Two days with Sarda and Kari

Not having seen Sarda and Kari since the day after their wedding last October, in Grand Rapids, it was a real treat to get to see them two days running this weekend. Friday night we met up at the commuter jazz at the RFH, and from there walked to Brick Lane to meet The Cheat and The Producer Formerly Known As Showbiz Jude for a curry. Much fun was had, especially with The Cheat surruptitiously turning off the TVs in the restaurant with his new toy – a remote control that will turn off just about any brand of TV in the world!

Saturday was S and K’s official big party, at Sarda’s parents’ place in Tunbridge Wells. Again, much fun, especially discovering that James is in fact the son Ned Flanders, or at least was til his dad went grey and shaved off his moustache! A startling likeness.

The most obvious thing from the visit is just how uninterrupted my friendship with Sarda has been by him moving overseas – we chat just as often now as we did before on MSN or AIM, so it’s not like some big emotional reunion, just a chance to talk face to face instead of typing or the occasional video conference.

Musos, check this out…

The Cheat just sent me a link to this fantastic new pedal

It’s designed so that you can use an expression pedal to change the parameters on any normal FX pedal – it just attaches to the pot in question, and moving the pedal turns the pot! What a genius idea. This really ought to win design awards. Very very useful indeed. One of my gripes with pedals for years has been that you can’t tweak them in real time, or change them easily from song to song. Now you can.

Genius.

Preparation for tonight's gig…

It’s gig time – playing a solo gig tonight at Darbucka (which you REALLY ought to know about already – if not, please sign up for the mailing list). It’s going to be a lots of fun – for starters, I’ll get to play for longer than I have been of late – I’ve done a fair few 30-45 minute sets of late, and tonight I’ll get to play at least an hour or so of solo material plus some improv duets with BJ Cole and Cleveland Watkiss.

I’m really looking forward to it, and am just running over some of the new tunes I’m thinking of playing tonight, trying to work out how they go, what order the various weird noises appear in, and to a lesser degree, what the tunes are – at this stage in the compositional process, the melody is pretty open to interpretation, and I’ll improvise a lot of it to see if I can get something better than the bits I’ve got already.

All being well, there should be four new tunes tonight, which only a handful of people have heard (the small person, obviously, the cheat and sue, who finally gets her first mention on a blog – yay for sue!)

Other than that, I need to fill up a box with CDs for sale, decide on what to wear, write out the guestlist, decide whether or not I’m taking any extra lighting with me (Darbucka is pretty dark on stage), then I’ve got two hours teaching to do, then pack up my stuff, load the car (not fun given that I’ve got a trapped nerve or something in my back from sleeping funny a couple of nights ago).

So that’s me today, and tomorrow it all happens again for the gig in Petersfield. What fun.

See you later.

Soundtrack – right now, recordings of the new things for tonight. Before that, Lewis Taylor, ‘Lewis Taylor’; Sophia, ‘People Are Like Seasons’; Kaki King, ‘Legs To Make Us Longer’; Todd Johnson/Kristin Korb, ‘Get Happy’ (I rolled the wheel of my office chair over my copy of this last week, and immediately ordered a new one, which arrived a couple of days ago)

Blogless and desperate!

Ah, blog’s back online – was blogless for a long time, thanks to a crash on Sarda’s new server, but it’s all back now. Phew!

Right, onto blog-things –

Went to a gig last night – M83 (be warned, the website plays loud unwanted music at you) were the headline attraction, who I’d heard of via The Cheat’s scrobbler list, and actually heard thanks to the lovely Lizzy at their record label, who sent me CDs to hear. Their sound is kind of big ambient meets punked-up rock beats. Quite an overwhelming sound, on the new album especially, relentless huge synths and wall of noise guitars, but in an anthemic soundscape kind of way. Most enjoyable, if a little oppressive. The live experience was pretty much what you’d expect – the same thing only louder and noisier. They played lots of stuff from both albums (I prefer the first one – ‘Dead Cities, Read Seas and Lost Ghosts’).

The support act was Pure Reason Revolution – whose bassist Chloe is an occasional student of mine, and who I have a few mutual friends with, so it was great to get to see them play at last. Their sound is VERY mid-70s psychedelic prog-rock – think Hawkwind, early Floyd, Blue Oyster Cult, with a touch of Rhiannon-era Fleetwood Mac. They even look like the product of a fight between The Bay City Rollers and Flock Of Seagulls – rarely have more mullets been seen on stage since the mid-80s. Still, their set was great, and if they’d been around when I was 16, they’d have been my favourite band in the world ever. I’ll hopefully catch a headline set of theirs soon.

So inevitably, after a gig like that last night, I’ve been recording big proggy soundscapes today – I’ve done two, following a similar theme on each, we’ll see whether either ends up being releaseable… Might have to do a download-only soundscapes album soon.

SoundtrackM83, ‘Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts’; Kings X, ‘Live All Over The Place.

Every Picture Tells A Story

Nice man The Cheat told me about a fine bit of free software yesterday, called – it’s a free photo archiving/editing/sorting program, that finds all the photos on your harddrive, and catalogues them for you. I discovered that I’ve got loads of duplicate sets of promo shots and stuff from my websites, from various incarnations of it being left littered around my hard-drive.

This is the best free application I’ve seen since (if you’re still using Internet Explorer for web-stuff, you REALLY need to get Firefox – more stable, safer, and easier to use, please, for the sake of all of us, switch!).

head over to the Picasa Website for more info and to download it. It’s developed by the people behind Google…

Soundtrack – Joni Mitchell, ‘Hejira’ (fast catching Julie Lee at the top of my Audioscrobbler most played list!); , ‘Drastic Measures’.

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Trip to the US Pt 1 – Chicago

OK, here’s the first entry in the holiday/tour blog. The Cheat and I flew into Chicago, as the first stop off was staying with the lovely Steve and Diane from the band Dolly Varden (apparently ‘Dolly Varden’ is a type of fish…) – on the day we arrived (Friday), DV were playing at Uncommon Ground, a very cool coffee-shop gig in Chicago, so we went to see that. Given that Chicago is six hours behind London, this meant that we arrived at the gig at about 2AM our time, and left sometime around 5. This, we both still protest, was our reason for leaving without paying… doh! We ran up quite a big food, beer ‘n’ coffee tab, and then left with the band when they’d packed up… But you’ll be pleased to know that we did ring the venue the next day and tell them that we’d be in again on Sunday so would settle up then…

Anyway, here’s Dolly Varden on stage at Uncommon Ground –

So after that, The Cheat and I spent a couple of days wandering around Chicago, which we both agreed was one of the coolest cities we’d ever visited – in evidence I offer you,


there you go, lovely. We checked out loads of the record shops in town, including Jazz Record Mart, the world’s biggest Jazz and Blues record store (who now stock my CDs, for those of you in Chicago wanting to get them). We also checked out the Millenium Park which was hosting a photo exhibition called ‘Family Photo’, featuring about 110 photos from the 1000 families photography project, by Uwe Ommer. Marvellous stuff.

Sunday night it was back to surprise my solo bass buddy Seth Horan by turning up at his gig at Uncommon Ground – he played a great set, and it was fab to be able to catch up with him, and to see his face when we walked in, while he tried to compute what the hell I was doing turning up at a coffee-shop gig in Chicago. (we also settled the bill from Friday night!)

And Monday we set off for Nashville, which will be Pt II…

soundtrackMatthew Garrison, ‘Live’; Julie Lee, ‘Made From Scratch’; Morphine, ‘Best Of’.

More stress that I really needed yesterday

So I couldn’t find my passport. Anywhere. I turned my room upside down, turned the living room, bedroom and kitchen upside down. Even got to the point of finding out about waiting times for replacement passports. Asked friends to have a word with the Man Upstairs on my behalf, turned my room upside down again. Finally gave up. And just before I went to bed, checked a small bag of what I thought was litter next to my bed, and it was in there!! Hurrah!!!

That palpable sense of stress lifting is a remarkable feeling. It really is like a physical weight being removed. So my thoughts of ‘what will I do if I can’t get my flight on Friday?’ are all gone, thank God.

Back to planning my roadtrip with The Cheat…

Soundtrack – Belly, ‘Star’; Iona, ‘Journey Into The Morn’; Sarah Slean, ‘Night Bugs’ and ‘Day One’; Theo Travis, ‘Earth To Ether’.

a gigful week

so that’s two down, one to go of this week’s gigs… actually three down if you count the Masterclass on Tuesday afternoon as a gig. Anyway, Tuesday, yes – set off early to pick up Rob Jackson from Cambridge, nice lunch, drive to Leicester. The masterclass was at Leicester College, arranged by access to music – marvellous organisation who put on clinics, tours, resource music colleges and run courses of their own. Great people to be working with.

So Rob and I did a clinic for a bunch of bassists and guitarists, talking about technique and looping and the industry and running your own business as a musician and all that stuff. Seemed to be very well received.

Off to the venue – The Looking Glass – in Leicester. Unloaded into a really groovy little cellar venue room. Out for a bite to eat with Jono from Access To Music, back to set up for gig. sometime around now, a piano player started playing in the bar upstairs, clearly audible in the venue downstairs… uh-oh.

Rob went on, played beautifully, did valiant job of ignoring piano-monkey upstairs (who, to be fair, was only doing his job…) A request to the barman to ask him to turn down didn’t appear to make any difference to the sound level, and it proved to be a big distraction during my whole set. At least for me, if not for the audience, especially when play-me-the-song-I’m-the-piano-man started banging his foot out of time with me and himself… not ideal conditions for a gig, and as a result, I didn’t play particularly well. Still, very warm response from the audience (which was not a bad size considering the gig was booked at the weekend…)

Very nice to see a friendly face or two there (thanks Phil)

Wednesday – Rob dashed home to tend to Rob-things, Kerry Getz arrived back, nice lunch, then learn Kerry’s tunes for gig that night. Kerry’s tunes, it has to be said, involve more key changes than this bassist is used to – I do all that repetitive looping nonsense, I’m not used to four or five key-changes in a tune! Still, I’m a pro, so it’s not hard, just a novelty, like combining the mindset of a jazz gig with music of a top-class singersongwriter gig. Anyway, Kerry’s songs are marvellous, so the songs weren’t hard to pick up – they make sense, which helps.

Drive down to The Bedford, in Balham, meet The Small Person and a rather drunk The Cheat there. Also on the bill are Cathy Burton and Dan Wheeler – good chums of long-standing – and it turns out the Johnny Berliner (his real name, not some obtuse JFK/donut reference) was on in the same venue as me at Edinburgh, in a children’s show, and gigging in the late night cabaret venue too! It’s always nice when someone wanders up back-stage and says ‘I was listening to your CD yesterday!’ – don’t happen all that often, mind you, but when it does, it improves that particular day by about 7 or 8 happiness/smugness points on the Saint and Grievesy happiness/smugness scale.

Acoustix at The Bedford is run by one Tony Moore – Tony used to run the Kashmir Klub, near Baker Street, which was in its time one of the most important and influential venues in London, due in no small part to Tony’s passion and enthusiasm for making top quality acoustic music available in nice venues to appreciative audiences. He’s tireless in his support for such things, and one of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. A good man, for sure.

Kerry and I are on first (after Tony’s own song opens the show), we play Ocean In A Bottle, and Suspended in December (as an insight into the way my brain works, I wondered quite how the theme of the song would change if the title were suspenders in December, imagining that to be a rather cold and impractical clothing choice for such a time of year…) All goes well.

After us, Cathy and Dan, play, followed by Johnny Donut, Sarah Slean (fab canadian piano playing singer/songwriter person – at the Borderline tomorrow night), and a couple of others (sorry, didn’t write down names…). All good stuff.

Second set, order changes, we’re on second last, first song is duo – Julianne – another fine song. Second one Kerry does on her own, and half way through a recurring problem with the battery compartment on her guitar kicks in and the guitar cuts out. Cue me getting back on stage to hold the battery in place for the rest of the song… very odd, but funny nonetheless.

Tonight Rob and I are in Colchester at The Headgate Theatre. I’m looking forward to this one, as it’s a lovely venue – I’ve no idea how many people are going to be there, but whatever, it should be fun.

Before that, I’m trying to sort out final details for a couple of gigs in the US at the end of October (I’m heading over for a wedding, and taking a bass with me), and also the last couple of gigs with Michael Manring.

SoundtrackJuliet Turner, ‘Burn The Black Suit’; Nick Harper, ‘Blood Songs’; Andy Thornton, ‘Victims And Criminals’; Micheal Manring, ‘Thonk’; Joni Mitchell, ‘Both Sides Now’.

two fine gigs in one day. (oh, and a really hideous guitar show…)

So last night (well, actually two nights ago now, seeing as how it’s 1am Thursday…) – anyway, on Tuesday night, The Cheat and I went to two gigs in one night. Firstly to see Iain Archer supporting Paddy Casey at Scala in Kings Cross. Scala’s a really nice venue – I’ve seen Spearhead and the Dum Dums there before – and Iain was on top form. He had Paul and Phil Wilkinson from The Amazing Pilots on bass and drums, and the trio was incredible. Loads of energy, big grooves (I’ve been a big fan of Phil’s drumming since I first saw the Pilots play, and he just gets better and more inventive…) And Iain’s guitar sounded particularly good. He’s a megastar in the making. It’s been really interesting to watch his music evolve, from his days as a gentle acoustic pop songwriter (his debut album, ‘Playing Dead’ is marvellous, but very different from where he’s at now), through a mid period of experimentation, to where he’s at now, absorbing all kinds of interesting influences and being genuinely brilliant. His new album, ‘Flood The Tanks’ is just out. I’ve got it on order, and from what i’ve already heard, it’s great stuff and highly recommended.

After that, we walked up Pentonville Road to ‘Bar Academy’ in Islington. Got lost twice (once due to me, once due to The Cheat), to see Nick Harper. Nick’s great. I was introduced to his music by Catherine Streetteam (thanks!), and then saw him play at Greenbelt last year. His is the highest energy one man acoustic show I’ve ever seen. Great guitar playing, great voice, hilarious stage presence, and apparently, tourettes syndrom (someone who swears more than me – is this possible??). Anyway, he was bloomin’ marvellous.

All in great contrast to Sunday – The London Guitar Show was on at Wembley. In case you don’t know, the basic premise is that lots of big companies pile in there, and loads of apparently dreadful guitarists and bassists arrive and playing badly, loudly and incessantly for a weekend. The joke is that people go there to buy guitars, even though trying one out would be like sound-testing it on the hard shoulder of the M25 in rush hour. there’s no way to check things like sustain, quality of tone, noise floor etc. You just can’t hear anything.

The various artists actually playing on the stands had a hard time being heard, so turned up and just became part of the general mush.

Still, it was nice to see some friendly faces – Franck Vigroux, Stuart Clayton, Dave Marks, Bernie Goodfellow, Martin Simms, Svetlana Vasileva, the Bass Centre people, BassTech people, Bass Guitar Magazine People (who got me in for free as well – thanks very much!), and a few old friends.

Also managed to catch a few minutes of the Scottish Guitar Quartet, who even with the din in the background were fantastic. Well worth checking out.

SoundtrackPeter Gabriel, ‘Up’; Jonatha Brooke, ‘Steady Pull’; Calamateur, ‘The Old Fox of ’45’ – this last one is fantastic ; I’ve posted about Calamateur before, and this is just released – great new album, reworkings of some of the tracks that have been on EPs before, and some new stuff. Andrew’s songwriting, singing and production just gets better and better, and it’s no wonder he’s had airplay from John Peel and The Late Junction, amongst others… a lo-hi gem, highly recommended.

New album on the horizon…

So work has officially started on my new album… I’m in what’s commonly called ‘pre-production’ at the moment – getting the tunes, sounds, ideas and technicalities together before starting the actual recording session. That’ll begin as soon as I get my new desk through the post (a Mackie 1402), and a soundcard that’ll handle 8 inputs, allowing me to record each of the loops and processed signals separately – the desired effect being that it’ll drop the noise floor, and allow me to make sure the levels are just right all the way through the signal chain.

The 6 tracks I’ve recorded in the last week bode well for the album – no massive departures from what I’ve been doing for the last wee while, just a better and deeper take on the same kind of ground. being able to post-process the loops is going to offer a different sound canvas, and compared to Not Dancing For Chicken, running two (or possibly 3 or 4) Echoplexes will make for a more seemless looping process.

The gigs with Muriel Anderson next weekend will give me a good chance to road test a few ideas, as well as play the newer versions of the old tunes, incorporating some of what’s possible with the new setup… Having a feedback pedal for one of the Echoplexes is really handy, though I’d like to get one that works a little more smoothly…

What else is happening? Ah yes, went to Reading last night to another Delicatessen event – that’s the people who co-promoted both of the solo bass night gigs at 21 South Street in Reading, and is co-run by The Cheat and Sarda.

Last night’s musical stars were Cathy Burton and Juliet Turner – two singer/songwriters that I really like, so seeing them on the same bill was a bit of a treat. I’ve known Juliet for a few years (she rather wisely picked out my duo with cellist Harry Napier as her favourite musical act of greenbelt a few years ago – not that she has an official published list of such things, as far as I know…), and have known Cathy for quite a while too.

Cathy was on first, playing solo with just an acoustic guitar (bit of a treat, given that she usually gigs with either a band or at least with a keyboard player) – she was great, playing songs from her first album, and her soon to be released second CD.

Juliet was on top form, playing in a duo with Brian… Grace? not sure of Brian’s surname, but he’s a top-notch guitarist, and thoroughly nice bloke. Juliet played stuff from all three of her albums, all of which are marvellous, told weird stories, chatted, took the piss out of the audience, and was generally wonderful. A most enjoyable evening was had by all.

So now, it’s a trip out to the shops to get some cat litter, then back here to maybe record another idea or two for the new CD…

anyway, here’s another webcam pic…

Soundtrack – right now, me; before that, John Scofield, ‘Up All Night’, Prince, ‘Musicology’; Jonas Hellborg, ‘Ars Moriende’; Bruce Cockburn, ‘You’ve Never Seen Everything’.