Best Of The Blog – 2013

So, here are my favourites of my blog posts from 2013. Hope you find something useful in here:

Steve, Why Is Your Music So Cheap?

Being A Good Citizen Of The Internet:

Who Is Your Audience?

What Do Singles Sales Tell Us About The Health Of The Music Industries?

How To Talk About Music On The Internet:

“Conversational Hegemony” or, How Lobbyists Hijack The Terms Of Engagement:

Expanding Audio Orthodoxy: Recording/Mixing/Mastering

Twitter Brain Dump About The New Music Economy:

How To Send Bandcamp Download Codes Via Mailchimp:

Our Glorious Dilemma: How To Release A Huge Amount Of Music:

Everything Is Possible In This Best Of All Possible Worlds (FingerPainting album 6)

Here’s the 6th album to be decoupled from the FingerPainting: Complete set. The title feels like a fittingly optimistic meditation with which to enter the new year, hoping for the greatness of possibility to be realised.

There are so many things that can make us despair, but holding onto some kind of shred of optimism that we can rise above the misery and find a path to a better future for all of us… that’s why I play music, why I teach, why I continue to wrestle with the questions of how to make art sustainable in the face of the pressures of capitalism to measure all value in monetary terms…

As Bruce Cockburn sang “Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight, got to kick at the darkness til it bleeds daylight”. And we do it because of the possibility that things will get better, that we can do it for those who are powerless to kick their own darkness.

Here’s to a justice and peace-filled 2014, friends 🙂

My Favourite New Music Of 2013

2013 was another bumper year for amazing new music. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by so much of it. As soon as you let go of the NEED to hear it all, it just becomes this amazing immersive creative environment that, if you’re at all like me, invigorates your own creative journey.

So there are LOADS of things that could’ve been on this list, but here are the main things that inspired me this year:

Throwing Muses – Purgatory/Paradise – let’s start with The Muses. Kristin Hersh has such a remarkable work rate. She’s one of the only artists in the world who makes me feel like perhaps I’m not nuts after all for releasing so much music. She’s constantly updating the demos section of her site, and has three main projects in rotation – her solo records, 50 Foot Wave and Throwing Muses. This album got SO much amazing press, if that meant anything, it’d sell half a million copies. It’s cropping up in a ton of people’s lists of favourites for 2013, and there’s a damn good reason for that. Throwing Muses are making the best music of their almost-30 year career. Unlike ALL  so many of their peers, the magic never went away. The writing, singing and Kristin’s ever-brilliant guitar playing (she’s up there with David Torn, Nels Cline and Bill Frisell in my biggest guitar-playing musical influences list) are all running at an all time creative high. What’s even more remarkable about this is that even they love this one. Packaged as an exquisite book, beautifully designed by drummer Dave and chock full of words to cherish and pour over by Kristin, it really does feel like a gift, a treasured message from three people who’ve arrived at this point because of all the joy and pain of being in a band for so long, and no longer give a shit about any of the stuff that doesn’t matter. It’s amazing, and you really should own it.

KT Tunstall – Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon – you’ll know from previous years if you’re a long enough reader that I’m a MASSIVE fan of KT Tunstall. She’s so far ahead of anyone else doing anything remotely similar, it’s not even funny. I loved her last album and its excursion into weird spikey electronic grown-up pop, but this one, made in the desert with piano-wizard Howe Gelb is truly exceptional. Recorded beautifully, written through all manner of life upheaval, stripped back. The two versions of Feel It All (single and album) tell such markedly different stories they even had two different videos. She’s amazing, and she’ll no doubt continue to be amazing for many, many years to come.

Jon Gomm – Secrets Nobody Keeps – one of my favourite solo gigs of the year (perhaps my favourite) was opening for Jon Gomm in Birmingham. Jon has been VERY good for a long time. The archetypical road-warrior, he built exactly the kind of career and fan base an artist needs to properly capitalise on the kind of attention that comes with a massive viral youtube hit. What he also did was make a truly mind-blowingly great album, and assembled a live show to match. Right at the top of his game, the world is definitely his for the taking. Also, supremely nice bloke, shockingly talented collaborator/wife (Natasha plays sax and sings beautifully on the album), deserves every bit of success that arrives…

Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen – this years metal triumph. I’ve loved all of Ihsahn’s last 4 albums (and finally bought Emperor’s last album this year too, and that’s fab) – this is his best yet. Calling it ‘progressive’ doesn’t really do justice to how natural the genre-hopping sounds in his hands. There’s no sense of any of the many disparate elements being shoe-horned in. It sounds like the record he’s been building up to. There’s still a whole load of properly scary black metal in there, but also entire suites of music that without the screaming to bookend it, sounds entirely unmetallic. Properly brilliant writing, singing, arranging, recording and guitar playing. All good, nothing bad.

Prefab Sprout – Crimson/Red – a NEW Prefab Sprout album?? Felt almost too good to be true. It’s beautiful, though if I was being picky – as a huge fan of Wendy Smith’s voice – I’d love to have heard the rest of the band on it, rather than just Paddy’s playing and singing. But that hardly dents the beauty of the record. All the great things about Prefab Sprout are there (except Wendy’s voice) – the songs, the combination of grand vision and resigned patheticness (I’ve never come up with a decent way of describing the combination of world-changing ambition and parochial intimacy of Paddy’s writing… One day I’ll actually put some proper time into it, the music deserves it!)

Richard Thompson – Electric – New Richard Thompson! Sounds like Richard Thompson being amazing! Because it is! Bought this in the first week of release. Which is a very very rare occurrence in my life. Happy that I did.

Yvonne Lyon – These Small Rebellions – this is Yvonne’s forth album in a row that I’ve loved. She has an uncanny pop sensibility about her melodic writing, but never sacrifices the depth of the song itself to that pop-ness. Nuance, beauty, and a huge investment of self seem to be the hallmarks of Yvonne’s writing and recording. Also an exceptional live performer. One of those artists whose albums I’ll buy without having heard a note, read a review or seen the artwork. And I can’t imagine ever being disappointed. Wonderful.

Tiger Darrow – Aqua Vitae – Tiger’s first record since leaving Texas moving to NYC and doing incredibly well at music college. When I first tweeted about this, Jonatha Brooke tweeted back that she’s a fan (having taught Tiger for a songwriting class at NYU) – lots of people have fallen in love with this album since I encouraged them to check it out. Falling loosely into that Imogen Heap/Bjork/clever electronic singer/songwriter world, Tiger has both a sound of her own, and a huge breadth to her talents, as a writer, singer and instrumentalist. Scarily gifted.

Sunna Gunnlaugs – Distilled – “new album from Sunna Gunnlaugs, and it’s fantastic” – I could just cut ‘n’ past that after everything she releases. Huge fan, always happy to get new music from Sunna, whatever the format she’s playing in, but I think I particularly enjoy the interplay in her trio. She’s a firm favourite of mine.

Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing – there was a huge amount of expectation hanging over this record, hype built up around it, and for good reason. Steven assembled an amazing cast of characters to make it, and clearly spent an awful lot of time and energy making it. And it paid off. Everything that’s great about progressive music with none of the absurdity. Adventurous, exciting, emotive, expansive. Exhilerating stuff.

There were other albums I really enjoyed this year – Billy Bragg, The Fierce And The Dead, Sam Philips, Scott Barkan, Søren Bebe Trio, Steve Uccello, Danny Barnes, Darkroom, Emmalee^Crane, Janek Gwizdala and a load of others all released excellent records this year. Like I said, a bumper crop. Best place to go crate-digging is my bandcamp collection, which has everything I’ve ever bought:

We’re Not Thatcher’s Children, we’re Mandela’s.

Long Walk to FreedomThere were two events in my 20s that helped me understand the scale of the age we live in. one was visiting the Berlin Wall. The other was reading Long Walk To Freedom.

All of a sudden, the scale of the importance of what was going on in my lifetime was brought home. It wasn’t just seeing it on the TV, it was reading about world changing events and people and REMEMBERING them happening. Seeing the broken wall, walking from West to East Berlin, and remembering watching it live, being taken apart. Continue reading “We’re Not Thatcher’s Children, we’re Mandela’s.”

“Steve, Why Is Your Music So Cheap?”

So, at the end of my post about the FingerPainting Sessions best-of albums, I said I’d blog about why I sell my ‘complete works‘ USB Stick so cheap.

It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot. It’s even caused some skepticism about the contents from people who can’t work out why 24 albums, a 45minute live video and my novel on a USB stick would *only* cost £25.

There are a couple of different reasons, but the existence of the question, I think, stems from a somewhat strange anomaly of the old recording industry. That of there being VERY few artists as unknown as I am that have extensive back catalogues. It’s growing, because the internet makes it possible for people to do what I do (it’s made it possible for ME to do what I do!) and more artists are taking advantage of that, but it’s still pretty rare to have put out 34 albums as an artist who still sells on average a few hundred copies of anything they release… Mostly, with a label, you got to try and ‘make it’ with your first album, or sometimes two or three, but if you weren’t selling quite a few thousand by then, it just wasn’t feasible to go on making records. The fixed costs were too high…

So all of our perception of what people do with their back catalogue is based on what famous people do with their back catalogue. and for a large number of those famous people, they or their label are trying to squeeze yet more money out of their uber-fans. Boxed sets are often remastered, repackaged, even reformatted (DVD-A/Blueray Audio/108gram vinyl etc) to try and get people who already love the music to buy this ‘exclusive’ version again.

And, buried in there is often the desire on the part of the person selling it to not have to make any more music like that. If I can sell enough of these premium packages, I’ll be able to retire… Which is great if you’re Led Zep, or The Eagles or whoever.

If you’re me, the story’s a little different:

  • I don’t have anywhere near enough ‘super-fans’ to make creating ‘product’ just for them remotely viable. The wider community of people who are interested in what I do runs to several thousand. The inner core is just a handful (as far as I can tell!)
  • I have neither the desire not the likelihood of being able to retire on the sale of my music.
  • I’m actively involved in making more and more music. I’ve released over 10 hours of music in the last year, and will probably put out another 4 or 5 albums in the next 6-12 months.
  • Most of my gigs are house concerts, and at house concerts, I’m generally playing to people who haven’t heard me before but who mostly have had a fantastic evening by the end, and would often like to take some music home. A £180 25 LP set isn’t going to be that…

So a USB stick allows me to bundle it all up, at a pretty low unit cost to me (the USB sticks work out about £6 each, which is about the production cost of 3 short-run CDs) and because I put the music on them myself (it takes 8-10 minutes per stick to load them up) I can keep adding to what’s on them – I’m not stuck with those 24 albums until I’ve sold out of the current stack of merch. I can keep adding things as I release them.

But most importantly, I can make my ENTIRE back catalogue an entry point. It’s a thing that someone whose just seen me playing a support slot might buy (that’s happened a few times), it’s something that people on Twitter, who previous have downloaded an album or two for free, or for a couple of quid, might buy (that happens a lot). And at £25, it’s even an investment worth making to save yourself the trouble of downloading it all off Bandcamp. You get the stick, plug it in, drag all the music off it, and you’re left with a perfectly useful 4Gb USB Stick 🙂

£25 for 24 albums is an invitation into my musical world, a ticket onto the bus. It’s a chance to catch up, to drop it all into iTunes and put it on random while you work, switching to album-mode when you hit on a track you REALLY love. There are PDF sleevenotes, and the aforementioned video and novel. I’m sure I’ll add more as I go along.

But at it’s heart it’s a friendly, sustainable way of getting lots of music out to curious people. So it works perfectly for me. 

A Gig. On My Birthday. And You’re Invited!

Right, here’s something I’ve never done before – a solo gig on my birthday.

That’s December 28th, for those that don’t know.

The gig will be at Tower Of Song, my favourite venue in the Birmingham area.

The ticket price is ‘pay what you can afford’, and if you buy tickets in advance, [ click here to buy tickets ] there’s a lovely new exclusive download track of a thing I recorded living in London a couple of weeks ago, opening for Yolanda Charles. You’ll get that, whatever you pay, but if you pay over £10, you’ll also get a download copy of my NEXT solo album, called ‘What The Mind Thinks, The Heart Transmits’ – it won’t be out til next year, but you can have a copy now. It’s a single 45 minute track, and is very lovely indeed. I promise. So you may want to buy that even if you can’t be there… 🙂

But Wait! There’s MORE!

The gig will also feature the debut of my excellent new duo with drum-legend Andy Edwards. Andy and I recently got together to record some promo stuff for a new Tama drumkit. None of it was what you’d call ‘songs’ – no beginnings/middles/endings, just fun jams to show off the kit, but they’ll give you an idea of where we’re heading 🙂

Best Of The FingerPainting Sessions Vol 1 and 2 Out Now


I know, it’s about 4 months late, but we’ve finally finished the double best-of compilation from all the ‘FingerPainting’ shows. Choosing the right sequence of tracks was really hard, and even once I’d chosen it, it took a LONG time for me to believe it was the right order… If it’d been a digital-only release, I’d have put it out and changed it, but when you’re pressing CDs, you really don’t want to screw that up…

So here it is – the digital version is available for streaming/buying/sharing right now, and the CD version will be out next week. So if you buy it now, it’ll get to you within the next 10-15 days.

Continue reading “Best Of The FingerPainting Sessions Vol 1 and 2 Out Now”

Give The Gift Of Bandcamp!


OK how cool is this? A lovely new addition to the Bandcamp UI – the option to send any download as a gift. 

Click on the ‘Send as Gift’ option and you get to put in a friend’s email address, and a note to them before heading off to pay for it in the usual way.

Then it drops into their inbox as a glorious surprise containing delicious hand-picked, valued music. All the adrenaline-fuelled SQUEEE! of a physical present 🙂

want to try it out? Head over to, pick a favourite album and send it to a friend. They get music, we get paid, you get karma.


[POSTPONED] Streaming-only gig with Julie Slick Next Monday!


Right, this is going to be all kinds of fun. Julie Slick is on her way to play a festival in Sweden and is stopping off on the way to hang out with Lo and I for a couple of days. Which means that she and I get the chance to do a show together… but it’ll be a show with a difference. It’ll be streaming-only. No live audience at all.

We’ll do it from my studio, and will no doubt record it all too. It’ll be at 8pm on Monday 18th November 2013, and the particular platform we’re going to use has yet to be decided (nothing like last minute planning, eh?)

But it’ll happen, and it will be lovely. Julie’s one of my favourite bassists on the planet – if you don’t already have her two solo albums, you really need to hear/buy/share them over at

We did a gig together in January 2012, in Hollywood, a really lovely house concert hosted by some wonderful friends of mine. We’re really looking forward to doing it again.

More specific details ASAP 🙂

UK Tour with Yolanda Charles starts This Sunday!

After the fabulous reception to our show together in Birmingham earlier in the year, I’m SO pleased to be going out on tour next week with Yolanda Charles.


Best known for her bass playing with Paul Weller and Robbie Williams – amongst a massive list of session credits! – Yolanda is also arguably the finest funk bassist in the country, and fronts her own funk/soul/jazz band The Deep MO.

For this tour, she’s teaming up in a duo with one of my favourite drummers, Nicolas Viccaro, from Paris, and we’ll be playing a series of shows together, that will no doubt also feature some bass/bass/drums fun too! The dates are:

November 2013:

  • Sunday 10th, 7.30pm – Birmingham – Tower Of Song [tickets – map – Facebook]
  • Monday 11th, 7pm – Stourbridge – Moochers [tickets – map – Facebook]
  • Thurs 14th, 6.30pm – Axminster – Axe Valley College [map – tix (£5/£3 under 18s) from 01297 32146]

(Friday 15th Yo and Nico are in Bristol, and I’ve got a gig with Alvin Stardust in Kent!!)

the London show will be a FULL Deep MO band set.

If you buy advance tickets for the Birmingham or Stourbridge shows, you’ll get a freecopy of Yolanda’s Deep MO EP on CD, on the night. More info here.

I’m so looking forward to this tour. I’m hoping it’ll be the first of many opportunities to get out and play in line-ups like this. I hope Yo and I can do lots more together. So please do come out and hear some lovely music, tell your friends. Your help spreading the word(especially at this late notice!) Is SO important. Text some friends, get a car-load together and come out for a night of bassy magic.