homeless shelters and tax returns

Catching up – three very very busy teaching days Thurs/Fri/Saturday – much fun. Busy days like those are a great confirmation of how much I enjoy teaching, I love getting to the end of a day, feeling that I’ve worked hard, and the students have all taken away lots of good quality stuff to work on, hopefully been inspired and are beavering away at their practice!

Saturday after teaching was a visit to see my dad – really ought to see him more as he only lives half an hour away. A most enjoyable few hours.

Had to leave fairly early as I was doing an overnight shift in the St Luke’s homeless shelter – long-time blog readers will remember said shelter from previous years – this is i think my fifth or sixth year of helping out. It’s hardly a huge commitment – I tend to do every other saturday night from january to march, excluding saturdays when I’m not actually in the country…

this was the first night of the new year for the shelter, and was utterly without incident. But it did give me a chance to finish one of my christmas present books – ‘Serious’ by John McEnroe. A good read, for sure, clearly aimed at tennis fans (a fair few play by play dissections of big games, big sets big matches). He didn’t turn out to be quite the sage I’d assumed he was from his commentary skills – he’s one of the best sports commentators I’ve ever encountered (and, to be fair, that’s not many, given my general antipathy to all sport except tennis), but his wisdom in commentating on the psyche of the players doesn’t really seem to have come from having lived a sage life. Maybe he’s just learned from having got it all wrong in his own life. Definitely a worthwhile read though.

So not much sleep last night, which meant two things – a) I missed church by not waking up til 1pm after getting to bed at 6.45, and b) I missed most of the Soil Association organic market thingie happening down by the Barbican. It was organised by the lovely Ruthie, and featured some lovely live music from the lovely Andy Buzzard and Jonny Gee. Great to see them play, if only for one number. Also gave me a chance to meet lots of cuddly musos and invite them along to Thursday’s Recycle Collective gig, which I’m getting more and more excited about the closer it gets – the potential musical marvellousness in a trio of me, Cleveland and BJ is pretty huge, methinks. We’ve played together before, when I did a gig at Darbucka last year that both of them guested on, and it was magical. Don’t miss it!

So, after getting back from the organic thingie, I’ve just finished, submitted and paid my tax return/bill for 2004-2005. Fortunately, I only had about £50 to pay over and above what I’d already paid on account for last year… well, fortunately for now, unfortunate if you think that it means I earned less than the previous year (main reason for that is that in 2004 I was still receiving HUGE PRS cheques for the Level 42 tour…) Good news is, online CD sales were higher in 04-05 than ever before, which is great news.

One of my resolutions for next year is not to leave it til Jan 2006 to submit my tax return. I’d LOVE to actually get it done in April for the first time ever, and then have all year to pay a figure that I actually know. In order to do that, I’ll have to get my financial records for this year up to date in the next week, so I can stay on top of it from here on in… here’s hoping.

As an aside, I submitted my tax return online – what a breeze! It does all the calculating for you, tells you the boxes you’ve missed, makes sure your sums all add up, and gives you a print out at the end. Couldn’t be easier.

And now I’ve done the taxation bit, I feel inspired to write some letters to my MP to do something about the representation bit. I’m a fan of tax, in principle, I’m happy to pay my way, and to pay more to help those who haven’t got enough. But I do wish we had more say over how it was spent, and a less wasteful exchequer – Government spending is a disaster, which while not doing away with the need for taxation, certainly makes most people’s loathing of it a lot easier to understand.

Transparent Music

It can be a real pain in the arse when great albums go out of print – their fame doesn’t stop spreading, people don’t stop hearing them at friend’s houses, and what generally happens is that otherwise law-abiding non-CD-duping peoples start doing CDR copies for their friends.

So it’s always a cause for celebration when a classic gets reissued, especially when it happens because the artist has bought back the rights for their own work.

Such is the case with ‘Transparent Music’ by BJ Cole – a classic near-ambient album of stuff a long way from his recent excursions into IDM/Breakbeat/noisy stuff. Transparent Music is a collection of tracks that highlight the impressionistic, floaty meditative side of the pedal steel in a way that pretty much no other steel player has ever done. Listening to BJ’s arrangements of works by Debussy, Ravel and Erik Satie it’s hard not to imagine that these guys would have been writing for the pedal steel had it been invented during their lifetimes, such is the remarkable stylistic fit of the instrument’s timbre and early 20th century impressionism.

BJ’s own tracks sit beautifully alongside those arrangements, and the whole effect is mesmerising. It’s available to order from BJ’s website and I thoroughly recommend it… or you’ll be able to buy it from him at the Recycle Collective gig at Darbucka on january 12th (shit, that’s next week!)

SoundtrackBJ Cole, ‘Transparent Music.

New Year's resolutions

Part one, music/work-related –

1) – new solo album
2) – new album with Theo
3) – more gigs in Italy
4) – make headway on first book (any of the ideas will do, no really)
5) – record live DVD? possibly…
6) – establish Recycle Collective as THE monthly gig to be at (it already is, people just don’t know it yet)
7) – do band arrangements of my tunes and gig them (the quartet I’ve been talking about for about a year and a half)
8) – look afresh at distribution deal options
9) – more collaborations!
10) – less time wasted online, more time practicing.

2005 – a year in review

Good year? Bad year? not sure…

Musically, not a bad year – didn’t release any albums, but I guess that means that the last one is still doing OK, so didn’t feel any major pressure to get something new happening. Now I’m glad I waited due to all the new musical ideas offered up by the Looperlative.

Some great gigs – bassday, bassfest thing in Italy in July, Edinburgh festival (where staying with Jane and Gareth was also a year highlight – much fun). Gig with Ned Evett in Petersfield was much fun, as was recording with Ned. Finished an albums worth of material with Calamateur, AKA Andrew Howie, and there’s a lot of great stuff on there – I’m excited about what we might be able to do with that. Recycle Collective started – was v. small, but musically one of the best gigs I’ve been involved with.

Teaching’s been great – lots of very fine students, lots of beginners making progress, and meeting lots of lovely new people. also started a new column for Bass Guitar Magazine – good to be back writing again (which reminds me, I’ve got one to finish ASAP!)

Personally, it’s been a fairly good year – one big scare with the ginger fairly aged feline, who was given roughly two weeks to live, but with chemo got rid of a satsuma sized tumor IN A WEEK!!!! – we’re still amazed by that, and he’s going great. Life with both the fairly aged felines has been lots of fun (I really feel sorry for all those of you with cat allergies who have to lavish your attention on human offspring as a replacement…) seeing them both take over the house and garden and settle in.

another year of doing no work on the house… hmmm, maybe I should start by just TIDYING MY OFFICE!!! lazy bastard…

World events – both the best and worst things that happened this year were the same – the Make Poverty History campaign was such a monumental success at getting poverty reduction and the plight of people living in extreme poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America into the minds of every day people, it felt like there were really a chance to make a proper change. millions of people signing petitions, emailing MPs and congressmen, documentaries being made, and of course Live8 and the march in Edinburgh.

And then the worst thing – the gargantuan fuck-up that the G8 leaders made of the opportunity to do something for the world’s poor. Never before in the history of the world had there been such a wellspring of popular support for governments making decisions in favour of the poor, diverting cash and resources to help those in need, changing trade laws to balance things out. Millions upon millions of people around the world were calling for it, huge numbers of politicians were calling for it. Even mad right wing american jihadists like Pat Robertson were on-side (!!), but still those sad twisted old men of the G8 sat round the table in Gleneagles, in their opulence and grandeur and bollocksed the whole thing up. Their pledges fell woefully short, and then they even undid a lot of that. It was disgusting, sickening and saddening that such an opportunity had been wasted. Bono and Bob Geldof had done an amazing job of getting the campaign off the ground, from their involvement in the commission for Africa, and DATA, through to organising Live8, but they bottled it when the announcement was made, took the encouraging words one step too far and declared the Gleneagles bullshit to be a triumph. I’m guessing they aren’t too happy with where it’s gone. The follow up at the World Trade Talks in November was equally shit. A tragedy on a scale that all the terrorists in the world couldn’t hope to achieve.

The week of Live8 and the G8 was a busy one, given that it was also the week of two other disasters – firstly London getting the Olympics (another monumental waste of money which will leave the PPP funding bodies rubbing their grubby hands in glee), and then the London bombing. The bombing had begun to feel like an inevitability for a while – there was no way that the huge disquiet amongst the world’s muslim population about the Iraqi occupation and the continued support for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land was going to go unmarked in the UK. And finally it did, four huge bombs, three on the underground, one on a bus, quite a few people dead (though not as many as lost their lives in Iraq that weekend… that didn’t make the world news). A tragedy, but one that the government still refuse to admit was linked to the situation in the middle east. Stupid stupid fools.

But at the end of the year, some great news, perhaps the first great news in british life for a long time – registered civil partnerships for Gay couples. Finally gay people can get married (no, I really don’t care if you don’t want to call it a marriage or a wedding – it is, and that’s great.)

And the media spectacle of the year was certainly George Galloway in front of the US senate committee, absolutely ripping them apart. The most damning indictment of the Bush administrations lies and coverup in Iraq, and right there in the heart of the beast. Genius! Galloway can be a bit of a bellend, and his campaign in the General Election (ah yes, we had one of those – what a non-event that was) was horrible and divisive, but on that one day in the Senate, he ruled the world.

oh, media event of the year joint first was Harold Pinter’s nobel prize acceptance speech – another damning destruction of the history of US foreign military intervention.

What else? A few noteable partings – we lost the great Ronnie Barker, one of the finest comic actors and writers Britain has ever produced; Mo Mowlam, one of the few politicians of conviction we still had; Rosa Parks, the unwitting god-mother of the civil rights movement in the US; Andrea Dworkin feminist writer and thinker.

And on a personal level, the death of Eric Roche was a terribly sad loss – a huge talent and dear friend who has featured in this blog more than almost anyone else. Playing at the tribute gig to him on what would have been his birthday was a huge honour.

Blogwise, it’s been my most bloggingest year ever – over 510 posts this year, over 450 visitors a day (??? I’m sure there’s a mistake there somewhere…) and the demise of being able to tell people what I’ve been up to – ‘so, steve, what have you been up to?’ ‘well, I had a gig th….’ ‘yeah I read about that’ ‘oh, well I went out to see a…’ ‘ah yes, that film, read your review of that’ ‘THEN WHY DID YOU ASK???’

Thanks for reading, for emailing for commenting on the blog, and particularly thanks if you’ve been buying CDs and t-shirts, coming to gigs, spreading the word, and generally helping me pay the bills this year. Love you lots! x

Soundtrack – The The, ’45 RPM – the singles’.

'sorry mate, your names not on the list'

I was just sending a message to my mailing list about a gig this weekend (Sunday night in Haverhill, near Cambridge, see gigs page for details), and thought I’d big up the mailing list here, as some of you may not be on it, and may not have thought to join it, thinking I post all the news here…

…well I don’t, so if you want to keep up with gig dates, cd news etc. please head over to the mailing list signup page – there you can join the ordinary mailing list, the street team mailing list or the Recycle Collective list. Or sign up for all three – you won’t get duplicates of messages if I happen to send them to more than one list (PHPlist is clever like that).

The street team, in case you were unaware, are a lovely bunch of people who help me to spread the word about what I do – they post on internet message boards, dish out flyers, put up posters and in some cases promote gigs! They’re a vital part of the stevie-plan for world domination, and I appreciate bigly all they do.

So go on, sign up now!

Soundtrack – Prefab Sprout, ‘Steve McQueen’.

Improv inspiration

Last night’s gig made for a fantastic companion piece to the night before… it’s a shame nobody else was able to be at both!

The gig was an improv performance, featuring music, dance and video projections. The musicians were me, Rowland Sutherland on flute, Roger Goula on guitar and loopage, and the organiser, singer Filomena Campus.

The evening started with me playing a low droning loop as people were coming in the door, which served to punctuate the beginning of the gig really well, as it stopped just as the first bit of poetry was read (a TS Eliot poem), from which I surreptitiously sampled the line ‘Before the beginning and after the end. All all is always now’ – which I then used to feed into the rest of my opening solo piece. So end of poem, into a 5 or so minute improv of me, and I was then joined by a dancer, Sofie Arstall, who was responding to what I was doing, and to the projections that were happening on the wall behind me (I’m told they were amazing).

Filomena joined us, and her voice was fed into the sample collage of my stuff and the TS Eliot line. All in all, a fab lil’ improv.

following that Roger and Rowland played a duet – both are great players. in these kind of situations Roger and I think quite similarly, in that we juxtapose weird noises with tonal elements – he created a mad loop of heavily processed and mangled guitar scrapes and squeaks, and then added a lovely jazzy chordal thing over the top, while Rowland played some of the most amazing flute work I’ve ever heard, using a whole load of extended techniques I’d not really come across before. Lovely stuffs.

Roger and I were then both employed to loop a load of noise from the audience as part of the next guided improv, which errupted into a (staged) argument amongst a load of audience members (this again was looped and processed), which blended into another improv piece…

I love gigs like this – I always come away with new ideas for places to go, musically. It’s also really unusual to do gigs where I don’t get to connect with the audience by chatting with them as well. It’s got to the point where the chat is as much a part of allowing the audience to know what I’m about as the playing is, so going back to just playing is another interesting challenge, and a good one.

Hopefully we’ll get to do all of this again soon – Roger is going to be at the Recycle Collective in March, and I’m sure Filomena will be involved very soon too – maybe I’ll do a trio gig with her and Rowland at some point…

SoundtrackBill Frisell, ‘East/West’.

And so the onslaught begins…

When I first announced that I was starting a monthly gig night with the Recycle Collective, the mighty Stig warned me that I should expect a hail of demos and requests to play at the gig.

‘no’ says I, ‘it’s not that kind of gig, people will realise and I’m not putting an address on the website for people to submit demos’.

But Stig was right. Today I got two emails from people wanting to play. I don’t mind getting them, but it’s an ominous precedent, in that I really don’t have time to start trawling through MP3s or listening to CDs to find stuff. And as I said to Stig, it’s not that kind of gig.

So, if you’re reading this thinking about sending something in, here’s the scoop –

– The musical spectrum of the gig is more about an approach than a style – the looping/improvised/chiilled nature of it lends itself to unusual solo performers, loopists and interesting improvisors. If you’re a straight down the line singer/songwriter or a jazz quartet, there are other places where what you do are going to work much better.

– if I already know you, especially if we’ve played together, great, ask away, we’ll see if we can sort something out. the likelihood is that I’ll ask you anyway when I get the chance.

– if you decide to email me anyway, please send a link to an MP3, and tell me exactly what you do on stage, what you play and how the set-up works. If I don’t know you, or know of you, already, the chances of me booking you for one of the two main sets on each gig is pretty minimal, and therefor it would just be a 10-15 minute guest-slot in the middle of the gig, with no sound- check etc. I wasn’t planning on adding anything like that at all, but having Jeff Taylor come and do his thing on Wednesday was so sublimely wonderful that it’s made me want to use the gig to showcase people that I think are amazing. If I just quite like what you do, I won’t book it. Nothing personal, it’s just that I already know enough people who are really good, and even then I’m only going to book the ones that are amazing. This isn’t an ‘open mic’ slot at all. This is about me trying to use the evening to showcase huge talent (like Trip/Jeff etc.)

If you’re just looking for a singer/songwriter gig, your best bet in London is The Bedford .- Tony Moore who runs it is a tireless campaigner for great acoustic music and songwriting in London, and runs nights that are purely devoted to multiple act lineups.

Please don’t take it as a slight on what you do – I’ve got a pretty precise vision for the evening (if it continues beyond March at all – a lot depends on how many people turn up in Jan/Feb!), and I’ve said it before but it bears repeating that I’VE NO DESIRE TO BECOME A PROMOTER – I book my own gigs, I put on gigs that give me the chance to play interesting music with interesting people to interesting audiences, and if in doing that I can provide a space for massively talented people to do their thing too, that’s magic.

I guess the best thing you could possibly do is come along to one of the nights, and say hi. If you bring a load of friends with you, I’ll certainly be feeling very positively disposed towards you! 🙂

SoundtrackChris Tarry, ‘Project 33’ (V. talented Canadian bassist living in NYC)

Last night's gig

Last night was the first of the Recycle Collective gigs. Usual Darbucka affair WRT to getting there, setting up, dealing with people who are ‘just there to eat’ etc. But all fine.

Music was great – Trip played a fabulous set, as always, and went down supremely well. The sound was great (well, except an earth hum off his bass whenever he wasn’t touching the strings, which was less than ideal…) and his between song banter was funny and engaging too. Good stuff.

After him, our first surprise guest of the series – JazzShark had sent me a link a week or so ago to a guy she’d seen live, called Jeff Taylor – the MP3s on his MySpace page were amazing. a few days later another message arrives from La Shark that Jeff is coming to London. So we exchange emails, meet up for lunch on Monday, and he says he’s coming to the gig, so I suggest he brings his guitar.

He did, and so I got him to play three songs, which were fantastic. A great performer/vocalist/guitarist/songwriter. The whole thing. He really ought to be huge. I’m sure he will be, and the select audience from Darbucka will be able to see that they saw him first.

Then onto Theo and I – we played a mixture of the tunes from Open Spaces and some improvised stuff, including a marvellous improv thing with Jeff on beatbox/vox/weird noises. the sad part of all this (sorry, guys) is that once again, the minidisc has let me down and is blank. It might be that it was still blank from the last time I tried to record a gig, and I’d not formatted the disc. either way, I’ve once again missed out on documenting some marvellous music. Bollocks. It’s getting to be something of a frustration with me – I’ve not been able to record a live gig for lord knows how long, and would really like a document of how I’m playing these tunes now (and I really ought to have had a copy of the Edinburgh show!) I need to come up with a fool proof way of doing it. If I had a roadie I’d get a rack-mountable minidisc deck wired into the rack so I could just put a disc in and go, but I just haven’t got the car space or the muscles to carry it.

So all in all, a great night’s music. The only disappointment was the size of the crowd, which was surprisingly small. I guess there are a few factors, like the Jazz Festival being on, and it not being that long since my last Darbucka gig, but it’s been well publicised… It seems like Theo and I generally struggle to pull a good crowd in London, which is frustrating, as it’s probably the most rewarding musical collaboration I’ve ever been involved in. He does fine if he’s playing with his quartet, and I do fine if I’m playing solo, but together it doesn’t seem to get the peoples in.

The next Recycle gig definitely needs to be bigger. I know these things are meant to grow, but still…

Anyway, it was a fab night, those that were there seemed to love it, Trip got to play London and went down a storm, and we all got to hear Jeff Taylor in a setting that we’ll remember for a long time.

Today, Trip and I are down at the ACM in Guildford for another clinic/masterclass thingie, which will be a lot of fun – it’s a great school, and is always good to go and play for the students there. Hopefully we’ll leave them with something quality to take away.

SoundtrackBill Frisell, ‘East/West’ (new double live album from my favourite guitar player – great stuff, a return to form)

nice news

this morning I got an email from not-at-all-evil Dan, saying that ‘For the Love Of Open Spaces’, my duet CD with Theo Travis, is included in the new edition of the Penguin Guide To Jazz On CD.

Surely not? Aha, Amazon has a searchable book feature, so I head over there. Do a text search on me, and sure enough there’s an entry for it. Can I read it? Er no, for some reason Amazon tells me I’m not allowed to. So It’s over to The Cheat and his wikkid skillz to get a copy.

He then furnishes me with a JPG of said review, which reads thusly –

***(*) For The Love Of Open Spaces
Pillow Mountain PMR 0014 Travis; Steve Lawson (b). 7/03.

Lusciously beautiful without descending into New Age clap-trap, the music here walks an awkward line with great confidence. Both musicians make extensive use of loop technology (although, as they proudly say, no synths or midi-triggered sounds), and the result is a series of mood poems crafted with skill and a capacious melodic bent. Lawson gets a bit rocky here and there and maybe a couple of the pieces stat around a little too long, but in what is often a threadbare genre they’ve done very well.

How nice is that? ‘Luciously Beautiful’ is a fab quote for posters etc. and 3 1/2 stars is v. good for the Guide (they are, quite rightly, very precious about 4 and 5 star reviews).

And it times very nicely with the recycle collective gig that we’ve got coming up on Nov 16th – all the more reason for you to book that baby-sitter now and come along to the gig!

One thing to improve your life…

I occasionally get asked by students what the most important skill I’ve learned since I left college and went professional as a musician is. The answer often surprises them – learning to touch-type. I can’t even begin to imagine how long it would take me to do all my admin/web/email/etc. stuff if I couldn’t touch-type. Even keeping a blog would be unfeasible given the length of time it was take to get any thoughts down on the page.

The method I used was Mavis Beacon’s typing course – it’s only $20, and will save you that much in work-hours in the first three days after you’ve finished the course.

Go on, learn to type properly!

Soundtrack – listening through a load of the old duet sessions that inspired the idea for the Recycle Collective – earlier on it was stuff with BJ Cole, now it’s stuff with Andrew Booker.