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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



MyFaceSpaceBook – Myspace finally gets the post millennial message?

October 13th, 2007 · Comments Off on MyFaceSpaceBook – Myspace finally gets the post millennial message?

So apparently, Myspace are about to open up to 3rd party developers – in none-geek-speak, that means there’ll be lots of apps available for it like there are for facebook, written by outside developers.

They REALLY should have done this years ago. Many many years ago. Here’s why – there is now a huge industry around writing software that spams MySpace – people writing pay-to-use scripts that send out messages to people based on search terms, location or just randomly spamming everyone. A lot of developers have made a lot of money writing this pernicious shit, and have made MySpace a really unpleasant website environment as a result. I seriously doubt that those developers are going to switch to writing free apps that will make money from advertising (how the apps on facebook make their money, for the most part). What they’ll do is just modify their spam-scripts to target the apps instead. So not only will you get event, friend-request, message and comment spam, you’ll get ‘my top friends’ spam and ‘my favourite books’ spam and God-knows what else spam…

And if some f-wit decides to transfer the Zombies/Werewolves/Pirates nonsense from Facebook over there, some geeks are going to get hurt…

Anyway, with their money, it’ll be interesting to see if MySpace have actually managed to turn it into some seriously creative thinking about how to counter these obvious problems… it also remains to be seen if they are going to start allowing any kind of push/pull information exchange using standard web data link up stuff, like accepting RSS feeds for cross posting blogs, and hcal feeds for gig dates… I’m suspecting not, myself…

Tags: Geek · Musing on Music

This week in review

October 12th, 2007 · Comments Off on This week in review

So, we’ve done the Stop the War march… What was next? Ah yes, Stars at Scala – one of those bands that the kids listen to that Catster has made me aware of. The album is rather lovely, equal parts bleepy and electronic, huge and anthemic. It’s bleepy to the degree that I had no idea whether on stage they’d be a band or three peoples with laptops. As it was, they were a classic Rock 6 piece – guitar bass drums keys, and two singers who also played guitar and keys.

stars at Scala

What was sad is that they pretty much removed everything from the live sound that made the record interesting. They transformed from electronic rock pioneers into an early 90s stage-2-at-greenbelt fairly dull-sounding rock band. I stayed for about 6 song – apparently they got better after that point…

Tuesday was a lotsa fun – the evening started with Douglas Coupland at the Bloomsbury, with Sarda and Kari. We three Coupland geeks, all v. excited to hear this king of zeitgeisty cool speak. And what did we discover? That he’s a proper geek, talking in half finished phrases, jumping from topic to tangental topic, and reading extracts from his book, or rather from the book within his book, and then from the book within the book within his new book, The Gum Thief. And he was fab. I like geeks, a lot – I like being around them, finding their absence of concern for what’s cool or not comforting (as a solo bassist, one has to gravitate to places were Cool is not a Concern :o) and I found him witty and charming.

douglas coupland

The event ended slightly oddly, with Douglas looking slight uncomfortable, perhaps like he was about to cry, saying something to the effect of ‘you do know this is the last one of these I’m ever going to do. My book reading days are over, thanks, goodnight.’ He did a signing after this, but we were onto new things.

julie mckee

New Things being Julie McKee and Beth Rowley at the Troubadour (a club with which I have a long history, having recorded my first album there). Was great to see both of them play, with their lovely respective bands. All in a lovely night out (though £17 for three drinks and a two bowls of chips was insane! )

beth rowley

Wednesday night I went out to Pizza Express on Dean Street to see Robert Mitchell’s Panacea, featuring Robert on keys alongside Richard Spaven on drums, Tom Mason on bass and Deborah Jordan on vocals. ‘Twas a sublime gig, and Robert’s choice of Deborah as vocalist is inspired – the tunes are really complex jazz melodies, with big intervals and weird rhythmic twists, which in the hands of ‘normal’ jazz singer would end up sounding like Manhattan Transfer does the Elektric Band, but with the superb funky rhythm section of Richard and Tom, and Deborah transforming the jazz into soulful songs, it becomes something entirely different, and beautiful. A very fine gig.

Thursday – a me-gig, another one of these acoustic singer/songwriter nights I’ve been doing, just seeing how what I do works to an audience of acoustic music fans who have no idea who I am. Once again, it was fun and well received, but I’m probably going to knock these on the head for a while, as the way the venues are set up is to get as many acts through as possible in the hope that a) the performers themselves will drink and that b) they’ll bring friends to watch them. There’s very little concern for quality control (last night was a fairly even split between pretty good and Godawful), and a big focus on turnover at the bar. Which is understandable – with property prices being what they are in London, nowhere can really afford to have a half-empty night just for the sake of putting on a cool gig, and none of the venues have got the balls – or capital – to book only great acts, charge and entrance fee, let the bands play for longer, and wait for the night to gain a reputation… Instead they are either 20 min sets, free to get in, happy for the audience to talk, or pay to play band-gets-a-pound-back-for-each-punter-they-bring deals. Total bollocks for musicians, but fairly intractable for venue owners.

it’s why I’m so grateful to have found Darbucka, though I appreciate that I’ll not be able to book there if it gets busier during the week – they can’t afford to have music to the detriment of their business any more than any other venue…

But it’s been fun doing the acoustic nights, wowing a few people and no doubt boring the arse off a few others. :o)

Tags: Music News · music reviews · Musing on Music · Random Catchup

It was 30 years ago today…

September 21st, 2007 · 6 Comments

…actually, it was 30 years ago in February, but for some reason, someone over on the guardian music blog saw fit today to post a piece in defence of the wonder that is Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours – a pertinent post round here as Lo. thinks it’s a load of old balls, and I love it. Really love it. Dancing-around-on-the-tube-singing-along-even-though-people-think-I’m-a-mentalist love it. It’s an album fueled by extreme tensions within the band, but one possessed of a number of the most gorgeous tender love songs I’ve ever heard (‘You Make Loving Fun’ is in my all time top 20 or so songs).

As the Guardian bloggist says, ’77 is seen as the year of Punk. It was also the year of ‘Bat Out Of Hell’, ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and ‘Rumours’. The biggest bands of the late 70s weren’t the Clash or The Pistols, but the Mac, Queen, ELO, and in the US, the stadium behemoths of Journey, Boston, Foreigner etc… Of course punk was significant, it just didn’t wipe the slate clean in any way at all. It offered an alternative, but thank God it wasn’t the tsunami of disco-crushing, prog-destroying, MOR-trampling destruction that the tainted hindsight of most music journos would have you believe. I’d still rather listen to Chic than the Pistols any day. Sure, I like the Clash, but I’m still not averse to a quick listen through Mr Blue Sky either.

No, the late 70s was no more an artistic monoculture than any other time in music – it was as much about the creative tension-laden folky MOR-ness of the Mac as it was about the New York Dolls rip-off that was the Pistols (I still contest that – aside from The Clash – Americans did punk way way way better than the UK, from The Stooges, and the Dolls through The Minutemen, Blondie and Talking Heads, up to Big Black, Black Flag, Husker Du and on up to Green Day, Rancid and the fake-but-tuneladen pop punk of today.)

So, go and listen to Rumours. With pride. Revel in it, embrace the genius that is the Fleetwood/McVie rhythm section, bask in how Songbird is meant to sound when it’s not being overcooked by Eva Cassidy. Ditto Dreams and The Corrs. And remember that the middle bit out of The Chain is probably the most financially lucrative bit of bass playing in the history of the world, thanks to someone at the BBC’s Formula One production team. Dummmmmmmmm, De-De-Dum De-De-De-De-Dum Dummmmmmmmmmmmm.

Tags: music reviews · Musing on Music

Anita and Joe gone…

September 11th, 2007 · Comments Off on Anita and Joe gone…

Two hugely influential people have passed away in the last 24 hours – yesterday came the announcement that Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, has succumbed to the Hepatitis that had been unknowingly plaguing her body for 35 years after a blood transfusion when giving birth in the early 70s. And today, the news broke about Joe Zawinul – keyboard player with Miles Davis, Weather Report and then the Zawinul Syndicate – who died in hospital of an undisclosed illness.

Both were incredible pioneers in their respected fields, Anita raising issues of animal cruelty, fairtrade and sustainability long before they were fashionable, and campaigning vigorously on a whole host of human rights issues over the years. She proved it was financially viable to care about the planet, and managed to bring all those issues to the lips and eyelids of the brand-conscious masses in a way no-one before or since has managed.

Zawinul will definitely go down as one of the great pioneers of jazz in the last 50 years – from his work with Miles onwards, he was constantly setting standards and pushing back boundaries, developing ‘fusion’ before it had a name, and crucially before it became synonymous with overplayed wanky nonsense in the 80s. Weather Report, along with Return to Forever, took the innovations of the Miles band, and ran with them, forging a unique style, and began what became Zawinul’s main path over the next 30 years – fusing jazz with African rhythm and harmony, which lead to him bringing to public a near-endless stream of incredible hitherto unknown african musicians.

For bass players, he’s the man who brought us Jaco Pastorius, Richard Bona, Etienne Mbappe. He recorded with Gary Willis, Matthew Garrison… the man knew how to pick a great bassist.

Both Anita and Joe weren’t without the chinks in their armour – hagiography does no-one any favours. Anita was, in spite of her campaigning, insanely wealthy (she may have been giving loads of money away, but it does frustrate me when socially conscious millionaires don’t take the chance to use their wealth as a comment on the futility of it by conspicuously dispensing with large chunks of it… but that’s just me), and she sold the Body Shop to L’Oreal – now, I’ve no idea whether she had any choice in that, whether it was her decision, but she didn’t say what the rest of the animal rights world said – ‘L’Oreal?? and The Body Shop??? WTF??’ – given that L’Oreal have an APPALLING animal cruelty record. The Body Shop is still run as an independent entity within the cruel monolith of corporate filth that is the french cosmetics giant, but it’s a shame that the campaigning voice of the bodyshop is now at least partially muted thanks to it’s corporate ties. Individuals can criticise the corporate hand that feeds them, and just deal with the fall out, even if it means getting sacked, but for one company owned by another, it just gets silenced.

And Joe was, by most accounts, a misanthropic old bastard. Curmudgeonly to the core, and part of the extensive group of musicians whose cocaine usage led to the downfall of Jaco Pastorius (Jaco was completely straight-edge til he started working with Weather Report and Joni Mitchell – both seemingly blaming the other for getting him onto the ‘instant-wanker-just-add-white-powder’ substance).

However, with all these things, it’s a case of ‘there by for the grace of God’ – I’ve never been a multi-millionare, so I can’t say with any accuracy how I’d deal with it. I’ve never grown up as a jazz musician working with the king of horrible-geniuses Miles Davis, and I wasn’t a pro musician in the 70s and 80s when such an insane number of musicians were doing massive amounts of coke… I wasn’t there, I haven’t walking a yard in those shoes, let alone a mile, and the achievements of both these giants in their field of the late 20th century will be remembered not for their controversies but for their pioneering work, their progressive approach to the world, their iconoclastic status and by their fingerprints all over the landscape that the helped to shape.

Rest in peace, Anita and Joe.

Tags: obituaries · Random Catchup · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

His name is Prince.. and he is funky

August 2nd, 2007 · Comments Off on His name is Prince.. and he is funky

So thanks to the oh-so-lovely SBJ, I went to see Prince at the Dome, or the O2 arena, or whatever nonsense it’s called.

And, of course, he was magic. The sound wasn’t great – typical big barn arena sound – but he still managed to be very funky, and far more ‘showbiz’ than I thought he’d be. i was expecting aloofness and lots of lights and dancers to make up for his diffidence, but nope, he was all ‘make some noise’ and ooh-ooh sing-alongs. A most enjoyable evening. Haven’t listened to the new album (which was given to everyone on entry) yet, but I’m not holding my breath for anything amazing – the new songs in the set sounded good, but it was all about the hits. They even opened with Purple Rain and did Kiss, Let’s Go Crazy, If I Was Your Girlfriend, Nothing Compares To You, Controversy, Cream, I Feel For You, and a whole pile of others, all laden with proper 80s rock-god squealing guitar solos which Prince does better than just about anybody.

As MD, he really held the band together, play some amazing guitar, sang his tiny purple heart out and entertained the 20,000 peoples very well indeed.

Tags: Musing on Music

You've come a long way baby…

July 25th, 2007 · Comments Off on You've come a long way baby…

Where were we? Are yes, I was car-less in Barnet… well, I rang the garage who were sorting my car out for its MOT – T & H Motors in Barnet (020 8449 2672) – to ask if they knew of a place I could rent a car for tonight and tomorrow (given that I was going to lose teaching revenue and then not be able to go and see the lovely gramps tomorrow), and the response was that they had a car they’d lend me. Very nice indeed ‘it looks terrible but it’s very reliable’ i was told. And indeed, it doesn’t look like much.

But the big shock was driving it – you forget what cars used to be like, in the days before power steering, power assisted breaks, automatic choke and all the general comfort of any car made in the last 10-15 years. All cars used to be like this! It reminds me just how fortunate I am to have the Rover, even if it is about to cost me £££ to get it through it’s MOT, it’s a lovely car, comfortable, nice to drive, and all thanks to the delightful and wonderful Lovely G and Lovely J. Thanks!

Anyway, cars have come a long way in a relatively short space of time, so if you’re not driving around in a late 70s/early 80s tin can, say a small prayer of thanks to the Gods of Motoring (or Clarkson if you like) that car makers discovered comfort.

So tomorrow, my lil’ mum and I will be off to Sussex in said tin can, and then to my gig tomorrow night in south london… hang on, where the hell is my gig tomorrow night? I think i’d better find out…

Oh, the point of this – of course, it’s the wonder of being lent a car by T & H Motors – fabulous people, great mechanics (the specialise in Rolls Royce, Bentley, Jaguar etc…) and nice enough to lend a car to a long term customer… I’ve been taking my cars there for almost a decade, and they’ve had a few grand out of me in business by now (given that I had the big end go on one car, the head gasket on another and numerous other disasters along the way… :o) But now my loyalty to them is paying off in more ways than just great service, as I get lent the car. If you’re in North London and need a mechanic, call them on the number at the top, they’re the best.

Tags: Random Catchup

Monbiot on Eco-comsumerism…

July 24th, 2007 · Comments Off on Monbiot on Eco-comsumerism…

Once again, the wonderful George Monbiot has hit the nail on the head in this article for the Guardian, in which he addresses the false notion that the future of the planet can be assured by doing business as usual with a coat of green paint – keep buying all the same old shit, just make sure it’s the ‘green’ version. Keep flying all over the place, just ‘carbon off-set’, keep driving the huge car, just get the bio-diesel version. At least then you won’t have to mix with the plebs on public transport.

The three Rs of the eco-movement, as told to us by Jack Johnson are Reduce Reuse Recycle. there’s a reason why Reduce is the first. Cutting our consumption is by the far the most important of these. It’d be great if we didn’t need to recycle stuff because we could reuse, and even better if we weren’t using it in the first place.

The biggest fallacy in all of this is the carbon-offsetting thing – what started out as a well-meaning and vaguely scientific way of introducing some balance into our carbon producing actions has now become a cheap way to assuage the guilt of the middle classes, so that instead of flying less or driving less or using less, they can just buy themselves a licence to pollute. Plant a few trees, keep the hummer, fly to Manchester instead of taking the train? no problem, just sprout a conifer or two and all is forgiven. Bollocks. Utter bollocks. Carbon-offsetting is a great idea to help to minimise the impact of UNAVOIDABLE carbon-useage. it’s a great reminder of our need to consume less. It doesn’t, never can and never will repair the damage we’re doing. If we are still fostering a culture of cheap domestic flights and allowing politicians to get away with airport expansion, we’re screwed. That all needs to change, both on a political level and a personal one.

And as always, I say this as someone who uses planes, who hates it every time I HAVE to and will avoid them wherever possible.

There are loads of great things you can do, lots of the stuff that the style mags write about – using shopping bags instead of plastic ones, eating organic, shopping local, buying at farmers markets, driving hybrids, catching trains instead of driving, recycling, but the bottom line is that we need to CONSUME LESS. The seemingly sad news is that there isn’t a way to maintain the level of consumption and waste that we’re currently at in the UK and even more so the US. There isn’t a ‘green version’ of that. It’s going to affect our lifestyles.

The good news, however, is that cutting back will give us that which we can’t buy. Time. Time for people, for hobbies, for reading, for music, art, cooking – stuff that doesn’t require endless stuff being fed into it to keep it going (OK, musicians need strings, plectrums, reeds etc. and artists need paint/clay etc but it hardly compares with helicopter rides or Branson’s domestic space program in terms of the consumption…) I’m pretty confident that the world can be a much better place AND a place of drastically reduced consumption in time to save it all. It just won’t be the same, and it certainly won’t be normal, thank God. After all, we all know that the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

my own lil' iPod revolution.

July 11th, 2007 · Comments Off on my own lil' iPod revolution.

Three things have happened since i got my iPod (I don’t mean ‘in the world’ – lots more than three things have happened in the world. I don’t even mean in my life – I’ve done lots of things, I just mean things specific to me owning an iPod)

Firstly, I’ve had a load more time for listening to music, obviously, which has meant that I’ve been catching up on a lot of the more obscure stuff and things I’ve owned for a while but haven’t really listened to much, which translates into me becoming completely obsessed with The Blue Nile – I’ve had three of their albums for a while, but had only listened to them on laptop speakers, which doesn’t do their music justice at all. Stick it on on headphones, and all of a sudden, it’s genius. Going to be lots of Blue Nile influence on my next album, for sure… I’ve also had a listen to Hattler (eponymous band of german bassist Helmut Hattler – rather nice modern electronic soulful dance stuff, not at all what I expected and rather good), Jorane (Canadian singing cellist – lovely stuff) and Mogwai (who I’m going to see tomorrow night at Somerset House – hurrah!).

secondly, it’s made my emusic subscription all the more important – great new music to listen to on the go – so far from them I’ve had albums by Kris Delmhorst, Erin McKeown, Nik Kershaw, God Speed! You Black Emperor,Jennifer Kimball, Rosie Thomas and Petra Haden & Bill Frisell. All fantastic!

thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it’s given me lots of time to go back and listen to all the projects I’ve recorded with various people that haven’t been released yet – the forthcoming album with Calamateur is spectacular; his songs are outstanding, as is his singing and playing, and it is, I think the first album ever to feature any of my drum programming, on what is definitely the most mental piece of music I’ve ever been a part of. The duet album with Luca Formentini, which I think will be coming out some time next year, is a glorious slice of slightly twisted ambient improv – Luca’s guitar playing and sonic ideas are a really good contrast to what I do – through most of the record it’s pretty clear who’s playing what, as his sound set is quit distinct from mine, but the mix of the two is potent stuff.

The biggest surprise was a live recording from LA in 2006 with Steuart Liebig, Jeff Kaiser and Andrew Pask – a gig that at the time I wasn’t all that happy with; it wasn’t rubbish, just didn’t feel like we’d really created a sound-space that was particularly special. Listening back to the recording, I was very wrong indeed. There are some amazing moments on it. I’ll talk to the players concerned and see if they are interested in making it available somehow – for those of you with an interest in free improv and noise squeaky electronic stuff, it should prove interesting and enjoyable…

And not only that, but I’ve just subscribed to a teach yourself italian podcast, so I’ll hopefully finally get my italian into some sort of loosely conversational shape…

Tags: Musing on Music

Two types of church

June 23rd, 2007 · Comments Off on Two types of church

It used to feel really strange coming to a country so full of seemingly Christian language and yet feeling so utterly alien to it all. It was on about my second or third visit to California that I noticed that I felt considerably more affinity with the honest searching and questioning of the hippies, new agers and agnostics that I met than I did with much of the overly-confident, divisive nonsense that I heard coming from a lot of the christians I met. More often that not, the reasons that people had for disregarding all-things-Jesus-esque were reasons that I wholeheartedly agreed with – the sanctimoniousness of so many of the Christians they’d met, the hideousness of how God’s name is invoked to back up all kinds of horseshit in US governmental circles (‘God told me to go to war‘ etc.), and the gross circus-like game show that passes for so many church services here, and all the televised acts of Christian worship I’ve ever had the misfortune to witness…

I mentioned in one of the tour blogs that Downtown Pres in Nashville is one of the very few churches I’ve been to in the US that I could go to again. I’m just trying to remember where the others were – I quite enjoyed the Presbyterian church I went to in Hollywood, and the Catholic church I visited in Orange county, but I’m not sure I’d go regularly to them if I lived there… But neither of them actually left me feeling alienated in the way that some of the others I’ve visited have done.

There seem to be two very different understandings of what church is at work here – the kind of church I want to go to is one that challenges me to love, to care for the poor, to seek justice, to hold the powerful accountable for how their actions affect the powerless. Church should be a place where I’m encouraged to live a life that’s different in as much as I’m focusing my time on what I can do for other people, rather than obsessing about expanding my piece of the pie. A place where I can be honest, where I can be open about my failings, but also not be able to escape the consequences of my actions, where prayer is about aligning myself with the kind of things that God is concerned about, rather than about some screwed-up spell-casting bullshit where I try and twist God’s arm into giving me a good parking space and sorting out my shit life when I’m not willing to make any changes myself. It should also be a place that encourages me NOT to surround myself all the time with people who believe the same things I do – that, my dear friends, is a cult, and having ‘unsaved’ friends just so you can ‘witness’ to them doesn’t count. That’s the kind of freaky double standard that we find so creepy in people who turn up at our front doors telling us how to live (full disclosure – I once did a ‘door to door’ thing when I was in my teens, with the church I was at – at the time I thought the discomfort I felt doing it was just my resisting God’s call. Now I understand I really should have listened to the voice that told me that a 17 year old turning up at your door trying to tell you ‘the Good News’ is just about the stupidest thing that can happen – it would have made much more sense to go round and ask for advice and listen to people’s stories, but anyway…)

Instead, so often the church is full of people who spend no time with people outside of their church circle, who are all implicity encouraged to dress the same (there are few things that annoy me more than the idea of Sunday best – not that I mind people wanting to dress up for church; each to their own – but the idea that you ‘should’ is pure bollocks), it’s a place where misogyny and homophobia are encouraged and entrenched, where nationalistic pride is fostered (I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of crap gets preached in so many US churches around Memorial day and Independence Day, in a ‘US = God’s chosen nation’ kind of way). Church should be a place that challenges our prejudices, our pride and our complacency in speaking out in favour of any oppressed group, whether that oppression is on gender, sexual orientation, race or class lines. Instead all those prejudices are confirmed

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

A rare moment of god-botheringness on the blog…

June 15th, 2007 · Comments Off on A rare moment of god-botheringness on the blog…

I don’t often post God bothering things on the blog, but today’s ‘verse of the day’ on the Sojourner’s blog really caught my eye –

“You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt.”
– Deuteronomy 24:14-15

Back in the 80s people used to talk about believing in a ‘social gospel’ or some other euphemism that suggested there was any other way of reading what it means to be inspired by jesus… with the wealth of stuff in the Bible that relates looking after the poor, looking after immigrants, not pursuing wealth, the dangers of greed etc. etc. it’s a wonder that some people claiming to be Christians can sleep at night…

There’s a magical bit in Amos that says (in The Message) –

” 21-24″I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.”

No wonder so many people are turned off from anything Jesus-related, following Gandhi’s route of being inspired by the sermon on the mount but seeing the church as an agent of the hideous status quo rather than a radical organisation with a deep concern for the poor, for justice… it’s there in the book, just not there in the behaviour of the Bushes and Blairs of this world, making a total bollocks-up of anything remotely justice-oriented, talking a load of shit about their concern for poverty reduction and ‘fairness’ whilst waging illegal wars and backing the IMF and World Bank in their schemes to trap yet more third world countries into privatisation schemes and debt cycles…

grrrr…

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.