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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Learning the songs…

April 24th, 2006 · 1 Comment

This is the fun bit – learning the stuff that came out all improv-y and naturally on the recording so that I can play it live!

A couple of the tunes should be fairly easy, given that I’ve had them written for a while – ‘Deeper Still’ (that’s the tune for Eric Roche, it now has a name, write it down so you know what I’m talking about in future) is easy enough to remember, just a bitch to try and play in tune! Scott Peck is fine, cos I know it, though it’ll be odd going back to playing it solo now that I’ve been listening to it for a few days with BJ Cole‘s pedal steel part on it. HappyHappy I can remember, fairly well, as it’s very easy and fairly short.

I’ve just learnt ‘Nobody Wins Unless Everybody Wins’ – a fun little tune with lots of multiply of sync’d loops to get thing to come back a long time in the future. I can play that.

Now I’m just checking out the title track on the album, trying to remember how it goes! Am listening to it at the moment. And have just remembered what happens in the middle. G2 no. 1 routed through G2 no. 2, both of them recorded into the looperlative… the hardest thing to remember is how to set it all up before the tune begins, which aux sends to route to where, which buttons to push to make sure the right things are being recorded into the Looperlative.

In other news, loads of people have been checking out the tunes on my MySpace page – major amounts of plays! MySpace is, indeed, as Imogen Heap’s manager mentioned to me a couple of weeks ago ‘the new radio’.

Right, back to learning these songs!

Tags: Music News

A great day's recording…

April 20th, 2006 · Comments Off on A great day's recording…

Album is coming along rather nicely. Have finally got a version of my song for Eric Roche that I’m happy with, and then this afternoon, BJ Cole came round to play on a track. The track in question is called ‘Scott Peck’, and was the first thing I played after I heard that Scott Peck, author of ‘The Road Less Travelled’ had died last year.

The bass parts were recorded as a single solo live performance earlier this week, and BJ then overdubbed three full takes through the entire form, which I’ve added fades to. I’ve actually ended up with his last two takes both happening for most of the track, panned left and right. BJ’s sound and playing are just so perfect for the track, it’s amazing. When we were recording the different takes, it wasn’t in mind that they be playing simultaneously, but the two takes work so well together that they just HAVE to be there!

So I’m rather grateful to The Shark, who both suggested that I re-visit Scott Peck (having heard an MP3 of it when I first recorded it last year), and suggested BJ for this track. It was in my mind all along to get BJ on one track on the album, and this is the perfect one for it.

You’re going to love it, believe me. :o)

Tags: Music News

another fine day's recording

April 17th, 2006 · Comments Off on another fine day's recording

Managed to get another couple of tracks recorded for the album today – a new version of one that I’ve done 7 versions of so far, and I think this is ‘the one’… remains to be seen. The other is a re-recording of ‘Jimmy James’ from Not Dancing For Chicken. It’s always been one of my favourite of my own tunes, but the version of the CD didn’t really get close to doing it justice. And as it was inspired by the memory of a dear friend, it really deserved to be done properly. So that’s done. Sounds great.

Also did some more work on the sleeve, started getting the sleeve notes together, the front cover is done, it’s all beginning to feel like a proper CD that’s actually going to happen! I’ve also found another place that does the same kind of packaging as I have, but does it a lot cheaper than my usual source, which is v. exciting!

So tomorrow will be another heavy recording day – I still need to get good takes of the tune for Eric Roche (working title – Deeper Still), and the two covers, People Get Ready and What A Wonderful World. It remains to be seen if a) they work on the album and b) I can be bothered to sort out the copyright stuff to be able to release them. sounds like faff to me.

Anyway, I’m probably only a week away from being able to start mixing in earnest… guess I’d better get my mastering plans sorted out…

Tags: Music News

To Cover or Not To Cover, that is a question…

April 3rd, 2006 · 4 Comments

…it’s clearly not THE question. I mean, if you spent your life pondering whether or not to do cover versions of other people’s songs, you’re missing out on some pretty important pondering in other areas.

But right now, it’s a question, and it’s foremost in my mind cos I’m recording a new album. Finally. So, do I put the various covers that I’ve played live on it? The three that are up for consideration are People Get Ready, What A Wonderful World, and Deep Deep Down – the last one is an Eric Roche tune, that Eric and I had planned to do together and he’s apparently wanted me to play on on his last album. That never happened, but it’s an amazing bit of music, so I’ve got a solo version of it that I do.

So, do they go on the record? they’re pretty different from what I normally do, not least of all because Wonderful World and Deep Deep Down are just chord melody pieces, no loopage at all. And People Get Ready only has the loop bit for the solo in the middle. With those three, and my tune for Eric (still as yet untitled), that’d be four chord melody pieces on the album. A nice change, I think, but how well will they sit with the usual stevie floaty-ness? I guess the obvious answer is to record them and then see what happens when it comes to sequencing the album – do they fit or don’t they?

right, back to recording…

Tags: Musing on Music

2005 – a year in review

December 31st, 2005 · Comments Off on 2005 – a year in review

Good year? Bad year? not sure…

Musically, not a bad year – didn’t release any albums, but I guess that means that the last one is still doing OK, so didn’t feel any major pressure to get something new happening. Now I’m glad I waited due to all the new musical ideas offered up by the Looperlative.

Some great gigs – bassday, bassfest thing in Italy in July, Edinburgh festival (where staying with Jane and Gareth was also a year highlight – much fun). Gig with Ned Evett in Petersfield was much fun, as was recording with Ned. Finished an albums worth of material with Calamateur, AKA Andrew Howie, and there’s a lot of great stuff on there – I’m excited about what we might be able to do with that. Recycle Collective started – was v. small, but musically one of the best gigs I’ve been involved with.

Teaching’s been great – lots of very fine students, lots of beginners making progress, and meeting lots of lovely new people. also started a new column for Bass Guitar Magazine – good to be back writing again (which reminds me, I’ve got one to finish ASAP!)

Personally, it’s been a fairly good year – one big scare with the ginger fairly aged feline, who was given roughly two weeks to live, but with chemo got rid of a satsuma sized tumor IN A WEEK!!!! – we’re still amazed by that, and he’s going great. Life with both the fairly aged felines has been lots of fun (I really feel sorry for all those of you with cat allergies who have to lavish your attention on human offspring as a replacement…) seeing them both take over the house and garden and settle in.

another year of doing no work on the house… hmmm, maybe I should start by just TIDYING MY OFFICE!!! lazy bastard…

World events – both the best and worst things that happened this year were the same – the Make Poverty History campaign was such a monumental success at getting poverty reduction and the plight of people living in extreme poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America into the minds of every day people, it felt like there were really a chance to make a proper change. millions of people signing petitions, emailing MPs and congressmen, documentaries being made, and of course Live8 and the march in Edinburgh.

And then the worst thing – the gargantuan fuck-up that the G8 leaders made of the opportunity to do something for the world’s poor. Never before in the history of the world had there been such a wellspring of popular support for governments making decisions in favour of the poor, diverting cash and resources to help those in need, changing trade laws to balance things out. Millions upon millions of people around the world were calling for it, huge numbers of politicians were calling for it. Even mad right wing american jihadists like Pat Robertson were on-side (!!), but still those sad twisted old men of the G8 sat round the table in Gleneagles, in their opulence and grandeur and bollocksed the whole thing up. Their pledges fell woefully short, and then they even undid a lot of that. It was disgusting, sickening and saddening that such an opportunity had been wasted. Bono and Bob Geldof had done an amazing job of getting the campaign off the ground, from their involvement in the commission for Africa, and DATA, through to organising Live8, but they bottled it when the announcement was made, took the encouraging words one step too far and declared the Gleneagles bullshit to be a triumph. I’m guessing they aren’t too happy with where it’s gone. The follow up at the World Trade Talks in November was equally shit. A tragedy on a scale that all the terrorists in the world couldn’t hope to achieve.

The week of Live8 and the G8 was a busy one, given that it was also the week of two other disasters – firstly London getting the Olympics (another monumental waste of money which will leave the PPP funding bodies rubbing their grubby hands in glee), and then the London bombing. The bombing had begun to feel like an inevitability for a while – there was no way that the huge disquiet amongst the world’s muslim population about the Iraqi occupation and the continued support for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land was going to go unmarked in the UK. And finally it did, four huge bombs, three on the underground, one on a bus, quite a few people dead (though not as many as lost their lives in Iraq that weekend… that didn’t make the world news). A tragedy, but one that the government still refuse to admit was linked to the situation in the middle east. Stupid stupid fools.

But at the end of the year, some great news, perhaps the first great news in british life for a long time – registered civil partnerships for Gay couples. Finally gay people can get married (no, I really don’t care if you don’t want to call it a marriage or a wedding – it is, and that’s great.)

And the media spectacle of the year was certainly George Galloway in front of the US senate committee, absolutely ripping them apart. The most damning indictment of the Bush administrations lies and coverup in Iraq, and right there in the heart of the beast. Genius! Galloway can be a bit of a bellend, and his campaign in the General Election (ah yes, we had one of those – what a non-event that was) was horrible and divisive, but on that one day in the Senate, he ruled the world.

oh, media event of the year joint first was Harold Pinter’s nobel prize acceptance speech – another damning destruction of the history of US foreign military intervention.

What else? A few noteable partings – we lost the great Ronnie Barker, one of the finest comic actors and writers Britain has ever produced; Mo Mowlam, one of the few politicians of conviction we still had; Rosa Parks, the unwitting god-mother of the civil rights movement in the US; Andrea Dworkin feminist writer and thinker.

And on a personal level, the death of Eric Roche was a terribly sad loss – a huge talent and dear friend who has featured in this blog more than almost anyone else. Playing at the tribute gig to him on what would have been his birthday was a huge honour.

Blogwise, it’s been my most bloggingest year ever – over 510 posts this year, over 450 visitors a day (??? I’m sure there’s a mistake there somewhere…) and the demise of being able to tell people what I’ve been up to – ‘so, steve, what have you been up to?’ ‘well, I had a gig th….’ ‘yeah I read about that’ ‘oh, well I went out to see a…’ ‘ah yes, that film, read your review of that’ ‘THEN WHY DID YOU ASK???’

Thanks for reading, for emailing for commenting on the blog, and particularly thanks if you’ve been buying CDs and t-shirts, coming to gigs, spreading the word, and generally helping me pay the bills this year. Love you lots! x

Soundtrack – The The, ’45 RPM – the singles’.

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

'…fire in the sky'

December 11th, 2005 · Comments Off on '…fire in the sky'

How on earth did no-one get killed???

A fuel depot in Hemel Hempstead blows up, the blast is heard IN FRANCE (!!), windows and doors are blown out in houses surround the site, and yet no-one is killed. That’s amazing. A lot of amazing unthinkable things have happened in Britain of late. That no-one died in this disaster is one of the best bits of news for a long time. The blast itself is clearly not good news – the environmental impact is going to be outrageous, not to mention the huge disruption to those whose houses have been damaged in the blast – but the zero loss of life is amazing. Apparently there have only been two serious casualties so far.

The fire services are warning of potential further explosions, while the firemen and women are there working like mad to get the fire under control and out – that’s got to be one scary job! Hurrah for the fire-service.

Reports suggest that some people have been panic buying petrol, afraid of a shortage, even though a) most of the fuel burning is aviation fuel b) it’s only the fifth largest depot in the country c) if there’s a fuel shortage, USE PUBLIC TRANSPORT – don’t drive to the petrol station to make the situation worse, you morons.

SoundtrackStuart Ryan, ‘The Coast Road’ (fabulous solo acoustic guitarist – he played at the Eric Roche tribute gig last week, and was one of Eric’s favourite guitarists. From this CD, it’s easy to see why).

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

Eric Roche benefit gig…

December 5th, 2005 · Comments Off on Eric Roche benefit gig…

Today, Eric Roche would have been 38. He already had Haverhill Arts Centre booked for a gig to celebrate. Sadly, he died too soon. So instead, the venue decided to put on a Tribute gig, which would act as a benefit gig for his family, and the bookings co-ordinater at the venue, Nick Kemble, set about booking lots of Eric’s friends to come and play, and ended up with a stellar line up – Max Gilkes, Ravi, Stuart Ryan, Steve Lockwood and Chris Newman, Boo Hewerdine and me.

Max kicked things off with a solo set, followed by me – I did Grace and Gratitude, which just before I went on I decided I’d segue into ‘Deep Deep Down’ by Eric, which is usually in G and had to be in Bb, to fit over the Gminor of Grace and Gratitude. I followed that with a version of ‘Lovely’ with Steve Lockwood on harmonica, and then did People Get Ready, started solo and was joined by Steve and Chris, which was great.

However, the more keen-eyed of you will notice a glaring omission from my set list… who was the gig in honour of?: Who have I written a tune for that I’ve played at every solo gig I’ve done in the last 5 months? How on earth did I forget to play my tune for Eric???? what on earth was going on in my head when I was thinking back stage ‘hmmm, what shall I play?’ – sometimes, I amaze myself with my own sieve-brain-ness.

Anyway, I came back on during Steve and Chris’ set to play a funky blues with them, and again during Stuart Ryan’s set to play an uptempo blues with him and Steve. And then finally at the end, I sat in on the last of Boo’s tunes, and we all finished together with a version of ‘The Water Is Wide’ – a folk song that Eric played regularly, and recorded a lovely version of.

All it all, it was a magic night – everyone played well, the venue was packed, the sound was great, and they sold tonnes of Eric merch, meaning a healthy chunk of cash goes to his family.

Don’t forget to go and buy his CDs, especially ‘With These Hands’ – it’s amazing. I’ve had a few people mention with some surprise that they’d bought things on my recommendation from the blog that turned out to be amazing. Believe me, i ONLY recommend things here that I think are genuinely marvellous. I’ve got lots of lovely friends who make CDS and write books and stuff that are fine, but aren’t world-beating, so I save my recommendations here for things that are magical. Eric’s CDs are just that – magical. Do yourself a favour and get one.

It was a real privilege and an honour to be a part of the gig, to help support his family, to play with such great musicians, and to contribute my noises to a celebration of a life well lived. If you were there, thanks for coming – all of us who performed had a fantastic time.

(oh, and Nick did a great job of the compering… ;o) )

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"Intention is Audible"

December 2nd, 2005 · Comments Off on "Intention is Audible"

It’s one of those things I tell my students all the time. ‘Intention Is Audible’ – if you’re writing music just so other people who play the same instrument as you will think you’re a badass and can play faster than them, that’s going to come across in the music, and it’s very unlikely to have any emotional impact on your listeners. If you are playing out of some sense of obligation to some outside standard of what is and isn’t acceptable, the likelihood is that it’ll be plainly obvious that it isn’t from the heart. It’s why so much modern pop is as dull as shit, why not one of the TV talent shows has, as yet, produced a genuinely creative artist. That Will Young is the best we have is a sad indictment on the whole sorry charade.

Every now and again, the ‘intention is audible’ line is hammered home to me in a positive way (the negative stuff is there in so much music every day, sadly). One such experience is listening to ‘Duw A Wyr’ by Lleuwen Steffan/Huw Warren and Mark Lockheart. It’s a collection of Welsh hymns from the time of the revival, sung in welsh and given a european jazz reworking. And it’s beautiful.

But more than that, it’s deeply moving. Remember, it’s sung in welsh – there are translations on the sleeve, but I’ve intentionally avoided them thus far, as I’m allowing the music to impact me on a purely emotional level. And it works. Boy, it works. One particular track, ‘Gwahoddiad’, is one of the most uplifting things I’ve heard in years. The intention of the song is crystal clear in the performance, in the intonation of the voice. It’s incredible. Maybe I’ll have a read of the words later on. Maybe I won’t. It’s gospel music in its purest form – ‘good news’.

And it reminds me why I do what I do. Playing solo bass that isn’t all histrionic fretboard gymnastics and slapping, tapping circus tricks is definitely a ‘road less travelled’. There are very few solo bassists around, even fewer that aren’t spending their time pushing speed and agility as their main frontiers. To keep heading down this path into music where the emotional narrative is front and centre is a juggling act, given that it requires a lot of work on all those technical control and awareness issues that the twiddly stuff requires but without the pay-off that your peers rave about your wikkid skillz. Instead you get the pay-off of people being moved by what you do, being changed in some way by hearing it. I get enough of these stories from people to make it worthwhile. It’s never going to be a mainstream choice of music career (well, I guess it might be, I’d be happy to end up looping, layering and noodling on Top Of The Pops… or at least on Jools Holland’s show…), but it’s one that ultimately is so much more fulfilling for me creatively.

For any musician, learning to practice, absorb and then dismiss virtuosic technique is a huge challenge. For extreme virtuosity and emotional impact to be resident in the same player is incredibly rare – Coltrane would be one, Michael Manring another. Keith Jarrett’s one, Pat Metheny is more than capable of it. And Eric Roche, for whose family I’m playing a benefit gig on Sunday night, was definitely one, one who inspired me hugely, who encouraged me to pursue those aims, to carry the tension forward on my own journey into deeper musical understanding, and greater control of musical vocabulary and expression.

The gig on Sunday night, at Haverhill Arts Centre will be a great chance to give credit where it’s due. The rest of the bill is pretty fine too – Boo Hewerdine, Steve Lockwood and Stuart Ryan are all fabulous musicians that I’m really looking forward to playing with and listening to.

Soundtrack – Lleuwen Steffan/Huw Warren/Mark Lockheart, ‘Duw A Wyr’

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home from the vets

November 12th, 2005 · Comments Off on home from the vets

The Fairly Aged Feline is home now. The vet gave him a chemo injection which has reduced the size of teh tumor considerably already (cats are amazing creatures – far better at getting better than we are!), and a steroidal anti-inflammatary to reduce the swelling in his stomach, and bring down the fluid levels in his body cavity.

And now he’s here, lethargic, but seemingly happy. Picking and choosing when he wants cuddles and when he wants to be left alone. Complaining about the lack of v. tasty food. He and his fellow fairly aged feline are now reaquainted after much sniffing and some tentative mutual washing.

He’s currently sat behind me on the floor of the office, probably waiting to see what strange bass students I’ll be bringing in for him to sniff today. Straight back into his usual routine then.

SoundtrackEric Roche, ‘With These Hands’ (not bought it yet? put it on your christmas list!)

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destroying all musical boundaries

November 9th, 2005 · 1 Comment

A student turned up yesterday morning having been working on Jaco‘s arrangement of ‘Blackbird’ by The Beatles. He was making rather a nice job of it, but one of the things I often witter on about in lessons is the notion of active and passive learning – passive learning being just the copying by rote of a particular piece of music (or scale or interval study, or whatever) without taking it any further. Active learning would pull it apart into its various musical components, why does it work, what are the chords, how can I take that style of arrangement and apply it to other tunes, are there any new techniques that come up in this piece that I can absorb into my playing, and how else can I play this same tune?

In answering this last question, whenever anyone is doing this tune (it’s a standard for bassists to have a go at), I play them Bobby McFerrin‘s solo voice arrangement of the same tune, from his album ‘The Voice’. Which happens to be one of the greatest solo performer recordings of all time. The lovely thing about it is that conceptually it rips the roof off of what’s possible on any instrument – if one man can do all that with one unprocessed voice, how much more can I do with my bass than I am currently doing? What kind of leaps of logic, what kind of seemingly insane musical experiments have lead to Bobby being able to perform like that? It’s clearly not a style that one stumbles into, and I’ve no doubt that his arrangement of Blackbird took months and months to perfect, though he makes it sound so effortless on the CD.

If I were to draw up a list of most inspirational recordings for solo performers, this would be right up there at the top.

Oh go on then, here’s my top some, in no particular order –

Bobby McFerrin – The Voice
Don Ross – Passion Session
Michael Manring – Soliloquy
Kaki King – Legs To Makes Us Longer
Eric Roche – With These Hands
Pat Metheny – One Quiet Night
Keith Jarrett – Scala

a lot of these are solo acoustic guitar records, which I guess just reflects the fact that more people are experimenting with interesting music on solo guitar than on other instruments… or at least, I’ve been exposed to more solo guitar music than anything else…

Any others to add to the list? Stick ’em in the comments section at the bottom.

When I’m working towards a new album (as I am at the moment) I tend to ‘use’ music in a more knowing way than at any other time – I put things on to consciously take me out of my comfort zone, to re-orient my ears towards another space, to offer up possibilities for my own playing. I’m very much at the mercy of the things I listen to. in the last lot of recording I did, I recorded tracks that were heavily influenced by Morphine (the band, not the drug), M83 and Eric Roche. Bobby’s music takes me into another space altogether.

Soundtrack – Bobby McFerrin, ‘The Voice’.

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