my own lil' iPod revolution.

Three things have happened since i got my iPod (I don’t mean ‘in the world’ – lots more than three things have happened in the world. I don’t even mean in my life – I’ve done lots of things, I just mean things specific to me owning an iPod)

Firstly, I’ve had a load more time for listening to music, obviously, which has meant that I’ve been catching up on a lot of the more obscure stuff and things I’ve owned for a while but haven’t really listened to much, which translates into me becoming completely obsessed with The Blue Nile – I’ve had three of their albums for a while, but had only listened to them on laptop speakers, which doesn’t do their music justice at all. Stick it on on headphones, and all of a sudden, it’s genius. Going to be lots of Blue Nile influence on my next album, for sure… I’ve also had a listen to Hattler (eponymous band of german bassist Helmut Hattler – rather nice modern electronic soulful dance stuff, not at all what I expected and rather good), Jorane (Canadian singing cellist – lovely stuff) and Mogwai (who I’m going to see tomorrow night at Somerset House – hurrah!).

secondly, it’s made my emusic subscription all the more important – great new music to listen to on the go – so far from them I’ve had albums by Kris Delmhorst, Erin McKeown, Nik Kershaw, God Speed! You Black Emperor,Jennifer Kimball, Rosie Thomas and Petra Haden & Bill Frisell. All fantastic!

thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it’s given me lots of time to go back and listen to all the projects I’ve recorded with various people that haven’t been released yet – the forthcoming album with Calamateur is spectacular; his songs are outstanding, as is his singing and playing, and it is, I think the first album ever to feature any of my drum programming, on what is definitely the most mental piece of music I’ve ever been a part of. The duet album with Luca Formentini, which I think will be coming out some time next year, is a glorious slice of slightly twisted ambient improv – Luca’s guitar playing and sonic ideas are a really good contrast to what I do – through most of the record it’s pretty clear who’s playing what, as his sound set is quit distinct from mine, but the mix of the two is potent stuff.

The biggest surprise was a live recording from LA in 2006 with Steuart Liebig, Jeff Kaiser and Andrew Pask – a gig that at the time I wasn’t all that happy with; it wasn’t rubbish, just didn’t feel like we’d really created a sound-space that was particularly special. Listening back to the recording, I was very wrong indeed. There are some amazing moments on it. I’ll talk to the players concerned and see if they are interested in making it available somehow – for those of you with an interest in free improv and noise squeaky electronic stuff, it should prove interesting and enjoyable…

And not only that, but I’ve just subscribed to a teach yourself italian podcast, so I’ll hopefully finally get my italian into some sort of loosely conversational shape…

Tour update… finally!

Right, we’re now in Amsterdam, staying with the marvellous and wonderful John Lester for a couple of days, between the Germany gigs and the Denmark masterclass…

Where did we leave it last time? On the train to Madrid… OK, Madrid – what a great city! I’ve not been to Spain since I was 17, and last time was to a little holiday resort on the South Coast where we went to english-run pubs and sat on the beach, so not really much of Spain was seen. So this was my first proper trip. Madrid’s gorgeous – we were in a hotel right in the middle (thanks to the wonders of Priceline.co.uk), so had ample opportunity to explore.

The first gig however, did not go well – it was booked at the very last minute (actually, it was booked, cancelled, and finally rebooked on another day at the last minute) and the venue hadn’t really told anyone about us being there… so no-one showed. Yup, no-one. A gig for the people who worked there. Who enjoyed it. But that really doesn’t pay the bills. Anyway, it was a good warm-up, and thankfully, the second gig was pretty full, very much appreciated, we played well, sold a load of CDs, and all was well. We’ll be back in Spain, again with the wonderful Charlie Moreno (whose set was excellent), in October… Got a bit of a shock when I had to send out all my CD orders from Spain – international postage rates from Spain are nuts! Note to self – never try and run a mail order business from Spain…

After that it was back to Geneva to see the lovely Paul and Rachel again for a couple of days, then onto Magdeburg, where L had organised a gig through some friends of hers – the marvellous blokes of Studio 201, who were fantastic hosts, great fun, and exemplify the concept of ‘work hard, party hard’ like nobody I’ve ever met before. Deadly serious about having fun, as Michael Franti might say. Anyway, the gig was at UrBar, a very cool music bar/venue in the gorgeous city of Magdeburg, and much fun was had, CDs sold, and plans for a return made. Favourite thing about Magdeburg was Green Citadel, designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser – definitely in my top 5 wishlist of places to live one day!

From Magdeburg it was to Kleve and a return trip for me to the truly marvellous XOX Theatre – I played there last October, and it was such a treat to go back and take L. with me. I did the first set solo (including a massively extended improv on the end of Amo Amatis Amare – will be doing that one again!) and then L joined me for the second set, which went amazingly well – once again lots of CDs sold, and amazingly for me (cos I hate the damn things) we did two encores, the second one being a very impromptu version of Stand By Me (!!)

So some fab gigs, lots of lovely people, a whole mix of languages (French being the most comfortable, my German was coming back after 4 days there, Italian I’m still working on, Spanish was pretty much a right-off, given that the Spanish L. learnt at school was Mexican Spanish which is very different from Madrid Spanish, and now dutch where I know how to say please, thankyou and byeee!)

And tomorrow we head to Denmark for a couple of days… We’re racking up the miles, and definitely getting the most from our interrail tickets, watching a lot of films on the laptop on the train (I’d forgotten just what a great film The Hudsucker Proxy is!!)

So, films watched so far – The aforementioned Hudsucker Proxy, Withnail and I, Harry Potter and the Goblet Of Fire, Peep Show series 1, Wedding Singer, Dodgeball, The Life Aquatic and Jump London.

Duke Special and BJ Cole live at the Purcell Room.

Great gig last night – Duke Special and BJ Cole at the Purcell Room. I’ve known Pete Wilson, AKA Duke Special, for years – he’s a lovely bloke, hugely talented, and is finally getting the acclaim he deserves.

Last night’s gig was part of a ‘Cool Yule’ pair of gigs – the next one being the Juliet Turner gig next week, and I felt in some way proudly responsible for this one as the lovely promoter JJ met BJ at the gig BJ and I did together at the Half Moon a few months back.

The gig started with BJ’s set, with his ‘Trouble In Paradise’ trio, featuring Ben Bayliss on laptop monkeyness and Eddie Sayer as percussion hobbit – it’s a really great trio, with Eddie in particular adding a crazy human element to all the looped and programmed beats etc. The steel was a little too quiet on the gig, frustratingly so at first, but still ’twas a great set.

Then Duke’s set – it’s the first time I’ve heard Duke Special with a full band – tonight featuring the ever present Chip Bailey on percussion, Paul Wilkinson on fantastic bass and guitar, Ben Hales from Aqualung on guitar, bass, keys, BVs, percussion etc. Ben Castle on sax and clarinet, and then David Ford and BJ Cole guesting on three tunes. ‘Twas a great gig – moving, funny, beautifully played, all good nothing bad. Duke Special is going to be huge in the new year, so go and see him/them as soon as you can…

the aftershow party was magic – a room full of really lovely people, 80% of whom I already knew, and a load of other lovelies that I didn’t previously know.

Yay for Duke!

Coupla gigs this week (seen not played)

Been to a couple of great gigs this week. Firstly on Tuesday I went to see Patrick Wood’s band The Works – who, long term bloglings will remember, released one of my favourite ever British Jazz records a year or so ago, called Beware Of The Dog (get it, it’s great). They were playing at the 606 in Chelsea – a bitch of a place to find, but with a lovely policy of letting MU members in for free. Thanks to teaching, I only got there for the second send of The Works, but they were fantastic, and have two special guests augmenting the usual quartet – Bosco D’Olivera on percussion and voice, and Mick Hutton on steel pan. Mick’s pan playing was a revelation – Mick’s much better known as having been one of the finest double bassists in the country for years, but some major trouble with his hands has stopped him playing that altogether – a major loss to bass playing, but bass’s loss is steel pan’s gain. He’s a great musician, and fitted in perfectly with The Works.

So their set ended, and I thought people would start leaving, but another band were setting up. 11pm? another band? WTF? Now a dilemma – should I stay or go, the band featured some amazing musicians (Dudley Philips on bass, Julian Seigel on sax and Winston Clifford on drums), but I had an hour’s drive home, was utterly knackered, and really couldn’t sit through a whole other set. Which is a shame, cos I’m sure the whole gig was marvellous.

And then, last night I went to Koko for an album launch gig by Alexander’s Annexe – an intriguing trio of Sarah Nicholls on piano, Mira Calix on laptop and noises, and David Sheppard processing and manipulating the acoustic piano. The music was amazing – proper spikey weirdness, but with a strange beauty to it. Sarah’s a brilliant pianist, and thus gave David a whole range of lovely stuff to work with.

the big problem was the venue – Koko is a pretty big space, and they had it laid out with tables and chairs downstairs. The lack of a compere, and the drift from one musical act into another meant that the audience didn’t really stop talking when the music was on, which with this kind of thing was pretty ruinous. Next time you do a gig like that, David, gimme a mic and I’ll tell people to shut the fuck up before you start playing… ;o)

Anyway, the other fantastic revelation of the night was an ‘act’ called ‘Mr Hopkinson’s Computer’ – a laptop doing covers of 80s and 90s indie tracks that was just heartbreaking. Here’s are three myspace pages with examples – the first one has his versions of ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ and ‘Where Is My Mind?’ on it. I rang a coupla friends while it was on who I knew would dig it, and they did! Jyoti, you so need to check this stuff out if you haven’t already…

Anyway – MySpace Page 1, MySpace Page 2 and MySpace page 3. go there, it’s beautiful.

Was supposed to be going to Paul Simon at Wembley tonight, but it doesn’t look like my ticket-spy has been able to secure the moychendyz. Ah well, I’m exhausted so could do with a night in.

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.

Euro blog part 1

Right, I’m on a train from Paris to Geneva, sat in first class (very little difference from ‘standard’ class, sadly – glad the extra was only about a fiver), sat opposite a couple plucked straight from an 80s sit-com – middle aged, making half-arsed stabs at French in a broad english accent, discussing inanities like the contents of their sandwiches and reading the Telegraph. However, they are on a train going from Paris to Geneva, so it’s nice to see the middle-aged middle-classes getting out and about. :o)

Journey thus far has been lovely, if a little tricky with my suitcase, rolling rack, double gig bag, laptop bag and huge furry coat. Got v. hot ‘n’ sweaty at Gar du Nord trying to find the right metro platform, and then buy a ticket (somehow managed to get through the barriers without a ticket, then got trapped – in my own personal sitcom moment – in between two barriers unable to go anywhere, feeling somewhat like I’d been caught in some kind of humane trap for tourists, and I was going to be whisked away and released into the wild…

But anyway, the trains are lovely, muchos leg room, space to get up walk around, go to the ‘restaurant’ car (or mobile motorway services, more like). I’ve made a good start on one of the transcriptions for the forthcoming e-book of transcriptions from across my solo albums (couldn’t really do a whole album as on each album there are things that are untranscribable… unless any of you fancy having a go at ‘chance’, ‘journey of a thousand miles’, ‘you can’t throw it away…’ or ‘one step’. :o) )

Will probably be selling them as individual PDFs on the site, as a bundle, and in print via Lulu.com – a fabulous self-publishing system.

Reading material for the journey has been this week’s < A HREF=http://www.newstatesman.com>New Statesman and now The Benn Diaries (nice thing about the Benn Diaries – not much chance of me running out of book to read on this trip – 700 pages, and I’m up to about 110.) Current listening material is Honeytrap by Leo Abrahams, and before that Yell Fire by Spearhead.

masterclass at ACM

Had a most enjoyable afternoon giving a masterclass at the Academy Of Contemporary Music in Guildford – I’ve been there a few times before, both with Michael Manring and with Trip Wamsley, but it was nice to go and do a session all by myself. Stefan Redtenbacher who runs the bass dept there had asked me to speak on the transition from music student to pro, so I chatted a fair bit about the kind of things that people actually make money out of these days (having to break it to them that being a ‘session musician’ pretty much no longer exists as a career path) and some of the skills that have helped me out. I played a handful of my own tunes (Behind Every Word, improv groovy thing, Deeper Still and excerpts of Knocks Me Off My Feet and What A Wonderful World) and played a couple of the New Standard tunes from the laptop.

Lots of great questions were asked, and I certainly had a lot of fun – hopefully they did too!

Looperlative update…

Bob’s just released another Looperlative update – this thing just keeps getting better! Two great new features, one being a ‘bounce’ feature, where you can record from one or more channels to an empty channel, to either consolidate loads of tracks into one (to free up track space) or you can sample from the middle of a long loop a much shorter section, but you also get to keep the first loop (unlike a destructive resample function) – coming out of bounce mode mutes the stuff you were playing into it, but the tracks are still there unless you choose to delete them. Very handy for mangling long loops, or imposing rhythmic form onto abstract stuff.

The other new function is a ‘catch’ setting for the volume and feedback controls – so if you’re adjusting the volume on lots of tracks, when you turn one off, then go to the next track, the volume control doesn’t start at ‘off’, it waits until the value of the pedal matches the current value of the track, and only then does it do anything. This is SO useful.

This are fun times to be into looping – lots of great new musicians coming out doing loop things (JazzShark went to see Richard Bona last night and reported back that he was doing some delicious loopage), and plenty of developments going on in the looping technology front too. I still have come across a laptop set up that I’d be happy with, but in the dedicated hardware looper world, the Looperlative is a LONG way out in front at the moment – definitely the way to go. (and if you do plan to get one and you’re in the UK, email me first…)

And if you just want to see what it can do, come on down to the next Recycle Collective gig on Sept 20th!

The finest weekend of the year is over

For another year.

Another magic Greenbelt has come to a close, and we’re home. We drove back late last night, which was pretty hair-raising given how tired we were, but I’ve got a gig today at the National Theatre Foyer with Theo so couldn’t really have stayed over and partied til 4am like so many others…

The last day of GB was a fab one – starting with an organic vegan breakfast, and progressing via a panel discussion on Norther Ireland featuring Assembly members from the DUP and Sinn Fein along with two peace activists, one of whom had had his wife murdered by the IRA. The session was incredible, and what was said was so remarkable, that I doubt they’ll release the tape of the session… A big step forward. Maximum kudos to the most wonderful Gareth Higgins| for chairing the session so well.

After that, I was back into compere mode, to introduce Lleuwen Steffan, Huw Warren and Owen Evans – definitely one of my musical highlights of the festival (that’s their gig, not my introduction, which was good, but hardly a highlight). Amazing music, great performance, very well received.

After that it was full-on Recycle gig logistics – collecting keyboards for Huw to play, getting my gear up to the venue, missing lots of things I really wanted to see… Anyway, got all the gear up to the venue, and set up. Lovely audience comes in along with my co-conspirators.

The gig started with a me-solo set – (Grace and Gratitude, Behind Every Word, MMFSOG, Scott Peck, FRHU, Deep Deep Down and Deeper Still, for those keeping notes), then Julie joined me for some New Standard-ing – Video Killed The Radio Star, I Don’t Wanna Know and Running Up That Hill. Then we went into One Step from the album, and about three quarters of the way through, I gave Huw a nod and he joined in on the baby grand piano that was in the corner of the room, which worked an absolute treat.

After that, he came up to the stage on Keys and laptop, and he Julie and I did a couple of improv things, with them doing a duo version of ‘The Water Is Wide’ in the middle that was exquisite.

All change after that, and Andrea Hazell joined in on voice for our version of Dido’s Lament, which was gorgeous as always.

The wonderful Juliet Turner then got her first taste of Recycling with Harry Napier and I. Most lovely.

And finally, Huw and I played a gentle duet to send the lovely crowd off into the night. All in all, a fab Recycle night. Don’t miss Sept 20th at Darbucka!

Then it was all systems go to get all the stuff packed up before Spearhead started on mainstage. We missed the very beginning of the set, but it must be said that standing in a field at Greenbelt with TSP listening to Spearhead is as close to utter bliss as I can imagine. Really really great way to end a stunning weekend of great music, me-gigs, new friends, old friends, brain food, organic food, camping, chatting, hugging and kissing, laughing, sharing etc. etc. etc. All good nothing bad. Everything was wonderful in this best of all possible worlds.

See you there next year?

back from Italy

Back from a fantastic trip to Italy – a hugely enjoyable and creative time with Luca Formentini – a fabulous guitarist, and a great friend.

The trip started with a gig in Brescia, playing a soundtrack to a silent film, ‘The Unknown’ by Todd Browning. I’m not much of a silent/old film buff (I’ve seen Dodgeball more times that I care to remember but had never heard of Todd Browning before, and have never even seen Citizen Kane), but I really enjoyed this film. For the soundtrack I was joined by an Italian guitarist, who did a good job (though the circumstances surrounding him playing in the first place were a little more murky – I’ll save that blog-story ’til an email or two have been sent), and the whole thing was well received.

the plan for the weekend was to record a load of duo stuff with Luca – we’d recorded together before, and one of the tracks has ended up on a compilation of Italian electronica artists (Stefano Lawsoni? perhaps…) – the last time we recorded was certainly interesting enough to warrant a repeat session. With both of us being loopers, it always takes a few sessions to settle into roles and what to do with all the shared sonic space.

However, before that, we had a total nightmare with getting soundcards sorted out – Luca had ordered a new RME card, which wasn’t available in time, so his local music shop (the remarkable Musical Box in Verona) were lending us a card. First up, we took a MOTU 828, which just wouldn’t work at all. No good. Not happy running with Audition on a PC.

Back to Musical Box, and swap it for a PreSonus FirePod. Once again, not happy with the PC set up. Which eventually led to Luca swapping over his looping laptop with the Pc, so he did all his loopage on the desktop and we recorded onto the laptop, finally using Cubase LE.

Much stress and lack of sleep was the result for Luca, so it took us another half a day to settle into playing, but from there on, we got a lot of great music recorded. Whereas the first session was predominantly dark ambient, this time we were more melodically driven with more groove oriented stuff. I’m really looking forward to mixing these tracks…

So lots of recording lovely music was punctuated by regular swims in the pool, great food, much inspiring conversation, cuddling the cats, and generally having a totally wonderful time in Italy…

those of you of a sports-fan persuasion will already have worked out that I was there for the football final on Sunday night, when we decamped to a local restaurant to eat great food and watch the game. Penalties are officially a really shit way to end a football match. I reckon widening the goals by a foot every 10 minutes, and tying one of the goalies hands behind his back to speed up the chance of a goal would be better… I was really glad Italy won, though Zidane’s headbutt aside, the French played MUCH better football in the second half and in extra time…

Tuesday morning I got the train back to Musical Box to talk with the owner about playing at EuroBassDay in October, which is booked now, and to show him and the rest of the guys who work in the shop the looperlative, which naturally they all thought was amazing (because it is).

Then Tuesday afternoon I was special guest at a week-long intensive english language camp for teenagers, playing some tunes and having them interview me about what I do, about live in england and generally allowing them to try their english and stretch them in trying to understand me. A hugely enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, which I hope to get to do again.

And Tuesday night, as if all this wasn’t enough, Luca, Gio and I had dinner with Roberto Zorzi – a fantastic improv guitarist and fascinating bloke all round. Another magical Italy evening.

Got back Wednesday night, and poor TSP drove to Gatwick to pick me up in an overheating car. Need to get that fixed ASAP.

All in a marvellous week in Italy. It’s such a great country, the people are generous and positive to a fault, and the climate is just amazing. Love it.