Another nice lil' feature for keeping up with gig news…

after consulting with lovely Drew earlier via mobile AIM, whilst on the bus, I found a way to add individual calendar adding links to my gig listings page on my site – so if you’re looking there and see a gig you want to go to, and you use iCal or google calendar or outlook or loads of other calendar apps, you can just click on the link next to that entry, and it’ll add it to your calendar, thanks to the wonders of the hCalendar microformat.

All future gigs added to the blog will have it in there as well. Hurrah for me!

Been a few interesting new news features and articles posted on the whole future of music/Media 2.0/download licensing front, but I’ve had no time to get my thoughts down about them, and probably won’t for a couple of days, as I’m in Salford tomorrow for a masterclass, then Perth in Scotland, then a house concert in Fife, then seeing my mum in Berwick, then back to London on sunday… But then, you knew that cos you’ve all got the calendar feed anyway. ;o)

Happy Birthday Joni

Joni Mitchell is 63 today. On the quite ludicrously tiny off-chance that she reads this blog, ‘happy birthday Joni – thanks for Hejira, and endless other amazing albums. You changed my music life!’

I first heard Hejira as ‘contraband’ – I was playing in a New Orleans jazz band in Berwick on Tweed in my teens, Sunday nights round the pubs, and the trumpeter and leader Pete Roughead was a proper old-school purist – any jazz after about 1930 was modern, Dixie was populist, only proper New Orleans stuff was allowed (I was only allowed to play bass because the double bassist was ill, and was still introduced as being on ‘double bass’, cos Pete couldn’t bring himself to say anything else…)

Anyway, one of the trombonists, Sandy, wasn’t quite so narrow in his listening tastes, and started my surreptitious musical education by slipping me a C90 cassette under the table at a gig with his own best of Weather Report’s Jaco years on one side, and Hejira on the other. And while I really enjoyed the Weather Report stuff. It was Hejira that changed the way I thought about music. Everything I ever wanted music to be was on that record. Honest, freewheeling, mellow, heartfelt, superbly played, funny… It is still to this day my desert island disc. If you twisted my arm up my back and told me I was only allowed to keep one album, that’s it, for sure.

Joni’s done other great albums – Hissing Of Summer Lawns is great, the early folky ones are gorgeous, and the 90s stuff, especially Night Ride Home is some of the greatest music of the last 15 years (and ‘Travelogue’ is vital listening for anyone with a heartbeat), but it’s still Hejira that gets me every time.

So happy birthday Joni – I completely understand your stated reasons for not doing music anymore, but part of me still wishes you’d change your mind. Happy painting… x

John Peel: A Life In Music

Just finished this book, by Michael Heatley and have come to the conclusion that, should the body of work exist to support such an endeavour, I could happily read about John Peel for the rest of my life.

I say happily – I get the most jumbled mixture of feelings when reading about Peel, ranging from nostalgia for the late 80s, gratefulness that someone like him ever existed and dread for what the music world could descend into in its post-Peel state, all underscored by an aching sadness that he’s gone, and disappointment that I never met him. (He did walk past me once, outside Broadcasting House – maybe I should’ve stopped and said something. I think I was probably lost for words though…)

I can’t think of the death of anyone else that I haven’t actually met that has affected me as much – the more I think about it, the clearer it is what an influence listening to his show had on me in Berwick in the late 80s/early 90s. You’d have to spend a good couple of years in Berwick, without the internet or freeview, to fully understand the significance.

And the weird thing with Peel – and a testament to his broadcasting uniqueness – is that they can’t rebroadcast his shows. It wasn’t about ‘legacy’ music, or playing ‘classics’. It was about playing what grabbed him now. As much as i’d love to listen again to those shows from the late 80s, filled with Cud and Bongwater, Napalm Death and the Bhundu Boys, The Pixies and Marta Sebastian, Kanda Bongo Man and BoltThrower, they aren’t what Peel would play now, and repeating them isn’t what he was about. When Ronnie Barker died, his legacy was palpable, celluloid, archived and repeatable. Peel’s is wrapped up in the experimentation of hundreds of thousands of bands through the last 50 years, inspired to say ‘bollocks to convention’ and try something new, something that mattered. You can’t turn that into a retrospective series, beyond getting endless bands to say ‘yup, without Peel, I’d be driving a van’. And they queued up to do so when he died. Genuine tributes to the man who handed them a career.

In this book, I’m reminded of how so many of those people that I listen to, so much of the music I love was launched on listener’s ears by Peel. Just about every non-jazz influence I have can be traced back to Peel’s patronage.

Anyway, it’s a fine book – read ‘Margrave Of The Marshes’ first, but get this one to fill in a lot of the geeky musical info.

Fringe underway.. :o)

We’ve arrived in Edinburgh… well, right now I’m in Berwick on Tweed, but I’ve been up in Edinburgh for the last three days, putting up posters, arranging extra gigs, and saw my first show last night – Stephen Daltry in Ludwig’s Van – a one man light comedy show about classical music. Like Gerard Hoffnung, which is no bad thing in my book, always loved Hoffnung’s stuff. Anyway, much fun, worth going to see, particularly if you know a little about classical music.

Other than that, Julie and I have tramped all over Edinburgh putting up posters in windows, shop doorways, loos, restaurant walls – anywhere with a space and the permission to put them up! Today, flyering starts with a vengeance – out of the Royal Mile convincing people that ours is the show they just can’t afford to miss (which shouldn’t be too hard, as, let’s face it, it’s true).

Gig in Glasgow on Thursday was a tough one – at such short notice, it was a sparsely populated affair. The bar itself wasn’t, just the bit where we were playing, but the people who watched seemed to really enjoy it, and a few said they were coming to Edinburgh to see it again, which was nice.

So tomorrow, Sunday, we’ve got a tech rehearsal in the afternoon, the Fringe opening party early evening, and then gig #1 at 11pm. It’s two for one on tickets tomorrow night, so if you’re in Edinburgh, come down, bring a friend, and enjoy!

click here to buy tickets!
and here to hear the MP3s and read about the show!

Where did summer go?

Not sure what happened, but when we got north of Leeds yesterday, it suddenly morphed from early August into late October – cold, wet and miserable.

Now in Berwick, and heading up to Edinburgh during the day today, then off to Glasgow for gig tonight at Brel (see you there Weegie Bloglings!). Hoping today’s weather is better than yesterdays – haven’t been outside yet…

Portsmouth gig

Fine first gig on the tour with Muriel. Nearly didn’t happen, as my car almost overheated on the way down, but some water and a half hour cool-off for the engine seems to have fixed that…

The gig itself was at the Eastney Cellars, a lovely pub with a landlord who’s massively pro-live-music, and has spent a small fortune converting it into an even better live music venue. He’s also generated a fab listening environment.

Most fun for me was having Linda and Geoff there – they’re my step-aunt and uncle (I think that’s right…), and we at my first ever gig! (well, I’d played one school show before that, but they were at the first one in a venue – The Galleon in Spittal, for anyone keeping score).

At that gig I was playing with my band EARS (Eric Adam Robert and Steve – we could have been ARSE but wouldn’t have got to play at school if we had been). And we were rubbish. Largely. We had one good song at that point called ‘Through The Tunnel’ which I could probably still play on bass and guitar (I wrote the guitar part too!) Can’t remember much else of what we played, other than doing Foxy Lady despite only knowing the first chord (or thinking we knew the first chord, we might even have got that wrong…) and Venus by Bananarama. Oh yes, we were that hip. I think we got paid about a tenner between us, by a very very drunk landlord called Keith. Who claimed to be ‘tired’ when he was clearly inebriated beyond the ability to string a sentence together. And we were opening for Faldstool – Berwick legends, formed from the ashes of my first non-gigging band, Mother’s Legs. Maybe I’ll tell the rest of the story of my early bands at another point, when it’s not 1am…

That was 18 years ago! So G and L were back for more, and got to hear the slight improvement I’ve made since those days.

Was lovely to hear Muriel play again – she’s a fab guitar player, and write great tunes. I’m looking forward to the rest of the dates – Colchester Wednesday, Petersfield Thursday and St Ive’s in Cambridgeshire on Friday.

See you there!

What goes around…

Back in ’91 when I left school, I applied for three universities – Middlesex and Leicester to do performing arts and Salford to do Popular Music and Recording. Middlesex and Leicester didn’t even invite me for interview, but Salford did, and I went down to Manchester to check it out. I drove down with my schoolfriend Martin, as Ocean Colour Scene were playing in Manchester that night, so we went down, spent the day mooching around record shops and comic shops in Manchester, I did the audition, we went to see OCS, slept in the car and went back to Berwick.

The audition went terribly – not because I played worse that usual, just because I was rubbish, and didn’t really deserve to even get an audition. Still, the guys conducting it managed to stifle a laugh. The upside was that OCS were outstanding. Those of you who didn’t hear their first two singles will find that impossible to believe, given that they peaked there and by the time their first album came out they were already past their best. But they were fantastic.

What’s this got to do with today? Well, today I was back at Salford, giving a masterclass for their students! haha! fantastic! It was a hell of a lot of driving (410 miles round trip), but a lot of fun to do – the students asked a lot of good questions, and seemed to enjoy it (if you were there, feel free to post a comment here!) – It’s great getting paid to talk about music for a couple of hours, and hopefully give the students some food for thought on what it takes to become a professional musician. Those kind of sessions can go either way, and get deep into the mechanics of playing, or be all about the stuff of living as a musician. This was more the latter, with a few questions about Ebows and looping thrown in. All in all, a fine way to spend the day!

Margrave Of The Marshes

I finished the John Peel autobiography, ‘Margrave Of The Marshes’ last night. I say ‘auto..’, he actually wrote just under half of the book, his wife Sheila finishing the rest of it. The changeover between the two, the sudden nature of his part stopping and her picking up the story, is one of the saddest moments in any book I’ve ever read. It’s odd to think of a 65 year old man as having so much unfulfilled potential, especially one who was already arguably the most important figure in the development of pop music in the UK. I’d argue that anyway.

His life story is candid, heartwarming, beautifully written as you expect from the presenter of Home Truths, full of his love for music, his family, tales of his frankly insane youth and young adulthood. I’m not sure I’d have liked him if I’d met him in the late 60s, though even then, the excerpts from his diary that Sheila quotes reveal a man I have an enourmous amount of empathy and respect for, despite his opportunist deceptions involving the Beatles and deflowering numerous american highschoolers…

His marriage to Sheila is an inspiration, his love for his family equally so. His impact on me as a musician and music fan has been written about here before, but it bears repeating – growing up in Berwick on Tweed, pre-internet, music information was pretty hard to come by. There was the mag trinity of NME/Sounds/Melody Maker which, whilst nowhere near the cheap nasty nonsense they are now, were still pretty trend-driven, even if those trends were a little more underground that they are today. No, the only real source of information about music-without-boundaries was Peel, and I devoured his show voraciously, recording it onto Tandy cassettes, making compilations of Pixies sessions before they were released, and collections of tunes by The Wedding Present, Bongwater, Napalm Death, The Stupids, Rob Jackson (not THAT Rob Jackson, sadly), Billy Bragg, The Bhundu Boys, Extreme Noise Terror and hours of obscure Soukous and strange German techno squawks.

The overall effect was that of removing all possible labelling from the process of making music. This allowed me to be simultaneously a fan of BoltThrower, Weather Report, The Cure, Wet Wet Wet, George Benson, John Zorn, The Alarm, Yes, The Housemartins and just about anything else that came along. I was often being accused of having ‘no taste’ – not bad taste, just no discernment about what to listen to at all. Truth was I did, I went through obsessive phases (just as Peel did), and kept the best of it as I moved on. In 1986 I voted the Mission and The Smiths the worst bands in the Smash Hits readers poll. By the 1990, I had every album the Smiths had ever released, along with having cultivated a near-obsession with The Cure and The Pixies that lasts to today. Only this week I’ve been introducing various students of mine to the majestic delights of Kim Deal’s bass playing via ‘Debaser’ and ‘Hey’.

The more poignant, funny, engaging and revealing the book became, the greater the pain at John’s loss. The greater the sense of anguish for the family at having lost him – as much as I miss his broadcasting, and regret never having met him, it quite obviously is nothing compared to the excuciating pain of losing a parent/husband/brother/friend.

The tributes when he died were effusive, though not a surprise. I was one of millions of teens from the laste 60s onwards who saw the world of music though Peel-tinted specs, who dispensed with the style fascism of most teen music-factions and took on the mantle of music-lover. I think it’s safe to say that without that exposure, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today. My relationship with music would have been very very different indeed, and that desire to explore as a listener would never have spilled over into that desire to explore as a player that lead to me playing solo.

So go, read the book, remember John, tell your kids about him, make them read the book, and buy them a copy of the new Billy Bragg boxed set, the Hardcore Holocaust’ Peel sessions compilation, The Shed Sessions by The Bhundu Boys and any other weird nonsense you find in the hope that they’ll grow up to view labels like ’emo’ and ‘goth’ and ‘pop fan’ to be as erroneous as they really are.

John, you are missed.

One More Kiss…

Just been watching the first 20 minutes of a film on BBC1 called ‘One More Kiss’ – of interest because it’s set and filmed in Berwick on Tweed, where I grew up, and where my mum and brother still live.

Our high hopes of seeing a quality film made in a town that I know just about every inch of were dashed within a few minutes as the dreadful dialogue and lifeless acting more than negated the benefits of seeing lovely shots of the beach I spent almost every lunch hour on during high school.

There was one particularly funny moment when the main woman in it and her dad were driving down a road in Berwick – which was a dead-end street about 100 yards from where they are supposed to live (their house is about four doors down from where Giles used to live, and they were driving towards Martin’s house, just in case you’re one of the four people in the world who’d understand what that meant) – no-one from where they live would drive where they were driving.

But, far more shocking and sad that all of this is WHERE ON EARTH ARE THE BERWICK ACCENTS??? Not a single person with a Berwick accent. The main woman meets a 24 year old bloke with a London accent at a Cancer sufferers group – the first question anyone would ask in that setting would be ‘what the hell are you doing in Berwick?’ – no-one of 24 moves to Berwick. It just doesn’t happen. If it did, it’d be conversation point number 1. No, all the main characters have Edinburgh accents, and even the dude running the market stall had some kind of generic accent.

Come to think of it, they might’ve tried it with Berwick locals and struggled to make it understandable to anyone who lives south of Morpeth… it’s a pretty strange accent/dialect, for sure…

The moral of the story is, don’t watch films shot in your home town, it’ll only wind you up.

…however, if you’re a pedant and you fancy a laugh, check out the various online reviews that claim it’s shot in scotland… doh!

four things…

OK, end of year meme, nicked from sharklady’s blog

A. Four jobs you’ve had in your life
1. waiter
2. factory worker (stitching little ‘R’s into Russel Athletic sweatshirts!)
3. Market research observer for Philips
4. solo bassist

B. Four films you could watch over and over
1. the wedding singer
2. so I married an axe murderer
3. bugsy malone
4. muppet’s treasure island

C. Four cities you’ve lived in
1. London
2. Perth
3. Lincoln
4. Berwick on Tweed (er, cities?????)

D. Four Tele programs you love to watch
1. question time
2. never mind the buzzcocks
3. newsnight review
4. family guy

E. Four favourite places you’ve been on holiday
1. Krakow
2. Lake Garda, Italy
3. North Norfolk coast
4. Nashville

F. Four websites you visit daily
1. BassWorld
3. MySpace
4. Jonatha Brooke forum

G. Four of your all-time favourite restaurants
1. Romna Gate, North London
2. Henderson’s, Edinburgh
3. Mia’s, just outside Reading (best curry I’ve had in years)
4. Ristorante Cascina Capuzza, Desenzano del Garda, Italy

H. Four of your favourite foods
1. just about any veg Curry, but Mia’s Veg balti is pretty remarkable.
2. Fajitas
3. Caprese Salad
4. fresh fruit salad.

I. Four places you’d rather be right now
1. North Norfolk
2. on the banks of Lake Garda
3. Mexico (I’ve never really been but I’d sure like to go… ;o)
4. driving across the US with TSP.

J. Four things you find yourself saying
1. ‘sorry, I forgot’
2. ‘imitate, assimilate, integrate, innovate’
3. ‘anecdotally’ (way of covering myself when presenting loosely observed trends amongst my friends as scientific data)
4. ‘OK, I’ll do it, when I’ve checked my email.’

(and sharklady, note anglicised questions – you’re from here, stop typing like you’re from there!)

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