New solo tune on video – Don't Stop Believin'

For last week’s Freedom Of Expression gig in Gipsy Hill, I took a mini-set-up. I couldn’t really face packing up my whole rack to take on the bus, so I took my Line 6 DL4 (thanks Mike!) and my Akai Headrush – both loop pedals, but the DL4 also has a load of Delay sounds on it. I’ve only used them in conjunction with one another a few times, so it was a chance to experiment a little.

And experiment I did – the video below starts out as ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ ‘ by Journey, then goes all spacey and ambient.. for 13 minutes. It was pretty creatively inspiring to be a) limited by what those two pedals are capable of and b) not have any kind of ‘routine’ worked out, so to be throwing sounds out there and reacting to what came back… I’m happy with the results, hence the video post!


Steve Lawson – solo bass. Don’t Stop Believin’ from Steve Lawson on Vimeo.

Given the choice, I’d still use my Looperlative/Lexicon set-up at any gig, thanks very much – but it’s great to be reminded once in a while that improv can extend to form and structure as much as to notes…

The inspiration to try this tune in the first place was two-fold – firstly, I LOVE the Petra Haden version of this tune that’s on her MySpace page – she’s a genius. And secondly, one of my students, Dan, arrived at his lesson last week playing pretty much the chordal loop that I use for the main body of the tune – same progression, slightly different rhythm and fingering, I think… anyway, we were playing around with an arrangement of this tune in his lesson, and the challenge was we’d both go away and work on it… so I did, only I did it on stage 🙂

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it half as much as I enjoyed playing i!

What music gear manufacturers don't get about looping.

My looping rig, featuring the looperlative LP1Looping is no longer a gimmick. It’s official. If it’s your gimmick, find a new one. It’s way too mainstream to be a cover for crap music any more.

It’s all happened fairly recently – back when I started doing solo gigs (late 90s) it was a fantastic gimmick. Fortunately I never relied on it being such, or I’d be screwed now, but it had a certain freak factor that was appealing to certain audiences.

Now everyone and her dog are looping, so it doesn’t work as a gimmick. Which is fantastic news. Really, really great news. It stops crap tuneless musicians from doing mindlessly repetitive gigs just because they’ve bought an esoteric bit of kit and can impress a few gear-geeks with it. One nil to the audience; oh, and learn some tunes, crappy-looping-dude.

However, what hasn’t changed since looping went mainstream is the conversation about it. Both from the vast majority of the musicians using it and from the manufacturers, the basic statements about what it is and what it does – and what it gives you – are the same as they were years ago;

  • that it’s about recording a bit of audio that goes round and round and round until you stop it at the end of the song.
  • That the longer the loop time you have, the better the box you’re playing with.

So the digitech jamman gives you up to 6.5 HOURS of loop time, but still has most of what few functions it has applied in such a way that they only work in ‘step-time’ – ie, you have to stop the loop, or at least interrupt your performance to the point where you look like a bit of a twat on stage in order to be able to do them. (Ironically, the original Lexicon JamMan, with its 32 seconds of loop time, was an infinitely better looper than the Digitech…)

Here’s a list of things that the gear manufacturers seem to think people want –

  • internal metronomes that play through your amp
  • quantise functions
  • massive amounts of loop time
  • amp simulation
  • the ability to get rid of mistakes, but not undo layers
  • only two buttons to work with
  • removeable media

And what’s weird is, if you’re the owner of one of the lower end loop boxes, who bought it after seeing an ad for it, you probably agree with the stuff on that list. Even though what they amount to is a glorified mini-disc recorder with foot controls, and a practice tool that stops you learning how to actually play your instrument.

Lemme explain –

Internal metronomes – What use is an internal metronome? For one, it plays through the outputs, so if you hear it your audience hears it. That’s crap, no-one wants to listen to a click track. Secondly it suggests that looping works best when it’s in time. It doesn’t. Thirdly, it suggests that even if you want it to be in time, you need a click. You don’t, you need to practice.

Quantise functions – Why quantise? No idea. All it does it mean that you don’t learn to loop in time, and most importantly you don’t know what’s going to come out when you loop it. You don’t know because you’re not in control of how it works. Something else is. It’s the death of anything spontaneous about looping, and looping without the option to be spontaneous is like gigging with a backing track. ie, largely, shit. It also requires you to have a metronome on, see point above.

Massive amounts of loop time – Surely that’s a good thing? Well, yes and no. It’s not in an of itself a bad thing. It’s using it that’s a bad thing. REALLY long loops are very, very hard to make interesting, especially if you’re playing solo. I’ve heard a few people do it, I’ve heard very few (one or two) do it well. None of them were using RC-20s or JamMen. The advertising says long loop time is great for saving lots of loops. But saving loops is a curates egg. It’s great if you want to be able export them and remix particular things. It’s crap if you start using pre-recorded stuff because you think you’ve got the perfect take and don’t want to risk getting it wrong. Because of this last point, pre-recorded loops are, by and large, the death of creative aspiration. (the qualifications in my statements about pre-recorded stuff are because there are a handful of artists doing REALLY interesting stuff with prerecorded material. They are however, overwhelmingly the exception rather than the rule).

Amp simulation – Again, not a bad thing, just not the kind of thing you can do with any level of sophistication at the push of a button on a £200 loop box. Amp Sim = roll off the high end, boost the midrange. get an amp or a proper amp sim, or learn to live without it.

The ability to get rid of mistakes, but not undo layers – OK, this really is a biggie. The way the undo works on the RC-20 is that you hold down the footswitch for 2 seconds and then it deletes the last layer. Possibly the most unmusical interface ever in an effects pedal. Totally useless bollocks, based on the assumption that removing layers is about getting rid of mistakes when step-time building a loop, not about arranging a piece by putting layers in and taken them out. We’re back to the mini-disc concept of looping. It’s rubbish, it’s annoying, and it needs to change.

Only two buttons to work with – I kinda understand the need to make the RC-20 meet the floot-print of the other Boss pedals like it. It’s just that they crippled the user by doing it, and end up with shit functions like the one mentioned above. You can’t do proper interactive loopage with two buttons. It doesn’t work. The JamMan allows you to plug in another pedal, but infuriatingly it controls a load of step time functions for recalling prerecorded loops!!! ARRRGHHH! Why not have reverse? Why not have ‘next loop record’? You utter morons!

Removeable media – Again, a curates egg, like loop time. Nothing wrong with it, just not something that is ever going to be particularly good if you can’t also record an entire performance into it, and export each layer separately. That would be a great use of removeable media. But nobody does it.

So what’s missing? Conceptually, the notion that loops are static is really, really restrictive. Unless you just write very simple, beautiful repetitive songs, looping needs to be interactive, because it’s the interactivity stops the audience from ‘learning’ the loop. As soon as the audience knows exactly what’s going on with the loop, it becomes a backing track. That’s why on tracks like Grace and Gratitude and Behind Every Word the timing is so stretchy. It’s really difficult to get a handle on predicting exactly where the loop is going to come back round, and means I can build rhythmic tension and ambiguity into the melody. It also, crucially, keeps me listening on a much more intense level, because I haven’t learned the loop shape exactly first time round, I’m interacting with it the way I would another musician.

So how does one interact with a loop? Well, the simplest way to do it is to stop and start the loop. Record something, play over it, then stop it and play something else, then start it again. Hurrah! interaction, human decision making, audience interest. Any of these boxes can do that.

The second level is overdubs. You don’t have to do all your layering at the start! A simple ‘AAAAA’ form tune can be made way more interesting by starting simple and adding bits as you go along – again, have a listen to Grace and Gratitude – on the album version there are three layers, which come in progressively through the piece, and then a load of post-processing of the loop (all live) which I’ll get to later…

However, with overdubs, it’s also nice to be able to take them away again. The Akai Headrush does this in a really cool musical way – the undo removes everything except the initial loop, and it does it the moment you hit the pedal. It’s great, it’s musical, and I could get more mileage of of the 11 seconds I get with the Headrush than the 4 years of loop time in any of the others… would be nice to have a little more than 11 seconds though. :o)

Third level is fade-outs, which can happen in three ways – manual volume control, pre-programmed fadeout or feedback control. The Line 6 DL4 allowed for a manual fade out, thanks to the expression pedal socket – you could set it so that as you fade the loop out, the delays over the top got louder and the feedback on them increased, which is a fantastically musical option (have a listen to any of the looping Theo Travis has been doing of late to hear that effect…) – Pre-programmed fades are a pain in the arse, because again, you’re relinquishing control, and losing your own touch on the detail. and IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DETAIL.

If you ever get a chance to go to a classical masterclass with a world-reknowned master musician, do it. Doesn’t matter what instrument. What matters is what it is the sets them apart. In my mid-20s, I thought I was the bollocks, thought I was a really shit-hot bassist. Then one night on tour, I watched a televised cello masterclass. The dude giving it had the student play through the piece – I can’t remember what the piece was – anyway, she was fantastic, and my first thought was ‘what the hell is he going to say to critique that??’ Then he started to pull it apart. He was pretty gentle in his words, but he deconstructed almost every element of what she did. And when he demonstrated passages, it was like taking off sunglasses when you’ve forgotten that you had them on, and realising it’s not as dark in-doors as you thought… It was a whole other level up, BUT, that level was probably less than 2% of what was going on. The woman playing the piece was great, at least 98% proper great. But that 2% counts. The control, the detail, the focus, the hours and hours of practice. And pre-set fade-outs aren’t in that 2%.

So to feedback. Feedback is the single most undervalued parameter in a looper. I know because I was utterly clueless about it for years, to the point of suggesting that my set up with the jamman was fine and I didn’t need an Echoplex because feedback could be simulated by doing fadeouts with a volume pedal.

Bollocks it can. (never let it be said I’m unwilling to admit when I’m very slow indeed at getting my head round things…)

Feedback, put as simply as I can, is control over the progressive decrease in volume of the audio in a loop, by a certain percentage each time it comes around. So if you’re feedback is set at 70%, the second time round will be 30% quieter than the first, and so on, until it fades out.

What’s really important about feedback is that stuff you overdub while it’s fading is still coming in at 100% – if you fade it by volume, everything reduces at the same rate. If you use feedback, you can get the effect of layers receding into the distance. Have a listen to Ubuntu, Need You Now or No Such Thing As An Evil Face from Not Dancing For Chicken – that was me discovering the joys of feedback, and the subtle evolving textures work really well.

None of the cheap loopers have feedback, not even the RC-50 (the Roland website hilariously states “The Ultimate Looper Has Arrived” – but then forgets to link to the Looperlative…) A feedback control would change everything for one of those crappy loopers. Just a jack socket for an expression pedal. Please?

Next up on the interactivity list we have changing the form – with the current crop of low and mid-priced loopers, they’re set up to do A/A/A/A/A/etc. or to switch between prerecorded backing tracks. Would it have been so hard to set up the architecture so that if you used the track up button on the JamMan external footswitch and went to an empty slot, it started recording to that slot at the end of the current repeat of the one that you’re on? Apparently, it would be too hard, cos it doesn’t do it.

I’ve done a few tunes with multiple sections – Behind Every Word, FRHU, Despite My Worst Intentions – as you can see I tend to lean towards tracks that evolve rather than ABABABAB, which is why I’d vote for feedback control over switching between loops for recording, but both would be ideal.

Back to how this fits with interactivity, and your connection with the audience – multiple sections give us another way to be unpredictable. The audience doesn’t know when you’ll switch to the next loop, so they stay attentive (assuming the actual noises you’re looping are engaging in and of themselves – x-ref the stuff about gimmicks at the start).

It’s UTTERLY vital that your audience feels like anything could happen right up to the end of the song. Even if they know that you’re likely to play the song in it’s usual form, they need to feel like they’re part of something unique. The gig I did at The Spitz a few weeks back opening for Max Richter and Hauschka was a really interesting one for me, and hopefully for the audience, because I used each of the tunes as a springboard for a big improv. Grace and Gratitude was about 40% written content, same for Behind Every Word – both spiralled off, and everyone was rapt. I got a far better response that I thought I would have done on the gig, and life was marvellous, if only for a moment.

This is all before we’ve got into varispeeding, reversing, scrambling, replacing, selective overdubbing and generally fucking about with the loops in a way that the Looperlative, Repeater, Echoplex and the various software loopers can. We (we being the loopers who aren’t happy with glorified minidisc) owe a huge debt of gratitude to Kim Flint and Matthias Grob for the work they did on the Echoplex – everyone else working in this field right now is standing on the shoulders of giants… or at least standing on the shoulders of a Swiss hippie and a geek from the Bay Area.

Thanks to the bureaucratic nightmare that is the Gibson corp, the EDP seems to be on hold at the moment – perhaps because of the fact that it miraculously manages to be that advanced on a late 80s Mac processor, which is both remarkable and very limiting in terms of development without a total hardware redesign. It’s also still mono and relatively low-fi.

The best of the hardware loopers (and I’m not a fan of trying this stuff on a computer – way too much to go wrong, i just don’t trust mac or windows enough to rely on them in a gig…) is definitely the Looperlative – the ethernet port for software upgrades means it’s properly upgradeable, the full stereo signal path and much higher sampling rate mean it’s useful for proper recording, and the fact that it’s basically one bloke doing it all means that while it all slows down if he’s out of action (Bob was ill for a while earlier this year), there’s no focus groups or board members or rubber stampers to get past to make it happen. Bob Amstadt is a truly remarkable bloke for bringing the Looperlative to fruition and I now can’t imagine gigging without it. There isn’t anything that I could even begin to replace it with.

Which brings us to what is probably the single most annoying thing about what Roland and Digitech and to some degree Line6 have done to looping – they’ve turned it into a pedal/effect market when in fact it has the potential to be an instrument. The Echoplex is an instrument, the Looperlative is an instrument, the Repeater is an instrument. They take time to learn, they are subtle, complex, adaptable, interactive, require finesse and taste and get tired very quickly if seen as a gimmick. They reward hard work, practice, focus and conceptual consideration, and can be used to make unique, beautiful, complex engaging music in the same way that a piano can. I’m sure that someone will argue the semantics that because they don’t generate sound they are processors of sound, but my counter to that would be that unlike a processor, for most of the functions on a looper you have to actually do something to get a result – you can’t just plug it in and have it do things to your sound like, say, a chorus or delay pedal.

Because people see Looping as either an effect, or even worse, a toy, they see the Echoplex and Looperlative as expensive. I think £700 or there abouts for a Looperlative is the greatest bargain in the music world since the last time someone found a Strad in a junk shop. It all depends on whether you want to learn it as an instrument or keep ploughing the defunct and potentially embarrassing furrow that a bit of rudimentary looping is a clever gimmick that will get you gigs when your music won’t do it on its own.

BTW, none of this says that you can’t make great music with an RC-20, JamMan or Dl4 – all of them have parameters that can frame your fantastic looping ideas. What they don’t do is point you in the right direction, so you have to do the hard work yourself. Remember that great music is technology independent – the technology will inform it, and facilitate it coming through in a certain way, and even feed into your creative process, but it won’t make your music great, any more than buying a Moleskine will make you a great writer. That comes from practice, thought, process and having a story to tell. Which is a whole other post.

This looks interesting

The forthcoming POD X3 from Line 6 looks to be the first Line 6 product since the DL4 that’s got almost everything it should have… Mic preamp modeling in a guitar processor? sounds like lots o’ fun to me.

Now if only I could find a picture of the routing for it – the ones on the website don’t show the connections in and out… and I wish they’d do a 1U rack mount, but I guess in the tradition of the other Pod rackmounts, this’ll be 2U, which makes it too big to fly with – when is someone going to do a range of really powerful tiny processors for musicians who travel by train or plane? One of the best things about the Looperlative is that it’s a small 1U rack mount box that weighs very little and comes with a power supply that’s as light as phone charger.

Still the X3 will definitely be worth investigating…

[ further investigation found this site which suggests that the classic POD Bean-shaped version won’t have a MIDI connector, or the external FX loop, or the XLR outs… I hope those are just unconfirmed rumours, and Line6 get all the features into a tiny box – some of us have to fly to gigs occasionally! ]

Croydon gig

Just back from a lovely little gig in Croydon, at the Freedom Of Expression night down there. Modeled on quality acoustic nights like the Kashmir and The Bedford, Tim Eveleigh has put together a great little gig down there.

I say ‘down there’ – Croydon’s a hell of a long way away! I’m sure I saw signs just before I got there saying ‘you are now entering Mordor – heyre be dragons’ – I felt like Reapacheep in Voyage Of The DawnTreader, getting into my little boat and sailing off to the end of the world…

Anyway. The line up was fab, but the audience was even better – especially one completely nuts woman who spent her entire time there shouting in a really loud and shrill voice at her brow-beaten broken-looking husband. Oh, and at anyone who suggested she might keep her voice down during the music. A total disaster that just screamed ‘mail order bride’ – came across as one of the most obnoxious people I’ve ever seen, but had sadly left before I went on, or we’d have had some fun.

As it was, I realised just before I went on that I’d forgotten the power supply for the Looperlative!! Oh bugger. Not good at all. There goes all the tunes off the new album that I was planning to do.

Fortunately, help came in the form of the lovely Cara Winter, who had been using a DL4 for some excellent vocal loopage in her set, and offered to lend it to me. Yay! It’s a hell of a long time since I last did a gig with a DL4, that’s for sure! But it meant I could do Grace And Gratitude, Amo Amatis Amare, an improv groovy thing call ‘Mail Order Bride’, and in between I did What A Wonderful World, Deep Deep Down (the Eric Roche tune) and Deeper Still. All in all, not a bad set, which was very well received, even by the mad drunk bloke who kept giving me quite positive heckles, but didn’t seem to mind me just referring to him as ‘nutter’.

So, a fab gig – if you live in Mordor, (or even Morden) do check out Freedom Of Expression – it’s every Tuesday night, and I’m bound to be back down there soon…

A solo theremin gig???

Yup, that was the first half of the gig I saw last night – Pamelia Kurstin’s gig at The Vortex was one I happened upon while looking at their website for something else entirely last week. When I saw that her two collaborators on the gig were Seb Rochford and A< HREF=http://www.liamnoble.co.uk/>Liam Noble, it was a sure thing – had to see that.

The first half of the gig was a solo looped Theremin set – Pamelia was using two DL4s and an EH Bass Microsynth – and the first 20 minutes of it was captivating. After that it was still good, it’s just tricky to sustain that level of interest without varying the arrangement ideas (would love to hear what she’d do with a Looperlative instead of the DL4s).

The second half was wonderful – lots of mad squeaky gate improv stuff with Seb on drums and Liam on piano. Both guys are such great and original improvisors, and worked really well with the theremin craziness coming from Pamelia, who veered from violin territory to clarinet tones to the sound of a pizzicato double bass. Fascinating stuff. All in all a top gig, and I’ll have to get her for the Recycle Collective next time she’s in London!

What was also most fun about the night was the number of other players that showed up – Julian Seigel, Estelle Kokot, Mandy Drummond, Phil Robson, Dylan Bates, Jason Broadbent – a most enjoyable jazz-hang! And what’s more, the Vortex are wanting to book the trio from August’s RC gig – me, seb and Andy Hamill – for a gig in Jan/Feb! Yay! And I got booked for a gig with Estelle in a couple of weeks time – more on that soon…

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.

too much bass?

Is there such a thing as too much bass? Let’s explore…

Sunday started at 6am – get up, load the car, get on the road. If you’re thinking of driving to Manchester, I highly recommend 6am on a Sunday as a time to go – v. easy drive, no traffic, bit frosty and a frozen window washer, but a breeze.

Trip and I arrived at the Life Cafe, unloaded our gear into the venue which was already full of lovely bassists and big PA stuffs. Park car, come back, chill out.

The running order was marvellous – started with John Lester (saving the best ’til first?), who won over the entire crowd within about 5 minutes, as he always does. Marvellous start to the day.
the breakdown – Bass solos? Yes, lots. slapping and tapping? yes but minimal and tasteful. Great tunes? oh yes. vocals/other instruments? All vocal tunes.

next up, Trip Wamsley – Trip and I have been playing together for the last week, so I caught the beginning of his set then headed off to have a shave and a wash so as not to go on stage looking like a slightly camp homeless dude. But anyway, Trip did his thing, sang a couple of things, played some lovely fretless.
the breakdown – Bass solos? Yes, all bass solos! slapping and tapping? mucho both. Great tunes? again, in abundance. vocals/other instruments? All solo bass, but a couple of vocal tunes.

and after Trip, Jon Reshard – Jon’s a phenomenally gifted player for his slender age – at just 20, he’s already playing beautifully and writing some fabulous compositions. There’s more than a small amount of Victor Wooten in his playing, but each time I hear him play he’s adding more of his own sound to the mix, and is on his way to being a truly outstanding musician.
the breakdown – Bass solos? all bass solo! slapping and tapping? yes, and just about every other imaginable technique. great tunes? some v. cool tunes, and some other more groove-oriented rhythm experiments. vocals/other instruments? no, except a little bit of audience sing along which worked beautifully.

Then me – my set was the usual affair, set list was Grace And Gratitude, Kindness Of Strangers, MMFSOG, Despite My Worst Intentions, Shizzle, then a bit of a Q&A before finishing with People Get Ready. Response seemed to be great (CD and t-shirt sales were amazing, so clearly lots of people were digging it), audience very attentive and supportive. All in all v. happy with my set.

After me was Stevie Williams – fantastic Manchester local, highly respected jazzer and occasional solo bassist, this time Stevie was playing with a quintet, playing some exceedingly funky stuff – the perfect balance to all the solo bass stuff that had opened the show. At this point I realised that I’d been treating the day more like a proper gig than any bass-day i’d been to before – lots of great music, an audience that really seemed to be listening, it all added up to being a fine day thus far…
the breakdown – Bass solos? a few, but shorter and tasteful. slapping and tapping? Some slap, I think, but didn’t see any tapping at all. Mainly solid fingerstyle grooving. great tunes? yup, lots. vocals/other instruments? yup, full band, drums/keys/guitar/trumpet/bass.

Who was next? Er, ah, yes, Jan-Olof Strandberg, a Finnish bassist that I’ve known for quite a few years. Lovely guy, and fantastic bassist. Started out with some solo stuff on acoustic bass guitar which was beautifully played, but sounded a bit harsh through the PA to really do it justice. Having heard Jan play solo ABG before, I know how good he can sound, so it was a shame that it wasn’t quite what it could have been, but still very good, and very well received. He then assembled a scratch band, his band not having been able to get there, including Dave Marks on guitar. Dave’s usually a bassist, but is clearly also a very fine guitarist. The bastard.
the breakdown – Bass solos? lots, but some grooving as well. slapping and tapping? plenty. great tunes? some cool tunes, some more meandering technical things. vocals/other instruments? quartet stuff was very good.

Then British-born-of-Polish-descent-New-York-residen Janek Gwizdala was on. Another player stricken by fallen band members, Janek’s guitar player is currently in hospital in London with unknown scary ailments. So Janek and his drummer improvised a set, starting out playing to a drum ‘n’ bass thing Janek had programmed in Ableton Live, which sounded great, lots of v. creative bassing and drumming. They played a few more improv things, Janek looping on a DL4, and shredding over the top in a jazz stylee. I’d have really liked to heard the trio, having heard the CD, but the duet set was still good, especially for an impromptu thang (even most improv gigs are planned as improv gigs, so this was double-improv!), Janek’s another player who is developing his own thing away from a strong Matthew Garrison influence. He’s already great, and could well end up world-beating…

The last two acts of the day switched order due to travel problems. So second last on was Lorenzo Feliciati, a good friend and very fine bassist from Italy. He had his band with him, and they played incredibly tight, funky and beautifully arranged fusion. Great compositions, fantastic playing, great sounds. By this time my ears were beginning to fatigue from bass overload, but Lorenzo was just marvellous. Great stuff.

And last up, Linley Marthe – bassist with the Zawinul Syndicate, fantastic player, some killer ideas, and an amazing array of sounds from a really simple set-up (about four stomp boxes and a wah pedal). His improvised set was a bit meandering in places, but contained enough moments of brilliance to keep me interested. Just the range of sounds he was squeezing from the bass was amazing enough, and add to that some great musical ideas, and I was with him most of the way (though he did slip into ‘Tears In Heaven’ which seems to have become something of a solo bass staple… I dunno, I’m not sure about performing songs that someone else wrote about their child dying… but maybe that’s just me.)

Anyway, that was the music – except Linley, I’d met all these guys before, and it was great to catch up with so many old friends, to make some news ones, meet people from my street team that I’d emailed a lot and who’d been so supportive for years without us ever having met, and just to get a chance to chat with lots of people who were into what I was doing. We like that a lot.

A great day all round, the best lineup I’ve heard at a bass day, a very cool venue, well organised, great audience. What’s not to love?

And now I’m knackered, having done nearly 500 miles in two days, had v. little sleep the last two nights, and needing some rest. g’night.

SoundtrackCathy Burton, ‘Speed Your Love’ (I love this album more every time I listen to it).

A quick round up of some election related goings on…

Firstly there’s whoshouldyouvotefor.com – a series of online questions (rather obvious ones relating to specific pledges in the different party manifestos) that tells you who you should be voting for. obviously, I came out fairly staunchly lib dem on this one…

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Who should I vote for?

Your expected outcome:

Liberal Democrat

Your actual outcome:

Labour -30
Conservative -75
Liberal Democrat 108
UK Independence Party -24
Green 58

You should vote: Liberal Democrat

The LibDems take a strong stand against tax cuts and a strong one in favour of public services: they would make long-term residential care for the elderly free across the UK, and scrap university tuition fees. They are in favour of a ban on smoking in public places, but would relax laws on cannabis. They propose to change vehicle taxation to be based on usage rather than ownership.

Take the test at Who Should You Vote For

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Interestingly, the leader article in today’s New Statesman is all about how the Lib Dems are no longer a wasted vote, and if they do well they could hold the balance of power in a hung parliment, which is great news! So, go and vote for them on May 5th! 🙂

Er, what else? Ah yes, there’s some scumbag Tory lying turd MP who doctored a picture of him supporting the case of a local asylum seeker to look like he was campaigning against immigration – now Michael Howard is refusing to sack him. Rotten to the core.

And on that note, check out the torybusting going on on this blog – some really doctored posters, and some photoshop. The tories’ campaign this time is horribly targeted. I think this one says it all –

They can’t get in… can they??

What else? Ah yes, The UN human rights commission have concluded that kids in Iraq were better of under Saddam. Yes, that’s right, that murdering, torturing amoral scumbag did less to ruin the lives of the children of iraq than the illegal invasion and occupation have. Despite the fact that then they were living under UN Sanctions, so very little of anything was getting into the country. Now, I guess it’s getting in, but they are having to pay ‘western prices’ for stuff that previously was being subsidised. Ah, don’t you just love free market economics, especially when kids die as a result. Just watch those shareprices skyrocket. Get out that one, Blair.

And on that note, tonight is the Make Poverty History/Trade Justice Movement all night candle-lit vigil in Whitehall, calling on the government to apply pressure to the World Bank and IMF to modify trade laws in favour of the world’s poorest nations, to cancel debts and increase aid. The opening ceremony thingie in Westminster Abbey is going to be marvellous. then there are fun things going on all over the Whitehall area all night. Be there. see the Trade Justice Movement website for the details.

SoundtrackThe Works, ‘Beware Of The Dog’ (I’ll write more about this later, it’s fantastic!); Antonio Carlos Jobim, ‘The Wonderful World Of Antonio Carlos Jobim’; Phil Keaggy, a a live gig from a church in California – skip to about 37 minutes through, unless you really want to watch 37 minutes of Californian mega-church stuff going on. The gig is fab, and features some of the most nifty looping I’ve seen in a long while, using a JamMan and one maybe two DL4s.

Developmental Myopia…

I think it’s fair to say that my progress thus far as a solo performer has been a series of myopic fixations. And not without good reason – I’m the kind of person who thrives on creative restrictions, giving me something to bang up against and come up wtih interesting ways to subvert or supercede those limitations.

This is most evident in the development of the compexity of my live and recording set up, and the way advice that I receive often takes years to filter into practice.

A few examples –

back in 2000, when I was first doing solo gigs, I had also recently signed up to the Loopers Delight discussion list . I was a fairly avid fan and advocate for the Lexicon JamMan that I Was using at the time. Much of the discussion on the list revolved around the relative merits of various looping devices and a lot of the users therein recommended the Echoplex Digital Pro over the JamMan because it had feeback control. Pah! says I, who needs that, I can just stick a volume pedal inline after the JamMan and fade it out that way, not really getting the point of feedback, and not having the wisdom to enquire further as to its usefulness. Fast forward a couple of years to me getting an Echoplex, and finally the merits of a feedback control are very plain to see. Had I asked earlier, maybe I’d have got to grips with the loop function in my Lexicon MPX-G2 a lot earlier, that having feedback control….

About a year later on Looper’s Delight, another discussion comes up about how to wire all the different boxes together (I think a picture of the kind of geeks we are who sit around discussing looping all day….) – and various wise and learned loopers are talking about running looping devices in Auxiliary channels on mixing desks (if you don’t know, you don’t need to know, believe me – skip all this waffle and read something else instead), and once again, me having up to that point run my gear all in a straight line poo-pooh’d the idea, suggesting that such things were overly picky and not to be worried about. Jump forward a couple of years to the recording of Not Dancing For Chicken, and I discover that by borrowing the Small Person’s mixing desk, I can put the various looping devices in auxiliary channels and make everything much tidier and the signal much cleaner…

On the preliminary sessions for Not Dancing For Chicken, Jez and I set about recording it in his studio. ‘shall we put each looper and processor into a separate channel on the computer?’ asks jez. No, says I, cos I want to be able to record it all through a mic’d bass amp… One failed session later I realise that on studio recordings, mic’ing bass amps for reverb and hifi regenerating delay sounds is probably not such a great idea. Still, I then went home and recorded the entire album in stereo when I could fairly easily have separated it all out if I’d not been fixated on my one way of doing things… Fast forward once again to this latest album that I’m just finishing up, and having finally bought a mixing desk with insert sends on each channel, I’ve been able to record the signal from each of the G2s and each of the Echoplex onto separate tracks, making the signal cleaner, the mix far more maleable and the end result my best yet…

So those, along with various other options I really should have taken up a long time ago have lead me to a place where I have a hugely versatile set up, incorporating about 5 years worth of accumulated advice, all of it seemingly on a three year slow release mechanism… From a mono rig with a bass combo at one end and only one looper with no feedback control at the other to my current set up which is stereo live and has six different channels in the studio, allows me to use one of the processors before or after the loops, or both, loop from one EDP to the other, fade one, sync them, apply effects from the Kaoss pad and pan any of the above signals to anywhere in the stereo field – it’s been a fun journey thus far.

Having said all that, my rate of technological uptake has kept pace with the speed at which I’ve learned what each bit of kit does. I got good with the JamMan, then added the G2, got good with those before adding the Line 6 DL4, swapped the JamMan for an Echoplex which then became two echoplexes, then added the kaoss pad and a simple mixing desk and finally added a second MPX-G2 and a more complex desk… If I’d just gone out about bought the set up I have now five years ago, I’d have had no idea what to do with any of it…

so there you go.

Soundtrack – me! oh yes, the new album is pretty much finished to pre-master stage – I’m just tidying up some mix elements before sending it off to Denis Blackham at Skye Mastering to add his fairy dust to it. I’ve mastered all the previous CDs myself, but this one deserves the full treatment. theo put me onto Denis, and it transpires that he’s mastered albums with me on before… However, the bit that sold me on him was that he mastered Spirit Of Eden by Talk Talk, which is one of my all time favourite albums. So he’s the man for the job!