Evolution or Revolution?

The music industry is changing, that’s for sure. To do what I’ve done even 10 years ago would have been a heck of a lot more difficult and expensive to get off the ground. The cost of recording studio set ups has plummeted with the home computer market, the net has thrown the doors wide on forming underground niche networks through which to make a small-scale name for yourself, and online shops are waking up to the growing sales of independent albums (interesting that while the majors are all crying ‘foul play’ over file sharing, the indies are selling more records that ever…)

Maybe people respond well to having the chance to buy CD directly from an artist – I know I do! I love browsing CD Baby looking for interesting music, having a listen to the streaming stuff and then buying a CD or two, knowing that the artists are getting the dough for their hard earned work.

So is this a natural shift, or are we about to see the collapse of the industry as we know it? The mainstream charts are getting less and less relavent to your average joe – how many ‘big’ albums have I bought in recent times? Right now, I think I own two CDs in the top 40 – Athlete’s ‘Vehicles and Animals’ and Coldplay’s ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’ – that’s a pretty high proportion for me! A large amount of my time is spent listening to indie stuff, self produced CDs (with nothing to distinguish them as self produced other than the care and attention that’s gone into them, and the rather more matey sounding sleeve notes!)

But, if the truth be told, there are times when I wonder if the record company route might be easier – someone else to do the work. Then I read articles like this one by Steve Albini – he produced In Utero by Nirvana, and here outlines the details of a major ‘rock’ deal (some fruity language again, so avoid if easily offended). Thanks, but no thanks, I’ll stick with ‘jamming econo’ as the mighty Mike Watt calls it – the DIY ethic is a powerful one, and it doesn’t take much searching to find like-minded souls with whom to share a thought and a word of encouragement. I’ve met loads of indie musos through Looper’s Delight, the solo bass network, and just through gigs, web surfing, at NAMM and so on. Tomorrow I’m meeting up with a very fine solo bassist called John Lester, another solo bassist ploughing a furrow in London, and making some amazing music (check out his site, he’s great).

Anyway, I thank God I had the chance to go indie when I did, and that it’s all working out so well… looking forward to putting out the new record with theo, and then starting work on the next solo one! I’ve done loads of practicing over the last few days and am getting a few ideas together for new tunes… what fun…

Soundtrack – Terje Rypdal, ‘Skywards’, Duke Special, ‘Lucky Me’, and an advanced copy of Andre LaFosse’s album ‘Normalise’, which is marvellous. I mean, really really good! not easy listening by any stretch, but some of the most adventurous, funky, glitchy fascinating sounds ever to come from a guitar… Go and have a listen to some of the tracks in Andre’s MP3 archive, and then order the CD…

Greenbelt Pt 2

So where were we? ah yes, Sunday. Met up with Patrick Wood, and gave him the passes for him and his family, then wen to the sunday morning communion service – 15,000 people taking the Eucharist is no mean feat, but it went without a hitch… oh, except the PA cutting out 10 minutes from the end.

Anyway That followed by another trip to Martyn Joseph’s songwriter thingie, The Rising, featuring Cathy Burton, Denison Witmer and Pierce Pettis – another fantastic sesh, and Martyn played a song or two of his own which was a treat – he’s kind of Greenbelt’s unofficial troubadour, and plays a full gig most years, often with fun special guests like Tom Robinson or Steve Knightly. This year, he just did The Rising.

After the Rising, it was back to Cheatsville, AKA The Performance Cafe, for an afternoon of astoundingly good acoustic music – Stephenson and Samuel (Stocki with Sam Hill), Ben Okafor, Old Solar and Denison Witmer all one after the other! Even though the programme was put together by Evil Harv, and it pains me to say this – it was fantastic.

The evening’s music began with Brian Houston in The Performance Cafe, then Cathy Burton rocking out on the mainstage (bit of a shock for those who’d only seen her in The Rising, especially the QOTSA cover!), and back then the catching the last train to cheatsville to see Pierce Pettis and my other join fave gig of the weekend (along with Cleveland Watkiss) Duke Special, AKA Pete Wilson (not the former govenor of California). I’ve known Pete for years, heard him as The Booley House, and just Booley, but Duke Special is a whole other level – beautiful songwriting, outstanding performance, and Greenbelts own Hobbit, Chip Bailey on drums and percussion, playing perfectly, dramatically, sensitively. A genius pairing, playing oustanding music, with the occasional backing track on minidisc, but with a replica gramaphone there to make it less rubbish! A truly awe-inspiring performance – they are on tour loads, so check the website to see them when they come near you.

Monday and we’re into the home straight. It’s also the day when stevie-thoughts momentarily turned to work, as Patrick Wood and I had a gig in Cheatsville in the morning, and an improv workshop in the afternoon. The gig went very well, was equal parts mellow ambient and dissonant scariness, lots of fun for us, and a very positive reaction from the audience. The rest of the afternoon involved listening to Peter Tatchell (fascinating and no doubt hugely disappointing the representatives of the national press that were there due to the total lack of sensational material – Peter was friendly, charming, and laid out his thoughts on human rights in great detail, and there wasn’t really much for anyone to disagree with), then off to hear Anita Roddick speak about trade (oh, it was Trade Justice day, in partnership with Christian Aid), then back to the performance cafe to hear Nick Harper (Catherine Street Team – you were right, he’s a genius and a very nice bloke), Cathy Burton (minus rock posturing this time), then off to sort out stuff for the improv seminar, which went well, and over ran by half an hour.

The day finished with The Polyphonic Spree (good but not my bag) followed by Billy Bragg, who was so breath-takingly wonderful it was almost contrived. Almost too good – all that he said and sang was great (except some new song called ‘no power without accountability’ that was turd-on-toast). Finished off with ‘waiting for the great leap forwards’ into ‘a new england’ and an accapela encore of the old hymn jerusalem. A real spine tingling moment.

All in all, one of the best Greenbelts ever. Great music, great speakers, great atmosphere, great weather, great food, great campaining stuff, great friends. All good, and because I was playing music less than usual, I was able to spend loads of time with The Small Person, which was a treat I’ve not had at Greenbelt for many a year, and the thing that pushed it into the top 3 greenbelts ever for me. I’ve been going to Greenbelt since 1990, and only missed 91 and 96 since then. lots of great greenbelt memories, and this weekend swelled the stash of marvellous moments. It’s truly the finest weekend of the year.

soundtrack to follow in next post…