A Christmas pressie for my bass!

Well, it’s been two years since I last changed them, so I thought as a christmas pressie I’d give my 6 string fretless a new set of strings… Woah! It feels like a completely different instrument (that might also be down to me ill-advisedly tinkering with the truss rod at the same time…) – it suddenly sounds all bright and twangy! They’ll break in in a week or two, I’m sure, but it’s a huge difference from two year old flats to brand new ones… Now, do I do the 6 string fretted at the same time? Those have only been on for just over a year… :o)

Also discovered in changing the strings that thanks to not really playing much bass over the festive period thus far, my intonation has gone to shit… time to put in some practice, methinks!

In other news, The Small Person and I were due to meet up with Andrew AKA Calamateur today, but got so snarled up in traffic on the way, that we had to abort the visit and head home – the worst traffic I’ve been in in London for many a year… :o(

On a more upbeat note, I’ve just had an email from Michael Manring inviting me to do a couple of gigs with him at the end of January in CA, which will be a lot of fun!

BTW, a couple of people have emailed/AIM’d in defense of Lost In Translation, but nothing even vaguely convincing has been said of yet…

SoundtrackJonatha Brooke, ‘Plumb’ (one of the greatest albums ever made – she’s coming to do some gigs in the UK soon, finally!!)

Happy Christmas, blog-readers!

Right, I’m just off to do my christmas shopping, and just have time to wish y’all and very happy and blessed christmas. Please don’t spend too much, eat too much or drink too much – there’s something deeply perverse about celebrating God coming into the world as a homeless refugee by overindulging in everything. Instead, be thankful for your family, tell them you love them, and spare a thought for those who are alone. If you can, invite someone over who’ll be on their own.

Thanks for reading this year – I must congratulate you on your superb taste in trivial reading matter. :o)

SoundtrackJonatha Brooke, ‘Steady Pull’; Theo Travis, ‘Earth To Ether’; Talk Talk, ‘Spirit Of Eden’; The Pixies, ‘Doolittle’; The Works, ‘Beware Of The Dog’.

More big changes at the BBC

regular readers of this ‘ere blog will know that I’m a huge fan of the BBC – I think any Brit that has travelled abroad comes to appreciate the unique resource we have in the BBC, and as the media in general seems to get more and more commercialised, the Beeb is a bastion of publicly funded journalistic marvellousness in the middle of it all. Their track record on commissioning great drama and comedy is fantastic, and their kids programs are the best there is.

So I’m always a little uneasy when I hear talk of big changes at the BBC, such as those announced yesterday in a talk by the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson.

Thousands of jobs are to go, and loads of BBC stuff is going to move to Manchester… I’ll watch this one unfold with a cautious eye.

This spawned a discussion on BBC London about whether a licence fee funded BBC was still valid, and true to form, much of the genetic detritus that makes up the listenership to John Gaunt’s show in the morning seemed to think that they got better value and programming with their Satellite and Cable channels. Sometimes I despair for the future of the country. Most of that despair comes from listening to John Gaunt’s show. Maybe he just attracts obnoxious morons?

Anyway, if there are any referenda on the future of the BBC, do us all a favour and vote for it keeping it’s funding base just the way it is, please. The licence fee would be great value if it just covered radio, or just covered the BBC website, let alone the TV as well… Gawd bless the BBC.

Soundtrack – Zakir Hussain, ‘Making Music’; Pierce Pettis, ‘Great Big World’; Gillian Welch, ‘Time (The Revelator)’; Jonatha Brooke, ‘Plumb’; Indigo Girls, ‘4.5 – the best of’.

two fine gigs in one day. (oh, and a really hideous guitar show…)

So last night (well, actually two nights ago now, seeing as how it’s 1am Thursday…) – anyway, on Tuesday night, The Cheat and I went to two gigs in one night. Firstly to see Iain Archer supporting Paddy Casey at Scala in Kings Cross. Scala’s a really nice venue – I’ve seen Spearhead and the Dum Dums there before – and Iain was on top form. He had Paul and Phil Wilkinson from The Amazing Pilots on bass and drums, and the trio was incredible. Loads of energy, big grooves (I’ve been a big fan of Phil’s drumming since I first saw the Pilots play, and he just gets better and more inventive…) And Iain’s guitar sounded particularly good. He’s a megastar in the making. It’s been really interesting to watch his music evolve, from his days as a gentle acoustic pop songwriter (his debut album, ‘Playing Dead’ is marvellous, but very different from where he’s at now), through a mid period of experimentation, to where he’s at now, absorbing all kinds of interesting influences and being genuinely brilliant. His new album, ‘Flood The Tanks’ is just out. I’ve got it on order, and from what i’ve already heard, it’s great stuff and highly recommended.

After that, we walked up Pentonville Road to ‘Bar Academy’ in Islington. Got lost twice (once due to me, once due to The Cheat), to see Nick Harper. Nick’s great. I was introduced to his music by Catherine Streetteam (thanks!), and then saw him play at Greenbelt last year. His is the highest energy one man acoustic show I’ve ever seen. Great guitar playing, great voice, hilarious stage presence, and apparently, tourettes syndrom (someone who swears more than me – is this possible??). Anyway, he was bloomin’ marvellous.

All in great contrast to Sunday – The London Guitar Show was on at Wembley. In case you don’t know, the basic premise is that lots of big companies pile in there, and loads of apparently dreadful guitarists and bassists arrive and playing badly, loudly and incessantly for a weekend. The joke is that people go there to buy guitars, even though trying one out would be like sound-testing it on the hard shoulder of the M25 in rush hour. there’s no way to check things like sustain, quality of tone, noise floor etc. You just can’t hear anything.

The various artists actually playing on the stands had a hard time being heard, so turned up and just became part of the general mush.

Still, it was nice to see some friendly faces – Franck Vigroux, Stuart Clayton, Dave Marks, Bernie Goodfellow, Martin Simms, Svetlana Vasileva, the Bass Centre people, BassTech people, Bass Guitar Magazine People (who got me in for free as well – thanks very much!), and a few old friends.

Also managed to catch a few minutes of the Scottish Guitar Quartet, who even with the din in the background were fantastic. Well worth checking out.

SoundtrackPeter Gabriel, ‘Up’; Jonatha Brooke, ‘Steady Pull’; Calamateur, ‘The Old Fox of ’45’ – this last one is fantastic ; I’ve posted about Calamateur before, and this is just released – great new album, reworkings of some of the tracks that have been on EPs before, and some new stuff. Andrew’s songwriting, singing and production just gets better and better, and it’s no wonder he’s had airplay from John Peel and The Late Junction, amongst others… a lo-hi gem, highly recommended.

One Step Beyond

So I was just looking for a CD to soundtrack me washing up, and thought ‘ah I’ve not listened to that for a while, let’s give it a go’. The CD in question is ‘I Can See Your House From Here’ by Pat Metheny and John Scofield, a CD that I distinctly remember thinking ‘file under not really very good’ when I got it. Was deeply disappointed with it.

It’s great. Very good indeed.

What lead me to not get it first time round? Expectation, I think. I knew what I thought a Metheny Scofield album should sound like, and this wasn’t it. I wanted it to be the album I’d half imagined in my head, and when it wasn’t, instead of deferring to the wisdom of the artist, I decided it was lame.

So what does this do to the critical process? We still have to formulate opinions on things, and something’s appear to be total rubbish, or at least disappointingly fall short of the potential that a group/collaboration/artist shows.

The problem seem to be with second guessing what a project was intended as. If there’s a stated aim, it’s sometimes easier to tell whether a particular artistic endeavour has fallen short of that. If there isn’t, it’s pretty tricky to work out whether it’s a successful rendering of the concept. Whether you dig it or not is another thing altogether, but whether it’s an objectively poor record is quite something else.

There was a discussion recently on the Jonatha Brooke discussion forum about the cover tunes on her new CD – she’s recorded ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Fire And Rain’ and ‘Eye In The Sky’ by the Alan Parsons Project. The first two are so well known they don’t even need crediting to their respective performers.

The discussion seemed to be arguing whether or not it was even valid to attempt new versions of these tunes, and involved the projection of an entire methodology onto Jonatha, implying that as a creative songwriter, she must’ve been running out of ideas or something… Whether or not people liked the covers is not something I’m too bothered by, but I found the questioning of whether or not recording them was an artistically valid thing to do a really weird leap of logic. Jonatha has, as far as I know, made no statement as to her reasoning behind doing the tunes, or her relationship to the whole original/interpretative approach to performing songs, so the whole argument seemed to hinge on the various poster’s own feelings about the importance of those songs, and jonatha’s role as a singer/songwriter/performer.

Most of it was bollocks, but it did get me thinking. Criticism can be a really good thing – sometimes bad reviews and negative comments can be helpful in that they let you know where the writer is at in relationship to your work, and occasionally – very occasionally – the reasoning of the writer is such that you see flaws in your own creative process that you weren’t aware of. That’s a pretty rare scenario, but when it happens, it’s pretty useful.

But for the most part, people tend to objectify their subjective feelings about a song or a gig or a performance – I liked it, therefor it was ‘good’. I didn’t like it, therefor it was ‘invalid’/’not good’/’a waste of time’/’the wrong thing to do’. That’s the kind of crap that as a performer you can get into debates with people about, or you can just ignore, and move on, realising that the writer has no idea what you were trying to do anyway. Even better, you can reinterpret it, extract from it their perception of what you do, and find new ways of explaining what you do that help those people get a handle on it.

Of course, in the long run lots of people still won’t get it, and lots more will think you’re a bit rubbish, but that’s all part of the fun.

Soundtrack – Pat Metheny & John Scofield, ‘I Can See Your House From Here’; Horace Silver, ‘Jazz Masters’; Jonas Hellborg, ‘Octave Of The Holy Innocents’; Jill Sobule, ‘Pink Pearl’.

Whale Rider

I’ve seen this film three times in the last month – first time on the flight home from LA, then twice this week on video. It’s brilliant. truly truly marvellous.

The basic story is of a girl who when conceived had a twin brother, who died in childbirth, along with her mother. He was the first born male of the next generation within their mauri community, and it was hoped that he would be a leader. The patriarch of the tribe can’t deal with the fact that it was the girl that survived to continue the family line, that stretches back to Paikia – their ancestor who arrived in New Zealand on a Whale. The film follows the struggle as the grandfather looks for a suitable heir amongst the other first born sons in the village, and Pai wrestles with her emmerging destiny. The film is most powerful for all that it doesn’t tell you – the relationships are multi-dimensional, the characters are unfolded in glimpses, looks and body language, not spoon fed in unrealistic dialogue. The acting is amazing, and the story of old vs. new, heritage vs. modernisation and the struggle for authentic spirituality in the face of an increasingly fragmented world is inspiring and bears repeated viewing.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

What else has been going on? the usual mix of teaching, gig promo, practicing etc… Got a last minute gig booked in Italy on the 11th March (which reminds me, must remember to move Aidan’s lesson…), got a gig in Petersfield, Hampshire tomorrow, and aparently advance ticket sales are going really well… Was recording yesterday with BJ Cole, pedal steel genius and all-round marvellous bloke. We got another couple of really interesting duet pieces in the can, and it was yet another chance to explore what the new bass is capable of.

And last night I went to hear Tom and Christine Sine speak – I’ve been reading Tom’s books for years, and it’s always good to hear him speak. He’s a futures analyst, which means he looks at trends and extrapolates what’s likely to happen. Most of his work is with church organisations looking at ways to meet the needs of their communities over the coming years. Always good to take time out to reappraise what’s important, and look at how our priorities have got mixed up… it’s all too easy to get sucked into ‘the rat race’ and value profit of people, and pursuing some sort of status or economic goal over and above any sense of what’s ‘right’. Globalised culture excerts such an enourmous pressure, that it requires a strong proactive stance to choose to do something other than earn and consume in pursuit of a higher place on the ladder, but it’s possible, and hearing Tom and Christine speak is always a good chance to reassess.

soundtrack – the duets with BJ Cole have been on repeat here since yesterday, but in between I’m still really really enjoying the new Jonatha Brooke CD, ‘Back In The Circus’.

Quick update…

My mum is staying at the moment, which is yet another great excuse to do not much for a few days. Today we went to the Tate Modern, a huge art gallery in London. Apart from the walk through Southwark to get there, through what looked like some sort of post-apocalyptic hellhole, it was a wonderful experience – the art was largely marvellous (especially the collection of stuff that had been found in the Thames, and Bill Viola’s 5 angels of the millenium piece, which is incredible and I’m going to have to go and see again very very soon…) – the video loop of the naked guy punching himself in the face and the plums wasn’t quite so inspiring, and some of the explainations seemed to read far too much into the symbolism of some of the art, but all in all, an amazing day out.

On another note, the NAMM show (big trade fair thingie I was at in LA in January) has two types of people at it – those I have to talk to out of obligation to the mag that I’m doing the show report for (largely, this group is made up of flunkies from companies like Ibanez and Behringer, telling me how great it is that they can release their chinese made lame-o rubbish at such a low price, and then get all edgy when I suggest fair trade might be a good path to take…), and then there are the lovely people. And there are lots of lovely people. It’s not without coincidence that most of the lovely people are also the talented ones, who are there because they make amazing instruments. Some of the lovely people are people I just know a bit from chatting at NAMM shows. Others I meet up with some are Email buddies. Jill Azola, from Azola basses is an email buddy – sharing as we do a love of gorgeous instruments (her husband Steve is the genius behind the basses), and a love of cats (Steve and Jill were commuting daily from San Diego to NAMM because one of their cats was ill and needed daily TLC – see, my kind of peoplez), and it’s always a pleasure to drop by the Azola booth, fuel my desire for one of their basses, and chat about lots of non-NAMM related stuff with Jill and Steve.

Anyway, Jill just sent me this pic, taken at the show, of me with LA session dude and nice chap, Bob Lee – (I know two Bob Lees in the LA area – the other one is my amazing friend who works for QSC, knows everything about amps, and is a top bloke. this one is session bassist and Jamerson fanatic Bob Lee…) Steve Azola is the guy stood between us with his back to the camera –

so, a fun NAMM moment, with good people, toying around with marvellous instruments. Check out the Azolas if you’re into getting an electric upright – I’m saving up for one!

Soundtrack – ah, the new Jonatha Brooke CD arived today – Back In The Circus is, on first listen, as wonderful as anything else that Jonatha has done. She’s a genius, and a very consistently geniusish genius at that. She good! Highly recommended.

Hi, honey, I'm home…

after being away for about two weeks.

First week was in Denmark, visiting the International People’s College. IPC is a ‘folk high school’ – a scandinavian educational model that looks at learning as something that’s worth doing for its own sake rather than just for the piece of paper you’ll get at the end of it. The various folk high schools around Denmark, Sweden, Norway etc. have different emphases (emphasise?? no idea…) – some are all about sport, or film making or whatever, and this one is an international school (the clue’s in the name), drawing currently from 32 different countries as diverse as nepal, england, argentina, tibet, bangladesh, malta, poland, USA, romania, uganda, kenya, australia and brazil.

the focus of the college is on conflict resolution, cross cultural studies, development issues and for most of the students it’s seen as a great place to learn english. The staff are an amazingly diverse bunch – from cambodia, mauritania, denmark, australia etc. etc. and the food’s great.

The reason for the visit is that my mum’s involved in trying to set up a folk high school in Berwick On Tweed (middle of nowhere and turn left), and I taught on their summer school this year. So we both went on a fact finding trip, to see if all this folk high school stuff was hippie idealism or a the answer to the UK’s current education crisis (education, education, education said Blair. bollocks bollocks bollocks says the entire population of england, 6 years on.) It was amazing – a fully functional school, the classes dealt with some pretty intense stuff, lofty concepts and deep philosophical stuff, all within the framework of 32 cultures under one roof, all unwittingly capable of deeply offending one another! :o)

With a week at the college and a couple of days to look round Copenhagen, we had a marvellous week (also had a nice chance to drop in and see Anders-Streetteam at one of the most amazing drum shops I’ve ever seen!) Copenhagen’s a great city – here’s hoping I can sort out some gigs there soon…

Got home from there for one day, did a day’s teaching, and headed off to Amsterdam on holiday. Warning – if you’re living in London, heading off to Copenhagen and Amsterdam in the space of a week is not a great idea if you still want to feel really good about where you live… Don’t get me wrong, I do like living here, and some things about being in England are magic, but politically we’re losing it, and the whole crime/vandalism/transport/weirdness thing has become the british axis of evil. Amsterdam is beautiful – it’s great to see a city of that size operate with so little car traffic. Thousands and thousands of bikes, but precious little car useage. lots of canals, gorgeous canals, and some very groovy shops. The liberal drug laws seem like a cool thing (when was the last time you saw someone get stoned and start a fight??), and there were much less of an agressive feel there than on a night out in central london, but the ‘liberal’ attitude to porn and prostitution is, according to the UN and other sources, just a front for some seriously nasty illegal stuff. So much for unionising the prostitution industry – doesn’t really help the girls who are being trafficked from asia and eastern europe. London has a huge problem with this too, but at least we don’t pretend that being a prostitute is a great gig and that it’s all kosher here… scary stuff.

Still, it’s a great city, sex-tourism aside, and I hope to go back and do some gigs there too soon!

And now I’m back home – time to get to work promoting the CD, which hopefully you’ve all bought by now! :o) Theo did a huge mailout to radio and media while I was away, so reviews and airplay should start happening soon… til then, play the CD to your friends, steal their money and buy them it for christmas. Lots of people are saying it’s their favourite of the CDs I’ve put out, which is nice.

On the bad news front, I heard today that Mike Yaconelli was killed in a car accident a couple of days ago – if you’ve ever been to Greenbelt, Yak won’t need any intro. If not, he was an author, social activist, realist, speaker, comedian and all round remarkable human being who did far more in his 61 years than many people could acheive in 10 times that. His passing is a loss to the world. here’s the report from his hometown. Please spare and thought and a prayer for his family.

Soundtrack – while I was away I picked up a few CDs – Charlie Haden, ‘American Dream’; Jing Chi, ‘Live’; Living Daylights, ‘Electric Rosary’ and Metalwood’s latest, which is upstairs and I can’t remember the title, but they’re all very good indeed! Today I’ve been listening to Jonatha Brooke, ’10 cent wings’, which is oustandingly brilliant, like just about every note jonatha has ever uttered.

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