Forgotten Gems…

Was just browsing around the pages of my ‘top friends’ on Myspace, and on a whim started playing the tunes that are on the Recycle Collective page – just in case you’ve only just found this site, the Recycle Collective is a semi-regular improv night that I run in London with a revolving cast of characters that has produced some of the most incredible music I’ve ever had the fortune to be a part of…

Anyway, I’d forgotten just how lovely the tunes are that are up on the RC page – go here to have a listen – the first one, Dido’s Lament is with Andrea Hazell, and is particularly interesting as for big chunks of it when I tried to loop her voice, all I managed to loop was the reverb on her voice, which makes it all the more ghostly…

The second track is an improv duet with Cleveland Watkiss, the first thing we ever played together, and has a sort of Gregorian chant-ish harmony to it.

Track three is with Theo Travis, and is an improv track from a gig we did in Cambridge, that will eventually end up on a live album somewhere!

The last track features Cleveland again, and Julie McKee – all good stuff!

So head over there, enjoy, and look out for more RC gigs coming up soon!

Last night's Recycle Collective gig…

Ah, it’s good to be back Recycling! :o)

It took Lo. and i ages to get to the venue, thanks to nasty south London traffic, but we’d left plenty of time, so no panic. When we got there, Cleveland was already setting up, Sarda and Kari were downstairs, Oli was sorting out the venue, and all was familiar. We set up, and just listening to Cleveland soundcheck made me realise how much I’ve missed hearing him perform in the last 9 months – for all of 2006, he was doing the Recycle Collective every 2 or 3 months, so I got to both listen to and perform with him a lot. He’s definitely one of my favourite solo looping performers anywhere, and he gets more proficient with the technology every time I see him play.

So the gig itself started with me solo, with a couple of improvs, including the now-fairly-regular one based on Bach’s Cello Suite #1 in G, and then I got Andrea Hazell up, for a big sprawling open ambient piece – Andrea’s voice lends a gravitas to everything she sings on, as noted before. Lovely stuff.

We then finished off the first half with some trio improvs, some cool funky stuff with Cleveland beatboxing, and some more spacey ambient things.

Second half started with Cleveland on his own, but he very quickly got Andrea up to join him, and their duo segment was really really wonderful – their voices combine so well, and the juxtaposition of his funkiness and her operatic poise was beautiful. I really hope we get to hear more of that!

Cleveland invited me back up, and we went into more funky, spacey territory with Cleveland launching into a tune from Carmen, which he and Andrea then played around with for a while which was both marvellous and hilarious, especially when Cleveland went into a patois/ragamuffin version – really magic stuff!

And to finish the night, I got Lo. up to sing with us, and she improvised a really gorgeous sound, that Cleveland added harmonies to, and the three of them stacked vocals for a big ambient ending. Lovely lovely music.

It was really lovely to play the vortex, though with the venue shift and the big break from the last show to this one, the audience numbers were down on our Darbucka averages… We should be back with a Darbucka show in October – watch this space, I’ll be booking it ASAP!

write up in Time Out for tomorrow night's Recycle Collective gig…

Once again, we’ve got a really lovely write up in Time Out

“Singularly talented solo looper/electric bassist Lawson moves his long running RC night from Darbuka to a new regular slot at the Vortex. Joining the ambient effects maestro tonight will be bewilderingly versatile singer Cleveland Watkiss, also looping his a capella voice, and Royal Opera singer Andrea Hazell, this will be breathlessly spontaneous, indefinable, music making.”

That’s rather nice, and true, and means you shouldn’t miss it!

Greenbelt round-up…

So Greenbelt – another fab weekend. This year’s them was ‘Heaven In Ordinary’ – I didn’t like it when they suggested it last year, but it’s what Greenbelt is, an ordinary world full of heavenly loveliness. At least, it is for those of us who’ve been going there for years and know a million people (bit tougher for those peeps who are there for the first time and spend the weekend meeting a million new peoples…)

Anyway, we got there thursday evening, set up the tent.

Friday was spent catching up with friends and getting ready for the first gig of the weekend that both Lo. and I were playing at – a mainstage set with Sarah Masen. The first nice surprise was how well bands are looked after on mainstage – lots of lovely roadies and stage managers sorting everything out. Good peoples. The set went really well – was a whole lot of fun, and the crowd was HUGE for a first-band-on. Sarah sang beautifully. All good nothing bad.

The best thing about that was that we then had the rest of the night off, and were able to see a bit of Over The Rhine, and then all of Billy Bragg’s set. He was, as expected, outstanding. Funny, engaging, moving, all good things. Couple of great new songs, fab versions of old songs. He just confirmed why he’s one of my favourite live acts in the whole world, and one of my favourite guitarists too.

Onto Saturday, which started as Friday ended, with Billy Bragg, doing a talk about the campaign for a British Bill of Rights. Interesting stuff, if not without some unanswered questions (especially his attachment to the notion of a new inclusive english national pride to replace the cynical racist nastiness of the BN/P et al.)

Anyway, that was great, fascinating stuff. Following that was The Rising – Martyn Joseph’s songwriters in the round session that he does every year – fascinating stuff as usual, with BB, Amy Wadge and the bloke from Willard Grant…

After that much mellowness ensued, hanging with friends, eating lovely food, until it was time to get ready for a busy evening, firstly my gig with Ric Hordinski and then the Recycle Collective. Always a highlight of Greenbelt for me, the RC gig was a blinder, featuring me, Lo, Ric, Andrea Hazell and Patrick Wood. Much lovely music followed, and Patrick in particular was on incredible form. A real triumph.

Sunday was meant to be my mellow day, but after the previous night’s gig, Ric asked if I’d play with him again in the Performance Cafe, and I’m v. glad I did, as it was probably the best gig we did – we rocked! Great reaction from the Performance Cafe crowd too.

After that I was supposed to be compering but managed to delegate and get some time off for buying fairtrade shoes and hanging out with lovelies again. Got to see Sarah Masen play solo in the Perf. Cafe (aside from a couple of song with the lovely lady vocalistes) and she sounded great, as did Emily Barker who was on before her.

Late nights at GB are spent in the Organic Beer Tent – friendships are made, beer is drunk and the world is put right.

Monday was back to more gigs – I was compering in the Perf. Cafe, and got to introduce one of my highlights of the weekend – Nizar Al-Issa (though I got his name wrong on the intro – sorry, Nizar!) – he’s a singer and oud player, and a really great musician. Beautiful haunting music.

After him was Lo and I doing our main duo gig, playing to a nice full tent of peoples, and we played pretty well. Lo’s piano songs being especially great.

after that I got to see another one of my highlights – Beth Rowley, a fantastic singer with an amazing band (it helps that her guitarist and drummer, paul and phil wilkinson are two of my favouritest musicians anywhere). Really great stuff.

the evening was spent watching first Iain Archer, then Duke Special on the mainstage – both long time faves of mine, and both on fine form, playing to a huge crowd who loved them muchly. The headliners on the night were of no interest to me, so we headed for the beer tent. After being there an hour, Lo and I got a call asking us to go and play the late night cabaret (playing to about 1500 people)… after 2 pints… hmmm, we did it, and pulled it off. ‘Twas a little ragged, but fine.

And thus ended another great greenbelt. Now it’s time to buy a load of the talks I missed as downloads.

See you there next year!

Gig booking frenzy…

All kinds of exciting gig booking news today – first up, on August 22nd, I’ll be back playing at Darbucka for the first time this year, in my duo with Lobelia and also with Monk aka Ric Hordinski – Ric is a stunning guitarist, a former member of Over The Rhine, has produced records for people like Phil Keaggy and David Wilcox and made a stack of amazing records under the Monk moniker.

I played a show with Ric in LA a few years ago that was a whole lot of fun, and a whole lot of great music, and I tracked some fun noises for his new instrumental record when I was in Cincinnati on this last tour in the US.

The duo with Lobelia is one of the most exciting and fun musical projects I’ve had in ages, and you can hear some of what that sounds like on my myspace page and on her myspace page too.

So that’s gig #1.

Also this evening I’ve booked Patrick Wood and Andrea Hazell to come and play with the Recycle Collective at Greenbelt – both are Recycle regulars, stunning improvisors and just all-round amazing musicians.

AND, as if that wasn’t enough, I’ve booked Andrea, and am just waiting for confirmation from Cleveland Watkiss for the Recycle gig on the 6th September at The Vortex – how exciting!

Lots of great gig news fo’ sho’. :o)

Go and put them in your diaries now, you lovely london peoples.

Recycle collective one year on…

Fab gig last night. Got there nice and early to set up, so was v. relaxed. Just as well, as i’m not well at all, so couldn’t have dealt with getting there late and rushing to set up.

Catster turned up to do the door (TSP taking a well-earned night off), Cleveland and Huw sauntered in not long after 7, got set up, all good nothing bad.

And people started arriving. Lovely people, just the kind of people I wanted to see. Greenbelt people, forum people, Danes, students, poets, singers, guitarists, Orphys (what is Orphy? Clearly ‘percussionist’ is way too limiting for what he gets up to these days… :o) )… A really lovely attentive friendly audience.

I started, as is customary. First tune was a cover of a lovely song by a fantastic Canadian singer called Lobelia, who I’m going to be recording with v. soon (the wonders of MySpace) – a lovely song called Happy that while I was playing along with it to get a feel for how she plays, revealed itself to be perfect solo-version fodder. Bit of a looperlative glitch, but I know it well enough to get round those things now. Followed that with Scott Peck, then got Cleveland up, then Huw. The middle piece with Cleveland and Huw is one of the loveliest bits of improvised music I’ve ever played. Started out with a bit ambient mush thing from me drifting through loads of clashing tonalities, before settling in one place, Huw joined in, and Cleveland improvised an exquisite lyric. Food for the soul.

Onto Huw’s set, which started with a John Dowland piece, on Nord Electra… which worked. Beautifully. Another solo set of African variations from Huw, then he and I played a particularly dark electronic spikey piece (and fell about laughing at just how twisted it all got), before Cleveland joined us again for more trio fun.

Set three began with two tunes by the wonderful Gary Dunne – a great singer/songwriter/looper/house-concert-legend. Perfect Recycle material. He’s great, go and check him out.

Then onto Cleveland’s set. His Echoplex had died, but I’d brought mine as a spare so we plugged that up and away he went, including his amazing solo voice arrangement of a Chopin Prelude. Wow. Cleveland and Huw’s duo section was really lovely, with Cleveland singing walking bass and beatboxing at the same time through much of it. Really great stuff.

And onto the final act of this birthday celeb. A huge mega piece which started with Huw, Cleveland and I, with me looping both of them, then we were joined by Roger Goula, then Patrick Wood, then Orphy Robinson, then Andrea Hazell – the two guitars and trumpet were woven into this huge busy sound, which as Andrea joined me, I cross faded back into just the ambience of her unbelieveable voice and my massive reverb and delay bass part. A perfect touchdown. Particularly nice to have Patrick and Andrea there, as they were part of the first ever unofficial RC gig, before it was the RC at Greenbelt 2005.

So that’s it, year one of the RC over. A year of remarkable music, some great audiences (some small but perfectly formed audiences) a whole shitload of credibility that hasn’t as yet turned into sold out shows at the QEH, but will. :o) I’ve spent the year calling my favourite musicians in the world, and asking them to play for next to no money, and they’ve all said yes. Lucky Lucky me. Most blessed me. Thanks to everyone who’s been to the shows, who’s played at the shows – particularly TSP who did the door and helped out at all of them, BJ and Cleveland who have been involved with loads of them between then, and of course to Ahmad and Darbucka for letting us use the venue – we’re happy to have introduced so many people the delight that is Darbucka :o)

All being well, it’ll be back in February for more improvised gorgeousness. Watch this space. x

more greenbelt thoughts

some top 3s (I don’t think I did anything 5 times at Greenbelt except brush my teeth…)

Top 3 music highlights

  • Spearhead
  • Nizlopi
  • Lleuwen Steffan, Huw Warren and Owen Evans

Top 3 non-music things from the program

  • Jude Simpson’s poetry/comedy gig
  • The Northern Ireland discussion
  • Paul Powell’s Liquid Lunch, with Jude Simpson, Gareth Higgins and Cole Moreton.

Top 3 eateries

  • the new Burrito van (definitely a favourite)
  • Nuts
  • the Burrito place again (didn’t go anywhere else really)

Top 3 things I wished I’d seen

  • Clive Stafford-Smith
  • Alistair McIntosh’s seminars
  • Bill Drummond’s interview
    (fortunately loads of the seminars and talks can be bought here)

Top 3 people I vaguely knew before but got to chat to lots more

  • Gareth Higgins
  • Paul Chambers
  • Joe Fisher

(very nice to make your further acquaintance, gents)

All four of the me-playing moments went really well, so can’t pick favourites there, and everyone I got to play with over the weekend – Julie McKee, Steve Stockman, Simon Jones, Mark..? (fab poet whose surname I didn’t catch, sadly), Huw Warren, Andrea Hazell, Harry Napier, Juliet Turner… were all fab. The poetry and bass stuff (Stocki, Simon Jones (‘is unwell’) and Mark) was a whole lot of abstract fun, and the Recycle gig continued the tradition of Recycle gigs resulting in some of the loveliest music I can imagine. All good, nothing bad.

Greenbelt really is my favourite weekend of the year, and selling lots of CDs and T-shirts is kind of a lovely icing on the cake.

It speaks volumes that I took no photos at all over the weekend – was far too busy having fun to faff with a camera. But there are squillions of great photos on the Greenbelt website.

If you weren’t there, put the last weekend in August in your diary for next year now. It’s magic.

The finest weekend of the year is over

For another year.

Another magic Greenbelt has come to a close, and we’re home. We drove back late last night, which was pretty hair-raising given how tired we were, but I’ve got a gig today at the National Theatre Foyer with Theo so couldn’t really have stayed over and partied til 4am like so many others…

The last day of GB was a fab one – starting with an organic vegan breakfast, and progressing via a panel discussion on Norther Ireland featuring Assembly members from the DUP and Sinn Fein along with two peace activists, one of whom had had his wife murdered by the IRA. The session was incredible, and what was said was so remarkable, that I doubt they’ll release the tape of the session… A big step forward. Maximum kudos to the most wonderful Gareth Higgins| for chairing the session so well.

After that, I was back into compere mode, to introduce Lleuwen Steffan, Huw Warren and Owen Evans – definitely one of my musical highlights of the festival (that’s their gig, not my introduction, which was good, but hardly a highlight). Amazing music, great performance, very well received.

After that it was full-on Recycle gig logistics – collecting keyboards for Huw to play, getting my gear up to the venue, missing lots of things I really wanted to see… Anyway, got all the gear up to the venue, and set up. Lovely audience comes in along with my co-conspirators.

The gig started with a me-solo set – (Grace and Gratitude, Behind Every Word, MMFSOG, Scott Peck, FRHU, Deep Deep Down and Deeper Still, for those keeping notes), then Julie joined me for some New Standard-ing – Video Killed The Radio Star, I Don’t Wanna Know and Running Up That Hill. Then we went into One Step from the album, and about three quarters of the way through, I gave Huw a nod and he joined in on the baby grand piano that was in the corner of the room, which worked an absolute treat.

After that, he came up to the stage on Keys and laptop, and he Julie and I did a couple of improv things, with them doing a duo version of ‘The Water Is Wide’ in the middle that was exquisite.

All change after that, and Andrea Hazell joined in on voice for our version of Dido’s Lament, which was gorgeous as always.

The wonderful Juliet Turner then got her first taste of Recycling with Harry Napier and I. Most lovely.

And finally, Huw and I played a gentle duet to send the lovely crowd off into the night. All in all, a fab Recycle night. Don’t miss Sept 20th at Darbucka!

Then it was all systems go to get all the stuff packed up before Spearhead started on mainstage. We missed the very beginning of the set, but it must be said that standing in a field at Greenbelt with TSP listening to Spearhead is as close to utter bliss as I can imagine. Really really great way to end a stunning weekend of great music, me-gigs, new friends, old friends, brain food, organic food, camping, chatting, hugging and kissing, laughing, sharing etc. etc. etc. All good nothing bad. Everything was wonderful in this best of all possible worlds.

See you there next year?

Good times, bad times..

My what a mixed up week!

Starting with the screwed up car – bad times.

Then Tuesday I had a rehearsal with Julie for our gig at the National Theatre on the 31st – got lots of songs done, including songs by Green Day and The Cure. It’s going to be a fab gig. – good times.

Wednesday was another great rehearsal, this time with Andrea Hazell – Andrea’s only improv experience before this was onstage at Greenbelt last year with me, so she came round for a run through before thursday’s RC gig. Working through various ideas we found that Dido’s Lament by Purcell worked beautifully when looped and layered over ambient mush! – good times.

Which leads us to Thursday and the RC gig. The day started with renting a car – Enterprise do a scheme where they pick you up for free as well, which was nice. I then set off to pick up Todd from Peckham. When, after an hour and a half I hadn’t reached the river, I had to admit defeat to the traffic and head back home, leaving Todd to get the bus to the gig! – bad times, but at least I got to have a listen to the whole of the new album on the in-car CD player and check out what it sounds like in another situation. it’s pretty damned fine sitting in traffic music!

Anyway, came home, loaded the rental car, with gear and TSP, and headed down to Darbucka. Got there nice ‘n’ early, got set up and sound-checked, and even the sound check was sounding lovely. It’s safe to say, that this Recycle gig was one of my all time favourite gigs. Y’all know by now the the RC is ALWAYS stunning, but this perhaps even eclipsed the others. I started solo, with a glitch-free version of ‘Behind Every Word’ (first time that my opening tune at the RC has gone off without a hitch)… However, the loop gremlins just hid until my second track – some weirdness going on in ‘FRHU’ but it was still fun. Followed that with ‘Grace And Gratitude’, then got Andrea up to join me. We did two long pieces – the first a wordless improv, and the second was the Purcell – the purity, clarity and power of Andrea’s voice makes for a completely unique duo experience. Like so many people, the harshness of bad opera has left a bad impression on me, but working with Andrea shows just how good operatic vocals can be when performed by a world class singer. A total joy.

After the break, Todd Reynolds was on. I already knew Todd was amazing, world-class. I wasn’t quite prepared for just how awe-inspiringly amazing he would be as a solo performer. This was, without a doubt, one of the greatest virtuoso performances I’ve ever seen – it’s hugely inspiring to watch someone play who has obviously dedicated such a super-human amount of time, energy and love to being right at the top of their game. I can count on one hand the performers I’ve ever seen of equivalent levels of skill and beauty in their playing – Gary Husband, Show Of Hands, Antonio Forcione, Michael Manring… it’s a tiny tiny select group that serve as a wake-up-call to the rest of us to up our game considerably. I don’t think I’ve ever heard violin played like that live, even on video. It was a fairly small crowd for the RC, but every single one of the people there got a major treat checking out Todd’s magic.

And then the improv bit at the end, the musical equivalent of a 70s wrestling ‘royal rumble’, only a bit more gentle and considered. For this, the three of us were joined half way through by Julie, and the transition from the layers and layers of Andreas’ huge expansive voice fading across to the intimate exquisite layers of humming from Julie was definitely one of my favourite improv moments ever.

How lucky am I? Definitely Good Times.

And then today. I took the rental car back, they found a stone-dent in the back door (was it there when I got it yesterday? I didn’t see it…) and charged me £75 for it, making a grand total of £105 for the day’s car rental. Bollocks. Bad times. Then, just as I arrive home, the garage calls and tells me my car’s ready – £666,69. I’m not sure if the number’s significant, but it’s certainly an evil amount of money. Still, they are a fantastic and trustworthy bunch of guys, and it was really nice to get back in our car. It’s the first time ever that the switch from rental car to own-car hasn’t been a disappointment. This is one lovely car, and even with the blown gasket, I’m still hugely grateful to the lovely G and J for selling it to us for a solo-bass-wages sized sum. So bad times on the cost, good times on getting it back.

Then I come home and finally start to tackle the monumental task of tidying my office. – scary times. The problem is, I’m halfway through and need to somehow make it so I can teach in it tomorrow! arrrrggghhh!

Good times, bad times, you know I had my share…

Sad news

Just received a very sad and shocking phone-call from a friend in Edinburgh to let me know that Duncan Senyatso died last week. Duncan, you may remember, was the Botswanan guitarist and singer that I played with at Greenbelt last year – a fantastic musician and a very generous and patient man, putting up with me taking ages to get my head around the rhythms of his songs, laughing and joking, and being very generous with his praise when I finally got the songs right. He also played a vital creative part in what was one of the best gigs I’ve ever done – my ‘global footprint’ improv piece at Greenbelt, along with Jez Carr, Patrick Wood and Andrea Hazell. He sang and played guitar beautifully, miles outside of his musical comfort zone, but he fell into the a-rhythmic improv setting like a natural.

We’d talked at some length last summer about the possibility of getting British Council funding and taking the same project out to Botswana to tour with it, to do workshops in schools on improvising and music technology, and see how the marriage of the two musical worlds would work. Yet more regrets, to go along with the regret that the Global Footprint gig wasn’t recorded.

Simon, who rang me, was the mandolin player in the band last year, and has known Duncan for more than 15 years, and is flying out to the funeral.

if you click the link above, you’ll see just how highly regarded he was in Botswana. A big loss to the music world in that part of Africa, and a musical partner I shall be sad not to see again.

That’s Duncan on the left, with Rise Kagona in the middle.