Pick your Fantasy Festival line up

Festival season has begun – Glastonbury was this weekend, as well as the ‘Hard Rock Calling’ two day-er in London (went down there to see Eddi Reader play yesterday, and to see KT Tunstall and The Police today – all marvellous).

However, my usual reaction to festivals is *shrug*… I rarely see a festival line-up that really gets me excited, and as a result, I only ever go to one: Greenbelt (which I may or may not be playing at this year, depending on whether they decide to pay me… feel free to email them if you’re going and would like to see Lo and I play there…).

So anyway, who’s your fantasty festival top 5? – I asked this on Twitter yesterday, and got some really great answers. Some people posted twice, listing their ‘mainstage’ and ‘acoustic stage’ which seems like a nice split, so feel free to post those two lists. The only rules are that a) you’re not booking for a particular audience, this is about who YOU want to see play. and b) if you’re
a musician, it’s taken as red that you’d want to book yourself: only list people who aren’t you. 🙂

Comment away…!

Billy Bragg/KT Tunstall at HMV – the value of screwing it up…

I went to a fabulous lunchtime gig yesterday – Billy Bragg and KT Tunstall at HMV on Oxford Street. I had no idea why they were doing it before I went – I assumed it was as promo for the iTunes festival that’s coming up, where both of them are on a bill with the wonderful Leo Abrahams.

As it turned out it was as promo for Q magazine’s top 100 greatest british pop/rock albums or some such bollocks. Q magazine used to be good, but is now, sadly, largely unreadable shit. Endless top lists of either journo picked or reader-submitted stuff, rehashing the tired and nonsensical line that they greatest bands in the history of music are Radiohead, Oasis and Nirvana (nothing against those three in particular, though I not a big fan of any of them, just that it’s pretty pointless saying it in every other issue…).

Anyway, what it meant for the gig was that Billy and KT did a whole slew of great cover versions, most of which neither of them knew particularly well. Peppered in amongst more polished versions of songs like ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’ (KT, complete with looped vocal harmonies), ‘Ever Falling In Love With Someone (Billy’s Buzzcocks tribute) and ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ (both of them together) were really ropey versions of ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ and ‘I Predict A Riot’.

But here’s the thing (as Trip might say), the rubbish performances were at least as affecting, engaging and entertaining as the ones that ‘worked’ – there’s something really magical about seeing musicians over-stretch themselves and not take it too seriously, not getting to precious. Billy Bragg has long been not just one of my favourite songwriters and guitarists (he is, as I’ve said before, a guitar genius, IMO) but one of my most favouritest performers, speakers, writers… he’s just great, and his sense of adventure in trying songs that he doesn’t know the right chords to etc. is just wonderful.

And KT Tunstall was always utterly mis-labelled as part of the Blunt/Morrison etc. crowd – she’s been playing live for over 10 years, playing folk clubs, coffee shops, festivals, learning her craft, and no doubt spending night after night playing requests that she barely knows and getting away with it. That Sony manage to strip away all the energy, vibe and magic from her performance on her records is both sad and a testament to her strength of character that they still manage to be far better records that the rest of the ‘nu-acoustic’ crowd can come up with, but in a situation like this she really shines. She has fun on stage, she reaches for things, she’s willing to look a bit of a muppet and as such draws everyone in.

Here are some pics that Sarda took of the gig – damn, he’s getting good at this photography business!

Anyway, the lesson is – take risks, have fun, and don’t be afraid to look a bit of a berk on stage, it’ll make you look far more human, engaging and funny to your audience…

For reference, you might want to watch mine and Lo’s version of ‘Love Is A Battlefield’ –

(and here’s a link to one of the songs they did – Don’t You Want Me Baby – but be warned the quality is REALLY bad.

More magical recycling…

It’s becoming a bit predictable – Recycle Collective rolls around towards the back half of each month, and an evening of fabulous creative exciting music ensues.

Audience sizes are less easy to predict, but August is a tough month for playing anything other than festivals in the UK, so I was actually quite happy with our modest gathering of lovely Recyclettes.

We went with the three set/three curators model of Recycling – starting with me playing a couple of solo tunes (Behind Every Word and MMFSOG for those taking notes) and then inviting Andy Hamill up for some bass duets, he on upright, me on fretless, that came out beautifully. Andy’s been playing with Natasha Atlas, and he fed a gorgeous middle eastern melody into one of the improvs.

We then got Seb up to join us on drums, and I looped his drums, and anything else that happened to end up being picked up by the mic over his kit! Much fun indeed, some great noises and great moments.

Second set was Andy’s to curate, and he started it off with a lovely solo piece for looped bass and harmonica, followed by a duet with violinist Julian Ferraretto, who also sang beautifully on Nature Boy – yup, proper jazz at the Recycle Collective! They did another standard after that, My Romance, with Seb on drums, and played it really well – Andy’s chordal comping on the upright was just amazing. Fab stuff.

I then joined them for a quartet improv piece, which started off with a violin and bass loop and spiralled out from there. Such a treat to play with such marvellous musicians.

Seb’s set – the final one of the evening – started with him playing his first ever solo drum piece. Always nice to have firsts at the RC, especially when they’re as good as this. I then went up and we started what was to be about a 20 minute abstract piece that began with me looping his drums, replacing bits of the loop, flipping it back to front and adding some scary elephant noises and spookiness, then moving to a filtered faux-tabla rhythmic thing before andy joined us, and finally Julian and another violinist, Mandy Drummond piled in for a very dark atmospheric finish, with andy playing a sparse groove, seb scattering percussive sounds all over the place and the two violins adding violin loveliness to it all.

All in all, a fab night’s music. Some truly amazing moments and a fascinating journey through a new musical landscape, as well as the first ting-ting te-ting jazz at the RC.

Here’s hope the Bass/Bass/Drums trio happens again very soon!

Happy blandness, everyone!

What’s with this ‘happy holidays’ nonsense? Who decided that to wish a jewish person happy christmas was offensive, or to send a Hanukkah card to a protestant was somehow taboo?

Please, if you don’t celebrate christmas, feel free to wish me a happy Eid/Diwali/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter solstice. Whatever, I really don’t mind, just please do whatever you do with some conviction! To suggest that it’s offensive to mention one festival to the practitioner of another is tacet fundamentalism, because it suggests that we should be offended, it says that it’s OK to be offended by Christmas. That’s balls, clearly.

Celebrate life and love and winter and new birth and forgiveness and light and all those other lovely things that are flagged up in the many distinct festivals that happen around this time of year, and invite others to celebrate them with you. Diversity is a wonderful thing, it really is.

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’.

Now this is the kind of review we all live for…

There were loads of shows that I really wanted to see at Edinburgh this year, but didn’t get to see. One of them was Rob Newman – a standup comic, who used to be in the Mary Whitehouse experience, and was the funny one in Newman And Baddiel.

These days he’s a very political standup and author, and I’ve heard wonderful things about his show. None, however, quite as wonderful as this five star review of his show in The Scotsman – any review that finishes with the line “If this world could be saved by a superhero whose superpower was comedy, that hero would be Robert Newman.” has to be good! It’s the kind of review that will be quoted on his press material for the rest of his career.

And what’s more, it makes me desperate to see his show – let’s hope he brings it to London after the festival… a quick glance at his website shows that he’s on tour for the rest of the year with fellow political comedy genius, Mark Thomas – now THAT’S an unmissable double bill!

The Worst Of The Fest

The Scotsman newspaper’s edinburgh-festivals.com website has a special section for the Worst Of The Fest. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be finding it quite so funny if I was in there, but some of the reviews are mini-masterpeices in their own right, and make me want to see the shows in question! Some marvellous journalism for sure (and no doubt some bitter feuds bubbling under some of them).

Oops, a not so great review…

Ah well, just found this review from The Scotsman – it’s fairly gentle, though she (I’m assuming Jan is a she, though could be a Scandinavian bloke, I guess) only gave me two stars. Nice that she described my technical abilities as ‘top class’, and my chat as ‘engaging’, I guess, even if the music didn’t make much of an impression on her… Well, at least I’ve broken my Edinburgh press duck. Would have been nicer to get a good one first time out, but we can’t control these things, and reviewers bring with them a whole pile of notions and preconceptions about how things should be (I know, I used to be a reviewer!) Maybe I should just write ‘TOP CLASS!!’ on a piece of paper and stick it across my posters… this seems to be the way with Edinburgh promo – a review might say ‘despite an excellent premise, this play was dire, one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen’. And the poster then says ‘Excellent!’ – the Scotsman.

So no, my self-esteem is worth more than that.

Maybe the Three Weeks one will eventually come out…

For now, I’d wholeheartedly recommend ignoring the press, and reading the audience reviews instead.

Oh, and this one by the Rvd G (which, given that I’m sleeping in his attic, might be biased in terms of feeling particularly warm towards me, though I did make his kitchen look like the aftermath from a Greek wedding the other morning at 2am, so this would have been the perfect opportunity to get my back for covering his floor with broken glass… So on second thoughts, view Gareth’s words as understated and mute by comparison with him having to be carried from the venue in an ambulance, such was the degree to which I blew him away with my wikkid skillz!)

Guy Pratt's Edinburgh Show

Last night was the preview of My Bass And Other Animals – Guy Pratt’s Edinburgh show. Guy’s a fantastic bassist, with a CV any bassist would be hugely jealous of – he’s played for Pink Floyd, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Coverdale/Page, Jimmy Nail. Oh, and Fat Les.

His show is a collection of mad stories from his life as a musician, with a little bit of bass playing – no solo tunes, just bits to demonstrate the gags.

It’s all very funny, some of it very familiar for anyone who’s toured or played festivals, or stayed in hotels with drunken rock stars. If Guy wasn’t such a skilled musician, a lot of his jokes at the expense of bassists would seem a bit bitter, but as he is a marvellous player, and fine composer too, they just draw you in to the gag.

It’s great that he’s going to be at Edinburgh, as it makes the ‘one bassist on stage doing a show’ thing seem slightly less freakish. His is more talking, and my show is more playing, but I’m sure I’ll get him up to guest once or twice during the run.

Definitely not a show to be missed if you’re anywhere near Edinburgh during August, and definitely not a show just for bassists – he’s been fastidious in removing any hint of muso-ness, to the point of not using one of my favourite Whitesnake stories of his. But it’s to his credit and the show’s benefit that he keeps it on a more general level.

Soundtrack – M83, ‘Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts’; Soulfly, ‘Soulfly’; Kris Delmhorst, ‘Songs For A Hurricane’.

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