2015 – A Year In Music

Right, let’s do a month-by-month recap, shall we?

January – Right at the start of the year, I had a lovely trip up to Leeds for an academic conference, which as well as involving a couple of REALLY important conversations about finally starting my PhD, gave me the opportunity to play with Ray Russell – a guitarist whose work I’ve admired for decades.
Then it was off to NAMM. A handful of lovely shows with guitar genius Thomas Leeb, and a one-off show with Artemis and Daniel Berkman made for a really enjoyable California trip.

February – back from NAMM, and my first gig back was at an amazing event hosted by Compass called Change:How? The gig itself was a fairly forgettable half hour of background music (I REALLY need to get better at thinking about logistics with gig booking), but the day itself was notable for a conversation with theatre maker Annette Mees that ended up defining a whole a lot of what happened in the rest of the year, and totally shifted the planned emphasis for the PhD… One of those ‘ahh, so *that’s* what I really do!’ conversations, for which I’ll be eternally grateful.

March began with a masterclass at the London Bass Guitar Show, which featured the amazing opportunity to play with one of my favourite bassists, Ruth Goller, and the chance to plan a future project with another of my bass heroes, Divinity Roxx… The following weekend was another lovely solo show at the Moffatt Bass Bash in Scotland. From those two shows came a lovely little EP for my Bandcamp subscribers – the track with Ruth and the first piece from the Moffatt show…
The last week of March was spent in Leeds teaching and talking PhD stuff, incorporating all the new shiny exciting focus that came from Annette’s input… A plan is taking shape!

April – Torycore reconvened before the elections for two nights at Battersea Arts Centre, just a couple of weeks after the place was mostly destroyed in a fire. I love playing Torycore shows so much, but can’t wait til it feels as relevant as a ‘free Nelson Mandela’ march…
Two more amazing gigs happened this month – firstly, Beardyman’s ‘Dream Team’ gig at the Jazz Cafe, with Andy Gangadeen on drums and Gary Lucas on guitar – a massively enjoyable free improv show that resulted in some amazing music, and the possibility of more work with Beardyman – he’ s an extraordinary musician and us working together has been a long time coming! That was followed by a trio show with Jon Thorne (who was on Diversion in 2014) and drummer Rob Turner, from GoGo Penguin, in Manchester. The musical chemistry between the three of us was quite remarkable, and way more is planned for this group! In between those two, a new project was also started, with synaesthetic painter Poppy Porter, exploring improvised music and live art…
April also saw the full release of Ley Lines with Phi Yaan-Zek and Andy Edwards, an album I’m massively proud of.

May saw Torycore play the night before the most depressing general election of my lifetime, but also saw two fabulous creative firsts – the nascent formation of a new quartet with Ian MacGowan on trumpet, Reeves Gabrels on guitar and Jason Cooper on drums… A pretty remarkable improvising unit…
The end of the month saw a trip to Denmark for the ‘Inspiration Lab’ – four days of interdisciplinary art-making and thinking. It was so much fun and such a lovely challenge to be pulled right out of my comfort zone and experiment in entirely new ways. It’s not easy to stretch me, given that I’m OK with being terrible at things, but the InspLab managed it, and again confirmed a whole lot of thinking about my evolving understanding of what I’m actually up to as a musician 🙂

June was “Divinity month” – she came to visit for a week, we played, discussed, recorded, experimented, listened to a whole load of music and played a first show at Kidderminster college. There’s so much potential in this project, and a whole load of new inspiration came out of it for me.
Three more gigs took place in June – the Vortex with the new quartet with Ian, Reeves and Jason, a lovely solo gig and improv session at the Soundcellar in Bournemouth, and a duo gig with Andy Edwards at a Dream Cymbals Day in Birmingham. Ideas were starting to take shape for the next solo recordings, and one track from the Soundcellar gig was released to subscribers.

July was when recording began in earnest for the new album (I initially thought it would be one album) – as things progressed, I started uploading tracks for my Bandcamp Subscribers to hear, which quickly morphed into the subscriber-only album, Closing In. About two weeks after I started recording the album, I received the Quneo MIDI controller from Keith McMillen – following on from playing with Divinity in June, I’d felt it was time to add some other textures to my solo work. After a few years of being inspired by the sounds and textures that Daniel Berkman brought to our duo and trio work, Divinity’s incorporation of live-played drum loops into our duo improv sessions gave me a model that I could follow. The first thing released from that was The Ice Cracks But Holds Firm, which appears on both Closing In and A Crack Where The Light Gets In.

Recording spilled over into August – I built a really steady and useful routine, recording every day, tackling each framework for improvisation three times, then listening back a lot. A couple were uploaded to Soundcloud as I was along, and it became apparent that finally properly embracing my life-long love of hip-hop, and the previously-hard-to-spot influence of turntableism, and hip-hop producers J Dilla & DJ Krush was going to make for some pretty special music – see the full blog post about the process here.
August also featured the 2nd Thorne/Lawson/Turner gig as part of the Manchester Jazz Festival, and a couple of weeks away with the family in Florida, a wonderful chance to mull over the material for the two new albums, and also to invite my long-time musical advisor and occasional collaborator Sue Edwards to help with the track list on the new album. Which resulted in two albums being compiled…

September started with my 2nd visit to the Warwick Open Day – an extraordinary event hosted by Warwick at their factory in the Eastern part of Germany, where, following on from a 4 day Bass Camp, they fly in hundreds of notable bass players from all over the world for a huge party. While there I recorded two lovely new videos for BassTheWorld, and caught up with so many dear friends. I also managed to fit in a photoshoot with Jonas Hellborg for our upcoming mini-tour… A good time was had all round!
Mid-September saw the release of A Crack Where The Light Gets In and The Way Home – my first ‘studio’ solo albums since 11 Reasons in 2011… The reception was pretty wonderful, with Praxis from A Crack Where The Light Gets In being played on Late Junction on Radio 3 and lots of lovely sharing and shopping happening on Bandcamp 🙂
Given that it was the month of release of my two albums, it was pretty stupid of me not to play a launch gig, but the only show I did do was opening for the wonderful Thomas Truax at Tower Of Song – it was meant to be a duo gig with Lo, but she was ill, sadly. However, one further thing of huge significance happened – I was on the cover of Bass Guitar Magazine. As someone who has read any bass mag I can get my hands on, since I was first able to get Bass Player on import in 1991, and having started writing for Bassist mag back in ’97, being on the cover of a mag like that was something I’d often thought would be amazing, but unlikely without some kind of huge film tie-in, or me joining a band. So to have got there within the trajectory of my self-managed, self-recorded, self-everythinged music life is pretty extraordinary. I think I’m pretty much the only person that’s happened to, at least for the UK magazines – no association with some other gig artist as a spring board, just my solo work… Anyway, the web buzz about it was huge (was the most liked/shared cover image the mag had ever had on Facebook, if that’s a measure of anything) and seeing pictures of it all over the world crop up in my feeds on FB/Twitter & Instagram was pretty nuts… V. v. handy in the month these two new albums came out!

October had three pretty big events in it – starting the induction week for my long-talk-about-but-now-finally-happening PhD, exploring the audience experience of my improvised music. That weekend went straight into the tour with Jonas Hellborg – Jonas has been a friend for about 15 years, and a musical hero and influence for even longer, so I was really looking forward to this, and it didn’t disappoint. His solo sets were just amazing and the duo improvisations point to all kinds of possible future adventures! And then towards the end of the month, Torycore had a three day residency at The Junction in Cambridge. Two days to work on new material and ideas, and one show in the middle, through the biggest and best PA we’ve ever played through. Torycore is such an amazing experience, and such a tricky beast to guide. I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity to make meaningful work with Lucy and Chris. Look out for more Torycore dates in 2016…

November was a gig-less month, though on the music front, the biggest events were a chance to catch up with Bryan Beller, who was over touring with Joe Satriani… it’s amazing how special time with fellow musicians away from a gig can be, the feeling of just spending time with people who really understand your world and what goes on inside it. I also got stuck into a whole lot of reading, thinking, writing and planning for my PhD, which included three really inspiring days in Leeds at the Uni. Need to do more of that!

December was another quiet month, but did contain the release of a new EP, ‘You Guys! Let’s Just Talk About Nail Varnish’ – which is the audio of the two tracks recorded for BassTheWorld in Germany in September, and the recording of a new album or two with Phi Yaan-Zek and Andy Edwards. Look out for that in early 2016.

So, all in, a pretty epic year. I really should’ve done more gigs, but it’s been a properly bumper year for recording releases (more than ever), and the growth of the subscription is making the possibility of that becoming the entire sustaining mechanism for the recording part of my music life more and more likely. If you want in, please do subscribe.

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