Two New Albums and My Anniversary Gig!

So, last week, I released my first ever best-of album. It’s culled from all my solo work between 2000 and 2013, and is a pretty lovely summary of what I got up to as a solo performer before I added the Quneo into my performance set-up and started to experiment with percussion and keyboard sounds.

The album was put together by two of my long time friends/listeners/subscribers, Tom and Mike, and their sleevenotes are on the Bandcamp page, so you can read a little about their thoughts on each track. Tom also provided the photos for each individual track, so if you go to the track pages on Bandcamp you’ll see those, or if you buy it and download the files…

Anyway, have a listen here:

Then Sunday was my 20th Anniversary gig – it was a deeply special show at my favourite venue in Birmingham, Tower Of Song. As part of the evening, I hosted pre and post show discussions about improv, which were recorded as part of the research for my ongoing PhD. What became apparent fairly quickly is that these weren’t ‘pre and post show discussions’, detached from the rest of the ‘event’ – they were the first and last acts of a four act play, ones that centred on conspicuous listening, and gave space for the audience to register their presence, preferences, gratitude, and anything else they wanted to talk about…

As an improvisor it was quite a profound moment, to have an entire audience talk about their anticipation of what was to come, about their reasons for being there… The permission to ‘do what we do’ comes from the audience – lots of people have theorised this, but I’ve never actually encountered it in quite such a clearly expressed form!

And what’s more, the first album from the gig is out today! The subscriber-only, 42 minute album is the whole of my first set, the solo one which preceded the Illuminated Loops set with artist Poppy Porter. That’ll be up next.

It’s been a really interesting year for music-making – The Arctic Is Burning is one of my favourite albums I’ve ever made, and ended up being a really fitting part two to Beauty And Desolation, despite that not really being the plan initially.  There have been two LEYlines albums (vols IV and V), four other live solo albums, Seeing Sound with Daniel Berkman (recorded in 2014!) and my most recent duo album with Pete Fraser, Restless got a public release this year.

But it’s been a year of solo experimentation, mostly. The explorations with field recordings have been a really inspiring addition to my sound, and have given me so much to thing about and experiment with. Perhaps I’ll do more with that in the new year.

I hope 2019 has been a good year for you – I know that politically it’s been a struggle for a huge number of people, and I’ve seen various friends struggling under the stress of the way things are going, but I hope that in the middle of that you’ve been able to find a sense of purpose, have some fun and explore ways to be part of the solution rather than buckling under the weight of the problem. Peace to you and I hope you get some time off through the festive period.

(top photo by Richard Hallman) 

Improvisation, Audiences and The Magic Of Live Music

Right, so my 20th anniversary gig is coming up fast! I’m super excited about it, and wanted to tell you a little more about the non-musical PhD research bit of the evening (if all you want is practical info about that, skip to the end 😉 )

But first, I want to talk about improvisation and specialness. One of the tricky things about being an improvisor is that making a gig ‘special‘ is never going to be about the setlist. If you go and see a Greatest Hits tour, or that thing where a band plays a classic album top to bottom, you know what you’re getting, and the enjoyment is linked to your history not just with the band, but your memories of those particular songs. And your expectation is linked to that. The promotion of concerts, and even the language that we use to get friends to come with us to gigs, is built around the motivating power of familiarity, nostalgia and the safe expectation that you know roughly what’s going to happen…

But, as someone who makes it all up as I’m going along, I don’t have that list of track names on which to hang a set of expectations (for me or you!) I don’t get to do a set of ‘songs I don’t normally play live!’ as a special treat, but on the other hand everything is stuff I’ve never played before, and thus every gig is a completely unique treat for whoever shows up. That is – over 20 years of talking to my audience – one of the things that comes up most often as being the ‘wow’ moment at a gig – the realisation that this music would never happen again. Back when I was playing a mixture of improvised tunes and things people were more familiar with from my records, that was mixed with people who were super-happy that I’d played their favourite tune, and sometimes the two experiences were combined, because I’d played a familiar tune and made it new by taking it off in a new direction.

(for those who joined us recently, the point at which I stopped playing versions of things off my records was when I realised that all the magic in those records, for me, came from the fact that they were improvisations (that’s always been my recording method of choice, with a few notable exceptions around the time of Behind Every Word) – so the recreation of them resulted in an oversimplification of what was special about the original, and a split in terms of the improvised music being FOR that place and time, and made in collaboration with that audience and space, and those that were tunes I was playing in order to trigger a memory or sell a CD or two… in a nutshell 🙂 )

So I’m left pondering of all this from two angles – one is how to market a 20th anniversary gig that doesn’t have a bunch of old tunes in it – how to create a sense that this gig is the culmination or the celebration of 20 years of work, when it will be demonstrably an hour or so of completely new work. Though when I say ‘completely’, the process of  being an improvisor is an evolutionary one – you are both bound by your physical relationship with your instrument(s) and any sounds you’ve pre-programmed/selected for it, but also freed by the permission you’ve given yourself (and crucially are able to feel from the audience) to play what feels right for that moment. Defining the aspects of the moment is quite an interesting task – those that are present, the conversations that take place, the music that plays before you go on, the specific placement of the music gear, the length of time since you were able to practice (gigs with a ‘warm up’ are palpably different from gigs where you go from chatting to friends to playing in the space of two minutes), and of course any preparatory work you’ve been doing – developing ideas, expanding your vocabulary and listening to music that may influence your sense of what the music ‘ought’ to be right there.

The language around the process and practice of improvisation is thorny and rich with the potential to contradict another musician’s entire sense of what they’re doing and why (so if you’re an improvisor who doesn’t see themselves in this description, that’s absolutely fine 😉 )

But the key thing is that the ‘specialness’ that we collectively experience at a gig where we expect to hear a set of songs we know, get to hear them at high volume with cool lights and excellent posing and dancing from the band is a very different type of specialness from the utterly unique sensation of going to see an improvised show and knowing that you are IN it. That if you weren’t there, it would be different. That anything you’ve said to the artist before they play will shape it, that your smiling and nodding is felt in a deeply practical way. The music is for you, you are present in it, we make it together, and the sense of place is embedded in it. It’s not just the case that a gig on a tour where the set list is largely the same is remembered by what went wrong in a particular place, or how crazy the audience were… Every set of music is a collaboration, and for me that results in a massive amount of releasable music… 71 albums in the last 20 years, at the latest count…

There’s a lot of discussion (and scholarship/writing/theory) that places live music and recorded music as opposing experiences, where one is meant to be better than the other, or one embodies qualities that the other can never share… but for me – in a way that has grown throughout my PhD research so far – the relationship is a cumulative one, where one informs the other, where the recorded work is both a product of the live gig and a way to revisit and experience in an entirely new way the audio bit of the experience. Removing the sense of place from the experience – the smell of the venue, the lighting, the price of the beer, the journey to get there, the dressing up (all the things Walter Benjamin told us in 1935 were the rituals of concert-going) are stripped away and we’re left with a trace. But it’s a trace that we can revisit, that allows us to experience it away from that context, to hear it on headphones, on a train, in a car, in bed, in the bath, with friends. We can project onto the music recording whatever set of meanings, images, mythologies and emotions we like, uninfluenced by the gestural quality of the performance (note: if you’re a subscriber, go read the essay I wrote about my Belfast Guitar Festival gig – it digs deep into this idea!) It enables us to talk over it, to read to it and sometimes it becomes that reminder of the magic of the gig. It reverses the nostalgia-relationship of falling in love with songs on an album then going to hear them live, and instead invites us to experience unique new deeply personalised music at a live event and then to revisit the recording for its nostalgia.

Fans have been doing this under their own steam for decades – I remember visiting Camden Market and see a number of stalls devoted to cassette bootlegs of classic bands. For fans who already had all the officially sanctioned studio and live records, these filled in extra knowledge, provided the social capital of hard-found experiences and foraged expertise, but also meant a gig that you were at might show up as a thing to be revisited. However, they were rarely official, rarely well produced, often terrible quality, and didn’t come with any real connection to the artist. Being a self-archivist was a rare practice – such that Frank Zappa’s predilection for recording everything and producing live albums that combined his favourite bits from different takes became a defining trope in his public persona, in the story of his idiosyncrasy.

But from here – as a self-releasing, self producing artist with a desire to make the best work I can – it feels like a way of taking back my music life from the constraint of making-a-product marketing-a-product recouping-the-costs-of-a-product. Because even the Kickstarter model – hailed by so many as the new mechanism of indie sustainability – required a level of emotional investment in a future wow that exhausts me and demands of the product a level of hype that is wholly unsustainable if the product comes along 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 times a year (such is the quest for novelty cache in the pre-funding market, that some artists have done entirely unrepeatable offers, scorching the earth for themselves and others in the process).

So by improvising I get to make music FOR that situation, but by recording it I get to build that catalogue that documents the journey, that captures the unique music and packages it in a way that isn’t about reminding the live audience of the moment they coughed or the funny thing that was said, (my live audience is WAY too small and geographically constrained for that to be meaningful) but recognises the unique musical aesthetic parameters of making things up from my particular set of creative interests in response to the stimulus of a room full of curious amazing people… The entire thing becomes more episodic, almost like a podcast or a Netflix digital box set, even while each album is experienceable within the semiotic boundaries of ‘an album’. The decision to treat it as an episode in a story, or as an album that soundtracks your life for years is entirely in the hands of the listener. The agency to make it be what you want it to be is yours as the listener, and isn’t constrained by my sense of what it might be FOR.

But of course – and this is where the research bit comes in – absolutely none of this summary may be in the minds of a specific audience (beyond the fact that I’ve seeded it by writing this screed in the first place! We’ll dig through that at the analytical phase!) – and even though the impetus to do this was a series of conversations with listeners over the last 20 years, the actual thoughts, ideas, experiences and expectations of a given audience are likely to be way broader than this… so as part of the research for my PhD we’ll be talking about this before and after the gig on the 15th.

DETAILS

So, starting at 6.30pm, we’ll be having a pre-show discussion about improv, about live music, about people’s specific expectations and reasons for being there, and how it fits within the rest of their life-with-music. It’ll be wide open, there’s no sense at all that there are right and wrong responses, and it’ll be recorded. Because of all that, there’ll be a consent form to sign (you can’t just go around recording conversations with people and writing PhDs about them without the proper ethics clearance, of course!) but the conversation is just a chance to talk about it all. To ask questions, and for me to find out what’s going on in your heads when you show up.

And again, after the gig, we’ll have another chat. Because it’s an Illuminated Loops gig, I’m sure a lot of the questions and comments there will end up being about Poppy’s artwork and its relationship to the music, but that’s all great. It’ll be another open forum to talk about your experience of the gig, what you remember, what you liked, didn’t like, what was exciting/confusing/good/bad/etc. etc.

Does that sound like fun? Good. Now, go get a ticket from Bandcamp and as soon as I get my ethics submission from the Uni signed off, I’ll send you the form with a full description of what’s going on that you can sign and return to me. 🙂

I’m SO looking forward to playing for you, but also to talking about making music. This is the stuff that goes through my head as I’m cycling round Birmingham, walking round shops, lying in bed at night… I’m fascinated by what, how, why and with/for whom we make music. And your voice as the audience is often one that artists ignore. So I’m listening… 🙂

Photos From The Second Stourbridge Festival Of Improvised Music

I had the great pleasure yesterday of playing at the Second Stourbridge Festival Of Improvised Music – I went to the first one last year as an audience member, and took Flapjack along. We had an amazing day, so I was delighted to be asked to play this year. I got to play alongside some absolutely stellar musicians, including Paul Dunmall, Steve Tromans, Bruce Coates, Sarah Farmer, Xhosa Cole, Trevor Lines – people whose playing I’ve been a fan of for a long time.

Of course, I also took my camera, so here are a few pictures – hopefully I’ll have more gigs with these amazing musicians soon 🙂

2nd Stourbridge Festival Of Improvised Music

Nine Years Since This Gig…

Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of the gig where Lobelia and I recorded this video:

…I say ‘we’ recorded the video. Obviously we played the music, but the video was actually shot by our friend Brian Wilson (not that Brian Wilson…) – he’d invited me in 2007 to play a house concert after I’d talked about my plan to do a tour of them. He and his wife Michelle obviously got the bug, because after that they became exquisite house concert hosts, even going to far as to buy the grand piano you see in this video!

Brian is now a pro photographer (not much of a surprise when you see the quality of the video), and no longer lives in the house where we played these shows, (we played again almost exactly a year later, with the great Tiger Darrow opening for us – here’s a vid of an improv trio from that show) but they hold some incredibly dear memories for us.

This year, Lo and I have got back into doing gigs together (parenting kind of knocked the wind out of our duo gig sales for quite a while!) and we played a gorgeous house concert in Hackney, London in April. If you want to host one, please do drop me a line!

The tour where we played this show back in 2010 also became our album Live So Far – an album that grew progressively as the tour went on and I mixed and mastered the tunes on our days off… Check it out here:

What’s So Special About An Improvised Gig?

Things I adore about improvised music, pt 593:

This is a quote from a book I’m re-reading for my PhD, called Coughing And Clapping, all about audiences and music:

“The pop music gig is a unique and visceral event, which at its most resonant can be a consummate experience involving all the senses. There is a real feeling for the concert-goer of it being for one night only, in that place, at that time, and of being something that can never be replicated – despite the fact that the band will often be playing the same numbers with the same light show on subsequent nights of the tour.” [1]

It sums up beautifully my feelings about the sleight of hand of playing the same thing night after night and hoping that something magical happens and it connects. There are obviously some bands who allow the circumstances to alter the music to a greater or lesser degree – for some, the songs are basically jumping-off points for whatever comes next – but for most pop/rock bands, the majority of the performance is set in stone. Or if not stone, then at least stale bread. Or that weird green stuff that soaks up water that you put flowers in.

For an improv gig, no such assumptions can be made. And the audience’s presence completely alters the music. The music is not only FOR you, but in a very real way, BY you – you change it. Like Jedis at Christmas, we feel your presence. We respond to the room, the people in it, the conversations before the gig, to smiles and looks of consternation, to interruptions, to the decor, to traffic noise. The music is an amalgam of everything in that moment, and if you weren’t there it would be different. So you get to have that experience of something unique 4 REALZIES. It actually happens.

My next gig is in a couple of weeks in Birmingham, and it’s all improv. Andy, Phi and I will be collaborating with whoever shows up, with the venue (we LOVE the Tower Of Song – such a welcoming, warm place to play dangerous music 🙂 ) and we’ll promise you a night of wholly original music that will stay with you, and will be uniquely yours. No-one else will ever get to say that they saw it, unless they were there on that night. Make plans, bring friends, come be a part of the history that will be made, and that is made every time improvisors step onto the stage, swallow the voice that pops up that says ‘er, what happens if *this time* it all goes to shit??’ and instead create something magical. For you. And your ears.

[1] Kronenburg, R. 2014. Safe and Sound: Audience Experience in New Venues for Popular Music Performance. In: Burland, K. and Pitts, S. eds. Coughing and clapping: Investigating audience experience. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Gig with Julie Slick in Birmingham, April 6th + New Video!

OK, two v exciting bits of news!

First, my next Birmingham gig is with one of the most remarkable trios I’ve ever been a part of – Julie Slick, me and Andy Edwards.

[  BUY TICKETS HERE  ]

Julie, for those who’ve been hiding for the last 8 years, has been blowing people’s minds all over the world as part of the Adrian Belew Power Trio SINCE SHE WAS A TEENAGER. Seriously. Now still in Adrian’s band, and also in the 6-headed-behemoth that is the Crimson ProjeKct, she gets to swap bass duties with Tony Levin every night. Also a remarkable solo artist, her two solo albums feature her brilliant compositions, bass work and production alongside guests such as Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, David Torn, Marco Minneman, Pat Mastelotto… A cast of geniuses, with her at the top of the bill. She’s that good. Listen:

Andy Edwards is something of a drum legend – from Robert Plant’s band, he went on to play with many of the UK’s top prog bands: Frost*, IQ, Magenta, and is greatly in demand as a clinician.

I’ve played in duos with both of them, and am excited to see what alchemy takes place with this new band. It’ll be amazing. I promise. here’s the ticket link if you missed it above.

Exciting news part 2!

it’s not often that I get to announce a new video that’s already reached 10,000 views. In fact, it’s never. Until now. this was filmed at the Frankfurt Musikmesse, by Gregor Fris of BassTheWorld.com, who asked me to ‘just play’. No looping, no processing, just bass. However I wanted for as long as I wanted. This is what came out. It sounds and looks lovely, I think. The internet seems to agree. Please do share it around if you dig it:

I’ll write more about the making of the video later… but for now, go buy gig tickets! 🙂

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 🙂

Home From Greenbelt. First Blog Post – Some Pictures

Home from a wonderful weekend at Greenbelt Festival. My show there on Sunday afternoon was quite possibly my favourite ever time playing at Greenbelt, and resulted in quite a few USB Stick sales. Which is nice 🙂

I’ll post more about it soon, but here, for starters, are a selection of the photos that people took and posted on twitter while I was playing, along with Lobelia who joined me for two songs, one of them also featuring the lovely Andrew Howie. Good times 🙂

Birmingham Bass Night – A Resounding Success!

So the first Birmingham Bass Night was a resounding success. A comfortably full venue, some amazing music and a good time was had by all.

I feel really lucky to have had such a great line-up for what was really the pilot for a regular event. Russ Sargeant played a beautiful opening set, including an exquisite cover of The Blue Nile’s Let’s Go Out Tonight… so often when an instrumentalist decides to sing a number, the verdict is ‘brave but unwise’, but Russ has a voice to match his bass skillz… hope we get to hear him sing again! He’ll be back at another Birmingham Bass Night soon, I promise 🙂

Then me, doing my thing. Running a night and playing at it can be a stress, but I’ve done it enough and have stripped away the unneccesary stuff well enough that I had no such troubles here. It helped that the venue, Tower Of Song, is SO musician-friendly. There are way too many ‘music venues’ these days whose primary concern is selling beer and musicians are just the bait to get people in the building. Tower Of Song is run by a dedicated and talented musician, Tom Martin, whose primary concern is to run a venue where music gets heard in the optimum environment. It makes a huge difference to how you play to know that your music is respected in that way by the people hosting you… almost house concert-like.

I played A Year Afloat, The Kindness Of Strangers, Hello and an extended new version of Grace And Gratitude (a request fromSarah in the audience… was happy to oblige 🙂 )

 
Then our headliner was Lorenzo Feliciati. As I said in my introduction on the night, hearing Lorenzo’s musical world grow over the last 10 years has been a joy. He was already an amazing musician when I first met him, and has continued to stretch himself and find new vehicles for expressing himself musically. Definitely a kindred spirit. Of late, he’s put together an amazing band called Naked Truth, with Pat Mastelotto of King Crimson that combines fusion, ambient, post rock and deep improv to amazing effect. His latest solo album Frequent Flyer is also magical.

For Birmingham Bass Night, Lorenzo teamed up with Dave Walsh – a brilliant drummer from Leeds – for a duo set that covered Miles Davis and Alan Holdsworth tunes (Holdsworth for bass and drums duo?? yup.) and some of Lorenzo’s own compositions. It was a wonderful contrast to the more mellow sounds that Russ and I conjured up to have something that was at times ferocious and funky as well as gentle and contemplative.

All in a marvellous night. Thanks to everyone who came! PLEASE feel free to post your own thoughts and observations in the comments (there’s been loads of talk about the gig on Facebook which has been great, and it really helps with the promotion of the event to have positive audience feedback to link people to 🙂 )

We’ll be doing another one in May.. stay tuned for an announcement about the line-up ASAP!

New Video Pt 1 – Videos from California

Well, the California tour is over, I’ve been home a week or so, jetlag has worn off and the mammoth task of preparing the recordings from the tour with Daniel Berkman for some kind of future release is tentatively underway.

Meanwhile, our duo album seems to have found favour with the people who are listening to it and buying it. Thanks for the positive feedback. Here it is, if you’ve missed it so far:

Continue reading “New Video Pt 1 – Videos from California”