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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Pick your Fantasy Festival line up

June 29th, 2008 · 7 Comments

Festival season has begun – Glastonbury was this weekend, as well as the ‘Hard Rock Calling’ two day-er in London (went down there to see Eddi Reader play yesterday, and to see KT Tunstall and The Police today – all marvellous).

However, my usual reaction to festivals is *shrug*… I rarely see a festival line-up that really gets me excited, and as a result, I only ever go to one: Greenbelt (which I may or may not be playing at this year, depending on whether they decide to pay me… feel free to email them if you’re going and would like to see Lo and I play there…).

So anyway, who’s your fantasty festival top 5? – I asked this on Twitter yesterday, and got some really great answers. Some people posted twice, listing their ‘mainstage’ and ‘acoustic stage’ which seems like a nice split, so feel free to post those two lists. The only rules are that a) you’re not booking for a particular audience, this is about who YOU want to see play. and b) if you’re
a musician, it’s taken as red that you’d want to book yourself: only list people who aren’t you. 🙂

Comment away…!

Tags: Musing on Music

Thankyou Gordon Brown/Olympic committee…

April 7th, 2008 · Comments Off on Thankyou Gordon Brown/Olympic committee…

Someone’s got to say it, so on behalf of the various campaign groups concerned with ending the Chinese occupation of and brutality in Tibet (none of which I officially represent or am a member of), I’d like to thank Gordon Brown for a day of phenomenal free world-wide publicity, at the expense of the reputations of his government, the olympic committee, the Metropolitan police force and London as a whole.

I mean, he can’t POSSIBLY have thought that the protests weren’t going to happen can he? He must have known that the strength of feeling about the ongoing MASSIVE human rights violations being carried out by the Chinese government in, well, just about everywhere they can reach in a 3 hour plane ride, was going to spill out onto the streets, given that the nonsense that passed for a ‘procession’ was going to be tracked by every major news agency on the planet.

Someone in government handily arranged for a bunch of turquoise track-suited Chinese body guards to run stony-faced alongside the torch, like a phalanx of David Icke-obsessed ninjas, waiting to seriously kick some ass should any of the protestors step out of line. Except they needn’t have been there, because lovely accomodating Meester Brown had arranged for the Police to overreact to everything, bundling people to the ground in the full glare of the world’s media lens. So, sadly no Jackie Chan-style ninja-skills from the Icke-ettes, but still plenty of amazing photo-ops, including but not limited to:

***the dude you tried to wrestle the flame from Konnie Huq (who helpfully said afterwards that she was fine with that, given the reason)
***The genius who attacked the flame with a fire extinguisher – hurrah!
***The ignominy of the regal olympic flame being carried on a bus along Oxford Street by the Sugababes (stopping off for a ‘My olympic torch went to London and all I got was this lousy cigarette lighter’ zippo on the way)
***the other numerous heavy handed arrests of anyone jumping the barriers as assorted sport-monkeys and D-list celeb-lackeys ran past carrying that great symbol of, uhm, flameness.

Oh yes, ’twas a masterpiece of engineered publicity for the protestors, handed to them on a plate by the Government.

So thankyou, Mr Brown, thankyou. Good one Gordon, you’re a legend Gordon. All we need now is for you to admit that was the plan and for you to openly laugh at the idea that you’ll be attending the opening ceremony. For example, you could say ‘…hosted by that bunch of murdering fuck-heads? not likely!’

I’d be happy to write you a speech. For freebs.

(oh and big thanks to my local MP, Tessa Jowells, for not blowing the story early – she must’ve been bustin’ to say ‘but we planned it all along!’ all day…)

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

stop the war protest, London, Oct 8th

October 9th, 2007 · 2 Comments

So yesterday was the Stop The War protest in London. Starting with a rally in Trafalgar Square, and then a march down Whitehall to Parliament Square. It was a relatively small affair (relative to the 2 million who descended on london on the eve of the war back in 2002), but the ranks were swelled by the Government’s attempts to declare it illegal – something on which they wisely made a u-turn at the last minute.

The speeches were the typical ‘preaching to the converted’ arrangement – does anyone go to a rally like this to get information? To have their opinions changed? I guess they have value as part of the process of disseminating information, statistics and updates on things that haven’t been in the press, but having lots of lovely trade unionists shouting at a government who aren’t listening to ‘get out of Iraq’ seemed a bit of a waste of time… Anyway, Mark Thomas and Mark Steele were both good value as always, George Galloway was as self-aggrandising as usual, and the former-SAS soldier was rather poignant. I didn’t get to hear Walter Wolfgang or Brian Haw, but I guess they were probably interesting too.

The march then proceeded down Whitehall, which was fine til we arrived at Parliament Square to find the square itself fenced off, and the police blocking the road and not really explaining to anyone what was going on. I asked a friendly looking officer, who told me it was ‘probably to get the people through into the square in larger groups’, as opposed to the stretched out nature of the march… Fair enough, would’ve made sense to let people know.

So they proceeded to let the march through in chunks, and herd people off down Millbank, instead of allowing them to assemble in the square, which quite understandably pissed off a lot of people. There didn’t appear to be any reason not to allow people into the square. Tempers flared a little, and a group of anarchists staged a sit down protest in the middle of the road at the junction between whitehall and the square. Nothing major kicked off, but it did expose the lack of a plan that the police had…

Anyway, a few observations… As Jyoti very wisely points out, while the minor altercations between the police and anarchists in the square became a protest about the right to protest, the main purpose of the day was to continue to voice the need for the UK government to a) be held to account for their part in the political disaster and human tragedy that is Iraq, b) to call for the withdrawal of troops who only seem to be rubbing salt into the wounds of a deeply lacerated country, and c) to call on the government to be unequivocal in condemning the disastrous idea of a US or Israeli military strike on Iran. Those are not, by their nature partisan political demands. They don’t require a subscription to a particular doctrine or left/right divide. So it’s a shame that the terms of engagement are defined by the old school left, the trade union movement, and the constituents of the march itself were largely dominated by the ‘usual suspects’ – trade unionists, students, hippies, religious activists and leftie political groups.

This is certainly to the shame of the anti-war contingent to the centre and right of the political spectrum, but is also a reflection of the culture within which such protests are formulated and implemented. In this ultra-brand-conscious times, the Stop The War coalition is only a partial coalition, of the aforementioned groups, and has managed to marginalise those whose opposition to the war is through a broader ethical and humanitarian framework, and less through a strongly held belief in the democratic right to protest in the tradition of the post-Marx left, trade unions and the ‘real’ Labour movement…

I’m not sure what needs to be done to change this – perhaps such people enact their democratic right to protest in other ways, via web activism, personal lobbying of MPs, signing petitions etc. But as a show of strength of opinion, few things carry the same weight in media-savvy times as footage of hundreds of thousands of people on the streets. I’m not sure how many were there yesterday – 10,000? perhaps. As a percentage of the number of people who distrust the government over their actions on the middle east, it’s paltry. Still enough to make a noise, but certainly evidence that a hell of a lot of people don’t feel inspired by or included in the Stop The War Coalition…

Anyway, it was good to be there, very lovely to see Jyoti again, and important to be a part of such a thing, and lend my support to such an obviously positive message.

click here to view a slideshow of my pictures from the day

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

The invisible engine of music…

September 19th, 2007 · Comments Off on The invisible engine of music…

One of the great things about teaching bass is that questions, comments and observations from my students spark off trains of thought that get me reconsidering the nature of what we do as musicians, and obviously more specifically as bassists.

I was talking this morning with a student about the art of simple bass – the zen of bass – playing lines that on the surface are almost mind-numbingly simple, but thanks to the whole universe of intention that can exist in every note, can utterly define the song.

One of the examples we used was Nick Seymour of Crowded House. Neil Finn is a genius songwriter, truly one of the great songwriters of the last 20 years, IMHO. But what is it about Crowded House that stops them from sounding like a stadium emotional rock band? Largely, it comes down to two things – the production ideas of Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake, and the rhythm section of Nick Seymour on bass and the late and dearly missed Paul Hester – the production stuff adds tonnes of variety to the arrangements – guitar sounds popping up for two bars and then vanishing again, processed bits of voice and weirdness coming in and out. But the rhythm section do one really crucial thing that lots and lots of modern bands miss – they don’t play in the studio like they’re playing in an arena. One of the tragic things that happens to bands when they break into the arena-gig-world is that they start writing songs, and more importantly arranging songs, to fit in that environment. You only have to compare the first two Coldplay albums to hear the difference. The first Coldplay album is a gorgeous fragile intimate affair – sure, there’s plenty there that can be turned into flag-waving stadium bombast when required, but the record doesn’t sound remotely like that. The two albums that followed are both written for stadiums, and mastered for radio. They don’t make that distinction between tracks that sound great when played on your own at home and arrangements of those tracks that sound great in front of 40,000 people.

And in those arrangements, the first things to vanish are the intricacies and interest in the rhythm section – compare what Adam Clayton was doing on Unforgettable Fire with just about anything he’s done since…

It’s what I think of as ‘Journey Syndrome’ – writing songs for stadiums. It’s the death of subtlety. The stadium rock bands of the 80s did it, in those innocent irony-free days. Before them, bands seemed to be able to make it work. Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ doesn’t sound like a stadium record, the 70s Aerosmith records don’t sound like Stadium records – they were just great records that translated well into that environment, but still worked at home. Crucially, they weren’t squashed into a 5dB dynamic range like so much unlistenable modern rock. It’s so depressing that the hundreds of bands around now trying desperately to sound like Talking Heads have missed the genius of the Talking Heads sound: Space. As Candy Flip told us in the early 90s. You Need Space. Talking Heads were all about Space. So many recent bands that I really like in principle are messed up by writing for arenas and mastering for radio. Muse, The Killers, Kaiser Chiefs. All largely unlistenable on record, unless you’re playing them on the really shitty little stereo in the kitchen or on laptop speakers. Muse and the Killers both mess up my theory about dull rhythm sections, in that they both have really cool bassists, though I haven’t heard the second Killers album, so need to give it a spin and see if they’ve gone the way of Coldplay…

Some bands never got what the bassist was for in the first place – for all their desperation to sound like The Beatles, Oasis had one of the shittest bassists ever to strap on the instrument in poor ole Guigsy. He really couldn’t play. As in Alec John Such level uselessness. Missing the vital point that one of the things that was most remarkable about the Beatles was that in the later years, Paul and Ringo were the UK end of a transatlantic axis that changed the world of rhythm sections for ever – the US end being the Funk Brothers at Motown. McCartney’s bassy stuff was integral to the sound and genius of the Beatles. Imagine Guigsy playing Penny Lane, Paperback Writer, Rain, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer etc… Again, Oasis’ obsession with being the world’s biggest band extended to them arranging their stuff to be sung on the terraces – where it does indeed sound amazing – but meant that they were never going to be artistically a sensible comparison with the Beatles, even as Beatles copyists…

For one great example of how a rhythm section can make or break a song, have a listen to the Fleetwood Mac original of Dreams, and then the Corrs remake. Andrea Corr has a lovely voice, and does a pretty nice version, albeit a carbon copy of the phrasing and shape of the original. But the utterly soulless anodyne arrangement of their version that loses all of the tension, space and human feel that made the whole of the Rumours album so good. The Corrs version is pretty much music for people that really don’t care about music. It’s good, it’s just not good. Music by committee. This isn’t meant to turn into a rant about the Corrs – gawd bless their freakishly perfect gene pool – more a word of caution to those of you in bands not to get caught up writing music for arenas, not to get obsessed with making your album as loud as it can possibly be. If you have to, do a super-compressed version to send to radio, just don’t make the rest of us suffer through it.

Last week, I witnessed an absolute masterclass in how to play bass in a stadium – the Police reunion show at Twickenham. For all his musical sins of recent years, Sting, in the context of the Police, is still one of the most imaginative, interesting and instantly recognisable rock bassists around… bizarre given that he’s playing lines that he wrote almost 30 years ago, which still sound fresher than 90% of what’s around today. The Police’s sound always had loads of space in it, in between Stewart Copeland’s out of time but full of energy drumming (still drifting all over the place tempo-wise, but crammed with that punkish drive that made them so compelling first time round) and Andy Summers spacey delay-drenched guitar parts (until he attempted an ill-advised jazz workout on, I think, So Lonely – not to put too fine a point on it, it was a disaster). Still, Sting and Copeland put on a show of just how defining a rhythm section can be if the musicians put their mind to it. Proper magic. (click here for my photos of the gig.)

Tags: bass ideas · music reviews · Musing on Music

Debut gig – much fun!

June 1st, 2006 · Comments Off on Debut gig – much fun!

Julie and I got through our first gig together unscathed! What fun! The set list, as I said, was a mixture of jazz stuff such as ‘Like Someone In Love’ and ‘What A Wonderful World’ coupled with a load of less likely candidates from The Cure, Slipknot, Green Day, The Police etc.

There were a couple of expected loop gremlins (first gig going without a hitch? yeah, right.) but nothing that spoilt the gig, and the audience seemed to really enjoy it. A great first outing, methinks. (if you were there, feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section.)

And in other music news, Cd sales are going really well – thanks so much to all those of you who’ve already bought it. The feedback on ‘Lessons Learned Pt III’ is great too, which bodes well for the CD of ‘Behind Every Word’ arriving. (you can post reviews of LL Pt III in the new shop, if you want… or, for that matter, of any of the other CDs – I wasn’t able to copy the reviews over from the old shop database, sadly.

Anyway, keep telling your friends about the new stuff, point them to the MySpace page to hear some tracks from it, and then send them to the shop. :o)

SoundtrackJeff Taylor, ‘Demo 2005’; James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, ‘Live, 1971’.

Tags: Music News

One more summer on the Royal Mile

March 31st, 2006 · 2 Comments

So, after having said that I wasn’t going to do the Edinburgh Festival this year, it looks like I will be after all. Only this time, instead of doing it solo, it’ll be a duet with Julie McKee, one of my favourite singers around. Julie and I have been working on duo versions of pop tunes for a while now, everything from Earth Wind And Fire to John Martyn, The Police to Soundgarden, Kylie to Tom Waits, so we’re gonna do that stuff late night on the fringe, with a few loopy ambient things and a solo tune or two thrown in for good measure.

I’m really looking forward to it – we’re only doing 5 or 6 dates, so it’s fairly low pressure, and the upfront cost isn’t going to be as high as it was for me last year.

here’s the blurb for the festival fringe programme –

Julie McKee/Steve Lawson – The New Standard.
“A musical match made in heaven, divine jazz-influenced vocalist McKee and acclaimed solo bassist Lawson give a fresh spin to the pop canon, from Sondheim to Soundgarden. Unmissable.
www.thenewstandard.co.uk

(don’t bother going to the address at the moment, it currently just points back to my website, but will have all the info about the gig).

So expect a gig or two before then as we get out and try out our looping ‘n’ pop songs duo! It’s going to be lots of fun. If you’re in or around Edinburgh in the second week of August, come and see it – we’ll be at The Lot.

Tags: Music News

Antiwar march on Saturday

March 19th, 2006 · Comments Off on Antiwar march on Saturday

Saturday’s anti-war march was a fab event – met up with Jyoti, which was a delight, always nice to put a face to a blog. The march itself seemed rather upbeat, pretty huge (biggest one I’ve been on since the BIG ONE three years ago – organisers estimated 100,000, the police laughably suggested 10-15,000. Using the patented ma lawson method of doubling the police figure, halving the organisers and splitting the difference brings it to 40,000, but I’d say that was on the low side.)

The issues were a bit simpler than for the last few – people get very tetchy about protesting about military situations where there are British soldiers committed, as though it’s somehow treason to complain once they are there. Not much thought given to how little they want to be there, and the legality of them being there in the first place… This one was easier because of the dual themes – troops out of Iraq, and don’t attack Iran. The threat of a military strike on Iran is just nuts. Sure, the Iranian president is a crack-pot, but if anything is likely to bring together the myriad disparate factions in Iranian politics, it’s an attack by the US/UK Team America-stylee crack commando team. A damn fool thing to do, for sure.

So, I got to protest the lunacy of our jumped up nobhead of a prime minister, and hang out with lovely peoples all day.

And now I’m breaking my own rule and am using TSP’s laptop to access the net, as my desktop has bizarrely decided not to connect to the web. It’ll access email, chat, ftp, just nothing with an http in front of it. There are no proxies set up, and I can’t find any changes to the firewall settings (and switching it off doesn’t seem to change anything either) – any suggestions, lovely blogling geeks?

Here’s me on the march, from Jyoti’s photos –

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

Forgiveness

December 7th, 2005 · Comments Off on Forgiveness

Christianity quite often comes in for a lot of stick as being some kind of ‘crutch’ – Marx’s ‘opiate of the masses’. And often quite rightly so – it’d be pretty tricky to argue that the overwhelming support for Bush Jnr by US christians, despite his representing just about nothing of the qualities historically recognised as those of followers of Jesus suggests that somewhere along the lines, the critical faculties of large sections of the American Church have been squashed and replaced by a desire to hear someone say the right things, namecheck the right deity and thus gain the right to bomb anyone, sanction torture, crap on the poor, bolster the opulence and bloated wealth of the super-rich and reduce corporate responsibility for the welfare of those they employ. I don’t think it’d be considered a radical view point at pretty much any other time or place in the history of the church for those things to be considered profoundly anti-christian. While the powerful within the church have abused their position for centuries, the widespread support of such an abuse of power seems largely unprecedented on this scale…

Anyway, every now and again, along comes someone who takes jesus’ challenge to live radically seriously. One such person in the news of late is Gee Walker, the mother of Anthony Walker, the young black guy brutally murdered in a racist attack in Liverpool. His killers have just gone to jail, and Anthony’s mother has been all over the news, her pain visible on her face but deeper than any of us can imagine who’ve never been through such a thing.

Her words about forgiveness have been mind-blowing. Not flippant or overly-religious, certainly not an easy crutch… calling for the death penalty would surely be the obvious emotive response to such a situation… I know that my instinctive reaction to such brutality and evil isn’t to look for ways to forgive.

Is she just kidding herself? Is it possible to forgive? I dunno, I’ve never been in that situation, never been in the position where it’s been in my power to forgive something so heinous. But Gee Walker saw the challenge of Jesus extending forgiveness to everyone as a way of seeing the world. Not looking for vengeance or death, but looking to forgive.

Here are some thoughts by John Sentamu on Gee’s forgiveness – he’s the new Archbishop of York, who was beaten to shit by Robert Mugabi’s henchmen in Zimbabwe, has faced racism, and continues to face racism in the UK, and yet follows this model of radical forgiveness.

Meanwhile, Dubya is telling us that God told him to invade Iraq, and I’m just reminded of Peter Sutcliffe tell the Yorkshire police that God was telling him to murder prostitutes…

It’s scary that religious belief can be such an agent of change and an agent of manipulation and destruction. that in itself is a huge challenge to those of us who claim some kind of religious affiliation to question everything, to expose the darkness in our own hearts, and in the mechanisms of the church or whichever faith we adhere to. To cover it up leaves us in the disastrous mess the Catholic church are in over paedophile priests, where instead of turning them over to the police and supporting the abused children in bringing prosecutions, and building in safe-guards to make sure it never happens again, they just moved them to a new parish and allowed it to happen again. Unthinkable.

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

I really need a 'important papers' folder

October 27th, 2005 · 3 Comments

Just spent the last few days panicking about not being able to find the paper part of my driving licence. (for not UK readers, we have a two part driving licence – credit-card sized photo card like everyone else, and then a bigger paper bit that has loads more info on it, including any endorsements… so mine says ‘proudly uses modulus basses, accugroove amps and elites strings’ on it… or something.)

Anyway, the reason I was looking for it is that I’ve got a speeding fine, and need to send off my licence to have the points put on in (points being the real endorsements – they don’t really list your bass gear on your licence here… honest).

The way it works is that if it’s an ‘SP30’ offence (not very much over the speed limit) then you get a £60 fine and 3 points. If you get 12 points in 3 years, you get a ban, and I think, a £1000 fine. At the moment I’ve got 6 points on my licence, but they cease to be there after three years, so my first three are coming off, and the new ones are taking their place. So I’ll still have 6 after this. Which is OK. if I had 9, I’d be panicking a bit. And I was panicking, though not because of the points.

ah, we’re back to my lost driving licence. Yes, turned the room upside down… well, the room’s already upside-down, so I guess I just fluffed some bits of paper around a bit. But couldn’t find it. Then was thinking ‘when did I last have it’ which was clearly a trip to the States, which was before I bought my wallet, so what would it be kept in? My bag. I check all the pockets and there it is. So while I’ve been looking for it, I’ve been carrying it around with me.

So now I need a folder for such things – driving licence, passport, etc. Somewhere labeled clearly and easy for a loser like me to find.

At least I’ll know where it is for the next few weeks, while it’s off having the points added to it at the police station.

SoundtrackMartyn Joseph, ‘Whoever It Was Who Brought Me Here Will Have To Take Me Home’ (what a great title. what great music!)

Tags: Uncategorized

Anti-terror laws or the repression of dissent?

October 4th, 2005 · 1 Comment

George Monbiot, on the implementation of new anti-terror laws, referencing the arrest of Walter Wolfgang –
Had Mr Wolfgang said “nonsense” twice during the foreign secretary’s speech, the police could have charged him under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Harassment, the act says, “must involve conduct on at least two occasions … conduct includes speech.”(5) Parliament was told that its purpose was to protect women from stalkers, but the first people to be arrested were three peaceful protesters.(6) Since then it has been used by the arms manufacturer EDO to keep demonstrators away from its factory gates,(7) and by Kent police to arrest a woman who sent an executive at a drugs company two polite emails, begging him not to test his products on animals.(8) In 2001 the peace campaigners Lindis Percy and Anni Rainbow were prosecuted for causing “harassment, alarm or distress” to American servicemen at the Menwith Hill military intelligence base in Yorkshire, by standing at the gate holding the stars and stripes and a placard reading “George W Bush? Oh dear!”.(9) In Hull a protester was arrested under the act for “staring at a building”.(10)

Read the whole article – the number of laws enacted and misused since the much-maligned ‘Criminal Justice Act’ of the early 90s is staggering. The suppression of dissent is surely one of the hallmarks of a repressive regime – just the kind of behaviour that Tony and his buddy Dubya are always telling us is threatening democracy in all them foreign lands where bad people threaten our ‘freedoms’. Just in the paragraph above, the catalogue of misapplication of laws supposedly enacted to prevent terrorism should be enough to get any self-respecting supporter of the democratic right to disagree with your leaders up in arms. How any labour or lib-dem MP can possibly be silent in the light of such behaviour is mind-boggling. As George points out, it’s taken the aggressive man-handling of an octogenarian at the party conference for most of us to wake up to just how pernicious the outworking of these laws is, supposedly in the name of protecting liberty.

I don’t know about you, but I’m less worried right now about bombers than I am about the enactment of these crazy laws. Parliament can do what it wants, without anyone having the right to respond with even their presence outside the building. No placards, no massed gatherings, all in the cause of getting rid of Brian Haw.

Time to start making some noise about it methinks. Perhaps a letter to your MP might be in order?

Soundtrack – Charlie Peacock, ‘Love Press Ex-Curio’ (I’ve had this for a few weeks now, and I think it’s actually released now as well – it’s a fantastic change of direction for Charlie, whose previous work was kind of funky singer/songwriter stuff, fairly heavily Prince-influenced in places and very soulful. This is a contemporary jazz record, featuring lots of the biggest names in the field – Ravi Coltrane, Jeff Coffin, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Joey Baron, James Genus, Victor Wooten, Kirk Whalum etc. etc. The sound is sort of Avishai Cohen/Dave Douglas/lots of other new york electric jazz peoples ball-park, and the writing and play are top notch. If you’re into that kind of thing, it’s a must, especially as all the ‘in the know’ types that you hang out with won’t have heard of it, and will be very jealous that you got there first when you play it to them.)

Tags: Uncategorized