Revisiting music not heard for a long time…

In the last couple of days I’ve listened to two albums i’ve not heard for YEARS, thanks to the wonders of my iPod – first one was ‘Different Class’ by Pulp, and the second was ‘Being There’ by Martyn Joseph. In both cases, I’d completely forgotten what exceptional albums they are. Common People by Pulp was always a song whose jaunty music belied the incredibly dark social tale in the lyrics (I remember the NME or Melody Maker describing it as a ‘tale of inter-class shagging’, which is a bit like calling Macbeth a story about some mad posh woman…) – the line where they are in the supermarket and he says ‘pretend you’ve got no money, she just laughed and said you’re so funny, I said yeah… but I don’t see anyone else laughing’ is astonishing. Photomonkey Steve, Lorna and I were talking about out-of-touch toffs this lunchtime over coffee, how amazing it is that so many hugely wealthy people have no idea at all how the vast majority of people live… And this song says that better than any number of newspaper articles or documentaries featuring Michael ‘man of the (rich) people’ Portillo… The rest of the album is cracking too, and brings back some wonderful memories.

And ‘Being There’ – Martyn Jospeh’s first album for Sony (he was dropped after the second album) – bizarrely, Sony were trying to market him as some kind of Chris DeBurgh figure, despite the fact that he (along with poet Stuart Henderson) wrote mainly impossibly dark songs about redundant miners and single mothers on the game… Real ‘Lady In Red’ territory there…!! Anyway, again, it’s a really moving album, with some razor sharp lyrics, and a whole load of righteous anger married slightly incongruously with the slick singer/songwriter sound… actually, it’s not incongruous, it just sugar’s the pill a little, in a good way. It’s a great sounding album, full of amazing songs… His next self titled album was equally fab, but Sony really had no idea what to do with him, dropped him, and he’s carried on making stunning records ever since with and without record label support, and acting as opening act to the stars – from cool people like Joan Armatrading to arena-filling shrieking harridans like Celine Dion, Martyn has warmed up the crowd with tales of marital unrest, injustice and exploitation the world over. Hurrah for Martyn. And for Pulp! Anyone heard Jarvis’ record? Is it any good?

Musical diet

i’ve mentioned before how I treat my music listening as a diet – it’s why, after years of trying to be the nice guy, I finally scrapped piles and piles of CDRs that people have sent me over the years wanting me to listen to them – I just don’t have the time for all of them, in between trying to feed my ears with brain food that’ll help take my music to where it needs to be. (I do still listen to a lot of what I’m sent, just not generally the unsolicited CDRs with no info on them…)

So anyway, the listening material so far on these ‘ere train journeys has been as follows –
Annette Bjergfeld – The Kissing Post (an exquisite poppy singer/songwriter record. That she’s co-written with Boo Hewerdine gives you some idea of where she’s coming from. Definitely great ear-food from a melody and joyousness perspective.
Paul Simon – Surprise (never fails to amaze me. Every time I listen to it I take more away from the lyrics, and hear more of the little touches that Eno has added to it. A really really great album.)
Mark Hollis – Mark Hollis (every time I listen to either this album or to the last two Talk Talk albums, I realise again just how much I owe Mark Hollis in terms defining for me what so much of what I do is about – his phrasing, his use of space, the really incredibly wide dynamic range, the emotion… it’s all stuff that I aspire to and try to feed into my music. Truly remarkable timeless deep IMPORTANT music. It’s great listening to an album that feels significant in the grand scheme of things. Not in any trendy way, not because the style mags see it as the soundtrack to coolness, but because it’s the sound of an artist delving so deep into his well of experience and emotion to produce something of worth. It feels like a privilege to listen to it.)
Suzanna Vega – Suzanne Vega (how old was she when she did this? mid 20s? It was her first album, and it’s incredible. That strength of vision, purpose, that depth of self-assuredness in the songwriting and singularity of voice is mind blowing. And it contains ‘Marlene On The Wall’ which is one of the greatest pop songs of all time.)

And that’s just finished – what now? I think a little John Martyn Live At Leeds might be in order – come on, John ‘n’ Danny, gimme something to aspire to…

Don't forget – Juliet Turner at the Purcell Room tonight…

Another heads up for tonight’s gig at the Purcell Room – Juliet Turner, Boo Hewerdine and Brian Houston – a better singer/songwriter line-up you’d be very hard pushed to find. I’ll be there, so come and say hi and feel oh-so-festive at this most marvellous of gigs. There are still tickets available – details here – and look, you can go straight from work and catch Tomorrow’s Warriors in the foyer for free before the gig!

There is no better way to celebrate the friday before christmas than a day sorting out your tax accounts for the previous year, followed by a Juliet Turner gig, unless you left out the taxes bit…

David Ford gig at Bush Hall

One of the guests at Duke Special’s gig last week was David Ford – fantastic singer/songwriter, and from the two minutes I spent talking to him, a seemingly v. nice bloke. He mentioned at that gig that he had a show coming up at Bush Hall, but it was sold out, and apologised for not being able to invite me to even buy a ticket and go… Fear not, for where bands can’t get tickets for their own shows, the mighty Catster can employ the dark forces of the evil empire to procure tickets to just about anything (if I was planning on having Christmas dinner at Bono’s house with his family, and I’m sure Catster could sort out a guestlist place… :o)

So, Catster, The Cheat and I all went to the gig, after a lovely curry at the Ajanta (scene of many many a curry with Jez when he was living in Shepherd’s Bush – come home, you fool – Canada is clearly not the place for you, I haven’t done a wedding gig since you left!)

The gig was an annual charity show that David does, with special guests, to raise money for different projects – this year’s was a YMCA project that took kids from problem situations and put them on a scheme for a few months that apparently helps them look at self-esteem and lifestyle issues before sending them off to Durban in South Africa to work on an HIB/AIDS project out there. Amazing stuff, gotta love the YMCA.

And the gig was amazing. David’s own songs are big emotional singer/songwriter affairs, like a more angry Damian Rice, and the choice of crazy covers for the night was briliant. Fran Healy from Travis did a fab version of Dancing Queen, then a completely acoustic version of Driftwood, stood on top of a grand piano played by David – that’s almost certainly on YouTube by now; if not I’ll upload my video of it, cos it was great.

David then picked songs at random out of a ‘number one hits of the last 30 years’ book, and played a blinding version of ‘My Heart Will Go On’ – how clever is Celine that she managed to make me hate what is now clearly a very very beautiful song? That takes quite a skill, a sort of reverse alchemy… Anyway, David played it fairly straight to start with, then went all uptempo and spoilt it, but still, it proved that with just a guitar and a voice, it’s an incredible song. He also did Like A Prayer with big audience sing-along, which worked brilliantly too, and Ashes to Ashes, but couldn’t remember the melody on the middle. Same for ‘If You’re Not The One’ by Daniel Beddingfield, another song I’ve loved since I first heard it (see Catster, I’m not ashamed to admit it!), which David again hinted at doing a beautiful version of before giving up… He could SO do an incredible covers album of tunes like that. maybe he will one day.

Anyway, all in a great night – extra kudos to his drummer, who was tops. The rest of the band were fun but a bit shambolic – great for a night like this, but not what you’d want on a proper gig. The drummer though was v. funky. Great player.

So now I need to catch a normal David Ford gig some time, to see what he does then. I’ll be the one down the front asking for ‘My Heart Will Go On’.

When a gig takes you by surprise…

A few months back, I did a gig at a venue called ‘The Loft’ in Crouch End – I was booked to open for a band featuring Rowland Sutherland, and the gig turned out to be a really really lovely house concert, put on by a woman called Jenni Roditi – the audience were warm and friendly, the atmosphere one of acute listening, and it was an all round positive experience.

So when Jenni emailed round a circular letter a couple of weeks back, asking for people who were interested to play at an ‘open salon’ night, I thought it sounded like fun. The theme was ‘blank canvas’ and the last gig had been a positive experience, so why not.

As it turns out, tonight’s gig was one of the best night’s music I’ve heard in ages – about 10 acts performed all in, ranging from singer/songwriters to story-tellers, instrument builders demonstrating their amazing inventions to arias by Gluck. And, of course, solo bassists. :o)

A quick run down of what was on, if I can remember it all…!

Stella Dickenson started off demonstrating and talking about her wooden Sounding Bowl with strings – looks like a fruit bowl with strings attached, is actually a remarkably resonant instrument, that apparently works incredibly well in therapeutic settings. Fascinating stuff.

Sarah Warwick: singer/songwriter (former dance-chart-topping singer) – really really beautiful song and beautiful voice.

Jarmila Xymena Gorna: wordless singing, gorgeous piano playing, some lovely pre-recorded harmonies. Great stuff.

Fran Zipang: story from ancient Iraq – really great to hear a damn good story-teller, it’s easy to forget what a fantastic performance art story-telling is.

Mohini Chatlani: Mezzo Soprano, on show tune, one aria by Gluck – particularly liked the show tune (can’t remember the name of it now!) but both really well done.

Belinda Braggins: possibly the most nervous performer I’ve seen in years, but a writer of really really great solo piano music. A couple of things where she comped chords with her right hand, and all the melody stuff was happening in the bass, so we like that!

Bheki Mseleku: South African legend of spiritual jazz piano, apparently – lots of people there had heard of him, and he was very good.

then food and chats with all sorts of delightful people.

Second set –

Malka Rosenberg: singer/songwriter with a voice a lot like Julia Fordham – really beautiful song. Apparently this was her first ever gig, which, if true, was without a doubt the best debut performance I’ve ever witnessed. really great stuff.

James D’Angelo: Blue Monk variations, deconstructed and mashed up. Very good, very funny, very clever.

Jenni Roditi: our amazing host, performing extracts from her opera The Descent of Inanna. Somehow Jenni has managed to channel the harmony of ‘Lame Lies Down…’ era Genesis and ‘Once Around The World’-era It Bites into an opera, without ever hearing either band. Really great writing.

And then me, on last – because the theme was blank canvas, I just took my headrush pedal along, and my fretless, and started out with an improv piece, based on a similar idea to ‘chance’ off of ‘And Nothing But The Bass’, but with a much shorter loop (if you want to overdub on the headrush, you’ve got a maximum of 11 seconds…) – which came out really well. I then did What A Wonderful World, and got people to sing along, and finished off with Grace And Gratitude. I was then really shocked by the demand for CDs – i’d only taken 10 or so with me, but sold all the solo ones I had in about a minute, and only came home with one copy of Conversations. Everything else went. An amazing gig, perhaps it was the inspiration of so much other amazing music, and the great atmosphere that Jenni creates that did it.

Hat’s off to Jenni for hosting such a great gig – it’s a strong reflection of her personality (I guess in a similar way to how the Recycle Collective reflects mine), and she’s built up a fantastic audience and vibe for these gigs. Long may it continue!

Pre-christmas must-see gig

I’m a huge huge fan of Juliet Turner, an amazing Irish singer/songwriter, who is a bit of a huge star across the water there, and has a pretty big following here too. I’ve just seen that she’s doing a gig at the Purcell Room as part of the Cool Yule series on Dec 22nd. You SO shouldn’t miss this. Head over there now (click that link above) and get tickets. Go on!! She’s got Boo Hewerdine doing the gig as well, who’s great, and her guitarist, Brian Grace is amazing too.

Go on! I’ll see you there…

I would mention the other Purcell Room Cool Yule gig i’m going to this wednesday with BJ Cole and Duke Special, but it’s sold out and I don’t want to rub your nose in it :o)


Spearhead, Sessions and tonight's gig

Tuesday night was Spearhead night – my 5th time seeing them play, this time at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. They are, without doubt, my favourite live band in the world. It’s funky, celebratory, the tunes are great, the playing’s amazing and the lyrics make you feel like the world isn’t quite as lost as it seems to be if you just turn on the TV and watch… Michael Franti has a Shamen-like presence, encouraging the whole room to celebrate together, to encourage the celebration of differences, exhorting religions to focus on their similarities in order to work for a common aim, firing us up to get politically and socially active. All this under the distince haze and odour of many a spliff – bring on the smoking ban… ah well.

Anyway, I got there half an hour after they started due to teaching schedule and a remarkably early start time (headline band on at 8.30??) But the other hour and 45 was incredible as always. The new album, Yell Fire, has a strong reggae influence, and it gives another spin to the protest angle – Reggae, like Hip-hop has it’s origins in defiance, protest and inspiration for the poor and dispossessed (just have a listen to any Bob Marley, Steel Pulse or Linton Kwesi Johnson track for evidence), and like Hip-hop it’s been mostly hijacked by ‘bling’ culture, with so many reggae stars toasting about guns and booty… So it’s great to see it reclaimed as a medium for changing the world.

At the aftershow party, Franti was clearly enamoured with my coat, wondering which muppet I slaughtered to make it, but stroking my arm the whole time we talked. :o)

Yesterday was a heavy teaching day – yay! And today started with teaching and has moved on to recording. I’m in the middle of two remote sessions – one for Lobelia, a fantastic singer/songwriter from Montreal, and the other for Andrea Nones AKA DubNervous – a great electronica artist from Italy. Very different projects, equally enjoyable and challenging. Hurrah!

And tonight I’ve got the gig at the Enterprise in Chalk Farm, opening for BJ Cole and Emily Burridge – doors 8pm, tickets £8/£6 – see you there!!

three line whip for london bassists… don't miss this.

OK, a few of you will have already had me bending your ear about how you HAVE to go and see Seth Horan at the Bass Centre. But for the rest of you, click on his name there and head over and have a listen – he’s an electric bass playing singer/songwriter, of extraordinary talent. Think male Ani DiFranco on a bass. It’s not wanky bass nonsense, it’s great singer/songwriter material that happens to involve some seriously great bass playing. There’ll be more details on the bass centre site soon, I hope, and there’s a thread about it over at

In fact, that week is a great bass week in london – cos on Monday 4th John Lester has his ‘So Many Reasons’ album launch at the 606 in Chelsea, and I’ll be sitting in on that gig (which will also have John on bass, and Andy Hamill on bass!), and then on Thursday 7th, I’m playing at The Enterprise in Chalk Farm, opening for BJ Cole and Emily Burridge, and will no doubt do some playing with them as well! So, set aside that as bass week, and go to all three!

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’.

Recycle collective one year on…

Fab gig last night. Got there nice and early to set up, so was v. relaxed. Just as well, as i’m not well at all, so couldn’t have dealt with getting there late and rushing to set up.

Catster turned up to do the door (TSP taking a well-earned night off), Cleveland and Huw sauntered in not long after 7, got set up, all good nothing bad.

And people started arriving. Lovely people, just the kind of people I wanted to see. Greenbelt people, forum people, Danes, students, poets, singers, guitarists, Orphys (what is Orphy? Clearly ‘percussionist’ is way too limiting for what he gets up to these days… :o) )… A really lovely attentive friendly audience.

I started, as is customary. First tune was a cover of a lovely song by a fantastic Canadian singer called Lobelia, who I’m going to be recording with v. soon (the wonders of MySpace) – a lovely song called Happy that while I was playing along with it to get a feel for how she plays, revealed itself to be perfect solo-version fodder. Bit of a looperlative glitch, but I know it well enough to get round those things now. Followed that with Scott Peck, then got Cleveland up, then Huw. The middle piece with Cleveland and Huw is one of the loveliest bits of improvised music I’ve ever played. Started out with a bit ambient mush thing from me drifting through loads of clashing tonalities, before settling in one place, Huw joined in, and Cleveland improvised an exquisite lyric. Food for the soul.

Onto Huw’s set, which started with a John Dowland piece, on Nord Electra… which worked. Beautifully. Another solo set of African variations from Huw, then he and I played a particularly dark electronic spikey piece (and fell about laughing at just how twisted it all got), before Cleveland joined us again for more trio fun.

Set three began with two tunes by the wonderful Gary Dunne – a great singer/songwriter/looper/house-concert-legend. Perfect Recycle material. He’s great, go and check him out.

Then onto Cleveland’s set. His Echoplex had died, but I’d brought mine as a spare so we plugged that up and away he went, including his amazing solo voice arrangement of a Chopin Prelude. Wow. Cleveland and Huw’s duo section was really lovely, with Cleveland singing walking bass and beatboxing at the same time through much of it. Really great stuff.

And onto the final act of this birthday celeb. A huge mega piece which started with Huw, Cleveland and I, with me looping both of them, then we were joined by Roger Goula, then Patrick Wood, then Orphy Robinson, then Andrea Hazell – the two guitars and trumpet were woven into this huge busy sound, which as Andrea joined me, I cross faded back into just the ambience of her unbelieveable voice and my massive reverb and delay bass part. A perfect touchdown. Particularly nice to have Patrick and Andrea there, as they were part of the first ever unofficial RC gig, before it was the RC at Greenbelt 2005.

So that’s it, year one of the RC over. A year of remarkable music, some great audiences (some small but perfectly formed audiences) a whole shitload of credibility that hasn’t as yet turned into sold out shows at the QEH, but will. :o) I’ve spent the year calling my favourite musicians in the world, and asking them to play for next to no money, and they’ve all said yes. Lucky Lucky me. Most blessed me. Thanks to everyone who’s been to the shows, who’s played at the shows – particularly TSP who did the door and helped out at all of them, BJ and Cleveland who have been involved with loads of them between then, and of course to Ahmad and Darbucka for letting us use the venue – we’re happy to have introduced so many people the delight that is Darbucka :o)

All being well, it’ll be back in February for more improvised gorgeousness. Watch this space. x