More recording

Doing more recording for the new album today – Since tuesday, my days have been too full of teaching to get any recording done! It’s great to have the teaching work, but I do wonder whether I’m going to need to empty my diary for a couple of weeks at some point before the middle of May to get this finished… Maybe I’ll be able to do it in the few hours here and there that I’m able to grab to work on it. I can’t remember if I was blocking out whole days for doing Grace And Gratitude…

Got a couple more fun things recorded today. Another slice of melancholic optimism just now, that sounds lovely. There are a few string squeaks and scrapes through the piece that I need to decide about – are they characterful or undesirable?? It’s a tough call…

Anyway, back to it – while I’m doing this, those of you using Mac OSX can check out check out this rather fantastic addition to iTunes

Strike a blow for the indies

That’s indie musicians, not the west or east indies. I mean, anything you can do for those indies would probably be much appreciated too, but I haven’t got time to get into that.

This week something marvellous occurred – the current number one single in the pop charts in the UK is ‘The JCB Song’ by Nizlopi (listen to it on their myspace page. They run their own label, have been gigging doggedly on the acoustic folky singer/songwriter scene in the UK for years, and write songs about childhood experiences, not getting jiggy or bling or whatever other nonsense usually populates the upper reaches of the chart.

And for months, there’s been this rumour going round the net that The JCB Song could be christmas number one. I can’t remember where I first heard it – a whisper from here or there. They had a page done with the video on it, which is a hand-drawn childish cartoon of a kid riding in a JCB with his dad (for the US readers, a JCB is a big mechanical digger). It’s beautiful. They’ve done an amazing job of evoking childhood with both the song and the video, and they’ve somehow got it to number one.

Like Show Of Hands managing to fill The Albert Hall, this is one of the most magical moments when real music invades the world of the shallow money-driven reality-tv horse-shit that populates the charts for the rest of the year. When some genuine talent sticks it’s head over the parapet and says ‘here’s a song you might really like, even without some godawful backstory told by the X-Factor to try and convince you that I’m just a roofer done good, living out his dreams, as opposed to a third rate karaoke singer with a dreadful backing track, lining Simon Cowell’s pockets.’

So, the big news is that yesterday I bought a song while it’s at number one for the first time since 1986! the last one was I think ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ by Falco, though it might have been Spitting Image’s ‘The Chicken Song’ – either way, I’ve still got them both. :o)

If Shane from X-Factor does make it to number one, it’ll be another one of those ‘Fairytale Of New York’ moments – a song that gets played everywhere every christmas due to it being one of the finest christmas songs ever written. But can you remember what was the christmas number on the year it was released? Fairytale was number two…

It’ll be the same with this – years to come, people will talk about Nizlopi, they’ll play the song and cry cos it’s gorgeous, and they’ll rue the day that some loser who ended up playing butlins within a year was at number one instead. UNLESS YOU BUY IT. Go on, it’s 79p on iTunes, or the other download services. Go and get it, strike a blow, enjoy the song, and feel like you’ve done something worthwhile.

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)

another murky step into the digital realm for the music industry

OK, so follow Napster’s model, HMV and Virgin are starting to offer a subscription download service – basically you pay £14.99 and you get access to all the tunes you want. As long as you keep paying, the tunes stay active. If you stop, the tunes are disabled.

This SO doesn’t work for me at all. I don’t like the idea that you have a licence to play something, rather than buying it. I don’t even like the fact that iTunes MP3s are disabled for sharing. There need to be incentives for listeners to buy music, that we all know, and I’m not sure that crippling the digital formats is going to make people feel positively disposed towards them.

For one thing, it just gives software monkeys something else to target their energies into – beating the encryption. The easiest way is clearly going to be to re-record the audio off the track into another format. This can be done very easily if you have an external soundcard, and the software to do it internally is already readily available. If some little hacker-chimp comes up with a one click version of this, it’ll mess up the entire market in crippled files. Is it already out there? I’m guessing yes, and I just haven’t heard about it yet…

And how does it work for the artists? Someone downloads two hundred albums in a month, to add to their archive. how is their £14.99 divided? Is a set fee paid for each track? per album, a percentage of that person’s subs? All seems to be a really crap way of trying to put a stranglehold on downloads that isn’t going to work.

So what incentives work? A feeling of closeness with the artist? Cool packaging? Web-access that can be only got at through the enhanced CD? or just making downloads cheap and easy. And with that, I point you to the downloads page in my online store – three of the albums there are no longer available anywhere else.

Soundtrack – Andy Thornton, ‘The Healing Darkness’.

Italy post no. 1

(written on the plane, 21/7/05 18.02)

What a day!

Given the travel fuck-ups in London of late, I decided to leave plenty of time to get to Gatwick for the flight to Italy… Little did I know I’d need every second of the FIVE HOURS that it took to get from Southgate to the airport!

The Picadilly Line is already suspended up where I am, so I had to get the ‘rail replacement bus service’ from Arnos Grove to Seven Sisters (oh yes, I’m going into all the really dull details, just for you lovely bloglings… and cos I’m on a flight with not much else to do!) but when I got to Seven Sisters tube, a little man in an orange jacket (perhaps fresh from Guantanamo) said that the whole Victoria Line was suspended…

At this point, the serendipity of my having just got a new phone (Sony K750i) kicked in, as it has an FM Radio built in. I’d been listening to the mighty Robert Elms on BBC Radio London, and he’d done a quick announcement that something had happened just before I got to the tube, but as I crossed the road to try and get on a bus towards Victoria, the situation started to unfold in a fledgling way. The report came through that three ‘incidents’ had taken place, at Oval, Warren Street and Shepherd’s Bush tube stations, and soon after a fourth incident came through on a bus in Shepherd’s Bush. Radio London switched to rolling news, and kept updating with all the facts and no speculation, and did a remarkable job, which greatly helped with the next installment of my journey, definitely the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me on a bus…

…the radio broadcast is interrupted by my phone ringing, and it’s Muriel Anderson on the other end of the line – it’s always a delight to hear from Muriel and my immediate assumption was that she was coming to England to look for gigs. ‘I’m in Indianapolis, doing a live radio spot, and was wondering if you wanted to talk on air about the bomb situation’…!! I checked to see whether they meant the one from two weeks ago, or todays – not knowing whether news would have filtered as far as Indianapolis – and they confirmed it was today. Fortunately having been listening to the radio I was able to fill them in on all the latest official details, and quash a few rumours about huge explosions and the like… My first ever live international radio interview whilst on public transport, that’s for sure!

The bus proved to be a pretty unreliable way of getting across London – it stopped for over an hour on High Holborn, and then turfed us all out – but with the tube network being pretty much closed, I didn’t have any choice but to sit it out, and watch the three hour margin I’d left myself gradually ebb away. The second bus moved much quicker once we got past Oxford Street, and eventually we got to Victoria, and I made it straight onto the Gatwick Express.

At this point, I want to praise British Airways. my initial idea for this trip was to take my rack on the plane as handluggage, and put my bass in the hold in a foam-flight-case. But I weighed my rack-case this morning and it was 50lbs! Not the kind of thing you can get away with as hand luggage. So the plan switched to taking the bass in a soft case again, and checking the rack, hoping it’ll get through OK (it is packed with all my clothes too, so should be padded OK).

I’m used to having to sweet-talk my bass onto a planes by all means neccesary – starting with chat about favourite shades of nail varnish, moving up to compliments on people’s hairstyles, and culminating in blind panic if it looks like I’m going to have to put a soft case in the hold… At the BA check in desk, not a question was asked. The lovely lady who took the rack from me was fine with me taking the laptop and the bass onto the plane, and was very helpful with labeling up the rack as fragile and getting it hand carried down to the plane. None of the other BA staff questioned me taking the bass on board, and it’s now nestling in the overhead compartment above my head!

So as you can now tell, I made it onto the plane, from whence I write (to be uploaded when I find some delicious Italian WiFi at the other end). I’m sat here, listening to Gillian Welch, sipping tomato juice (why do I only ever drink tomato juice on planes? I really like it!) having just eaten a lovely veggie meal, along with everyone else: BA are smart enough to just serve veggie food to everyone, so there’s no questions about who gets what food! smart as plums.

Anyway, the situation with the ‘incidents’ as I left it in London was that there had been four explosions, all much much smaller than the ones two weeks ago, and that no-one had been killed, and there were very few casualties at all – the only confirmed one being the owner of on of the rucksacks that exploded.

Whoever it was who did it did a rather good job of ballsing up London’s transport for another day, and have probably scared quite a few commuters. I’m just glad that the bombs either malfuctioned or were only detonators with no payload. Enough already with the bombing, please!

…and in that serendipitous way that chance can provide a day’s soundtrack, the track that’s just come on iTunes is John Martyn’s ‘I don’t want to know about evil’ – I don’t want to know about evil, I only want to know about love… I’ll find the lyrics and post them when I find the delicious italian wifi.

Soundtrack – John Martyn, ‘Solid Air’.

Is anyone listening to the bassists?

So, I was just fiddling around on audioscrobbler.com, wondering who people were listening to, and ended up searching on a whole load of bassist’s names, to see who people were actually listening to.

As I’ve mentioned before, The Scrob is a really interesting chart in that it’s not what people are buying, or what they own but what they are actually listening to – what it is that people are taking down from the CD shelf, or dialing up on their ipod and choosing to listen to. The membership is, I think, a couple of hundred thousand, and largely, I guess, a young, tech-savvy slightly geeky bunch, on the whole…

So here are the bassists I searched on, in order.

Jaco Pastorius – 4306
Victor Wooten – 2608
Marcus Miller – 2466
Stanley Clarke – 1002
Jonas Hellborg – 499
Tony Levin – 399
John Patitucci – 388
Stuart Hamm – 342
Michael Manring – 318
Dave Holland – 275
Billy Sheehan – 274
Brian Bromberg – 244
Eberhard Weber – 233
Wayman Tisdale – 168
Avishai Cohen – 141
Renaud Garcia Fons – 126
Jimmy Haslip – 100
Adam Nitti – 100
Mark King – 94
Bass Extremes (Wooten/Bailey) – 88
Reid Anderson – 74
Alain Caron – 64
Doug Wimbish – 59
Jeff Berlin – 54
Trip Wamsley – 51
Steve Lawson – 49
Seth Horan – 47
Randy Coven – 42
Abraham Laboriel – 37
Bill Dickens – 28
Gerald Veasley – 27
Mo Foster – 26
Mark Egan – 22
Percy Jones – 18
Michael Dimin – 10
Matthew Garrison – 7
John Lester – 7
Glen Moore – 7
Laurence Cottle – 5
Fieldy – 5
Janek Gwizdala – 3

Now, bear in mind that this relies on them being entered into the iTunes/CDDB data base under their own name – some of these players maybe be listed as ‘the such and such band’ or something else. Feel free to have a browse at audioscrobbler.com and see who else you can find. Lemme know, and I’ll add them to the list…

Soundtrack – John Goldie, ‘Turn And Twist’ (jazz trio, with the marvellous Ewen Vernal on bass).

A plea to all musicians with websites…

STOP AUTOMATICALLY HAVING MUSIC LOAD WHEN PEOPLE VISIT YOUR SITE!!!!!!

It’s a total pain in the arse if you’re trying to do anything else at the same time, takes ages to load, can mess up people’s media players if they’ve got them running at the same time… JUST STOP IT!

Have a button where people can CHOOSE to listen to you. If you embed music into your site to launch immediately, I will just close the window and not bother reading any further, OK? I’ve usually got something that I’ve chosen to listen to playing on iTunes and I don’t need your low res samples messing that up! Just gimme the option to download it, then convince me with text and style and panache why I should want to.

on the front page of my site, I have a link to a streaming MP3 selection from all my solo albums – which people can choose to click on or not. Or they can go to the MP3s page or the CD shop and listen to samples there. In their own time. When they aren’t trying to listen to anything else.

thanks.

SoundtrackCalamateur, ‘Tiny Pushes Vol II’ – a free download album, far to good to be free, get it from the website.

Jonatha gig #4

Last night was gig number four this month – back at the 12 Bar, this time a headline set of just over an hour. She’s almost too good – a really great set-list, including, I’m glad to say, a song I’d never heard (there’s not much Jonatha-related material I haven’t heard) – a song called ‘I’ll Try’ from some Disney movie… Beautiful, tried to find it on iTunes today, but it’s not there (lots of her other stuff is though – go and get it!)

Her last gig in the UK for now is at The Bedford in Balham on Monday – JUST GO!! If you haven’t seen her on this tour, you need to, she’s a genius.

In other news, still no news on my wallet, so I’m guessing it’s gone permanently. Bollocks.

Random link of the day – www.wordcount.org – the 86,000 most commonly used words in the English language in order. A fantastic site.

Soundtrack – Paul Simon, ‘You’re The One’; Incognito, ‘Positivity’; Jonatha Brooke, ‘Live’; Stevie Wonder; ‘Hotter Than July’.

iPod generation?

I keep hearing all over the place about now being the iPod generation – where our music listening is governed by homemade playlists, shuffle functions and genre-specific online radio… Does anyone else still listen to whole albums?

While I do occasionally listen to odd tracks (or even buy odd tracks on iTunes – the latest one was Carly Simon’s ‘Coming Around Again’ – just had an urge to listen to it, for some reason!) I’m still a big fan of the art of constructing an album, programming the tracks in the right order, developing a musical or lyrical theme and packaging it in a way that makes sense. Music just doesn’t seem to have the same significance in a disembodied ‘shuffle mode’ MP3 context.

On the flip side of this, I’ve always been a big fan of Greatest Hits albums, more because I’m looking forward to the day when I’ve got 10 or so albums under my belt and can cherry-pick the best tracks to go on a best-of. That feeling of looking back over your career and seeing how many great tracks you’ve made must be a very satisfying one.

so, my top 5 fave Greatest Hits albums –

  • The Cure (Greatest Hits)
  • Paul Simon (Negotiations and Love Songs)
  • Michael McDonald (Sweet Freedom – the best of)
  • Tom Waits (Asylum Years)
  • Prefab Sprout (Life Of Surprises)

The other great packages of a lifetime’s material are live albums and re-recordings – my faves of those would be

  • James Taylor (Live – mid 90s)
  • Joni Mitchell (Travelogue)
  • Kings X (Live)
  • Bruce Cockbun (Live – late 80s)
  • Dave Matthews/Tim Reynolds (Live at Luther College)

So here’s to the magic of the album, long may it continue as an artform…

Soundtrack – Stevie Wonder, ‘Hotter Than July’; Tom Waits, ‘Nighthawks At The Diner’.