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
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.


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!

CD piracy…

So, 1 in 3 CDs sold worldwide is a pirate copy. I wonder how that stacks up against the percentages of money made by record companies vs artists. Are the pirates ripping off the labels more than the labels are ripping off the artists? I suspect not.

From the article –

“Jorgen Larsen, president of music producer Universal Music International, said the livelihood of the artists and music industry workers was at risk if piracy continued to rise.”

I think the livelihood of the artists is put more at risk by signing to Universal than it is from piracy. I very much doubt anyone is bootlegging my CDs. In fact, I’d be slightly flattered if they were. I’m sure there are some CDR copies kicking around, and I hope that they inspire the owners to turn up to gigs. There’s certainly enough MP3 material of mine around to make up a whole CD of extras (moreso if you’re in the street team), but people still buy the CDs, come to the gigs, and everything’s ticking along quite nicely. I’m certainly more scared of one day having a breakdown and accidentally signing a record deal than I am of discovering 100,000 copies of Grace And Gratitude for sale in a Delhi street market – in fact, if they did, I’d probably just go and do a gig there!

Perhaps the markup on CDs is to blaim? If the labels are still trying to charge £16 a CD to music buyers in India/China/Mexico etc, how on earth do they expect them to come up with that kind of money? Maybe they should look at ways of making it more attractive to buy the real thing, rather than just blaiming the pirates for filling a gap in the market. If the record companies weren’t so obviously rapacious in their dealings with artists, and such a rip-off in terms of what they charge the end user, then people might feel more generously disposed towards them. How about if they started to give away 20% of their profits to arts projects in developing countries?

No, instead they blame ‘organised crime’ – I’d be interested to see the evidence for this. It’s quite possible that ‘organised crime’ units are somehow involved, but it’s equally possible that there are a bunch of opportunists who see a gap in the market created by the greed of the majors.

It’s like the Metallica/Napster debacle – I, along with 10 million other people, found it very hard to feel much sympathy for the multi-millionaire Lars Ulrich in his claims that he was being ripped off by Napster. If every single item of Metallica merch was fair trade, if they were pressuring their record company to encourage staff to unionise and putting pressure on for fairer wages around the world, if they implimented a scheme in Metallica PLC where the top paid person could only earn 9 times what the lowest paid person could earn, I’d be feeling a little more generous towards his claims that kids in colleges downloading Metallica albums were destroying his livelihood.

SoundtrackAli Farka Toure with Ry Cooder, ‘Talking Timbuktu’ (heard a piece on Radio 4 last night about Ali, and dug out this CD again – fantastic stuff – brings back marvellous memories of sitting at Rick Turner‘s house in Santa Cruz, discovering amazing new music from around the world, and listening to Rick’s remarkable stories.)

another nice review… but what's a ronin??

This mag –

is Bass Guitar magazine (not to be confused with Bass Guitar Magazine, which is British) – it’s a good mag, if a little focussed on metal for my own reading tastes.

Anyway, they reviewed Grace And Gratitude in their new issue. It’s a small but friendly review, but I’ve no real idea what a ronin is – obviously it’s meant to be slighty cryptic, give the italics in the review, but I’m not sure how it applies to what I do…

(thanks to Fenderbird from the dudepit for sending me the scan!)

Here’s one explanation of Ronin, from This site
The samurai is an elite warrior in service of a lord and bound by codes of obedience and bushido. He is expected to be absolutely loyal to his master, no matter what the personal consequences of his duty are. The ronin is a masterless samurai who have lost their status due to their own misdeeds or the untimely death of their lord. Ronin became farmers, monks, soldiers of fortune or even bandits, beggars, and assassins. Many committed ritual suicide.

…not sure I like that!! Farmer? Bandit?? SUICIDE??????

Someone help me out here…

SoundtrackRon Miles, ‘Heaven’.

Manic Compression

I’ve just been listening to ‘Absolution’ by – the songs are great, the playing’s great, the sounds are great… but the mastering is SOOOO harsh!! The whole album is flatlining at close to 0dB all the way through – so little light and shade, distorted vocals, squished drums… MAKE IT STOP!!

Why do bands do this? At least one track on the new album by The Killers is like this too – Glorious Indie Rock ‘n’ Roll is so over compressed I get major ear-fatigue after about two minutes. It’s a shame, cos it’s a great song.

This kind of mastering job used to be reserved for single edits of songs – it makes tracks sound great on small cheap radios (think ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ or ‘Bartender And The Thief’ by Stereophonics). But to mix a whole album like that is just painful – stop doing it!!

Mastering is such a sensitive part of the recording process – it’s what happens after the tracks are recorded and mixed – you send a Cd of the mixes to a dedicated mastering person who then compresses and EQs the tracks to make sure that the level is consistent between the tracks, and that there are no rogue peaks in the audio that means the rest of the track has to be really quiet to accomodate them. In more extreme circumstances, the whole track can be really obviously compressed to bring the average level right up. That’s what’s happened here, and it really hurts your ears listening to it on good speakers.

the mastering on was done by – a hugely experienced and skilled mastering engineer who got the job on my stuff because he’d mastered albums, and also ‘Spirit Of Eden’ by Talk Talk – one of my favourite albums, and one of my favourite sounding albums.

He did a great job of taking my pre-mastered mixes and doing the compression and EQ magic required to bring the overall level up a bit without losing the dynamics on the tracks. There’s some serious audio-voodoo involved in mastering, and Denis has clearly got the mojo. I’d recommend him highly if you’re wanting to get a record mastered.

SoundtrackMuse, ‘Absolution’; Tommy Simms, ‘Peace And Love’.

Another fine gig with Theo

This afternoon, Theo and I had a gig in the Royal Festival Hall Foyer – which, dispite being in ‘a foyer’ is actually a really really nice gig – big audience, lovely atmosphere, perfect for big spacious loveliness.

The setlist included a handful of tunes from For The Love Of Open Spaces – Flutter, Uncle Bernie, In A Place Like This and Lovely – one each of our solo tunes (I did Grace And Gratitude) one arrangement each of a tune we’ve written (Amo Amatis Amare with Theo on soprano sax, and then All I Know from Theo’s Heart Of The Sun album), and a couple of big spacey improvs.

All in all a top gig – the sound was great and we played very well indeed. Very positive reaction from the audience, and we’ve already been booked to play there again. Good stuff.

Theo’s one of the easiest musicians in the world to play with – an expert looper, and an amazing listener, he slots in around what I’m doing and directs the music in very subtle ways. It’s great being on stage with someone who is such a fine melodic improvisor and does textural ambient stuff as well. A real treat.

I’ve been listening to Theo’s new album, Earth To Ether, a lot over the last few days – it’s a hugely diverse representation of most of the things Theo’s been up to of late. There’s stuff with his quartet, a solo flute-loop thingie and a couple of songs with Richard Sinclair (70s prog-pop stalwart, out of Caravan/Hatfield And The North etc.) Richard’s voice is a little disarming at first – mainly because it’s so rare to hear jazz sung with an english accent. Richard avoids the trap of brit singer trying to sound like they grew up in New York, but he’s SOOO english that it takes a bit of getting used to it. But I’m used to it now, and really enjoy it.

There’s a strong pastoral, rural feel to the album – Theo seems to be inspired by open space a lot (hence the title of our CD), and it gives everything he does a very warm feeling. The other brit saxophonist I’ve been listening to a lot recently is Ben Castle – another superb musician, and every bit as eclectic as Theo. His is an urban eclecticism that provides a fantastic compliment to Theo’s broad sonic vista. Ben’s stuff also sounds like he’s playing whilst smirking a lot of the time – lots of very comedic stuff, but he always makes you feel like you’re in on the joke. Very clever stuff, hugely enjoyable. I strongly recommend both CDs – Ben’s is called ‘Blah Street’.

SoundtrackMatthew Garrison, ‘Matthew Garrison’; Theo Travis, ‘Earth To Ether’; Ben Castle, ‘Blah Street’; Jackson Browne, ‘Looking East’; Sheila Chandra, ‘Moonsung’.

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