Greenbelt 2003

Just got back from Greenbelt – ostensibly a Christian Arts festival, but with a strong focus on justice issues, and some seriously great music and seminar speakers.

We arrived Friday afternoon, pitched our tent (oh yes, proper camping), and went to watch Eden Burning (reunion gig – their final gig was infront of 10,000 people at Greenbelt 97, and they reformed for a one off this weekend to celebrate this being the 30th year of Greenbelt), then saw Pierce Pettis, Iain Archer, Juliet Turner, Boo Hewerdine with Rob Jackson, Kate Rusby and Old Solar – all marvellous, and a great start to the weekend, in fact, too much great stuff to take it all in, and I missed a lot of artists that I’d have to catch in other venues over the weekend. Watching that many amazing gigs in one evening does make you a bit blase about the genius on offer, but any one of the acts listed about would be worth driving 50 miles to see on an ordinary evening – Pierce I’ve seen lots of times before, and played with in Reading earlier this year, Iain Archer has been getting better and better over the decade that I’ve been watching him play (new album out in a few months, which promises to be a blinder), Juliet is another singer I’ve been familiar with for a long time and have got both her albums, Boo Hewerdine I was more familar with as a songwriter than a singer, but he was marvellous and Rob Jackson who was guesting on guitar is a solo looper that I’d had contact with before, and showed himself to be equally adept providing gorgeous pedal steel-esque guitar parts to Boo’s finely crafted songs.

Kate Rusby’s gig was a particular treat as she had Ewan Vernal on bass – former Deacon Blue bassist, and one of my earliest and biggest bass influences (check out the bass/voice tracks ‘Orphans’ and ‘Trampoline’ by Deacon Blue for a taste of his genius)…

Old Solar are old faves, and old friends, and played a very fine set.

Saturday began with a Dave Andrews seminar – Dave is an radical activist/speaker from Australia, and regular speaker at Greenbelt, this time expounding on the notion that we’re in the new dark ages with the financial and governmental institutions in the west providing a heavily protected fortress for the extravagance of the world’s rich to the exclusion of the poor, who are battled in a feudalistic way to protect the already disproportionately huge share of the world’s wealth that those of us in the so called developed world have. His answer was to look to St Francis for a model – Francis having been an aristocrat who gave up his wealth to work with the poor. He wasn’t a politician, and didn’t set out to change the world, just to live right. As Schumacher put is ‘think global, act local’… all great stuff…

after Dave, it was off to a Mike Riddell seminar – Mike’s an author from New Zealand, and another Greenbelt fave, talking about artistic integrity and freedom – nothing new but very encouraging and helpful nonetheless.

Next up, Martyn Joseph’s songwriter’s circle event, The Rising – lots of great songwriters playing their songs and discussing them. What a treat to see MJ, Juliet Turner, Pierce Pettis and Brian Houston talking about their songs and playing together. Amazing stuff.

Other gigs – Elan (very good), Juliet Turner and Pierce Pettis (genius, obviously), Cleveland Watkiss (with Orphy Robinson on Vibes) – outstanding, joint best gig of the weekend, Calamatuer (marvellous) and Denison Witmer (another new discovery for me this weekend – fantastic singer/songwriter from Philadelphia).

But as always, Greenbelt is about people – meeting up with loads – hundreds – of friends, meeting loads of people I deeply admire, amazing musicians, great speakers, writers, actors, and just really nice people that I aspire to be like. Spent lots of time between gigs drinking apple tea in the tiny tea tent and enjoying the gorgeous weather.

..and tomorrow I’ll tell you about Sunday and Monday!

(and in case you’re interested, the virus email count for over the weekend was in excess of 650!!!)

Soundtrack – right now, the first mixes of the tracks I recorded with the quartet on my most recent trip to France – more on that when I’ve heard them some more. Before that, Denison Witmer, ‘Recovered’ and Jaco Pastorius, ‘Jaco Pastorius’.

Gigs seen, gigs played

long time no blog, appologies.

Anyway, last week I went to two gigs. First one was a guy called Michael W. Smith. Second one was Kelly Joe Phelps. The comparison was quite incredible. WH Smiths was playing at Hammersmith Apollo (cap. – 3,500), KJP was at The Stables (cap. – 350). The WH Smiths gig I went to cos his bassist is a friend of mine, and very nice bloke. The gig itself was pretty excruciating – it’s always hugely frustrating to see great musicians stifled by a really really bland act. It was clear that the guys on stage were very fine players, but the overall vibe was blandola. Safe in the extreme, sort of Richard Clayderman meets half-assed Riverdance. The chat between songs was cornball par excellence – Forrest Gump with a guitar. Clearly I was in the minority here as the largely frhu audience were well up for Smith’s crass between song chat and attempts at brit-relavence (favourite moment – at the end of one song, he starts reciting the words to ‘God Save Our Gracious Queen’, before waving a huge Union Jack and playing.. wait for it… ‘Pride’ by U2 – a band from Dublin. Which is in the Republic of Ireland. Oh shit, big mistake. Which WH was clearly oblivious to..)

Anyway, it was very nice to meet up with Anothony, a great bassist, and very nice guy. Next, I’ll just body swerve the gig, and spend more time chatting…

Onto Kelly Joe Phelps. so far from WH Smiths that it’s not true. The support act was Brian Houston, a fantastic dylan-esque singer/songwriter from Belfast that I’ve seen play lots recently. He’s brilliant. nuff said. KJP’s band was Scott Amendola on drums (last seen by me playing with Sex Mob in San Jose in July 2001) and Keith Lowe on upright bass. From the off, the gig was amazing – the communication between then was brilliant, the songs were really open to loads of improv, they were making eye contact, having a great time playing fresh, creative, free-wheelin’ music. It was fun, exciting, new, engaging, dangerous, moving wonderfulness. Everything that George Michael Dubya Smith wasn’t. I could watch that every night. Got the latest album, which is great. again. All three of his CDs that I’ve got are great. ‘Shiny Eyed Mister Zen’ is in my all time top 20. Get it.

What else? ah yes, recording session – hip-hop R ‘n’ B track with the guys from Commonwealth (I played on a remix of one of their singles last year) – there was already a synthbass part on the track, which was well played and written anyway, so a lot of it was about recreating that with a more live feel, then adding some fills and a slap line. It took a while to get the feel they were after, but it was worth it. I’m sure the final track will be very fine indeed. It’s a good song. I’ll let you know when it’s out.

The weekend was spent in Lincoln – Rick’s stag do – went out in Nottingham for a fun night out. Always nice to catch up with chums from Lincoln.

Oh, almost forgot – gig on Friday, with Lovesjones. A bit of a left-field one this, as I was covering for the keyboard player, and the stage was TINY so I could only use my processor and one bass for the whole set, but it went well. A few of the tunes were ones I’d not been sent, but playing keyboardy stuff is a piece of piss – it just involves waffling around in the key, you don’t have to be there on the downbeat, and you don’t even have to get the right root note! Bass is a far more satisfying role to play… Anyway, it was loads of fun, was was followed by a solo set, which also went well….

To this week… Monday was a teaching day, then the small person and I watched the 2nd Harry Potter film, which is fantastic, even better than the first (which I really enjoyed as well…) Tuesday Andrew arrived – not seen him for ages, great to catch up.

Gig with Theo Travis at the National Theatre went very well. Nice big crowd, we played very well except one bizarre moment when Edwina Curry walked past and we both fell about laughing… not easy to play flute whilst laughing. Anyway, good gig, boding v. well for future theo ‘n’ steve gigs.

After that, dropped stuff at home and headed off to The Klinker to see Rick Walker and Matthias Grob play. We got there half way through the set, which sounded really good. The Klinker’s a very strange club, but a great place for experimenting. V. much looking forward to tonight’s gig there with Rick Walker. Didn’t stay long at The Klinker as I was knackered.

Wedneday was a do-nothing much day (though I did buy a new Bonsai, so we’ll see how long I can keep this one alive for!)

and now today – gig tonight at the Klinker. See you there!

SoundtrackBruce Cockburn, ‘You’ve Never Seen Everything’; Public Enemy, ‘It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back’; The Smiths, ‘Louder Than Bombs’; THe Bears, ‘Live’; Coldplay, ‘Parachutes’; Kelly Joe Phelps, ‘Slingshot Professionals’; Medeski Martin and Wood, ‘The Dropper’; Bruce Cockburn, ‘Humans’; Chagall Guevara, ‘Chagall Guevara’.

In the fight against international terrorism…

Photoshop has become the ultimate weapon of mass distraction… ;o)

check out some of these very creative anti-Bush spoofs and subvertisments.

So the ‘allies’ rained down a 1000 missiles onto Baghdad last night – so much for attempting to minimise civilian casualties…

to keep track of just how many civillian iraqis have been killed, check out
www.iraqbodycount.net

Soundtrack right now, Prince’s ‘Diamonds And Pearls’, before that Brian Houston’s ‘Good News Junky’ (very fine album, and he’s even better live, if you get the chance…), and before that ‘Quartet’ by Pat Metheny – possibly his finest album, and Steve Rodby’s bass playing and tone are exceptional – Steve really is one of the most gifted bassists I’ve ever come across. An outstanding musician, rarely given the credit he’s due…

Weapon Of Mouse Destruction

Just been up to see my mum for a few days – very nice it was too. My mum’s cat is called Gizmo. Well, technically, he’s my brother’s cat, but he’s moved out, and the cat stayed… anyway, Gizzy is the cutest friendliest cuddliest little beasty on the planet… so long as you’re human. If you happen to be any kind of warm blooded furry or feathered thing, and smaller than a tiger, she views you as potential dinner. Mice, rats, voles, moles, rabbits, hares, pheasants, and all manner of garden birds. She’s lethal. A one-feline environmental disaster area. How can one so seemingly cute be such a cold-blooded killer?? Guess the various smiling faces telling us about how they plan to rid the world of evil, whilst perpetrating muchos evil of their own have been taking lessons… Indeed, she’s a veritable Weapon Of Mouse Destruction…

(BTW, Tonight there’s a round-the-world candle-lit vigil for Peace, called for by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Check and see if a church near you is involved and head along there…)

Anyway, whilst in Berwick, managed to catch up with Heath – first known as ‘the boy next door’ when we first moved to Berwick (1986), soon became the drummer in the first band I was in (called various things, I think Mother’s Legs was the longest lasting name, though we never did a gig.) Heath then went to the same college as me, and now works in a theatre just north of London. He’s a very nice bloke, and it was a lovely surprise that he was ‘home’ at the same time as me…

Got a couple of days in the studio this week, with Chris Bowater (gospel singer/worship leader guy from Lincoln that I used to do loads of gigs with) – very much looking forward to that. Playing with Chris was always a fun challenge – he’s got an amazing sense of harmony, and is a great piano player. Other than that, it’s lots of teaching, and getting to grips with Fruity Loops – been programming drum beats, and learning how to automate effects changes and mutes etc… all good stuff…

Hang on, forgot to mention rather fabulous and eventful gig last Tuesday night – I was playing at Delicattesen in Reading (see link on left hand side), with Julie Lee (who I played at Greenbelt with last year), and with Pierce Pettis (who I’d not played with before, but who is marvellous) – I was only doing a couple of songs with each of them… That all went well, but half way through Pierce’s set, some poor bloke collapsed, fell off his chair and had a fit! Didn’t look like Epilepsy, and he came out of it pretty quick. We sat him up, and tried to talk to him, but he was still pretty out of it, and couldn’t stand up to leave the room. So we called an ambulance which arrived in LESS THAN A MINUTE!!! – you can say what you want about the national health service, but that’s what I call speedy response!! They took him in for observation, but the medics said he was in no immediate danger. Anyway, if by some quirk of fate you’re reading this, Mr-Looks-Like-Kenny-Rogers-And-Falls-Over-At-Gigs, I hope you’re feeling much better…

Aside from that it was a stunning night’s music – same line up as the 12 Bar Club gig the week before – Julie and Pierce, with Brian Houston on before them. All three are seriously world-class headline act stock, and if you get any chance at all to see them, jump at it!

One of the best things about the evening was Pierce’s between song banter, which is excellent – very very funny indeed.

so here’s my top 5 banterers (in no particular order)

  • Pierce Pettis
  • Michael Manring
  • Ben Castle
  • Martyn Joseph
  • Mo Foster

In fact, Mo’s stories are so good, he’s written a book – 17 Watts – full of his marvellous rock ‘n’ roll anecdotes, which is required reading for anyone with an interest in the birth of rock ‘n’ roll in the UK, and the growth of the music industry here through the 60s and 70s…

Soundtrack – currently, listening to more of the stuff by me and theo (hopefully the street-teamers will have some of this to listen to soon…), and whilst away, the soundtrack was Michael Franti – ‘Songs From The Front Porch’, Scritti Politti – ‘Cupid and Psyche’, Francis Dunnery ‘Man’, Lifehouse ‘Stanley Climbfall’, ‘Pierce Pettis ‘Everything Matters’ and ‘Making Light Of It’, and Juliet Turner – ‘Burn The Black Suit’ – all very fine stuff. The drive home from Berwick was mostly soundtracked by Radio 4 (always fun to learn new stuff just by sticking the radio on – doesn’t happen too often with the TV), and then a documentary about Elvis Costello, ensuring that sometime this evening ‘Armed Forces’ will go on…

Food for the soul

Last night I went to see three stunning singer/songwriters do their thang at the 12 Bar Club in London. The 12 Bar is a really weird venue, in that it’s got a tiny downstairs, and a tiny balcony, and the stage is sort of half way between the two – too high for downstairs to see properly and too low for upstairs… bit odd, but kind of fun with it…

Anyway, last night’s magical sounds came from Brian Houston, Julie Lee and Pierce Pettis, all three of whom were amazing. Like, world class, seriously. Way better than just about anything you’ll hear on the radio in the next month or so (unless you listen to Bob Harris on Radio 2, in which case you might end up hearing all three of them).

Brian Houston, native of Belfast, sort of Dylan/Buckley/bit of Neil Young but more frantic. Amazing stuff.

Julie Lee – I’ve played bass for Julie before, and will be next week in Reading – she’s sort of Bluegrass/Nu-grass, with an beautiful voice and a great guitar style. And is one of the finest songwriters I’ve heard in a long time.

Pierce Pettis – has written hits for Garth Brooks, doesn’t really sound much like him though. More Bruce Cockburn/70s Tom Waits/Lyle Lovett/John Gorka sort of vibe. Great between song banter, fantastic songs, and a seven string guitar!

All in all, a night to recharge the creative batteries, and bask in the glow of songwriting genius. If you’re wise, you’ll catch them on the rest of the tour –

Tues 4 March: Birmingham – Ceol Castle – 0121 440 4278
Thurs 6 March: Belfast – The Errigle – 0289 032 2925
Sun 9 March: Southampton – The Brook – 0238 055 5366
Mon 10 March: Brighton – The Greys – 01273 680734
Tues 11 March: Reading – Delicatessen – 0118 901 5234

I’ll be playing a few tunes with Julie at the Reading gig (and maybe one or two with Pierce too, hopefully, if the Deli organisers don’t weird-out about it…)

In other news, I got a new pre-amp put in my bass on Saturday, made by John East, who makes the J-Retro preamp (if you’re a bassist, you should know what I’m talking about… if you’re not a bassist, you won’t care…) – anyway, I replaced my old Bartolini one with one of John’s and it sounds amazing – it’s really weird what a huge difference a new preamp can make – the basic sound of the bass is still the same, there’s just the option to add more sparkle without it getting harsh, or make it sound more ‘acoustic’, or make things fall off the walls. Truly an amazing addition to my bass, and one that I’ll be adding to my other bass very soon, and will be getting in all my basses from now on. Seriously, these thngs are great!

But you don’t really care do you? well, I’m sure you do if you’re a bassist. If not, probably not.

Anyway, I was chatting with evil harv this morning, who was asking why no-one had signed the guestbook in ages. Then someone did (not evil harv as I first thought, as I can actually verify that the person who signed it did indeed just buy a CD of mine, and the eville one didn’t know about it…) – but that’s still only one in ages, so if you’re reading this, go and write nice things on the guestbook (unless you’re harv, in which case, keep your evil weirdness to your self, you strange man) – go on, off you go.

Soundtrack – more of The Minutemen, followed by lots of Donny Hathaway Live (pulled it out to look at the solo from ‘Everything Is Everything’, and kept it in the player for a couple of hours after the lesson). Also been listening to State Of Grace by Pierce Pettis, which I bought last night, and is very very good.