John Lester/Gretchen Peters gig

Regular readers or Stevie-gig-goers will already be familiar with John Lester – he’s proof if ever it were needed that being fantastic won’t necessarily make you a star (if it did, he’d be the new Sting). For the uninitiated, he’s a singer/songwriter who plays upright and electric bass to accompany himself. He’s a marvelous songwriter, and a really gifted bassist, and has released two really lovely albums.

One of his now-regular gigs is with Nashville-based singer/songwriter Gretchen Peters, both opening the show solo and playing bass for Gretchen’s trio.

It’s one of my favourite gig experiences – going to see a friend play that I know is fantastic, but the rest of the audience is pretty much unaware of, knowing that within the next half an hour, lots of people are going to have a new artist to add to their list of favourites. I remember seeing Julie Lee play at the Stables on one of the Bob Harris Presents… nights, where very few people knew who she was, and most of the audience were in love before she came off stage. A great feeling. I like offering things like that to my audience (obviously in a smaller way, as my crowds tend to be smaller than those that Gretchen or the Bob Harris gigs pull) – the gigs I’ve done with Rob Jackson, Calamateur and John Lester have offered that to the people who had come to see me play, and got to hear something else marvelous into the bargain.

Anyway, John won the audience over last night with his first song, and by the end of the set, was selling CDs like a headline act. Great to see.

I wasn’t familiar with Gretchen’s music before the gig, but am a convert now – there are hints of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Sheryl Crow before she went crap, and even a bit of Joni Mitchell, but in a really mellow guitar/double bass/piano trio. Beautiful songs played to perfection. It was great seeing John just doing the bassist’s job – we solo players rarely get to see each other playing in bands (oh, if I had a fiver for every email I get saying ‘I’d love to see you playing in a band’…) so that was a real treat.

And what’s more, the early curfew at the venue meant that John and I could head off for curry and catch up on a year’s worth of news and gig stories.

The only downer on the evening at all was the choice of venue – I’ve done my rant about Carling venues before, and this one was at the Bar Academy in Islington – this was a better environment that when I saw Nick Harper here, but why have an all standing venue for an acoustic trio?? Why have a barman making loads of noise when an acoustic trio is on? The layout of the venue is rubbish, and again, the lack of chairs seems primarily aimed at keeping the beer drinking potential of the audience mobile enough to up their consumption.

I hope the promoter of the show finds a more suited venue soon…

SoundtrackVikki Clayton, ‘Looking At The Stars’.

Alison Krauss at Hammy Odeon

Middle of last week, an email arrives telling me that as a thankyou for helping her out over the years, Julie Lee had put me and and a few other lovelies on the guestlist for Alison Krauss – Alison and Julie are good chums, so we got tickets and passes for a ‘meet and greet’ before the show. Yippee! It all sounds marvellous – even more so given that helping out Julie is such a pleasure that it hardly requires rewards…

Anyway, TSP and I jump in the new car and head off down to Hammersmith to meet The Cheat, The producer formerly Known as Showbiz Jude and Mark, and find when we get there that a powercut has taken out the Odeon (OK, I know it’s called the Apollo and is sponsored by some crappy beer company or other, but it’ll always be the Hammersmith Odeon to anyone who actually cares).

We head off to the pub, not knowing if gig will go ahead at all. Make occasional reckies (how do you spell ‘recky’?? it’s short for reconnaissance, I think, so can’t see how you’d abbrieviate that… but I digress), the traffic lights are still out, so we know the odeon is still without power.

Meet and Greet is cancelled, and we all started to head off when ‘poomph’ (poomph???) the lights came on! ‘hurrah’ said anyone too posh to cheer in a normal way.

Following some frenetic gig preparations, we were inside and sat down (in fab seats) and the band came on.

After my trip to Nashville last October, I’m a convert to the delights of bluegrass anyway, and it doesn’t get much better than this – the playing was amazing, the songs beautiful, and Alison has spectacular natural comic timing. It was yet another example of the simple rule about american bands – they get to play live so many more times that any UK band does before they go in and record that they end up being much better musicians. Even when their ideas aren’t as good as ours, the playing is usually of a higher quality (there are exceptions to the rule – me, for example – but in general… )

So the meet and greet didn’t happen, but the gig was well worth waiting for til someone put some 50p coins in the Hammersmith meter.

At the end of the gig, as we were coming out, I commented to Jude that I’d like to get Alison’s live album ‘I’ve got it you can borrow mine’ says jude. ‘I’ll buy it, I’ve already got her best of’ says me, which in the hubbub was mis-heard by Jude as ‘does she get her breasts out?’ – clearly, that’s one of my main criteria when choosing a bluegrass CD – whether or not there are boobs on the cover… very odd…!

Anyway, thanks Julie – a fantastic night out, even without Alison exposing herself on a CD sleeve.

soundtrack – Rise Kagona.

Festive Fives Pt 3

OK, fave live gigs of 2004 (no particular order etc.)

The Pixies – Brixton Academy
Billy Bragg – The Barbican
John Scofield – QEH
Show Of Hands – The Stables (and The Bloomsbury, The Borderline, Greenbelt…)
Julie Lee – The Station Inn (and Tower Records, Greenbelt, The Basement…)

and…

Juliet Turner – The Borderline
Spearhead – Jazz Cafe
Gary Husband – Turner Sims
Carleen Anderson – Jazz Cafe
Psychodots – Cincinatti
Sam Philips – The Belcourt, Nashville

Soundtrack – Beck, ‘Sea Change’; The Low Country, ‘The Dark Road’, David Torn, ‘Best Laid Plans’.

Holiday/tour recap, Pt III – Nashville

Right, so we’re four days in, and are in our fourth state (Started in Illinois, and drove through Indiana and Kentucky on our way to Tennesee – not sure how many Es Ns and Ss there are in that…)

And we arrive in Nashville, where we’re staying with Elron for a week. Elron is the unofficial Sheriff of Nashville, and a very nice man.

Tuesday, I gave a Masterclass at Belmont University, as arranged by my good friend Roy Vogt – Roy used to play bass for Englebert Humperdink but quit that and is now doing rather well for himself as a Nashville session dude and teaching at Belmont in their music dept. A great guy, and a fantastic bassist, who sat in with me on a couple of tunes during the session. Sadly it was only an hour, so I couldn’t do as much playing or talking as I’d like, but it went well.

During the rest of the week, I had a couple of little Coffee-shop gigs, the first one was at The Sherlock Holmes pub, an English-style pub in Nashville, and I was joined by two special guests, Muriel Anderson, who’s wonderful and I’ve played with before, and Stan Lassiter, who’s wonderful but I hadn’t played with before. Much fun was had, and it was nice to meet up with some people that I’d beein emailing for a while but never met – Dan Borsos from Churchbass, and Sarita Stewart (Sarita organised the gigs – hurrah for Sarita!)

After the gig, we went off to see HREF=”http://www.davepomeroy.com” TARGET=”NEW”>Dave Pomeroy’s trio, with Rob Ickes and Andyt Leftwich at Douglas Corner – one of the many gorgeous little music clubs in Nashville. An unbelieveable band. Seriously, some of the most amazing instrumental music I’ve ever heard live. If you’re anywhere near Nashville, you’ve got to go and see these guys live. Their combined CVs mark them out as Nashville session royalty, so catch them live and see what all the fuss is about. And say hi to Dave from me.

The second of the gigs was at Caffeine, a cool little coffee shop, which again was a lot of fun, and again more chums turned up, namely Josh Doyle and Dave Pomeroy, along with the group of friends that we’d gone to Nashville to visit in the first place – Elron, Julie Lee, Julie’s dad Larry, Anne, Gail… lovely people one and all.

Much of the rest of our time in Nashville was taken up with our favourite holiday past-time; browsing CD shops. With the dollar being pretty weak, it’s a prime time to buy CDs, so we made the most of it.

Saturday afternoon was The first of three Julie Lee gigs that we got to see. Julie’s a bluegrass/americana singer/songwriter that I’ve played with over here in the past, and she’s amazing. Destined for super-stardom for sure (she’s already got Alison Krauss, Vince Gill and Colin Linden on her new album, which is in the Americana airplay top 30 in the states!). This gig was an in-store at Tower Records, and she was sounding mighty fine.

Sunday morning was church at Downtown Pres, preceded by a visit to their book-club/discussion group, which was much fun (though the minister at the church looks kind of like an albino Bin Laden, without the bombs, which was slightly disconcerting). Downtown Pres is an amazing place – a beautiful bit of architecture (check out the photos on the website), and also hosts numerous artist’s workshop spaces and runs a feed the homeless programme as well as all kinds of other cool stuff. A good bunch of people (we suspect also run by Elron, ultimately).

And that’s where we’ll leave it for now, as Monday/Tuesday were spent adding a couple of other states to our holiday stats, and visiting more friends… stay tuned!

soundtrack – Jan Gabarek, ‘It’s OK To Listen To The Gray Voice; Talk Talk, ‘Laughing Stock’; Kris Delmhorst, ‘Songs For A Hurricane’.

Before Nashville…. Kentucky!

I know I said Nashville would be the next US blog entry, but before we got there, we stopped at a truck-stop in Kentucky. This, obviously, after driving through Indiana (which looked beautiful from the freeway…)

Anyway, Kentucky, truckstop, me with long hair and nail varnish. It was a little like Deliverance to say the least – lots of people stopping what they were doing and turning to stare. Fortunately we were only there for coffee and gas (that’s petrol to you english lot), but I swear I heard Duelling Banjos from somewhere…

Anyway, the coffee was dreadful. So we left, and headed for Nashville.

SoundtrackKris Delmhorst, ‘Songs For A Hurricane’ (Kris opened for Julie Lee at The Basement in Nashville while we were there, and was fantastic); Stan Lassiter Group, ‘Chi’ (Stan sat in with me on one of my nashville gigs, and was fabulous).

Trip to the US Pt 1 – Chicago

OK, here’s the first entry in the holiday/tour blog. The Cheat and I flew into Chicago, as the first stop off was staying with the lovely Steve and Diane from the band Dolly Varden (apparently ‘Dolly Varden’ is a type of fish…) – on the day we arrived (Friday), DV were playing at Uncommon Ground, a very cool coffee-shop gig in Chicago, so we went to see that. Given that Chicago is six hours behind London, this meant that we arrived at the gig at about 2AM our time, and left sometime around 5. This, we both still protest, was our reason for leaving without paying… doh! We ran up quite a big food, beer ‘n’ coffee tab, and then left with the band when they’d packed up… But you’ll be pleased to know that we did ring the venue the next day and tell them that we’d be in again on Sunday so would settle up then…

Anyway, here’s Dolly Varden on stage at Uncommon Ground –

So after that, The Cheat and I spent a couple of days wandering around Chicago, which we both agreed was one of the coolest cities we’d ever visited – in evidence I offer you,


there you go, lovely. We checked out loads of the record shops in town, including Jazz Record Mart, the world’s biggest Jazz and Blues record store (who now stock my CDs, for those of you in Chicago wanting to get them). We also checked out the Millenium Park which was hosting a photo exhibition called ‘Family Photo’, featuring about 110 photos from the 1000 families photography project, by Uwe Ommer. Marvellous stuff.

Sunday night it was back to surprise my solo bass buddy Seth Horan by turning up at his gig at Uncommon Ground – he played a great set, and it was fab to be able to catch up with him, and to see his face when we walked in, while he tried to compute what the hell I was doing turning up at a coffee-shop gig in Chicago. (we also settled the bill from Friday night!)

And Monday we set off for Nashville, which will be Pt II…

soundtrackMatthew Garrison, ‘Live’; Julie Lee, ‘Made From Scratch’; Morphine, ‘Best Of’.

Recent new CD roundup.

Got a few new fab CDs lately, so here’s a quick summary –

The Low Country – The Dark Road. The Low Country is Rob Jackson‘s band with singer/songwriter Emily Barker. Coupled with a sensitive understated rhythm section, that make downbeat miserable alt.country as though they’d been born and bred in rural Tennessee, not Newcastle and Australia respectively. Rob’s one of my favourite guitarists around, and the marriage of his gorgeous tone and open tuning with Emily’s moving songs and emotive voice is magical.

Julie Lee – Stillhouse Road – more country stylings. I played a load of gigs with Julie a few years ago, and have seen her play loads of times, and enjoyed her self-produced Cds for ages. Now she’s released her debut big-budget album, with a bunch of friends from Nashville… friends that include Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Colin Linden, Dave Pomeroy… Nashville A-listers one and all. It’s beautiful as you’d expect. Perfectly played, though I do miss Julie’s fantastic srawling rambling guitar playing – if you’ve ever seen her live, you’ll know what an original sounding guitarist she is and sadly there’s not much of her playing on here, but if you’re going to replace her with anyone, it might as well be Colin Linden! A gorgeous CD.

Pierce Pettis – Great Big World. Another long term fave chez Stevie, and someone else I’ve played with in the past. One of Nashville’s finest and most respected songwriters, and a stunning singer and virtuoso guitarist to boot. Pierce was on Windham Hill back in the 80s, and has more recently released a string of fabulous CDs on Compass. This one’s as good as the others, with the added bonus for bass-heads of Danny Thompson appearing on a few tracks on upright. Particularly on the song ‘Leonardo’, the pairing of Pettis and Thompson is inspired.

A Marble Calm – Surfacing. A Marble Calm is a project assemled and revolving around Peter Chilvers, gentlemanly bassist and piano/keyboards whiz from Norwich, and part of the Burning Shed family of artists. Peter and I have duetted a Norwich looping/improv gig and he opened for Rob Jackson and I in Cambridge recently with a lovely ambient piano ‘n’ sampled strings looped improv thingie. This album is in a similar vein, only with some fantastic special guests adding to Pete’s own ambient wash – Rob Jackson, Theo Travis, Tim Bowness and Sandra O’Neil all make fabulous contributions to this haunting and engaging ambient singer/songwriter CD.

Todd Johnson/Kristin Korb Trio – Get Happy. Todd’s been one of my favourite bassists ever since I first saw him playing with Jimmy Haslip in a two basses + drums trio at NAMM a few years ago. Gifted with a remarkable chordal vocabulary and a technical facility that allows him to simultaneously comp chords and play swinging bass lines on his six string bass, he’s worth at least two players to any band he’s in. And this is him in a trio with double bassist/vocalist Kristin Korb, and drummer Kendal Kaye. How Kristin manages to sing and swing at the same time, I’ll never know – her vocal phrasing is amazing, and she plays walking lines like Ray Brown. The CD is a collection of a great vocal standards, with a couple of originals thrown in. Lovely lovely stuff.

So there you go, get shopping!

Soundtrack – all of the above.

Lucky pt II

Last night was the gig with Tess Garraway and Joss Peach in Brighton… another free improv gig as listed the other day. what fun, though not without ‘issues’ – mainly that we got there and the venue was double booked (hoping this isn’t going to become a feature of my gigs to come after the San Fran show last month…) – anyway, the other people who had the venue moved next door, and war was averted (maybe we should be negotiating in the middle east right now…) – anyway, as little to no promo had been done for the gig, the audience was very small, but as always, given the choice between great music and a big audience, I’d take the former. Obviously both is a bonus, but still, the music was great, the venue was nice, and it was all recorded and videoed, so could have some nice resource stuff for future useage. Thanks Tess and Joss – I very much enjoyed it!

Other than that, it’s been lots of teaching, and not much tidying (office still a tip, really really need to get this place sorted ASAP… this week, no really, honest…)

Tonight I’m going to see Julie Lee play – she’s the bluegrass singer from Nashville that I was playing with last summer (and who I’ll play with again next week, on Tuesday, in Reading) – tonight, however, I’m going to listen. She’s great, I’m really looking forward to it!

Am contemplating moving my website to a new server… at the moment, the main site (not this page, this is separate) is with zetnet, but it’s not a great service, and not that cheap, so perhaps it’s time for a change… a few people still seem to be using the old email address (if you’ve got stevelawson@zetnet.co.uk in your email address book, switch it for a steve-lawson.co.uk address now!), but 99% of what I get on that address is spam anyway… I own the domain name, so I can move it anywhere… can I be bothered? we’ll see…

Soundtrack – all day today been listening to a CD that arrived this morning, ‘Double Nickels On The Dime’ by The Minutemen. Yup, more Mike Watt. Great stuff – a mixture of punk, free jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, funk, and all sorts of other bits ‘n’ pieces. Very creative, very earthy, 43 songs in 74 minutes, amazing stuff.

The Not So Lonesome Troubadour

Great gig last night at the Troubadour. Troubadour? where have I heard that name before? ah, yes it’s where I recorded my first solo album! It wasn’t me playing last night, but Muriel Anderson, fingerstyle guitarist from Nashville. She was very very fine indeed. Great playing, marvellous between song banter, a couple of lovely vocal tunes to vary the set. All in all a great night. Also of interest, the Troubadour have completely redone their basement venue area – they’ve taken over the next door building, knocked the two cellars through, and now have a bar, a sound booth a built in PA, and a gorgeous little stage in there. I CAN’T WAIT to play there next month (30th March – put it in your diaries now!) It’s going to be very fine indeed.

Today, I’ve been trying to get through a big long list of things to do. Firstly, I’ve been trawling through the hundreds of unanswered emails in my inbox – I’ve deleted about 150, and answered about 80 so far – another 200 and something to go! After that, I’ve got to send out loads of promo copies of Not Dancing (no sales today…), and phone a load of people about gigs, send out a newsletter with the info about my upcoming gigs and radio appearance, and tidy my office and the kitchen, which is a tip…

Soundtrack Last night and this morning it was ‘Theme For Two Friends’ by Muriel Anderson – guitar and cello duets, absolutely gorgeous. This one is goign to be spending a lot of time in my CD player over the next few weeks, that’s for sure. Now, I’m listening to the recording from the
Burning Shed Loop Night in Norwich last December – Darkroom, me, Theo Travis, Roger Eno, Peter Chilvers and Centrazoon. Some great stuff on there. Sadly, there’s a dirty great earth hum coming off my bass rig all the way through, but I’m going to try and eq some of it out for an MP3 before too long…