Reasons to be blogging, Part Three

…as Ian Dury would no doubt have sung if he’d written the song today.

The world of blogs, or ‘blogosphere’ as geeks call it, is now HUGE. As in very big indeed. And there are as many reasons for doing it as there are bloggers, I guess.

My reasons are manifold – partly cos I enjoy writing, partly to sort out the thoughts in my head, to make me clarify what I’m thinking on any given subject into a form that I’m willing to submit to public scrutiny, which is the next reason – public scrutiny. I realised in the mid-90s during my Front-Row-Hands-Up (that’s FRHU for short) pentecostal church time that I knew very few people who didn’t all believe the same thing. And a lot of those people only had friends who didn’t believe the same thing as them in order to try and convince those friends to agree with them. This was clearly a rubbish way to go through life, and a supremely arrogant one. So I now actively look for places to find out what other people think and try and make sense of it. If that means that on occasion I drift into intentionally mindless relativism, that’s a small price to pay for actually being open to the possibility that I might be wrong! So I like the email that I get in response to blog posts, and I love the discussions that ensue over in the forum. I guess I should enable comments, but it would just encourage The Cheat to post rubbish, so I’ll not to that just yet.

Which reason are we up to? er, four I think… another reason is that as a music fan I’ve often wondered what’s going on in the heads of the people whose music I listen to. So this is here to hopefully provide the overly wordy and sometimes dull-as-shit open-ended sleeve-notes to where the music comes from. The music is the soundtrack to the inside of my head, and this is the literal interpretation of that. So you really ought to be listening to me whenever you’re reading this, to get the full effect.

Other reasons? To keep friends around the world up to date with what’s going on in my life, and then just cos I get a kick of of the idea of a couple of hundred people a day reading what I’ve been up to. It’s an odd experience that was only open to newspaper columnists in the pre-blog world. I like that, being the Benign Narcissist that I am.

Anyway, the best blog-reasoning I’ve read of late is the one on Richard Herring’s marvellous blog – his blog is a great daily read, sporadically very funny, and worth adding to your list of feeds, if you have one. And if you don’t, you’re wasting lots of time by having to look up all the blogs you read every day.

Soundtrack – right now, it’s a me-loop – I’m doing some practice for tonight’s gig with Theo and Orphy. Before that it was a recording of Tim Berne’s gig at the QEH in 2003, with David Torn on guitar, which is fantastic.

Andrea Dworkin has died

Apparently she died on Friday, but it only reached the press yesterday.

Dworkin was one of the most controversial writers of the 20th century, but also one of the most influential. Rabidly loved, hated and misquoted in almost equal measure, her opposition to pornography as a violation of all women’s rights made her the target of much vitriol from liberals in the US, but her books were read in their thousands, and and she even managed to temporarily get the US law changed (it was overturned at appeal.)

The net is filling up with comments – how sad that it takes the woman’s death for us (including me) to reappraise her contribution. Makes me want to go and read some of her books, having only read articles by and about her before now.

here are a few links to obits and comments –

Guardian Obit.
Hugo’s blog post
Jyoti’s blog
some crappy myths clarified.

There don’t seem to be that many revolutionary thinkers around these days – maybe I’ve stopped looking for them, but it just feels like the substance has dropped out the arse-end of cultural critique. Please, if you can suggest any books I should read, post them in the forum.

SoundtrackCathy Burton, ‘Burn Out’; Jaco Pastorius, ‘Jaco Pastorius’; Eric Roche, ‘With These Hands’; John Lester, ‘Big Dreams And The Bottom Line; John Scofield, ‘Up All Night’.

a view of CCM from the outside…

As some of you will know, my early playing career as a pro musician was spent almost exclusively within the gospel and ‘CCM’ scene. CCM stands for ‘contemporary christian music’ and largely represents slightly crap pop songs with words about Jesus… I still do the occasional gospel gig, and play at St Luke’s once in a while (one of my main reasons for choosing to attend St Luke’s when I moved back to London 7 years ago was that they didn’t have a band so I was unlikely to get asked to play bass every week, as happened at just about every church I visited around that time), but not with anything like the regularity I used to – the main reason being that Churches tend not to book instrumental acts to play at any of their gigs or functions…

So anyway, it was with much hilarity and a fair amount of surprise that I read this article from thescotsman.com, as forwarded to me by The Captain – it’s one of the few comments on Christian music I’ve ever read in the UK from outside the church; largely because, with a few exceptions, christian music in the UK is relatively poor quality, and most of the bands that are any good soon cross over into playing ‘normal’ gigs anyway (people like Cathy Burton, Beehive, Fono, Eden Burning, Airstar…) given that, unlike the US where CCM is huge business, it’d be pretty much impossible to sustain a sensible career as a musician in the UK, unless you wrote lots of worship songs as well for other people to sing in church and lived off the royalties.

Anyway, the article is pretty good, and surprisingly friendly.

Soundtrack – I’ve listened to ‘Crescent’ by John Coltrane, featuring Elvin Jones about 7 times today. Incredible stuff.

One Step Beyond

So I was just looking for a CD to soundtrack me washing up, and thought ‘ah I’ve not listened to that for a while, let’s give it a go’. The CD in question is ‘I Can See Your House From Here’ by Pat Metheny and John Scofield, a CD that I distinctly remember thinking ‘file under not really very good’ when I got it. Was deeply disappointed with it.

It’s great. Very good indeed.

What lead me to not get it first time round? Expectation, I think. I knew what I thought a Metheny Scofield album should sound like, and this wasn’t it. I wanted it to be the album I’d half imagined in my head, and when it wasn’t, instead of deferring to the wisdom of the artist, I decided it was lame.

So what does this do to the critical process? We still have to formulate opinions on things, and something’s appear to be total rubbish, or at least disappointingly fall short of the potential that a group/collaboration/artist shows.

The problem seem to be with second guessing what a project was intended as. If there’s a stated aim, it’s sometimes easier to tell whether a particular artistic endeavour has fallen short of that. If there isn’t, it’s pretty tricky to work out whether it’s a successful rendering of the concept. Whether you dig it or not is another thing altogether, but whether it’s an objectively poor record is quite something else.

There was a discussion recently on the Jonatha Brooke discussion forum about the cover tunes on her new CD – she’s recorded ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Fire And Rain’ and ‘Eye In The Sky’ by the Alan Parsons Project. The first two are so well known they don’t even need crediting to their respective performers.

The discussion seemed to be arguing whether or not it was even valid to attempt new versions of these tunes, and involved the projection of an entire methodology onto Jonatha, implying that as a creative songwriter, she must’ve been running out of ideas or something… Whether or not people liked the covers is not something I’m too bothered by, but I found the questioning of whether or not recording them was an artistically valid thing to do a really weird leap of logic. Jonatha has, as far as I know, made no statement as to her reasoning behind doing the tunes, or her relationship to the whole original/interpretative approach to performing songs, so the whole argument seemed to hinge on the various poster’s own feelings about the importance of those songs, and jonatha’s role as a singer/songwriter/performer.

Most of it was bollocks, but it did get me thinking. Criticism can be a really good thing – sometimes bad reviews and negative comments can be helpful in that they let you know where the writer is at in relationship to your work, and occasionally – very occasionally – the reasoning of the writer is such that you see flaws in your own creative process that you weren’t aware of. That’s a pretty rare scenario, but when it happens, it’s pretty useful.

But for the most part, people tend to objectify their subjective feelings about a song or a gig or a performance – I liked it, therefor it was ‘good’. I didn’t like it, therefor it was ‘invalid’/’not good’/’a waste of time’/’the wrong thing to do’. That’s the kind of crap that as a performer you can get into debates with people about, or you can just ignore, and move on, realising that the writer has no idea what you were trying to do anyway. Even better, you can reinterpret it, extract from it their perception of what you do, and find new ways of explaining what you do that help those people get a handle on it.

Of course, in the long run lots of people still won’t get it, and lots more will think you’re a bit rubbish, but that’s all part of the fun.

Soundtrack – Pat Metheny & John Scofield, ‘I Can See Your House From Here’; Horace Silver, ‘Jazz Masters’; Jonas Hellborg, ‘Octave Of The Holy Innocents’; Jill Sobule, ‘Pink Pearl’.

A Play What He Wrote

Last night I went to the theatre (er, beginning to sound like a 12 year old writing his summer project – “we went on holidays and it was really good and then we went to the beach and it was really good and my dad fell in the sea and we all laughed and then my mum laughed so much she dropped her ice-cream and we all laughed but she wasn’t laughing any more because she said she had ice-cream on her best clothes and if daddy thought that was so funny…’ etc. etc. or, er, something like that)

Anyway, as I said. Theatre, Last night. Brilliant. Genius. Speechless.

The play in question was called ‘The Madness Of George Dubya’, and is apparently an update on Dr Strangelove (or at least that’s what the review in the Guardian said – I’ve never seen Dr Strangelove, so can’t really comment on the veracity of that… but I digress) – anyway, if it is an update, it’s an incredibly topical one. It was, in fact, written in three days in January, and rehearsed in 6, before beginning a sold out run at Theatro Technis in London, then moved on to The Pleasance Theatre in Holloway, London.

The story revolves around a gung-ho US general on an airbase in the UK, deciding to order an all out nuclear strike on Iraq, and being the only one who knows the code to call the order back, you’ve now got your suspence. However, the play revolves around the idiotic mumblings of the US president, and the pathetic attempts to solve the problem by our own prime ministerial buffoon, Blair. Throw into the mix Yasmina The Cleaner – an Al Quaeda operative working as a cleaner on the air-base, a couple of US pilots flying the first plane ordered to drop it’s payload (all the while discovering their long buried desires for eachother), some useless British civil servants, more US army generals and a breath-taking speech by an Iraqi Ambassador and you’ve got yourselves one of the most powerful, funny, moving, disturbing, remarkable theatrical performances I think I’ve ever seen.

Justin Butcher, the writer, has been carving a reputation for himself for a few years now – last year his play, The Seven White Masks Of Scaramouche Jones toured with Pete Possilthwaite delivering the one man show to sold out audiences round the UK. But Dubya is a whole other kind of triumph – it would have been impressive if he’d written it in 3 months. 3 days suggests some sort of pact with the devil in exchange for genius, or conversely an angelic visitation, complete with finished script. Truly unbelieveable. And on top of that, one of the most vital, vibrant and controversial comments on the current impending (pleasegoddontletithappen) war.

‘If’ they get another run at it, you would have to be stark staring mad to miss it. Already they’ve had coverage on CNN, in various US newspapers including the Chicago tribune, on MSNBC, 4 stars in the Guardian, 5 in What’s On, been in the Independent’s top 5 theatre shows in London for weeks on end. Seriously, it’s magical, you have to see it.

phew, that was exhausting. Tonight’s the last night – if you’re in London, you can catch it at either 5 or 7.30. But I’m certain it will get another run. It HAS to.

In other news, last night I was on nightshelter duty again (meant to be next week, but I swapped) – as was evil harv. He wasn’t meant to be, but while we were in the theatre, some sort of serious police ‘incident’ took place outside, and Harv’s car was in the cordoned off zone, and he was unable to move it til this morning!!! So the poor guy ended up sleeping in a freezing church hall on a couch… :o)

Came home, slept, got woken up about five times by the phone. One of the calls was telling me about the funeral details of a friend of mine who died of lukemia last week. I’m not sure what to think about that one. I didn’t even know he was ill til the day he died. 11am – a text saying was on life support. 3pm phone call saying he’d died. WTF???? What? Where? When? How? Andy was officially my land-lord when I live in Lincoln, but the house for most of that time was more like a live-in community. He was a fantastic cook, so we’d throw dinner parties fairly often, there were up to 5 of us living there at any one time – me, farmer Joe, DJ Ben, Biker Wendy… it was like some poorly scripted sit-com, with some very bizarre events. One favourite was Farmer Joe trying to make his own garlic bread, and misunderstanding the difference between a ‘clove’ of garlic and the whole bulb. So he crushed three whole bulbs of garlic, and put them on two slices of bread under the grill. The dogs were yowling for days. Ah yes, the dogs – Max and Polly. Insane and ever-present. Andy doted on them. He married Sharon just before I left Lincoln, and they’ve now got at least two kids (could be three, who knows). I can’t even begin to imagine how she must be feeling. He was only in his late 30s. Still officially a ‘youth’ (18-40). And now he’s gone. I can’t get to his funeral on Thursday – it’s in Lincoln and I’m already mad mad busy that day. But I’ll be thinking about him. About live on Richmond Road, dinner parties, mad dogs, video nights, trips to the pub, Dave Elcock at his wedding reception.

Last time I saw him was at Martin Clarke’s 40th birthday last year. he was smiling from ear to ear, telling me his news and looking remarkably pleased to see me. I wasn’t overly friendly with him (it’s always odd being back in groups of people from Lincoln – too much weirdness left there for me), but he was very eager to hear what I’d been up to and to tell me about his kids.

And now on a lighter note, tonight I’m going to see Muriel Anderson play at The Troubadour in Earl’s Court – lovely venue, I’m playing there myself at the end of March, and it’s where I recorded my first album! Muriel’s great, so I’m really looking forward to that one. If you’re going, I’ll see you there…

Soundtrack – been listening to a CD by Ollie Collins ‘Make Time Last’ – rather nice acid-jazz influenced layered bass and keys stuff, with some great sax playing. Before that, it was more of Michael Manring and I…

Poorly Aged Feline/Remember James/NASA and The Great Glass Elevator…

Buna has an injured foot, poor thing… :o( Neither the small person or I
are sure how he did it, or what exactly is wrong but he’s limping quite a
lot, as though putting pressure on his front left paw is painful… it’s tragic
to watch cos we can’t fix it… a very helpless feeling. He’s not yowling or
showing any other signs of distress, so we’re not rushing him to the vets
straight away, but if he’s not noticeably better by Saturday, we’ll take him
then…

Took the small person to the doctors very early this morning, then came
home and fell asleep on the floor with our ill-of-foot eldery furry family
member for an hour or so!

Was teaching today – it’s been a moderately busy teaching week – lots of
people take some time out at Christmas (largely, I guess, due to
increased spending options around this time…), which is no bad thing for
me, as I’m still a bit knackered after the tour, and am still sorting out stuff
for the US dates – lots more dates are currently 80% there, and will be
added the the site early next week.

Haven’t yet encoded the new Steve/Jez duo track, but will do so ASAP, as
it’s very good indeed….

On an entirely more serious note, today is the anniversary of the death of
my friend James Holland – James was killed in a car accident two years ago.
I’m not sure if anyone still knows how it happened. Came off a straight
road and his the base of an old bridge… I still really struggle to get my
head round the randomness of that one. I guess it’s just ‘shit happens’ taken
to it’s earth shattering conclusion. Weird things happen all the time, it’s just
that most of them don’t end in fatalities. The track ‘Jimmy James’ was written
for James (for some unknown reason, if I rang him he’d go ‘Stevie Steve!’
and I’d go ‘Jimmy James!’ – there was probably some bit of Hendrix trivia
in there too at some point. Lots of things remind me of James. Whenever
I listen to any of the CD that he brought back from the States for me
(including three Jonatha Brooke albums…), Whenever I hear rubbish
heavy metal from the late 80s (both of us had grown out of listening to
Cinderella and Ratt by the time we met, but the memory lives on… :o),
any news item relating to Boris Becker (James looked remarkably similar to
the tennis star – we once hitched to Greenbelt, and after waiting for an hour,
I shouted at him ‘I knew you should have worn tennis gear, we’d have been
there by now!!!’ And most of all, the song that was played at his
funeral ‘Shining Star’ by Gabriel. Occasionally it comes on the radio and
really takes me by surprise. It came on during dinner on the L42 tour one
night… very strange one, that… Anyway, today is the anniversary, so have
a toast to James, and pray nothing like that ever happens to anyone you
know…

Back on more mundane and trivial blog-related thoughts, I must remember
to switch off comments section on here, Evil Harv has proved once again
why having them switch on would be a very bad idea… Though, to his
credit, he did sort me out with a ticket to see Buddy Miller tonight, which
I had to turn down in the end, sadly…

Listened to very bizarre radio thing this afternoon (on my new best friend,
radio 4), about building an elevator into space… hello? have I missed
something? a 38,000 mile long lift???? WTF???? Has someone been spiking
the water at NASA? It was very surreal listening, hearing academics
talking about stuff that Arthur C Clarke would dismiss as too implausible…
There you go, academics, failing to stop and ask ‘…er, why?’

Soundtrack – Listened to a bit of Fripp/Sylvian, ‘The First Day’
earlier on, but mainly just had the radio on… :o)

Plans for the rest of the evening involve tidying and cuddling the cat… a
taxing one, for sure…

Tomorrow is the gig in Norwich, which looks to be a
fascinating event. I’m really looking forward to that one.

Celebrity Big Brother – nonsense

Just finished watching Celeb Big Brother – what nonsense.
I know, I know – I watched it so I can’t complain… well, I
am kind of fascinated by reality TV… what is it that makes
it interesting? Why do we give a monkeys about 6 celebs
we wouldn’t turn over to watch if they were on anything
else? Sue is the only one of these I ever bother to wathc or
listen to doing anything else (her weekend lunchtime show with
Mel on Radio London is one of the finest things on radio…)

So why did I watch? I guess it’s that continued hope that it’s going
to suddenly become really interesting… like surfing the net way
beyond the point where you’ve exhausted all the things you really
wanted to look at, in the hope that you’ll find something fascinating…
which never happens…

Anyway, changing the subject entirely, this particular blog setup can
allow for a ‘comments’ function, where you blog-stalkers can post
responses to my dull ramblings… a function I’d love to use… if it
wasnt’ for evil harv’s evil schemes, and his total in ability to stop
himself from posting shit, given the chance…

soundtrack – been listening to the Best of Howard Jones
this evening, which brings back fab memories of touring with him
back in 1999, and contains some excellent songs (the definitive
versions, to my ears, of which are on his ‘Live Acoustic America’
CD, which the small person has stolen, so I couldn’t listen to
that just now…)

Also been listening to more of that new Keith Jarrett CD – good stuff.

Just got an email from not-at-all-evil Dann, who is a very fine writer,
who has just posted a couple of reviews of gigs involving me onto the
‘Evo’ site – the first one is of the 21st Century Schizoid Band and me
live in Croydon
, and the second one is of the manring/friesen/lawson gig
at Ocean in Hackney
– both well worth checking out. As is the rest
of the Evo site.