Cambridge gig

Last night’s gig was a lot of fun. It was in St Ives, which until a couple of weeks ago I thought was in Cornwall. There’s one in Cambridgeshire as well, dontchaknow. Anyway, it was a benefit gig organised by The Free Church (URC), who are celebrating 25 years since the building was done up and the church was reborn, and instead of raising money for themselves, they’ve picked 25 local, national and international charities to support. A good thing.

The lineup for the gig was Alias Grace, Rob Jackson and me. Alias Grace is a duet of Peter Chilvers and Sandra O’Neill, playing lovely folky piano/vocal stuff. Rob toured with me on the Grace And Gratitude tour, and is always a treat to listen to. So even if it’d been rubbish gig for me, it would’ve been worth going to see the others play. As it was, it wasn’t a rubbish gig for me at all. The church hall was a lovely space to play in, and the audience seemed wonderfully attentive. I didn’t play quite as well as I did last Sunday in Manchester – not badly, just not quite as sharp, but I did get to play my new ‘Scott Peck’ tune, which will be on the next album. Ran out of time all-too-soon and wasn’t able to play the one request that I’d had (for Highway One, from Catherine Street-Team) – will play it at next Cambridge gig, I promise!

Tonight’s gig will be lots of fun – it’s an improv thing with Filomena Campus, Roger Goula and Rowland Sutherland – all great musicians, and the last time we did it it was magic. Plus there’ll be dancers and video projections… should be v. interesting.

In other news, the TV and radio have been blanketed by the news about George Best’s death, which is undoubtedly a tragic moment for his family, and an important milestone in the history of British football. However, as a dispassionate observer, it’s tough not to feel some anger at him having started drinking again after liver transplant. 70 people on the transplant waiting list died last year before they were able to get their new liver – these are very precious things, and for someone to squander their second chance like that is terrible. The people who served him may also need to do some soul-searching. I guess it’s partly a testimony to the power of addiction, but is it also the stubbornness of Best that he thought he could go there again and not die??? I dunno, I’ll never know. right now I’m very sad for his family and those who loved him, and for those who have lost people on the transplant waiting list – I’m guessing this news isn’t doing much for their pain.

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).

New things at last.fm

First there was audioscrobbler. then they added last.fm, a sister internet radio station that chose tracks based on your audioscrobbler profile.

Hang on Steve, what the hell is audioscrobbler in the first place? Oh sorry. You see how at the bottom of most blog posts, I have a list of what I’ve been listening to, and the word ‘soundtrack’ next to it is in bold. Well that’s because it’s a link. if you click that link you get taken to a page that gives you details of every bit of music I’ve played in itunes over the last year or so. It has charts of who I’ve listened to the most, and for each artist it has charts of how many people are listening to them, what tracks are being played the most, etc.

Anyway, that was the scrob. And they also had last.fm, which had much the same information available on it as the scrob, but in a slightly crappier format.

So the whizkidz behind it decided to combine the two sites, and give the new site a bit of an overhaul. and it’s now last.fm. go and have a look. Do a search on an artist or two. then check out my page – the one that’s always linked from the bottom of the blogs. You’ll see what I’ve been listening to. How clever is that?

Anyway, they’ve also made it much easier for record companies to upload their music for the radio stations. So I’ve just been uploading the Pillow Mountain catalogue. check out the pages there for Grace And Gratitude and for For The Love Of Open Spaces. From there you can preview the CDs, or add them to your last.fm radio station (personalised radio, for free, with no adverts. Oh yes).

All in, last.fm is a music geek’s paradise – head over there, sign up and geek out!

Soundtracklast.fm solobasssteve radio (you need the Last.fm player and a last.fm account for this link to work)

Me in a magazine.

Here you go, there’s an interview with me in the new issue of Bassics magazine – and on the CD there’s a track (shizzle) and a bit of video with me explaining looping and performing a tune (can’t remember what the tune is, maybe Grace and Gratitude). Filming the video was lots of fun – The Cheat acted as video monkey, and did a fine job. I recorded the audio to Minidisc and then chopped up the different video angles to fit the soundtrack. The only problem is that we did it at St Luke’s hoping to be able to use one of the groovy burgandy curtains as a backdrop, but they were installing a new PA in the main bit of the church, so we were through in the back hall, with a yellow brick background that makes it look like I’m in prison… niiice.

SoundtrackMo Foster, ‘live’ (an advanced copy of an upcoming album by Mo – as with everything Mo does, it’s lovely, and of course I’ll report here when it’s released); Cathy Burton, ‘Speed Your Love’ (Cath was singing BVs at Greenbelt for Ricky Ross, and her album is lovely); Julie Lee, ‘Stillhouse Road’ (a fantastic record that I never get tired of hearing).

First greenbelt gigs…

Got here yesterday, set up our tent (tent??? what am I doing camping at my age!)

First gig went well – first half was me solo, doing Grace and Gratitude, Kindness Of Strangers and People Get Ready, then Jez joined me, and we did the audience participation improv from Edinburgh, and then a bunch of other improv stuff that seemed to go very well as well. Lots of fun.

I then got to see a bit of Iain Archer’s set on the mainstage, which was fab, as expected.

Then it was back into playing/compering mode for the late night ‘jazz lounge. First act was Jez on solo (I joined him for a version of Autumn Leaves. Then a singer/songwriter called Naomi, and finally my first live set with Duncan Senyatso, which went surprisingly well – playing those African rhythms without a drummer was a real challenge, and the tempos were moving around a bit, but all in, it was fine.

This morning was spent with TSP, my mum and niece just mucking around, and this afternoon we’ll take in a few seminars. Then it’s back to playing again tonight! all mad.

TAGS – , , .

fine gig in Berwick

Today was my gig at the Borders Green Festival, in Berwick on Tweed. Playing in Berwick is always odd (well, I say always – I’ve only played here twice since I left 14 years ago!!), obviously, as it’s coming back to where I grew up, and today was particularly odd as the soundman was the same guy that did sound for one of my earliest ever gigs, At one of the first ever local band nights at The Maltings In Berwick!

That was with my first gigging band, EARS. Today was a solo gig at a very cool little festival. The idea behind the fest was that it was a showcase for all things sustainable, renewable, local, therapeutic and generally marvellous, so there was a resources marquee with lots of info about local action groups anti-war stuff, environmental pressure groups etc. there were teepees with various things going on in them – a massage tent, a talks tent and a making cool stuff out of old crap tent. There were stalls from a lot of the local fair trade and organic traders, and lots of fun things for kids to do, as well as obivously the music stage.

The music was very varied indeed, ranging from some very fine local folk musicians to a rather good local rock band, to, er, me. A real spread from solo Bach piano to Balkan folk tunes.

In my set I leaned heavily on the floaty soundscape end of things – No More Us And Them, Kindness Of Strangers, Grace And Gratitude, Highway One – nice big long improv-enhanced versions of everything. The big problem I faced was that the sun was so bright, I couldn’t see the illuminated panels on the front of any of the processors, particularly the Lexicon, so was half guessing which sound to use next. There weren’t any train-wrecks, but it was close at times! Certainly a nice warm up for Edinburgh.

Anyway, as an event, the Borders Green Festival was a resounding success – loads more people there than they expected, no disasters at all, some great music, and a fantastic message. Roll on next year!

Italy post no. 8

(written 24/7/05 17.18)

Well, despite starting almost an hour late, my gig went very well, thankfully. Another fabulously receptive Italian crowd, some of whom spoke good enough english to laugh at some of the bollocks I was talking between songs (cut down from the usual 40% of the set to just a short intro to each song).

The challenge was doing an entire set of songs on the fretless, something I haven’t done for a while (not counting the film gig on Friday). So the set list went

Grace And Gratitude
MMFSOG
Amo Amatis Amare
Kindness Of Strangers segued into What A Wonderful World
No More Us And Them
Despite My Worst Intentions

Nice long versions of Kindness Of Strangers and No More Us And Them, and more succinct versions of the others. The Seque into What A Wonderful World fits better with the theme of Kindness… than the bastardised version of ‘What’s Going On’ did – will have to feed that back into the set as a stand-alone track, as I do like it, and the fact that very few people ever recognise it. :o)

So now I’m waiting to be involved in a larger ensemble improv, title ‘Jam For Klaus’ – Klaus is a local bassist who was killed in a car accident last year, so everyone is playing a piece together for him. It’s a really nice idea, and I hope it works and doesn’t descend into bass wankery.

Other than that, my work here is done – oh no, I’m lying, I’m doing a little AccuGrooveA/Modulus demo slot later on. The distributors of AccuGroove and Modulus here are lovely peoples, who hopefully I’ll get to work with again some time soon.

Anyway, time to get back to hawking my wares to the receptive CD buying Italian public. We like it here.

italy post no. 3

(written 22/7/05 14.15)

It’s really odd being away from home, and away from fast internet when people are getting shot on the London underground. I sent TSP a text message this morning from the beside the pool, sitting in the sun having just had a lovely swim and a leisurely breakfast, and got one back saying that a guy had been shot dead by plain clothes police on the London underground. That kind of thing messes with your head, big time.

So I got online and had a read about it on the BBC news site, but being back using a dial-up connection was fairly debilitating, and meant I couldn’t find all my usual news blogs etc. (time to get my del.ic.ious page up to scratch so I can get all my links anywhere any time… )

So I’m having a lovely time in Italy – great food, great wine, fantastic company, scintillating conversation, and all the while London is in turmoil, quite understandably.

It’ll be interesting to see if they can find out why the bombs yesterday didn’t go off – one suggestion is that they were made at the same time as the last lot and were somehow out of date by now (dunno if this was some sort of electronic detonation device, or if they included some sort of organic ingredient that had just decayed). Either way, it seems like thursday’s bombs were a really lucky escape for London, and have left a bit of a trail for the phorensic peoples to chase up.

Feel free to email bits of info if you have them!

Soundtrack – right now I’m listening to ‘Grace And Gratitude’ – by some weirdness, I’d not actually sent Luca a copy when it came out (can’t quite believe that, but still!), so I’m playing it to him…

And after the gigs, The reviews!

This was quick – the joy of the internet – here’s a lovely review of the Vortex gig from Tuesday night with Theo Travis and Orphy Robinson. Very nicely written.

And if you can read Italian, there’s a lovely review of Grace And Gratitude, in the ‘No Warning’ E-zine. Luigi Ametta who writes it has been very supportive of all the music of mine that he’s heard, and this looks to be another lovely review (though so far I’ve only read the Google translation, which is pretty garbled…)

If you’ve been to one of the recent gigs, please post a review in the forum, and if you’ve bought one of the CDs, you can post those reviews in the online shop.

Thanks!

The Solo Summit

So last night was The Solo Summit a mini festival-within-a-festival as part of Hackney’s Spice Festival.

The idea was to have lots of performers on different instruments and across myriad styles all playing solo. As it was, it was that and a whole lot more – the solo performances spawned some really interesting collaborations as the mini-sets overlapped.

Due to the current mess of bomb-scares and transport disasters in England, a few of the performers were either late or didn’t appear at all, so the set was being re-jigged all evening, and as a result even more time was freed up for new combinations of players. The initial three long sets became four slightly shorter sets, and each set seemed to take on a character of its own.

The first set began with Tunde Jegede on Kora, who was then joined by Cleveland Watkiss, who was using my loop set-up to great effect, layering vocals on top of Tunde’s gorgeous Kora.

The rest of the set was three of Orphy’s students, Renel, Yao and Michael, two spoken word artists and guitar/bazouki, respectively, who played some marvellous music. My set dove-tailed into the end of Michael’s, as I took a short solo over the end of his last piece. I then played Grace And Gratitude, and went into The Kindness Of Strangers, which Orphy joined me on, with my loop gradually fading after I’d left the stage and Orphy took over for his solo spot. End of set 1.

Set 2 was very different – mainly guys from the London Improvisors Orchestra, it started with harpist Rhodri Davis (playing music a fair bit removed from his work with Charlotte Church!), Bass Saxist, Tony Bevan, flugal horn from Claude Deppa and electronic bleeps ‘n’ squawks loveliness from Steve Beresford. An interesting set with moments of magic, a very long way from the opening set! This stuff is really a stretch for the audience – they seemed to stay with it though, which was great.

Set 3 was back to many of the performers from set 1, with the addition of Pat Thomas on piano (an insanely gifted musician) and Steve Williamson on Sax. I played another duet with Cleveland, and a trio with Cleveland and Tunde on a track that they’d be playing as a duo, which worked beautifully. I had it set up that I was able to loop Cleveland in the usual way, so that gave us a lot of scope to loop ‘n’ layer and have some fun, and it came out superbly well.

By Set 4, we were about an hour ahead of schedule (whoever heard of a gig running ahead of time???), but my ears were getting a little fatigued after such a long time of intense listening. I listened to BJ’s set from just outside the main auditorium, where the processed ambient pedal steel wafted beautifully around. The set grew with the addition of more and more musicians, til most of the LIO guys were back on stage making a glorious racket. Cleveland then joined them, and once I’d turned up his mic, was able to add a vocal percussion loop to it, and start to inject a key centre into the melee. I joined in on bass, and the whole thing gradually mutated from free soundscape to twisted funk/swing groove thang, providing a space for the rappers/spoken word guys to rejoin the party. As the musicians peeled off one by one, the loop faded, and it ended with just bass, acoustic guitar and the two voices. One heck of a journey from the free to the funky. I look forward to hearing the recording of that one too!

All in, a fine evening’s music. A smallish crowd (hey, that’s brit-jazz for you), but an enthusiastic one with a fair amount of stamina!