'yeah, I listen to everything'

the daftest answer ever to the question ‘what music do you like?’ – it crops up a lot on MySpace – people who write under their music preferences ‘everything’ or ‘all kinds of music’. That’s rubbish.

I’ve got pretty extensive taste, but I dislike MOST music… There are literally millions of bands in the world. There are probably a few thousand that I quite like, and a few hundred that rock my world. A few dozen that have changed my life. That’s a pretty poor percentage. The thing that makes special music special is that we have to track it down. We look for it, we feel great not only because of what it is, but what it represents.

If I loved all music, it’d be like air. I don’t have favourite air. I might notice the sea air as being particularly bracing, but I don’t get bags of it shipped in, I don’t trawl ebay looking for Berwick on Tweed air just because it reminds me of my childhood. No, because all air is equally fantastic. Air is an amazing thing. It keeps me alive, I’d be very dead without it, and can’t say enough nice things about it. But it isn’t ‘special’.

Great music isn’t like air. There is a lot of great music out there, but you have to hunt for it. It’s rare that a major record label releases anything ‘great’. They often spoil potentially great things by sticking their lame-assed focus-group-led coked-up-executive-with-no-clue oar into the discussion, but they rarely let genuinely great records get through. That’s what makes Hejira so special. Or Songs In the Key Of Life, Plumb, Steve McQueen, Nothing But A Burning Light – they are amazing records on major labels. Extra kudos to Joni, Stevie, Jonatha, Prefab Sprout and Bruce for managing to get past the ‘hmm better make it a bit more shit just to make sure it gets on the radio’ moment…

So stop pretending that you’re into everything, or that you like ‘most music’ You don’t! You probably don’t even like the best of most styles of music – it takes a fairly broad set of ears to deal with the, um, idiosyncratic intonation of Chinese Opera, Tuvan throat singing, Tibetan Chanting, Ana music, or even Tom Waits at his most weird.

If you’re in a band, the likelihood is that it’s not going to rock my world. That’s not your fault, it’s just the law of averages. It shouldn’t stop you sending your CD out to people – I send mine out to all manner of people, safe in the knowledge that it’s not going to blow all of their minds. I hope some of them dig it, and am particularly grateful when people who aren’t already friends email me to say they really dig what I do. Last night, I got a text message from the lovely Jane who was listening to Grace And Gratitude and it was helping her out at the end of a tough day. A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a soldier who said it helped him through the tough time telling his folks that he had to go to Iraq. that stuff is worth a thousand people saying ‘yeah, I quite like your CD’.

It’s OK to not be blown away by everything, and people who don’t like your music aren’t losers with no taste. But remember to cherish everyone who is touched by what you do – it’s a huge privilege to be able to help soundtrack memorable times in people’s lives, whether it’s music that helps them celebrate, or comforts them in dark times, or just fits the occasion – one of my proudest musical moments is when a friend of mine took my CD in to be played while she was giving birth!

Let people know if their music means something to you – that’s one of the great things about having a blog; being able to big up great music, to get the word out about fab stuff that’s out there, the things that move me. And more often that not, the artists will find it while vanity searching, and drop me an email, which is always fun.

Cherish great music – it’s an honour not a birth-right.

Soundtrack – Iona, ‘Beyond These Shores’.

It's better by Train

Riding the train through Berwick Upon Tweed, the sun is shining, Rosie Thomas is on the headphones, I’m reading Margaret Attwood.

Why does anyone drive anywhere? Why aren’t trains cheaper? It’s such a civilized way to travel, and if trains were always full, it’d surely take some strain off the roads, and hopefully pull people away from the ozone-munching exploits of the cheap airlines…

anyway, life on-board the GNER east coast mainline train from London to Edinburgh is good, if expensive. Maybe free WiFi on board would make me feel it was better VFM…

soundtrackMichael Manring, ‘Soliloquy’; Peter Gabriel, ‘Up’; Prefab Sprout, ‘Steve McQueen’; Renaud Garcia Fons, ‘Entremundo’; Seth Lakeman, ‘Kitty Jay’.

I think that's called 'going out on a high'

Words I wasn’t expecting to hear at the Fringe ‘hello can I get a ticket for ‘Bass: The Final Frontier?’ ‘no sorry, sir, he’s just sold out’.

Oh yes, a sell out. A rather confusing sellout, given that I’d got lots of comps and given them to friends, not expecting the room to be full at all, so just before I went on stage there were people who had bought tickets who didn’t have a seat… all v. mixed up. My fault. But hey, what a problem to have!

The show went superbly, and loads of lovely people were in tonight – the poetry legend that is Jude Simpson sat in on the show and did a cracking version of Femur (to the tune of Fever), Ronnie Golden was there (his show with Barry Cryer, Little Richard III has just started at the fest, go and see it!), Duncan, Simon and Rise – who I spent a fantastic 5 hours rehearsing with today for Duncan’s gig at Greenbelt – were there, Jack Cryer, the guys from Rap Canterbury Tales and of course the potty-mouthed Rev G. ‘Twas the perfect way to end a run at the fest, great crowd, I was on form, played well, bantered well, and sold lots of CDs and T-shirts. If you were there, thanks so much.

The CVenues crew in C Central were great to work with – lovely peoples who put up with a lot of crap.

And now it’s finished, and I’m off back to London, to spend the next week and a half teaching and learning the songs for Duncan’s gig at Greenbelt – the rehearsal was amazing, and the best bass lesson I’ve had in years, getting to grips with the African rhythmic stuff that Duncan and Rise were throwing at us. Being on stage with two guitarists that good will be a dream come true. They are both outstanding (Rise Kagona was the guitarist in the Bhundu Boys, one of the first African bands I was properly aware of, thanks to Peelie and Andy Kershaw).

So tomorrow we’re off home, via Berwick to see the family again. It’s been so much fun staying with Gareth and Jane – they are the perfect Edinburgh hosts, and it’s just a shame we’ve seen so little of Jane, as she goes to work before we get up, and is in bed before we arrive back in the middle of the night.

So if you’re still in Edinburgh please go and see the shows I recommended tonight at the show – , , , , , .

And I’ll see you here again next year!

TAGS – , , , .

Finally a successful postering day.

So yesterday was a fine day – firstly, the small person is now here, and helping out with flyering, which is great. She’s such a star.

Secondly, my posters finally arrived. Yay! And what’s more, the print company agreed to refund the ‘premium’ extra I paid for for a wednesday delivery. I mean, that had to really, but it’s nice that they did it without any fuss. Though due to my formerly lost visa card being cancelled, the trouble now is how to get the money from them! It’s proving complex.

But at least I managed to get posters up in many of Edinburgh’s top watering holes, and a few up along the royal mile. Which by the time I get back to Edinburgh today will be covered up by some other show, and I’ll have to stick new ones up and the layering will start again. That’s just the way it goes here. The nice thing about posters in pubs is that they tend not to get covered up.

And I have a tip for anyone flyering in pubs. Stick a poster above the sinks in the loos. That way, you can guarantee that your audience will have clean hands. Nobody wants people who don’t wash their hands after taking a leak to come to their show, so use your postering skillz as a filter, and shun the unwashed.

Today we decamp to Edinburgh proper, though right now I’m still in Berwick on Tweed, waiting for my programmes to be printed. In a nice coincidence I bumped into an old school friend and his mum and dad (who I knew from church and cos they were both school teachers), so the half hour wait wasn’t wasted at all.

and then it’s my first show tonight. Feel free to offer up a prayer on my behalf. or a chant, or sacrifice a virgin if that be your thing. Whatever, send some positive vibes my way for my opening night. I’ve got a few made ideas for things to do, that may or may not come off. In fact, a smaller crowd might be nice for the opening night just to try out some stuff… who am I trying to kid? I want to fill the place! Unlikely, but it would be nice…

Lost and Found

(written at 17.01 today)

another eventful day in the run up to the festival. Started easily enough – came up to Edinburgh from Berwick, dropped off all my stuff at the venue in preparation for my tech rehearsal later on tonight, parked the car on the way out of town (about a third of the way back to Berwick, in the hunt for free parking), posted the latest batch of t-shirt orders, and came down to pick up my flyers and posters. Which became picking up my flyers, as the posters still hadn’t arrived. Huh? Having paid for a two day turn around, I’m a little pissed off that they haven’t arrived yet. So anyway, not having eaten at all, I thought I’d head off for some food and in the hunt for free wifi, and then come back afterwards for the posters.

Found the Jolly Judge OK, with their free wifi (allegedly), but didn’t get to try it out as it became immediately apparent at the bar that my wallet was missing. Oh shit, not again, thinks me. Search through bags. Nope, no sign. Search again, and pockets, and everything else. Still nada. This is really not good, not good at all. Edinburgh is a really expensive place to be, and with all the driving I’ve got coming up, having no cash card is going to be a real pain.

So I retrace my steps. Nothing. I come back to the CVenues HQ, it’s not here. I get the number for the Co-Op bank, call to cancel my card and head back to the post office where I posted the t-shirts. the fatal flaw in the plan was the order of the last two events. Not two minutes after cancelling the card is my wallet back in my hand, money still inside, untouched, my having left it in the post office this morning (that serves me right for not having any breakfast – mental fatigue). So I’ve not got my stuff back, which is great, including a useless cancelled bankcard, which is not so great. Thankfully the small person is with me, and I’m going to find out if I can get money out over the counter, if there’s a Co-Op in Edinburgh. But it’s all such a faff. so now I’m finally eating something, still not having actually used any free wifi in Edinburgh at all, not having stuck up any posters or dished out any flyers. What a putz.

So this evening, as soon as my sodding posters arrive, I’ll be hitting the bars and cafes trying to get them stuck up to let peoples know about the show. The nice thing is I’ve already been reecognised a few times in the street by people who’ve said they are coming to the show – let’s hope I haven’t run into my entire pre-booked audience already.

Caught in a flyerless limbo

you know, this leaving the flyers til the last minute thing was a really bad idea. And yes, TSP did point out to me about a month ago that I really ought to have all that stuff finished by now so that it was all ready in good time. Did I listen? Well, yes, but I procrastinated, and there was obviously something really important to blog about, and flyers got moved down the list, and then it was time for lunch, and then I did some bass practice, and that was the end of third day. And Steve looked at it and said ‘oops, didn’t get much done there, then’.

The problem now is that the BIG job before Friday is getting all the flyers and posters out all over Edinburgh, and it’s more than we can comfortably do just on wednesday evening/thursday. Today and yesterday I could’ve been toddling all over the city sticking up posters and letting the lovely people of the Burgh know about the show, so they could come flooding through the doors in their ones and I could go home a newly minted hundredaire!

So today, I’m actually going to stay in Berwick, I think. I was planning on going to Newcastle, but thought that was just too much unneccesary driving, and I was going to go to Edinburgh, but there’s not much to do there yet, so I’ll stay here, work on some tunes for the gig, head into town and buy a shirt or two for onstage (Berwick? stage clothes? this’ll be a challenge) and generally take it slightly easier, preparing for the maelstrom to come.

Had a good play last night with the laptop looping set up. Managed to get it working so that the processing was only happening post-loop, and not to my main bass sound, which was cool, but then that stopped and I couldn’t work out why. And I couldn’t use any pitchshifting as it was way too processor hungry. Methinks this is going to take some major tweaking of latency settings etc. to get it to be stable enough for gigs.

Soundtrack – right now I’m listening to ‘I Don’t Want To Know’ by John Martyn over and over, as I’m hoping to do a version of it on the gig, and am trying to soak up a lot of his melodic stuff. It’s a really simple chord progression, almost too simple, but I’m sure I can make it do what I want to do.

fine gig in Berwick

Today was my gig at the Borders Green Festival, in Berwick on Tweed. Playing in Berwick is always odd (well, I say always – I’ve only played here twice since I left 14 years ago!!), obviously, as it’s coming back to where I grew up, and today was particularly odd as the soundman was the same guy that did sound for one of my earliest ever gigs, At one of the first ever local band nights at The Maltings In Berwick!

That was with my first gigging band, EARS. Today was a solo gig at a very cool little festival. The idea behind the fest was that it was a showcase for all things sustainable, renewable, local, therapeutic and generally marvellous, so there was a resources marquee with lots of info about local action groups anti-war stuff, environmental pressure groups etc. there were teepees with various things going on in them – a massage tent, a talks tent and a making cool stuff out of old crap tent. There were stalls from a lot of the local fair trade and organic traders, and lots of fun things for kids to do, as well as obivously the music stage.

The music was very varied indeed, ranging from some very fine local folk musicians to a rather good local rock band, to, er, me. A real spread from solo Bach piano to Balkan folk tunes.

In my set I leaned heavily on the floaty soundscape end of things – No More Us And Them, Kindness Of Strangers, Grace And Gratitude, Highway One – nice big long improv-enhanced versions of everything. The big problem I faced was that the sun was so bright, I couldn’t see the illuminated panels on the front of any of the processors, particularly the Lexicon, so was half guessing which sound to use next. There weren’t any train-wrecks, but it was close at times! Certainly a nice warm up for Edinburgh.

Anyway, as an event, the Borders Green Festival was a resounding success – loads more people there than they expected, no disasters at all, some great music, and a fantastic message. Roll on next year!

Italy post no. 11 (last one!)

(written 25/7/05 17.07)

So, on the plane on the way home. It turns out there was wifi available in the airport once you’d gone through to the departure lounge, but I met up with a guy from Naples who was at the gig yesterday, so spent the time chatting to him instead of online. So none of this stuff will be uploaded til I get home.

The good news is that I’ve had no hassle at all getting my bass onto the planes on this trip – it remains to be seen if my rack makes it home safely; it’s currently in the hold, at the mercy of the gorillas that throw your stuff around in a way euphamistically refered to as ‘baggage handling’ – I think baggage mutilation or baggage stomping would be more accurate.

Anyway, it’s the home stretch, and I’m hugely looking forward to heading out for curry tonight with TSP and Jez. Can’t wait to be home.

It’s been a very successful trip – a lot of opportunities have presented themselves for further touring in Italy, and I’ll hopefully be back there in November. Which gives me about three months to learn how to explain the story behind Shizzle in Italian.

From this evening though, it’ll be full speed back into Edinburgh, as well as the gigs in Guildford and Berwick, and planning some more dates for September, writing an extended improv framework for a performance at Greenbelt and planning a couple of tours for early 2006 with Theo in the UK and Michael Manring in the US.

…And now I’ve just been fleeced to the tune of £4.60 for a particularly hideous cup of hot chocolate (I’m dying for a mint tea – I’ve had none for days!!) and a cheese and pickle sandwich… don’t you just love budget airlines?

Oh, things are looking up, I’ve just noticed that one of the flight attendants has taken that crap-mowhawk-boy-band hair thing one stage further and is teetering dangerously on the boy-band/flock of seagulls cusp. Somehow bad 80s hair makes the journey more palatable.

SoundtrackMaurizio Rolli, ‘Archivi Sonori’; Jonatha Brooke, ’10 Cent Wings’; James Taylor, ‘Hourglass’.

Italy post no. 9

(written 25/705 11.28)

just waiting to get a cab from the hotel to the airport, having spent the last hour talking with Maurizio Rolli (fab Italian bassist) and Hiram Bullock (guitarist with Marcus Miller/Jaco etc.) discussing their drummer problems. I love conversations like this – it makes life as a solo artist seem even more appealing, and also shows me just how easy the people I work with are to deal with. I’m feeling very lucky right now both to be able to play solo and to with lovely people like Theo and Jez and Cleveland and Michael and BJ and Orphy and the other friendly low maintainance musical geniuses that I spend my days making noises with.

The rest of the day yesterday went v. well – the Jam For Klaus went really well – I started it with a ebow ambient loop to set some kind of context for it, and each of the bassists added different elements that all complimented the whole and seemed to work as a fitting musical tribute to this local bassist who’d been so tragically killed.

After that jam, a whole other kind of jam – over at the BassZone stand in the expo bit of the day, I set up to play, and was joined by a couple of other Italian bassists, for a version of Highway 1, which worked really well.

And then the last two bits of the gig were Michael playing solo, followed by him guesting with the Maurizio Rolli big band in a tribute to Jaco, playing arrangements similar to those on The Birthday Concert. Maurizio is a fabulous bassist, and the arrangements were really well done.

And now I’m heading home, looking forward to seeing TSP and the Fairly Aged Felines, and getting back on with the process of sorting out my Edinburgh promo. the C Venues art dept. have come back with a whole load of changes to my poster and flyer (layout stuff rather than changing the design, but still a fair amount of work shuffling things around the screen, which needs to be done tomorrow), and I’ve still got to chase up some press and radio contacts for the fest, as well as playing in Guildford on thursday and Berwick On Tweed on Sunday, and fitting in as much teaching as I can in between… it’s all go in StevieWorld!

Edinburgh MPH March/Live8

So, despite it being Wimbledon finals weekend, I didn’t see a stroke of tennis played… But for good reason.

On Friday I drove up to Berwick–On-Tweed (the Lawson ancestral home), in order to go up to Edinburgh on Saturday for the Make Poverty History March and rally, arranged to coincide with the G8 summit meeting in Gleneagles this week.

Estimates on the attendance at Edinburgh vary working upwards from about 200,000, but that’s the figure for Fringe Sunday in August, and this was WAYYYY more crowded than Fringe Sunday.

The march itself was just huge – for a lot of people, they were waiting for almost three hours just to get out of The Meadows (that is, a secret location, known only as ‘the meadows’). The atmosphere was fabulous, though the food was a bit crap for veggies (I’ve got too used to ‘london food’). The first people to set off on the march were back at the start by one o’clock so the continuous white band lasted for a good few hours.

The talk from the stage was largely good – Billy Bragg was on form as always – talking not playing (at least not that I heard, sadly), Jonathan Dimbleby was marvellous. Some twat from the Church Of Scotland was congratulating Gordon Brown on all he’s done so far… hello? Done what exactly? Announced a supposed debt relief package so tied to IMF trade and services liberalisations that it’s virtually worthless? FFS, stop pandering to these goons – they’ve done just about nothing as yet, the situation is still brutally inequitous, and so far Gordon Brown has done pretty much sweet FA.

Anyway, the rest of the talk was good.

We got back into Berwick, and in front of a TV at the time The Killers were on at Live8, who made no impression whatsoever. The evening was definitely all about the old guys showing the youngsters how it was done – Floyd, Robbie, The Who and Macca all rocked the party that rocks the party, while the Scissor Sisters were dull, Velvet Revolver were shit-on-a-stick, Joss Stone and Mariah both did well and Peter Kay was the only Accapella singer of the day and lost the americans royally.

I was struck by how little comment was being made about the cause, both between bands, and by the bands. Now that I’m watching the AOL online feed of the show, I see just how much the BBC had edited out in the name of impartiality. Good God, I hope I never rely on the BBC’s impartiality to save my life from rapacious world trade laws. How can you be impartial on this? Grrrrrrrr.

So all in all, a monumental event – the biggest ever public protest in Scotland, the biggest ever worldwide TV audience for a show, millions and millions of people signing up th the MPH campaign. Surely this will send a message to the tossers in the G8 that things need to change?….

…apparently not, that arch-enemy of freedom, democracy and all things decent, George Bush, has announced that there’ll be no climate change deal in the G8 – you know, right now, I’m wishing someone would blow up Gleneagles. I know something of how Bruce Cockburn felt when he wrote ‘If I Had A Rocket Launcher’, with it’s censor-baiting line, ‘if I had a rocket launcher, some son of a bitch would die’ – why does the G8 even exist? The idea that there is a coalition of the wealthy deciding the mortal future of over half the planet is disgusting. That fuckers like George Bush would come into the meeting saying he’ll be doing what’s best for the US only…

From the bbc news site
‘But he rejected the idea he should support the British prime minister’s G8 plan in return for his support during the war in Iraq.

“Tony Blair made decisions on what he thought was best for keeping the peace and winning the war on terror, as I did,” he told the programme.

“So I go to the G8 not really trying to make him look bad or good, but I go to the G8 with an agenda that I think is best for our country.” ‘

He’s an evil, pernicious, twisted blight on the planet, and anyone who voted for him should be seriously ashamed of themselves. There is a political will within sections of the G8 to improve on these issues but while Bush, under the influence of his PNAC cronies, undermines anything that makes the rich accountable, that makes the rich empire-building countries of Europe and North America feel any sense of responsibility for the fuck-up that is modern day African economics. The most resource-rich continent on earth is its poorest. It makes me cry.

If the G8 don’t listen, who’s in for a revolution?

Soundtrack – The AOL Live8 stream.

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