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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



David Sylvian at the RFH

September 18th, 2007 · 5 Comments

david sylvian at the RFH London

Went to see David Sylvian last night at the RFH last night, with Lo, Catster and The Cheat. I’ve been a big fan of his (that’s David Sylvian, not The Cheat) for ages, but had never got to see him live so was really looking forward to it. When I found out a couple of days ago that the wonderful and lovely Theo Travis was playing sax and flute with him, I was even more excited. Any day watching Theo play music is a good day.

The gig was, as expected wonderful – moodily lit, as you can see in the above photo, and the rest of my sneakily taken rubbish camera phone pics, the band played a range of stuff from right across David’s career, all the way from Ghosts through tracks of Brilliant Trees, Gone To Earth, Secrets Of The Beehive, Dead Bees On A Cake to last year’s Blemish (was Blemish last year? the year before? whatever…) – all good stuff. It was odd hearing DS without the foil of another guitar player – one of the defining features of his records is that he almost always has a mad guitarist as the random element in the midst of the calmness – BJ Cole on Gone To Earth, David Torn on Secrets Of The Beehive, Fripp and Trey Gunn on The First Day, Derek Bailey on Blemish etc… – but tonight it was just himself on guitar, playing simple acoustic strummy stuff on almost all of the tunes. Very simple acoustic strummy stuff – he appears to only use about 4 chord shapes… Which worked, but left me wondering what another guitarist would’ve added. Thankfully, Theo was there as that random more freewheeling element – the tracks without him were noticeably more restrained, tied more tightly to the sequenced tracks that fleshed out most of the gig with bleeps, squeaks and canned brass and woodwind. With Theo playing in and around the tunes, they took on a more spontaneous feel, and it seemed to lift the band into a more spontaneous place, intentionally or otherwise.

All in, a gorgeous gig. I love the fact that DS doesn’t feel the need to throw in an up-tempo number to please the crowd – the dynamic changes were largely left to whether the ever-brilliant Steve Jansen was playing predominantly acoustic or electronic percussion; the acoustic stuff being far more dynamic, which the electronic kept everything in a really tightly defined dynamic and emotional framework.

Tags: music reviews

fun gig.. eventually

July 27th, 2007 · Comments Off on fun gig.. eventually

So Mum and I went down to see my lovely Grandparents in the tin-box-on-wheels, a little later than planned due to road closures (pointless detail for the benefit of The Cheat – he panics if he doesn’t get the full picture). Lovely day spent with Les Gramps, then mum and I set off to Gipsy Hill in South London for me to play at Freedom Of Expression II – the second of the nights that Tim Eveleigh is now running (the first being the one in Croydon that I’ve played a few times, and the third being one i’m playing soonish… need to add that to the gig calendar).

Anyway, once again, I gave Google Maps directions far too much benefit of the doubt, and we got hopefully lost in that bit of South London that has towns called things like Pratt’s Bottom and Badger’s Arse or something…. So it took us about 45 minutes longer than it should’ve to get there.

But when we did, all was good – the lovely Cara Winter was on stage as we got there, sounding great as always, was followed by the also-great Gaz Twist, followed by me. The sound was great, the new strings were a little disconcerting (I change the strings on my fretless every 2 years or so, so new strings feel VERY odd to start with…) but I played OK, talked rubbish, and a fun time was had by all.

This morning my car was ready to be picked up, so I took the tin-box back, paid the £369 that could’ve been so much more if what they did hadn’t got it through, and got into my own car… shit, this thing’s easy to drive!!! Only after the tin box did I really get the full contrast. I remember what it felt like when I first got it, after 10 years of knackered diesel fiestas… yummmm.

And onto today magazine columns to be written, albums to be recorded, stuff to be packed. The life of the itinerant solo bassist…

Tags: Music News

rescuing great songs…

December 21st, 2006 · Comments Off on rescuing great songs…

So, clearly The Cheat is on the same tip as me just now, and just sent me this Youtube link, to Brett Anderson (ex-Suede) doing ‘Beautiful’ – as made famous by Christina Aguillera… another great song… Christina’s version is rather nice too, certainly not in the same doleful performance league as Celine slaughtering ‘My Heart Will Go On’, but it’s another one that benefits from the acoustic treatment. Enjoy…

Tags: Musing on Music

David Ford gig at Bush Hall

December 21st, 2006 · Comments Off on David Ford gig at Bush Hall

One of the guests at Duke Special’s gig last week was David Ford – fantastic singer/songwriter, and from the two minutes I spent talking to him, a seemingly v. nice bloke. He mentioned at that gig that he had a show coming up at Bush Hall, but it was sold out, and apologised for not being able to invite me to even buy a ticket and go… Fear not, for where bands can’t get tickets for their own shows, the mighty Catster can employ the dark forces of the evil empire to procure tickets to just about anything (if I was planning on having Christmas dinner at Bono’s house with his family, and I’m sure Catster could sort out a guestlist place… :o)

So, Catster, The Cheat and I all went to the gig, after a lovely curry at the Ajanta (scene of many many a curry with Jez when he was living in Shepherd’s Bush – come home, you fool – Canada is clearly not the place for you, I haven’t done a wedding gig since you left!)

The gig was an annual charity show that David does, with special guests, to raise money for different projects – this year’s was a YMCA project that took kids from problem situations and put them on a scheme for a few months that apparently helps them look at self-esteem and lifestyle issues before sending them off to Durban in South Africa to work on an HIB/AIDS project out there. Amazing stuff, gotta love the YMCA.

And the gig was amazing. David’s own songs are big emotional singer/songwriter affairs, like a more angry Damian Rice, and the choice of crazy covers for the night was briliant. Fran Healy from Travis did a fab version of Dancing Queen, then a completely acoustic version of Driftwood, stood on top of a grand piano played by David – that’s almost certainly on YouTube by now; if not I’ll upload my video of it, cos it was great.

David then picked songs at random out of a ‘number one hits of the last 30 years’ book, and played a blinding version of ‘My Heart Will Go On’ – how clever is Celine that she managed to make me hate what is now clearly a very very beautiful song? That takes quite a skill, a sort of reverse alchemy… Anyway, David played it fairly straight to start with, then went all uptempo and spoilt it, but still, it proved that with just a guitar and a voice, it’s an incredible song. He also did Like A Prayer with big audience sing-along, which worked brilliantly too, and Ashes to Ashes, but couldn’t remember the melody on the middle. Same for ‘If You’re Not The One’ by Daniel Beddingfield, another song I’ve loved since I first heard it (see Catster, I’m not ashamed to admit it!), which David again hinted at doing a beautiful version of before giving up… He could SO do an incredible covers album of tunes like that. maybe he will one day.

Anyway, all in a great night – extra kudos to his drummer, who was tops. The rest of the band were fun but a bit shambolic – great for a night like this, but not what you’d want on a proper gig. The drummer though was v. funky. Great player.

So now I need to catch a normal David Ford gig some time, to see what he does then. I’ll be the one down the front asking for ‘My Heart Will Go On’.

Tags: Musing on Music

"I like pretty much anything…"

October 10th, 2006 · Comments Off on "I like pretty much anything…"

so goes the beginning to So many people’s list of favourite music on MySpace. They then proceed to list only music that has a) singers, b) that sing in english and c) bands with drum kits, or programmed drums that sound like drum kits.

THAT’S NOT ‘PRETTY MUCH ANYTHING’!! By any stretch of the imagination, that’s a very very narrow range of what’s on offer in the world of music. This faux cosmopolitan approach to music is fostered by radio and TV shows that claim to have a hugely wide booking policy that reminds me of that line in The Blues Brothers ‘we have both types of music – Country AND Western’.

I feel like bombarding these people with MP3s of Gamalan orchestras and Harry Partch, Tuvan throat singing and Gustav Mahler, Bollywood soundtracks and Andean pan pipes, Noel Coward and Fats Waller, Henry Purcell and Meshuggah… ‘pretty much anything’ really, until they say ‘I have, in the greater scheme of things, incredibly conservative music taste, it runs the gamut of ‘white-boy stadium guitar nonense’ from Coldplay to Stereophonics, but I have got a Boards Of Canada album, cos someone told me they were cool, and it was cheap in Borders.’

For the record, I don’t like ‘pretty much anything’ – I actively dislike most of the music I’ve heard in my life. It’s not out of some musicological misanthropy, it’s just that even across the range of styles and genres I like, I tend to only like the best of it. The reason being that most music isn’t very good. That’s what’s magical about music – if it was as easy as breathing, we wouldn’t value it at all. We wouldn’t have favourites, in the same way that most of us don’t have favourite ‘walkers’ – (“ooh, just look at the way he puts one foot in front of the other”) – we can almost all do it, it’s a hugely useful skill, but it’s not generally considered a uniquely artistic one in the way that making great music is.

That said, our reasons for liking music go beyond the sound of the music itself, often. There are emotional resonances based on things we’ve heard before, there are cultural, social and personal connections with the performers and writers, there are lyrics that grab us and draw us into styles we wouldn’t previously have bothered with, there’s music played by people we know (The Cheat is always laughing at me for spending most of my time listening to music by friends of mine), there’s music that we encounter in good situations (opening for a favourite band, soundtracking a favourite film, or just on in the background when great things happen).

But that still doesn’t come close to ‘pretty much anything’ – so if you have that on your myspace page, please go and change it, and put something more honest! ;o)

Tags: Musing on Music

post-greenbelt curry

September 1st, 2006 · Comments Off on post-greenbelt curry

A fun evening last night – a Greenbelt chum was having birthday drinks in town, so ’twas a chance to catch up with her and other greenbelt chums in town. Fortunately, two of them were people who’d been so busy over the weekend I hadn’t had a chance to see them at the festival – Emma and Chris, both delightful and lovely. I’d arranged beforehand to go for dinner with The Cheat at the end, and Emma, Chris and Emma’s friend Sarah-who-thinks-she’s-met-me-before were going as well, so a delicious Thai feast and much hilarity followed. Yay.

plans are a-foot for a post-greenbelt curry in the next couple of weeks – email me if you’re a greenbelter who’s interested.

However, that wasn’t the most exciting thing of the evening – that prize goes to StreetBox – a beatbox/voice duo who were busking at the top of Carnaby street, and the beatbox dude was out of this world. They did a kick ass version of Billy Jean, which I’m going to try and get uploaded to YouTube cos I videoed it on my hires phone (riiight), but I’m hoping their website will be updated soon with info/MP3s/CD buying options. They had a CD for sale there, which I saw Howard out of top pop singing sensations Take That buy. I stood next to Howard watching them, us both smiling incredulously at what the beatbox monkey was capable of – drums, basslines, scratch effects and bleeps all merged into one incredible sound. Well worth keeping an eye on…

Tags: Random Catchup

The Cheat is in trouble…

February 28th, 2006 · Comments Off on The Cheat is in trouble…

MSN Message from The Cheat earlier today –

“for some reason whitesnake sounds fantastic to me at the moment”

he’s clearly got problems – can anyone in the Berkshire area call in and make sure he’s OK?

Tags: Uncategorized

More MySpace stuff

February 28th, 2006 · Comments Off on More MySpace stuff

I’ve spent the last hour or so sorting out a MySpace page for the Recycle Collective – everything’s in place except the audio, and that’s cos I’m writing all of this from in bed, and the MP3s are on the other computer, so I can’t upload them… :o)

The MySpace thing is just huge now, so it’s mad not to have a page for whatever it is that you do. I’m going to have to set one up for the Stevie/Theo duo… and if anyone wants to do a Stevie-fan-page, feel free (The Cheat, you’ve got some time, have a go! ;o)

and now, it’s time to get up, and get ready for tonight’s gig in Portsmouth – see you there!

Soundtrack – The The, ’45 RPM’.

Tags: Uncategorized

Juliet Turner and Pierce Pettis, Bush Hall, 17/2/06

February 18th, 2006 · Comments Off on Juliet Turner and Pierce Pettis, Bush Hall, 17/2/06

As y’all know, I do make a habit of going to gigs by people I know. Well, I know lots of lovely talented marvellous people, and I like to support live music as much as I can anyway, so being able to combine supporting live music, and seeing lovely friends makes for a doubly marvellous night out.

Thus it was last night. ‘Twas also rather nice to do something special with the lovely Gareth and Jane, and we all toddled off to Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush, a rather lovely venue that was clearly at one point a ball-room, and and is now a rather lovely gig venue for about a 2-300 peoples.

Pierce Pettis was already on when we got there, and sounding marvellous. I hadn’t seen Pierce since the Cheat and I went to stay with him in Alabama, Oct 2004, so it was lovely to see him again, and hear him. The couple of new songs he played were gorgeous – a Narnia one and one where he was joined by Juliet and Brian on BVs called ‘Vera Cruz’ – gorgeous stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad song by Pierce, even on the three CDRs of unreleased stuff that he gave the Cheat and I when we visited (BTW, I think it’s my turn with the CDs, The Cheat!)

The half time break was almost as much fun as the gig – catching up with many friends that I hadn’t seen for ages. It’s nice with gigs like this, that I can pretty much guarantee that I’m going to know about 20% of the audience.

Then Juliet Turner – most years, I see Juliet play more than just about any other artist that I’m not actually touring with. 4 or 5 times, I guess. And never ever get bored of her songs. She’s a fantastic songwriter, with a unique turn of phrase and way with rhythm. In Ireland she’s a big star, having gone platinum and won reader’s polls in Hot Press (the Irish answer to Q, NME and Mojo all rolled into one) – and she’ll get there over here too, for sure. Cos she’s fab. Apparently she’s got all self-concious about the amount she talks on stage, which is a shame, because her between-song banter was pretty stripped back tonight, and she’s a great story teller. As is Pierce, who was equally subdued. It might just have been one of those venues. I’ve played in those before now, they just don’t lend themselves to getting the kind of feedback from the audience that you need to sustain rambling stories.

Anyway, both Juliet and Pierce, and Juliet’s guitarist Brian Grace, were on top form, a fab night was had by all, and I’m already looking forward to seeing them all again!

As a side note, we got into a discussion last night about the lack of availability of Pierce’s early albums – the ‘big hair’ years. When Pierce was on Windham Hill, he had a hair cut that I also flirted with in the late 80s, the ‘mushroom cloud’, where all your photos look like holiday snaps taken on Bikini Atoll during the h-bomb tests. here’s the best one I could find of Pierce online –

anyone got any others? :o)

Tags: Musing on Music

end of year top 10s and general out-of-touchness…

December 27th, 2005 · 1 Comment

Here are two end of year top 10s. Neither of them are mine – the first is the chart of the charts – a compilation of the best of the end of year critics polls. The second is the biggest selling albums of the year –

THE CRITICS’ CHOICE

1 The Arcade Fire: Funeral
2 Gorillaz: Demon Days
3 Kanye West: Late Registration
4 Sufjan Stevens: Illinoise
5 Elbow: Leaders of the Free World
6 Antony & The Johnsons: I Am a Bird Now
7 The White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan
8 Franz Ferdinand: You Could Have It So Much Better
9 Kaiser Chiefs: Employment
10 MIA: Arular

2005’S TOP SELLING ALBUMS

1 James Blunt: Back to Bedlam
2 Coldplay: X & Y
3 Robbie Williams: Intensive Care
4 Kaiser Chiefs: Employment
5 Westlife: Face to Face
6 Gorillaz: Demon Days
7 KT Tunstall: Eye to the Telescope
8 Eminem: Curtain Call – The Hits
9 Kelly Clarkson: Breakaway
10 Katie Melua: Piece by Piece

So, out of both charts I own one of the albums – KT Tunstall’s ‘Eye To The Telescope’. Rather fabulous it is too. I haven’t even heard any of the others. I’ve heard the singles from a few of them – the Coldplay tracks I’ve heard sound nice, and I’m going to get the Gorillaz album, for sure. Will probably get round to listening to Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire and Anthony And The Johnsons at some point (I’ve heard a track from the Anthony… album and quite liked that.)

I’m feeling marvellously out of touch, despite actually having bought two out of the current top 3 UK singles in the last week! Back in the days when I subscribed to Q, I used to tot up at the end of the year how many of their top 50 from the year I had – normally somewhere between 7-10. This year, it’s probably one – KT Tunstall. I don’t think I own another album that’s charted.

My own top 5 of the year is –

Michael Manring – Soliloquy
King’s X – Ogre Tones
Lleuwen Steffan/Huw Warren/Mark Lockheart – God Only Knows
Bill Frisell – East/West
Juliet Turner – Live

Bruce Cockburn – Speechless would be in there but I had all but two of the songs on it before, so it’s not really a ‘new’ album.

So not a particularly hip top 5, but a vibrant one for sure – Michael’s album is his first solo album for 7-8 years, and his first all-solo CD, the finest all solo bass CD ever released by anyone, if you ask me. Kings X’s album is a major return to form, their best for almost a decade. Lleuwen Steffan’s album was a real revelation – I heard it at the vortex being played before a gig, and bought it there and then, and love it to bits. Frisell’s album is him back doing what he does best – playing live with a trio. and Juliet’s live album is long overdue and captures much of the magic of seeing the the lovely Ms Turner live. 5 great albums, for sure, and all of them way better than some load of hackneyed old bollocks by Franz Ferdinand/White Stripes/Kanye West etc. etc. etc. – piss off you dull bastards, come back when you stop making records by comittee/have had drum lessons/write some tunes, respectively. (and no, The Cheat, claiming that you really dig the Kanye West album doesn’t make you seem cool and hip to the laydeez, so stop pretending that was your musical highlight, when really it was hanging out with Randy Stonehill).

Tags: Random Catchup