radio days

Last night was big fun! not Big Fun – they were a crap 80s pop group – no, big fun for me, on four different BBC radio stations simultaneously! The Sue Dougan show is broadcast on BBC Radio Kent / Solent / Southern Counties and Berkshire, 7-10pm, monday to friday, from Tunbridge Wells. I was down in Sussex visiting my grandparents yesterday anyway, so it timed well.

We’d planned for me to go in and play live, but due to (perfectly reasonable) concerns about the possibility of tripping the power circuit with all my music gear, it ended up not being possible – so I’d carried all my stuff in for nothing. Still, it didn’t matter, as it meant that Sue just played tracks from Grace and Gratitude and For The Love Of Open Spaces instead, and chatted for ages about my whole process, purpose and inspiration for doing music. Sue asked a lot of very interesting questions, and not being a bassist, passed on the ‘what strings do you use?’ question. All in all, much fun was had – big thanks to Sue and her producer Steve.

What else of late? Central heating boiler started leaking a week ago, so we got John the plummer round, and a very fine plumber he is too. Yesterday and today he replaced the boiler and swapped over our totally-useless-70s-style skirting board radiators for normal ones. As I was away visiting my grandparents, The Small Person was left with the job of moving all my stuff in my office/studio to give John The Plumber access. No mean feat, given the amount of crap I’ve accumulated. Still, it’s a great excuse to actually tidy up… yeah, riiiight…

Other than that, I’ve been sorting out flyers and press releases for my edinburgh festival dates – the venue people are incredibly pedantic when it comes to style, but it’s probably a good thing, and I’m pretty nifty with Quark and Photoshop so it’s not taking me long to make the changes.

oh, and on Sunday, my mum, The Small Person and I went up to the Otter Trust in Norfolk for a day out – TSP and I had been there before, mum hadn’t. It’s such a cool place – otters are exceedingly groovy animals anyway, but the trust also has deer and wallabies and millions of ducks ‘n’ geese. A fine day out. ‘Twas also nice to find out that the captive breeding and releasing programme of the otter trust has brought the wild otter levels back to where they were about 50 years ago, to the point where they can’t release any more without upsetting the balance. Very good!

Stuart Maconie played ‘Shizzle’ from the new album on his Freak Zone show on the other night, and describe it as ‘if david lynch directed Seinfeld, this would be the theme tune’ – very nice! :o) 6 music is a fantastic station – I listen to Jane Gazzo’s Dream Ticket in the evenings, and stream Bob Harris and Tom Robinson‘s shows during the week from the archive.

In other music news, much of last week was spent recording with Calamateur, AKA Andrew Howie. I’ve known andrew for over a decade, he even bought my old bass off me when I left college, and he’s since become a fantastic singer/songwriter. His latest album, The Old Fox Of ’45, is wonderful, and we were working on some new stuff, some of it was me putting bass and strangeness onto tracks he’d already been working on, one of the tracks was just a vocal and guitar that I then messed around with a bit and added some bass and strangeness to, and the last one we did from scratch, using varisped samples of a crappy old nylon acoustic guitar I’ve got here, some weirdness from the Kaoss Pad and Andrew’s voice. All fine stuff! Sadly, most of it is pretty much unplayable live, or we’d do the new tune on the upcoming gig dates we’ve got together…

Soundtrack – Lewis Taylor, ‘Lewis Taylor’; Billy Bragg, ‘Talking With The Taxman About Poetry’; SplatterCell, ‘OAH’; David Torn, ‘What Means Sold, Traveller?”; Talking Heads, ‘Sand In The Vaseline’; me.

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

Video Killed The Radio Star

Just got back from seeing Billy Bragg at The Barbican – what an amazing gig!!

For those that don’t know (can there really be people in the world who don’t know about Billy Bragg???), he’s a singer songwriter, but not in the fey acoustic guitar, wannabe James Taylor way. More Woody Guthrie meets Joe Strummer. Very political, very literate, very stauchly working class leftie stuff. Did benefit gigs for the miners (added extra gravity to the gig that we’ve just gone past the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the miner’s strike…) and for the labour party back in the 80s (can anyone imaging Red Wedge existing now? I think not…)

Anyway, he was brilliant. Inspiring, refreshing, funny, moving, challenging, entertaining. Simply marvellous. his latest album is a double best of, which is a pretty good place to start with his stuff.

The sad thing about it is thinking that there’s no way that a new Billy Bragg could get anywhere near the mainstream today. Back in the early 80s, bands with something to say were all over the place, whether it was UB40, Billy Bragg, The Clash, Steel Pulse, The Specials – there were loads of them, and political songs were topping the charts and changing the hearts and minds of the country. I’m trying to think of the last time a really political song got anywhere. Not ‘We Are The World’ style bollocks. I mean something that really meant something. These days you get a lot of nu metal bands ranting on about the evils of corporate music – the machine within which they dwell and who pays their bills – and there’s still a healthy protest music scene underground (Show Of Hands, the folky duo I blogged about a while ago are doing very political stuff, as is welsh songwriting genius Martyn Joseph and God’s favourite singer, Bruce Cockburn) but those that are doing anything have either been doing well for years (hence Billy selling out the Barbican) or are playing the folk circuit.

I guess it’s healthy that they are still there. It’s just a shame that they don’t get the exposure. I mean, even the early hip-hop stuff got exposure – the first couple of Public Enemy and NWA albums were all over the place back in the late 80s, and made some fairly big changes on the political scene (NWA arguably helped trigger the LA Riots… good thing or bad thing?) these days, very little seems to get past the blandness filter. The new idea of being ‘risky’ is wearing ever more revealing clothes, or swearing on your records… yeah, really dangerous…

Anyway, three cheers for Billy Bragg. The man’s a genius and an inspiration.

Oh, and I mustn’t forget Jill Sobule who was supporting him. We got there late and only caught the second half of her set, but she was marvellous, and I bought the CD – will report back, cos if it’s as good as her set, it’ll be excellent. She was an added treat (and she came out and did a duet with Billy on ‘All The Young Dudes’ as part of the encore!)

SoundtrackToupe, ‘Alopecia’; Peter Gabriel, ‘Hits’; Zakir Hussein, ‘Making Music’.


Right, so my phone line was finally fixed – had to replace the line from the house to the pole outside. Two days without BB access was really bad… but I got lots done… there’s a lesson in there.

Wednesday evening was the Tim Berne gig at The QEH in London. My interest was particularly high due to David Torn playing guitar, but the band also featured Marc Ducret on guitar, Craig Taborn on keys, Tom Rainey on drums and the Arte Saxophone Quartet.

Met up with Theo at the gig, and watched the first half – hard going, very dense writing for lots of saxes. Half time, moved back a few rows to sit with Bill Bruford, and musically it all became a lot easier to deal with. Firstly a piece just for the sax quartet, then the other quintet playing some amazing stuff. Ducret was oustanding – I was familiar with his playing from before due to Franck Vigroux being a huge fan of his and playing me a lot of his work, but seeing him live was a revelation – amazing stuff. The whole band was great, really energetic, some marvellous improv. After-show party was fun – nice to see Mick Karn again, who I met briefly a few years ago in my past life as a Bassist journo.

It was so good in fact that I did it all again on Thursday! Though not before meeting John Lester for lunch, and spending a couple of hours on the anti-Bush march. The march was amazing – huge, colourful, noisy and featuring some particularly, er, ‘forthright’ slogans…

Then off to Oxford for the Tim Berne gig again. This time at the Zodiac, a club I’ve played at with Airstar. More of a rock club vibe, and a very different sound for the improv bits, another blinding gig. Loved it.

And today has just been about teaching, answering stuff on thedudepit, talkbass and my own forum, which let’s be honest, kicks the ass of all those lame-o forums… :o)

Soundtrack – right now, Billy Bragg, ‘Must I Paint You A Picture’, before that, Pat Metheny, ‘One Quiet Night’ (fantastic); Shawn Colvin, ‘Fat City’; Bill Frisell, ‘Good Dog Happy Man’.

Is There Something I Should Know???

…and other such classic Duran hits were all in evidence at the gig at The Forum on Tuesday night. And what a fantastic gig it was!! Really really great to see a bunch of ‘pop stars’ who can a) write fantastic melodies, b) come up with really interesting arrangements and c) play as well as anyone. Seriously great stuff. Oh for the days when pop stars could play instruments!!! It set the dick-heads that currently litter the charts in stark relief, that’s for sure…

Anyway. What else?? Of course, the big news is that the album is here!! All the advanced orders have now been sent out, so you should be getting them early next week. the packaging, CD printing, sound quality and everything is just great – Theo came round yesterday to sort out the press-list and to sign all the extra discs, and we were like a couple of kids with new toys! I’ve been listening to the CD almost constantly since it got here on Wednesday, and it just sounds fantastic! Even though we played it, it’s still hard to conceive that it was all done live… a strange feeling indeed. Anyway, if you haven’t got it already, you can order it now! Paypal/Gemm and post are what we’ve got happening at the moment, but CDBaby will be sorted v. soon, as will evinsol, hmv and a few others…

anyway, here’s the paypal button –

One word of warning to anyone planning to do the same thing, all the backordering on GEMM decimates your rating – if you did buy the CD through GEMM, please go and give us a good feedback rating, or it looks like we’re a bunch of charlatans…!

Wednesday night was fun – Bob Lee, buddy from California was in town, so Bob and I, along with a couple of other guys from the churchbass discussion list met up for a curry. I’m always amazed at the myriad friendships that the internet facilitates – it makes a nice counter argument to, which, while I think they’ve got a point, does take it too far… :o)

Tomorrow I’ve got my first gig in ages with Jez – you know, the piano guy on ‘Conversations’ – it’s a wedding reception, which is cool cos I don’t get to play standards very often, and playing with Jez would be a pleasure even if the gig was all TV Themes!

Soundtrack – Me and Theo (both discs), Billy Bragg, ‘Must I Paint You A Picture?’, The Cure, ‘Greatest Hits’, Scritti Politti, ‘Cupid And Psyche’, John Lester, ‘Big Dreams And The Bottom Line’ – if you’re in any way interested in solo bass and singer/songwriters, you NEED to hear John’s music – he’s seriously good – great tone, fantastic voice, fine lyrics, and all really well produced – GO AND BUY THIS CD.

countdown to release day…

…so the CDs should arrive here on Wednesday – how exciting! I need to buy a nice big box of Jiffy Bags tomorrow and start addressing them, cos it’s going to take ages! Thanks to all you lovely people who’ve been ordering the CDs, it’s going to be quite a big job…

Was in Italy this weekend, which was great fun! I was playing at an event called Sound Expo ’03, organised by a HUUUUGE music shop in Verona called Musical Box. I was there playing on behalf of Ashdown, so as well as the two performance sets that I gave on the main stage, there were various amp demos in the Ashdown corner of the shop… Also had plenty of time to check out the rest of the gear that was on show, to see some music (most of it was the usual trade fair stuff – very fast, not many tunes, but there were some gems in there too…) and to just hang out with Luca. Fortunately I also got a chance to catch up with some other lovely friends – Giovanna, Albano and Renate, as well as Luca and Gio’s cats, Blue and Ompy (not sure about the spelling of Ompy, but as neither is he, I’m not too worried…)

The Ashdown distributors in Italy are Proel – known over here for making cables, connectors and stuff, but actually a freakin’ huge company!! Scarily huge in fact, but very very helpful, with great staff.

It was a flying visit – out Saturday morning, back Sunday night – and in that I managed to do rather a lot. Of the music I managed to see at the show, my favourite was Massimo Varini – a very talented Italian fusion guitarist – sort of Satch meets Phil Keaggy with a bit of Holdsworth thrown in. His trio were fantastic, and hopefully I’ll get to do some shows with them at some point. Another highlight was an italian singer doing Cornflake Girl who had apparently just learnt it phonetically as the words she was singing were incomprehensible… If I ever suggest singing in Italian, someone please punch me in the face.

Soundtrack – Massimo’s album, Billy Bragg’s best of, and the recordings from my last trip to Italy (thanks to my new RAM strip I just fitted to the computer, I can stream it all off the DVD quite happily…)

New arrivals

…nah, not babies (well, babies as well – congrats to Theo and Madelyn!). No, this morning my Passport arrived (yippee!!) so did a copy of the new Billy Bragg retrospective, ‘The Essential Billy Bragg’ – he’s amazing, brilliant, unique, fantastic. This is a great compilation. I’ve got quite a few of the tracks, but only on cassette (remember them???)… I’ll be listening to this alot over the coming days…

Also – and this is really exciting! – The Cheat got tickets to see Duran Duran at The Forum in Kentish Town on Tuesday!!!! Wahey!! I’m so excited – it’s the original line up, and this is a small warmup gig for some deal they are doing at The Albert Hall on Wednesday… So me, the small person and the cheat are all off to see Duran… :o)

Soundtrack – Billy Bragg now, last night it was Stevie Ray Vaughan, ‘Texas Flood’; Kelly Joe Phelps, ‘Slingshot Professionals’ and Bill Withers Greatest Hits.

Greenbelt Pt 2

So where were we? ah yes, Sunday. Met up with Patrick Wood, and gave him the passes for him and his family, then wen to the sunday morning communion service – 15,000 people taking the Eucharist is no mean feat, but it went without a hitch… oh, except the PA cutting out 10 minutes from the end.

Anyway That followed by another trip to Martyn Joseph’s songwriter thingie, The Rising, featuring Cathy Burton, Denison Witmer and Pierce Pettis – another fantastic sesh, and Martyn played a song or two of his own which was a treat – he’s kind of Greenbelt’s unofficial troubadour, and plays a full gig most years, often with fun special guests like Tom Robinson or Steve Knightly. This year, he just did The Rising.

After the Rising, it was back to Cheatsville, AKA The Performance Cafe, for an afternoon of astoundingly good acoustic music – Stephenson and Samuel (Stocki with Sam Hill), Ben Okafor, Old Solar and Denison Witmer all one after the other! Even though the programme was put together by Evil Harv, and it pains me to say this – it was fantastic.

The evening’s music began with Brian Houston in The Performance Cafe, then Cathy Burton rocking out on the mainstage (bit of a shock for those who’d only seen her in The Rising, especially the QOTSA cover!), and back then the catching the last train to cheatsville to see Pierce Pettis and my other join fave gig of the weekend (along with Cleveland Watkiss) Duke Special, AKA Pete Wilson (not the former govenor of California). I’ve known Pete for years, heard him as The Booley House, and just Booley, but Duke Special is a whole other level – beautiful songwriting, outstanding performance, and Greenbelts own Hobbit, Chip Bailey on drums and percussion, playing perfectly, dramatically, sensitively. A genius pairing, playing oustanding music, with the occasional backing track on minidisc, but with a replica gramaphone there to make it less rubbish! A truly awe-inspiring performance – they are on tour loads, so check the website to see them when they come near you.

Monday and we’re into the home straight. It’s also the day when stevie-thoughts momentarily turned to work, as Patrick Wood and I had a gig in Cheatsville in the morning, and an improv workshop in the afternoon. The gig went very well, was equal parts mellow ambient and dissonant scariness, lots of fun for us, and a very positive reaction from the audience. The rest of the afternoon involved listening to Peter Tatchell (fascinating and no doubt hugely disappointing the representatives of the national press that were there due to the total lack of sensational material – Peter was friendly, charming, and laid out his thoughts on human rights in great detail, and there wasn’t really much for anyone to disagree with), then off to hear Anita Roddick speak about trade (oh, it was Trade Justice day, in partnership with Christian Aid), then back to the performance cafe to hear Nick Harper (Catherine Street Team – you were right, he’s a genius and a very nice bloke), Cathy Burton (minus rock posturing this time), then off to sort out stuff for the improv seminar, which went well, and over ran by half an hour.

The day finished with The Polyphonic Spree (good but not my bag) followed by Billy Bragg, who was so breath-takingly wonderful it was almost contrived. Almost too good – all that he said and sang was great (except some new song called ‘no power without accountability’ that was turd-on-toast). Finished off with ‘waiting for the great leap forwards’ into ‘a new england’ and an accapela encore of the old hymn jerusalem. A real spine tingling moment.

All in all, one of the best Greenbelts ever. Great music, great speakers, great atmosphere, great weather, great food, great campaining stuff, great friends. All good, and because I was playing music less than usual, I was able to spend loads of time with The Small Person, which was a treat I’ve not had at Greenbelt for many a year, and the thing that pushed it into the top 3 greenbelts ever for me. I’ve been going to Greenbelt since 1990, and only missed 91 and 96 since then. lots of great greenbelt memories, and this weekend swelled the stash of marvellous moments. It’s truly the finest weekend of the year.

soundtrack to follow in next post…

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