celebrating two old guys…

Yesterday I went to visit my grandparents – my Grandad is 93, and apart from his memory being really unreliable, he’s in remarkable shape for a guy his age. Last week he tripped over some broken tarmac while on holiday in Devon and damaged his hip. Had three days in hospital, couldn’t walk when he came out. Fastforward a week and he’s up and about on a zimmer frame, which is pretty impressive for a 93 year old body. I think part of it is forgetting that he’s ill…!

Anyway, he’s a fantastic old bloke, full of wonderful stories from his youth – I found out not that long ago that he was an avid record collector in his younger days, which must be where I get it from. I’m going to have to visit him soon armed with a minidisc recorder and get some of his great stories down for history. Aural history is an amazing thing… or do I mean Oral history? Do you speak it or listen to it? hmmmm. Anyway, rock on, grandad, you’re a star! Much credit must also go to my step-nan, Margaret, who’s one of the most amazing women I know – she’s well into her 80s, and looks after the old man incredibly well. She’s a retired nurse, and knows loads about most things. She’ll feed you til you burst. I’m very lucky to have two such marvellous grandparents…

Who’s the other old guy? Well, today is the aged feline’s birthday! He’s 18, which is in cat years about the same age as my grandad! He too is in remarkable shape for his age, and seems to be getting fitter over the last year not worse. His old joints are a bit creaky, and lying down is a bit harder than it used to be, but he’s not having any of those fits he was having anymore, and is still the most loveable snuggly little chap in the whole world. If you have a look at the sleeve to Not Dancing For Chicken, there’s a piccie of him inside (which is as good a reason to buy a CD as there has ever been…) Anyway, much birthday snuggling for The Aged Feline today – would love to give him lots of quality snacks, but he’s on a renal diet so we’ve got to be v. careful what we give him… if he’s lucky, he’ll get a few of his faves later – mushroom pate, cucumber and a little bit of red pepper…

What else is going on? ah yes, was recording today with BJ Cole, pedal steel genius – BJ’s a very nice bloke, and an awesome musician. The challenge of combining two such full sounds as my bass sound and BJ’s steel is a fascinating one, and one that we’re getting the hang of – some of the stuff we recorded today is fab!

Also been mixing the tracks for my album with Theo Travis this week. that’s the mixing this week, not the album. that won’t be out til september at the earliest. But it’ll be worth the wait – it’s gonna be fab!

Anything else of note this week? Lunch with Jam on Tuesday was class – he’s a comedy writer, and all round top bloke. Very funny (obviously), and a good friend. Sitting in a cafe in soho in the sunshine with jam is a pretty near perfect way to spend a tuesday afternoon.

soundtrack – right now, James Taylor, ‘October Road’ – this was lent to a friend for MONTHS, but I finally got it back, and it won’t be leaving the CD player for a while. It’s a work of god-like genius. Other than that, Charlie Hunter, ‘Return Of The Candyman’; Daft Punk, ‘Homework’; Simeon Harris, ‘Realms Of Elements’ and lots of me and theo!

Gig Sans Frontiers

a telegram about Peter Gabriel’s gig at Wembley

…Ah, Peter Gabriel [stop] At Wembley [stop] With Tony Levin on bass [stop] great sound – best ever at a wembley gig [stop] amazing songs, amazing set [stop] must’ve cost millions [stop] been on my list of must see gigs for years [stop] still on my list of must see gigs for next tour [stop] hope he doesn’t ever [stop]

soundtrack – right now, Moonsung by Sheila Chandra (brilliant), before that Arild Andersen, ‘Molde Concert’; some solo bass mp3s from guys on the solobassnetwork list; Andrew Buckton, ‘Rocket Ship’.

Strongbad the good

Ok, if you’re on broadband (and perhaps even if you’re not, I’ve not tried it on dial-up), get thee to www.homestarrunner.com – some very bizarre and surreal cartoons, but totally addictive, especially strongbad’s emails – one of the characters answers emails from the public… Truly brilliant.

What else? Had another gig last night with Tess Garraway and Joss Peach in Brighton, which was fun. Due to a misunderstanding with the venue, it was a shorter gig that had been planned, but was much fun nontheless, especially as I had a line from Tess’ voice into my loop set up, so could layer up loads of vocal stuff…

Yesterday I received a copy of Andrew Buckton’s new album, Rocket Ship, which is marvellous. It was recorded at the tail-end of last year, with me on bass, jez carr on piano and buck on guitar and voice. Tom Hooper then added some drums and percussion. There’s a fair bit of E-bow and looping from me, providing lots of atmospherics, including one tune where I do loads of looping and SFX, while Jez plays the actual bass line (as has been noted before, Jez is not only a mighty fine pianist, but a stellar bassist too…) The album is fantastic. Really great songs, very personal moving lyrics, and I don’t sound bad on it either… 😉

Hopefully it’ll be available online somewhere before too long.

What else has been happening? Ah yes, yesterday before the gig with Tess, I was recording more stuff with Patrick Wood – if you have a look at the MP3s page, you see there’s a duet track with Patrick. He’s very good, very very good, and we get together every few weeks to make a good noise. More mad loopy stuff, as you’d expect. Will no doubt be releasing a duo album with Patrick at some point. Still editing the stuff I’ve recorded with Theo… there really ought to be lots of this stuff online, but at the moment, I maxxed out on my webspace, so really need to change servers before I get to add any more. Was all set to move to a new host when sarda said he was planning to get a server. So now I’m waiting for that…

Anyway, when it finally happens, you’ll get to hear lots of what I’ve been up to.

Oh, and on the subject of me and Theo, we’ve got a gig at the National Theatre in London on Tuesday 17th from 6-7.30pm. And then on the same day at 9pm, Rick Walker – the percussions that I play with in California – has got a solo gig at The Klinker, so it’s a fine evening for music – well worth coming to see us, grabbing some food, and heading over to Rick’s gigs. I’ll be at both, anyway!

Er, what else? ah yes, Matthias Grob came to stay. Who’s Matthias? He’s the inventor the Echoplex, that rather amazing looping tool that I’ve got four of. And a great musician in his own right. And an all round top bloke. We’d arranged to meet for lunch with a friend of his up town, but he was late, so I had a very nice lunch with Jenny at the ICA, and then Matthias turned up at my place a bit later on. We went for curry. and he gave me a copy of his brand new CD, which is coming out on my label! Yup, Matthias is the first non-me Pillow Mountain Records release. How does that work? for someone who doesn’t like record companies… well, he’s using the name. Doing all the leg-work himself, but using the Pillow Mountain name out of recognition for the fact that our music bears a similar meditative quality I guess. The looping connection, and just that he’s a top bloke. I’m sure people who like what I do will like what he does. So he’s on PMR. It’ll all be official soon, and on the website etc…

Soundtrack – right now, it’s Andrew Buckton’s album ‘Rocket Ship’ (see above) which has been on all day. It’s great. you need to get it when it’s available. Yesterday I was listening to the new album from Andy Sheppard and John Parricelli, ‘PS’, which is great – guitar and sax duets, some looping/processing from John. All good. Recommended.

Sometimes we just don't know we're born…

A few days ago I commented on the passing of Rana Ross – a fabulous bassist and larger than life character from LA, who I’d met at the NAMM show a couple of years ago, and stayed in email contact with…

This was posted to TBL (a bass discussion list) – an open letter from her husband about Rana – time to sit back and count blessings, methinks…

“To give you an idea of what she overcame over the years we were married on
Sept 8th, 1988 but – before she would allow me to marry her – she went to
have an AIDS test done. She grew up in Brooklyn, NY and spent a wild time
(sex, drugs and rock & roll) during the late 70’s/early 80’s. She stopped
the wild side around 1982 but it was too late. The HIV test came back
positive in 1988 and at that time it was a death sentence with no drugs
available to treat the disease.

“I talked her into marrying me anyway, because it’s the person that you love,
not the disease. I was and remain HIV negative, and in fact never had any
fear of contracting the virus from her – can’t explain it, but somehow I
knew that she would never pass it to me.

“The medications that eventually came out over the years worked for her, but
it was like taking chemo-therapy year after year. One result was the erosion
of the sheaths that cover the nerves in her feet and hands, developing into
a diabetic-like peripheral neuropathy. She described it as feeling like
someone has driven red hot nails into her feet and sent her walking across
hot coals. How she performed and danced on stage I’ll never know, but she
never missed a step. Know one knew that many times I literally had to carry
her to the car from the pain, but she would never allow this to interfere
with her career or jeopardize any band’s performance. She was amazing like
that – and how she played when her hands were so numb that she couldn’t feel
the strings I’ll never understand, but she did it and only very very rarely
missed a note. She was a consummate performer.

“Over the last 7 years she has been in and out of various hospitals over 50
times, but never once did she miss a performance, regardless of how ill she
felt.

“Last year we found out that she had Hep C, which caused the cirrhosis of the
liver that eventually killed her. Basically, the decomposed liver allowed
blood to back up into the inflowing veins, which caused bleeding in the
abdomen and stomach. Unknown to us she was bleeding internally over the
weekend and collapsed on Monday. She was taken to the hospital ER where she
coded, but they brought her back to life – comatose. That was always her
biggest fear, to be on life support.

“I went against her wishes and told the doctors to do everything they could
to keep her alive so that her family, who are all on the east coast, time to
get out here to Los Angeles. I felt that her mother had to have a chance to
say goodbye to her daughter, there was no way I was going to not allow that
to happen.

“She had several cardiac and pulmonary arrests, the last one very severe.
That was the day I had to insist that she be taken off life support. She
passed easily, opening her eyes and looking at everyone in the room and
squeezing the hands of those holding onto her and simply stopped breathing.
For the first time in months she looked peaceful. No more pain, hospitals,
doctors, needles, medication. It was simply time for her to rest. She had
told me many times over the last few months that she was tired of fighting
and being in constant pain, and that the only reason she was fighting and
staying with us was she was afraid to leave me alone. Her body started to
shut down after I held her for hours, telling her over and over that I love
her and if she wants to fight I’ll be right along side her all the way but
that I know she’s tired and that I’ll be OK if she wants to stop the battle.
I think I finally got through to her, convinced her that I’d be OK and
please not to stay in pain for me. I told her it’s OK to just let go, and
her body started to shut down – kidneys, etc.

“I hope she gets the long rest that she deserves so much. But my God, I miss
her so much my bones ache.

Peace,
John Ross”

And here’s me feeling put upon for having to practice each day…

Weapon Of Mouse Destruction

Just been up to see my mum for a few days – very nice it was too. My mum’s cat is called Gizmo. Well, technically, he’s my brother’s cat, but he’s moved out, and the cat stayed… anyway, Gizzy is the cutest friendliest cuddliest little beasty on the planet… so long as you’re human. If you happen to be any kind of warm blooded furry or feathered thing, and smaller than a tiger, she views you as potential dinner. Mice, rats, voles, moles, rabbits, hares, pheasants, and all manner of garden birds. She’s lethal. A one-feline environmental disaster area. How can one so seemingly cute be such a cold-blooded killer?? Guess the various smiling faces telling us about how they plan to rid the world of evil, whilst perpetrating muchos evil of their own have been taking lessons… Indeed, she’s a veritable Weapon Of Mouse Destruction…

(BTW, Tonight there’s a round-the-world candle-lit vigil for Peace, called for by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Check and see if a church near you is involved and head along there…)

Anyway, whilst in Berwick, managed to catch up with Heath – first known as ‘the boy next door’ when we first moved to Berwick (1986), soon became the drummer in the first band I was in (called various things, I think Mother’s Legs was the longest lasting name, though we never did a gig.) Heath then went to the same college as me, and now works in a theatre just north of London. He’s a very nice bloke, and it was a lovely surprise that he was ‘home’ at the same time as me…

Got a couple of days in the studio this week, with Chris Bowater (gospel singer/worship leader guy from Lincoln that I used to do loads of gigs with) – very much looking forward to that. Playing with Chris was always a fun challenge – he’s got an amazing sense of harmony, and is a great piano player. Other than that, it’s lots of teaching, and getting to grips with Fruity Loops – been programming drum beats, and learning how to automate effects changes and mutes etc… all good stuff…

Hang on, forgot to mention rather fabulous and eventful gig last Tuesday night – I was playing at Delicattesen in Reading (see link on left hand side), with Julie Lee (who I played at Greenbelt with last year), and with Pierce Pettis (who I’d not played with before, but who is marvellous) – I was only doing a couple of songs with each of them… That all went well, but half way through Pierce’s set, some poor bloke collapsed, fell off his chair and had a fit! Didn’t look like Epilepsy, and he came out of it pretty quick. We sat him up, and tried to talk to him, but he was still pretty out of it, and couldn’t stand up to leave the room. So we called an ambulance which arrived in LESS THAN A MINUTE!!! – you can say what you want about the national health service, but that’s what I call speedy response!! They took him in for observation, but the medics said he was in no immediate danger. Anyway, if by some quirk of fate you’re reading this, Mr-Looks-Like-Kenny-Rogers-And-Falls-Over-At-Gigs, I hope you’re feeling much better…

Aside from that it was a stunning night’s music – same line up as the 12 Bar Club gig the week before – Julie and Pierce, with Brian Houston on before them. All three are seriously world-class headline act stock, and if you get any chance at all to see them, jump at it!

One of the best things about the evening was Pierce’s between song banter, which is excellent – very very funny indeed.

so here’s my top 5 banterers (in no particular order)

  • Pierce Pettis
  • Michael Manring
  • Ben Castle
  • Martyn Joseph
  • Mo Foster

In fact, Mo’s stories are so good, he’s written a book – 17 Watts – full of his marvellous rock ‘n’ roll anecdotes, which is required reading for anyone with an interest in the birth of rock ‘n’ roll in the UK, and the growth of the music industry here through the 60s and 70s…

Soundtrack – currently, listening to more of the stuff by me and theo (hopefully the street-teamers will have some of this to listen to soon…), and whilst away, the soundtrack was Michael Franti – ‘Songs From The Front Porch’, Scritti Politti – ‘Cupid and Psyche’, Francis Dunnery ‘Man’, Lifehouse ‘Stanley Climbfall’, ‘Pierce Pettis ‘Everything Matters’ and ‘Making Light Of It’, and Juliet Turner – ‘Burn The Black Suit’ – all very fine stuff. The drive home from Berwick was mostly soundtracked by Radio 4 (always fun to learn new stuff just by sticking the radio on – doesn’t happen too often with the TV), and then a documentary about Elvis Costello, ensuring that sometime this evening ‘Armed Forces’ will go on…

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.

Improv…

I’m feeling rather lucky at the moment – Tuesday night, lovely Jez came round, went out for a curry, then had a jam for an hour… playing music with Jez is always a treat – he’s a very very musical chap, great listener, and exceedingly creative improviser (as those of you who have conversations will no doubt be aware) – the kind of stuff we play changes depending on our mood, the instrument (normally he’s playing an electric piano, here he was playing a real one), the room, whether I’m looping or not (I wasn’t), and whatever we’ve both been playing recently. So it really is very conversational, and quite revealing as to how we’re feeling…

Then, last night was the radio broadcast for LCR, which included lots of duo improv with Antoine Farfad – a bassist who was using a V-Bass processor to get some great synth sounds. More improv, very different context, and with someone I’d never met before let alone played with. So the whole thing was very different from the jez setting, but just as rewarding. Antoine’s playing was marvellous – something you’ll be able to check out next week when the show gets archived at the radio station website. I’ll add a link as soon as it’s there…

Then, this Sunday, I’m off to Brighton to play with Tess Garroway (see gigs page for details) – a jazz singer with a heavily improvisational slant. Just got a CD of her stuff yesterday which is excellent (listening to it right now). What fun – all this improv is great for developing listening skills, new approaches, learning new ideas, and finding new contexts for stuff that I already do…

What fun!

What else has been happening? er, lots of teaching, which has been great – new students, old students, lots of very interesting people with a desire to learn.

Got the new copy of Q through… very disappointing. Christina Aguilera on the cover? Q? huh? not good. And, in their 50 most outrageous people in rock article, GG Allin doesn’t get a look-in. And frankly, if there were a more outrageous person in the music industry, they’d probably be dead by now… GG made Marilyn Manson look like Cliff… a true nutter, very sad case, and now dead, which wasn’t a surprise to anyone. Supposedly there’s a documentary about him somewhere, but I’m not sure I’d have the stomach to watch it… dark stuff…

but I digress.

So today – teaching, and a workshop for a church band down in Kent tonight, which should be a lot of fun.

Soundtrack – lots of Mike Watt, mainly ‘Ball-Hog Or Tug Boat?’, which is marvellous. Also, this Tess Garroway CD, which is a mixture of live and studio stuff, and is very good. what else? ah, Lewis Taylor’s first album, which is unbelieveably good. Amazing. Genius.

ah, yet more reviews and accolades! :o)

…did I mention that there’s a rather nice review of ‘Not Dancing…’ in the ‘Bass Player Recommends’ section of this month’s Bass Player magazine? well, I have now – and it’s rather good. I’ll get it typed up soon, and add it to the site…

I’ve also just added another review to the archive, this time from Aural Innovations – ostensibly a space rock site, but it’s a bit broader than that, with some very interesting stuff on it. And I also made it into their end of year best of list – don’t believe me? see for yourself!

I’ve just posted all this info to the ‘news’ page as well – why have I still got this and the news page? er, good question – I guess some people wouldn’t want to wade through all the crap that I write on here just to get the 2% of what I write that actually relates to music (weird though such a thought may seem to you and I), so it’s worth having a more coherent news bit I guess… All those stats on how people engage with websites and how long they stay on them and what leads them to delve deeper etc. are very scary – have I got it all wrong? are they running away in droves, wondering what on earth a ‘blog’ is… do I need a flash intro? Is that really irritating pop-up that invites you to join the mailing list a waste of space, even though my mailing list is growing three times as fast since I added it? all important questions methinks…

anyway, a few hours ago I was planning to do some house work. Then I got sidetracked by… er, well nothing to be honest. Just sitting around, reading articles from www.axisofjustice.org and talkbass.com.

So anyway, on with the tidying – what shall I listen to? er, how about… ah, here we go – ‘Jordan The Comeback’ by Prefab Sprout… excellent.

Delayed Gratification…

…one of the central themes of Scott Peck’s ‘The Road Less Travelled’, also part of the theme of today’s sermon in church (can anything that Malcom Doney says be regarded as a sermon? more dry standup routine with a message, I guess…)… anyway, good stuff, reminded me to stop twatting about, and I came home and managed to clear the backlog of 616 emails that had been sat in my inbox since the L42 tour!!!!

Went to an outstanding gig last night (saturday night) – Ben Castle Quartet at the 606 club – Mark Edwards on Piano, Tim Harries on Bass, and Winston Clifford on drums… breath-taking, energising life-affirming stuff. And what’s more, Tim was playing a BC Rich ‘Beast’ bass – like he was straight out of Spinal Tap or Slipnot – and it rocked!! I’ve not been so ‘involved’ in watching a band for a long time. simply amazing. If this band are playing anywhere within 100 miles of you, you miss them at your peril. Ben’s a stunning, and extremely confident sax player, and there’s no weak link in the band – the rhythm section were storming, driving everything forward like the over-used metaphorical juggernaught. ooh, almost too good!! Makes me want to play…

On a much less positive note, the aged feline had a fit this evening – we’re not sure if it was a stroke or what, but it was clearly terrifying for him, and pretty damned frightening for us too. He was back to as close to normal as can be expected in an hour or so, but is still a little shakey on his pins… please pray for the little fella…

Soundtrack – in the car, I’ve been listening to a great compliation called ‘Our Friends Electric’, which is all early 80s synth stuff, from Ultravox to Belouis Some to The Buggles. Marvellous. And here at home, I’ve had Ben Castle’s ‘Four From The Madding Crowd’, which is excellent, followed by Fleetwood Mac ‘Rumours’ – which, I’m perhaps a little ashamed to say, is one of my guilty pleasures – what a great album! It’s amazing what two divorces and an adulterous affair can do for the creativity of a band! Go Your Own Way really does send shivers down my spine…

right, to bed…