Ten Years On: Live In London – Brand New Live Recording!

It’s out! I’ve been talking for the last week on Twitter and Facebook about mixing the recording of my solo set from last week’s London gig with Michael Manring, at Round Midnight, and here it is:

In addition to the tracks listed in the player, there’s one ‘hidden’ track that you only get with the full album download. And as always, you’re welcome to pay whatever you think it’s worth for the download. Have a listen, see what you think. Continue reading “Ten Years On: Live In London – Brand New Live Recording!”

And Nothing But The Bass Is 10 Years Old Today.

10 years ago today, I received a shipment of CDs from ICC duplication, to the Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham – it was my first solo album, And Nothing But The Bass, and the start of my solo recording career.

Here it is – please download it for free:

10 years on, and I’m less than 24 hours into the life of a brand new album, Slow Food, with Trip Wamsley. It’s been such an amazing journey, not least of all because what seemed like such a weird thing to do back then – to me and to everyone else – is now so normal. The internet is awash with people experimenting with solo bass, and looping crops up everywhere from coffee-shops to the top of the charts.

The gimmick potential diminished many years ago, for which I’m most grateful. It let me get on with making the music that mattered to me, via the method that made most sense.

Solo bass was never a circus trick for me.
I was never interested in looping as a way of showing how clever I could be.
It was a way of me getting the music inside my head out to the world.
I hear things in layers, I hear evolving texture not rock drums and last-chorus-key-changes.

The template is still much the same. I’m just much better at it. The vision is more refined, the tech is better (thank the baby Jesus for Bob Amstadt and the Looperlative) and yes, I’m orders of magnitude more developed as a musician – technically, theoretically, conceptually, melodically… I just make better music happen. At least, I make music happen that is ever-closer to the soundtrack to the inside of my head. And I’m still loving it.

I’m loving the collaborations this has all led me to – the albums with Jez Carr, Theo Travis, Lawson Dodds Wood, Mike Outram and now Trip Wamsley. The gigs with Lobelia, Michael Manring, BJ Cole, Cleveland Watkiss, Julie McKee… The myriad incredible musical moments of the Recycle Collective at Darbucka, The Vortex and Greenbelt.

And I’m grateful to every journalist that’s ever taken the time to listen to and write about the music, every radio DJ that’s ever played it, and every person who has played a CD to their friends and said ‘check this out’, or emailed them a link, burned a CDR for them, emailed them some tracks. It’s all great, and I thank you for it.

So, 10 years on, here’s the new album: Have a listen, enjoy, pay whatever you think its worth. For me, the last 10 years have been priceless.

A Decade In Music – The Solo Bass Years.

First Ever Solo Gig, London, December 1999

My first ever solo gig was at the Troubadour in Earls Court, London, on Dec 15th, 1999 – 10 years ago last week.

The eve of the new millennium, and a gig that started with a lie (the lovely chap who booked the gig asked me if I had a whole set of material after seeing me do one solo tune in a band-gig. I lied and said ‘yes’ 🙂 ). It wasn’t the first time I’d played solo bass in public – that was a product demo at the National Music Show for Bassist Magazine in Nov 97. I also played weird improv noise stuff for a contemporary dance company in Nov 98.
Continue reading “A Decade In Music – The Solo Bass Years.”

A new review…. of And Nothing But The Bass..??

It’s amazing what you can find looking at your web-stats – I was browsing through mine, seeing who had linked back to this site, and found a review just posted on a blog in January of this year, of And Nothing But The Bass (my first album, for those of you a little late to the party).

A little browsing round the blog in question – jamscience.blogspot.com – showed that it was a review that the writer, Ian Peel, had written for Record Collector magazine!

So those of you that have the CD of And Nothing But The Bass – whether you paid for it, or picked up a free copy at the Social Media Cafe on Friday – have a genuine collectors item in your possession! 🙂

Anyway, you can click here to read the full review. The choice quote from it, that will be appearing on a poster near you soon, is “one of the most gifted solo bass players on the planet” which is always a useful thing to have for a press release. 🙂

If you want to listen to And Nothing But The Bass
, you can do so at last.fm, or you can buy the download version with the extra tracks mentioned in the review, from the online shop here, or from Amazon, or from Cdbaby

All four solo albums now on Amazon.com downloads

I’ve just seen that all four of my ‘proper’ release solo albums are now up on Amazon.com download store – here they are –

And Nothing But The Bass – $7.92
Not Dancing For Chicken – $8.99
Grace And Gratitude – $8.99
Behind Every Word – $8.99

that’s a pretty damn cheap way to get hold of them – and you can listen to all of them before buying over on last.fm.

The reason my stuff is now available on amazon is because it’s put there by CDbaby – if you sign up for digital distribution with then (a non-exclusive deal, BTW), they’ll ship your stuff to 50-odd digital stores. Most of them won’t sell a thing, cos they got no passing traffic, but because some of those stores include the iTunes stores worldwide, emusic, napster, amazon and a couple of others that actually shift stuff, it’s the best possible way for an indie kid like me to get his music out there. It’s cheap to set up (less than $40 per album), and they take a pretty small percentage. CDbaby are the ultimate indie long-tail company. lead the market, get everyone signed up, get a little bit of cash from tens of thousands of musicians, and make millions. We’re happy cos we get it cheap, they have leverage because they represent so many artists and labels, and everybody wins.

Seriously, if you’re indie, and you’re not with CDbaby, you’re missing out. Do it.

Bass 2.0?

The “…2.0” suffix is being widely used to denote a significant leap forward from the first version of something, inspired by the description of changes in the way the web is used and perceived as ‘Web 2.0’. So we now have Media 2.0, Music 2.0 etc… It’s quite a useful shorthand, if a little nebulous, but it did make me wonder if it would work as a way of describing what I’m up to musically – Bass 2.0 – Bass 1.0 being the use of instruments within the bass family as defined by their role as ‘the bass’ within the music, and then the extensions on from that (taking that role and expanding on it, making it more twiddly, but still sitting well within the tradition of what’s expected of a bass instrument.)

Bass 2.0, as I see it, is where the role becomes something entirely separate from the instrument.

Q: What makes the bass an instrument distinct from the guitar, and why is that important?

The instrument is defined by it’s place within the lineage of bass guitar luthiery, the descendants of Leo Fender’s Precision and Jazz, which set the parameters for scale length and string spacing in place, no matter how many strings. String spacing can be tighter or wider, and scale length moves around, but even then it’s defined by it’s relation to the standard – short scale, long scale, etc.

So it’s a different family of instruments, originally designed with a particular role in mind, but now designed to be more of a blank slate, maximising the tone-shaping potential via electronics, and accentuating certain resonant characteristics via advanced building methods.

For quite a while, people playing bass as a solo or melody instrument did so very much within the lineage of the role – there was a continuum between what bass guitarists (instrumentalists) did as ‘bass players’ (music functionalists) – even Jaco stayed largely in that world, in that there’s very little of what he did that is unrecognisable as a bass as we know it (though I can’t even begin to imagine what it must’ve been like to hear ‘Portrait Of Tracey’ when his self-titled debut first came out…!)

The first person that I’m aware of to really take a ‘Bass 2.0’ approach to the instrument was Michael Manring – the redesign of the basic properties of the instrument that he and Joe Zon did to create the hyperbass have yet to be surpassed or even matched in terms of what possible in extending the possibilities of the 4 string bass (interesting the the most radical bass design ever is still a 4-string.)

There’s some stuff on his album ‘Drastic Measures’ that hints at what’s possible, but it’s his next three solo albums – Thonk, Book Of Flame and Soliloquy – that as a trilogy set the standard for Bass 2.0 – music conceived from the mind of someone who is very much a bassist, but who uses the instrument as a tool to create incredible music, rather than turning ‘bass playing’ into a circus trick or parlour game by just doing the same old shit faster and twiddlier than anyone else.

Where does my music fit into this? Well, i was deeply influenced by Michael’s ideas, even before I’d ever heard him, and took ‘Thonk’ as a green light to move away from the slapping and tapping I’d been doing before (even though there’s loads of slapping and tapping on Thonk) and do my own thing. It was a few years before I played a solo show, but as I’ve mentioned here before, the concept for my solo music was in place by the time I did my first gig (the track ‘Chance’ on And Nothing But The Bass is taken from that very first gig.)

And I’ve been trying to build on that ever since, holding in juxtaposition my love of the bass, it’s history, it’s place in the last 50 years of popular music with my desire to make the music i hear in my head. Tellingly, very few of my influences are bassists, because it’s always been about music first. Most of the ideas I take from bassists are physical ideas rather than compositional or emotional ones – the stuff that really counts.

And of course, within Bass 2.0 there’s an even deeper understanding of what the bass does when it’s being ‘the bass’ – I talk about this a lot when I’m doing looping masterclasses etc. – when I started playing solo, there was a fear projected onto me by some ‘older and wiser’ musicians who suggested that it would spoil my ‘normal’ playing, that I’d lose the joy of playing simple lines because i’d always be wanting to take solos and play melodies. In reality that couldn’t be further from the truth – because i spend my days thinking in layers, I’m happier than ever to just be one of those layers, to play the simple bass parts that hold everything else together. I haven’t had that many chances to do it of late, which made last night’s gig with John Lester at the 606 all the more frustrating, as I couldn’t hear John’s guitar at all, so wasn’t able to play with the level of confidence that his music really needs. It wasn’t rubbish by any stretch, just not as on it as it should’ve been… Shame, cos the rest of the gig was amazing.

Anyway, so, Bass 2.0 seems to be a nice way of categorising a desire to take the bass instrument to new places musically – there are certain tonal things that the physical size, shape and string length of the instrument allow that mean that even things that ‘sound like guitar’ or ‘sound like a synth’ have a unique quality to them…

All four solo albums up on iTunes

Finally, I’ve succumbed to the digital revolution and all of my four solo albums are now available on itunes. The following links work if you’ve got itunes already installed on your computer –

this goes to my artist page there, with links to all four album downloads

And Nothing But The Bass
Not Dancing For Chicken
Grace And Gratitude
Behind Every Word

I also found a handful of copies of And Nothing But The Bass on CD while I was in the US – if you want one of those, email me and we’ll sort it out. They are £10 each including worldwide P+P.

When a gig takes you by surprise…

A few months back, I did a gig at a venue called ‘The Loft’ in Crouch End – I was booked to open for a band featuring Rowland Sutherland, and the gig turned out to be a really really lovely house concert, put on by a woman called Jenni Roditi – the audience were warm and friendly, the atmosphere one of acute listening, and it was an all round positive experience.

So when Jenni emailed round a circular letter a couple of weeks back, asking for people who were interested to play at an ‘open salon’ night, I thought it sounded like fun. The theme was ‘blank canvas’ and the last gig had been a positive experience, so why not.

As it turns out, tonight’s gig was one of the best night’s music I’ve heard in ages – about 10 acts performed all in, ranging from singer/songwriters to story-tellers, instrument builders demonstrating their amazing inventions to arias by Gluck. And, of course, solo bassists. :o)

A quick run down of what was on, if I can remember it all…!

Stella Dickenson started off demonstrating and talking about her wooden Sounding Bowl with strings – looks like a fruit bowl with strings attached, is actually a remarkably resonant instrument, that apparently works incredibly well in therapeutic settings. Fascinating stuff.

Sarah Warwick: singer/songwriter (former dance-chart-topping singer) – really really beautiful song and beautiful voice.

Jarmila Xymena Gorna: wordless singing, gorgeous piano playing, some lovely pre-recorded harmonies. Great stuff.

Fran Zipang: story from ancient Iraq – really great to hear a damn good story-teller, it’s easy to forget what a fantastic performance art story-telling is.

Mohini Chatlani: Mezzo Soprano, on show tune, one aria by Gluck – particularly liked the show tune (can’t remember the name of it now!) but both really well done.

Belinda Braggins: possibly the most nervous performer I’ve seen in years, but a writer of really really great solo piano music. A couple of things where she comped chords with her right hand, and all the melody stuff was happening in the bass, so we like that!

Bheki Mseleku: South African legend of spiritual jazz piano, apparently – lots of people there had heard of him, and he was very good.

then food and chats with all sorts of delightful people.

Second set –

Malka Rosenberg: singer/songwriter with a voice a lot like Julia Fordham – really beautiful song. Apparently this was her first ever gig, which, if true, was without a doubt the best debut performance I’ve ever witnessed. really great stuff.

James D’Angelo: Blue Monk variations, deconstructed and mashed up. Very good, very funny, very clever.

Jenni Roditi: our amazing host, performing extracts from her opera The Descent of Inanna. Somehow Jenni has managed to channel the harmony of ‘Lame Lies Down…’ era Genesis and ‘Once Around The World’-era It Bites into an opera, without ever hearing either band. Really great writing.

And then me, on last – because the theme was blank canvas, I just took my headrush pedal along, and my fretless, and started out with an improv piece, based on a similar idea to ‘chance’ off of ‘And Nothing But The Bass’, but with a much shorter loop (if you want to overdub on the headrush, you’ve got a maximum of 11 seconds…) – which came out really well. I then did What A Wonderful World, and got people to sing along, and finished off with Grace And Gratitude. I was then really shocked by the demand for CDs – i’d only taken 10 or so with me, but sold all the solo ones I had in about a minute, and only came home with one copy of Conversations. Everything else went. An amazing gig, perhaps it was the inspiration of so much other amazing music, and the great atmosphere that Jenni creates that did it.

Hat’s off to Jenni for hosting such a great gig – it’s a strong reflection of her personality (I guess in a similar way to how the Recycle Collective reflects mine), and she’s built up a fantastic audience and vibe for these gigs. Long may it continue!