is this the most gig-heavy week of my life???

So three gigs last night! Started off with Estelle Kokot at The Octave in Covent Garden. The Octave could be a great venue. could be. Sadly, being as it’s in one of the most expensive places to own a bar in London, the guy who owns it is unlikely to actually apply the kind of strictures that would be needed to mean it wasn’t about a band trying desperately to play over the din of 200 people talking loudly. The venue want it both ways, so they book credible acts and charge a door fee, but don’t ask people to STFU. You can’t charge people £7 to listen over that noise.

Anyway, aside from that, Estelle was great, as she always is, as was Neville Malcolm on bass – one of my favourite players in London. Great feel, great sound, and a lovely bloke to boot.

Then Catster, my LJF gig-buddy, and I headed off to the QEH foyer to catch a bit of Marc Ribot doing a scronking improv thing on the free stage. Bits of it were great, bits were unfocussed. Like most squeaky gigs. Seb Rochford was on drums, and was great as ever – that’s three Seb-gigs in two days. Clearly I’m stalking him.

Also ran into lots of other lovely people there – Andrew Cronshaw, whose album Ochre is one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard in a long time, and I haven’t seen for quite a while, was there, so lovely to catch up with him. He’s got a new gig he’s booking called Half The World – a series at Pizza On The Park in London, that looks amazing. Check that out.

And finally, gig number 3 back to the Vortex, to see Huw Warren and Lleuwen Steffan doing their sublime hymns project, along with some new tracks from Lleuwen’s just-finished-but-not-out-for-a-while album. They were, as expected, amazing. Of course. One of my favourite gigs to see anywhere. The hymns are deeply moving and beautiful, Lleuwen’s own songs are a heady mix of classic jazz with left-field singer/songwriter stuff and a dose of pure originality. And Welsh is such a beautiful sung language. It was made for singing. More people should sing in Welsh, and less loser audiences should feel put off by it. She deserves to be the next Beth Gibbons or Madeleine Peroux. I think she’ll just continue to be the first Lleuwen, which is just fine. And Huw – lovely bloke, great player, writer of stunning music. Always a pleasure to listen to him play.

Home at some god forsaken hour, but a worthwhile late night, fo’ sho’.

Polar Bear and EST at the Barbican

So Catster and her ticket connections came up trumps again last night (yay Catster!), and we headed off to see Polar Bear and EST at the Barbican. Polar Bear is Seb Rochford’s band, Seb you’ll remember came and graced the Recycle Collective with his lovely presence back in August.

So following a drinks and nibbles corporate reception beforehand (including the surprise appearance of lots of lovely people – the Gay Gordons, Julie and Mark and assorted friends), we headed in to see Polar Bear. I’d never seen them live before, and was completely blown away. I’ve always loved Seb’s drumming since we first played together years ago, and am very familiar with Mark Lockheart’s great sax playing. But the whole band – rounded out by Pete Wareham on sax, Tom Herbert on bass and Leafcutter John on noises – were a revelation. Fresh, exciting, edgy, funny, chaotic, original music, with great tunes, fantastic spikey feels, and god-know-what weird noises from John, sampling bowed cymbals, balloons, the rest of the band and anything else. A really really great gig. Seb’s between song banter was on top form, and the audience were well and truly seduced.

And then EST – the poster boys of icy scandinavian cool. Like characters from a Nokia advert, or Bond villains. Not a note out of place. The sound, lights, staging, smoke – everything, perfect. Too perfect. After the danger and excitement of Polar Bear, it all felt like it was too good to be true. It wasn’t in any way a bad gig, far from it. A couple of the tunes were so impossibly beautiful they took your breath away. It just didn’t connect in the same way. I wonder if there’d been no opening act, if I’d have been deeper into it. I wasn’t NOT into it. At all. It was great. It just felt like an orchestral performance masquerading as improv. I’m really glad I saw them, and I may well even get the new album – on CD, that kind of perfection is welcome – but for me, the night belonged to Polar Bear.

Bumped into yet more very lovely people after the gig – my coat came in most useful again, as the sublime Zoe Rahman came up and said ‘you’re steve aren’t you? We’re myspace friends’, along with her squeeze, Patrick Illingworth. CDs were swapped, laughs were had, plans were hatched, and all was good. Also saw Julian Maynard-Smith – a fabulous jazz writer, who interviewed me for Unknown Public (I still haven’t seen the final article, but the transcript that he sent me was the most interesting interview I’ve ever done) – very nice to catch up.

And then late night, I headed down to The Vortex to hear Seb and John play AGAIN, this time playing a bunch of chaotic crazy improvs with Mandy Drummond on violin and piano, and a bloke who looked like he was in Franz Ferdinand on recorders and voice. Some of it was magic, some of it was nonsense, all of it was risky and fun. A lot of it was hilarious. It wasn’t even close to being safe. Yay for noisy squeaky improv!

And tonight, if I’m well enough, I’m off to see Estelle Kokot at the Octave, and then Huw Warren with Lleuwen Steffan at the Vortex. The London Jazz Festival is one seriously busy couple of weeks!

A solo theremin gig???

Yup, that was the first half of the gig I saw last night – Pamelia Kurstin’s gig at The Vortex was one I happened upon while looking at their website for something else entirely last week. When I saw that her two collaborators on the gig were Seb Rochford and A< HREF=http://www.liamnoble.co.uk/>Liam Noble, it was a sure thing – had to see that.

The first half of the gig was a solo looped Theremin set – Pamelia was using two DL4s and an EH Bass Microsynth – and the first 20 minutes of it was captivating. After that it was still good, it’s just tricky to sustain that level of interest without varying the arrangement ideas (would love to hear what she’d do with a Looperlative instead of the DL4s).

The second half was wonderful – lots of mad squeaky gate improv stuff with Seb on drums and Liam on piano. Both guys are such great and original improvisors, and worked really well with the theremin craziness coming from Pamelia, who veered from violin territory to clarinet tones to the sound of a pizzicato double bass. Fascinating stuff. All in all a top gig, and I’ll have to get her for the Recycle Collective next time she’s in London!

What was also most fun about the night was the number of other players that showed up – Julian Seigel, Estelle Kokot, Mandy Drummond, Phil Robson, Dylan Bates, Jason Broadbent – a most enjoyable jazz-hang! And what’s more, the Vortex are wanting to book the trio from August’s RC gig – me, seb and Andy Hamill – for a gig in Jan/Feb! Yay! And I got booked for a gig with Estelle in a couple of weeks time – more on that soon…

Preparation for tonight's gig…

Just getting sorted for tonight’s Recycle Collective gig. I’ve not done an improv gig with a drummer for ages… probably since I last played with Seb Rochford, in Brighton! So that’ll be fun – I’m hoping we can find a way to mic the kit and loop the drums as well, but even if we can’t, it’s going to be so much fun.

Andy Hamill is threatening to bring a harmonica and do a couple of solo things with bass and harp, which is going to be great – these gigs have become such an oasis of relentless creativity and fun in each month for me, I really look forward to them.

If you’re in London, please come down!

Third musician for the April Recycle Collective!

Well, it’s been an enouraging couple of weeks. I’ve been asking lots of lovely musicians to take part in the Recycle Collective, with a very very positive response. Those who’ve said they want to take part in the future include Seb Rochford, Byron Wallen, Andy Hamill, Rebecca Hollweg and Oroh Angiama. Lots of fantastic musicians, all lovely people too!

And what’s more, the third musician that’s playing with Cleveland Watkiss and I on April 29th is Leo Abrahams, an amazing guitarist and looper that I first saw live playing with Imogen Heap and Nik Kershaw at the Kashmir Klub about 5 years ago, and who played after me at Greenbelt last year. He’s hugely in demand, working recently with Brian Eno, Ed Harcourt, Stairstailor, David Holmes and others, and having worked in the past with Paul Simon and Nick Cave amongst others. I’m so excited about both hearing Leo’s solo set, and what he Cleveland and I will come up with as a trio!

Head over to Leo’s myspace page to hear some of his lovely solo music.

All this means that the Recycle Collective continues to be unmissable.

Ingrid Laubrock at the Vortex

Last night was my third time at the Vortex in a week – fourth time in two weeks – this time to see Ingrid Laubrock, who was there with her quartet – Seb Rochford on drums, larry bartley on bass and Barry Green on piano.

It was a much more ‘jazz’ gig than anything I’ve been to for a while, a ‘ting ting t-ting’ gig, but with plenty of interesting moments and some really interesting compositions. It’s really nice to hear a tenor player who’s not gone the Coltrane/Brecker route – Ingrid’s sound seems closer to a Dexter Gordon/Joe Henderson sound, which her compositions are more like 70s-miles mixed with 60s Wayne Shorter and a fair dose of avante garde weirdness. All good stuff.

The main attraction for me was seeing Seb Rochford play – I did a gig with Seb a while ago ( thought it was three years ago, he says less than two years… will have to check back into my old blog…) down in Brighton, with Tess Garroway, which was a fantastic experience. He was clearly a remarkable player then, and it’s been in my mind to get him involved in something every since (I haven’t worked with a drummer on a me-project since, so it still hasn’t happened…). Since then, he’s gone on to come one of the emerging stars of the British jazz scene, with his bands Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland – Polar Bear having been nominated for the Mercury Music Award this year, and Acoustic Ladyland having been on Jools Holland’s show.

His play with Ingrid was fabulously inventive, deconstructing the implied rhythm of the tune into shards of time that bore little metric relation to the initial pulse but carried the intention of the tune forward in a way that ‘normal’ jazz drumming just wouldn’t have done. Really inspiring playing.

Both Polar Bear and Ingrid’s band are playing a Christmas party on 15th december at “The Others”, 6-8 Manor Road, Stoke Newington. Sounds like it could be an amazing night.

[edit – the gig with Seb was Sept 17th 2003…]

Soundtrack – Peter Gabriel, ‘Up’.

the Vortex

Been spending far too much time at The New Vortex this last couple of weeks – last week I was there for Dudley Philips album launch gig, then Tuesday I went to see Lleuwen Steffan and her band. Last night was the Works.

Lleuwen is the singer on that welsh hymns album I was raving about last week – still getting lots of airplay here, definitely in my top 5 of the year. The gig on Tuesday was with her band, Acoustique, which featured, unbenownst to me until I got there, my buddy Owen Lloyd Evans on bass. Their set didn’t feature any of the hymn tunes, but did have a lot of originals, sung in Welsh that sounded a bit like a more funky, acoustic Bjork. Lovely stuff. They did a couple of standards, which were fine, but it was the welsh language stuff that really shone. Definitely one to look out for and see if you can.

the Works, formerly known as WoodWorks, is Patrick Wood’s marvellous band – Patrick is surprisingly little-known on the London jazz scene, despite his band acting as breeding ground for so many great musicians in the city – the list of who’s been in the band at one time or another is nuts, from John Etheridge to Andy Gangadeen, Cleveland Watkiss to Tony Remy.

The current line-up is Patrick on keys and guitar, Mark Lockheart on saxes and bass clarinet, Neville Malcom on bass and Nic France on drums. The tunes are lovely open forms that the band jam on and stretch out live – lots of eye contact and hardcore listening going on. The small audience were much appreciative, and hopefully they’ll be playing again soon so you can go see them too!

Both these gigs are yet more evidence that the London jazz scene is producing music of a quality to rival any jazz city on the planet. the Vortex is such a vital venue, and after the sadness of the original vortex closing, it’s great to have it back with the same eclectic booking policy in a great new venue in Stoke Newington. check out their online programme on the website and go see some stuff there!

I’ll almost certainly be back there tonight for Ingrid Laubrook’s quartet, featuring the marvellous Seb Rochford on drums.

And keep an eye out for Theo and I playing there in February.

Plan for today – some teaching this morning, Theo round this afternoon to plan our february tour promotion etc. Some bass practice/R&D for the album after that, and then to see Ingrid play tonight.

Soundtrack – The Pixies, ‘Bossanova’.

Mercury Music prize…

This year’s nominees –

· Antony and the Johnsons – I Am A Bird Now
· Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
· Coldplay – X&Y
· The Go! Team – Thunder, Lightning, Strike
· Hard-Fi – Stars of CCTV
· KT Tunstall – Eye to the Telescope
· Kaiser Chiefs – Employment
· The Magic Numbers – The Magic Numbers
· Maximo Park – A Certain Trigger
· M.I.A. – Arular
· Polar Bear – Held on the Tips of Fingers
· Seth Lakeman – Kitty Jay

according to The Guardian, the Kaiser Chiefs are the bookie’s favourite, but it’d be fantastic to see either Polar Bear or Seth Lakeman win. Seth’s album is fantastic – I bought it when he played at The Bedford about a year ago – a lovely acoustic folk record, in the same tradition as Eliza Carthy, Cara Dillon etc. Polar Bear are one of the crazy jazz outfits featuring drummer extraordinaire, Seb Rochford, an amazing drummer that I did a gig in Brighton with once – he’s the only drummer I’ve ever met who could follow my glitchy everso-slightly-out-of-time loopage without any kind of sync or click – a great player, with fantastic hair, and a couple of marvellous bands (the other being Acoustic Ladyland).

I have to confess to having no idea who most of the bands are on the list – I’ve never heard Maximo Park or The Go Team or MIA or Hard Fi, or Bloc Party, or Anthony and ‘The Johnsons’ (that’s really the band name??) – I’ve got the KT Tunstall album, which is cool, and I like what I’ve heard of The Magic Numbers, though was totally underwhelmed by what I heard of The Kaiser Chiefs. So I think Seth would get my vote, if I were on the panel (though, if I was on the panel, I think I’d probably have heard all the other albums by now too…)

Soundtrack – Janis Joplin, ‘I Got Dem Ole Kosmic Blues Again, Mama’ (you, you can keep Joss Stone, I’ll stick with Janis.)

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’;

Karmic Response

One of the many bass discussion groups I contribute to on the net is www.thedudepit.com – a site set up by Steve ‘dude’ Barr, who runs the Vintage Bass Trading Co. partly as a place for discussing gear, but also as just a hang out on line. As with most forums like this, it’s the ‘off topic’ section that attracts the most posts, and is where people actually get to know eachother (that and the chat room) – the off topic section at The Dude Pit is titled ‘Al’s Nudie Bar’ but fortunately actually rarely features any nudity; it’s more just an indication of where Dude’s head is at… :o)

Anyway, the amazing thing about the dudepit is the sense of community that has built up there – there are guys on there who are going way out of their way to help people out, supporting eachother through bereavement, gear theft, house fires, storm damage, and the in the latest case, through one of the guys being hospitalised seriously with no medical insurance. Now, as we know, in the horrible medical scenario that is the US, people without medical insurance get hit with hefty bills. In the case of Ray Duke – the pitter in question – who’s a pro musician making a living in bar bands, function bands etc. the bill came to $26,000!!!! WTF???? How on earth does that happen????? Anyway, there’s a thread about Ray’s situation in The Pit, where people able to pledge money to help the guy out. I’ve chatted to Ray a few times in the chat room there, and he’s a great guy (not that that should really have much bearing on whether he gets help or not but anyway…) – if you feel like pitching in, however much, I’m sure it’ll be hugely appreciated to help out with his bills. As a fellow pro bassist, and one who were I living in the US would probably also be without medical insurance, I have a great deal of sympathy with Ray, and just hope that somehow we can help him out, and in so doing, help the bass world out. Being a pro musician gets harder and harder the more crass the industry gets, and a knock like this can finish a guy off.

In other news, had a great fun gig last night with Tess Garraway – this time, Seb Rochford joined Joss, Tess and I for the show, which was another creative improv night. We hit some real highs in the set, and gelled with Seb straight away. ‘Twas another tiny crowd, and methinks Tess and the venue are going to have to get the promo sorted out fast if this kind of vibe is going to continue…

And then today, we took the aged feline off the vets for his regular check-up (given that he’s 18 it’s a VERY regular checkup) – we already knew that he has chronic renal insufficiency, but with his diet and some meds we’d had it under control. However, his blood test today showed that the urea levels in his blood are way high, so they kept him in and put him on a saline drip. This was rather harrowing, cos the poor little guy doesn’t like the vets at the best of times, so to be put in a cage there and for us to leave him was seriously freaking him out. We went back and visited him this afternoon, which was nice, but he’s not well at all, and the long term prognosis is not good. Please say a prayer for the little guy, should you feel so inclined.

here he is –

Soundtrack – right now, Denison Witmer, ‘Philadelphia Songs’, before that John Lester, ‘Big Dreams And The Bottom Line’; Kerry Getz, ‘Little Victory’; Nik Kershaw, ’15 Minutes’; The Choir, ‘Wided Eyed Wonder’.