Expanding the possibilities of solo bass performing

Obviously, with the way I play solo, technology has a big influence on the direction my music heads in. I feel rather pleased that I got the concept right on my first album (at least, right in the sense that I found a way of performing that let me say what I wanted to say), but the limitations at the time were the technology that I had available to me. even that was part-way along a journey that began when I got my first effects unit (a Korg A4) in 1993. Looping entered the picture in about 95 when I got an ART Nightbass, which has a 2 second sample and hold function, which piqued my interest, and which great hugely when I was sent a Lexicon JamMan to review for Bassist Magazine in 1997 (truth be told, the JamMan was already out of production by then, but having read an interview with Michael Manring in ’95, I’d been wanting one ever since, so managed to get the last one that Lexicon had in the UK, wrote a review of it, and created a demand for a product that was no longer available..!)

Anyway, the JamMan had 8 seconds of loop time when I got it – a huge jump up from the 2 seconds in my Nightbass and that provided me with ample experimentation room (if anyone remembers the very first version of my website, when it was on ‘zetnet’, before I got the steve-lawson.co.uk domain, each page had a soundtrack loop, created with the jamman, a CD player for getting drum loops, and my basses, and none of the loops were more than 8 seconds long, cos that’s all I had.

I saved up my pennies and upped the memory in the JamMan to 32 seconds in 98/99, and by the end of 99, played my first solo gig and wrote the tunes that became And Nothing But The Bass, with one looper and my Lexicon MPX-G2 processor. I managed to do some clever things with manual fadeouts (the middle of Drifting on that album has me fading out the JamMan underneath some ambient stuff, then running the ambient loop down to silence for a split second so that I could start looping again to go into the second half of the tune!)

The possibilities with a second looper soon became apparent and a DL4 was procured for another Bassist magazine article. That gave me a whole load more possibilities with backwards and double speed loops, and was used to great effect on Conversations.

The along came the Echoplex – I’d seen Andre LaFosse using one in California, and while not wanting to sound like him, saw what the possibilities were for all those fantastic multiply/undo/substitute and feedback functions. So I got one, and recorded Not Dancing For Chicken with an Echoplex and a DL4 (I think the JamMan was still in the rack at this point, but I didn’t use it). Then I got a second Echoplex, just in time cos my DL4 died… and eventually ended up with four, though I rarely had more than two hooked up at a time. Open Spaces was done with two Echoplexes and the Lexicon (and Theo using a DL4).

The next development stage was an important one – post-processing. With the way I’d been looping all along, the signal chain went fingers-bass-processor-looper-amp. the problem with that was that once it was in the looper, I couldn’t re-process it. I could do some fairly major restructuring of it with the Echoplex, but couldn’t put more reverb on, or delay, or whatever. So I got a second Lexicon unit, and started to be able to route my loop signal, or the signal from the first Lexicon, into it. And that’s how Grace And Gratitude was done – that string pad-like sound that comes in on the title track is me running the loop through a huge reverb and two delays (the Lexicon with my Kaoss Pad in its FX loop).

And that’s how my setup stayed until the end of last year. I started work on a new album towards the end of September, but soon stopped again, when the marvellous Bob told me about his new invention, the Looperlative – Bob had been talking about building a looper for a long time, but now he had the parts and was building his first prototype, and had a feature list, that made it clear that it would completely change the way I was able to perform. the biggest change simply being that it was stereo, so all those lovely ping-pong delays and high-res reverbs would stay intact when I looped them. Oh yes.

The story since then is fairly well documented elsewhere on this blog (just do a search on Looperlative), but the latest developments have been a string of software updates over the last four or five days, that have sent the Looperlative into overdrive. It already has 8 stereo channels, over four minutes of loop time, zero latency and an ethernet port for all those lovely updates, but now Bob has implemented a load of new features, the two best ones being the ability to program up to 8 (EIGHT!) functions to any one midi pedal to happen simultaneously (which means you can have it so that you’re in record, end the loop, reverse it, switch to the next loop, sync it, switch to half time and start recording all with one button push, for example!). The possibilities are enormous. The other great new function is ‘cue’ which arms a track for record, to start recording as soon as any other track is stopped, so if you use the synced stop, you can have it so that you start recording the moment the previous track stops playing, and you can then switch backwards and forwards between them as verse and chorus (or up to 8 different sections to switch between).

So the process of writing and arranging solo music just got way harder in one way, and way easier in another. suddenly the technology is there to do much more complex arrangements that I’ve ever done before, in stereo, with minimal button pushing, but I’ve got to conceive of what’s possible, program the box and experiment before the ideas can evolve… I’m guessing that each track will start the way they always did with me – a single loop which I start layering, and eventually realise needs another loop. And I now have a whole other range of options to start imagining as I go on. I’m rather excited about what this means for the next album!

If you’re into looping, you owe it to yourself to check out the Looperlative – there really is nothing like in on the hardware market (and if you’re like me, the temperamental nature of laptops means that hardware is the only way to go. All hail Bob of the Looperlative, granter of wishes and builder of dreams.

Tomorrow is going to be a MAD day…

Right, so during the day I’m heading up to the Music Live show in Birmingham. I then come home to do two hours teaching between 7 and 9, and then I’ve got a gig! Oh yes, I just got phoned up by the marvellous Ronnie Golden, asking me to play at Club Senseless – now, I’ve been to Club Senseless a couple of times, and seen some very very funny people there – namely Rich Hall and Rob Deering. While i can be pretty witty between songs, I’m not really in either of their leagues… So I’ll do my thang, and hopefully endear myself to the Club Senseless faithful.

The house band is Ronnie And The Rex, fronted by Ronnie Golden. I first met Ronnie at The Kashmir Klub many years ago, and gave him a copy of ‘And Nothing But The Bass’. Then at last year’s Edinburgh Festival, we were on a radio show together, and since then i’ve been to a couple of ‘senseless nights, and have been to see his double act with Barry Cryer a few times too. A very very talented man.

I think after that day, my no. 1 skill of the night will just be staying awake!

SoundtrackKris Delmhorst, ‘Songs For A Hurricane’.

Finally, Michael Manring's CD has arrived…

It’s was one of those questions that had taken on an almost Monty Python-esque level of absurdity; ‘when’s Michael Manring‘s album coming out?’ – for the last 18 months or so, I’ve been asked this a few times a week, sometimes a few times a day! I started off telling people whatever spurious deadline Michael had told me that week – ‘well, we just need to blah blah blah and it’ll be ready in about three weeks’ etc. etc. It got more and more laughable as Michael missed more deadlines than end-times loonies predicting the end of the world.

So I gave up answering, other than to say ‘your guess is as good as mine, why not email him?’. Hopefully his inbox wasn’t flooded with requests that he was no better placed to answer that I was…

Anyway, his launch gig was last week, and my copy of the CD, ‘Soliloquy’, arrived this morning. My 10 o’clock lesson was cancelled due to illness, which has given me time for a first listen.

OK, these are first impressions, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say when I’ve heard it 20 times (some time tomorrow afternoon, I suspect!), but this really is the album that Michael’s been needing to make for a long time, the one that all of us have been waiting for.

It’s all solo, no overdubs, bass guitar pieces. He uses a whole range of basses, and an even wider range of techniques and sounds, but it’s all live all him (we like the sound of that – actually that reminds me of Michael mention at a gig once that he was going to release a live version of Selene, to which I answered, ‘we like live’, and he came back ‘you like live!’ – this was not long after And Nothing But The Bass had come out)

Anyway, all the live faves are here – Selene, Helios, Greetings Earthlings, Excuse Me, Mr Manring, Makes Perfect Sense To Me etc. and a load of other previously unheard magic.

I’m sure Michael will be unhappy with it in some way – he’s got that kind of analytical approach to these things where there’s an ideal in his head that he’s constantly chasing, refining and I imagine never quite gets to. It’s what makes his gigs so exhilerating. The rest of us will hear this as his best album to date, by quite some margin, and be inspired and scared by what’s possible on solo bass.

It also comes with a beautifully produced 20-odd page book in PDF format (if you work in an office with a colour laser printer, you’re really in luck!) with tonnes of great background info.

I’ve got some practice to do – it’s inspiring ideas for me already.

It will, I’m sure be available in my webshop soon (though, as with most things Manring-esque, there’s no knowing when!), but for now, you can order it from Michael direct – best to email him via his website, if the details still aren’t there (they weren’t a few days ago – how does this guy make a living?????)

SoundtrackMichael Manring, ‘Soliloquy’.

…and Last night's gig

Forgot to mention last night’s gig in previous blog entry.

‘Twas back at Traders in Petersfield, another marvellous Stiff Promotions evening. This time, it was me opening, then Jez Carr doing his thang, with some duo strangeness at the end. It was the first gig Jez and I have done like this in a v. long time – we do a lot of normal ‘standards’ gigs for weddings and parties etc. but don’t get to improv or play originals nearly as often as we’d like. My solo set went well – I’m playing pretty well at the moment, due largely to the large number of gigs I’ve done since the album came out at the beginning of August. I’ve played Traders three times this year before tonight, so it was really nice to have some new material to play, from Grace And Gratitude.

Jez’s solo set was on next, and he played fantastically – a mixture of originals and choice jazz tunes (Waltz For Debby, Search For Peace and Blame It On My Youth), he had the audience in wrapt attention. Hugely compelling stuff.

The for the duo set, we started as we always do – just start playing and see where it goes – the magic was still there, and the first duo improv went all over the map, pretty seamlessly blending styles, keys, swapping chordal and melodic roles between us. Top stuff, very exhilarating. We then played a couple of standards to finish – Breakfast Wine, a tune we’ve been doing for a while out of the Real Book, which was OK, but I made the mistake of not switching back to fretless, and the melody didn’t really come across the way it does on the fretless. And then Autumn Leaves – a bit of an old chestnut but we played it really well. We were already half an hour over time, and still got called back for an encore (a v. good sign, methinks), and Jez suggested in a moment of inspiration that we play ‘Bittersweet’, from And Nothing But The Bass Fortunately he remembered it even better than I did, and we played a lovely version, a very fitting end to a top night.

If you were there, feel free to post a review in the Reviews section on the forum. And thanks for coming!

St George's Day…

Well, it’s St George’s day, patron saint of England. A day to celebrate all things english… seems fitting that St George himself was actually a Palestinian. If he tried to get in today, he’d be put in a camp for asylum seekers. As it was, he was brought here after the crusades, that fine act of British slaughter with some weird moral angle… or is that the current occupation of Iraq, I always get those mixed up? Bugger me, it’s both…

Anyway, things I like about england –

walking round london in summer, knowing that rain will only last about 15 minutes, the language, indian restaurants, the BBC (yay!), 240v power and sensibly shaped plugs, the NHS royal mail and the education system (or what’s left all all three), our collective history of dissent, comedy post-python, the scarcity of guns, the lack of a constitution, the university system, our literary tradition, the newcastle metro, the lake district, regional accents, the high percentage of vegetarians here, the Church of England (and our groovy archbishop), car boot sales, Lincoln Cathedral, the British museum, natural history museum, the tate, tate modern, national gallery, The New Statesman, Ethical Consumer, The Guardian, Mulitculturalism (no idea what Trevor Philips was on about the other day), the mersey sound poets, greenbelt, Wimbledon fortnight, Cornwall, The Stables in Milton Keynes, Hampstead Heath, Wimbledon Common, The Devils Punchbowl country park, village pubs, billy bragg, protest marches, traidcraft, cafe direct, Show Of Hands, North Norfolk coast, Lindisfarne, The Otter Trust, and loads of other stuff. to be updated…

I shan’t list what I don’t like about england – save that for another day.

So what’s been going on? Been trying to make ‘And Nothing But The Bass’ available for download via my shop, which seems to have worked, except that I can’t seem to bypass the ‘postage’ costs function… I’m sure people would feel pretty hacked off at having to pay

uplateupdate

So I was just getting over my jetlag from LA when I did a shift at the St Luke’s homeless shelter overnight on Saturday, got to bed just before 4, slept til gone 3 on Sunday afternoon, and couldn’t sleep last night til 4am… sod it, back to square one.

Well, the latest on Paul is that I saw him on thursday in hospital, and he’s doing really really well considering what he’s been through. Amazing really.

I’m back teaching again now, after leaving a few days blank when I got back in order to get over the jetlag. I really miss teaching when I’m away (it was great to do the masterclass in San Jose as a chance to do some teaching while in the US). And the promo for the gig with Michael Manring are in full swing – emailing radio and magazines, doing up flyers and posters to stick up and handout… all good fun.

i’m also working on getting some gigs for/with Muriel Anderson – wonderful guitarist, and lovely person, that I saw play in London last year, and who is back here in May – so been talking to promotion people about that too, hoping that we can get some stuff together. And then there’s the ongoing work of getting solo gigs and duo gigs with Theo! It never stops. Fortunately I’ve not got a couple of promoters who are helping out – Iain at Stiff Promotions is doing a marvellous job, and Richard Ravenhill who is putting on the Brighton gig is a superstar too!

Got an email at the weekend saying that my AccuGroove cabinets should be shipped out to me this week – I’m rather excited about getting them, having played through them in the States for the tour, and loving the sound. We still don’t know if these ones will be the prototypes of my signature powered cabs, or just passive ones, requiring a poweramp separately for now, but either way, the sound is the nutz, and I’m rather excited! :o)

The combination of my new bass, new cabs, and some groovy new sounds on my Lexicon MPX-G2 has given me a great renewed impetus for writing – as soon as it all arrives, I’m going to start work on the next solo album. I’ve got lots of ideas and concepts to work on, and am finding the right kind of music for the fretted 6 string. It won’t be out til the end of the summer at the earliest, and depending on what happens with distribution deals, I may have to repress ‘And Nothing But The Bass’ before then (as it’s just about sold out), but I’m really looking foward to working on it!

There are also plans to head back out to Italy soon, and do some more recording with Luca Formentini – Luca’s new solo album, ‘Subterranea’ is out now, and is excellent – a really inspired collage of guitar-originated sounds that for the most part sound very little like a guitar, along with some found-sound samples and lots of processing. CDs like that stand or fall on the ambience, and Luca’s Cd is beautifully recorded and put together, and has been spinning a lot in my CD player over the weekend. I’m really looking forward to making some more music with him.

Soundtrack – right now, Prefab Sprout, ‘Life Of Surprises’ (am in a Prefab Sprout obsessional phase at the moment). before that, The Ben Taylor Band, ‘Famous Among The Barns’; Luca Formentini, ‘Subterranea’; Kofi Bakerk, ‘Karisma’; John Lester, ‘Big Dreams And The Bottom Line’; Daft Punk, ‘Homework’; and Vida Vierra, ‘Woman Of The Waters’ – Vida – along with her husband Doug and daughter Dani – is one of my favourite people in the world, and is a marvellous singer/songwriter, dancer, choreographer and activist. Most of my favourite memories of this most recent trip to California aren’t of gigs (though the gigs were great), but are of spending time with Vida Doug and Dani, and with Rick and Jessica Turner – lovely people one and all.

essential listening

earlier on today, I was listening to ‘Straight From The Heart’ by Patrice Rushen – a truly remarkable funk record, which features, amongst other great tracks, Forget Me Nots. The whole record is a repository of amazing bass playing, and is truly essential listening for bassists. Which got me thinking about essential listening for bassist, so here are 5 essential bass albums (not neccesarily the top 5, but 5 nontheless) –

  • Straight From The Heart – Patrice Rushen (Freddie Washington on bass)
  • Hejira – Joni Mitchell (Jaco Pastorius and Max Bennett on bass)
  • What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye (James Jamerson on bass)
  • Michael Manring – Thonk (Michael on bass)
  • Secret World Live – Peter Gabriel (Tony Levin on bass)

….we’ll take it as read that all three of my albums should be in the list, but I’d hate to blow my own trumpet.. :o)

and while you’re here, check out some really good lyrics.

Soundtrack – KD Lang, ‘Ingenue’; Price, ‘Sing O The Times’; Patrice Rushen, ‘Straight From The Heart’; me, ‘Not Dancing For Chicken’ and ‘And Nothing But The Bass’.

A gig, a wedding and some very sad news

So what’s been happening?

Well, friday night was a very fun gig. Remember Ragatal? Possibly not, but it was a quartet that I played with for a time a few years ago.. It was started by Jason Carter and Nick Beggs, along with Steve Bingham on Violin and Sanju Sahai on tabla. Shortly after that, Nick became too busy to continue for a while, and I took over, recording the one album that the group did – Fragments Of Grace – on ARC (it’s not bad, though I’d advise against getting the re-released version, titled Elements, as there were a load of additional percussion overdubs by Hossam Ramsay that don’t add anything to it, IMHO…) Anyway, Friday night was Steve Bingham’s birthday, and he had a gig to celebrate, including some ragatal tunes! What a treat it was – it was great fun to get back playing with all those guys, especially Sanju who is quite possibly the most outstanding musician I’ve ever sat on the same stage as.

Saturday was another fun day, and a fine friends reunited success story. About two years ago, I got in contact with an old school friend, Dawn, met up for a drink, and then she arranged a bigger get together of old chums. Andrew came to that one. He’d always fancied Dawn, and apparently the intervening 17 years hadn’t dampened his adour at all. fast forward 18 months, and yesterday I went to their wedding! What fun! It was a fine day, they both looked great, and everyone seemed to have a great time. It was fun meeting up with some other old school chums too…

On an altogether much different emotional plane, I got an email today from the husband of Rana Ross, a fine bassist and someone I’d met at the NAMM Show in LA and emailed ona few occasions, to say that she’d been in an ICU after a series of heart attacks, and they were switching the life support off. I can’t even imagine what he must be going through – even at this stage he was giving thanks for the time he’d had with her, and described himself as the luckiest man in the world. She was only in her 30s, was working on a new album, and had a whole life ahead of her. what a terrible story. There are various threads on the bass discussion groups around the web, if you want to post condolences to John…

So what’s coming up? More recording with Theo, who came round last week to listen to rough mixes of the duo stuff so far, which are sounding spiffing! And hopefully some more playing with Sanju very soon…

soundtrack – right now, I’m listening to ‘and nothing but the bass’ – was teaching one of the tunes to a student earlier and it’s stayed on. Before that, and most of the day yesterday, I was listening to Athlete, ‘Vehicles and Animals’, which is great – best new british band I’ve heard in quite a while. The gig last week was great, and the album lives up to expectations. Also been listening to more stuff on kvmr.