A Decade In Music

We’re rapidly approaching the end of the decade.

A decade that began just a couple of weeks after my first ever solo gig.

That gig, unknown to me at the time, marked a pretty huge turning point in my music career.

The ‘session’ work I’d be pursuing and doing up til that point was to dry up pretty damn quick when word got out that I was doing gigs on my own, but equally fast, word spread about what I was up to to the people who might like to listen to it, and I started to play more and more shows, and in August 2000 put out my first solo album. A decade later, and here we are… Where? I’m not sure. Continue reading “A Decade In Music”

The travel-pain of the ecomonkey

So, as y’all know, I avoided a short-haul flight by taking the train/boat/train route to Belfast. Train, fine. Boat, hideous – the roughest crossing I’ve ever had, bar none. A veritable storm which had me retching into a sickbag, and falling asleep on the floor, unable to crawl back up onto my chair. The food was also appalling.

Still, I’m here now, with the lovely and wonderful Gareth, looking forward to a great New Year. Just don’t ask me to go on any boat-rides over the weekend…

On the bits of the journey where I wasn’t asleep or puking, I watched ‘I Know I’m Not Alone‘ again – the Michael Franti film, and read a big chunk of ‘As Used On The Famous Nelson Mandela‘ by Mark Thomas – an INCREDIBLE book. Vital viewing, vital reading. Just don’t try it on an Irish ferry in a storm.

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!!

A gig and some deep listening…

Forgot to blog about last Friday’s Rodrigo Y Gabriela gig at Shepherd’s Bush. Went along with gig-buddy extraordinaire, Catster, not having heard them but having heard lots of great things from other people. And was not disappointed in them at all – flair, style, energy, incredible playing, and lots of hilarious and gratuitous swearing; they’re Mexican and have been living in Ireland, so have learned to swear with an Irish brogue… it’s very funny.

Anyway, their set is a mixture of originals and metal classics by Metallica, Slayer etc. all done on two acoustic guitars. It works brilliantly, and if it ever were possible to mosh to a gig without drums, this was it.

The big problem though, as always, was that the Bush is a Carling venue, so the music is provided as a soundtrack to drinking. And drinking goes hand in hand with talking. So there was the constant din of people get drunk and chatting through this incredible music. It’s insulting to the band, and awful for people who’ve paid £15 to hear some acoustic music! Breweries should be banned from running venues.

And then last night was Steve and Yo’s listening night – snacks, chat and piles and piles of great CDs. An evening of musical wonder and therapeutic conversation to feed the soul. Yo discovered the new Spearhead stuff, Rosie Thomas and John Lester, and I discovered early Parliament, Don Blackman, a Bill Withers album I’d never heard, and an amazing recording of some Bartok that I was unfamiliar with. A very late night, and I’m paying for it now. But today is shark day, which only comes round a couple of times a year, so is much cause for celebration. Yay!

Get well soon, Miles – your turn to pick the tunes!

When you wish upon a blog….

So I phone the lovely Catster re da moychendyz, and she informs me that Joni’s working on a new album!!!! Yay!! How great is that?? It must’ve been my blog that inspired it… 😉

It’ll be really interesting to see what she has to say about the state of the world. Responses thus far from artists have been really interesting, from Steve Earle to Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young to Spearhead… it’s both tragic and ironic that when the world is getting really fucked up, it’s fertile ground for artists. Look at the 80s, where while mainstream pop was going all Yuppie and Thatcherite, the US was gestating Public Enemy, NWA and the socially conscious rap movement, as well as the political end of the hardcore punk thing, like Dead Kennedys.

So, Joni, er, Yay!

Euro blog part 1

Right, I’m on a train from Paris to Geneva, sat in first class (very little difference from ‘standard’ class, sadly – glad the extra was only about a fiver), sat opposite a couple plucked straight from an 80s sit-com – middle aged, making half-arsed stabs at French in a broad english accent, discussing inanities like the contents of their sandwiches and reading the Telegraph. However, they are on a train going from Paris to Geneva, so it’s nice to see the middle-aged middle-classes getting out and about. :o)

Journey thus far has been lovely, if a little tricky with my suitcase, rolling rack, double gig bag, laptop bag and huge furry coat. Got v. hot ‘n’ sweaty at Gar du Nord trying to find the right metro platform, and then buy a ticket (somehow managed to get through the barriers without a ticket, then got trapped – in my own personal sitcom moment – in between two barriers unable to go anywhere, feeling somewhat like I’d been caught in some kind of humane trap for tourists, and I was going to be whisked away and released into the wild…

But anyway, the trains are lovely, muchos leg room, space to get up walk around, go to the ‘restaurant’ car (or mobile motorway services, more like). I’ve made a good start on one of the transcriptions for the forthcoming e-book of transcriptions from across my solo albums (couldn’t really do a whole album as on each album there are things that are untranscribable… unless any of you fancy having a go at ‘chance’, ‘journey of a thousand miles’, ‘you can’t throw it away…’ or ‘one step’. :o) )

Will probably be selling them as individual PDFs on the site, as a bundle, and in print via Lulu.com – a fabulous self-publishing system.

Reading material for the journey has been this week’s < A HREF=http://www.newstatesman.com>New Statesman and now The Benn Diaries (nice thing about the Benn Diaries – not much chance of me running out of book to read on this trip – 700 pages, and I’m up to about 110.) Current listening material is Honeytrap by Leo Abrahams, and before that Yell Fire by Spearhead.

I Know I'm Not Alone

Just found the perfect way to focus my thoughts about world politics on a day when everyone’s talking about it. I watched I Know I’m not AloneMichael Franti’s documentary about his time in Baghdad, Israel and the Occupied Territories. It’s a fantastically well made documentary, especially for a first time film maker – fabulously put together, brilliantly edited and profoundly moving.

Franti’s commentary is as you’d expect – insightful, wise, observant, and full of choice quotes about our reponse to conflict, war, and the search for peace.

He says towards the end ‘If I’ve learnt anything from this trip it’s that I’m not on the side of the Americans or the Iraqis or the Israelis or the Palestinians – I’m on the side of the peacemakers, wherever they come from.’ Sounds kind of sermon-on-the-mount-ish, dontcha think?

A blessing be upon the head of Michael Franti for his gift to us of this film. Buy a copy, watch it and take it round to your friend’s houses. And while you’re at it, buy the new Spearhead album, ‘Yell Fire’. It’s amazing.

more greenbelt thoughts

some top 3s (I don’t think I did anything 5 times at Greenbelt except brush my teeth…)

Top 3 music highlights

  • Spearhead
  • Nizlopi
  • Lleuwen Steffan, Huw Warren and Owen Evans

Top 3 non-music things from the program

  • Jude Simpson’s poetry/comedy gig
  • The Northern Ireland discussion
  • Paul Powell’s Liquid Lunch, with Jude Simpson, Gareth Higgins and Cole Moreton.

Top 3 eateries

  • the new Burrito van (definitely a favourite)
  • Nuts
  • the Burrito place again (didn’t go anywhere else really)

Top 3 things I wished I’d seen

  • Clive Stafford-Smith
  • Alistair McIntosh’s seminars
  • Bill Drummond’s interview
    (fortunately loads of the seminars and talks can be bought here)

Top 3 people I vaguely knew before but got to chat to lots more

  • Gareth Higgins
  • Paul Chambers
  • Joe Fisher

(very nice to make your further acquaintance, gents)

All four of the me-playing moments went really well, so can’t pick favourites there, and everyone I got to play with over the weekend – Julie McKee, Steve Stockman, Simon Jones, Mark..? (fab poet whose surname I didn’t catch, sadly), Huw Warren, Andrea Hazell, Harry Napier, Juliet Turner… were all fab. The poetry and bass stuff (Stocki, Simon Jones (‘is unwell’) and Mark) was a whole lot of abstract fun, and the Recycle gig continued the tradition of Recycle gigs resulting in some of the loveliest music I can imagine. All good, nothing bad.

Greenbelt really is my favourite weekend of the year, and selling lots of CDs and T-shirts is kind of a lovely icing on the cake.

It speaks volumes that I took no photos at all over the weekend – was far too busy having fun to faff with a camera. But there are squillions of great photos on the Greenbelt website.

If you weren’t there, put the last weekend in August in your diary for next year now. It’s magic.

The finest weekend of the year is over

For another year.

Another magic Greenbelt has come to a close, and we’re home. We drove back late last night, which was pretty hair-raising given how tired we were, but I’ve got a gig today at the National Theatre Foyer with Theo so couldn’t really have stayed over and partied til 4am like so many others…

The last day of GB was a fab one – starting with an organic vegan breakfast, and progressing via a panel discussion on Norther Ireland featuring Assembly members from the DUP and Sinn Fein along with two peace activists, one of whom had had his wife murdered by the IRA. The session was incredible, and what was said was so remarkable, that I doubt they’ll release the tape of the session… A big step forward. Maximum kudos to the most wonderful Gareth Higgins| for chairing the session so well.

After that, I was back into compere mode, to introduce Lleuwen Steffan, Huw Warren and Owen Evans – definitely one of my musical highlights of the festival (that’s their gig, not my introduction, which was good, but hardly a highlight). Amazing music, great performance, very well received.

After that it was full-on Recycle gig logistics – collecting keyboards for Huw to play, getting my gear up to the venue, missing lots of things I really wanted to see… Anyway, got all the gear up to the venue, and set up. Lovely audience comes in along with my co-conspirators.

The gig started with a me-solo set – (Grace and Gratitude, Behind Every Word, MMFSOG, Scott Peck, FRHU, Deep Deep Down and Deeper Still, for those keeping notes), then Julie joined me for some New Standard-ing – Video Killed The Radio Star, I Don’t Wanna Know and Running Up That Hill. Then we went into One Step from the album, and about three quarters of the way through, I gave Huw a nod and he joined in on the baby grand piano that was in the corner of the room, which worked an absolute treat.

After that, he came up to the stage on Keys and laptop, and he Julie and I did a couple of improv things, with them doing a duo version of ‘The Water Is Wide’ in the middle that was exquisite.

All change after that, and Andrea Hazell joined in on voice for our version of Dido’s Lament, which was gorgeous as always.

The wonderful Juliet Turner then got her first taste of Recycling with Harry Napier and I. Most lovely.

And finally, Huw and I played a gentle duet to send the lovely crowd off into the night. All in all, a fab Recycle night. Don’t miss Sept 20th at Darbucka!

Then it was all systems go to get all the stuff packed up before Spearhead started on mainstage. We missed the very beginning of the set, but it must be said that standing in a field at Greenbelt with TSP listening to Spearhead is as close to utter bliss as I can imagine. Really really great way to end a stunning weekend of great music, me-gigs, new friends, old friends, brain food, organic food, camping, chatting, hugging and kissing, laughing, sharing etc. etc. etc. All good nothing bad. Everything was wonderful in this best of all possible worlds.

See you there next year?