Loop-Fests and non-music-specific music communities

It’s Loop Fest season again – firstly the daddy of them all, the Y2KLoopFest in Santa Cruz (Y2K7 this year). But this year, Andy Butler is doing a low-key thing in Norwich, which looks like fun. There have been others in Germany and other places in the states – generally smaller affairs, but seemingly most enjoyable.

Rick Walker, the organiser of the Santa Cruz fest, has done an amazing job of turning it into An Event – taking what was originally a way for he and I to do a show in Santa Cruz back in 2000 (with Michael Manring, Max Valentino, Scott Drengen and another guy who’s name completely escapes me, sadly…) and turning it into an annual event that this year has big name headliners in the form of Arild Andersen and Henry Kaiser.

A lot of the momentum for this came out of the rather-wonderful-and-at-times-all-too-serious Looper’s Delight community; a mailing list of people using looping in their music. Lots of great friendships have come from the list, and some fab collaborations (for me, I doubt I’d ever have played in California outside of the NAMM show if it wasn’t for the connection with Rick, and I also met the fabulous Luca Formentini on there too, with whom I’ve recorded a duet album that should be out some time next year).

I’ve always been a little uneasy about the idea that looping is its own genre – it clearly isn’t, any more than ‘repetitive music’ is a genre, or ‘german music’ or ‘music by freakishly tall people’. It has certain characteristics, but those are more to do with the limitations in the imagination of the user rather than any stylistic quality inbuilt in the technology. (though, thanks to the ever-wonderful Robert Fripp’s role as part-pioneer part-populariser of looping as a performance medium, a HUGE number of the loopers around are guitarists doing soundscapes, to varying degrees of success)

But that’s no bad thing – what Rick understood years ago is that audiences like a peg to hang their hat on – it doesn’t matter if it’s a loop fest or an acoustic music fest or a celebration of the music of italy or an electronic music fest – it gives the person marketing it an angle. My own hyper-sensitivity to being pigeonholed means that I bristle at the idea that what I do is defined by the technology, or that there’s some style attached to the instrument (as though solo bass is also a style or genre), but for the audience, it’s just an in road, an opening, a narrowing of focus that allows them engage with what we do, and crucially gives the media something to grab hold of.

Rick has managed to get press coverage for some pretty esoteric music, and even get the clearly-mad-mayor-of-Santa-Cruz to declare each festival day as ‘international live looping day’ (I have a mayoral proclamation hanging on my wall from the inaugural one, that most people think is some kind of weird ironic home-made christmas present. :o)

The point being, these are good things. The role of the curator is to make sure that whatever weird set of assumptions people come to these events with, the music they hear is great. There’s no such style as ‘loop music’ but that doesn’t mean that you can’t put together a coherent program of excellent music featuring looping musicians. The line up at Rick’s fests has gone from being a bunch of bassists who loop at the first one, though a period when it was largely about loopists getting together to ogle each other’s gear, to a place where he’s booking internationally known musicians (albeit from pretty esoteric scenes) for a festival of quality music. Hat’s off to his tenacity, long may it continue.

As I said a couple of weeks ago here looping is no longer a gimmick that will cover the lameness of your music but it can still work as a hook to get people through the door to hear great music.

BTW, It’s also Bass-fest season, though thus far, for the first time in years, I’ve not been invited to play at any of them… we’ll see if that changes, but it might make a nice change to be doing normal gigs at this time of year rather than playing to rooms full of bassists… They are generally enjoyable events, though meeting the people involved is mostly more interesting that listening to a lot of the music…

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas y’all – I hope those of you that celebrate Christmas are having a fantastic day, spending it with people you love, and reflecting on the things that matter in your life.

For those that don’t celebrate Christmas, I hope you’re having a lovely time anyway!

I’m spending it in Somerset with my family, which is rather fun – it’s the first time I’ve been around kids on Christmas morning for quite a while, and it definitely takes on a whole other angle… My usual ‘grown up’ Christmas is usually just a day to relax and think about the birth of Jesus – this is the first year for ages that I’ve missed the Christmas eve and Christmas day services at St Luke’s, and it feels kinda strange, but it is lovely to see the kids down here.

Just watching Robert Beckford’s fascinating ‘Secret Family Of Jesus’ documentary – his program last year on ‘Who Wrote The Bible?’ was probably the best bit of TV I’ve ever seen on Christmas day, and this one’s pretty damn fine too.

Peace, in the name of the Prince of Peace (don’t you just wish that all those world leaders who claim to be Christians would remember that they are supposed to be following the Prince Of Peace?) xx

Don't forget – Juliet Turner at the Purcell Room tonight…

Another heads up for tonight’s gig at the Purcell Room – Juliet Turner, Boo Hewerdine and Brian Houston – a better singer/songwriter line-up you’d be very hard pushed to find. I’ll be there, so come and say hi and feel oh-so-festive at this most marvellous of gigs. There are still tickets available – details here – and look, you can go straight from work and catch Tomorrow’s Warriors in the foyer for free before the gig!

There is no better way to celebrate the friday before christmas than a day sorting out your tax accounts for the previous year, followed by a Juliet Turner gig, unless you left out the taxes bit…

David Ford gig at Bush Hall

One of the guests at Duke Special’s gig last week was David Ford – fantastic singer/songwriter, and from the two minutes I spent talking to him, a seemingly v. nice bloke. He mentioned at that gig that he had a show coming up at Bush Hall, but it was sold out, and apologised for not being able to invite me to even buy a ticket and go… Fear not, for where bands can’t get tickets for their own shows, the mighty Catster can employ the dark forces of the evil empire to procure tickets to just about anything (if I was planning on having Christmas dinner at Bono’s house with his family, and I’m sure Catster could sort out a guestlist place… :o)

So, Catster, The Cheat and I all went to the gig, after a lovely curry at the Ajanta (scene of many many a curry with Jez when he was living in Shepherd’s Bush – come home, you fool – Canada is clearly not the place for you, I haven’t done a wedding gig since you left!)

The gig was an annual charity show that David does, with special guests, to raise money for different projects – this year’s was a YMCA project that took kids from problem situations and put them on a scheme for a few months that apparently helps them look at self-esteem and lifestyle issues before sending them off to Durban in South Africa to work on an HIB/AIDS project out there. Amazing stuff, gotta love the YMCA.

And the gig was amazing. David’s own songs are big emotional singer/songwriter affairs, like a more angry Damian Rice, and the choice of crazy covers for the night was briliant. Fran Healy from Travis did a fab version of Dancing Queen, then a completely acoustic version of Driftwood, stood on top of a grand piano played by David – that’s almost certainly on YouTube by now; if not I’ll upload my video of it, cos it was great.

David then picked songs at random out of a ‘number one hits of the last 30 years’ book, and played a blinding version of ‘My Heart Will Go On’ – how clever is Celine that she managed to make me hate what is now clearly a very very beautiful song? That takes quite a skill, a sort of reverse alchemy… Anyway, David played it fairly straight to start with, then went all uptempo and spoilt it, but still, it proved that with just a guitar and a voice, it’s an incredible song. He also did Like A Prayer with big audience sing-along, which worked brilliantly too, and Ashes to Ashes, but couldn’t remember the melody on the middle. Same for ‘If You’re Not The One’ by Daniel Beddingfield, another song I’ve loved since I first heard it (see Catster, I’m not ashamed to admit it!), which David again hinted at doing a beautiful version of before giving up… He could SO do an incredible covers album of tunes like that. maybe he will one day.

Anyway, all in a great night – extra kudos to his drummer, who was tops. The rest of the band were fun but a bit shambolic – great for a night like this, but not what you’d want on a proper gig. The drummer though was v. funky. Great player.

So now I need to catch a normal David Ford gig some time, to see what he does then. I’ll be the one down the front asking for ‘My Heart Will Go On’.

Review on iTunes…

Just got my first review posted on iTunes since the albums went up there last week –

“For anyone who is skeptical about the solo bass genre, this album is a fine example of a bassist who gets it right. Rather than simply riffing or playing fast and high, Lawson approaches the genre as a composer first, and this is what makes this work so satisfying to listen to. Highly recommended. 5 stars.”

Which is nice! If you’re an iTunes user, why not go and post a review yourself? In your iTunes program, click on ‘store’ do a search on ‘Steve Lawson’ and then click on either Grace and Gratitude or Behind Every Word, and post lovely things about them, please! It’d be a most satisfactory christmas present… ;o)

Christmas tunes that won't make you want to puke…

Christmas albums are, for the most part, shit. It’s a fact, and it’s a testimony to the amount of romantic slushy good-will in the air that people releasing them aren’t marched through the streets, tarred, feathered and dumped in a municipal waste disposal skip.

Every now and again, a genius christmas record happens. Fairytale Of New York, for example – possibly the greatest christmas record of all time. Another contender for that title is ‘River’ by Joni Mitchell, also a front-runner in the ‘most miserable christmas song of all time’, it’s a really really beautiful song, and one of the few JM songs that don’t sound really daft when someone else has a go at them.

As indeed James Taylor has! Yay – click here to download his version of River – I might have to get the rest of his Christmas record – if anyone can do unashamed sentimentality without it being mawkish, it’s JT.

Failing that, I’ll do what I’ve done for about the last 10 christmases and let Bruce Cockburn’s ‘Christmas’ album be my only Christmas CD, along with an MP3 of ‘Fairytale…’ – if you can get it, the greatest ever performance of a Christmas song is the version of ‘Cry Of A Tiny Babe’ by Bruce Cockburn, recorded live on the Columbia Radio Hour, with Roseanne Cash and Lou Reed guesting. Lou completely ignores the tune, the meter, everything, and Bruce nearly pisses himself laughing, but holds it together to sing. It’s magique! Yes, Paul, it’s even better than that Wombles christmas record you posted on the forum. It’s that good ;o)

I used to own the GRP christmas album, but you can refer to my first sentence on this blog for my opinion on that one…

Pre-christmas must-see gig

I’m a huge huge fan of Juliet Turner, an amazing Irish singer/songwriter, who is a bit of a huge star across the water there, and has a pretty big following here too. I’ve just seen that she’s doing a gig at the Purcell Room as part of the Cool Yule series on Dec 22nd. You SO shouldn’t miss this. Head over there now (click that link above) and get tickets. Go on!! She’s got Boo Hewerdine doing the gig as well, who’s great, and her guitarist, Brian Grace is amazing too.

Go on! I’ll see you there…

I would mention the other Purcell Room Cool Yule gig i’m going to this wednesday with BJ Cole and Duke Special, but it’s sold out and I don’t want to rub your nose in it :o)

x

le weekend

spent a large chunk of Saturday afternoon sending out MySpace event invites to the Recycle Collective first anniversary (which you’re all obviously coming to). Then had to attack the bomb site that is my office to get it into good enough shape to teach in.

After teaching, headed down to the Vortex to see Partisans – a fab electric jazz quartet from London, whose individual members I’d seen on lots of different gigs, but never in this lineup. A very fine it was too. Also great to see a packed room at the Vortex. It’s got a lot of vibe when it’s full, and there are always a whole load of musicians in checking out whatever’s going on, so it’s great for meeting up with friends. Have a look at the Vortex Website for a list of what they’ve got on during the jazz festival – lots of great music.

Sunday I decided to skip church and head up to the Music Live thingie at the NEC in Birmingham. These kinds of shows are always a great way for me to catch up with a lot of friends in the industry on one day, call in, say hello, and as happened yesterday, get booked for a load more masterclasses in colleges all over the place! Yay! I got a free pass thanks to Jono at Access To Music, but the ticket price on the door was £17!!! That’s insane for a show that’s essentially about selling stuff to the public (unlike NAMM or Frankfurt, no-one would dream of launching new product there, it’s definitely a show for the public first, and any other business that goes on is a bonus.) It’s a great place to get christmas bargains if you’ve got a family full of musicians, but at £!7 a ticket and £7 to park, the savings are all but gone in the cost of being there.

Still I got to see a couple of really nice acoustic singer/songwriters on the Access To Music busking Stage… good stuff.

Home around 7ish, and another evening spent catching up on email from when I was away, chatting to lovely friends online, and trying to console a v. distraught fairly aged feline, who REALLY doesn’t like fireworks.

Tis a heavy teaching week this week, as well as sorting out gigs for next year for California in January, and Europe in March… yay me!

Barking and Dagenham – England's new fascist heartland.

The local elections yesterday were definitely a triumph for the right wing – Conservatives made pretty big gains in most places, and most scarily the BNP picked up a load of seats. In Barking and Dagenham they’ve now got 11, possibly 12 seats. How on earth they’ve managed to convince that many people that their disgusting, pernicious, racist, hate-fuelled filth is worth electing is anybody’s guess. Are there really that many people who are actively violent racists, or are the people there just so fucking stupid that they think that the BNP is an acceptable ‘protest vote’?

The record of the BNP in local elections is risible – their last ‘councillor’ in Barking and Dagenham quit after two months, their councillors in Burnley never turned up for council meetings and contributed nothing to local democracy. A huge number of their candidates last time had convictions for racist attacks and football violence. They are scum, pure and simple, and anyone moronic enough to vote for them should hang their head in shame. The only upside is that their councillors are unlikely to turn up to meetings, won’t get anything done (because the council is still controlled by Labour anyway) and my guess is half of them will quit by Christmas… The Stop The BNP campaign tried hard, but it looks like the BNP will have to be left to shoot itself in the foot.

Overall, it was a disastrous night for the Labour party, who were hemorrhaging seats across the country. There’s a cabinet re-shuffle taking place at the moment… let’s see who goes.