Monday in California

Well, NAMM’s over for another year. Much fun, but I couldn’t have handled another day of it. After 8 years of it the novelty has worn off, but it allows me to appreciate the bits of it that I love a lot more – mainly the great people I get to see when I’m here.

I’ve got lots of stories, and much to write, but haven’t got time now – hopefully tomorrow I’ll get to post more.

ta ta!

Day one of NAMM proper

So the mayhem started today. Having a US mobile phone has proved to be an absolute God-send, keeping me in touch with all the disparate groups of people I need to meet up with.

A mellow morning, wandering around, seeing friends, explaining the Looperlative to a few people, Lunch with Laurie and Janek, then back to do some playing, first on the Looperlative stand, then Accugroove. Headed up to Modulus to play too, but there was a guy playing Stick in the booth next door, so it wasn’t going to happen.

Then BassBash – v. nearly late getting their thanks to traffic, but we found a way through. Got there, set up and played some duet stuff with Trip, which went down great. Then had to run off to do my second gig of the evening with Jason Feddy – no rehearsal, really shitty charts, but a whole lot of fun. Jason’s songs are great, and he’s one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet (a Leeds lad living in Laguna Beach… oh yes.)

Jason’s set was v. late, and it meant that I was held up at the hotel til way later than expected, which lead to my first let down of NAMM – NAMM is all about let downs, people arranging to meet up and missing eachother etc. This one was that I was supposed to go and pick up Jeff Schmidt again from the BassBash, but couldn’t cos I was playing! Here’s hoping Jeff got back (it was walkable, but it’s a way!) – sorry Jeff!

And the evening ended watching Dave Pomeroy playing bass for Doyle Dykes. Great stuff.

The one stupid thing I forgot to do today was drink enough water, and I’m feeling a little dehydrated now. Must do better tomorrow.

A day off

didn’t have any gigs or recording or NAMMing to do today, so had a mellow day pottering up the Pacific Coastal Highway – that’s Highway 1. It runs all the way from San Diego up into Oregon, I think (maybe even to Seattle – anyone care to put me right?) – I’ve driven it from LA to the Bay Area before, but never the bit below LA. As I was staying just south of Long Beach last night, I started there and headed slowly up the coast.

There were some lovely bits and some really grim bits – Seal Beach sounded like a nice place, but turned out to be largely just some hideous Naval war machine thing. then there was LA harbour – Steve Brown, if you ever need a location for some kind of post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland for a photo shoot, that’s the place!

and I got all the way to Venice Beach which I know quite well anyway.

Throughout the day I was phoning all my southern california chums, catching up and arranging where and when to meet up. Eventually got through to Kerry Getz, who I’ve played with in London before now, and so we were able to catch up this evening, which was lovely.

And now I’ve found that the house next door to where I’m staying has an unsecured wireless connection, so that’s how I’m online now! Gotta love untech-savvy peoples!

Soundtrack – Francis Dunnery, ‘Man’ (I’m struck once again by what an incredble album this is – the tunes and vocals are outstanding, Frank’s guitar playing is an glorious as ever, but the real revelation is Matt Pegg’s bass playing – some of the most amazing singer/songwriter bass playing I’ve ever heard – his sound, his phrasing and his choice of style is so unlike anything else I’ve heard before. Definitely one of my favourite bass albums.) The rest of the in-car tunage from the last few days – Juliet Turner, ‘Live’ (another glorious album); Foo Fighters, ‘The Colour And The Shape’; OST, ‘Bugsy Malone’; Scritti Politti, ‘Cupid And Psyche’.

Travelblog 2

Well, that was a long flight – about 6 hours in, a woman fell ill, and the plane was diverted to Winnipeg to take her to hospital. Apparently the paramedics on the ground said if they’d tried to make it to LA she may well have died, so we were glad they stopped. But it did make the plane three hours late.

Was planning on going to see Muriel Anderson in concert, and had been invited to sit in on a tune or two, but after the delay, I got to the gig about 20 mins before she started so just said hello, heard two songs and headed off to Ventura.

Staying in Ventura for the next couple of days with Jeff Kaiser – a fab free trumpeter, who I’m doing Monday’s gig with. We’re recording today, and he’s plying me with mint tea to help the jetlag recovery.

The weird thing is missing home already – TSP and the felines have house guests while I’m not here, which is dreadful timing – I get to miss hanging with friends as well as seeing my boys and the small person. I’m having a great time here, but it doesn’t stop me missing home.

Today’s plan is to record some stuff with Jeff, then buy a mobile phone (last year’s namm show phone bill was huge, so I’m going to buy a US phone to save me lots of money).

so, time to get moving!

Peter Murray – Ants and Angels

one of my blog resolutions for this year is to do more CD reviews… You’ve already had BJ Cole’s marvellous ‘Transparent Music’, and today I got a copy of Peter Murray’s ‘Ants and Angels’.

Pete is someone I know best as a bassist, having seen him live playing for Ron Sexsmith in London a few years ago, and having jammed with him a few times at NAMM shows in LA over the years. ‘Ants and Angels’ is much closer to the Ron end of things than the ‘jamming with stevie’ end of things. It’s a proper singer/songwriter album, with a heavy dose of XTC/Squeeze/Elvis Costello – all those great early 80s songwriters – and tunesmiths like The Rembrandts/Lit/Fountains Of Wayne etc. The songwriting, production, playing and packaging are all top notch – it’s amazing to think that it’s a self-produced album. I guess the quality of the musicians on it is a testament to Peter’s standing in the Toronto music scene – everything is impeccably played, the tunes are incredibly strong – if it gets in the right hands, he’s guaranteed a couple of radio hits off this. Really, it’s a must for fans of intelligent alt-guitar singer/songwriter stuff. From the ultra-catchy punky tracks like the opener ‘Gen X DJ on E’ and ‘Ears Make Wax’ to the more mellow almost Neil Young-ish tunes like ‘Murray Vs The Ants’ and ‘Skydiver Friends’, the album is packed with great hooks, instantly memorable stuff.

Have a listen to some of the tracks at Peter’s MySpace page – and follow whatever ordering instructions are there. Definitely one of the strongest self-produced albums I’ve ever heard.

We're screwed

I’ve just been reading a couple of incredibly depressing articles on George Monbiot’s website. The tragedy of them is that, he’s not being melodramatic at all, just telling it like it is.

The two articles are on the whole area of climate change, fossil fuels and alternatives – the first is his speech to the climate change march in London last Saturday and the other is from yesterday’s Guardian.

Simply put, if we keep consuming energy at the rate we’re going, we’re screwed. the planet is screwed. Those of us in the wealthy 3rd will stay un-screwed for a bit longer than those we’re working hardest to destroy, but long-term we won’t fare much better. and it’s not just a matter of finding energy alternatives. We need to use less, consume less, travel less. It’s not nice, it’s not easy, it doesn’t make life more fun, but there really doesn’t seem to be much of an alternative.

the biggie for me is air-travel. As a travelling musician, I fly a fair bit. I’m off to California in January to the NAMM show. I’m part of the problem, not part of the solution. I’ve booked the flight, and can’t really get out of it (cheap ticket ‘n’ all that), but I’m going to have to rethink my travel plans in the future, decide whether I can justify any air-travel. Is it ever legit to fly? Questions, questions. I think it’ll take me a while to come to some decisions.

Fortunately, I’m not alone in pondering this stuff – is home to the ‘year of living generously’ – effectively a support group for people who want to make a difference. there are tips on ways of living generously, from using less energy to giving more time and resources to others. Travelling less to composting your vegetable peelings. And it’s normal people, not just eco-warriors. There’s no brow-beating, no hectoring, just a lot of people who are quite a way ahead of me on many of these things. People I can be inspired by, and maybe inspire a bit in return. That’s the plan. I’ve signed up, you should too!

Some thoughts about Eric

I first heard of Eric when he was teaching at the Musicians Institute, when it was above the Bass Centre in Wapping. I’d seen his name on their literature, and had various people come up to me to tell me about this amazing guitarist they’d heard. Not long after that (late 90s, I guess?) I heard him play at a trade show, doing his arrangement of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (bassline, chords, melody ‘n’ everything on acoustic guitar, and managing to not make it sound like a gimmick) – it was obvious from that that he was an amazing musician, but trade shows back then for me were a blur of running from one Bassist mag event to another, demoing gear (like Eric) or doing on-stage interviews with the various celeb bassists that had been booked (without any thought for what they might do when they got there).

It was quite a few years before I got to meet Eric properly – he turned up at a gig of mine in California, with our mutual friend Thomas Leeb – I’d met Thomas through Ashdown and he’d been telling me loads about Eric as well. We chatted briefly at the gig. We met up again a couple of months later at another music trade show in London, where Eric was feeling pretty rough, but we spent more time talking. We pretty much instantly hit it off, as we were in a similar place – solo players who taught and wrote for magazines. About a week later I found out that Eric had be diagnosed with Cancer for the first time. No wonder he was feeling rough at the show.

Very soon after that, Muriel Anderson was coming over for some gigs, and she knew Eric from booking him for her All-star guitar night at NAMM, so the two of us went up to see him. The conversation at Eric’s house that day was the one that showed me what a strong character he was – he talked with great honesty about his hopes and fears following the diagnosis, his concern for his family (his partner, Candy, was pregnant with their second child when the first diagnosis came through) and the way it had made him focus on what was important in life.

We swapped CDs, and it was clear from listening to his latest album, With These Hands, that that depth of thought was already there when making the record. It’s a beautiful record, moving in parts, funny in others – the guitar playing is outstanding, but the music and Eric soul shine through. (later on he told me that he had me in mind for one of the tracks on the record – Deep Deep Down – but producer Martin Taylor wanted to keep it all solo. Listening to the end result, I agree with Martin, though it will be a source of eternal regret that Eric and I never recorded together).

After that we kept in touch via email, text and phone calls as his treatment progressed, through the hell of radiotherapy to the joyous news of his first ‘all clear’. After that came plans for a tour together, recordings, all the usual muso stuff – none of it felt urgent, Eric was well again, and we had plenty of time for that.

Met up again at the birmingham music show in November – Eric was not long out of radiotherapy but was playing so well (the version of Bushwhacker – an anti-GWB track – was incredible). After the gig we were chatting and mucking around while Eric signed things, and one guy came up and said ‘what would you say if I asked you to sign this?’ to which Eric replied in his dry caustic way ‘I’d tell you to fuck off’. The reply from the guy (clearly phased by this) was ‘I’ve been praying for you’ – Eric then recognised the guy, who he’d met before, and was mortally embarassed that he’d offended the guy, even in a joke. He’d commented before about how moving it had been for him when people who knew he was ill came to pray for him after gigs. Eric was a Buddhist, and a seeker after truth – that was another connection we had, music with a spiritual meaning.

He came to see me play in Colchester with Michael Manring a couple of weeks after the Music Show. I was so pleased to be able to tell the crowd they should buy his CDs, to put him in touch with the guys running CAMM – a local college where he could have started teaching again (he’d been head of guitar at the ACM in Guildford, but living in Cambridgeshire, the drive was beyond him now), to introduce him to the venue for a possible gig.

NAMM in Anaheim this last January was the last time I saw Eric, and it’s another huge regret of mine that I didn’t spend enough time with him there. I spent AGES dragging everyone I knew to come and see him play – he was on a punishing demo schedule for Avalon guitars, playing on the hour every hour, and I must’ve watched him play 20 times over the weekend, but we spent nowhere near enough time talking. I introduced him to friends, made everyone I knew stop by the stand to hear him. He was playing well, though as usual at tradeshows, he was amplified and cranking the top end just to cut through the hubbub of the hall.

When I heard that Eric’s cancer was back, and was inoperable, I couldn’t believe it – Eric, strong, spiritual, clean-living, had beaten it. Surely that was it? The conversation where he told me about it, where it had spread to, what the docs had said was one of the saddest phone conversations I’ve ever had. But he was still so positive. Scared, worried for his family, desperate to keep playing and meet his gig commitments.

Our jam never happened, nor the gigs, nor the recording. I’ll forever be thinking what it would’ve sounded like. We had very similar ideas about the purpose of music, about why we did what we did.

All in, I didn’t spend that much time with Eric. Nowhere near enough. His impact on me was huge, due to his beautiful music and his inner strength when facing his illness. He was an inspiration, and I was really pleased to be able to play my tune for him each night at the Edinburgh festival, pointing people to his website and recommending his music. It made me even more pleased that it was most people’s favourite tune on the gig. He never got to hear it.

I’ll miss him, I’ll miss the possibility of him and I’ll regret that we didn’t know eachother better. He left behind three CDs and a live DVD (I need to get the DVD) – the first two CDs are really good, but it’s With These Hands that is his masterpiece. It’s beautiful. Deep Deep Down is one of the most beautiful instrumentals I’ve ever heard. That he thought of having me play on it is one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever been paid as a musician.

Go and buy his CDs. Please. You’ll get some amazing music, his family will get the money. I can’t imagine what his family are going through now. My thoughts are with them – no matter how much the sense of loss that one has for a friend and musical inspiration, it’s not even close to the pain of losing a husband/dad/brother/son.

Rest in Peace, Eric. Thanks for the inspiration.

Soundtrack – Eric Roche, ‘Spin’.


Two gigs this week (watched) and two days at LGS.

LGS being the London Guitar Show. I was there Friday to meet up with the nice peoples at Bass Guitar Magazine to chat about me writing a column for them, which I now need to sketch out a plan for, and then get writing. Caught up with a few other friends. Went back Saturday to see more friends, and was hoping to check out the Celinder basses which are amazing (Lowell brought one to my workshop in Cupertino , California back in January, and I wanted to see more), but the noise was so loud it was pointless.

However through the din I did get to listen to Laurence Cottle, jamming with guitarist Paul Stacey, and despite the noise and Paul having to play through a bass amp, they made a glorious noise. Fab musicians. Caught up with more friends. It wasn’t a bad show for bass stuff – the Bass Centre had a stand with all manner of bargains on it, EBS, GB Guitars, MarkBass, Celinder, the re-born Trace Elliot, Ashdown, Peavey and a few others were there with plenty of bass toys. It’d be unfair to compare it to NAMM as a) it’s open to the public, and all about selling stuff not launching new products and getting dealers and b) it’s in England.

The two gigs were Nitin Sawhney on Wednesday, and The Bays on Friday.

Nitin’s gig was a bit of a disappointment – the tunes he did with the Asian singers, Nina Bhardwaj and some guy whose name I can’t find online, were amazing. Great vocalists. The other stuff came over like a load of Urban Species mid 90s mellow hip-hop grooves with some OK tunes. Nothing special. Maybe it’s just that I had high expectations. It was enjoyable, just not the mind blowing experience I’d expected. Still, Orphy Robinson came with me, and an evening out with Orphy was enough to make it all worthwhile (and I didn’t pay for the ticket – ’twas a present from Dweez, who couldn’t go due to work commitments – thanks John!)

The other gig.. actually, there were two other gigs, as I went to see Roger Beaujolais play with his sextet in the Foyer of the Festival Hall before going to see The Bays in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Roger’s band were very fine – London really does have some fantastic jazz players!

The idea behind The Bays is that they play completely improvised club-tastic dance grooves. The feel can change from night to night – sometimes its more house-y, sometimes more Drum ‘n’ Bass-ish. Friday night sounded like Gong remixed by Daft Punk. Top notch. The addition of a third keyboard player and a guy playing synth stuff on guitar was fine, but hardly necessary, as they make enough noise as a quartet. Still, the gig was fab, and I’d recommend the Bays to anyone who can cope with the volume (it was loud!).

SoundtrackEric Roche, ‘With These Hands’ (Eric’s had to cancel a few gigs again recently due to being ill, so if you’ve been playing to buy this fantastic record, now would probably be a good time! Head over to Eric’s site to have a listen – he’s one of the finest solo acoustic guitarists I’ve heard, one of the nicest people I know, and an indie artist that you really ought to support by buying his marvellous CDs!)

The Man In The Van With A Bass In His Hand

Went to see Mike Watt at the ICA this evening. He’s a bit of a punk legend, particularly in the States, where his first band, The Minutemen, inspired a whole generation of American punk bands in the 80s. In the mid-90s he made his first solo album, on which a who’s who of the American alternative scene paid their respects to Watt – members of Nirvana, The Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, The Pixies, Black Flag, The Rollins Band, Sonic Youth, Porno For Pyros etc. etc. all appeared on the record with him.

I met Watt a couple of years ago at The Bass Bash in Anaheim during NAMM, where he played a set with Kira, as ‘Dos’ – just two basses and voices – a resolutely low-fi punk set at an evening of fusion twiddling. Great subversive stuff. We also chatted alot that evening, and he revealed himself to be a deep, intellegent musician commited to maintaining his integrity as an artist, and staying true to his original punk ethic – DIY, and don’t take shit from anyone – even when signed to a major label.

Tonight he played all the tracks from his latest album – The SecondMan’s Middle Stand – from start to finish. It is, he says, a ‘sickness opera’ – a song-cycle based on his near-fatal illness, in three sections; hell, purgatory and heaven.

The music is very difficult to describe – very intricately written but playing with a punk abandon, the arrangements stop on a dime, switch time signatures, have unison phrases for all three musicians (the line-up is a trio of organ, bass and drums – not your typical punk lineup!) and then switch to full on dissonant avant garde scariness, and back to more conventional song forms. The dynamic range is huge, from a whisper to ear-splitting rock-out, and at the heart of it all is Watt’s aggressive, adventurous bass playing. All in all, marvellous stuff, impossible to accurately pigeonhole, deeply personal, and definitely music that rewards repeat listening.

He’s on tour in the UK for another week – go and see him if you can, but leave any preconceptions at the door. Do take earplugs though – it gets very loud! I’m so out of practice with ‘rock’ gigs – the volume scared the life out of me til I got my plugs in.

Watt’s tour diary makes for great reading too, though be warned, he speaks his own language, so the Pedrospeak Primer might help!

SoundtrackMike Watt, ‘The Secondman’s Middle Stand’; Mike Watt, ‘Contemplating The Engine Room’.

What's my name again?

I think he’s still the only other Steve Lawson I’ve met, and is now the editor of Total Guitar magazine (a magazine I’ve written for in the past…), but here’s photographic evidence that we met at NAMM last year!

so there you have it – two Steve Lawsons. If I was on a Dave Gorman-esque quest for more of them, this would be #2 and would take pride of place on the list… The big question, however, is why I’m doing a Garth Algar smile???

Soundtrack, ‘Day One’; Francis Dunnery, ‘Man’; , ‘Back In The Circus’ – going to see Jonatha play tonight at The Bedford!! How excited am I???

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