Benefit gigs

Went to two benefit gigs this week – one as an audience member and one as a player.

The audience member one was particularly fantastic, not least of all because the main musical attraction was Martin Taylor. The other main great thing about it was that it was for Eric Roche’s family. (I’ve just been booked to play at another benefit gig for them on Dec 4th – Eric’s Birthday – at Haverhill Arts Centre – more on that later…)

The first half of that gig was various friends and musical acquaintances of Eric’s playing and paying tribute. Of particular interest was a genius harmonica player called Steve Lockwood (who’s also playing at the gig in December).

The second of the benefit gigs – the one I played at – was on Friday. The events had little in common. What they did share was ropey compering. Given the huge impact they have on the smooth running of any event, it’s a shame when people can’t find good comperes for events. The guys involved in each of these were well-meaning and friendly, just not very good at keeping things moving and linking events.

At the gig I played – a benefit for the Pitstop Ploughshares – the room was an echoey church hall, and the PA was particularly shabby with no monitors, which meant that extra-special care needed to be taken to make sure people were listening, if only for the sake of the performers. This didn’t happen, and while it didn’t seem to bother the folk-singer/performance poet bloke who was on first, it was clearly going to be a problem for the people afterwards. Fortunately, a well placed ‘SSSHHHHH!!!!’ from someone in the audience quietened things down, and as the quality picked up, the chat level dropped.

I have mixed feelings about these kinds of gigs. The cause is one I support, and when I was asked to play, I was very happy to offer my time to help out, but the overwhelming trend with gigs like this is that while you’re thanked profusely numerous times throughout the evening, you’re still treated like some amateur who should be happy they are getting the chance to play to an audience.

I’m still not sure how to deal with these kinds of things – I obviously don’t want to stop doing gigs for good causes just because of crappy planning, and I’m clearly not about to start charging a fee for such things, but it’s pretty demoralising to play in those kind of conditions. Maybe I should just have a technical rider that has to be met for me to do them. I’ve tried the bending over backwards to make life easy route, and it just doesn’t work. I really do need monitors and a decent PA if what I do is going to come across well…

that said, I did sell a few CDs, and got to hear some other talented but very poorly amplified musicians play.

In other news, I’ve just redone the Solo Bass Network site – when I first set it up, the idea was to develop a little community of people who would chat about solo bass and spread the word about gigs etc. etc. Truth was, I couldn’t really be arsed to manage it. It takes a special kind of resilliance to bother keeping something like that going (see the Extended Range Bassist yahoo group – the founders there post incessantly to keep the discussions going, some of it readable, much of it inane bollocks, but it works, and the list has just about got a life of its own…) So I’ve not just reduced it to what it does best – a compendium of links to solo bassists and solo bass related stuffs on the web. Maybe one day I’ll get round to adding a low maintainance gig guide on there, but to be honest, you’re much better spending your time getting coverage in your local newspaper than faffing about with some website where the chances of anyone within 500 miles of you reading it within the time frame of the gig are so small as to be not really worth the five minutes it’d take you to upload the info…

Oh, and I’ve also been mixing an old duet track that I recorded with BJ Cole last December – sounds lovely, and will hopefully be up on the Recycle Collective site before too long.

September's blog search terms…

Here’s the top 20 search terms for the blog – not surprisingly, Eric was by far the most searched for query that lead people to the site. the others aren’t that exciting, though I love the idea of somebody being so bored that they’d search the internet for ‘strange things’. And for some reason ‘etymology of dude’ crops up every month in the list – how weird is that??

1 eric roche
2 steve lawson
3 tal wilkenfeld
4 brooklyn beckham
5 background images for myspace
6 myspace people
7 eric roche illness
8 love press ex-curio
9 strange things
10 joe perman
11 myspace background images
12 narcissim
13 amy kohn
14 bangla ringtone
15 bassworld
16 charlie peacock love press ex curio review
17 do nothing til you hear from me
18 etymology of dude
19 laws on piracy
20 link 182

…and here’s a handful of the more bizarre search strings that led to www.stevelawson.net over the last month – the mind boggles!

german chicken dance download
when did robbie williams play at la scala in london
steve lawson afc wimbledon
supergluing cuts
garmet sawing machine
guestbook northampton 2005
telephone number st columba s church johnstone terrace edinburgh
fingers vinegar callouses -leroy
e=mc2 mks
electric archlute
died from hiccups
dr fox hypothesis
finley quaye = kevin bacon
i like to go bowling with my friend bert mp3
houmus recipe

Some indie solidarity…

BDB just sent me a link to a band called The Books – two blokes from the states who make odd noises with samples and one of them plays cello and bass (can’t work out what the other one plays) – they make their own samples, release their own records, and have a very odd website. All fine stuff.

A quick look at their stats on Last.fm reveals that they have over 74,000 listeners on there!! A truly remarkable statistic.

Which made it all the more sad to find the following notice on their website –

A Note About Our Finances:

We feel the need to dispel any notions that we are financially sitting pretty because of the acclaim our music has enjoyed. It’s true, we’ve released a couple of records and we’re grateful to all of the writers who have taken the time to write about them, but unfortunately our record sales do not reflect this. Our work, although deeply satisfying to us, has left us both on the brink of financial collapse since we began, so we are asking you: Please, do not steal our music thinking that we can afford it. We barely get by, and aren’t able to afford basic things like health insurance, let alone raising a family, etc. We love what we do, and we love that people listen, but if you would like to see our work continue, please support us, and all of the artists you enjoy, as directly as possible. The sad fact is, we can make a much better living selling t-shirts than we can selling music, so please help us keep this going.

Thanks!
Paul and Nick

Sad reading but I know exactly what they mean – I get way more interest, and have way more people who know my music than my CD sales would suggest. I remember a stat pre-internet that said that for every album sold, two copies were made. I’m guessing that’s at least doubled now. But it’s tricky – we all want people to listen to our music, and don’t want to have to go the route of disabling CDs from being copied onto iPods, or only having really shitty quality MP3s available. But it can be tough to make it all pay. One argument suggests that if people are swapping your MP3s then they’ll turn up to your gigs, and I’m sure there’s some truth in that, but on a week by week basis, it’s still tough to keep a record label functioning at the ‘profile’ level that the artists have when the sales don’t neccesarily reflect that.

From their statement, compared to their listening figures on last.fm, I’m in nothing like the dire situation that The Books appear to be in, but then I also haven’t got every track of every CD of mine available for download (all of theirs are on their site, I’m not sure if you can actually download them all).

The sales of the download versions of my CDs are doing well, and like the Books, I can see t-shirts being a good earner as time goes on.

I was talking at one point about doing a CDR amnesty – that anyone who sent me their copied version of one of the albums, or a signed statement that they’d just made MP3 copies off their friends could have a replacement for it for a fiver… I still quite like the idea but it was pointed out that it was in effect rewarding piracy and penalising those people who bought the CDs in the first place. I like to see it in more pragmatic terms than that, but I’ll hold off for now.

Still, you do have the opportunity to head over to the online shop and buy a CD/download/T-shirt/gig ticket if you like! There’s even a paypal tip-jar on the MP3s page (though I’m not sure if that just a way of absolving people’s conciences for downloading over an album’s worth of material but only giving me £2 for it!)

Either way, I feel sorry for The Books if things are really as bad for them as the statement above suggests, and I’m glad that my fan base is generally more forthcoming with the money for Cds!

SoundtrackEric Roche, ‘With These Hands’; The Cure’, ‘Greatest Hits’; Cathy Burton, ‘Speed Your Love’.

Eric's Funeral

Yesterday was Eric Roche‘s funeral. I was hugely grateful to Thomas Leeb for forwarding the details to me, and I drove up to Haverhill yesterday lunchtime.

The turnout was amazing – hundreds of people including the great and the good of the UK guitar scene turned out to pay their respects to a musician we all loved and admired so much.

The service itself was lovely – the vicar did an amazing job, helped by the fact that he’d known Eric for over a year through his illness, and had spent a lot of time with him talking about his plans for the funeral.

The eulogies were very moving, particularly the ones from one of Eric’s oldest friends who’d been with him since he was in his early teens, and the one from guitar legend Martin Taylor – Martin had produced Eric’s last album, the truly brilliant ‘With These Hands’. The job of playing one of Eric’s tunes – the title track from that album – fell to Stuart Ryan, who did an amazing job of it. That was a role that no-one in the room would have relished, and Stuart played beautifully.

Funerals are a mixed affair generally – it’s often difficult to get past the mawkish hyperbole about what a great person the deceased was, but in Eric’s case, the vast majority of people there were just repeating what they’d been saying for years – he was a deeply inspiring person, amazing musician, hilarious to be around and hugely encouraging to his students and peers.

The get-together afterwards was an amazing gathering – guitarists and writers from all the UK’s major guitar mags mixing and chatting about eric, about guitar about gigs – all the things that Eric did so well.

The more I chatted to people the clearer it became that we were running a parallel course in so many ways – for years we were both teaching at music schools, writing columns for magazines, releasing solo CDs, playing at tradeshows and mushing it altogether into a career. Eric was way more marketable that me, and an even better self-publicist, and was, tragically, on the edge of moving into much bigger things. He was already selling out in provicial theatres, and was the star attraction at guitar festivals across Europe, even visiting China earlier this year. It would surprise me at all if he became the Eva Cassidy of the guitar – though it will be tragic for all the people who from now discover him through his records not to be able to see him live.

Still, you’ve got to get With These Hands – it’s genius, it’s beautiful and no CD collection is complete without it.

The main thought I had going through my head during the service was how unfair the whole thing was – some people live who seemingly don’t deserve to, and others die needlessly due to the genetic russian roulette of cancer. But that’s just it, I guess. Life isn’t fair, never has been. The world is a lot of wonderful things – it’s beautiful, inspiring, funny, there’s music and art and love and nature and rain and the sea and cats and mint tea and friends and family and all kinds of magical beautiful unfathomably wonderful things. But it isn’t fair, and we can’t earn our health, or the right not to get cancer, or the right not to get run over or mugged or blown up on a tube-train or… We can limit the chances by taking care of those things that we have control over – eating properly, not smoking, avoiding situations where people might run amok with an automatic weapon. But we’re not in control, and there’s no system of fairness that apportions tragedy to those who deserve it and witholds it from those who are ‘nice’ or ‘clean living’ or whatever.

I was looking at Eric’s parents and thinking that no-one should ever have to bury their own kids. It’s the great injustice. The order’s all wrong. Eric was only 37, which is no age at all. Two little kids and a wife. A family full of love. It’s too much to even think about, really.

But some things live on. the music definitely, and the memory and the inspiration, in big and small ways. Eric’s most well-known peers have expressed a desire to do something to help, to organise benefit gigs for the family. Some are already taking place (Martin Taylor is playing in Cambridge in October, and we’re talking about getting something to happen in London in January). And we can spread the world about the music – that’s the easy bit, it spreads itself.

There are small things that live on – Eric inspired the best tune I’ve written in a long time – and there are big things, like the ACM in Guildford renaming their guitar course after him (Eric was head of guitar there for years, and wrote the guitar course).

And you, you can go and buy his CDs – start with With These Hands, it’ll blow you away. Go on, you’ll discover some great music, and his family will benefit too.

So all in, the funeral was a fitting tribute to a much loved guitar genius, and a testament to his influence. On Radio 2 yesterday afternoon, Billy Bragg – who has been working on a songwriting project with terminal cancer patients – commented that the one thing that cancer gives you is time; time to get things in order, to plan your funeral to say what needs to be said, in a way that a sudden tragedy doesn’t.

SoundtrackKT Tunstall, ‘Eye To The Telescope’; Kris Delmhorst, ‘Songs For A Hurricane’; Juliet Turner, ‘Season Of The Hurricane’.

More cool listening options from last.fm

I’ve just noticed that on last.fm you have two main radio playlist options for each artist – you can listen to a radio show of tracks by similar artists, and a show of tracks by artists that fans of that particular artist are fans of! How cool is that?

So, using me as an example (and what finer example could there possibly be?) you could go to my artist page at last.fm, and the click on ‘start radio’, and choose one of the options – similar artist radio or artist fan radio (these last two links will only work if you’re signed up to last.fm and have downloaded the radio player – you so need to do that.)

If you want to see who the artists are that I’m ‘similar’ to, based on what people who listen to me are listening to, click here.

When compared to other music networking sites, like myspace which I recently signed up to, last.fm is so much more sophisticated, ad-free (makes a huge difference) better designed, and more intellegently configurable for both the artists and the listeners. There’s no way that some loser band can do a hard-sell on you, but if there are people who like what you do then you’ll automatically reach the people who listen to the other stuff that they like. It’s organic music networking at its very best. Go on, sign up.

soundtrack – James Taylor, ‘Hourglass’; Gary Peacock and Ralph Towner, ‘A Closer View’; Eric Roche, ‘With These Hands’.

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 –

Home now

Back from Edinnburgh, with new car. Will post more stuff later on.

For now, have a read of the mini-obituary of Eric Roche on his website. I’ll write more about Eric later. I still can’t quite believe he’s gone, even though it was pretty much inevitable after his last diagnosis. He had such inner strength that there was part of me that thought he could beat inoperable cancer… Sadly I was wrong.

Goodbye Eric

Sadly due to being away, it’s taken til today for me to find out that Eric Roche passed away on Tuesday. I didn’t get to speak to him before he went, and neither did he get to hear the tune I’d written for him.

I’ll write more later, but as of now, I’m just thinking about Eric and am thankful for the time I spent with him, and the music he left behind.

Much love and condolences to his family.

Eric Roche update

As those of you who’ve seen my Edinburgh show or any other recent dates will know, I’ve written a tune for Eric Roche – a very dear friend who’s a breath-takingly gifted guitar player and is currently in a monumental battle with cancer.

He’s recently posted a diary entry on his website – please go and read it. Eric’s a remarkable person, amazing musician and a HUGE inspiration to me in many many ways – if you haven’t got his CDs, all three are highly recommended. His latest, ‘With These Hands’, is one of the finest solo acoustic guitar CDs you’ll ever hear.

It breaks my heart to see someone whose spirit is so strong struggling with a disease like this. Please do send your messages and prayers of love and support to Eric via the guestbook on his website, and spread the word. I’ve no idea if he’s insured or not, but as a pro musician with a family like that, the fear of illness is multiplied a thousand times – the best way to support is buy is CDs, and then play them to your friends. That way you get to hear some music that will enrich your soul and be with you for your whole life, and he gets to pay the bills in the way we musicians do it best.

God bless you, Eric.

This month's visit for search-engine mutants…

so here’s the top howevermany search strings that lead people to this ‘ere blogland in June –

1 brooklyn beckham
2 tal wilkenfeld
3 feline concussion
4 narcissim
5 pavement art
6 steve lawson
7 strange things
8 todd rungren
9 dude steve lawson
10 julian beever
11 pavement art perspective
12 seth armstrong
13 steve from jerry springer
14 supersize me soundtrack
15 betterment of society
16 derek bailey archive
17 dude etymology
18 eric roche
19 etymology dude
20 galloway’s speach to the senate

What a most weird and sporadically wonderful collection that is. And who on earth is Julian Beever, and how on earth did it point to this blog???? However, I’m delighted to see that the pursuit of the ‘betterment of society’ will lead you to this blog. Wise words indeed! 🙂