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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Review – And Nothing But The Bass (Misfit City)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“This music is apparently what Steve Lawson makes to entertain friends. Friends who make themself known as such simply by showing up to one of his intimate gigs in London. Or in Lincoln, Watford, France, California… or wherever Lawson and his little bundle of bass guitars, E-Bow sustainers and looping devices pitch camp for an evening of playing. And, having asserted your friendship by wandering in and sitting down, you can smile to yourself about the way his lush, demonstrative instrumental music manages to cross-reference Frippertronics, Pete Seeger, Jaco Pastorius and Joe Satriani (for starters) without them crashing into each other or crowding him off his own playing stool.

You can also smile – with genuine enjoyment – at the sheer guilelessness of his music. The gauche jokiness of “And Nothing But The Bass”‘s title is accurate: Steve Lawson’s ‘And Nothing But The Bass’ with one exception, this really is all One Man And His Loops live in front of a small, polite but audibly happy audience. But it shouldn’t be dismissed as cutesy novelty, or as circus tricks with effects pedals: that isn’t the half of it. In London, we’re used to anxiety. Self-exposure from tortured musical artists, cool-by-numbers checklists, spotlight-grabbing attitude flexers; obvious-state-of-minders stapled to credible trends and sinking with them. Hearing Steve Lawson duck this, focussing quietly instead on the way music connects across generations and between person and person, is a sweet shock.

On technical terms alone, Lawson holds his end up alongside American stars of the lyrical bass such as Victor Wooten or Michael Manring. But his work showcases not only prodigious playing talent but also a thorough lack of self-consciousness about engaging with his listeners. Maybe it’s from playing pop with the elfin, equally guileless Howard Jones; but when you hear Lawson duetting with himself on sprightly children’s-song tunes like “The Inner Game” and “The New Country” (wrapping joyously squishy melodies around his looped, nodding, double-stopped riffs) you know you’re not hearing someone who’s concerned about his agenda fitting anyone’s T-shirt. Or with the solemn rules at jazz school.

All right, perhaps an over-mellow conflation of those lovable old chestnuts “Chopsticks” and “Blue Moon” (on “Blue Sticks”) is a step too far in this direction. All taste and no meat; too close to a musical life that’s one long function room. Lawson dispatches it with impeccable skill, which is all very nice but a little worrying. Far better to hear him feeding twanging threads of Celtic American folk song and bluegrass into “The Virtue Of The Small”, Flecktones-style; then splitting off to layer on luxuriously glutinous improvisations via serenely wandering fretless and classic metal distortion. Or to spot momentary nods to other bassists (Chris Squire, Steve Swallow, Alphonso Johnson, Stuart Hamm) who’ve let melodies rumble up from the basement. Or just to put the notebook down and enjoy tunes like “Bittersweet”, a fretless-bass-and-piano duet owing a little to both Pachelbel’s Canon and Weather Report’s “A Remark You Made”. Jez Carr’s strums of high, cautiously sweet piano haze this one lightly with blue. Perhaps it’s over-aligned with the fastidious, earnestly white, New Age end of jazz, but Lawson’s head-bowed cadences are beautifully poised – natural and regretful.

So far, so immaculate, so “Bassist Magazine”. What really opens doors, though, are three pieces in which Lawson ventures into process music, chance-and-hazard and ambient music: closer to Fripp Soundscapes and post-rock than to John Patitucci. …and again… The moonlit ostinato foundations and skirling skybound melodies of “Drifting” give way to smears of trembling Frippertronical treble passes, like wheelmarks on cloud, and to trance-techno bubble echoes Lawson somehow wrings out of his bass. “Chance” clings on – just – to the right side of disassembly; the sharp attack or mother-beast rumble of Lawson’s fretless stepping in and around his frigidly emotional ECM bass figure, ghosted with minimal traceries. And the lapping sounds, heartbeat sub-aqua bass and shimmering harmonic nudges of the gorgeous “Pillow Mountain” are closer to Mouse On Mars than any bass guitarring this side of Rothko, as Lawson E-Bows strange Chinese string calls out of the beautiful murk. It’s with these pieces that we hear Steve Lawson’s audience returning a favour, moving away from bobbing their heads to the happy melodies and simply listening instead.

And all without the man breaking much of a sweat, either. Anyone who’s been to one of Lawson’s recent concerts can testify that this CD’s a mere dry run compared to the music he’s now growing into. For any instrumentalist, this album would be charming; for Steve Lawson, it’s a showcase punched open at one end. His friends are watching him grow – I suggest that you join them.

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Review – Solo Show, Christopher's, Lincoln (Michael Cowton)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

01/06/2000

“Lincoln is not known for its musical prowess. Buying in ageing musical hiccups like Mike Pinder’s Searchers, Leo Sayer, and the occasional tribute band is about the city’s forte. Mind you, last year we did have Jools Holland appearing at the Castle. The highlight of the year, for most. So the idea to stage a low-key concert appealing mostly to bass aficianados could have been perceived as the kiss of death. Could be, but wasn’t. Far from it, in fact.

‘An Audience With Steve Lawson’ was sold as a musicians’ evening, appealing to a discerning public’s sense of taste. To some it was a journey into the unknown. An evening of solo bass. Curiosity won the day, perhaps swung slightly in its favour by the addition of support act Jazz From Hell, a trio of Lincolnians who put on a solid performance of classics and own compositions. At times we were treated to a blitz of notes. “I’ve never played so many notes in my life,” said an obviously impressed Steve Lawson. “Yes you have,” retorted some wag.

Lining up on stage was Steve’s favoured Modulus 6 string fretless, Modulus fretted 4 string and a fretless Renaissance 5 string acoustic bass, played through an Ashdown combo linked to a Trace Elliot 2×8, Lexicon JamMan and a Lexicon MPX-G2 multi-effects unit. The only item left behind in the car boot transported from London was Steve’s uncle. We all thought he was joking but, by all accounts, the ashes were stashed safely away by the spare wheel. Diplomacy won the day, as we chose not to pursue the subject.

Preamble over, Steve comfortably moved into almost an hour-long set of loops layered with haunting melodies; self-composed tunes that drifted in and out of your sub-conscious; mellow soundscapes that gently floated like confetti on a warm breeze, on occasion enhanced by the eerie sustain of an E-bow, its blue LED piercing through the light.

Apart from a peppering of Steve’s friends in the audience, the majority of the audience would have been in the dark about what to expect. None could fail but be impressed by the set. Steve plays with a wonderful fluidity. His fingers glide lovingly, effortlessly over the fretless, the chording and intonation never less than perfect. Whether a simple, relaxed glissade or a line demanding huge control and dexterity, his fingers did the talking.

As a music journalist, I have interviewed hundreds of name bands, attended rehearsals and recording sessions, even jammed with Mark King who, to me, was God. Times change, bass players come and go. Yet some names and progressions stick in the memory bank. My heroes, like most of you out there, are today’s and yesterday’s virtuosos – Jaco Pastorius, Abe Laboriel, Victor Wooten, Michael Manring… yes, and Steve Lawson.

Like Jaco’s finger-pumping runs and a slap-happy Mark King of old, Steve can be slick when necessary, pumping out the notes in jaw-dropping time, but bass playing isn’t all about that. It never was. I believe it was Marcus Miller who once said that what you leave out is as important as the notes you play. How right he was.

With a new CD imminent of his live set at The Troubadour, Steve Lawson is preparing to move into the next phase of a burgeoning career. You wouldn’t think it could get any better. But it no doubt will.
back”

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Timeline and Trivia

May 3rd, 2008 · Comments Off on Timeline and Trivia

Musical Equipment Used

Elrick Gold Series SLC 6 String fretted and fretless basses, Modulus Basses (6 string fretted and fretless and 4 string fretted), a Rick Turner 5 String Renaissance ‘Amplicoustic’ fretless bass, two Aguilar SL112 cabinets and 2 Aguilar Tonehammer 350 amp heads, A Jule Monique Preampthe Looperlative LP1 for looping, Keith McMillen SoftStep controller and Quneo controller, MODDevices MOD Duo for processing, MXR, Darkglass, and Markbass overdrive pedals, a TC Electronics HOF mini Reverb and Flashback delay, Aguilar Overdrive, Fuzz, Compressor, Octave, Chorus, Filter and Preamp pedals, MXR Reverb, Sub Octave Bass Fuzz, Bass Distortion, Bass Chorus Deluxe, Bass Envelope Filter, Bass Preamp & Bass Fuzz Deluxe, Subdecay Vitruvian Mod ring modulator, Pedal Train pedal board an E-Bow+, Latch Lake and Dunlop slides, Dunlop Super Bright strings, East-UK preamps, Evidence Audio cables, GoGo tuners, 2 Korg Mini Kaoss Pad s and a MOTU Ultralite Mk III Hybrid. And I carry my basses around in SlickBag gig-bags.

Musical History

1986 – got a bass and joined first band
1988 – broke arm, kicked out of first band, formed second band (EARS) – played first gigs
1989 – GCSE Music, Grade C
1991 – AS Level Music, failed – fine at composition, not so hot on history… :o) Somehow got into music college in Perth, Scotland. Teaching as head of bass at West Lothian Rock School.
1993 – left college, moved to Lincoln, tour with Canadian singer/songwriter Johnny Markin. Gigs all over Europe, played on three albums.
1994-96 – working as a pro in Lincoln, teaching, studio and live session work.
1996 – moved to London, more session work, including TV, Radio and theatre work, more teaching.
1997-99 – teaching at Drumtech and Basstech, West London.
1997-2000 – freelance reviewer/interviewer/columnist/gadget guru for Bassist magazine in the UK.
1999 – Toured Europe with Howard Jones. First completely solo gigs in London.
2000 – Released And Nothing But The Bass on Pillow Mountain Records. More solo gigs around England.
2001 – 2 Solo tours of California, including headlining the world’s first solo bass looping festival, and tour with Michael Manring and Rick Walker. Clinics for Ashdown Amps and Modulus Basses. Solo gigs in France.
2002 – Another tour in California, Released Conversations, duo CD with Jez Carr, on Pillow Mountain Records, 2 Major tours of UK Theatres and concert halls supporting first the 21st Century Schizoid Band then Level 42. Two shows at the London Guitar Festival. National TV and local radio appearances in the UK. Featured in the Sunday Times Culture Section. Released second completely solo CD, Not Dancing For Chicken. NDFC picked as one of the best CDs of the year by Aural Innovations
2003 – four week solo tour of California, gigs with Michael Manring and David Friesen, including the Anaheim Bass Bash, featured interview in Euphoria magazine, and review of NDFC in Bass Player (Feb issue). New recordings with Theo Travis, BJ Cole and Patrick Wood for future release. Duo gigs with Theo Travis. Gig at the barbican with orphy robinson. Recording in France with Vigroux/Cury/Rives for upcoming release. first italian solo gig and recording session in august. Duo CD with Theo TravisThe Arts Show, alongside Jenny Eclair and Barry Cryer. Acclaimed appearances at The Detroit Bass Fest and European Bass Day. Gigs in US and UK with Muriel Anderson. A second tour in England with Michael Manring in November.
2005 – another year another NAMM show, followed by a few promo gigs with Michael Manring in California. Dates with pedal steel guitarist, BJ Cole, and recording and gigs with singer Cleveland Watkiss, as well as more UK dates, the Edinburgh Festival and a trip to Italy. Started monthly music night, Recycle Collective.
2006 – back to California, NAMM again and some more dates and another day-long masterclass, Recycle Collective continues to be one of the best live music nights out in London, and features musicians such as BJ Cole, Cleveland Watkiss, Orphy Robinson, Seb Rochford, Todd Reynolds, Jason Yarde, Andy Hamill, Patrick Wood, Leo Abrahams, Julie McKee, Andrea Hazell. UK tours with Theo Travis, Muriel Anderson and Ned Evett. 4th solo album, Behind Every Word, released on Pillow Mountain Records. Recording in Italy with guitarist Luca Formentini. New duo formed with singer Julie McKee, for the Edinburgh Fringe. European tour in October, including EuroBass Day and European Bass Day, as well as an electronica festival in Italy. Behind Every Word makes a number of end of year ‘best of 2006’ lists.
2007 – guess where it started? Yay, NAMM!! Bass-Bash, two days of masterclasses, Modulus clinics and gigs both solo and with Muriel Anderson and Vicki Genfan. Much fun. First New York show too. European tour with Lobelia, including first time visit to Frankfurt Musik Messe and gigs in Italy, Spain, Germany and Denmark, 7 week tour of the US, 24 states, 7000 miles. Gigs at Greenbelt festival with Lobelia, Sarah Masen and Ric Hordinski. Recycle Collective relaunched in September. Playing on one track on Luca Formentini’s album, Tacet. First Amsterdam and Geneva gigs in November. Released live EP with Lobelia in December. Recorded improv album with Patrick Wood and Roy Dodds.
2008 – NAMM again, with Lobelia this time, playing the bass-bash and for Looperlative and Modulus. More California shows. Back to England, playing lots of ‘acoustic’ shows with Lobelia, London Solo Bass Night in March with Todd Johnson and Yolanda Charles, . Year ended with Lawson/Wood/Dodds album ‘Numbers’ released, and some LDW gig dates round London, followed by a whole string of house concert shows in England and the US with Lobelia. 2008 was also the year of social media – 10 years of running my music career online turning into a 2nd career teaching and consulting on how it all works, including Nokia flying me to Helsinki for their Open Lab, and working on the launch of Ucreative.tv at UCA in Rochester. Finished the year with a series of house concerts in the UK and the US with Lobelia..
2009 – …which continued into the new year on a trip that included a trip to NAMM, a masterclass at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and a series of masterclasses in bass, looping and ‘social media for musicians’ in various people’s houses. But I did miss the bass-bash for the first time ever. Back to the UK for more bass masterclasses and other University-based projects around the future of the internet… look out for a new solo album at some point this year!
2010 – the first half was spent looking after our new born baby, but at the age of 6 months, we took him to the US for a 7 week, 6500 mile tour of house concerts, that took us from Brooklyn to Milwaukee, Massachusetts to Lake Charles Louisiana, via Texas, Tennessee and Ohio. Lo and I recorded a live album on the tour, featuring Todd Reynolds and Neil Alexander, and while in Louisiana I recorded TWO duo albums with Trip Wamsley, released in September. The end of the year featured a sold out London gig with Michael Manring, and speaking engagements in the UK and Berlin at grass roots music industry conferences. I also released another live album, celebrating the 10th anniversary of my debut album coming out.
2011 – first half of the year was focussed on getting my first new studio album in 5 years finished. 11 Reasons Why 3 Is Greater Than Everything was released and followed by a 2 month, 8000 mile US tour, which included shows with Julie Slick, Trip Wamsley, Tiger Darrow, Steven Guerrero, Darren Michaels, Neil Alexander, Trevor Exter and Catherine Marie Charlton. The trip also included me guest-performing at Victor Wooten’s Music-Nature Camp, teaching a bass masterclass in Virginia, and Lobelia and I being the only overseas musicians to be booked to play at the first Wild Goose festival. Oh, and  I also co-produced, mixed and mastered Lobelia’s new record, Beautifully Undone. We started selling our music on USB Stick, which has proved v. popular. A move to Birmingham in the late summer promises all kinds of new opportunities.
2012 – the year started with the release of Believe In Peace, an all-improv solo record, recorded in Minneapolis. January continued with a return visit to NAMM, 12 shows in 12 days including duo shows with Julie Slick, Michael Manring and Daniel Berkman, a recording session with Steve Uccello and a playing-and-speaking gig at Stanford uni, as well as a masterclass at LA Music Academy. The shows with Julie, Michael and Daniel were all recorded, so mixing and mastering work on those took up a lot of the following months, as well as recording for Californian singer/songwriter Artemis. May saw the relaunch of Beyond Bass Camp, and the remastering of 11 Reasons… 2012 also saw the formation of #ToryCore – a project that coupled the evil words of the Tory govt with twisted avant garde metal. One of my favourite ever musical projects.
2013 – started with NAMM and another 8 shows with Daniel Berkman, and this time Artemis joined us on vocals at every gig. It was one of the most amazing musical experiences of my life to play with them both. Which is why a large chunk of the year was taken up mixing, mastering and releasing EVERY show we’d done up to that point. All 10 of ‘em. Went out to Frankfurt to the Musikmesse, more ToryCore shows & a few more gigs with Alvin Stardust depping for his regular bassist. Started teaching at Kidderminster College, and ended the year with a lovely joint tour with one of my favourite bassists – Yolanda Charles, and with a duo show with Andy Edwards on drums.
2014 – Another NAMM trip, 11 wonderful shows with Daniel and Artemis (part of a run of 14 shows in 13 days for me!). Just before NAMM I was invited to speak at the Microsoft Social Research Symposium in NYC, which was one of the most brilliant few days of my life. The duo project with Andy Edwards expanded to become ‘Andy, Steve + 1’ and we played a couple of gigs with Julie Slick, made an album with Murphy McCaleb and gigged with Jem Godfrey and Bryan Corbett – we have further projects planned. Played a super-lovely duo show with Briana Corrigan, ex-of The Beautiful South, whose solo work I’ve been a fan of for 20 years. I released a new solo album – What The Mind Thinks, The Heart Transmits. Playing at the London Bass Guitar Show and inviting Jon Thorne to join me on my set led to the release of that as a new album – Diversion. Towards the end of the year, I launched a new subscription service via Bandcamp, with the aim of finding a useful home for the epic amounts of music that I record and want to release…
2015 – NAMM in January, of course, plus a handful of lovely house concert shows with guitar genius Thomas Leeb. Released LEY Lines with Andy Edwards and Phi Yaan-Zek, the first new thing that my subscribers got, which Phi released for everyone else. Did the London Bass Guitar Show again, and had another of my bass heroes Ruth Goller agree to play with me. That was fun. Formed a duo with Divinity Roxx – hip hop, improv, songs, stories, all rolled in. We had a week of playing and did a first gig in Kidderminster. The duo with Jon Thorne was expanded to a trio with Rob Turner, of GoGo Penguin, that band sounds amazing! In September, I release two new solo albums – my first proper solo album releases since 11 Reasons in 2011. A Crack Where The Light Gets In and The Way Home were really well recieved, and got played on Late Junction. In October, I was the cover star on Bass Guitar Magazine, almost certainly the only self-managed, self-releasing, self-everything solo bassist to ever get there without an association with any other artist. Still can’t quite believe it. The mag cover coincided with a mini-tour with Jonas Hellborg – we had a wonderful time playing in Birmingham, London and Leeds, and hope to do a bigger tour ASAP. By the end of the year, I’d released 7 albums for Subscribers, all of which I’m immensely proud of! The year ended with the recording of a second album with Phi and Andy, to be released early in 2016. The year also featured a few more Torycore gigs – a thing that gets better every time we do it, and more vital, sadly.

Current Musical Projects

Solo gigs and recording -::- Duo with Divinity -::- trio with Jon Thorne and Rob Turner -::- trio with Andy Edwards and Phi Yaan-Zek -::- performance duo with painter Poppy Porter  -::-  Torycore.

trivia

favourite artists. – these days, it’s lots of singer/songwriters, and death metal bands. So, alternately, Bruce Cockburn, Cannibal Corpse, Jonatha Brooke, Cattle Decapitation, Joni Mitchell, Job For A Cowboy, Paul Simon, Entombed, Emily Baker, White Empress, The Blue Nile, Soulfly, Nik Kershaw, Ihsahn…

Along side that, a bunch of other things – Hope & Social, Bill Frisell, D’Angelo, David Torn, Let Spin, Michael Manring, DJ Krush, Throwing Muses, Coltrane, Kristin Hersh, 70s Miles, Beauty Pill, Janet Feder, Jon Gomm, Kenny Wheeler, Trish Clowes, Divinity Roxx, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, J Dilla, De La Soul, Terje Rypdal, KT Tunstall, The Pixies, The Cure…

top 10 (or so) favourite(ish) albums

bass influences – Current favourites are Tony Levin, Ruth Goller, Michael Manring, Julie Slick and Matthew Garrison but there are literally hundreds. I suppose, in roughly chronological order, those players that have influenced me the most would be – John Taylor (Duran), Nick Beggs (Kajagoogoo/Iona), Chris Squire (Yes), Simon Gallup (The Cure), Pino Pallidino (everyone, but especially the D’Angelo stuff), Doug Pinnick (King’s X), Ewan Vernal (Deacon Blue), Steve Swallow, Abraham Laboriel, Jaco Pastorius, Scott LaFaro, Freddie Washington, Bernard Edwards (Chic), Ray Brown, Jonas Hellborg, Family Man Barratt (The Wailers), Verdine White (EW & F), Tommy Simms, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Jimmy Haslip, Danny Thompson, Eberhard Weber, Mike Rivard, Marc Johnson, Kermitt Driscoll, Mo Foster, Todd Johnson, Doug Wimbish, Yolanda Charles, Trip Wamsley, Divinity,  and loads more.

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Reviews

May 2nd, 2008 · No Comments

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I’ve had loads of great press for my solo albums and gigs – have a read of some of it below!

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Behind Every Word CD Reviews –

Grace And Gratitude CD Reviews –

For The Love Of Open Spaces CD Reviews –

Not Dancing For Chicken CD Reviews –

Conversations CD Reviews –

And Nothing But The Bass reviews –

Gig Reviews –

Interviews –

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In the studio with Dave Bainbridge (video)

April 25th, 2008 · 1 Comment

I’m in North Lincolnshire at the moment, with Dave Bainbridge, guitarist and keyboardist with the band Iona. Iona have been a favourite band of mine for years, so when Dave contacted me via Myspace about being involved in his new project, ‘Open Sky’, I was rather excited.

Yesterday was spent mainly improvising and finding out how our relative soundworlds interact, and today I’m recording parts onto the tracks that Dave has already recorded for the Open Sky record – some ‘normal’ bass stuff, but also some strange StevieSounds, as in this video – hopefully we’ll get some more recorded later and post those too – til then, enjoy!

Tags: Music News · Musing on Music

Bluffing…

February 15th, 2008 · 1 Comment

I just watched the following video on Myspace – a hilarious clip of Fred Armisen going for an audition that he clearly has no place being at –

And it reminded me of when I did a very similar thing, albeit slightly more unwittingly. Back in about 1996/97, I had just moved back to London from Lincoln, and was just about eking out a living teaching (still driving back up to Lincoln one day a week) and living in a house where I was sharing a room as that’s all I could afford.

A friend of mine who had just left a gig as an on-stage musician in the west end told me that they were auditioning for the role of Buddy Holly’s bassist in ‘Buddy!’ the musical, and suggested I go for it. He seemed to think that the fact that I’d spent less than 10 minutes in my life with a double bass in my hands, couldn’t really sing and had no clue how to do an american accent wasn’t going to be a hindrance and that I should go for it.

So I went round to a friend’s house to try her double bass, did about 15 minutes and thought ‘that’ll do’. And then worked out two songs to sing, which were (I shit you not), ‘Looking For The Heart Of Saturday Night’ and ‘I Fought The Law’, both with electric bass accompaniment (despite there being no electric bass in the show).

The audition itself, fortunately, was a one at a time affair, not a big casting call. So I went in, onto the stage, with two blokes sat in the audience, plugged in my bass, and played (well) and sang (terribly) my two songs, then they said ‘can you play some double bass for us?’, so I picked up the double bass that was on the stage. It had action a mile high, and felt like a different scale length to the one I’d tried. I played a couple of really shitty rock ‘n’ roll walking basslines – I must’ve sounded like some 12 year old in a music shop, trying an instrument he’d never played…

They called me down to where they were sat, and gave me a script to read ‘it’s a southern US accent we need’. So I launch into it, trip over the words, get the emphasis wrong, and worst of all drift from really appalling new york jewish accent to californian surf-bum and back to ridiculous cowboy. The kind of american accent that makes Dick Van Dyke’s cockney sound like he grew up in Plaistow.

Thinking back, I’m surprised they didn’t either laugh or punch me in the face for wasting their time.

The only other time I’d ever felt quite so HOPELESSLY out of my depth was my audition for Salford University when I was 18. I’d driven down to Manchester the night before, so Martin and I could go and see Ocean Colour Scene at the International 3 [side note – this was before their first album came out, and they were, in all seriousness, one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen – hard to believe given the terraces rock they morphed into later…] – we slept in the car, and drove into Manchester the next morning, where I bought my first ever jazz records (a Coltrane live in Europe album called ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, Mingus Plays Duke and a Bill Evans Trio album called ‘Autumn Leaves’ that was actually an edit from ‘Live At The Village Vanguard’…) then went out to Salford for the interview.

I got there and there was a guitar player sat outside the interview room playing King’s X tunes. He was, to me then, amazing. I was REALLY bad at working out songs off records; I had no ear for it at all. So hearing this guy play all this stuff was the first point at which I thought ‘hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t have rated myself quite so highly on their pre-audition questionnaire’.

Anyway, I was eventually called in, played my two solo pieces, REALLY badly – mistakes, out of tune, everything that could have gone wrong short of pissing myself did. They then did an ear test, and I had no idea how to pick out intervals, didn’t know what a compound interval was, bollocksed up the reading test… by this point I half expected then to invoice me for an hour of wasted time… I was asked how I thought it went and said ‘frankly, shit’, and they smiled and said ‘we’ll let you know’.

…fast forward 15 years, and I’ve done two masterclasses at that same uni. So maybe one day I’ll be playing rockabilly slap upright on a west end stage, you never can tell…

Tags: Musing on Music · Random Catchup

File sharing and the musical diet…

October 7th, 2007 · Comments Off on File sharing and the musical diet…

Been doing lots of gigs that I’ll blog about in later on this evening – just running out the door to another gig – but a couple of thoughts first on the relationship between file sharing and musical diet. Specifically in relation to the value we place on things that cost us money.

Back when I had very little money (ooh, that’ll be, um, about an hour ago?) – no, VERY little money, when I was living in Lincoln and earning student-grant-level wages (oh yes, young peoples, there was a time when the government actually GAVE you money to go and study… not a huge amount of money, but it was a grant not a loan, so when you left university, you were free to head off and do idealistic things like VSO or working in a community art project for a year, instead of taking the highest paid job you possibly can just to pay off your £30,000 debt. Oh, how times have changed.) – back then, I had an odd mixture of fearless abandon and meticulous selection when it came to choosing the music I parted with cash for. I was pretty fearless as to the style of what I was buying – might be prog, might be free jazz, might be electropop, orchestral, metal, punk, indie, acoustic – whatever. But because i had limited funds, it had to be great. it had to be the best of its kind. I learnt pretty quick that the recommendations of magazines like Q and the NME were pretty much worthless as they tended to relate to the current coolness factor of a band or project, rather than its status against the canon of work with its field. There were a couple of Q reviewers whose opinion intrigued me, but most of the time when I was swayed by a review, I ended up being disappointed. So I stopped doing that. But it meant that I had a hugely varied record collection, but also one where I had top notch stuff in each category, much of which I carry with me to today, both in terms of affection and influence.

I suspect, had I had much more money, I would have bought in a much less considered way – I’m sure being a Child Of Peel, I would still have had the eclecticism, but I’d have gone out and bought everything. I loved music. I still do. I adore the process of making it, listening to it, thinking about it, imagining what it can be… Without the constraints of availability and cost, I may have ended up with a much bigger collection that less filtered in terms of quality, and where I was less familiar with much of the material. Having recently started listening to much of my vinyl collection again via the magic of the digital realm, I’ve been really surprised at how much of my record collection I know pretty much word for word. Most of the Smiths, The Cure, Lloyd Cole, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, The Pixies, The The… even Yes and Genesis records, I can sing along to with a level of memory much higher than almost anything that’s been released in the last 8 or 9 years. What happened 8 or 9 years ago? I started making more money, and – crucially – started being sent LOADS of Cds for review, or just because bassists wanted me to have their CD, wanted my endorsement. So my listening got far less precious, and it took me quite a while to start to filter out the wasted time.

It’s not that I don’t listen to unknown quantities any more, it’s just that I’m much more choosy again about what I spend my listening time on. Thanks to the miracle of the iPod, I have way more listening time now that I’ve had for about a decade, so I’m getting back into a routine of four-square-musical-meals-a-day. Digesting music, mulling it over, repeat listening, listening to two or three albums by the same artist back to back. Making sure that I get from it what I need, what I want, what is there to be had.

In the last couple of days I’ve listened to a lot of Kelly Joe Phelps and a lot of John Coltrane. And I’m thinking about my own music in the light of how their music makes me feel. And it’s exciting to think where it’ll go as a result. And being excited about music is vital. Excitement is the life-blood of the process. Getting worked up about the joy of making music, being inspired by great music, being in awe of great musicians and writers and wordsmiths and storytellers. It’s all good, very good. And it’d be a tragedy to see it disappear into a world where total access to any music meant that those filters weren’t there.

Which only goes to say that we need filters. It doesn’t prove the monetary filters are the only ones, or even the best ones, but it does suggest that we need a way of making sure we doing overdose on junk-music.

Tags: bass ideas · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

File Sharing III – a response to Jeff Schmidt…

October 3rd, 2007 · 4 Comments

Jeff Schmidt – fab solo bassist and all-round lovely chap – has posted his thoughts on file sharing, new models for distribution and the futility of milking the old ways of doing things on his blog.

It’s a thought provoking post, with a lot of great stuff in it. Definitely worth a read for anyone considering these issues (and while you’re reading, download his album off BitTorrent ;o) )

There are a couple of things he says that I want to pick up on, particularly this couplet – at the beginning of his post, he states,

“I pay for a lot of music – A LOT. I get a lot for free too. Me and millions of other people…Personally, most of the music I’ve obtained for free is music that I had zero intention of buying in the first place.”

and then later on says,

“…the old system allowed us to mistake the VALUE of the old distribution system for the value of the music itself…In other words – the artificial scarcity created by the old system inflated (or “added to” if you prefer) the value of the music…P2P and open distribution hasn’t devalued music as Willis and many others suggest.”

To which I’d say that the first statement suggests that P2P HAS VERY DEFINITELY DEVALUED MUSIC. The point of the second quote was to point out that the monetary value of a bit of recorded music was abitrary, imposed and regulated by the industry, and the value was not inherent. However, what it caused – intentionally or otherwise – was a situation where we didn’t bother to listen to music we thought was shit because we’d have had to pay for it – even the music we borrowed from friends required them to have bought it, so a level of quality control filtering was taking place. We were listening to music that someone in our immediate peer group had deemed worthy of financial outlay.

And as a result, we cherished our vinyl collections. The release days of certain albums back in the day are firmly etched in my mind – I even remember queuing at a record shop in Lincoln to get King’s X‘ album Dogman on cassette! I had no money at all at that point – I earned less in my first year in Lincoln that I’d got on my student grant, and very little more the year after, but still would happily go without new clothes or other ‘essentials’ to be able to carry on BUYING records. And every new album was lovingly played. I took some risks on what I bought, but nothing was considered disposable.

Fast forward to now, and I get a lot of music for free, legally – being in the industry means I get sent a lot. Being a writer for magazines means I’m on a lot of journalist lists, and even when I email the labels and say that I can’t in all good conscience pretend to be a reviewer, i still get sent the CDs. But I don’t value them the same way, I don’t tend to cherish getting new stuff through the post, (unless I get prerelease copies – that always feels special. I’ve got a CDR of Tony Levin‘s wonderful album Waters Of Eden, and even the title is different, I got it so far before it was released. That’s a fairly treasured CD…)

My point in all of this is to highlight that free music not only messes things up for musicians who are trying to cling onto the last vestiges of a failing 20th century model of wealth creation from music, but it also makes it much less likely that we will value MUSIC to the point where we don’t put up with mediocre music. Why on earth does Jeff even bother downloading music he wouldn’t buy? Who knows (I’m sure he’ll let us know) – there are legal ways to ‘try before you buy’ – every music buying site has at least 30 second clips to check out and make sure you’re not accidentally getting a death metal album which you thought was a ukrainian folk album. Some even give away sample tracks, so you can hear an entire piece rather than doing the musical equivalent of assessing the Mona Lisa by looking at her forhead and a bit of the background.

So no-one needs to do any research anymore. The only recommendations we get are lazy ‘download this’ ones. Because the recommendation isn’t going to cost us anything, it’s not valued, and it’s not given with any sense of trepidation. When I recommend music here, I do so in the knowledge that there are a bunch of people who take my recommendations seriously and will quite often go and BUY the music I recommend. I take that responsibility very seriously. I only suggest music I think is worthy of cash outlay. I don’t recommend friends who are lovely but not particularly great musicians, as I want my recommendation to still be worth spending money on.

And this may also be why Jeff’s beloved radio is dying on its arse, particularly in the US – who needs to go to the radio to hear new music when a) radio isn’t breaking new artists and b) anything can be downloaded. We get lazy and we cease to give a shit, and all of us as much poorer for it.

A commenter on yesterday’s post on this subject said “the only thing that matters in this regard is whether a musician wants to devote energy towards stopping illegal downloading or towards encouraging his or her music to propagate”. The problem with this is that recorded music ceases to have value in an of itself. It becomes an advert for your live show, your other merch etc. The art of making records dies. It becomes the art of making adverts. I don’t want to make adverts. I want to make records that stand on their own. And as long as there are people that want to listen to that music, irrespective of whether I go out and play that music live, we need to come up with a model where I can afford to live whilst making it.

It may be that I have to make money elsewhere in music to be able to do that as a side project, but why the hell would I or anyone else do that? Where does that leave us when one’s deepest creative urges (and consequently our most valuable creative statement to the listener) are marginalised because the means of making a living from it is removed. I don’t want that to be the case for the artists whose recorded output I cherish, and for whom making records is a wholly different musical pursuit from documenting what they’re going to do live so that you can check it out before forking out for a ticket (fuck it, why not just let yourself in through the fire exit of the venue? After all, they’ll be playing the show whether you pay for the ticket or not…)

I wonder if we’ll end up with music like that being a new form of subscription service. This already exists to a degree with that site where you can pledge to pay for an album before it’s even been recorded, and when the band reaches a certain level of funding they go in and make the record… But I have to say that as a creative idealist, I still don’t like the idea of making records for a market like that. I make the music I make because I have to make it, it’s what I do, it’s who I am. There are people who like listening to it. Quite a lot of them, it seems. Therefor, in order for me to keep doing it, to get better at it, to develop and grow as a creator of music, there needs to be some way for them to keep the supply of music happening.

I’ve already chosen to forgo earning big money by choosing to be a solo bassist – it ain’t going to ever make me rich. I’m earning less than I would as a training manager in McDonalds. But I guess the quandary for us as listeners is – are we prepared for the art of making records to shift away from being the central focus of the music lives of the people who are currently very good at it, but need lots of time and money to be able to do what they do, and are we happy that we now look back nostalgically at the feeling we had when a new album came out by a favourite band when we were kids and we had to invest something of value for which we had to calculate a real cost, but that we just don’t get when we unzip a file we pulled off Bit Torrent?

Tags: bass ideas · Geek · New Music Strategies

Looong day!

September 16th, 2007 · Comments Off on Looong day!

Saturday morning I was up at 5.40am. Yup, I got a healthy four hours sleep before being wrenched from it by Billy Bragg’s ‘Greetings To The New Brunette’ (that’s my alarm sound on my phone – has been for ages, along with ‘Love Changes Everything By Climie Fisher as my ringtone… just in case it ever comes up in a really weird pub-quiz that you’re in… :o)

The reason for my early rise was that I had to be in Bath to teach 3 bass classes at Bath City Church. I’m still not certain how they got my name (will have to ask!), but I was emailed about this a few weeks ago, and booked up for the day. It’s always interesting going back into a big ‘modern’ church setting – I spent so many years in that environment when I was in Lincoln and before, but it feels culturally pretty alien now… There’s a whole other language that gets spoken in those circles, and it takes me a while to get my translating head back on and work out what people are trying to say. But it was a good day – the organisers had also booked Martin Neil, drummer/percussionist extraordinaire to teach, and having not met up for years, it was great for Martin and I to catch up a little… and for me to find that he lives about 6 miles from my mum’s house!

The 3 classes were fun too – they were progressive, in that i had the same group for all three, so one followed on from the next, and as usual, I started out by unpacking the learning process, what practice is for, and thanks to a couple of a really insightful questions, we talked a lot about the nature of goal orientated learning and external vs internal goals. All within the context of playing in a church music group.

The people who came along were a lovely bunch and hopefully took home some inspiration and ideas to get them playing.

Then the day’s weirdness started. Heading back to the car park to pick up my car at just before 4, I find a 15 minute queue just for the machines to pay! Huh? Ah, there’s been a rugby match that’s just finished. I get car, load up, and then sit in traffic for an hour trying to get out of Bath. Bear in mind, I’m supposed to be in Oxford by 5ish. By 5, I’m nearly at the M4 after leaving Bath… grrrr. Mad dash ensues, lovely Jez picks up Lo. and Catster, we all meet at lovely jez’ lovely house, drop off music gear, eat, and head back into Oxford to see Ross Noble – now I loves me some Ross Noble, and he was on top form, rambling and waffling and talking total bollocks to a highly appreciative audience.

Back to Jez’ to pick up music stuff, drive home, get in at 1am. Hence me blogging now instead of being at St Luvvies. Then it’s off to lunch with Rollergirl and Photomonkey.

Tags: Random Catchup · teaching news

Euro Blog 3

October 23rd, 2006 · Comments Off on Euro Blog 3

So, saturday and we’re onto the EuroBassDay – Verona is a city I’ve visited a few times before, and the organiser of the Bass Day, Giambattista Zerpalloni is an old friend. I get to the venue, and run into lots of Italian friends from prevous visits, and Oteil Burbridge, who I’ve met a few times at NAMM shows, and always got on very well with.

I check in at the hotel (which is miles away from the venue, but nice), and then go back and get ready to play. First up is a half hour Looperlative demo in the main concert hall (the venue is the Palazzio Della Grande Guarda, right in the main square in Verona – a stunning location for a Bass Day!) which goes very well. the LP1 once again behaves itself, proving that it’s fixed, and the response is v. positive.

After that, it’s time to just relax. I head off out to get away from the noise of bass, run into Oteil and his lovely wife at a restaurant in the square, and have dinner with them. A hugely enjoyable meal that set the tone for the rest of the weekend – playing a bit of bass punctuated by hours and hours of hanging out with totally wonderful people.

The rest of the american contingent are Epifani endorsers – Oteil, Andrew Gauche (gospel bass legend), Lincoln Goines (stunning Latin groovemeister and lovely fretless player), Dominique DiPiazza (French solo bassist, possessed of the most terrifying flamenco skillz I’ve ever seen on bass), Nic Epifani and Joey Lauricella from Epifani and Fodera. It’d be tough to find more enjoyable company at a bass day. Hours and hours of hanging out, chatting, joking, and occasionally playing. We get back to the hotel at past 2am, and crash.

Day two of bass day, and I’m on earlier – 2.15 – and it’s a 45 minute set. Oteil agrees to come and play a duet, and in the middle of a gig that also features Grace And Gratitude, MMFSOG, Nobody Wins, Scott Peck, Deeper Still and What A Wonderful World, we do an extended improv thing that just blew my mind. Really really lovely RecycleMusic at a bass day. Totally delicious (I really want to get hold of the video of it!)

After that it’s escape time again, and this time, Oteil’s wife Barri and I head out shopping, me being the honourary girl of the group, so deemed acceptable as shoe and handbag shopping partner. I also prove to be an expert haggler and berry gets get a 45€ bag for €15.

Out for dinner with the whole Epifani crowd again for more fun and japes, and back for the final gig, which goes on far too long, features a few stunning moments (musical hero of the weekend is a harmonica player living in Holland called Tollak who really does have a musical midas touch), and ends with a fairly loose and messy 8-bass cover of Big Bottom, all of us taking solos. Dominique wisely hides and sits this one out. Fun, but hardly a stunning musical finale to the weekend.

Bass Days are a weird thing – on the one hand, there are occasional moments of great music, and some fantastic people (even moreso at this one than usual), but there’s also an awful lot of slapping and tapping and overplaying and noisy nastiness. On balance, I really enjoy it, but I could happily go another year without hearing anymore slapped or tapped demi-semi-quavers.

Another late night, and we’re up to now, sat in my hotel on Monday morning, about to go and spend the day in Verona with Oteil and Barri. Yay for the touring life!

Tags: Music News