Happy New Year!

Oh yes, it’s 2004. Another year over a new one just begun, as a songwriter no longer at the top of his game and desparately in need of his old writing partner once wrote.

So out with the old and in the new, hopefully. Or maybe it’ll just be ‘what goes around comes around’. Who knows.

I’m hoping for the usual crap – more time to read, more gigs, more CD sales, less big countries blowing up small countries, less reality TV, more properly researched documentaries, more decent comedies on TV, more going to the cinema, more exercise (!!), more journies on public transport, less using the car, more bass practice, less time wasted online… yeah yeah, right.

So this afternoon, I had a listen to an album I’ve not heard for a while – ‘Beyond These Shores’ by Iona. This is an album that when I first got it blew my mind, but as I’ve only got it on tape, and the tape is just about worn out, I hadn’t listened to it in ages. However, the small person has got it on CD, I remembered this afternoon. So put it on. and. wow. Unbelievable. Still as good if not better than I remember it. Great songs, amazing playing, fantastic production, moving lyrics (it’s a sort of concept album on the legend of St Brendan sailing from Ireland to America a few hundred years before Columbus…) – truly wonderful. Seriously, it’s great, get it.

It’s kind of apt at the start of a new year to be listening to an album about a journey into the unknown – not that stepping over into 2004 is like sailing the atlantic in medieval times – after all it’s just another day in ‘actual’ terms – but new year is a rite of passage, giving us a chance to pause, take stock, rethink, set some goals, change the way we do things, and also chops the past into convenient chunks for us to assess whether they were good or bad.

2003 was very different for me musically than 2002 – ’02 was the year I did the two big tours with Level 42 and The Schizoid Band, but ’03 was a year of fewer gigs but a lot of musical experimenting – loads of new improv settings, gigs with Orphy Robinson, Tess Garraway, Corey Mwamba, Filomena Campus, Josh Peach, Seb Rochford, Theo Travis, Mano Ventura, Michael Manring, Jez Carr, Harvey Jessop; I’ve also recorded loads of improv stuff this year – most importantly the new album with Theo Travis, but also material with quartets in France and Spain, duets with Matthias Grob, Luca Formentini, BJ Cole and Patrick Wood. Loads of space to develop new ideas, much of which will be launched on anyone who wants to hear it in 2004.

So, here’s to the new year – may all your gigs be well paid and your audiences attentive.

Soundtrack – The Smiths; ‘Louder Than Bombs’; Bill Frisell, ‘The Willies’; Rob Jackson, ‘Wire Wood and Magnets’; Iona, ‘Beyond These Shores’;

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 –

Bush
Blair
Blunkett
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!

Christmas arrives early

in my house, with the arrival of my new bass.

here she is –

The spec – Modulus fretted 6 string, carved top (the first bass like this that Modulus have ever made!) semi-hollow, Chechen fingerbaord and top, Mahogany body, Bartolini pickups and (I think) Aguilar circuit. I’ve already strung it up with a set of Elites Flatwounds, which sound amazing on it, and will get a U-Retro preamp put in it ASAP (same as the one in my fretless 6 string).

Suffice to say, it’s an unbelievably beautiful bass, sounds incredible, is a dream to play and I’m really excited about the musical possibilities it offers me!

Sadly my pictures don’t do the beauty of the craftsmanship proper justice – I’ll get some better pix taken ASAP…

Soundtrack – still Rob Jackson

A trip back in time…

Saturday night, The Cheat and I went to see Level 42 in Guildford, which was obviously a very different trip down memory lane than it was for the people who’d just come to hear some great pop tunes from their childhood… It was great to catch up with the guys in the band and crew, and to say hi to a few people in the audience who remembered me from the support slot last year (and to be refered to as ‘Chicken Man’… which was slightly unnerving and flattering at the same time… perhaps I need a feathered coat instead of the furry one… :o)

Anyway, it all brought back lots of fine memories, and the band played really well – slightly different set list from last year, with some really nice unexpected additions to the set list. Didn’t get home til the early hours of sunday morning.

Sunday was fun – one of the tunes from ‘Open Spaces’ was used as a musical interlude in part of the St Luke’s service, and then last night I spent a few fun hours catching up with David Torn – a very busy chap, and astonishing musician who’s playing around England this week with Tim Berne, so I’m going to three of the gigs – London, OXford and Birmingham.

And today, the new dyson arrived… :o) Ahh, domestic bliss. Took me a while to figure out how to get it working properly (what? programming effects units and operating four loopers at once I can handle, using a vacuum cleaner is a whole other world…) but once I did, we were away!

And now I’m waiting for a BT engineer to arrive, and while I’m doing that I’m listening to The Late Junction on BBC Radio 3, who last week played Flutter from ‘For The Love Of Open Spaces’ – fantastic! The Late Junction is a very very cool and very eclectic show, which I listen to a lot anyway, so getting airplay there is marvellous. you can hear an archive of the show – it’s the wednesday show in the ‘listen on demand’ archive, and you can see the playlist here – if you do listen to it, please email them and tell them how much you enjoyed hearing us on the radio!

so now I’m going to get on with mixing some of hte tracks from the Italian sessions of a few months ago…

Soundtrack – right now, The Late Junction. before that more of Rob Jackson, and John McLaughlin, ‘Que Alegria’.

Boo!!!! …no, really, I enjoyed it…

…I was just saying your name!!!

Last night went to see Boo Hewerdine play. You’ve probably not heard Boo play, but you’ll have more than likely heard his songs, him having written for Eddie Reader, KD Lang and others. I saw him play at Greenbelt this year, and really enjoyed it, and as the gig was part of Delicatessen, organised by sarda and the cheat, then I had to go. Add to that the presence of Rob Jackson, looping guitarist and very nice bloke, and you’ve got yourself a great evening.

Airstar opened the evening – it’s always odd watching them, having played with them before, but nice to hear the songs, which are really strong, and to see the cheat doing a remarkable unwitting impersonation of paul field

Then Boo came on – somewhere in a parallel universe, Boo’s old band, The Bible, are hailed as the savours of itellegent pop and selling hundreds of thousands of records, while Paddy McAloon is out touring arts centres playing gloriously miserable songs to 90 enthralled punters who feel like their in some secret society for knowing who he is…

…in this universe, it’s clearly the other way round. Boo’s between song banter is hilarious and provides the perfect counter-weight to his miserable unlucky-in-life songs. Rob Jackson’s guitar playing is a thing of great beauty and wonder, and fortunately Boo gets this and gives him some room to loop and layer is Frisell-esque Telecaster loveliness through a few of the tunes. And Rosalie Deighton’s BVs are a little quiet, but add yet another layer to a glorious live sound.

So now I’m sat listening to Rob’s album ‘Wire, Wood and Magnets’, and it’s fantastic – really really lovely. The missing link between Frisell’s country exploits and Phil Keaggy’s acoustic instrumentals. Great sounds, great playing, and some exquisite tunes. Hopefully Rob and I will be recording something or other together soon, so watch this space. We’re also thinking of doing a gig or two – maybe theo and I, with Rob as well… lots of possibilities, but for now, go and buy his CD – there are lots of downloads on his website, so have a listen, then get it. you can buy Rob’s CD at the Burning Shed shop, which also happens to stock loads of other really really cool music – lots of Theo Travis’ other albums (start with Heart Of The Sun, it’s a masterpiece), NoMan (another great miserable adult pop band), and Peter Chilver’s albums (soundscape stuff, lots of fine bass work and a very silly sense of humour just beneath the surface).

Soundtrack Rob Jackson’s album’s just finished, and I’m now listening to Boo’s live album.

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’.