Billy Bragg, KT Tunstall, Leo Abrahams & Foy Vance live…

So iTunes have started doing an annual festival – itunes live. This year they seem to have a thing for collaborations, which do often, it must be said, make a gig particularly special.

And is no doubt one of the main reasons why the genius that is Leo Abrahams was on the bill – his new album is pretty much all colalborations, and features KT and Foy.

The gig started with Leo on his own, playing a couple of my favourite tunes of his; Anemone (not Amoeba as I called it on twitter last night) and Kristiansand.

He was then joined by Foy for a song together, which was beautiful.

and Foy Vance (at The Luminaire tonight, if it’s not sold out) – sweet Lord, why had no-one told me about him before? Loopin’ up a storm, layering acoustic guitar (not sounding v. acoustic, but hey, it sounded amazing) and voice, and singing like a gospel preacher. Really really compelling stuff. I’ve yet to explore his recorded output to see if he’s managed to capture that magic on record, but live he was breathtaking. Didn’t know any of the songs, obviously, but all were arresting and beautiful. Amazing stuff.

Then a break, after which the ever-amazing Billy Bragg came on (Billy made some reference to using Google alerts – so if you’re reading this, hi Billy!) – one of the most consistently fantastic live performers I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen him do a bad gig, his rapport with an audience is that of someone who’s been doing this for 30 years and still loves it, is still grateful for the chance to sing his songs and weave tales. The new songs from his upcoming album, Mr Love and Justice bode incredibly well for the record – both the title track and one he played at Greenbelt last year, I Keep Faith, are singable after the first chorus… REALLY looking forward to this one…

His set ends with a duet with Foy on Woody Guthrie’s ‘I Ain’t Got No Home’ – deep, moving, spiritual in all the right ways. Billy’s lack of pretension makes him the perfect foil for an earnest gospel-tinged singer like Foy…

…or indeed, KT Tunstall. But more on their collab. in a bit.

KT’s wee band these days is her, a drummer (Luke) and two backing singers, and her ‘Wee Bastard Pedal’ (or Mk 1 Akai headrush to the geeks), and she makes a pretty incredible noise with it. Once again I’m struck by the energy, honesty, humour and passion in her writing and playing. Amazingly she completely bollocksed up ‘Black Horse And The Cherry Tree’ – a songs she’s played perhaps more than any other – tried it three times then gave up. And even then, the cock-up just made it all more human, intimate and special. as I said in my blog post about their last gig, screwing things up is never as bad as the artist thinks it is. Always make it funny, don’t try and cover it, laugh and move on. Which is what KT did, and played up a storm.

So when BB came back on, we were all set for a big finish, and we got it! Starting with a reprise of their version of ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ as played at HMV last week, they then played a brand new co-write called ‘Don’t Do It Liza’ which is one of the most arresting, engaging, emotional songs I’ve heard in ages. Swooping harmonies, a beautiful dark tale.. and we got to hear it twice cos they wanted a better take to sell on iTunes. :o)

All in a stunning evening – four of the best live performers around on one stage. Was amazing to see Leo, having played with him at Recycle gigs, doing his own stuff to such a large non-muso crowd, and it going down a storm. Leo’s an unbelievably gifted musician, lovely bloke, and spends a lot of time making superstars sound superstar-esque, but he’s getting the breaks for his own music now, and its long overdue.

KT has -as I’ve said too many times before – always been mischaracterised as a female James Blunt, but her live shows make a mockery of that notion in a very clear way. She’s a seasoned performer, engaging and funny, and show up the depth and character in her writing in a new light. She’ll hopefully be around YEARS after Blunt, Morrison et al have disappeared to Butlins…

Anyway, the tracks should be showing up on iTunes soon, and the two KT/Billy tracks are unmissable. And if you haven’t already got Leo’s first two records – Honeytrap and Scene Memory, go and listen to them, then buy them, they’re amazing.

Also worthy of note on the night is that Last.fm were co-sponsors of the event. Given that iTunes have long been the champions of DRM (even if it was because they were bullied into it by the majors), it’s nice to see them promoting a ‘listen on demand’ service like Last.fm, which given that the it’s limited to three listens, and there’s ad-revenue sharing, is still geared towards monetizing the added exposure of streaming on demand… It’ll be interesting to see where iTunes store goes next, be it closer ties with last.fm, or their own streaming scheme…

And another thing, if you’d been following me on twitter, you’d have got much of this as it happened, as I was able to post updates between songs. Twitter makes for a great brain-log for notes for future blogs when out and about, and a way to generate instant feedback on those thoughts… join the fun!”

Billy Bragg/KT Tunstall at HMV – the value of screwing it up…

I went to a fabulous lunchtime gig yesterday – Billy Bragg and KT Tunstall at HMV on Oxford Street. I had no idea why they were doing it before I went – I assumed it was as promo for the iTunes festival that’s coming up, where both of them are on a bill with the wonderful Leo Abrahams.

As it turned out it was as promo for Q magazine’s top 100 greatest british pop/rock albums or some such bollocks. Q magazine used to be good, but is now, sadly, largely unreadable shit. Endless top lists of either journo picked or reader-submitted stuff, rehashing the tired and nonsensical line that they greatest bands in the history of music are Radiohead, Oasis and Nirvana (nothing against those three in particular, though I not a big fan of any of them, just that it’s pretty pointless saying it in every other issue…).

Anyway, what it meant for the gig was that Billy and KT did a whole slew of great cover versions, most of which neither of them knew particularly well. Peppered in amongst more polished versions of songs like ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’ (KT, complete with looped vocal harmonies), ‘Ever Falling In Love With Someone (Billy’s Buzzcocks tribute) and ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ (both of them together) were really ropey versions of ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ and ‘I Predict A Riot’.

But here’s the thing (as Trip might say), the rubbish performances were at least as affecting, engaging and entertaining as the ones that ‘worked’ – there’s something really magical about seeing musicians over-stretch themselves and not take it too seriously, not getting to precious. Billy Bragg has long been not just one of my favourite songwriters and guitarists (he is, as I’ve said before, a guitar genius, IMO) but one of my most favouritest performers, speakers, writers… he’s just great, and his sense of adventure in trying songs that he doesn’t know the right chords to etc. is just wonderful.

And KT Tunstall was always utterly mis-labelled as part of the Blunt/Morrison etc. crowd – she’s been playing live for over 10 years, playing folk clubs, coffee shops, festivals, learning her craft, and no doubt spending night after night playing requests that she barely knows and getting away with it. That Sony manage to strip away all the energy, vibe and magic from her performance on her records is both sad and a testament to her strength of character that they still manage to be far better records that the rest of the ‘nu-acoustic’ crowd can come up with, but in a situation like this she really shines. She has fun on stage, she reaches for things, she’s willing to look a bit of a muppet and as such draws everyone in.

Here are some pics that Sarda took of the gig – damn, he’s getting good at this photography business!

Anyway, the lesson is – take risks, have fun, and don’t be afraid to look a bit of a berk on stage, it’ll make you look far more human, engaging and funny to your audience…

For reference, you might want to watch mine and Lo’s version of ‘Love Is A Battlefield’ –

(and here’s a link to one of the songs they did – Don’t You Want Me Baby – but be warned the quality is REALLY bad.

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.

Recycle day…

My favourite day of the month. It’s Recycle day! Yay! The day when all discerning music peoples in London pile into Darbucka World Music Bar in Clerkenwell for an evening of amazing improvised music, great company, fun and marvellous food and drink.

Hope to see you there – I’ll be the tall guy with the long hair on stage. Do come and say hi if you make it, but not while I’m playing, obviously…

joining me tonight are two outstanding musicians – Leo Abrahams on guitar and Jason Yarde on Sax and whatever else he brings with him. Oh yes, it’s going to be excellent.

singer/songwriter genius shows Street Team how it's done…

Juliet Turner, fabulous singer/songwriter and Recyclist from Greenbelt, sent this out to her mailing list yesterday –

“Hey. For any of you who are in London, try and check out this gig. Super amazing bassist Steve Lawson gathers together GREAT musicians and they play off the cuff/of the moment/who knows whats going to happen next/ music. I did some singing with Steve at the Greenbelt festival this summer which was a lot of fun. There’s a Recycled gig on the 21st Sept at 182 St John’s St. Clerkenwell, London when Jason Yarde (saxophonist, very celebrated jazz musician) and Leo Abrahams (guitarist, Brian Eno, Ed Harcourt, Roxy Music) will be joining Steve. The music will be extraordinary. More details on their myspace site.”

How lovely is that? The date is a day late (MySpace quite often lists gig dates a day late for some reason – always click on the gig and check the ACTUAL date of any gig you get off MySpace), but that’s the kind of support and encouragement that any musician craves but rarely gets.

As I’ve said numerous times before on this ‘ere blog, you REALLY need to check out Juliet’s music – her website is julietturner.com and her myspace address is myspace.com/burntheblacksuit – all three of her albums are beautiful, and her new single is utterly gorgeous (if you were at the Greenbelt RC gig, you might recognise the words to ‘Joy’ as she used it as the basis for the improv she did with Harry Napier, Huw Warren and I.)

Recycle Collective recommended in Time Out again…

Next week’s Recycle Collective gig gets the recommended gig treatment again in Time Out this week. Here’s what they say –
Steve Lawson’s Recycle Collective/Jason Yarde/Leo Abrahams –
“Improvised, organic electronica from a fabulous trio featuring bassist and live sampler Lawson, producer/saxophonist Yarde and Brian Eno’s guitarist Abrahams.”

so there you go – we’re fabulous, it’s official, so you can’t miss it!

Leo Abrahams – Scene Memory

Picked up Leo Abrahams’ new CD, ‘Scene Memory’ at his gig the other night, and have been listening to it today. It’s quite a different affair from his first album, Honeytrap, which is all big melodies and involved chord progressions. This one is much more ambient – loads of really heavily filtered delay sounds on his guitar and gorgeous lush pads, through which Leo weaves his melodies is a less obvious way than before. Both albums are really beautiful, and it’s great to hear the tracks on the CD sound pretty close to the way he plays them live – I don’t know of each track on the CD is a single live performance, but it sounds like it.

If you like what I do, you REALLY ought to check out Leo’s stuff. He’s an amazing musician ,and gorgeous composer, and he’s doing the Recycle Collective on the 20th of September. Be there!

leoabrahams.com
myspace.com/leoabrahams

Leo Abrahams gig

Went to see Leo Abrahams play last night – Leo’s an amazing guitarist and composer, who did the Recycle Collective a couple of months back, and is back with us again in September, and last night was playing at The Slaughtered Lamb in Clerkenwell, not far at all from Darbucka, at a night called the Electro Acoustic Club.

He played a few tunes I’d heard before from his first solo album HoneyTrap, and some new stuff from his brand new album, Scene Memory, which were really really lovely. He’s using lots of really gorgeous filtered sounds on his guitar on the new stuff – anyone who likes what I do will love Leo’s music, for sure. So head over to his MySpace Page to hear some, then buy the CDs.

Go on, off you go!

More recycle bookings…

Been busy over the last couple of weeks lining up the musicians for the new few RC gigs – lots of the people have had on my wish-list for ages are now booked! Yay!

August 23rdSebastian Rochford, Andy Hamill and me. This is a bit of a dream line-up. Seb’s one of my favourite drummers I’ve ever played with. We did one gig together in Brighton a couple of years ago, and he listened so well to the loop stuff, and played beautifully. An immensely creative chap, and Mercury Prize nominee last year, no less! He’s in Polar Bear and Acoustic LadyLand and plays with lots of people in the F-IRE collective.

And Andy Hamill. As well as officially being of the nicest people in jazz ever, Andy’s also one of my favourite double bassists anywhere. If you’ve heard either of Theo’s last couple of albums, he’s the low end on there, but has also played with 4 Hero, Carleen Anderson, Shea Seger, Theo Travis, Mark Murphy, Nitin Sawhney, Chris Bowden, Boris Grebenshikov, Cara Dillon, Tracey Thorn, Kylie Minogue, Ben Castle, Ursula Rucker and Harry Hill!

I’ve been wanting to try a trio with drums and double bass for ages, and feel so lucky that the first time I get to try it is with two musicians of this kind of quality. Wow.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, on Sept 20th, we’ve got saxophonist Jason Yarde, one of the most celebrated young british jazzers of recent times. An outstanding performer, composer, improvisor – a really really interesting musician, who will add something completely new to the RC vibe, for sure. Another huge talent.

And with Jason and I, making a very welcome return, Leo Abrahams – currently out on the road playing guitar for Roxy Music, is also Brian Eno’s guitar monkey, and has worked with Imogen Heap, Nik Kershaw, Ed Harcourt, Paul Simon and a host of other great people. He was excellent last time, he’ll be just as great this time.

And at the moment, it looks like October is going to be BJ Cole and Ingrid Laubrock joining me. How lucky am I? Yay!

Paul Simon – Surprise

Just got this through today, and am on my second listen. Paul Simon is in that very tiny group of people who’ve never done a bad album (caveat, I’ve never heard ‘Capeman’, the soundtrack to his ill-fated musical) – most people of his era (Joni Mitchell, Jackson Brown, Neil Young etc.) mad some fairly duff albums in the 80s, but Paul, like Tom Waits and Bruce Cockburn, has remained pretty consistent all along. Which is why it always amazes me when this album is described as a return to form – his last album, ‘You’re The One’ is outstanding! It’s a really great record, with a couple of tracks that would be in my all time Paul Simon top 10, and not a duff track on it.

It was the same when James Taylor brought out ‘Hourglass’ – ‘return to form’ says the press. Huh? His previous two albums before that were ‘Live’ (possibly the greatest live album ever recorded) and ‘New Moon Shine’, a truly beautiful album.

The problem is that critics always want a hook to hang a story on. ‘It’s brilliant, like all his other albums’ isn’t as dramatic as stories about emerging from a creative wilderness or doing your best album for 15 years… maybe I should just pretend that everything else I’ve done has been completely eclipsed by my new album… :o) I mean, I do genuinely think it’s the best thing I’ve done (I wouldn’t release it if I didn’t…), but it doesn’t make Grace And Gratitude look like an amateurish work…

So, my review – the new Paul Simon album is magic. Full of great songs, great playing, and some fantastic sonic treatments from Brian Eno. For the bass geeks amongst you, Pino’s on it, Abe Laboriel Snr’s on it, Alex Al is on it and Leo Abrahams (from the RC gig before last) is on fretless bass on one tune! That’s the kind of calibre of player we get at the RC.

But every Paul Simon album is magic. You really ought to have the set. He’s got a way with phrasing a line that make it feel like a conversation. The melody never gets in the way of the words. Like Joni Mitchell and a handful of other singers, it’s as much story-telling as it is singing.