell – he’s somebody that I would go out of my way to see live, and Marc Ribot – the Cubanos Postisos Record – that’s an incredible record. I saw him play in New York at one of those weird avant garde gigs and he was excellent – those are the kind of things that interest me. James Blood Ulmer is someone else that interests me greatly, and has done since the 80s.

– are you influenced by the avante garde?

I like stuff that’s out on the edge, I’ve always liked that. I’ve never seen myself as being there, but I’ve always wanted to be.

– Any plans to work with Jonatha Brooke again?

I’d love to, but there’s no plans to at the moment’ She’s a fantastic writer and singer and a great person. She’s someone who uses a lot of different tunings but really uses them interestingly and doesn’t just play the same thing from tuning to tuning. She’s got a great sense of sonority.

Tags: journalism

More magical recycling…

August 23rd, 2006 · 1 Comment

It’s becoming a bit predictable – Recycle Collective rolls around towards the back half of each month, and an evening of fabulous creative exciting music ensues.

Audience sizes are less easy to predict, but August is a tough month for playing anything other than festivals in the UK, so I was actually quite happy with our modest gathering of lovely Recyclettes.

We went with the three set/three curators model of Recycling – starting with me playing a couple of solo tunes (Behind Every Word and MMFSOG for those taking notes) and then inviting Andy Hamill up for some bass duets, he on upright, me on fretless, that came out beautifully. Andy’s been playing with Natasha Atlas, and he fed a gorgeous middle eastern melody into one of the improvs.

We then got Seb up to join us on drums, and I looped his drums, and anything else that happened to end up being picked up by the mic over his kit! Much fun indeed, some great noises and great moments.

Second set was Andy’s to curate, and he started it off with a lovely solo piece for looped bass and harmonica, followed by a duet with violinist Julian Ferraretto, who also sang beautifully on Nature Boy – yup, proper jazz at the Recycle Collective! They did another standard after that, My Romance, with Seb on drums, and played it really well – Andy’s chordal comping on the upright was just amazing. Fab stuff.

I then joined them for a quartet improv piece, which started off with a violin and bass loop and spiralled out from there. Such a treat to play with such marvellous musicians.

Seb’s set – the final one of the evening – started with him playing his first ever solo drum piece. Always nice to have firsts at the RC, especially when they’re as good as this. I then went up and we started what was to be about a 20 minute abstract piece that began with me looping his drums, replacing bits of the loop, flipping it back to front and adding some scary elephant noises and spookiness, then moving to a filtered faux-tabla rhythmic thing before andy joined us, and finally Julian and another violinist, Mandy Drummond piled in for a very dark atmospheric finish, with andy playing a sparse groove, seb scattering percussive sounds all over the place and the two violins adding violin loveliness to it all.

All in all, a fab night’s music. Some truly amazing moments and a fascinating journey through a new musical landscape, as well as the first ting-ting te-ting jazz at the RC.

Here’s hope the Bass/Bass/Drums trio happens again very soon!

Tags: Music News

Easter Improv

April 14th, 2006 · 1 Comment

just had a great fun gig at St Luke’s. Every Easter, the church is turned into an art gallery, housing various ‘stations’ – works of art based on bits of the easter story in varying levels of abstraction, dotted around the church, and used as a focal point for meditation/prayer. There’s a launch on Good Friday lunchtime and then the art is left up for the next week or so.

This year, Julie McKee and I were approached by a woman in the church to provide a soundtraack to her piece. She’d originally wanted something that ‘sounded like Handel’ i think was the request… clearly not going to happen, but mellow ambient loopy improv goo we can do. And we did.

So we set up in an inconspicuous place in the corner of the church, and improv’d to our hearts content. The words were taken partly from some stuff that Judy the artist has sent as being her inspiration, and partly from a prayer/poem written by the ever-wonderful Martin Wroe, taken from his book, When You Haven’t Got A Prayer – here’s the prayer in question;

God
within
and
without

God
underground and overground
everywhere and nowhere
always and never
sometimes and all times

God
inside
and
outside

God
here
with
us
now.

That’s it – very simple, and easy to sing. Strangely enough, it’s the second time I’ve played on a musical setting of these words, the last time being on a demo by Steve McEwan… but anyway.

So I was looping and layering my own ambient loveliness and Julie’s voice, so the words were tumbling over one another in and out of layers of bass goo. Sounds pretty damned fine listening back to it.

Oh yes, I finally got round to recording an improv gig – yay for me! I recorded it direct into ProTools M-Powered, and am now bouncing it down so I can export it to my PC and edit it in Adobe Audition. Much as ProTools is proving useful for this kind of recording, it is a total pain in the arse to use. For one, it saves the stereo audio as two mono files rather than one stereo one, so I can’t just drag the raw data across. Secondly, in order for the program to even start up, I have to have both my M-Audio soundcard and the iKey plugged in! I had hoped that I’d be able to export multitrack sessions to my laptop from the PC and mix things in ProTools, but that’s clearly not going to happen… I definitely prefer Adobe Audition.. and when I eventually get an Intel-Powered MacBook Pro, I’ll be running Audition on that for sure…

For now, I’m currently bouncing down the audio from the two mono files to a stereo file (which happens in real time so is taking a full half an hour!!! what a pain!! grrr), and will then do all the loveliness that needs doing in Audition on the PC.

Anyway, depending on how good it gets when I’ve tweaked it, it may end up being available for download via the shop. It is rather lovely…

Tags: Music News

Easter…

April 13th, 2006 · Comments Off on Easter…

We’re nearing the end of Holy Week in the church Calendar. Starting with Palm Sunday, running through Maundy Thursday (today) to Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Sunday.

My thoughts on all this are the same this year as they were last year, so click here to read last year’s blog post about Good Friday.

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

McWebChat with the McDevil

April 6th, 2006 · Comments Off on McWebChat with the McDevil

I’m currently watching a web chat on the channel 4 website with Steve Easterbrook, the managing director of McDonalds in the UK. It’s in response to channel 4 having just shown Supersize Me again. I watched bits of it again, and it’s a fantastic bit of film making.

Clearly, McTurdBoy is going to be a shitbag – you don’t take a job like that in the first place without being McScum – and the webchat is being filtered so it’s all the questions that look really edgy but allow him to recite the McShit party line.

I’ve submitted three questions so far – one of about the Judge’s conclusions in the McLibel trial, one about the McDonald’s statement that none of their meals are guaranteed free from meat contamination and one about whether or not the film has an impact on the ‘diminished consumer confidence’ that McShit listed as one of the reasons for them closing 25 of their hellholes last month… – perhaps not surprisingly, McSatan hasn’t bothered to trouble me with a McAnswer.

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

four more years of winter…

November 4th, 2004 · Comments Off on four more years of winter…

Went to see Show Of Hands at the Bloomsbury this evening. They are, without a doubt, one of the finest live acts in the UK. They offer everything a great live music event should – they are moving, funny, exciting, energetic, soothing, virtuosic, inspiring and authentic. Just brilliant. On one song, called ‘I Promise You’, all about being in a bad patch but looking for promises of something better, Steve Knightly ad-libbed the line ‘I promise you… four more years of winter’. It refers to the line that follows all the good promises in the song – ‘but first we must face the winter’.

The feeling that we are facing four more years of winter is pretty strong right now. Last night’s election result has left us without hope of something better. I wasn’t a huge fan of, or believer in John Kerry and the Kerry message. Sadly he was no where near as ‘liberal’ as the Bushites were trying to paint him (if he had been, he’d have had my vote for sure), but he was new, and electing him would have got rid of the Chaney/Rumsfeld/Ashcroft axis of evil, and offered ‘the chance’ of something better. Kerry’s voting record didn’t fill me with confidence that he’d sort out the fuckup in the middle-east, but his domestic promises on taxing the rich and channeling the money into primary health care would have been a huge step forward in a country with the kind of deficit that Bush has run up.

All he would have offered would have been a glimmer of hope. The hope that he could have been lobbied and cajoled into acting at least partially in line with the democratic model he was inheriting as that party’s candidate. Clinton did a fair amount of damage to the Democratic principle, and throughout the latter half of the 20th century, democratic presidents in the US were pretty hawkish, but there was that hope. A hope that is now gone.

So what’s the best that can be hoped for now? What on earth is the future in Iraq? I’m neither a military strategist or an expert in middle eastern politics, so have no suggestions for whether a partial withdrawal, total withdrawal or a firm military approach would sort this out, but the man who started this utter fiasco that has lead to the deaths of more than 100,000 Iraqis (so much for Saddam’s record as butcher of his own people) has been re-elected, to carry on. He wasn’t promising a change of plan, wasn’t appologising for the balls-up thus far, just spouting shite about being ‘tough on terror’ – there is no war on terror. I’m hardly the first one to say it, but you can’t have a war on terror. It’s like having a war on bad stuff, or a war on attitudes. The word war is at the root of the problem, because it’s that kind of imperial behaviour that fosters terrorist motives. So the more you bomb, the more you turn moderates into radicals. If my family were living in faluja, I’d be feeling pretty extremist right now too.

That’s not to justify the behaviour of the ‘militants’ – al sadir and his ilk are evil murderous tyrants who need to be stopped. This is no time to go soft on psychopaths, but it is a time to acknowledge that the invasion has given motive and a localised legitimacy to some pretty messed up groups, who are no recruiting like mad to fight the aggressors.

Those that were opposing Saddam for all those years and are opposing the US invasion too are caught in a really really tricky situation. According to an arcticle by Nick Cohen in The New Statesman this week, they are largely trade unionists, who have been sidelined by well meaning anti-war protestors choosing to paint the ‘insurgents’ in Faluja as freedom fighters, rather than as yet another screwed up faction in a war of people who really shouldn’t be there.

So who knows what Kerry would have done? Maybe the same as Jnr, maybe worse, but there was hope. And now it’s gone.

The best we have is inertia. God Bless America.

It’s weird, I really like america. I’ve never met an American visiting the UK that I didn’t like (well, OK, there was one, but he was very odd). I have a great time every time I visit the country, and have no trouble at all separating the actions of Bush PLC from the love, warmth and positivity of the American people I know and love. But that’s the problem, I can’t find a connection at all. The US seems like the most divided country I’ve ever witnessed (at least since Thatcher’s britain in the mid-80s, anyway).

I guess it’s back to thinking global and acting local. Macro-politics are just to depressing to even consider. So buy low energy light-bulbs, drive the car less, eat organic, shop fair trade, smile at people on the bus, and wait to see what happens in the UK elections next May…

SoundtrackMiranda Sykes, ‘Don’t Look Down’ (Miranda was singing and playing double bass with Show Of Hands this evening – very talented, and her CDs damn fine too); Show Of Hands, ‘Dark Fields’.

Talking of Show Of Hands, they’re on tour at the moment – Click here for their upcoming dates – don’t miss them out tour if they come near you.

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Happy Birthday…

December 25th, 2003 · Comments Off on Happy Birthday…

…Jesus (oh, and Dido)

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain.
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hooker’s Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that villagers can say
‘The Church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.

Provincial public houses blaze
And Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad,
And Christmas morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true? and is it true?
The most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant.

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.

Christmas by John Betjamen.

It’s christmas day – happy christmas. Hope yours is a merry, fun, peaceful and debt-free one.

Seems weird to be celebrating the birth of the Prince Of Peace after a year of war, but it was a year when more people actively protested in favour of peace than at any time since Vietnam…

Maybe we’ll get some peace on earth and goodwill to all men and women after all.

one more christmas poem, this one by Steve Turner –

‘The Cast Of Christmas Reassembles for Easter’

Take the wise men to the Emperor’s palace.
Wash their hands in water.
Get them to say something about truth.
Does anyone know any good Jewish jokes?
The one about a carpenter
who thought he was a King?
The one about the Saviour
who couldn’t save himself?
The shepherds should stand with the chorus.
They have a big production number –
‘Barabbas, We Love You Baby’.
Mary? She can move to the front.
We have a special section reserved
for family and close friends.
Tell her that we had to cut the manger up.
We needed the wood for something else.
The star I’m afraid I can’t use.
There are no stars in this show.
The sky turns black with sorrow.
The earth shakes with terror.
Hold on to the frankincense.
We’ll need that for the garden scene.
Angels? He could do with some angels.
Avenging angels.
Merciful angels.
He could really do with some angels.
Baby Jesus.
Step this way please.
My! How you’ve grown!
Steve Turner

Soundtrack – Jools Holland’s christmas special on TV.

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Hi, honey, I'm home…

October 31st, 2003 · Comments Off on Hi, honey, I'm home…

after being away for about two weeks.

First week was in Denmark, visiting the International People’s College. IPC is a ‘folk high school’ – a scandinavian educational model that looks at learning as something that’s worth doing for its own sake rather than just for the piece of paper you’ll get at the end of it. The various folk high schools around Denmark, Sweden, Norway etc. have different emphases (emphasise?? no idea…) – some are all about sport, or film making or whatever, and this one is an international school (the clue’s in the name), drawing currently from 32 different countries as diverse as nepal, england, argentina, tibet, bangladesh, malta, poland, USA, romania, uganda, kenya, australia and brazil.

the focus of the college is on conflict resolution, cross cultural studies, development issues and for most of the students it’s seen as a great place to learn english. The staff are an amazingly diverse bunch – from cambodia, mauritania, denmark, australia etc. etc. and the food’s great.

The reason for the visit is that my mum’s involved in trying to set up a folk high school in Berwick On Tweed (middle of nowhere and turn left), and I taught on their summer school this year. So we both went on a fact finding trip, to see if all this folk high school stuff was hippie idealism or a the answer to the UK’s current education crisis (education, education, education said Blair. bollocks bollocks bollocks says the entire population of england, 6 years on.) It was amazing – a fully functional school, the classes dealt with some pretty intense stuff, lofty concepts and deep philosophical stuff, all within the framework of 32 cultures under one roof, all unwittingly capable of deeply offending one another! :o)

With a week at the college and a couple of days to look round Copenhagen, we had a marvellous week (also had a nice chance to drop in and see Anders-Streetteam at one of the most amazing drum shops I’ve ever seen!) Copenhagen’s a great city – here’s hoping I can sort out some gigs there soon…

Got home from there for one day, did a day’s teaching, and headed off to Amsterdam on holiday. Warning – if you’re living in London, heading off to Copenhagen and Amsterdam in the space of a week is not a great idea if you still want to feel really good about where you live… Don’t get me wrong, I do like living here, and some things about being in England are magic, but politically we’re losing it, and the whole crime/vandalism/transport/weirdness thing has become the british axis of evil. Amsterdam is beautiful – it’s great to see a city of that size operate with so little car traffic. Thousands and thousands of bikes, but precious little car useage. lots of canals, gorgeous canals, and some very groovy shops. The liberal drug laws seem like a cool thing (when was the last time you saw someone get stoned and start a fight??), and there were much less of an agressive feel there than on a night out in central london, but the ‘liberal’ attitude to porn and prostitution is, according to the UN and other sources, just a front for some seriously nasty illegal stuff. So much for unionising the prostitution industry – doesn’t really help the girls who are being trafficked from asia and eastern europe. London has a huge problem with this too, but at least we don’t pretend that being a prostitute is a great gig and that it’s all kosher here… scary stuff.

Still, it’s a great city, sex-tourism aside, and I hope to go back and do some gigs there too soon!

And now I’m back home – time to get to work promoting the CD, which hopefully you’ve all bought by now! :o) Theo did a huge mailout to radio and media while I was away, so reviews and airplay should start happening soon… til then, play the CD to your friends, steal their money and buy them it for christmas. Lots of people are saying it’s their favourite of the CDs I’ve put out, which is nice.

On the bad news front, I heard today that Mike Yaconelli was killed in a car accident a couple of days ago – if you’ve ever been to Greenbelt, Yak won’t need any intro. If not, he was an author, social activist, realist, speaker, comedian and all round remarkable human being who did far more in his 61 years than many people could acheive in 10 times that. His passing is a loss to the world. here’s the report from his hometown. Please spare and thought and a prayer for his family.

Soundtrack – while I was away I picked up a few CDs – Charlie Haden, ‘American Dream’; Jing Chi, ‘Live’; Living Daylights, ‘Electric Rosary’ and Metalwood’s latest, which is upstairs and I can’t remember the title, but they’re all very good indeed! Today I’ve been listening to Jonatha Brooke, ’10 cent wings’, which is oustandingly brilliant, like just about every note jonatha has ever uttered.

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two weeks of theatre, gigs and puke…

April 29th, 2003 · Comments Off on two weeks of theatre, gigs and puke…

Blimey – it’s ages since I last got to write anything! I’ve now got a broadband connection, so hopefully it won’t be quite so long before I blog again (not that it’s any quicker with BB, as it doesn’t take long to connect anyway, but I’m online more than I was so may be able to get 5 mins here and there to talk rubbish on here…)

So what’s been going on? Potted history of life since the 15th (last blog date) –

went to the theatre to see The Madness Of George Dubya again, which was marvellous again – it’s transfered to the West End (The Arts Theatre in Leicester Square), and is being rewritten daily to keep abreast of current events, so it’s more topical than ever. Vital viewing, especially as there seems to be a lot that’s going unsaid about what’s now going on in Iraq – more shootings were reported this morning, that american guy who’s been put ‘in charge’ doesn’t seem to have much of a clue, and the looting still goes on…

Then it was easter weekend, which was surprisingly un-churchified – an unusual easter for me in that sense, partly cos I was just busy and didn’t plan anything in time, and partly cos I was at a wedding on Easter Saturday. Made it to church Easter Sunday morning, but it’s a while since I last missed a good friday service – anyone would thing that easter was when a rabbit got nailed to a cross, but was a nice rabbit who rose again and gave everyone chocolate eggs… I know that the timing of easter is a hi-jacked ancient solstice or something, but it does seem odd for it to have kind of stuck with some sort of christian significance in the media, but mainly it’s all about eggs and bunnies… the world is a might strange place…

Easter Sunday I went to a very fine gig – Three Blind Mice – featuring Lyndon Conner, the keyboardist who played with Level 42 on the Greatest Hits tour last year. The mice are a three piece – two guitar/vox and Lyndon on keys/vox, and feature some of the finest harmonies I’ve ever heard. Great songs, great delivery in a lovely venue (some pub near Paddington)… Well worth investigating. And after all that guff in the paragraph above, I did eat rather a large number of chocolate eggs at said gig.

Wed 23rd was a gig in Eastbourne with Tess Garroway and Joss Peach – more lovely improv, made even more fun by feeding both the piano and the voice into my loop setup to I could loop and tweak both of them as well… Small crowd, but cool venue.

The trip home wasn’t quite so much fun (this is where the puke in the heading comes into the story – turn away if you’re sqeamish) – I had a headache brewing through the entire gig, which got gradually worse and worse as we were packing up, bordering on migraine as I got in the car to drive home. It may have had something to do with not having eaten since about 2pm, and having had a beer when I arrived at the venue in the evening, but whatever, I wasn’t a well bunny.

Stopped once to wretch, didn’t puke. Stopped again, puked a bit. Was then doing 70mph along the M25 and vommed all over myself, the windscreen, the steering wheel, dashboard, seats, floor, everything. Tried catching it in a cardboard tissue box, but that just succeeded in funnelling said puke down both my sleeves (no, really, it is the most disgusting thing that has ever happened to me, which is why I just had to share it with you…)

One week previous to this, I’d been up to my armpit in blocked drain and thought that that was the grossest thing I’d ever done. This topped it, driving 35 miles covered in my own sick was really really nasty – the kind of thing that one usually associates with recovering smack-addicts…

The following day was a bit of a cleanup day, following my projectile experience of the day before.

Friday I was conducting an Echoplex clinic for the UK distributors, showing them a little of what’s possible (for lots more of what’s possible, see Andre’s site), which was great fun. I also picked up a couple more echoplexes, taking my tally to four – three are now in the rack, trying to work out how to wire the fourth one into the desk to give me a stereo main loop… hhhhhmmmnnnnnn

Friday evening was spent installing my broadband connection, which I’d got wrong somehow, and then Saturday required much rescuing as I’d downloaded too much stuff from Windows Update and had buggered up my machine, so with the help of evil harv, we got it going…

Last night, Jez and I went to see Carleen Anderson at the Jazz Cafe – we’re trying to get out to see more gigs, and were going to go out on Sunday, but there was bugger-all on in London. Boy, am I glad we waited til Monday – Carleen was brilliant, as were her band – Ben Castle on sax, Andy Hamill on bass, Mark Edwards on keys, Winston Clifford on drums and Jules someone on guitar – they are on again tonight and tomorrow, and if you can, you really ought to go… Carleen’s acoustic encore of ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ was worth the ticket price itself (and you can stream it from her website – high res with Broadband of course…)

In between all that stuff, I’ve been mixing the tracks that I recorded with Theo Travis, which are sounding great, and may well end up being my next album… It’s time for a duo album (last one was solo, before that duo, and first one was solo), and these are just fine ‘n’ dandy. Hopefully we’ll have something to listen to v. soon…

And obviously I’ve been indulging in the download delights of broadband – fave site at the moment is launch.yahoo.com, a music videos and streaming radio site which is very cool. Go there and watch some of the Bruce Cockburn, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos and Johnny Cash vids – all great stuff. Also been listening to radio on line, including kcrw, kvmr and bbc london.

Soundtrack – other than the online stuff, been listening to lots of Ron Miles – both ‘Heaven’ and ‘Laughing Barrel’, and listening to Paul Simon, ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’, Bill Frisell, ‘Have A Little Faith’, Alex Skolnick Trio, ‘Goodbye To Romance’, Frank Gambale, ‘Resident Aliens’ and King’s X ‘Manic Moonlight’.

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Stations Of The Cross

April 6th, 2003 · Comments Off on Stations Of The Cross

Last night’s ‘gig’ went really well… The event was called ‘UpLate’ and is a sort of alternative worship service at a lovely old church in Thame, Oxfordshire. Once a month they take a theme and set up a whole load of different artistic/musical/poetic ‘stations’ for people to wander round and look at/listen to/read/meditation on, etc. All very inspiring stuff – it’s a great building, and the quality of the art is top notch – it’s kind of like a themed multimedia art-gallery, with good coffee, and a glass or two of wine… ;o)

Anyway, last night, with it being their easter edition, Evil Harv, Jez and I were asked to come up with 14 improvs based on the stations of the cross to soundtrack the whole evening, we were set a time, and given 14 works of art to help inspire us – well, scans of them anyway… The list of station titles is –

(1) Jesus’ agony in the garden
(2) Jesus is betrayed by Judas and is arrested
(3) Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin
(4) Jesus is denied by Peter
(5) Jesus is condemned by Pontius Pilate
(6) Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns
(7) Jesus is made to carry the cross
(8) Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus with His cross
(9) Jesus meets with the women of Jerusalem
(10) Jesus is crucified
(11) Jesus promises paradise to the repentant thief
(12) Jesus speaks to John and Mary on the cross
(13) Jesus dies on the cross
(14) Jesus is buried in the tomb.

So for each of those we did an improv. As you can tell from the subject matter, it wasn’t going to be a happy-jazz sesh, and some of what we played got really dark and atonal – trying to express in music the image of Jesus being whipped and having a crown of thorns rammed onto his head is always going to be a pretty brutal sonic experience! But it’s amazing the way having a concrete theme like this can focus the music way beyond just noodling. Often Jez and I when we’re doing duo stuff will latch onto a particular mood and work with that, in a more abstract, but still just as compelling (for us) way. This time, it was obvious to all three of us what the theme was before we started, and the beginnings of some of the improvs were particularly interesting while we settled into how we were going to tackle that particular image – was the music going to be mournful, confrontational, pain-wracked, hopeful. etc… the tension worked really well at dealing with the many many mixed emotions that the easter story brings up…

The good news is we’ve got some of it on minidisc. The band news is that the batteries ran out after about half an hour, so we didn’t get enough… We played for about two hours (only overran by about 45 minutes! :o) – and it would’ve been great to have it all, as there were some really special moments, so hopefully we’ll be able to do it again next year in a different setting…

Soundtrack – last night and this morning, I’ve been listening to some new recordings by a fabulous bass playing singer/songwriter called John Lester. John’s a californian, who until recently was living in Paris, but is now in London, and will hopefully be gigging all over the place pretty soon. He’s great, check him out. And before that yesterday, was listening to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thiller’ – another tune that was being done in a lesson (PYT), and then staying on the turntable (ahhhh, vinyl) for a few hours… It really is a very good album indeed.

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