An unflinching commitment to one's blog readers/viewers

Now, y’all know I’m a huge fan of Questlove’s blog – he’s the drummer/bandleader of The Roots, also plays with Eryka Badu, D’Angelo etc. etc. etc. He’s one of the greatest drummers anywhere. He’s also one seriously funny blogger.

Here he hits a new blog-commitment high – during Hub’s bass solo, he’s filming back stage, and then goes on stage, keeps filming, then sits down at his kit, starts playing ONE HANDED and KEEPS FILMING! Now, if I did that y’all would know I was looping. No big deal. Funny, but hardly complicated. But in front of a packed house, Questo plays one handed so he can capture for us what’s going on. Great stuff.

Polar Bear and EST at the Barbican

So Catster and her ticket connections came up trumps again last night (yay Catster!), and we headed off to see Polar Bear and EST at the Barbican. Polar Bear is Seb Rochford’s band, Seb you’ll remember came and graced the Recycle Collective with his lovely presence back in August.

So following a drinks and nibbles corporate reception beforehand (including the surprise appearance of lots of lovely people – the Gay Gordons, Julie and Mark and assorted friends), we headed in to see Polar Bear. I’d never seen them live before, and was completely blown away. I’ve always loved Seb’s drumming since we first played together years ago, and am very familiar with Mark Lockheart’s great sax playing. But the whole band – rounded out by Pete Wareham on sax, Tom Herbert on bass and Leafcutter John on noises – were a revelation. Fresh, exciting, edgy, funny, chaotic, original music, with great tunes, fantastic spikey feels, and god-know-what weird noises from John, sampling bowed cymbals, balloons, the rest of the band and anything else. A really really great gig. Seb’s between song banter was on top form, and the audience were well and truly seduced.

And then EST – the poster boys of icy scandinavian cool. Like characters from a Nokia advert, or Bond villains. Not a note out of place. The sound, lights, staging, smoke – everything, perfect. Too perfect. After the danger and excitement of Polar Bear, it all felt like it was too good to be true. It wasn’t in any way a bad gig, far from it. A couple of the tunes were so impossibly beautiful they took your breath away. It just didn’t connect in the same way. I wonder if there’d been no opening act, if I’d have been deeper into it. I wasn’t NOT into it. At all. It was great. It just felt like an orchestral performance masquerading as improv. I’m really glad I saw them, and I may well even get the new album – on CD, that kind of perfection is welcome – but for me, the night belonged to Polar Bear.

Bumped into yet more very lovely people after the gig – my coat came in most useful again, as the sublime Zoe Rahman came up and said ‘you’re steve aren’t you? We’re myspace friends’, along with her squeeze, Patrick Illingworth. CDs were swapped, laughs were had, plans were hatched, and all was good. Also saw Julian Maynard-Smith – a fabulous jazz writer, who interviewed me for Unknown Public (I still haven’t seen the final article, but the transcript that he sent me was the most interesting interview I’ve ever done) – very nice to catch up.

And then late night, I headed down to The Vortex to hear Seb and John play AGAIN, this time playing a bunch of chaotic crazy improvs with Mandy Drummond on violin and piano, and a bloke who looked like he was in Franz Ferdinand on recorders and voice. Some of it was magic, some of it was nonsense, all of it was risky and fun. A lot of it was hilarious. It wasn’t even close to being safe. Yay for noisy squeaky improv!

And tonight, if I’m well enough, I’m off to see Estelle Kokot at the Octave, and then Huw Warren with Lleuwen Steffan at the Vortex. The London Jazz Festival is one seriously busy couple of weeks!

More on Friedman…

Ok, I didn’t explain what I hate about this quote, ” In an essay titled “Is Capitalism Humane?” Friedman said that “a set of social institutions that stresses individual responsibility, that treats the individual … as responsible for and to himself, will lead to a higher and more desirable moral climate.” “

The huge issue is the fallacy of ‘individual responsibility’. The assumption that all-powerful personal autonomy is a healthy way to live. It also assumes that (as most people with some kind of heart would agree, even if they like Friedman) there are a handful of people who will struggle, and so we need systems in place to help them, because they are disabled, or mentally ill, or whatever, but everyone else can just get into a scrap for the top of the heap.

It’s bollocks. Indefensible bollocks. Because if it was true, rich people would be happier. It’s as simple as that. And they aren’t. Not even close. In fact, the opposite is often true. I know of people earning $2 million a year, who talk about what they want to do ‘when they get rich’. How fucked is that? I also know people with nothing who give what they have to help others, and are rewarded richly for it.

So, a system that promotes the rights of those at the top, who already have more than they’ll ever need, over those at the bottom who aren’t just devoid of luxury, but can’t get basic food, medical care, education etc. is clearly screwed. I’m baffled how anyone could think otherwise.

So, to suggest that the ‘moral’ aim of economic systems is to facilitate the right to acquire any level of person fortune, to encourage people to strive for that because of some screwed up ‘trickledown’ concept, is mendacious.

It seems clear from the failure of most Communist government experiments that that isn’t the answer. I very much doubt that Soviet Russia scored too highly on a contendedness/happiness/shalom rating. I think there’s genuinely a ‘third way’, it’s just a shame that the third way we’ve been presented with post-Clinton is just the same old shit with a few crumbs being thrown to the poor.

Politics as if people mattered. What a lovely thought.

architect of Politicised Selfishness dies…

Milton Friedman has died.

I read this on another blog, and thought ‘I know that name’. Then read the obituary, with eulogies from Thatcher, Bush Snr etc… and quotes like this – “In an essay titled “Is Capitalism Humane?” Friedman said that “a set of social institutions that stresses individual responsibility, that treats the individual … as responsible for and to himself, will lead to a higher and more desirable moral climate.””

Friedman was one of the architects of the neo-liberalism that swept through world economics in the late 70s and particularly the 80s. He was already an influence before that, but it took a while for that pernicious brand of free market idealism to find it’s figureheads – Reagan and Thatcher become the public face of the ‘fuck the poor’ campaign, and Friedman’s selfish, grabbing, stock-piling, fiscally fetishist approach to the world became the defacto new world system.

When I look at New Labour, and the disaster of a supposedly left-wing people-centred party ploughing on with a Thatcherite pro-big-business, pro-uber-capitalism strategy, trying to pretend that it’s compatible with a genuine concern for the poor, I wonder how we get out of this? The complexity and size of the systems put in place by those disciples of Friedman – the World Bank, the IMF and the legal protection afforded to trans-national corporations fucking over the world’s poor in the name of share-holder-return – seems insurmountable.

But then I look around me, I talk to people, I see compassion at work, I look at the Year Of Living Generously website (go there, read about it, sign up, change your world), and I think there’s got to be a way forward. Every time an attempt to change things gets hijacked – like the fiasco of the G8 last year – my resolve it toughened, though my cynicism is also redoubled.

So, Friedman, I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, so I shan’t say how utterly despicable I found your particular brand of inverted Robin Hood economics, or the crass selfish libertarian ideals that seem to have flowed so smoothly from it. I won’t say that at all.

Recycle collective one year on…

Fab gig last night. Got there nice and early to set up, so was v. relaxed. Just as well, as i’m not well at all, so couldn’t have dealt with getting there late and rushing to set up.

Catster turned up to do the door (TSP taking a well-earned night off), Cleveland and Huw sauntered in not long after 7, got set up, all good nothing bad.

And people started arriving. Lovely people, just the kind of people I wanted to see. Greenbelt people, forum people, Danes, students, poets, singers, guitarists, Orphys (what is Orphy? Clearly ‘percussionist’ is way too limiting for what he gets up to these days… :o) )… A really lovely attentive friendly audience.

I started, as is customary. First tune was a cover of a lovely song by a fantastic Canadian singer called Lobelia, who I’m going to be recording with v. soon (the wonders of MySpace) – a lovely song called Happy that while I was playing along with it to get a feel for how she plays, revealed itself to be perfect solo-version fodder. Bit of a looperlative glitch, but I know it well enough to get round those things now. Followed that with Scott Peck, then got Cleveland up, then Huw. The middle piece with Cleveland and Huw is one of the loveliest bits of improvised music I’ve ever played. Started out with a bit ambient mush thing from me drifting through loads of clashing tonalities, before settling in one place, Huw joined in, and Cleveland improvised an exquisite lyric. Food for the soul.

Onto Huw’s set, which started with a John Dowland piece, on Nord Electra… which worked. Beautifully. Another solo set of African variations from Huw, then he and I played a particularly dark electronic spikey piece (and fell about laughing at just how twisted it all got), before Cleveland joined us again for more trio fun.

Set three began with two tunes by the wonderful Gary Dunne – a great singer/songwriter/looper/house-concert-legend. Perfect Recycle material. He’s great, go and check him out.

Then onto Cleveland’s set. His Echoplex had died, but I’d brought mine as a spare so we plugged that up and away he went, including his amazing solo voice arrangement of a Chopin Prelude. Wow. Cleveland and Huw’s duo section was really lovely, with Cleveland singing walking bass and beatboxing at the same time through much of it. Really great stuff.

And onto the final act of this birthday celeb. A huge mega piece which started with Huw, Cleveland and I, with me looping both of them, then we were joined by Roger Goula, then Patrick Wood, then Orphy Robinson, then Andrea Hazell – the two guitars and trumpet were woven into this huge busy sound, which as Andrea joined me, I cross faded back into just the ambience of her unbelieveable voice and my massive reverb and delay bass part. A perfect touchdown. Particularly nice to have Patrick and Andrea there, as they were part of the first ever unofficial RC gig, before it was the RC at Greenbelt 2005.

So that’s it, year one of the RC over. A year of remarkable music, some great audiences (some small but perfectly formed audiences) a whole shitload of credibility that hasn’t as yet turned into sold out shows at the QEH, but will. :o) I’ve spent the year calling my favourite musicians in the world, and asking them to play for next to no money, and they’ve all said yes. Lucky Lucky me. Most blessed me. Thanks to everyone who’s been to the shows, who’s played at the shows – particularly TSP who did the door and helped out at all of them, BJ and Cleveland who have been involved with loads of them between then, and of course to Ahmad and Darbucka for letting us use the venue – we’re happy to have introduced so many people the delight that is Darbucka :o)

All being well, it’ll be back in February for more improvised gorgeousness. Watch this space. x

Recycle Collective tonight

Go on, change your plans and come – you know you want to! It’s going to be magic. Me, Cleveland Watkiss, Huw Warren, a bunch of special guests from all across the musical map, all in the delightful surroundings of darbucka in Clerkenwell is the place for all the details.

go on, you know you want to.


Music Biz Advice

This Article by Bill Lefsetz, is 20 top tips for the music business. Some great stuff in there. Have a read, go on. It’s pretty hard nosed, and certainly not couched in the friendly loving new-agey terms that I tend to think in in relation to my art and audience, but maybe that’s what I need to hear. ;o)

And I picked it up from Jeff Schmidt’s blog.

Paul Simon sings and all is well with the world.

So, at the 11th hour, my angelic mole in the evil empire comes good and two tickets are procured for Paul Simon at Wembley. Now given that Paul Simon is, I think the only artist that’s been around for more than 20 years with not one song that I don’t like, you can imagine this was a pretty big event for me. Until yesterday morning, if you’d asked me my top 3 artists I’ve still yet to see, you’d have had Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Tom Waits in that order. Tom’s just been promoted. :o)

The delectable Jude Simpson was round in the afternoon, to try out some poetry ‘n’ bass ideas for future gigs (that stuff’s going to be magic – Jude’s a stunning performer, and she guested on what is probably my best ever gig – the last night of the Fringe, in 2005). Anyway, the late showing for the tickets meant that TSP bowed out, and Jude got the treat of a lifetime… or at least a nighttime and came with me to the gig.

Which. Was. Perfect. Everything you’d want from a Paul Simon gig except more chat (didn’t really say much between songs, sadly) – the sound was great (especially for Wembley), the band were out of this world (Steve Gadd live? I can die happy), and Paul himself was on absolute tip top form. I’ve long held that his vocal phrasing is one of the most wonderful and perfect things in the history of music, and tonight he was the living embodiment of that. A great set list, with three tracks from the new album, the title track from You’re The One, and hits going back to The Boxer and Homeward Bound. I’ll see if I can dig up the set list online somewhere. As the subject here says, all seems well with the world when Paul Simon sings. The man that comes across in his songs is someone I’d like to grow up to be, and his lyrics could quite easily form a guide to live by.

One of the beautiful things about Paul Simon is that he’s always written for his age – I mean his own age, rather than ‘the age of man’ or whatever – so his now in his 60s and writes with the wisdom of a man that age, looking back on a life well lived, with faults and failures and a sanguine approach, having learnt the lessons and moved on. I wanted to hug him after the gig, but unusually for me, I didn’t bump into anyone who could procure me a backstage pass…

Anyway, if there’s one person to see live in your life, it’s Paul Simon. Go and buy ‘Surprise’, his latest album it’s lovely, and while you’re there, get the last one, ‘You’re The One’. It’s the wisdom of the elders, and we’ve lost that in so much of western culture. And he’s still funkier than most funk bands! Grooves a mile wide, tunes you’re humming for days.

A gig with everything right. Yay for Paul Simon! And thanks to Jude for being a tip-top gig-buddy! :o)

When you wish upon a blog….

So I phone the lovely Catster re da moychendyz, and she informs me that Joni’s working on a new album!!!! Yay!! How great is that?? It must’ve been my blog that inspired it… 😉

It’ll be really interesting to see what she has to say about the state of the world. Responses thus far from artists have been really interesting, from Steve Earle to Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young to Spearhead… it’s both tragic and ironic that when the world is getting really fucked up, it’s fertile ground for artists. Look at the 80s, where while mainstream pop was going all Yuppie and Thatcherite, the US was gestating Public Enemy, NWA and the socially conscious rap movement, as well as the political end of the hardcore punk thing, like Dead Kennedys.

So, Joni, er, Yay!

Coupla gigs this week (seen not played)

Been to a couple of great gigs this week. Firstly on Tuesday I went to see Patrick Wood’s band The Works – who, long term bloglings will remember, released one of my favourite ever British Jazz records a year or so ago, called Beware Of The Dog (get it, it’s great). They were playing at the 606 in Chelsea – a bitch of a place to find, but with a lovely policy of letting MU members in for free. Thanks to teaching, I only got there for the second send of The Works, but they were fantastic, and have two special guests augmenting the usual quartet – Bosco D’Olivera on percussion and voice, and Mick Hutton on steel pan. Mick’s pan playing was a revelation – Mick’s much better known as having been one of the finest double bassists in the country for years, but some major trouble with his hands has stopped him playing that altogether – a major loss to bass playing, but bass’s loss is steel pan’s gain. He’s a great musician, and fitted in perfectly with The Works.

So their set ended, and I thought people would start leaving, but another band were setting up. 11pm? another band? WTF? Now a dilemma – should I stay or go, the band featured some amazing musicians (Dudley Philips on bass, Julian Seigel on sax and Winston Clifford on drums), but I had an hour’s drive home, was utterly knackered, and really couldn’t sit through a whole other set. Which is a shame, cos I’m sure the whole gig was marvellous.

And then, last night I went to Koko for an album launch gig by Alexander’s Annexe – an intriguing trio of Sarah Nicholls on piano, Mira Calix on laptop and noises, and David Sheppard processing and manipulating the acoustic piano. The music was amazing – proper spikey weirdness, but with a strange beauty to it. Sarah’s a brilliant pianist, and thus gave David a whole range of lovely stuff to work with.

the big problem was the venue – Koko is a pretty big space, and they had it laid out with tables and chairs downstairs. The lack of a compere, and the drift from one musical act into another meant that the audience didn’t really stop talking when the music was on, which with this kind of thing was pretty ruinous. Next time you do a gig like that, David, gimme a mic and I’ll tell people to shut the fuck up before you start playing… ;o)

Anyway, the other fantastic revelation of the night was an ‘act’ called ‘Mr Hopkinson’s Computer’ – a laptop doing covers of 80s and 90s indie tracks that was just heartbreaking. Here’s are three myspace pages with examples – the first one has his versions of ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ and ‘Where Is My Mind?’ on it. I rang a coupla friends while it was on who I knew would dig it, and they did! Jyoti, you so need to check this stuff out if you haven’t already…

Anyway – MySpace Page 1, MySpace Page 2 and MySpace page 3. go there, it’s beautiful.

Was supposed to be going to Paul Simon at Wembley tonight, but it doesn’t look like my ticket-spy has been able to secure the moychendyz. Ah well, I’m exhausted so could do with a night in.