Greenbelt round-up…

So Greenbelt – another fab weekend. This year’s them was ‘Heaven In Ordinary’ – I didn’t like it when they suggested it last year, but it’s what Greenbelt is, an ordinary world full of heavenly loveliness. At least, it is for those of us who’ve been going there for years and know a million people (bit tougher for those peeps who are there for the first time and spend the weekend meeting a million new peoples…)

Anyway, we got there thursday evening, set up the tent.

Friday was spent catching up with friends and getting ready for the first gig of the weekend that both Lo. and I were playing at – a mainstage set with Sarah Masen. The first nice surprise was how well bands are looked after on mainstage – lots of lovely roadies and stage managers sorting everything out. Good peoples. The set went really well – was a whole lot of fun, and the crowd was HUGE for a first-band-on. Sarah sang beautifully. All good nothing bad.

The best thing about that was that we then had the rest of the night off, and were able to see a bit of Over The Rhine, and then all of Billy Bragg’s set. He was, as expected, outstanding. Funny, engaging, moving, all good things. Couple of great new songs, fab versions of old songs. He just confirmed why he’s one of my favourite live acts in the whole world, and one of my favourite guitarists too.

Onto Saturday, which started as Friday ended, with Billy Bragg, doing a talk about the campaign for a British Bill of Rights. Interesting stuff, if not without some unanswered questions (especially his attachment to the notion of a new inclusive english national pride to replace the cynical racist nastiness of the BN/P et al.)

Anyway, that was great, fascinating stuff. Following that was The Rising – Martyn Joseph’s songwriters in the round session that he does every year – fascinating stuff as usual, with BB, Amy Wadge and the bloke from Willard Grant…

After that much mellowness ensued, hanging with friends, eating lovely food, until it was time to get ready for a busy evening, firstly my gig with Ric Hordinski and then the Recycle Collective. Always a highlight of Greenbelt for me, the RC gig was a blinder, featuring me, Lo, Ric, Andrea Hazell and Patrick Wood. Much lovely music followed, and Patrick in particular was on incredible form. A real triumph.

Sunday was meant to be my mellow day, but after the previous night’s gig, Ric asked if I’d play with him again in the Performance Cafe, and I’m v. glad I did, as it was probably the best gig we did – we rocked! Great reaction from the Performance Cafe crowd too.

After that I was supposed to be compering but managed to delegate and get some time off for buying fairtrade shoes and hanging out with lovelies again. Got to see Sarah Masen play solo in the Perf. Cafe (aside from a couple of song with the lovely lady vocalistes) and she sounded great, as did Emily Barker who was on before her.

Late nights at GB are spent in the Organic Beer Tent – friendships are made, beer is drunk and the world is put right.

Monday was back to more gigs – I was compering in the Perf. Cafe, and got to introduce one of my highlights of the weekend – Nizar Al-Issa (though I got his name wrong on the intro – sorry, Nizar!) – he’s a singer and oud player, and a really great musician. Beautiful haunting music.

After him was Lo and I doing our main duo gig, playing to a nice full tent of peoples, and we played pretty well. Lo’s piano songs being especially great.

after that I got to see another one of my highlights – Beth Rowley, a fantastic singer with an amazing band (it helps that her guitarist and drummer, paul and phil wilkinson are two of my favouritest musicians anywhere). Really great stuff.

the evening was spent watching first Iain Archer, then Duke Special on the mainstage – both long time faves of mine, and both on fine form, playing to a huge crowd who loved them muchly. The headliners on the night were of no interest to me, so we headed for the beer tent. After being there an hour, Lo and I got a call asking us to go and play the late night cabaret (playing to about 1500 people)… after 2 pints… hmmm, we did it, and pulled it off. ‘Twas a little ragged, but fine.

And thus ended another great greenbelt. Now it’s time to buy a load of the talks I missed as downloads.

See you there next year!

Back from Greenbelt

Am back from another fantastic Greenbelt Festival. I’m just off out to play a show at The Spitz, so haven’t got time for full rundown now, but a few highlights would include Billy Bragg, Beth Rowley, Nizar Al-Issa, Iain Archer, Duke Special, and of course getting to play with the great people I was playing bass with – Lobelia, Sarah Masen and Ric Hordinski – all lovely peoples and musical geniuses.

More later…

What greeted me on arriving at Greenbelt…

Steve Lawson again

Originally uploaded by jystewart

So I back at Greenbelt; my 16th, I think… We arrived last night, late thanks to some weirdness with a tent that was being posted to us (was sent to arrive Wednesday, ‘arrived’ Thursday but strangely nobody heard the courier ring the bell at the flat, called the courier company, who offered to deliver it on Thursday, no good, what else? can meet driver, called driver, met driver, suddenly we’re 3 hours late leaving London…) – so we set up the tent in the dark. But it’s up.

Anyway, we wander into the contributors area, and find a little display for a virtual greenbelt band – little figurines of musicians that you can compile into your favourite GB line-up… and one of them is me! That’s it in the picture – nice detail with the painted nails… :o)

The gig today with Sarah Masen went great – lots of fun playing on the big big stage. Now we’re settling in for the night, and are off to see Over The Rhine and Billy Bragg. Hurrah!

Learning songs…

this is another one of those things that are part and parcel of the lives of almost every working bassist on the planet – they spend their time learning songs to play with different bands or artists… except me. I very rarely have to learn songs, given that most of the time i’m playing either my own songs, or improvising.

So this week is both a challenge and a joy, as I’m learning not one but two sets to play with singers next week.

First up is Ric Hordinski AKA Monk. Ric and I first met, I think, on a gig we shared in LA about 5 years ago, where we were both playing solo. Since then we’ve stayed in touch, and I’ve been trying to get him over for Greenbelt. Finally, this year, he’s coming to play! hurrah! And in celebration of that, we’ve got a gig at Darbucka next Wednesday. It’s a double bill with Ric’s trio (with me on bass, hence the song learning) and my duo with Lobelia (much more usual Stevie-Fare, with lots of looped bass and vocal loveliness on songs mostly written by Lo.) Gigs in August are notoriously poorly attended (everyone’s on holiday and doin’ the festival thang, y’see), so if you can, PLEASE come out and see us play! It’ll be a fab show, with proper songs ‘n’ everything! :o)

The second set is with Sarah Masen, which is particularly enjoyable as I’ve been a big fan of Sarah’s music since her first album came out in the mid 90s, and love the way she writes both music and words. We’re learning these songs for a mainstage set at Greenbelt on Friday, which i’m rather looking forward to…

So I think I’ve got 16 songs to learn… oh, and a bass ‘n’ voice arrangement of a Bond theme to do before Greenbelt as well, for a more secretive show… more on that after it’s happened!

And for your listening pleasure, here are some Myspace links to hear what’s in store…

Sarah Masen
Me (inc. one tune with Lo.)


Cottage Industry…

I’m in the middle of doing what’s often referred to as a ‘remote session’ – an artist or producer sends a MP3 of a master track to a musician to get that musician to record their parts in their home studio. They then send high res WAV or AIFF files back via FTP or burnt to CD in the post, and everyone’s happy. The benefits of this system are obvious – it means that projects that couldn’t afford to either hire big studios or fly musicians around the world are able to get the musicians they really want to play on it, and the musician doesn’t have to leave home, and has access to all their favourite gear, records into their program of choice and can spend some time experimenting in a way that would probably scare the producer if they were to do it in a studio.

This project (the LeeSun session I referred to here yesterday) is a particularly fun one because I get to play ‘bass’ bass and then do all the other StevieStuff on top – I REALLY enjoy playing normal bass, and am rather good at it, and these days I don’t get asked all that often to play normal bass (this coming month I’ve got a fair bit of it, what with playing with Sarah Masen and Monk at Greenbelt), so to get to do that stuff and then overdub ebow loveliness and crazy big slide guitar parts, tremolo baritone guitar-esque stuff and fretless melodies is a real joy.

The other recent change in what I’ve been doing work-wise has been house concerts – as mentioned before, these are gigs in people’s living rooms, conservatories, gardens, even garages for lovely audiences of music lovers and supporters of the arts. Sometimes is just a gig, sometimes is a garden party, sometimes it’s a charity thing… Whichever, they are really enjoyable shows, pay much better than trying to play in a pub or most little music clubs and invariably result in a better time for audience and musician. All Good Nothing Bad.

It really is a cottage industry – small-scale, mobile, flexible, personal, enjoyable, creative and all built on relationships between real people for the mutual benefit of all concerned. Like the teaching I’ve been doing for so long, it’s my dream job because I get to meet so many fascinating and wonderful people, play great music, learn loads about music myself from the whole process and somehow in the middle of it all actually pay the bills… I am blessed.

I guess I ought to add at this point, that I’m available for all of the above – playing on records, playing in your house, or teaching you bass… just drop me an email and we’ll get the process started on any of those! :o)

But for now, I’ve got LeeSun’s songs to finish off…

Blog in the media…

Got a text message earlier from Rob saying that my website was name-checked in todays Observer Newspaper – intrigued, I bought a copy, to find that in their regular ‘What’s The Word’ feature about weird words, today’s was Gigalicious (a word that crops up here rather often, given that I lead such a gigalicious life…) – and my site was held up as the earliest useage recorded on the net – in 2002, using the phrase ‘it’s been a gigalicious year’ (probably in my year-end round up on the news page, which strictly speaking was my pre-blogging blog…)

Anyway, it’s always nice to get media coverage, even if it is for using made-up words instead of making music.

Sarda sent me a link the other day to – a site that logs whatever you’re listening to in your chosen media player! Rather fun, especially to see what rubbish other people are listening to, and to see if my stuff is being played by people who have the software (not enough, so get it, and start playing the new album! :o) )

Anyway, from now on, I’ll try to remember to link to my audioscrobbler page from the ‘soundtrack’ link at the bottom.

soundtrack – Scritti Politti, ‘Cupid And Psyche’; Tom Waits/Crystal Gayle, ‘One From The Heart’; Ani DiFranco; ‘Little Plastic Castle’; Billy Bragg, ‘Talking With The Taxman About Poetry’; Sarah Masen, ‘Dreamlife Of Angels’.

Like a Rolling Stone… With a Rolling Stone

So I’m sat listening through the lastest set of tiny tweaks on the new album, and the phone rings. It’s Harry Cellist offering me a ticket to see Bob Dylan at the Fleadh in Finsbury Park in 25 minutes! Quick chat to the small person to postpone prearranged domestic chores to a later hour, and I’m on the tube on my way to Finsbury Park to see his Bobness.

Bob has been on my list of ‘artists I really need to see before the drop dead’ for a long time, so I’ve very glad I saw him. There’s something very bizarre about Dylan – no-one else on earth would get away with singing simple blues tunes in the style of a punch drunk tramp impersonating Marge Simpson, and yet there’s something utterly compelling about his performance. Add to that the presence of the mighty Ron Wood on Stage (you can say what you want about jumped up rock stars, Ron Wood is one hell of a guitarist…) and it made for a pretty fine gig.

However, it was a gig in front of about 30,000 people, in a damp field in North London with the sound changing whenever the wind changed direction, not being able to see much and being bumped into by drunk people every couple of minutes.

Contrast that with Friday night’s entertainment, sat in a beautiful old church building in Reading listening to Brian Houston and Sarah Masen sing and play. Both exquisite singer-songwriters, Brian sounding not unlike Bob Dylan in his younger days at times, but with a Van Morrison accent. There were probably 35-40 people there, it was warm, dry, no drunks that I spotted, the sound was close to perfect, the drinks were cheap and the music of an arguably higher quality than most of what goes on on big stages round the country at all the festivals over the summer.

And you missed it.

The good news is that Brian and Sarah are playing in London tomorrow night at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush, along with two other fantastic singer/songwriters, Cathy Burton and Duke Special. Shit, that’s four really really really great acts on one bill. In a lovely venue. In-doors. for about

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