Thoughts on File Sharing…

Two things in the last day have got me thinking more about what is euphemistically referred to as ‘File Sharing’. Firstly, I was surfing the sites of musicians I knew to be really web-savvy in order to find what they are up to in the way of pushing information out to their fan-base. the first site I went to was Gary Willis‘ site, knowing Gary to have done web design work in the past. I didn’t really find much out to do with information dissemination (other than him not having an RSS feed for his blog), HOWEVER: the one post on his blog thus far is a brilliant rant about file sharing.

Then, today, the announcement was made that Radiohead’s new album would be released in 10 days time – initially only as a download, for which you can pay whatever you think it’s worth, to be followed by a mega-boxed set in December, which will apparently contain the CD, the vinyl version of the album, an extra CD of other songs, and a hard backed book, for £40.

Starting with the Willis piece, he basically explains why ‘file sharing’ is a stupid term for what he called ‘unpaid downloading’, looks at many of the excuses people give to justify taking music from file-sharing services (which now, apparently, account for 40% of all webtraffic) and pulls them apart from the indie musician’s point of view.

And it’s great, persuasive stuff, hopefully causing file-sharers that read it, and care at all about Gary Willis’ music to see that it’s not quite the victimless crime that it’s portrayed as.

But I’m torn. Torn on whether we need to keep fighting it in such a blunt way as writing blog posts about how we’re being ripped off (we are), whether we need to find other ways of changing the culture, or whether we need to accept the mindset and look for glimpses of light.

The Radiohead release is going to be possibly the most important release in the history of downloading music, for a number of reasons:

One, they aren’t actually giving it away. If you hear anyone saying that ‘Radiohead are giving away their new record’, please correct them. They are allowing the audience to decide what it’s worth. That’s a huge difference. [EDIT – they’re also, crucially, charging a 45p admin fee. Crucial because it covers their costs of hosting and download, and also perhaps even more so because YOU HAVE TO PUT YOUR CARD DETAILS IN… actually I’m going to go and write a new post about this…]

Two, they aren’t releasing the download and CD at the same time. What this stops is people circulating massively high resolution copies of the files via BitTorrent that music snobs can claim they have to download because they can’t get the CD (I have sympathies with people who want higher res. downloads, and am planning on adding .FLAC availability to the store soon, but it doesn’t excuse stealing music… I just hope Radiohead release their album at sensible quality…) It means that the only versions of those tracks in existence should be the ones they have released.

Three, they leave the boxed set til later, add more music an a book and the rarity factor as a hook for fans, and release something that generates a whole load more income from ‘the fans’ and gives people something that isn’t downloadable.

Four, they don’t put a fixed charge on the download, meaning that people can pay them a pound for it if they like, which is a pound more than they’d get from Bittorrent, and also cunningly makes people start thinking and having conversations about the value of music. Today, everyone’s been talking about it. Radiohead are still zeitgeist-y enough to generate the conversation in a way that someone tiny like me never could outside of the gorgeous people who post on my forum.

So what will the outcome be? Who knows. They could end up making nowt. It’s possible that the whole thing will backfire, and they’ll be left paying the bandwidth on a load of downloads that they are grossing 30p each for. I really don’t think that’ll be the case, but it’s possible.

The opposite could also be true; that they end up making a shed load on it because people will rise to the occasion, given enough room to be grown up and ethical, people may choose the right thing. The band will then make another killing on the boxed set, and the industry will be left reeling from a band without a deal making millions on very little hard cash outlay (clearly they’ve spent about a pound on the website, cos it’s horrible in a quirky psuedo-post-modern-trying-too-hard kind of way – surely all that text didn’t need to be graphic files – haven’t they heard of CSS?).

What does this mean for the little people – those of us who really aren’t in the position to order even a thousand units of a limited edition boxed set to accompany a release like that? I’ve been spending time and energy on making the CD packaging to my stuff attractive ever since my first album. I’ve never liked jewell cases, and have avoided them, going for something tactile, pretty and collectible. If you’ve got all 6 of my proper CD releases sat in a row on your shelf, they look pretty damned fine (I really should’ve decided on a uniform font for the spines at the start, but my design skills have definitely developed over the years… just don’t mention the Comic Sans on NDFC, I’m embarrassed enough about it already…)

But I still don’t sell anywhere near as many CDs as you’d expect for someone with my level of exposure etc. I get a fair few emails from people who are very familiar with what I do, who clearly haven’t bought the CDs (given that they have to get them from me, or at least from a source that reports back to me on who’s got it…) I’m sure some of you reading this have got copies of my albums from friends… I’m not going to berate you for it – I certainly can’t complain any more about people making illegal copies of my music that I can of anyone else’s. I own a handful of illegally owned copies of stuff, and a whole load of BitTorrent-acquired digital copies of things I’ve got on vinyl (on the assumption that it’s perfectly legal to own digitized copies of music you have on vinyl, or they wouldn’t be able to see USB turntables, no?)

And then today, I release my first download only album – the self-titled Calamateur Vs. Steve Lawson album. Calamateur AKA Andrew and I have jointly put it out, on both of our labels, and are kind of testing the water to see how sales go. It’s been up on iTunes for a couple of weeks, but it takes a couple of months to get any accurate reflection of sales from them. It’s been up on my site for day, but there were a few problems with the code on the site this morning (just cosmetic stuff, to do with the formatting of the text) so if you tried buying it them and got freaked out by the messed up screens, try again.

It’ll be interesting to see how it goes – it’s an album that both Andrew and I are hugely proud of, is clearly rather different from what I normally do, but there’s enough of me in there for it to be familiar to people who listen to what I normally put out. But will people buy the download version instead of a CD? I still sell way more CDs through the shop than I do downloads, though the downloads obviously picked up in popularity when I put the price of the Lessons Learned Cds down from £6 to £2.50 (feel free to go and buy them, they’re really rather fab).

So all eyes are on Radiohead, to see if we have a new model emerging for music sales. What needs to be said over and over again in the course of the dialogue on this stuff between musicians and audience is that

  • making music costs money
  • being really good at your instrument takes time
  • if you want great music, you have to be willing to financially invest in the ability of the musicians to spend the time needed to make great music and invest in the technology and technical help required to realise the great music that’s going on in their heads

Any notion that big record labels are putting up money from a limitless supply of cash for everyone to make records with needs to be nixed at the earliest possible moment. It just doesn’t happen like that, even for the bands on labels. I’ve known friends in bands with proper deals, playing arena shows (as the support act) and who were on prime-time TV shows, but were on a retainer of £700 a month.

Part of the mistake that indie musicians have made is to try and be taken seriously by looking like we’re on majors, like our labels have staff (I know quite a few indie musicians with fictitious staff – you know who you are! :o) ) and like we’re doing better financially than we are. Success breeds success, right? Wrong – these days, it breeds contempt, because success=majors=way too much money already=fine for studenty me to download cos I’ve got far less money than you. And that’s probably not how it is at all.

Your comments please, oh mighty peanut gallery of loveliness.

When a gig takes you by surprise…

A few months back, I did a gig at a venue called ‘The Loft’ in Crouch End – I was booked to open for a band featuring Rowland Sutherland, and the gig turned out to be a really really lovely house concert, put on by a woman called Jenni Roditi – the audience were warm and friendly, the atmosphere one of acute listening, and it was an all round positive experience.

So when Jenni emailed round a circular letter a couple of weeks back, asking for people who were interested to play at an ‘open salon’ night, I thought it sounded like fun. The theme was ‘blank canvas’ and the last gig had been a positive experience, so why not.

As it turns out, tonight’s gig was one of the best night’s music I’ve heard in ages – about 10 acts performed all in, ranging from singer/songwriters to story-tellers, instrument builders demonstrating their amazing inventions to arias by Gluck. And, of course, solo bassists. :o)

A quick run down of what was on, if I can remember it all…!

Stella Dickenson started off demonstrating and talking about her wooden Sounding Bowl with strings – looks like a fruit bowl with strings attached, is actually a remarkably resonant instrument, that apparently works incredibly well in therapeutic settings. Fascinating stuff.

Sarah Warwick: singer/songwriter (former dance-chart-topping singer) – really really beautiful song and beautiful voice.

Jarmila Xymena Gorna: wordless singing, gorgeous piano playing, some lovely pre-recorded harmonies. Great stuff.

Fran Zipang: story from ancient Iraq – really great to hear a damn good story-teller, it’s easy to forget what a fantastic performance art story-telling is.

Mohini Chatlani: Mezzo Soprano, on show tune, one aria by Gluck – particularly liked the show tune (can’t remember the name of it now!) but both really well done.

Belinda Braggins: possibly the most nervous performer I’ve seen in years, but a writer of really really great solo piano music. A couple of things where she comped chords with her right hand, and all the melody stuff was happening in the bass, so we like that!

Bheki Mseleku: South African legend of spiritual jazz piano, apparently – lots of people there had heard of him, and he was very good.

then food and chats with all sorts of delightful people.

Second set –

Malka Rosenberg: singer/songwriter with a voice a lot like Julia Fordham – really beautiful song. Apparently this was her first ever gig, which, if true, was without a doubt the best debut performance I’ve ever witnessed. really great stuff.

James D’Angelo: Blue Monk variations, deconstructed and mashed up. Very good, very funny, very clever.

Jenni Roditi: our amazing host, performing extracts from her opera The Descent of Inanna. Somehow Jenni has managed to channel the harmony of ‘Lame Lies Down…’ era Genesis and ‘Once Around The World’-era It Bites into an opera, without ever hearing either band. Really great writing.

And then me, on last – because the theme was blank canvas, I just took my headrush pedal along, and my fretless, and started out with an improv piece, based on a similar idea to ‘chance’ off of ‘And Nothing But The Bass’, but with a much shorter loop (if you want to overdub on the headrush, you’ve got a maximum of 11 seconds…) – which came out really well. I then did What A Wonderful World, and got people to sing along, and finished off with Grace And Gratitude. I was then really shocked by the demand for CDs – i’d only taken 10 or so with me, but sold all the solo ones I had in about a minute, and only came home with one copy of Conversations. Everything else went. An amazing gig, perhaps it was the inspiration of so much other amazing music, and the great atmosphere that Jenni creates that did it.

Hat’s off to Jenni for hosting such a great gig – it’s a strong reflection of her personality (I guess in a similar way to how the Recycle Collective reflects mine), and she’s built up a fantastic audience and vibe for these gigs. Long may it continue!

Euroblog #7

Euroblog 7

Right, lesson #1 from all this has been to get the complete Europass whatever you’re doing. OK, so it costs about £100 more, but it gives you way more options, and stops you getting stung the way I have been just now.

Having bought my tickets in Venice on Thursday, on the train just now, I discovered that all the woman had done was reserve the seats for me, and charge me a booking fee, not actually sell me the sodding tickets! She’s listed them as though I had a pass for the whole of Europe, rather than one that doesn’t cover Switzerland and Germany. so I’ve just been stung for another $50 for the Swiss bit of the journey. I think the same is likely to happen in Germany too… eeek. I mean, it’s not going to break the bank, but it’s a total pain in the arse to have been sold the wrong tickets. I think I might go into the Rail Europe offices in London when I get back and complain – it’s not that I would have minded paying the extra – indeed, I was surprised when she told me the price of the tickets from Milan to Amsterdam via Switzerland and Germany – but the hassle of being sold one lot of stuff, then finding out that it’s not valid is just nonsense.

Other than that, it’s all going fine. I’m on train two out of a five train series – this one’s a local Swiss train, from Arth to Olten, and then I change and get on a train to Mannheim, then to Koln, and thence to Amsterdam. It’s funny, traveling on trains takes a lot longer, but is way less tiring than flying. I’m much more relaxed, can get up and wander around, and can watch some of the most beautiful scenery in the world whistle past the window, safe in the knowledge that my eco-monkey credentials are improving by the second. Also got to meet a couple of lovely americans from Portland Oregon, on their way home after a trip round Italy – always nice to meet fellow travellers, have a chat and move on. It’s great the way orbits intersect like this on the road. Sometimes they cross and merge, as with Luca and I, where we end up working together for years to come. Other times, it’s just a 20 minute chat on a train or plane and away you go.

Current Listening – Tollak, Walk This World – he’s the harp-monkey from EuroBassDay, and this record of his is lovely. It’s kind of classic singer/songwriter stuff, in the big emotional 80s songwriter vein, with a fairly major chunk of Beatles harmony.

Update – now on the train from Olten to Mannheim – I think I managed to flummox the ticket inspector with the number of bits of paper I thrust at her – my inter rail pass, my swiss ticket (which says it’s for Basel but I haven’t been there), my seat reservation, and the following tickets through to Amsterdam, and she just tapped some information into her over-sized palm pilot thingie, thanked me and left. So so long as she wasn’t sending messages to marksmen in Mannheim saying I should be shot on sight when I leave the train, I think I’m OK… We’ll see. More news at the top of the hour.

In other train related news, met two more lovely Americans on the last leg of the trip – two girls from Seattle backpacking round Europe.

And Swiss trains officially kick the arse of all other trains. They’re fantastic! I thought I’d wandered into first class by mistake. But no, this is my seat. yay! However, they still haven’t cottoned onto the idea that a power-point next to each seat is a really great idea for laptop users. I guess i’m the only one… riiiight. Also finally managed to find something veggie to eat in a shop on Olten station – a cheese and jalapeno tortilla wrap! Molto picante e bueno. or something.

The big problem with Switzerland is the language thing – with bits of it being Italian speaking, German Speaking, French Speaking, and Swiss-German speaking. My brain hasn’t at all been able to switch to German thus far… I got to the point where I could hold basic conversations when I toured in Germany a lot in the early 90s, but it’s going to take a bit of work to get it back into shape…

[second update] I take back what I said about Swiss trains, I’m stucking in a fucking smoking carriage, and am going to end up smelling disgusting by the end of this, and feeling rather sick. What kind of loser train network lets people smoke on trains? What more’s the point, what kind of loser ticket agent books a seat for a non-smoker in a smoking carriage! The kind of moron that works at Venice station and doesn’t actually book me any tickets, just seat reservations, that’s who… grrrr.

cats and websites

Sorry for big absence from blog-world – two big things have been going on. Firstly, and most tragically, the ginger fairly aged feline has been very unwell. You know about the cancer, which at the moment isn’t showing up the way it was, but he’s now got very serious kidney failure, (creatin level of over 800, which is off the chart), and there’s pretty much nothing they can do. We’ve been trying to get his blood levels settled, but he’s not enjoying the renal food and isn’t really improving anyway, so we’re now pretty much resigned to giving him whatever he wants to eat so he can enjoy his last week or two on earth. It’s a horrible horrible moment to reach – it feels like condemning someone to death, even though there’s no way he’s going to suddenly get better. The will is there to keep fighting for him, but he’s got nothing left to fight with. It’s a dark time in Stevie-Towers.

The second hugely time consuming thing of late is moving my website over to a new server. Copying the stuff over was no problem at all – the Captain took care of that in his usual uber-geek cleverness way – but once there, it became clear that OSCommerce wasn’t going to run on a server running the latest versions of PHP and MySQL (like I know what I’m talking about). So, ’twas time to find a new shopping cart – this time I’ve gone with Zen Cart – it looks quite similar to OSC, but I’m assured by geeks who know that it’s more secure, and much tidier code-wise. I’m almost there, almost completely up to date with the shop – it’ll hopefully go live over the weekend, with advanced order on ‘Behind Every Word’ available, which will include the free download album ‘Lessons Learned From The Fairly Aged Felines (Lessons Learned Pt III)’ – I just need to finish mixing that, zip it up into a zip file with some artwork, and maybe a couple of tracks from ‘Behind Every Word’, and it’ll all be on sale then. I’ll then over the next week or so get Lessons Learned Pt I, Conversations, Open Spaces and It’s Not Gonna Happen up for sale, and hopefully replenish the Street Team Stash with all manner of goodies. Busy time for a bassist cum web designer. :o)

Also, just in, I’ve been booked for an open-air gig in Portsmouth (at least, I’m assuming it’s open air, as it’s for a boat race of some kind, and they generally don’t happen in doors) – I’ll posted the deets as soon as I can.

talk yourself better

Had a lovely afternoon with Cleveland Watkiss. Cleveland came round to check out the Looperlative, but as I couldn’t find my microphone, after a demo of what it can do, we spent a couple of hours talking about the process of making music, approaches to looping, performance ideas, influences, collaborations, all kinds of marvellous conceptual stuff about the process of creating music, of soundtracking the inside of your head, telling your story, absorbing influence and utilising technology.

It was one of the most useful and enjoyable conversations I’ve had about music for a long time, and left me very inspired to both play, and develop the Recycle Collective further. Cleveland is an outstanding musician, with a great pedigree in jazz music and beyond, but is a tireless experimenter, always looking for new ways to channel his creative muse. We’re going to record some more stuff next week.

And now I’m listening to last night’s gig with Theo Travis, having dumped the wav files onto my PC, normalised them, and chopped them up into tracks. It’s sounding great – there are a few blips and glitches here and there on the audio, but nothing that can’t be either sorted out or lived with. Methinks this gig will make up a large part of the live album.

Now, off you go and find someone interesting and open-minded to talk to about whatever it is that drives you creatively – report back here on what you learn!

Expanding the possibilities of solo bass performing

Obviously, with the way I play solo, technology has a big influence on the direction my music heads in. I feel rather pleased that I got the concept right on my first album (at least, right in the sense that I found a way of performing that let me say what I wanted to say), but the limitations at the time were the technology that I had available to me. even that was part-way along a journey that began when I got my first effects unit (a Korg A4) in 1993. Looping entered the picture in about 95 when I got an ART Nightbass, which has a 2 second sample and hold function, which piqued my interest, and which great hugely when I was sent a Lexicon JamMan to review for Bassist Magazine in 1997 (truth be told, the JamMan was already out of production by then, but having read an interview with Michael Manring in ’95, I’d been wanting one ever since, so managed to get the last one that Lexicon had in the UK, wrote a review of it, and created a demand for a product that was no longer available..!)

Anyway, the JamMan had 8 seconds of loop time when I got it – a huge jump up from the 2 seconds in my Nightbass and that provided me with ample experimentation room (if anyone remembers the very first version of my website, when it was on ‘zetnet’, before I got the steve-lawson.co.uk domain, each page had a soundtrack loop, created with the jamman, a CD player for getting drum loops, and my basses, and none of the loops were more than 8 seconds long, cos that’s all I had.

I saved up my pennies and upped the memory in the JamMan to 32 seconds in 98/99, and by the end of 99, played my first solo gig and wrote the tunes that became And Nothing But The Bass, with one looper and my Lexicon MPX-G2 processor. I managed to do some clever things with manual fadeouts (the middle of Drifting on that album has me fading out the JamMan underneath some ambient stuff, then running the ambient loop down to silence for a split second so that I could start looping again to go into the second half of the tune!)

The possibilities with a second looper soon became apparent and a DL4 was procured for another Bassist magazine article. That gave me a whole load more possibilities with backwards and double speed loops, and was used to great effect on Conversations.

The along came the Echoplex – I’d seen Andre LaFosse using one in California, and while not wanting to sound like him, saw what the possibilities were for all those fantastic multiply/undo/substitute and feedback functions. So I got one, and recorded Not Dancing For Chicken with an Echoplex and a DL4 (I think the JamMan was still in the rack at this point, but I didn’t use it). Then I got a second Echoplex, just in time cos my DL4 died… and eventually ended up with four, though I rarely had more than two hooked up at a time. Open Spaces was done with two Echoplexes and the Lexicon (and Theo using a DL4).

The next development stage was an important one – post-processing. With the way I’d been looping all along, the signal chain went fingers-bass-processor-looper-amp. the problem with that was that once it was in the looper, I couldn’t re-process it. I could do some fairly major restructuring of it with the Echoplex, but couldn’t put more reverb on, or delay, or whatever. So I got a second Lexicon unit, and started to be able to route my loop signal, or the signal from the first Lexicon, into it. And that’s how Grace And Gratitude was done – that string pad-like sound that comes in on the title track is me running the loop through a huge reverb and two delays (the Lexicon with my Kaoss Pad in its FX loop).

And that’s how my setup stayed until the end of last year. I started work on a new album towards the end of September, but soon stopped again, when the marvellous Bob told me about his new invention, the Looperlative – Bob had been talking about building a looper for a long time, but now he had the parts and was building his first prototype, and had a feature list, that made it clear that it would completely change the way I was able to perform. the biggest change simply being that it was stereo, so all those lovely ping-pong delays and high-res reverbs would stay intact when I looped them. Oh yes.

The story since then is fairly well documented elsewhere on this blog (just do a search on Looperlative), but the latest developments have been a string of software updates over the last four or five days, that have sent the Looperlative into overdrive. It already has 8 stereo channels, over four minutes of loop time, zero latency and an ethernet port for all those lovely updates, but now Bob has implemented a load of new features, the two best ones being the ability to program up to 8 (EIGHT!) functions to any one midi pedal to happen simultaneously (which means you can have it so that you’re in record, end the loop, reverse it, switch to the next loop, sync it, switch to half time and start recording all with one button push, for example!). The possibilities are enormous. The other great new function is ‘cue’ which arms a track for record, to start recording as soon as any other track is stopped, so if you use the synced stop, you can have it so that you start recording the moment the previous track stops playing, and you can then switch backwards and forwards between them as verse and chorus (or up to 8 different sections to switch between).

So the process of writing and arranging solo music just got way harder in one way, and way easier in another. suddenly the technology is there to do much more complex arrangements that I’ve ever done before, in stereo, with minimal button pushing, but I’ve got to conceive of what’s possible, program the box and experiment before the ideas can evolve… I’m guessing that each track will start the way they always did with me – a single loop which I start layering, and eventually realise needs another loop. And I now have a whole other range of options to start imagining as I go on. I’m rather excited about what this means for the next album!

If you’re into looping, you owe it to yourself to check out the Looperlative – there really is nothing like in on the hardware market (and if you’re like me, the temperamental nature of laptops means that hardware is the only way to go. All hail Bob of the Looperlative, granter of wishes and builder of dreams.

Galloway – Dereliction of Duty?

The ever thought-provoking Sid Smith has blogged today about George Galloway on Big Brother, quoting the following excerpt from the Respect Party website

“I will talk about racism, bigotry, poverty, the plight of Tower Hamlets, the poorest place in England sandwiched between the twin towers of wealth and privilege in Canary Wharf and the spires of the City. I will talk about war and peace, about Bush and Blair, about the need for a world based on respect. Some of it will get through.”

As Sid points out, there’s no way on earth that Channel Four are going to allow the Big Brother broadcasts to be a platform for political rhetoric. From what I’ve seen, there’s been none so far. There have been A LOT of conversations edited for content – those conversations could be libelous, commercially sensitive or overly political. I think George is going to be sorely disappointed when he gets out and sees the footage.

I’m with Sid on this one – I said from the start that I thought Galloway’s decision left him in dereliction of duty as an MP – he’s been democratically elected to represent the people of Tower Hamlets, people who are voiceless. He’s missing the parliamentary debate on The Crossrail project, he already has the third worst attendance record as an MP (last year he was second worst, behind Blair – I’m guessing someone somewhere is off on long-term sick). He’s just not doing his job.

My feelings towards Galloway are mixed – his anti-war stance is great, his opposition to the Blair/Bush lunacy and lies is laudable, and his performance in the US senate last year was one of the outstanding political acts of my lifetime. But the Respect party is a bizarre mis-match – a union of the far-left Socialist Workers Party and the rather more authoritarian Muslim Association of Great Britain. I wouldn’t vote for either party in isolation, and I’m certainly not about to support them in their bizarre union, though I guess one has to applaud the pragmatism of those involved – there can’t really be much of an ideological cross-over between the two groups!

But all that aside, I really don’t think Galloway should be in the BB house – and it’ll be interesting to see if he gets called up in front of a select committee and fined or punished in anyway… But it’d also be nice to see the papers being a bit more balanced in their political reporting, so MPs like Galloway don’t end up doing reality TV to try and get a point across! what a bizarre world we live in. I’m sure part of it is just that Galloway is a bit of an ego-maniac, but if there’s any truth in his appearance being part of an attempt to reach the apolitical masses, then the media is failing to educate and inform.

However, it is fun to see Galloway being exposed to the seedier side of life via the conversations of Jodie Marsh and Dennis Rodman, who are both utterly foul. Dennis Rodman comes across as one of the most sexually predatory people I’ve ever seen in my life, and Jodie seems in capable of any degree of self-restraint, she’ll seemingly say anything to out-filth whoever else is talking, even to the point of sounding wholly unconvincing in the process.

It really is a rum bunch of no-marks in the house. A lot has to do with the way it gets broadcast, and in general we see very little of Maggot, Rula, George and Faria in the shows, unless they get caught in the crossfire of another conversation about sex/orgies/boobs/surgery/yada yada yada. Is that really what people are interesting in hearing about these days? I am, as Liz said in the comments the other day, hopelessly out of touch…

Don’t forget that if you want the latest news, forget the BB website, and follow codenamelizzy’s updates – far more entertaining!

Some thoughts about Eric

I first heard of Eric when he was teaching at the Musicians Institute, when it was above the Bass Centre in Wapping. I’d seen his name on their literature, and had various people come up to me to tell me about this amazing guitarist they’d heard. Not long after that (late 90s, I guess?) I heard him play at a trade show, doing his arrangement of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (bassline, chords, melody ‘n’ everything on acoustic guitar, and managing to not make it sound like a gimmick) – it was obvious from that that he was an amazing musician, but trade shows back then for me were a blur of running from one Bassist mag event to another, demoing gear (like Eric) or doing on-stage interviews with the various celeb bassists that had been booked (without any thought for what they might do when they got there).

It was quite a few years before I got to meet Eric properly – he turned up at a gig of mine in California, with our mutual friend Thomas Leeb – I’d met Thomas through Ashdown and he’d been telling me loads about Eric as well. We chatted briefly at the gig. We met up again a couple of months later at another music trade show in London, where Eric was feeling pretty rough, but we spent more time talking. We pretty much instantly hit it off, as we were in a similar place – solo players who taught and wrote for magazines. About a week later I found out that Eric had be diagnosed with Cancer for the first time. No wonder he was feeling rough at the show.

Very soon after that, Muriel Anderson was coming over for some gigs, and she knew Eric from booking him for her All-star guitar night at NAMM, so the two of us went up to see him. The conversation at Eric’s house that day was the one that showed me what a strong character he was – he talked with great honesty about his hopes and fears following the diagnosis, his concern for his family (his partner, Candy, was pregnant with their second child when the first diagnosis came through) and the way it had made him focus on what was important in life.

We swapped CDs, and it was clear from listening to his latest album, With These Hands, that that depth of thought was already there when making the record. It’s a beautiful record, moving in parts, funny in others – the guitar playing is outstanding, but the music and Eric soul shine through. (later on he told me that he had me in mind for one of the tracks on the record – Deep Deep Down – but producer Martin Taylor wanted to keep it all solo. Listening to the end result, I agree with Martin, though it will be a source of eternal regret that Eric and I never recorded together).

After that we kept in touch via email, text and phone calls as his treatment progressed, through the hell of radiotherapy to the joyous news of his first ‘all clear’. After that came plans for a tour together, recordings, all the usual muso stuff – none of it felt urgent, Eric was well again, and we had plenty of time for that.

Met up again at the birmingham music show in November – Eric was not long out of radiotherapy but was playing so well (the version of Bushwhacker – an anti-GWB track – was incredible). After the gig we were chatting and mucking around while Eric signed things, and one guy came up and said ‘what would you say if I asked you to sign this?’ to which Eric replied in his dry caustic way ‘I’d tell you to fuck off’. The reply from the guy (clearly phased by this) was ‘I’ve been praying for you’ – Eric then recognised the guy, who he’d met before, and was mortally embarassed that he’d offended the guy, even in a joke. He’d commented before about how moving it had been for him when people who knew he was ill came to pray for him after gigs. Eric was a Buddhist, and a seeker after truth – that was another connection we had, music with a spiritual meaning.

He came to see me play in Colchester with Michael Manring a couple of weeks after the Music Show. I was so pleased to be able to tell the crowd they should buy his CDs, to put him in touch with the guys running CAMM – a local college where he could have started teaching again (he’d been head of guitar at the ACM in Guildford, but living in Cambridgeshire, the drive was beyond him now), to introduce him to the venue for a possible gig.

NAMM in Anaheim this last January was the last time I saw Eric, and it’s another huge regret of mine that I didn’t spend enough time with him there. I spent AGES dragging everyone I knew to come and see him play – he was on a punishing demo schedule for Avalon guitars, playing on the hour every hour, and I must’ve watched him play 20 times over the weekend, but we spent nowhere near enough time talking. I introduced him to friends, made everyone I knew stop by the stand to hear him. He was playing well, though as usual at tradeshows, he was amplified and cranking the top end just to cut through the hubbub of the hall.

When I heard that Eric’s cancer was back, and was inoperable, I couldn’t believe it – Eric, strong, spiritual, clean-living, had beaten it. Surely that was it? The conversation where he told me about it, where it had spread to, what the docs had said was one of the saddest phone conversations I’ve ever had. But he was still so positive. Scared, worried for his family, desperate to keep playing and meet his gig commitments.

Our jam never happened, nor the gigs, nor the recording. I’ll forever be thinking what it would’ve sounded like. We had very similar ideas about the purpose of music, about why we did what we did.

All in, I didn’t spend that much time with Eric. Nowhere near enough. His impact on me was huge, due to his beautiful music and his inner strength when facing his illness. He was an inspiration, and I was really pleased to be able to play my tune for him each night at the Edinburgh festival, pointing people to his website and recommending his music. It made me even more pleased that it was most people’s favourite tune on the gig. He never got to hear it.

I’ll miss him, I’ll miss the possibility of him and I’ll regret that we didn’t know eachother better. He left behind three CDs and a live DVD (I need to get the DVD) – the first two CDs are really good, but it’s With These Hands that is his masterpiece. It’s beautiful. Deep Deep Down is one of the most beautiful instrumentals I’ve ever heard. That he thought of having me play on it is one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever been paid as a musician.

Go and buy his CDs. Please. You’ll get some amazing music, his family will get the money. I can’t imagine what his family are going through now. My thoughts are with them – no matter how much the sense of loss that one has for a friend and musical inspiration, it’s not even close to the pain of losing a husband/dad/brother/son.

Rest in Peace, Eric. Thanks for the inspiration.

Soundtrack – Eric Roche, ‘Spin’.

TAGS –

Those groovy Scandinavians do it again…

In an idea nicked from a library in Sweden, Almelo library in Holland has set up a ‘living library’ – yes, you can actually book time with “gay men and women, “non-criminal” drug addicts, disabled people, asylum seekers or Gypsies.”

The idea is to allow conversations with people that are often misunderstood, victimised or marginalised, to spead understanding and tolerance.

What a fantastic idea! I love it. However, the best bits are a couple of the quotes in the article –

“We want to help people learn about all sorts of minority groups,” Mr Krol said. “We even have a politician people can borrow.”

The most popular request the library is currently receiving receives at the moment is for a gay Turkish man, but Mr Krol emphatically denies running a covert dating agency.

But read the whole article is great. The Dutch and the Scandinavians are often branded with the stereotype that they are PC to the point of lunacy, but I think this scheme really is marvellous. I’d love to go and book conversational time with interesting people I don’t understand at my local library. Maybe Mosques in London could just set it up as a way of letting the rest of Londoners understand a little more about muslims. I’m sure it’d be popular (though sadly I’m also sure that security would have to be fairly tight, as it’s the kind of scheme that parts of London’s scumbag populus would like to disrupt).

Anyway, for now I’ll keep hiring myself out for interesting conversations about bass guitar, with demonstrations thrown in, for just £25 an hour, or £40 for a two hour sesh!

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!