2012: A Musical retrospective

Before I started the list of things I’d done in 2012, it felt like a year of not much happening… I mean, I’d put out three new albums, but all three of them were actually recorded in 2010 and 2011, so only the mixing and mastering took place this year (actually, given that Believe In Peace was released on January 1st 2012, all the work on that, even uploading it to Bandcamp, happened in 2011!)

But the list looked a little more impressive. So here it is, by month: Continue reading “2012: A Musical retrospective”

10 Favourite Gigs of 2012

So I started putting together a list of all the gigs I’d been to this year, from which to compile a best-of list. But in doing so realised that, aside from the few music things I saw at Greenbelt this year (Bruce Cockburn was my highlight) I only went to 12 gigs this year!

Thankfully, these were all excellent – if I had to pick any as highlights from the list, I’d have to say that the Rosanne Cash gig at the Union Chapel ranks in my favourite gigs ever list – just her and John Leventhal, two guitars and an incredible set of songs. An outstanding performance.

The other one that impacted me the most was Triptykon – I didn’t even know who they were when I went to the gig, but not only was their set one of the most visceral musical experiences I’ve ever had, they inspired the formation of Torycore – definitely another of my musical highlights from this year, though one with me playing so it doesn’t make this list 🙂

Here’s the full list – Continue reading “10 Favourite Gigs of 2012”

My favourite new music of 2012

As is traditional, it’s time for my ‘favourite new things I bought this year’ music post.

There has been a lot of amazing music released this year. As has been the case for the last three or four years, I haven’t really heard any ‘bad’ music at all. I’ve got way too good at filtering. I heard some things that ‘weren’t my cup of tea’, but they were all interesting and worth investigating.

I’m going to do a full list of all my favourites of the year at the bottom, but there were a handful of records this year that have gone straight into my ‘all time favourites’ list. Properly incredible music. So let’s start there:

Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Crown And Treaty

Having had their previous album nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, this album was hotly anticipated by people who know about these things. I was more interested in having followed bits of the journey of its creation via Twitter. None of that expectation prepared me for just how amazing the album would be. Everything about this is wonderful – from the hat tips to pop’s greatest songwriting traditions (particularly the ‘grown-up post-new-wave’ 80s stuff like David Sylvian, Prefab Sprout, Talk Talk, The Associates, Eg White etc.) to the utterly sublime drumming (pop records can be made or broken by the drumming, IMO). It’s a pure delight. Go have a listen on Mojo’s website, then buy it.

Emily Baker – All At Sea

Emily’s last album, House Of Cards, is already a deep favourite of mine. She’s one of the greatest songwriters I’ve ever come across, a stellar performer and a deeply lovely human being. All At Sea is, at least for me, a hell of an emotional ride. Emily’s draws pictures with words with a skill that I’ve rarely seen anywhere. Joni Mitchell-level skillz. I could probably quite happily spend all of 2013 with this as the only music I was allowed to listen to and still not get tired of it.

Neil Alexander – Darn That Dream

now HERE’S a record I was waiting for for a long time. Neil’s an exceptional talent, and turns his hand to a mind-boggling array of musical styles and situations as if he was born to play each one. But this album reveals the piano to be his true home. Melding the introspection of jazz, the flamboyance of the romantic solo piano tradition and the unexpected twists and turns of the world of improvised music, this album takes us on an epic journey. Any solo record this long has to be pretty damn special to not outstay its welcome. This one can come back for a visit time and time again.

Julie Slick – Terroir

Not content with being one of the greatest rock bassists I’ve ever heard, Terroir sees Julie growing as a composer, arranger and producer – not remotely swamped by the dazzling array of collaborators she’s assembled here, her musical vision is front and centre for the entire record, and shows that her self titled debut wasn’t a fluke, but was a signpost to what was to come. A startling record.

The Alvaret Ensemble – S/t

I know next to nothing about this! I bought it just two weeks ago on Sid Smith’s recommendation, and immediately fell in love with it – a core quartet, with various additions, recorded in such a way that it’s often not entirely clear what the instrumentation is anyway. Hugely compelling minimalist improv. Check it out on their site.

Mister Barrington – II

One of those records that seems to come out of nowhere – so many recognisable influences, but in SUCH insane combinations. Funk, soul, electronica, disco, jazz, prog and weirdness rolled together by one of the most amazing trios you’ll ever hear. check it out at www.misterbarrington.com


Just outside this top six are the brilliant 2012 releases from Hope And Social, Denison Witmer, Dave Douglas, Clatter, Adrien Reju, Christine Bougie, Darin Wilson, Jake Dubber, Jez Carr/Simon Little/Mike Houghton, Nik Kershaw, Scott McLemore, Ihsahn, 4 Sided Triangle, John Lester and Alex Machacek.

And probably a load that have slipped my mind.

Such is life – it’s been a bumper year for amazing music, with nary a dud track between all of these. You could quite easily spend all of 2013 just listening to my favourites of 2012 and still not have ‘finished’ them all in the year!

“Why Don’t You Have A Proper Job?”

In response to a question about being freelance, Kris Halpin just tweeted me a link to this video:

If you’re a musician, or in pretty much any freelance job, you’re likely to have been asked the question in the post title. Perhaps you get asked it a lot. There’s definitely an assumption in certain sectors that doing things in the arts for a living is some kind of soft option, or we do it because we can get ‘a proper job’. Continue reading ““Why Don’t You Have A Proper Job?””

Kickstarting A Tour By Releasing An Album (Nothing Can Prepare, Out Today!)

album art for Steve Lawson and Andy Williamson Nothing Can Prepare

Go on, admit it, you had no idea I was going to release an album today…. (OK, maybe you’d seen a tweet or two about it over the last week, but not MUCH clue… 🙂 )

I didn’t know about it until last week! Then I discovered that my friend and collaborator Andy Williamson was going in for a kidney transplant on Friday. I had a couple of beautiful unreleased improvs that Andy and I recorded on a mini-tour he, I and Lobelia did last year, where we played a couple of shows in churches in Devon and Cornwall.

So I hatched a Kickstarter-esque plan – to explore the possibility of doing a load more ‘sacred space’ shows with Andy – there’s a certain creative mindset engendered by playing in buildings designed to inspire awe and facilitate contemplation. Listening to these improvs, both Andy and I take our time. They formed the centrepiece of each of the gigs, and are extended solo improvisations by me which Andy joined whenever he felt it was ‘the moment’, and we then finished together. The fact that he comes in when he does on both of them (from the back of the room, working his way forward filling the building with his incredible sax tone) was as much a generous affordance from the space and the audience as it was an exhibition of his creativity and control.

photo of Andy Williamson on saxophoneSo here’s the plan – we sell the album, and use the album money to plan more duo gigs for Andy and I as soon as he’s well enough to be back gigging. For musicians who need to take time off due to big illnesses and operations, it’s pretty inspiring to have creative work booked in, something to focus on, something that makes you feel a little less like you’re neglecting your artistic calling by daring to be incapacitated.

Who knows how much we’ll make – that’s up to you. But whatever we get will go towards us sorting out some gigs.

Also, anyone who pays ten pounds or more gets a free ticket to one of the shows. If you’re able to come to one, then great, it’s yours. If you can’t, it’ll be given to someone else who can’t otherwise afford it. So whatever happens, someone will get to see us play live if you pay a tenner… And of course we’ll record the gigs anyway 🙂

Charts, Million Selling Singles, And Why They Probably Don’t Matter

Someone on Twitter just linked to this article about million selling singles.

A couple of quotes jumped out at me:

“Last year some 178m singles were sold in the UK, while the projected figure for this year is 190m. At that rate, this decade will eclipse the 90s as the most successful ever for sales.”

yeah, so that shit about file sharing killing music? Sounding a little tenuous, right?

Another choice quote from the article:

“There’s been a disproportionately huge increase of million-sellers – over 60% within the last 10 years,”

Again, WTF is all that ‘the death of recorded music’ stuff about?

The stats we most often see represented in graphs are so selective as to be entirely meaningless. Continue reading “Charts, Million Selling Singles, And Why They Probably Don’t Matter”

Indie Or Not, Who Gets The Money?

picture of money by Alejandro Jopia from Flickr, used under a CC license. Via Twitter, I just saw this article from The Atlantic Wire.

The headline reads “There’s No Money in Indie Music: Cat Power Is Broke”

As a pair of statements, the former supposedly being proved by the latter, it’s disingenuous nonsense – there’s clearly LOADS of money to be made from an indie record landing in the top 10… But there are some massive questions over why the artist who made the record isn’t getting enough of it to live on. This article answers pretty much none of those, so the ‘sky is falling’ conclusion encapsulated in the title is nonsense. Continue reading “Indie Or Not, Who Gets The Money?”

A Few Thoughts On Paying For Downloads

This was originally posted as a mini essay on my Facebook music page, but someone on there suggested it’d be helpful to post it here too so it could be shared wider. And I’m happy to oblige 🙂

A few thoughts on paying for downloads, that you’re welcome to share around:

That thing where you ‘fund‘ music via Kickstarter/Pledge Music, and pay more so the artist can make a new record without going into debt? Every time you buy music from an independent artist on Bandcamp, you’re doing exactly the same thing. EXACTLY.

Every time someone buys my music, it means I can spend more time making music. I spend less time worrying about how the hell to pay the bills, or how I’m going to afford the train fare to wherever my next collaborator lives. It changes the way I think when booking a tour, cos if I’ve got a little cushion from music sales, I can book more gigs speculatively and not have to make sure that every single gig has a guarantee just so I don’t end up going over my credit card limit in order to play shows… Continue reading “A Few Thoughts On Paying For Downloads”

Not Dancing For Chicken – Remastered/Expanded 10th Anniversary Edition!

Is it REALLY 10 years? honestly? It really doesn’t feel like it.

10 years ago today, my 2nd solo album, Not Dancing For Chicken was released. I was in the middle of the (still) biggest tour I’d ever done, opening for Level 42 on their Greatest Hits tour. The gig the following day (Oct 27th) was at the Swansea Grand Theatre, which would’ve been the first time I had them for sale, and then on Oct 31st, I played at the Royal Albert Hall (as far as I know, I’m still the only solo bassist to ever do a whole set there… would love to know if anyone else has…)

So here it is – I’ve remastered it, but weirdly it didn’t really need much of a tweak. Have a listen, download it if you like it. Pay whatever you think it’s worth. I’ve set everything on my site back to ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ today to celebrate, so grab a few albums, think of a number, double it, pay that.

This was the album where my sound really emerged – the idea of what I was doing as a solo artist existed from my first solo gig in Dec 99, but what it was meant to sound like on record took a little while longer, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jez Carr for his wisdom and patience there… This version of Not Dancing For Chicken is actually the second one I recorded – we turned Jez’s parents house into a studio and – against Jez’s better advice – I insisted on mic’ing my amp, that it was an important part of my sound. Which proved to be nonsense. Not least of all cos it meant everything was in mono (I hadn’t switched to a stereo live set up by then).

So after recorded a load of weird nonsense at Jez’s place, I went home and set about making v 2.0 of the record. Which is what you hear. The pivotal piece was, I think, Danny And Mo – dedicated to two of the greatest British bassists of all time, Danny Thompson and Mo Foster. At the time, I was spending a lot of time listening to Mo’s solo records and Danny’s ‘Whatever’ band, and it was in relation to their work that it struck me that all my clever glitchy looping experiments were lacking the melodic side of what I do, which is such a key feature of my music… (some of the glitchy stuff ended up on Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline Pt 1…)

So I made a melodic record. It’s a pretty sparse record, mostly pretty simple loop-wise (I I think I used one Gibson Echoplex and a Lexicon JamMan on it, but I’ll have to see if I can find a CD copy of it and check the gear-list! EDIT: I checked the sleeve, and it was EDP + Line6 DL4 🙂 ) and the recording side of it was SO minimal – my soundcard at the time was a gaming card (Soundblaster live, I think?!) and it’s all recorded direct to two track in Soundforge! Crazy stuff. So that it sounds as good as it does when I clearly had no clue at all what I was doing is remarkable.

I’ve had a great time revisiting the album in order to remaster it, but it was an even bigger thrill to discover the minidisc live recordings from the Level 42 tour, and so the four extra tracks here are taken from two shows on that tour – straight from the mixing desk to minidisc. Three are from the afore-mentioned Royal Albert Hall show and one track from the last gig on the tour at the Plymouth Pavilions. It’s interesting to hear how the tunes that are on this record had already morphed into something quite different by the time the record was even released! In the case of Channel Surfing, I think I prefer the live version to the album one…!

If you came to see me play on that Level 42 tour, please do drop a comment below – I made some great friendships through that time, and still meet a lot of people who first heard me in that setting. For that, I’ll be forever grateful.

Hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane!

(as per usual, the album is ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ – if you’ve already got it on CD, please feel free to upgrade without paying, but if you want to drop me a coupla quid for the live tracks, I shall be most grateful!)  

Women And Guitars – Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1

hot naked guitarsSo it’s all blown up on Twitter and Facebook today, since Jon Gomm and Laura Kidd noticed that Guitar World Magazine have a ‘girls and guitars’ section [I’m not going to link to it, partly cos they don’t deserve the traffic and partly cos some of it’s probably NSFW depending on where you work] – basically women in their underwear/bikinis posing sexually with guitars. Some of them may be guitar players, some not.

The conversation about it, and the response to it falls into a number of different categories. Some of those commenting negatively against Guitar World have done so for wholly repugnant reasons… “she’s not even that hot”… Others have come back accusing those who find the pictures crass/sexist/il-placed in a guitar magazine of being prudish/asexual/needing to get a fucking life…

So, here’s the deal. This is not, at all, about prudish moralising. If you want to make, or read/look at guitar-based erotica, knock yourself out. I’m sure there’s a rich seam of creative writing to be had, given just how sexy playing music can be.

So what is it about? Continue reading “Women And Guitars – Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1”