end of year roundup top 5s

So we’re rapidly approaching the exit of 2003 and the entrance of 2004, to take up the batton of time for it’s year in the spotlight. It can’t really be much worse than its younger sibling on a world scale (well, I guess it could, if the bush/blair axis of evil decide to invade more countries, and don’t realise that they really have no place being in Iraq… but I digress…)

Anyway, there have been some cool things this year, so here’s a series of top 5s to sum up my year (each of them is in no particular order…) –

top 5 albums from this year –

Athlete – Vehicles and Animals
Bill Frisell – The Interncontinentals
John Lester – Big Dreams And The Bottom Line
Bruce Cockburn – You’ve Never Seen Everything
Kelly Joe Phelps – Slingshot Professionals

Top 5 albums I got this year but were released ages ago –

Theo Travis – Heart Of The Sun
Rob Jackson – Wire, Wood and Magnets
Denison Witmer – Philadelphia Songs
David Torn – Tripping Over God
Medeski Martin And Wood – The Dropper

Top 5 musical collaborators this year –

Theo Travis
Orphy Robinson
Patrick Wood
Luca Formentini
BJ Cole

Top 5 fave gigs I went to –

Athlete – The Astoria
Bill Frisell – The Barbican
King’s X – The Mean Fiddler
Kelly Joe Phelps – The Stables
Bruce Cockburn – The Stables

Top 5 fave gigs played –

National Theatre Foyer (with Theo Travis)
Greenbelt (with Patrick Wood)
Derby Dance Centre (with Orphy Robinson and Corey Mwamba)
Constable Jacks (California – with Michael Manring)
Anaheim Bass Bash (with Michael Manring)

Top 5 International Destinations –

California (USA)
Garda Lake (Italy)
Le Monstastier (France)
Amsterdam (Holland)
Copenhagen (Denmark)

Heroes –

Tony Benn
John Pilger
Michael Moore
Michael Franti
Scott Peck

Villains –

Richard Desmond
Max Clifford

would’ve done top books and top films, but haven’t seen enough of either to
come up with a convincing list of good ones.

I’ll add more as I think of them, but that’s it for now…

Soundtrack – yesterday I downloaded the new version of WinAmp – WinAmp 5, and have been listening to various Shoutcast radio stations ever since!

Making it up as we go along!

Had a marvellous gig last night with Orphy Robinson and Corey Mwamba – Corey on Vibes, and Orphy on Marimba, assorted Hand percussion, steel pans, QY-70 drums, wind-synth, etc.

I had mic feeds off of both guys into my looping set-up, and mainly used the one from Corey’s vibes, given that Orphy was looping himself (with an RC-20) and making a marvellous noise without my help!

The venue was Derby Dance Centre – a lovely venue, with a very friendly audience. Slightly surprising given how intense parts of the first set were, with orphy toying with controlled mic feedback and triggering some pretty mad beats off the QY-70…

Second set was more mellow – started with me looping and processing Corey’s vibraphone, Orphy joining him for a vibes duet, and finally me coming in over the top, which drifted into a solo bass thing (which was fortunately recorded, as it was unlike anything I’ve played before…) only to have them rejoin and take it off in another different direction.

The whole gig was a lot of fun, has some magic moments, was an insense listening experience, and bodes well for more trio stuff like that in the future.

What else is happening? bits of teaching, sending out CD sales (and surprisingly sold a load of CDs at the gig, despite playing nothing that sounded remotely like the CDs at any point in the show! :o)

Soundtrack – at the moment, the sound of computers humming.

Yet more great reasons for staying indie….

“Increasingly, the music companies understand that they have to take some of the money back from the artists to correct a business model that has squeezed their profit margins. The challenge as the consolidation takes effect is whether the artists will agree to sign away some of the rights they have enjoyed in the boom times.”

That’s a quote from an article in The Sunday Times Business Section from a couple of weeks ago, relating to the EMI/Warner deal.

So, let me get this right, record companies are struggling to make enough millions, so they take money from the artists? artists who already surrender the ownership of their recordings (which if they want them back they have to buy back, they don’t actually revert to their possession after they’ve paid of their advance or ‘loan’, like a mortgage where you never get to own the house…), artists who already often end up on a crappy retainer while the record company fritters away their advance on unwanted and unneeded extras to people within the company (hiring their own contracted producers, using RC owned studios, paying for limos/parties/schmoozing journos etc…)…

Good lord, I’m so glad I went the indie route… While there are clearly some advantages to getting signed etc. it seems that the cons far far far outweigh the pros unless you only want to be some educationally challenged cat walk buffoon pedalling rehashed 70s MOR tunes on totp after winning a televised school talent contest (only, at most school talent shows I’ve been to, the winners have been considerably more telented than ANYONE I’ve seen win fame academy or pop idol or whatever…)

the time is now better than ever for supporting indie artists, listening to indie radio (or the BBC, which seems to be be a bit more flexible than national commercial radio in its playlisting), and supporting indie cd shops. Next time you’re thinking of buying a CD, head over to cdbaby.com and have a browse around to find something new and original that you like, rather than spending far too much money on some tripe that’s in the charts. Go on, I dare ya!

in other news, I’ve just been booked for an improv gig in Derby on Wedneday night – obviously, I’ll post more news when it comes in, but it’s going to great fun! Orphy Robinson on steel pans and assorted odds ‘n’ ends, and another vibes player… :o)

Soundtrack – The Rough Guide To Congolese Soukos (amazing stuff, get this CD!); John Patitucci, ‘One More Angel’; some loops that I set up about an hour ago and am still listening to…

orders come flooding in…

…big thanks to everyone who’s bought the CD so far – lots of orders are in already, well on the way to covering cost before the CD comes out, which is always nice – it’s a slightly precarious thing this releasing your own CDs. Modern computer recording has made that side of it a lot easier, but without the funds to do blanket advertising etc. we rely on word of mouth more than anything, so please let your chums know about it…

Anyway – what’s been happening over the last few days? Well, Saturday was the Stop The War march in London – somewhere between 20 and 100 thousand folks out (usually split the difference is close – so say 50thousand), marching from Hyde Park to Trafalger Square. Much was made of it not being as big as February’s march, which is quite honestly shabby journalism – since when did marches protesting the complexity of requests to withdraw troups and playing poodle to Bush ever gather the same emotive response from the general populace as stopping the government going into a war that was at that point still avoidable?? Nonsense. It was a huge display of public unrest, with lots of the banners calling for an end to lies and spin, sick of Blair’s failure to engage with public opinion or even his own party. With the Labour conference going on at the moment, he’s getting a bit more of a battering, but still not enough. The party are refusing to allow a debate on Iraq at the conference – knowing obviously that Tony’s position is completely out of step with just about every labour supporter in the country. So much for living in a democracy.

Anyway, the march was good – it’s always nice to know that you’re not alone in finding the actions of the leaders of the west dispicable. Nice to stand alongside lots of very normal, but very pissed off people. The most moving group I saw was the ex-servicemen against the war group – decorated servicemen from the second world war saying enough’s enough…

So on Monday I went down to Eastbourne – firstly to fix Tess’ Echoplex, which wasn’t broken at all, and then to check the chromalin artwork for the new album, which was approved and sent off, with the delivery date set at the 13th october! how exciting – get those orders in now! :o)

Came back and headed over to have a play with BJ Cole and Orphy Robinson – our new trio of Pedal Steel, Bass and Steel Pans is really exciting – it’s cool because we haven’t taken written tunes in at this stage, just jamming to find the sound of the band, what works, what doesn’t, and lots of what we did on Monday worked. Hopefully we’ll be gigging soon

and talking of gigs, I’ve got a few dates coming up, it seems. Lots of unconfirmed but highly likely stuff. Just need to sort out logisitics to firm them up. And now I need to sort out a date or two with theo over the coming months…

Oh, and talking of Theo, there’s a new MP3 up from the extra disc – ‘It’s Not Gonna Happen’. The track’s called ‘As Long As My Arm’ and the MP3 is a 6 minute edit from a 15 minute track!


SoundtrackJoni Mitchell, ‘Hejira’; Jughead, ‘Jughead’; Prefab Sprout, ‘Jordan The Comeback’; Steve Lawson and Theo Travis, ‘For The Love Of Open Spaces’.

Greenbelt 2003

Just got back from Greenbelt – ostensibly a Christian Arts festival, but with a strong focus on justice issues, and some seriously great music and seminar speakers.

We arrived Friday afternoon, pitched our tent (oh yes, proper camping), and went to watch Eden Burning (reunion gig – their final gig was infront of 10,000 people at Greenbelt 97, and they reformed for a one off this weekend to celebrate this being the 30th year of Greenbelt), then saw Pierce Pettis, Iain Archer, Juliet Turner, Boo Hewerdine with Rob Jackson, Kate Rusby and Old Solar – all marvellous, and a great start to the weekend, in fact, too much great stuff to take it all in, and I missed a lot of artists that I’d have to catch in other venues over the weekend. Watching that many amazing gigs in one evening does make you a bit blase about the genius on offer, but any one of the acts listed about would be worth driving 50 miles to see on an ordinary evening – Pierce I’ve seen lots of times before, and played with in Reading earlier this year, Iain Archer has been getting better and better over the decade that I’ve been watching him play (new album out in a few months, which promises to be a blinder), Juliet is another singer I’ve been familiar with for a long time and have got both her albums, Boo Hewerdine I was more familar with as a songwriter than a singer, but he was marvellous and Rob Jackson who was guesting on guitar is a solo looper that I’d had contact with before, and showed himself to be equally adept providing gorgeous pedal steel-esque guitar parts to Boo’s finely crafted songs.

Kate Rusby’s gig was a particular treat as she had Ewan Vernal on bass – former Deacon Blue bassist, and one of my earliest and biggest bass influences (check out the bass/voice tracks ‘Orphans’ and ‘Trampoline’ by Deacon Blue for a taste of his genius)…

Old Solar are old faves, and old friends, and played a very fine set.

Saturday began with a Dave Andrews seminar – Dave is an radical activist/speaker from Australia, and regular speaker at Greenbelt, this time expounding on the notion that we’re in the new dark ages with the financial and governmental institutions in the west providing a heavily protected fortress for the extravagance of the world’s rich to the exclusion of the poor, who are battled in a feudalistic way to protect the already disproportionately huge share of the world’s wealth that those of us in the so called developed world have. His answer was to look to St Francis for a model – Francis having been an aristocrat who gave up his wealth to work with the poor. He wasn’t a politician, and didn’t set out to change the world, just to live right. As Schumacher put is ‘think global, act local’… all great stuff…

after Dave, it was off to a Mike Riddell seminar – Mike’s an author from New Zealand, and another Greenbelt fave, talking about artistic integrity and freedom – nothing new but very encouraging and helpful nonetheless.

Next up, Martyn Joseph’s songwriter’s circle event, The Rising – lots of great songwriters playing their songs and discussing them. What a treat to see MJ, Juliet Turner, Pierce Pettis and Brian Houston talking about their songs and playing together. Amazing stuff.

Other gigs – Elan (very good), Juliet Turner and Pierce Pettis (genius, obviously), Cleveland Watkiss (with Orphy Robinson on Vibes) – outstanding, joint best gig of the weekend, Calamatuer (marvellous) and Denison Witmer (another new discovery for me this weekend – fantastic singer/songwriter from Philadelphia).

But as always, Greenbelt is about people – meeting up with loads – hundreds – of friends, meeting loads of people I deeply admire, amazing musicians, great speakers, writers, actors, and just really nice people that I aspire to be like. Spent lots of time between gigs drinking apple tea in the tiny tea tent and enjoying the gorgeous weather.

..and tomorrow I’ll tell you about Sunday and Monday!

(and in case you’re interested, the virus email count for over the weekend was in excess of 650!!!)

Soundtrack – right now, the first mixes of the tracks I recorded with the quartet on my most recent trip to France – more on that when I’ve heard them some more. Before that, Denison Witmer, ‘Recovered’ and Jaco Pastorius, ‘Jaco Pastorius’.

Can't Blog Won't Blog

…or at least, I couldn’t for most of today – bleedin’ software wasn’t working, so couldn’t access here to write anything… not that you were bothered, but still…

Sunday night’s gig at the Barbican was a lorra lorra fun – the band ended up being me, Orphy Robinson on percussion and steel pans, Mano Ventura on guitar (with a midi pickup) and filomena campus on vocals. The whole set was improv’d, and veered from some pretty ‘out’ weirdness through to more groove-based stuff. The biggest fun for me was that I was using a mixing desk for my stuff, so could a) run my own bass stuff in stereo (great for the delay effects etc.) and could also get a feed from the PA of all the percussion mics, which allowed me to loop Orphy’s percussion as well, which worked REALLY well. Some great layered percussion things ensued, and backwards steel pans sounds very fine indeed.

Monday was The Small Person’s birthday, so we went out for the day, and watched a coupla vids in the evening – no music all day, which made a nice change. then today was back to teaching, although due to a diary balls-up, I managed to double book myself, and had to cancel one of them… durrrr…

This evening, I spent an hour or so editing down the recording of my duets with Antoine Fafard from our joint radio broadcast on LCR, a month or so ago. The duets sound great, and as soon as I get them converted to MP3, I’ll try to get at least one of them online, though they are very long… perhaps I’ll find somewhere else to post them other than on my own webspace, which is a bit too full already…

I also found time to record a new tune… watch this space for more on that.

Soundtrack – in the car, it’s been more of Paul Simon’s Greatest Hits, whilst in here Norah Jones album, ‘Come Away With Me’ is on about its fifth play today, after I was doing one of the tracks with a student today. Also listened to Peter Gabriel ‘Us’, which is brilliant, and Pierce Pettis – ‘Making Light Of It’ – Pierce is amazing, and your CD collection isn’t complete without at least one of his albums…

Coming Up – a weekend of delicious improv!

I’m really looking forward to my gigs this weekend – I’ve got two, tomorrow night I’m playing at an alternative worship service called ‘Up’ at an anglican church in Thame (St Mary’s maybe?), where Jez, Evil Harv and I will be improvising 14 pieces based on the stations of the cross – for each one, we’ve got a painting or image to represent it and hopefully trigger some ideas. It should be really good, and probably quite emotionally involving, as the stations take us from Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene through to his burial…

Then on Sunday, I’m playing at the Barbican ‘ere in London – on the free stage from 6-7, with Orphy Robinson, who is best known for his vibes playing, but on this one will be playing Marimba, Steel Pans and misc. percussion, with us both looping and processing our sounds (and I’ll be looping orphy’s loops too!) – we had a bit of a play this morning just to see what was possible, and it sounded great, so I’m really looking forward to this one too. We were going to be joined by top pedal steel player, BJ Cole but he’s got a gig he can’t get out of… I’m sure we’ll get to try the trio version soon. Instead we’ve got a singer coming to sit in one a few numbers, which should be a lot of fun too… Please come down if you’re in London, it’s a great way to spend a sunday evening in London…

Before that, I’ve got a full day’s teaching on Saturday, and am playing in church on Sunday morning, so it’s going to be a pretty full weekend playing-wise! And I must remember to change the batteries in my bass, as they’ve just run out…!

soundtrack – right now, Donny Hathaway Live. Earlier on, Bill Frisell with Elvin Jones and Dave Holland and while teaching today I was using Joni Mitchell – ‘Hejira’, Pat Metheny – ‘Bright Sized Life’ and Anita Baker ‘Rapture’… Also had a listen to ‘Beauty And The Beast’ earlier – the improv piece that Jez and I uploaded to my site as a Christmas pressie a few months back. If you’ve not heard it, head over to the MP3s page and have a listen…

Peace-Party In The Park…

here are some photos from London’s stop the war march on Saturday, taken by me… they aren’t great, sorry. It was an amazing feeling joining with more than a million other people to voice our discontent at the bizarre way the US and UK governments are going about trying to engineer an attack on Iraq. This was democracy in action, and hopefully will have scared the shit out of Bush and Blair if they think they can go around flattening cities and killing untold thousands of innocent people without the people they are supposed to represent getting rid of them. Tony, your days are numbered.

Anyway, the march itself was a fantastic experience – I was walking with my mum, and met up with loads of people from St Luke’s as well as bumping into Vibraphonist Orphy Robinson along the way. Loads of other people I knew were there, but in a crowd of more than a million, what chance to you have of meeting up? Actually, I did meet up with Dave and James, who both probably knew where I was because they both, at different times, are the man who knows – a concept I shall explain at greater length later.

anywhere, here’s the piccies…