Spearhead, Sessions and tonight's gig

Tuesday night was Spearhead night – my 5th time seeing them play, this time at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. They are, without doubt, my favourite live band in the world. It’s funky, celebratory, the tunes are great, the playing’s amazing and the lyrics make you feel like the world isn’t quite as lost as it seems to be if you just turn on the TV and watch… Michael Franti has a Shamen-like presence, encouraging the whole room to celebrate together, to encourage the celebration of differences, exhorting religions to focus on their similarities in order to work for a common aim, firing us up to get politically and socially active. All this under the distince haze and odour of many a spliff – bring on the smoking ban… ah well.

Anyway, I got there half an hour after they started due to teaching schedule and a remarkably early start time (headline band on at 8.30??) But the other hour and 45 was incredible as always. The new album, Yell Fire, has a strong reggae influence, and it gives another spin to the protest angle – Reggae, like Hip-hop has it’s origins in defiance, protest and inspiration for the poor and dispossessed (just have a listen to any Bob Marley, Steel Pulse or Linton Kwesi Johnson track for evidence), and like Hip-hop it’s been mostly hijacked by ‘bling’ culture, with so many reggae stars toasting about guns and booty… So it’s great to see it reclaimed as a medium for changing the world.

At the aftershow party, Franti was clearly enamoured with my coat, wondering which muppet I slaughtered to make it, but stroking my arm the whole time we talked. :o)

Yesterday was a heavy teaching day – yay! And today started with teaching and has moved on to recording. I’m in the middle of two remote sessions – one for Lobelia, a fantastic singer/songwriter from Montreal, and the other for Andrea Nones AKA DubNervous – a great electronica artist from Italy. Very different projects, equally enjoyable and challenging. Hurrah!

And tonight I’ve got the gig at the Enterprise in Chalk Farm, opening for BJ Cole and Emily Burridge – doors 8pm, tickets £8/£6 – see you there!!

Here's the press release for this month's Recycle gig… don't miss it!

1/11/06 Press release – Recycle Collective first
anniversary special, featuring Cleveland Watkiss,
Huw Warren and Steve Lawson

This November is the first anniversary of the beginning of the Recycle Collective. In the last 12 months, we’ve played host to some of the finest improvising musicians in the UK and beyond, and had many memorable nights of beautiful unique music.

Our first anniversary boasts another stunning line-up as solo bassist and Recycle Collective curator Steve Lawson is joined by singer/beatboxer/MC Cleveland
Watkiss and pianist Huw Warren.

Both Cleveland and Huw have been mainstays on the UK jazz scene for almost 20 years, celebrated for their inventive compositions and stunning improvisational ability. Cleveland’s recent focus on solo voice and live looping performances has added yet another layer to an already multifaceted career, ranging from jazz to opera, hip-hop to ambient electronica. Without doubt one of the most talented and versatile vocalists the UK has ever produced.

Huw Warren’s skills are equally diverse – whether free improvising with german double bassist Peter Herbert, playing Hymns from the Welsh Revival with Lleuwen Steffan, or writing music for the Scottish and Welsh Chamber Orchestras, through to accompanying singers June Tabor and Christine Tobin, he’s renowned for always playing the right thing at the right time. Effortlessly tasteful and prodigiously gifted, Huw’s presence at the Recycle Collective is very warmly anticipated.

Fresh back from a solo tour of Italy and Germany, Steve Lawson has steered the Recycle Collective to being one of London’s finest monthly live music events. Combining his own looped and layered bass work with the contributions of myriad fellow recyclists.

So come, bring friends, and be prepared for amazing music, special guests and a night of musical surprises in the perfect surroundings of Darbucka World Music Bar.

Date – Nov 15th Time – doors 7pm, music 8pm
Venue – Darbucka World Music Bar, Clerkenwell, London, EC1 4JZ
Nearest Tube – Farringdon
Tickets – £7/£5 concessions.

www.stevelawson.net www.clevelandwatkiss.com www.huwwarren.com
www.recyclecollective.com

Euroblog #932

Home stretch! I’m on the train from Nijmegen to Rosendaal in Holland, having played in Kleve in Germany last night. The Kleve experience was one I won’t forget for a while…

So yesterday morning, the morning after European Bass Day, had breakfast with all the bass peoples who were at Bass Day, in the hotel, then got a lift down to Krefeld Haupt BanHof, (that’s train station to you), and got the train to Kleve. For some stupid reason I’d left it til that morning to email the owner of the theatre I was playing in, but I sent him my phone number and the email address that goes straight to my phone, and thought that the worst case scenario was that I’d end up meeting him at the venue when he got there to set up. I had the map from the venue website to be able to find the place, and was happy to have a look round Kleve and check into a hotel in the afternoon.

I get to Kleve, find a town map outside the station, and set off in the direction of the venue. I walk for about 5 minutes and a car pulls up alongside and asks me in German if I want any help. I answer in English, and the driver then guesses that I’m doing the concert at the theatre, as she’d read about it in the paper that morning (a very good sign), it turns out she knows the guy who owns it and his family, and offers to give me a lift first to the theatre, and then to the house of the owner when there’s no-one there! As a general rule, I don’t advise getting into stranger’s cars, but Oopie (I’m assuming that’s how it’s spelt) clearly did know the theatre people, and the Serendipity of the situation seemed way too go to pass up… Thank God for slightly nuts people in small-town Germany who are willing to stop and help lost looking musicians!

So we go the house of the theatre owner, Wolfgang, he’s not there, but his family take v. good care of me, speak excellent english, and prove to be utterly delightful, interesting, funny and wonderful people – just the kind of people that would make all of this worthwhile even if I didn’t enjoy the music. That I get to play music I love and meet people like this makes me a most happy and lucky bunny.

Wolfgang arrives, matches his family for friendliness and all-round wonderfulness, and we head down to the venue – xox theatre (xox is actually a word, not just X O X, which I thought it was… xox, pronounced like ‘socks’ with an x in front, was a biscuit manufacturer, and the theatre is on the top floor of the old converted factory.) It’s a gorgeous little theatre, with great lighting and 99 raked seats. Just perfect for a StevieGig.

The house PA proves most satisfactory, and I set up and soundcheck with tonnes of time to spare, and meet Theo from MySpace, the guy who set all this up in the first place.

The gig itself was pretty small (the big problem with being on the road is that’s pretty tough to keep track of all the promo stuff for each gig, and make sure everyone has everything they need), but the people there were hugely generous in their appreciation for the music, I sold a lot of CDs (on this tour I sold out of all the copies of both Behind Every Word and Grace And Gratitude that I bought with me, and have only a couple of the other two left each!), and met a whole host of utterly delightful people. Is there anyone horrible in Kleve, or are you interviewed to measure you general niceness level before moving in? All in, one of the most enjoyable gigs I’ve had in a long time, and the theatre want to book me again early next year and do it again with a bigger build-up. What fun!

So I’m back on the train, heading home, via Brussels and the Eurostar, looking forward to a couple of days off before my gig in Wales on Friday. Time to regroup, send out the CD orders that have come in online while I’ve been on tour, sleep A LOT catch up on all the teaching-related email that I’ve neglected, and generally relax.

But, barring some kind of utter disaster today, this training-it round Europe thing is definitely the way to go. Book a month of gigs at a time, fill in off-nights with as much fun as possible, the more gigs you do, the cheaper the travel works out per-gig, you can play in Italy one night and Portugal the next , and all it’ll cost you is the food on the train and a cheap hotel if you don’t have someone to stay with… I can’t understand why the trains of Europe aren’t chock full of musicians on tour!

So who wants to help book a gig in Europe in March? :o)

Euroblog #7

Euroblog 7

Right, lesson #1 from all this has been to get the complete Europass whatever you’re doing. OK, so it costs about £100 more, but it gives you way more options, and stops you getting stung the way I have been just now.

Having bought my tickets in Venice on Thursday, on the train just now, I discovered that all the woman had done was reserve the seats for me, and charge me a booking fee, not actually sell me the sodding tickets! She’s listed them as though I had a pass for the whole of Europe, rather than one that doesn’t cover Switzerland and Germany. so I’ve just been stung for another $50 for the Swiss bit of the journey. I think the same is likely to happen in Germany too… eeek. I mean, it’s not going to break the bank, but it’s a total pain in the arse to have been sold the wrong tickets. I think I might go into the Rail Europe offices in London when I get back and complain – it’s not that I would have minded paying the extra – indeed, I was surprised when she told me the price of the tickets from Milan to Amsterdam via Switzerland and Germany – but the hassle of being sold one lot of stuff, then finding out that it’s not valid is just nonsense.

Other than that, it’s all going fine. I’m on train two out of a five train series – this one’s a local Swiss train, from Arth to Olten, and then I change and get on a train to Mannheim, then to Koln, and thence to Amsterdam. It’s funny, traveling on trains takes a lot longer, but is way less tiring than flying. I’m much more relaxed, can get up and wander around, and can watch some of the most beautiful scenery in the world whistle past the window, safe in the knowledge that my eco-monkey credentials are improving by the second. Also got to meet a couple of lovely americans from Portland Oregon, on their way home after a trip round Italy – always nice to meet fellow travellers, have a chat and move on. It’s great the way orbits intersect like this on the road. Sometimes they cross and merge, as with Luca and I, where we end up working together for years to come. Other times, it’s just a 20 minute chat on a train or plane and away you go.

Current Listening – Tollak, Walk This World – he’s the harp-monkey from EuroBassDay, and this record of his is lovely. It’s kind of classic singer/songwriter stuff, in the big emotional 80s songwriter vein, with a fairly major chunk of Beatles harmony.

Update – now on the train from Olten to Mannheim – I think I managed to flummox the ticket inspector with the number of bits of paper I thrust at her – my inter rail pass, my swiss ticket (which says it’s for Basel but I haven’t been there), my seat reservation, and the following tickets through to Amsterdam, and she just tapped some information into her over-sized palm pilot thingie, thanked me and left. So so long as she wasn’t sending messages to marksmen in Mannheim saying I should be shot on sight when I leave the train, I think I’m OK… We’ll see. More news at the top of the hour.

In other train related news, met two more lovely Americans on the last leg of the trip – two girls from Seattle backpacking round Europe.

And Swiss trains officially kick the arse of all other trains. They’re fantastic! I thought I’d wandered into first class by mistake. But no, this is my seat. yay! However, they still haven’t cottoned onto the idea that a power-point next to each seat is a really great idea for laptop users. I guess i’m the only one… riiiight. Also finally managed to find something veggie to eat in a shop on Olten station – a cheese and jalapeno tortilla wrap! Molto picante e bueno. or something.

The big problem with Switzerland is the language thing – with bits of it being Italian speaking, German Speaking, French Speaking, and Swiss-German speaking. My brain hasn’t at all been able to switch to German thus far… I got to the point where I could hold basic conversations when I toured in Germany a lot in the early 90s, but it’s going to take a bit of work to get it back into shape…

[second update] I take back what I said about Swiss trains, I’m stucking in a fucking smoking carriage, and am going to end up smelling disgusting by the end of this, and feeling rather sick. What kind of loser train network lets people smoke on trains? What more’s the point, what kind of loser ticket agent books a seat for a non-smoker in a smoking carriage! The kind of moron that works at Venice station and doesn’t actually book me any tickets, just seat reservations, that’s who… grrrr.

EuroBlog #4

So, Monday – when Oteil and Barri eventually surface, we head into town, and find that Monday is a pretty mellow day in Verona. It’s a bit rainy, but we find a cool little buffet lunch place in the big square outside the Palazzio and have lunch. A lovely couple from San Diego recognise Oteil (he’s in the Allman Brothers Band, who are HUGE in the US…) and we have a nice chat with them.

Then to shopping. This time, instead of being honourary girl, I’m hanging outside the shops with Oteil while Barri heads for the boutiques. It’s one of those things about living in London – I forget that if you’re from small town Alabama, shopping in Verona is pretty damned amazing. Being from London, it’s less of a novelty. But a day spent walking the gorgeous historic streets of Verona with Oteil and Barri is a day very well spent – many laughs, lovely snacks, and a last drink at a pavement cafe. Just as I’m leaving we run into the rest of the Epifani crowd, and as I head off to the train station to head back to Luca and Gio’s, Oteil and Barri have found their ride back to the hotel! Hurrah for coincidence!

Back with L and G, and all is well with the world. A gorgeous dinner and onto mixing the record that Luca and I recorded back in July. And Wow! The tracks sound really great. I remember there being some good stuff, but not this good. This is some really exciting music. The blend of our sounds is amazing, and we bring out different sides in eachother’s playing. I’m drawn into some darker sounding stuff, and Luca is inspired to more melodic playing. We’re constantly swapping roles on these tunes, and the editing and mixing goes pretty smoothly.

Today (Tuesday) I’ve been carrying on with the mixing, while Luca was out at work, and after a pizza with Luca and Andrea Nones (from the Ground Collective – the wonderful chap who keeps booking me for gigs in Brescia), it’s back to mixing. We’ve now got about 40 minutes of really great music. So are pretty much there for the album. I’ll be back here late Thursday to finish off the ‘shaping’ of the tracks, with just polishing to be done before mastering. When it will get released is anybody’s guess, but hopefully we’ll at least have a myspace page before too long!

Italy is such a great place to come and visit – the people here are some of the most open, warm and friendly I’ve ever encountered, the audiences are wide-eared and accepting, the musicians are creative and expressive, the language sounds like song, and the scenery is gorgeous. I think I’d struggle with living here, given the tangled web of beaurocracy that seems to surround everything here, unless you have an old boys network to deal with it, but I look forward to coming back from the day I leave.

Having said that, I’ve now been away from home for over a week, and I’m starting to miss TSP and the Fairly Aged Feline quite a lot. My love of Italy is balanced by the novelty of touring having worn off years ago… ideally, I’ll have to work out a way to bring both of them with me, but methinks the Fairly Aged one would take to journeys across the continent.

Tomorrow, it’s off to Venice for my last Italian gig of this tour… Exciting stuff!

EuroBlog #2

Right, bit of a catch up.

Milan first – got the train from Geneva to Milan, which rode through the Swiss Alps on a journey that was beautiful even with loads of low lying fog and rain.

Got to Milan, and was picked up at the airport by Nic Angileri and taken to the masterclass. As soon as I had started the clinic, it was obvious that something was up with the Looperlative. The screen kept shutting down, and while the audio was working fine, there was no MIDI control for a few minutes at a time… big big problem. Was fine for a clinic, as I just demonstrated other things, but didn’t bode well for the gig in the evening…

The gig was at a really cute little venue in the city called Atmosphere Live – we set up, and the Looperlative was misbehaving in the soundcheck, and continued to behave weirdly into the gig – I ended up finishing the gig with a couple of chord melody jazz things and a three bass jam with Nic Angileri and Fabio Rigamonti, both very fine players. As it was, I ended up selling more CDs at the gig, than I have at any gig for quite a while, so either it was pity and I should break my gear more often, or my musicalness came across even with the broked stuffs. I prefer the latter. ;o)

Friday morning, I visited Mollinelli (sp?) guitars with Nic, makers of some beautiful handmade instruments. Italy has a fabulous luthery tradition, and most of the builders here seem to combine beauty with a strong experimental design aesthetic. Good stuff.

Back onto the train to Desenzano, and onto my Italian ‘home’ with Luca and Gio, two of my favouritest people in the world.

My #1 concern was still the Looperlative, and I plugged it in, took it out of the rack, and just as a precaution, took the lid off to see if anything had worked loose (you can see how desperate I was, given my previous track record with blowing up the LP1 whenever I take the lid off) – I made sure that all the cables and connectors were seated OK, and put the lid back…

Gig that night was in Brescia, a little way out of the main town, in the basement of a modern bar in a village – not at all the kind of place you’d expect to find an experimental electronica night. But then, Andrea Nones, who runs the Ground Collective in Brescia is no ordinary promoter. For a start he’s also an excellent musician (he was playing at the gig as well), but has an amazing ability to turn experimental music into something that everyone would want to hear! The night started with DJs and a free buffet (a great idea to make sure everyone arrives at the start of the gig!) and then moved onto a range of different acts, from a solo guitarist with a Frisell fixation, to a duo of electronics and acoustic piano, a vocalist or two, and a lovely solo set by a guy playing a homemade Warr-Guitar-style tapping thing. Very nice indeed.

Then the last act – me and Luca! We’ve recorded a lot together, but never played live, but Luca’s a fantastic and sensitive improvisor with an amazing palette of sounds. The Looperlative behaved very well, and the set was really nice. Lots of interesting twists and turns, and I did a solo version of ‘Behind Every Word’ in the middle. A successful show, and a handful of CD sales.

So the Looperlative seems to be fixed, but Bob in his usual ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ way had already shipped a new one out to Italy to arrive monday…

InterRail travel plans pt 2…

OK, just booked my tickets for the first leg of my trip to Europe… Here’s how it’s working so far:

With your interrail ticket, you get cheap tickets on the Eurostar (£50 each way), so I’ve booked to Paris.

From there, because my next stint takes me out of my allocated zones, I had to pay a little more to Geneva – it should’ve been £15, but there were no standard class tickets left, so Paris to Geneva is costing me £23.

From Geneva to Milan goes through a whole load of Switzerland, so it’s costing me £26 (a ticket type for ‘journeys where your pass only covers part of the journey’) – after that, the internal Italian journeys will be free, and seat bookings for the longer TGV journeys, as long as I don’t go outside my zones, will be about £4 per journey.

So, first lesson is that if I was planning on doing loads of journeys outside my zones, it’s clearly going to be better to get the full euro-pass for £110 more. I won’t use that much (as the next bit where I go out of the country is just a jolly across the dutch/german border which won’t come to £50), but it’s worth thinking ahead… If I bought the £405 all-zones pass, it also lasts for 30 days not 22…

In other news, as per usual, TSP is using me going away as an excuse to invite her lovely friends to stay, so I once again miss out on a week of fun in London, but I’m sure sailing through the french, swiss, italian, belgian, dutch and german countryside on a train will comfort me. Maybe I can convince nice friends to stay a day or so after I get back as well, just so I get to go for curry!

So total expense for today, for Eurostar, paris-geneva, geneva-paris +booking fee + registered post – £110.

Total travel costs so far £410. Number of gigs I’ll be able to do for that amount of expenditure – 4, possibly 6 (two still waiting for confirmation in Italy, which works out to a maximum £102.50 per gig in travel so far, with three days in Geneva thrown in, and the possibility of a day out in either Rome or Venice just for fun, and the chance to take two basses with me, more CDs for sale (which=more income without having to ship them ahead – a box of 45 CDs costs about £20 to send to Italy), and no excess baggage charges at the airport (last time I flew Ryanair to France, with no CDs, one bass, and stripped down bass rig, it cost me £40 in excess baggage, £13 each way on the train to Stansted, and £45 for the ticket – £111 total…

this train thing is looking good!

InterRail ticket is booked…

I’m going to blog my travel process in some detail, given that I’m doing my Italy/Germany tour in October via an InterRail ticket – that is, I buy one ticket, and can get through all of France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Greece, Turkey and, er, Luxembourg for 22 days on the train.

I booked the ticket online – nice easy process, though you do need your passport to hand as they want your passport number. The online booking process is fairly non-specific, in that you don’t book a seat on individual trains then, you just choose the zones, your age bracket (under or over 26) and a start date. I’ll be ringing up on Monday morning to get reserved seats from London to Geneva, Geneva to Milan, Milan to Verona, and then after that Verona to Dusseldorf, which is out of my zones (as is Geneva), but I’m hoping I can just pay a coupla quid extra and cross the border, as both are v. close to the French/Dutch borders…

While in Italy, I’m going to take advantage of the free ticket and see if I can get away to Rome for a day between gigs – need to find out how long the train takes from where I’ll be staying…

If this all works out as planned, it’s definitely THE way to tour in Europe – no airplane baggage limits, no 2 hour checkin times, no hassle finding crappy airports 30 miles outside the city centre to be able to get the cheap flights, no trouble if you miss your first train, no problem if a last minute gig comes in and you have to reroute… And to cap it all, plenty of time to see the countries you’re playing in! If the gigs are really well paid and spread out, you can break the journeys over night in interesting cities on the way.

This kind of ticket scheme is available for Americans wanting to travel in Europe too – do a google search and see what y’all can find!

The only limitations I’ve come across so far are that you can’t use it in the country you live in, though you do qualify for cheap tickets to get you out of your own country (£100 return to paris in the eurostar, £80 return to Calais – I’m going to see if I can pick up the TGV in Calais…) and if you want to book a fast train, there’s a booking fee of a couple of quid for the seat. It remains to be seen if you can get on without a booked seat, and just take your chances (or end up standing in the restaurant car for 8 hours – no thanks!)

the big thing I’m hoping for are electrical sockets on the trains near the seats. You get these on British trains now, so hopefully, given that the Europeans seem to do EVERYTHING train-related better than us, they’ll have that, and free wi-fi! At least with the plug socket I’ll be able to spend some time working on transcriptions of my tunes. I’m also going to download a few greenbelt seminars and put them onto my phone to listen to, as well as this year’s Reith Lectures by Daniel Barenboim.

I’ll let you know how the booking of the individual trains and the Eurostar goes on Monday…

October European Tour expands…

Yay! I’ve just been booked for the European Bass Day in Krefeld, Germany on Oct 29th. That’s the week after the Euro Bass Day in Italy (keep up!), which I’m also at, and I’ll be able to get from one to the other on the train, with my Inter Rail ticket! This inter rail thing is definitely looking like THE way to travel round Europe. I’m going to have to start planning European gigs in three week chunks, so I can do this again, rather than flying in for one or two days… it’s just not cost effective, especially when the goons in baggage handling smash up your instruments…

So I’m ‘doing’ Europe by train. I was a little worried at first that the InterRail website hinted that TGVs (the fast trains) cost extra, but after calling their phone booking line, it turns out it’s just a two or three quid booking fee for each journey. Which is nowt in the grand scheme of things. So it’s all go for Europe by rail!

Mixing new music

Today, I’ve been mixing some of the duets I recorded with Luca Formentini in Italy back in July. Luca’s a fantastically creative guitar player, and our two sound-worlds meld together really well. I’ve done preliminary mixes/edits on three tracks so far and all are really lovely. I’ll set up a MySpace page for them as soon as I can, so that there’s some stuff out there to listen to for y’all, and hopefully it’ll be released on CD before too long…