Benefit gigs

Went to two benefit gigs this week – one as an audience member and one as a player.

The audience member one was particularly fantastic, not least of all because the main musical attraction was Martin Taylor. The other main great thing about it was that it was for Eric Roche’s family. (I’ve just been booked to play at another benefit gig for them on Dec 4th – Eric’s Birthday – at Haverhill Arts Centre – more on that later…)

The first half of that gig was various friends and musical acquaintances of Eric’s playing and paying tribute. Of particular interest was a genius harmonica player called Steve Lockwood (who’s also playing at the gig in December).

The second of the benefit gigs – the one I played at – was on Friday. The events had little in common. What they did share was ropey compering. Given the huge impact they have on the smooth running of any event, it’s a shame when people can’t find good comperes for events. The guys involved in each of these were well-meaning and friendly, just not very good at keeping things moving and linking events.

At the gig I played – a benefit for the Pitstop Ploughshares – the room was an echoey church hall, and the PA was particularly shabby with no monitors, which meant that extra-special care needed to be taken to make sure people were listening, if only for the sake of the performers. This didn’t happen, and while it didn’t seem to bother the folk-singer/performance poet bloke who was on first, it was clearly going to be a problem for the people afterwards. Fortunately, a well placed ‘SSSHHHHH!!!!’ from someone in the audience quietened things down, and as the quality picked up, the chat level dropped.

I have mixed feelings about these kinds of gigs. The cause is one I support, and when I was asked to play, I was very happy to offer my time to help out, but the overwhelming trend with gigs like this is that while you’re thanked profusely numerous times throughout the evening, you’re still treated like some amateur who should be happy they are getting the chance to play to an audience.

I’m still not sure how to deal with these kinds of things – I obviously don’t want to stop doing gigs for good causes just because of crappy planning, and I’m clearly not about to start charging a fee for such things, but it’s pretty demoralising to play in those kind of conditions. Maybe I should just have a technical rider that has to be met for me to do them. I’ve tried the bending over backwards to make life easy route, and it just doesn’t work. I really do need monitors and a decent PA if what I do is going to come across well…

that said, I did sell a few CDs, and got to hear some other talented but very poorly amplified musicians play.

In other news, I’ve just redone the Solo Bass Network site – when I first set it up, the idea was to develop a little community of people who would chat about solo bass and spread the word about gigs etc. etc. Truth was, I couldn’t really be arsed to manage it. It takes a special kind of resilliance to bother keeping something like that going (see the Extended Range Bassist yahoo group – the founders there post incessantly to keep the discussions going, some of it readable, much of it inane bollocks, but it works, and the list has just about got a life of its own…) So I’ve not just reduced it to what it does best – a compendium of links to solo bassists and solo bass related stuffs on the web. Maybe one day I’ll get round to adding a low maintainance gig guide on there, but to be honest, you’re much better spending your time getting coverage in your local newspaper than faffing about with some website where the chances of anyone within 500 miles of you reading it within the time frame of the gig are so small as to be not really worth the five minutes it’d take you to upload the info…

Oh, and I’ve also been mixing an old duet track that I recorded with BJ Cole last December – sounds lovely, and will hopefully be up on the Recycle Collective site before too long.

Evolution or Revolution?

The music industry is changing, that’s for sure. To do what I’ve done even 10 years ago would have been a heck of a lot more difficult and expensive to get off the ground. The cost of recording studio set ups has plummeted with the home computer market, the net has thrown the doors wide on forming underground niche networks through which to make a small-scale name for yourself, and online shops are waking up to the growing sales of independent albums (interesting that while the majors are all crying ‘foul play’ over file sharing, the indies are selling more records that ever…)

Maybe people respond well to having the chance to buy CD directly from an artist – I know I do! I love browsing CD Baby looking for interesting music, having a listen to the streaming stuff and then buying a CD or two, knowing that the artists are getting the dough for their hard earned work.

So is this a natural shift, or are we about to see the collapse of the industry as we know it? The mainstream charts are getting less and less relavent to your average joe – how many ‘big’ albums have I bought in recent times? Right now, I think I own two CDs in the top 40 – Athlete’s ‘Vehicles and Animals’ and Coldplay’s ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’ – that’s a pretty high proportion for me! A large amount of my time is spent listening to indie stuff, self produced CDs (with nothing to distinguish them as self produced other than the care and attention that’s gone into them, and the rather more matey sounding sleeve notes!)

But, if the truth be told, there are times when I wonder if the record company route might be easier – someone else to do the work. Then I read articles like this one by Steve Albini – he produced In Utero by Nirvana, and here outlines the details of a major ‘rock’ deal (some fruity language again, so avoid if easily offended). Thanks, but no thanks, I’ll stick with ‘jamming econo’ as the mighty Mike Watt calls it – the DIY ethic is a powerful one, and it doesn’t take much searching to find like-minded souls with whom to share a thought and a word of encouragement. I’ve met loads of indie musos through Looper’s Delight, the solo bass network, and just through gigs, web surfing, at NAMM and so on. Tomorrow I’m meeting up with a very fine solo bassist called John Lester, another solo bassist ploughing a furrow in London, and making some amazing music (check out his site, he’s great).

Anyway, I thank God I had the chance to go indie when I did, and that it’s all working out so well… looking forward to putting out the new record with theo, and then starting work on the next solo one! I’ve done loads of practicing over the last few days and am getting a few ideas together for new tunes… what fun…

Soundtrack – Terje Rypdal, ‘Skywards’, Duke Special, ‘Lucky Me’, and an advanced copy of Andre LaFosse’s album ‘Normalise’, which is marvellous. I mean, really really good! not easy listening by any stretch, but some of the most adventurous, funky, glitchy fascinating sounds ever to come from a guitar… Go and have a listen to some of the tracks in Andre’s MP3 archive, and then order the CD…

Christmas taste bypass effect…

What on earth happens to people at Christmas? Yesterday I went out for
lunch with my mum and Babs (known as ‘aunti Babs, but no idea what
relation she really is to me… distant, I think, but one of our grooviest
relations and great fun..). We went to Crew’s Hill, north of Enfield, which is
the garden centre capital of the world… But also, for the next couple of
weeks, home to the most hideous ‘Christmas Wonderland’ shop that I’ve
ever come across! Millions of shiny santas, singing Bing Crosby’s dressed
as Santa, gaudy decorations, cheap plastic christmas trees, crass nativity
scenes devoid of all realism. It was horrible!!!! Scary thing was it was full! on
a monday afternoon, full of families, with kids (er, aren’t they meant to be
in school???) buying cheap nasty tat. No wonder the country’s going down
the pan when parents prioritise bad taste christmas junk over an education…
very sad…

On the up side, I did manage to find a squirrel-proof bird-feeder. Our last
one got eaten by the squirrels (not just the nuts, but the base of the feeder
as well!!) This one is built like a brick s**t house – try to get into that, you
furry terrorists!!!!

soundtrack – yesterday, I got sent a CD by John Lester, a singing
solo bassist living in Paris, but from San Fransisco. Very good it is too, well
worth looking out for (there’ll be a link to his site on the Solo Bass Network
site as soon as I find one…) This morning, I got Cupid and Psyche by Scritti
Politti through from What a fantastic album!!! This is an absolute
blinder… great stuff.

Got lots of teaching on today, and will hopefully get round to adding
some photos or MP3s or both from the Level 42 tour to the site…

Adventures in Solo Bass

A couple of years ago, I started a website… not my own, I already had that
one, but another one – The Solo Bass Network – designed as a links and info
page for anyone interested in solo bass stuff, and a portal to finding all the
solo bassists around…

Just after starting to site, I got way to busy to actually collect the info needed
to keep the mailing list happening, so it has lain dormant for the best part of
18 months.

Finally, today, I got round to switching the list format to ‘anyone on the list
can post’, so that people can post their own news (like, that was a
revelation!) – so I’ve updated the site a bit, and hopefully, the possibilities
for spreading the word about solo bass related stuff will expand…

If you’re interested in solo bass, do check out the site – the directory has
got tonnes of links to solo bassist’s websites, and an ickle write up on each
of them…

soundtrack – on a solo bass theme, I’ve been listening to Trip
Wamsley’s as-yet-unreleased new album, and very fine it is too.. you can
find trip’s site via the Solo Bass Network! :o)

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