NAMM over for another year

Me and Lee Sklar

Originally uploaded by solobasssteve.

Wow, a crazy NAMM weekend – very little time for anything outside of NAMMness, hence the lack of blogging, but a great weekend nonetheless. One of the things I did this year that I always forget to do was to take a few pictures with people I like, such as this one with Lee Sklar – Lee’s an incredible bassist, and very very lovely man, who has been very complimentary about what I do for a long time. A great bloke and an amazing musician. go and check out my other Flickr photos for some others, including one of me with Alex Webster, the bassist from Cannibal Corpse – a lovely friendly guy who bought a CD and I gave an impromptu lesson to… completely at odds with the utterly sickening lyrics on a lot of their stuff… Never judge a book by it’s cover, or a bassist by the twistedness of his band’s album covers (sensitive readers are advised not to do a google search on CC’s album sleeves)…

OK, let’s catch up on the last few days – Thursday daytime was spent playing on the Looperlative and Accugroove booths, then the evening was The NAMM Bass Bash, where I was playing with Trip Wamsley. I was told it started at 7, but I got there at about 6.30 and TRip was already on stage playing!! So I set up next to him and joined in – we did a rather cool spacey version of Behind Every Word, which went into a huge sprawling ambient thing that briefly morphed into Radar Love… not sure what happened there. Still, Trip was on top form, playing beautifully. The rest of the evening was spent with friends – Doug and Vida, Claudio Zanghieri, Jeff Schmidt, Todd Johnson and Kristin Korb (whose duo set was amazing), Steve Bailey, Gary Husband and others… Much fun.

Friday day was more playing for Accugroove, Looperlative and Modulus, and in the evening a bit of a bass player hang for dinner with Peter Murray, Claudio Zanghieri, Dave Freeman, Chris Tarry| and Yves Carbonne – all great musicians and lovely people. Then late night I drove up to Hollywood to see Doug Lunn and Alex Macachek play with Terry Bozzio’s trio, which was excellent as always.

Saturday back at the show, yadda yadda, and in the evening was invited to play a house concert with the delightful and truly wonderful Vicki Genfan, which as with most of those kinds of gigs involved playing gorgeous music and wonderful people in a great house. What a fun night!

And today, the last day of the show, demoing the Looperlative, playing with Claudio at Modulus and catching up with more friends that I hadn’t seen over the rest of the weekend. All good nothing bad.

So all in a great time – here’s a partial list of the lovely people I got to catch up with, albeit briefly in the case of some of them – Claudio Zanghieri, Peter Murray, Kerry Getz, Anderson Page, Chris Tarry, Dominique Di Piazza, Hadrien Ferraud, Jonas Hellborg, Markus Setzer, Trip Wamsley, Jeff Schmidt, Gary Husband, Vicki Genfan, Thomas Leeb, Doug Wimbish, Yves Carbonne, Stu McKensie, Scott Panzera, Todd Johnson, Kristin Korb, Jake Kott, Mark Wright, Bob Amstadt, Lowell Packham, Jerry Watts, Doug and Vida, Lyle Workman, Jeff Campitelli, Lee Sklar, Leo Nobre, Alex Webster, Lynne Davis, Ron Garant, Justin Medal Johnson, Ed Friedland, EE Bradman, Bill Leigh, Terry Buddingh, Jean Baudin, Jeremy Cohen, Max Valentino, Norm Stockton, Joe Zon, Seth Horan, Marcus Miller, Monster, Steve Bailey, Alessandra Belloni, Joe Perman, Muriel Anderson, Alain Caron, Tony Levin… the list goes on and on, and I’ll add to it if you email me and remind me that we met and I’ve left you off – it’s 1am and I’m getting sleepy!

So, NAMM over for another year, lots of follow up to do now for gigs, teaching and new friends. All good nothing bad.

RC IV – another great gig

Another stunning Recycle Collective gig last night – me, BJ Cole and Thomas Leeb, with special RC-stylee special guest, Rowland Sutherland.

As usual, I kicked things off with a solo set – the first improv piece was one of those ‘doh!’ moments where I forgot to switch on the minidisc, and it was gorgeous. Really happy with it, will have to try and remember what I did. Followed by a variation on the bubbly drum ‘n’ bass theme that I’ve been working on of late, then did Eric’s tune, after which Rowland joined me for a duo improv thingie. He’s amazing, you really have to hear him. He’ll be back. I finished up with ‘Despite My Worst Intentions’, which I completely forgot the title of, and thought it might have been ‘there but for the grace of God’. duh. Anyway, a nice set, which went down well.

Next up was BJ – I love BJ’s playing, and his approach to harmony. His opening piece was a variation on one of the ‘Transparent Music’ tunes, and sounded beautiful. His second track suffered from all kind of Echoplex gremlins – at least it’s not just me who has EDP nightmares! – but still went through some really interesting twists and turns. He was then joined by Rowland for a lovely duet, and finally by me for another duet. Much fun.

Thomas’ set was spectacular. The thing I think I love most about the RC gigs is presenting musicians to people who they might not have heard before. Tonight there were quite a lot of people there to see Thomas, so for them the joy was that of fulfulling the anticipation. For the others, it was amazement at what was possible with an acoustic guitar. His between song banter was funny, the performance was great, and the setting ideal.

We finished up with a quartet improv, with me looping and processing Thomas as well as myself, to great effect.

This really is the most fun gig for me – great musicians, lovely ever expanding audiences (in number, but for those who partake of the delicious food at Darbucka, in girth as well, no doubt), in a stunning, supportive venue. Don’t miss the next one on April 19th – I’ll announce who it’s with ASAP.

No laptop for a week :o(

Dropped off the laptop at the Apple store this morning for its repair. No laptop for up to a week! What on earth am I going to do? Probably get some work done, to be honest… we’ll see, I shall report back on whether productivity is up or down. I think the only thing that’s likely to go down is my number of new people added to myspace. And I might even get a proper start on the new album… watch this space.

Don’t forget, Recycle Collective gig tonight – more marvellous music in London’s coolest venue, with me, Bj Cole and Thomas Leeb. you’d be nutz to miss it. :o)

Recycle Collective III

Another fun evening at Darbucka was had!

The line-up, as you know, was me and Patrick Wood followed by Orphy Robinson and Roger Goula.

The first problem was how to get it all on the stage! There was so much gear it was untrue – Patrick had a keyboard, a Rhodes and a guitar, all running through mixers and pedals and stuff. I had the usual leaning tower of stevie, Orphy had a steel pan, bass marimba box thing, snare drum, trumpet and a huge hold-all full of miscellaneous percussion. So we did the set-up in two halves. First for Patrick and I, then for Orphy and Roger.

The set with Patrick went really well (from where I was sat!) – an opening ambient excursion, followed by a more jazzy/dubby piece, into a sort of drum ‘n’ bass/IDM workout over a heavily filtered frantic slap-percussive thing, and finally a version of ‘A Kind Of Prayer’ from The Works album, ‘Beware Of The Dog’. All of which was lots of fun. Because of the stage set-up Patrick was behind me, which was a little disconcerting for him I think – I’m kind of used to looking at buttons and not neccesarily at the person I’m playing with, so it was less problematic for me, but he played beautifully anyway. Patrick’s a really interesting person to play with, as he has myriad ways of shifting harmony against a loop – at some point I need to sit him down and find out what he actually does! The hugeness of some of his synth sounds added a lot of depth to the transitions between sections within particular tunes, and each time I use it, the Looperlative makes more sense, so I felt like I was really on top of the loop side of what I was doing – nothing happened that I didn’t want to make happen!

Orphy and Roger’s set started out in a much more ‘out’ free improv direction, with a sparse 9/8 loop off Orphy’s bass marimba thing, and lots of chaotic sounds over the top. Both the main strength and weakness of looping is that it imposes a sense of form onto what’s going on, which is great if you’re doing free stuff as it gives the audience something to latch onto, but it can be a problem if you trap a sound that you don’t want there and aren’t using a looper with an undo function! Orphy uses the Roland RC-20, which just has start stop and layer (oh, and reverse if you bend down and change it by hand, which he did at points). So the constant nature of Orphy’s loops provided both a reference point in the maelstrom of the out sections, and something for him to wrestle with when he may have wanted a more subtle transition.

fortunately, Roger was using one of the most sophisticated processing/looping/cleverness music packages in the world – MAX/MSP, a software program running on a Mac, which meant he could do all kinds of crazy stuffs to his loops and his processing.

All in, I enjoyed their set – it was a lot more out and free than previous RC stuff, and more out and free than most future RC stuff, but it felt good to stretch things a little and try some things out, and there were some really lovely moments. The quartet piece at the end was kinda fun too, which for some reason sounded to me like a Dave Gruisin soundtrack piece after some seriously heavy narcotics. In a good way. :o) So another enjoyable evening at the collective.

The great news is I also managed to get the next Recycle Collective dates booked in, or at least, two of the next three…

March 16th is the next one – not that far away – and it’ll feature me, Thomas Leeb (a brilliant acoustic guitarist from Austria, living in California) and BJ Cole. Put it in your diaries!

And then tonight, theo and I are in Cambridge – see you there!

California catch-up

So what have I missed from NAMM?

Well, I posted about Thursday night – that was fun.

Friday – er, can’t remember much about during the day, other than doing some Looperlative demos, and playing on the Accugroove stand. Oh, and did a set at Modulus as well, though where Modulus is stationed, it’s all but impossible to play anything due to them being flanked by hair-metal amp companies and opposite the Taylor booth who have a stage set up with acoustic bands playing all the time. Accugroove and Looperlative are both down in Hall E where the noise level is much lower, so more people could stop and listen to what’s being played. And on both those stands I had AccuGroove speakers to play through, which made all the difference. I just don’t like using regular bass amps any more. The only bass cabinet company that comes close to AccuGroove is Glokenklang – they make some really lovely uncoloured speaker cabs. Great stuff.

Anyway, what else? Ah, Friday evening, Sabian had a big show, featuring some celeb drummers – Dave Weckl, Terry Bozzio and Joey Heredia. Terry being the interest, not just because he’s already more interesting than the others, but because he had the wonderful Doug Lunn on bass. Doug’s one of my closest american friends, and him playing also meant that his wife Vida was at the show on Friday, so we had lunch – that’s what NAMM’s pretty much all about for me, catching up with the lovely people here that I only get to see once a year.

The gig itself started and was unintentionally funny – I was there with three lovely bass people – Peter Murray, Jeff Schmidt and Janek Gwizdala – Weckl came on and it took us a while to work out what it sounded like, but we hit the name on the head with ‘game show themes’ – not my bag at all, I’m just not into clever twiddly fusion like that…

So we wandered outside, and hung out, chatted, laughed a lot – all good.

Back inside for the Bozzio band, which was a whole different proposition. Some seriously dark, difficult music, that owed more to Pierre Boulez or Edgar Varese than to the usual guitar trio reference points. Alex Machacacek who wrote most of the material is a remarkable guitarist, writing incredibly dense structured music, with multiple time and tempo changes each bar. Scary stuff. Doug acquitted himself admirably, playing this scary mathematical music with a serious amount of groove and flair.

Saturday at NAMM is mayhem – way too many people there, lots of celebs showing up (eg Gene Simmons shows up with film crew in tow – I saw him there up close last year and he looks like a pile of offal from a butchers floor that someone has mushed together and re-animated. Not a good advert for ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ living.) So I stayed down in Hall E for a lot of the time, and escaped over to Subway for lunch. Didn’t even think about playing on the Modulus booth, but did a fair amount of stuff down at Looperlative, including some fun duets with Tal Wilkenfeld – a fab Australian bassist living in NYC – I blogged about seeing her play last year.

Saturday night at NAMM means ‘Muriel Anderson’s All Star Guitar Night’ – one of the best gigs of the show. Sadly this year, I missed a lot of it due to heading up to Hollywood to see Bozzio’s trio again at the Baked Potato. But not before I’d gone in to meet Patti Larkin – Patti’s a huge favourite of mine, a stunning singer/songwriter who has worked a lot with Michael Manring over the years and I’ve been wanting to meet for years. A few connections were used, and I got a chance to say hello and briefly discuss the possibility of her coming over to play in the UK – that’d be great!

then off up to Hollywood for more Bozzio/Lunn/Machacek craziness. top stuff, but a very late drive back to Bob and Alison’s in Costa Mesa.

And then Sunday – the quiet day, I arrived late at the show, and left early, but not before filming the Looperlative demo and saying goodbye to some lovely friends for another year. And I headed off into Hollywood again to see another old friend, Tanya, who I’d not seen for three years, feeling dried out and exhausted (me, not Tanni) by four days of vicious air conditioning and walking miles.

Soundtrack – in the car here, I’ve been listening to lots of music by friends of mine, to keep me from feeling homesick – Juliet Turner, BJ Cole, Mark Lockheart, Thomas Leeb… it works.

Eric's Funeral

Yesterday was Eric Roche‘s funeral. I was hugely grateful to Thomas Leeb for forwarding the details to me, and I drove up to Haverhill yesterday lunchtime.

The turnout was amazing – hundreds of people including the great and the good of the UK guitar scene turned out to pay their respects to a musician we all loved and admired so much.

The service itself was lovely – the vicar did an amazing job, helped by the fact that he’d known Eric for over a year through his illness, and had spent a lot of time with him talking about his plans for the funeral.

The eulogies were very moving, particularly the ones from one of Eric’s oldest friends who’d been with him since he was in his early teens, and the one from guitar legend Martin Taylor – Martin had produced Eric’s last album, the truly brilliant ‘With These Hands’. The job of playing one of Eric’s tunes – the title track from that album – fell to Stuart Ryan, who did an amazing job of it. That was a role that no-one in the room would have relished, and Stuart played beautifully.

Funerals are a mixed affair generally – it’s often difficult to get past the mawkish hyperbole about what a great person the deceased was, but in Eric’s case, the vast majority of people there were just repeating what they’d been saying for years – he was a deeply inspiring person, amazing musician, hilarious to be around and hugely encouraging to his students and peers.

The get-together afterwards was an amazing gathering – guitarists and writers from all the UK’s major guitar mags mixing and chatting about eric, about guitar about gigs – all the things that Eric did so well.

The more I chatted to people the clearer it became that we were running a parallel course in so many ways – for years we were both teaching at music schools, writing columns for magazines, releasing solo CDs, playing at tradeshows and mushing it altogether into a career. Eric was way more marketable that me, and an even better self-publicist, and was, tragically, on the edge of moving into much bigger things. He was already selling out in provicial theatres, and was the star attraction at guitar festivals across Europe, even visiting China earlier this year. It would surprise me at all if he became the Eva Cassidy of the guitar – though it will be tragic for all the people who from now discover him through his records not to be able to see him live.

Still, you’ve got to get With These Hands – it’s genius, it’s beautiful and no CD collection is complete without it.

The main thought I had going through my head during the service was how unfair the whole thing was – some people live who seemingly don’t deserve to, and others die needlessly due to the genetic russian roulette of cancer. But that’s just it, I guess. Life isn’t fair, never has been. The world is a lot of wonderful things – it’s beautiful, inspiring, funny, there’s music and art and love and nature and rain and the sea and cats and mint tea and friends and family and all kinds of magical beautiful unfathomably wonderful things. But it isn’t fair, and we can’t earn our health, or the right not to get cancer, or the right not to get run over or mugged or blown up on a tube-train or… We can limit the chances by taking care of those things that we have control over – eating properly, not smoking, avoiding situations where people might run amok with an automatic weapon. But we’re not in control, and there’s no system of fairness that apportions tragedy to those who deserve it and witholds it from those who are ‘nice’ or ‘clean living’ or whatever.

I was looking at Eric’s parents and thinking that no-one should ever have to bury their own kids. It’s the great injustice. The order’s all wrong. Eric was only 37, which is no age at all. Two little kids and a wife. A family full of love. It’s too much to even think about, really.

But some things live on. the music definitely, and the memory and the inspiration, in big and small ways. Eric’s most well-known peers have expressed a desire to do something to help, to organise benefit gigs for the family. Some are already taking place (Martin Taylor is playing in Cambridge in October, and we’re talking about getting something to happen in London in January). And we can spread the world about the music – that’s the easy bit, it spreads itself.

There are small things that live on – Eric inspired the best tune I’ve written in a long time – and there are big things, like the ACM in Guildford renaming their guitar course after him (Eric was head of guitar there for years, and wrote the guitar course).

And you, you can go and buy his CDs – start with With These Hands, it’ll blow you away. Go on, you’ll discover some great music, and his family will benefit too.

So all in, the funeral was a fitting tribute to a much loved guitar genius, and a testament to his influence. On Radio 2 yesterday afternoon, Billy Bragg – who has been working on a songwriting project with terminal cancer patients – commented that the one thing that cancer gives you is time; time to get things in order, to plan your funeral to say what needs to be said, in a way that a sudden tragedy doesn’t.

SoundtrackKT Tunstall, ‘Eye To The Telescope’; Kris Delmhorst, ‘Songs For A Hurricane’; Juliet Turner, ‘Season Of The Hurricane’.

Some thoughts about Eric

I first heard of Eric when he was teaching at the Musicians Institute, when it was above the Bass Centre in Wapping. I’d seen his name on their literature, and had various people come up to me to tell me about this amazing guitarist they’d heard. Not long after that (late 90s, I guess?) I heard him play at a trade show, doing his arrangement of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (bassline, chords, melody ‘n’ everything on acoustic guitar, and managing to not make it sound like a gimmick) – it was obvious from that that he was an amazing musician, but trade shows back then for me were a blur of running from one Bassist mag event to another, demoing gear (like Eric) or doing on-stage interviews with the various celeb bassists that had been booked (without any thought for what they might do when they got there).

It was quite a few years before I got to meet Eric properly – he turned up at a gig of mine in California, with our mutual friend Thomas Leeb – I’d met Thomas through Ashdown and he’d been telling me loads about Eric as well. We chatted briefly at the gig. We met up again a couple of months later at another music trade show in London, where Eric was feeling pretty rough, but we spent more time talking. We pretty much instantly hit it off, as we were in a similar place – solo players who taught and wrote for magazines. About a week later I found out that Eric had be diagnosed with Cancer for the first time. No wonder he was feeling rough at the show.

Very soon after that, Muriel Anderson was coming over for some gigs, and she knew Eric from booking him for her All-star guitar night at NAMM, so the two of us went up to see him. The conversation at Eric’s house that day was the one that showed me what a strong character he was – he talked with great honesty about his hopes and fears following the diagnosis, his concern for his family (his partner, Candy, was pregnant with their second child when the first diagnosis came through) and the way it had made him focus on what was important in life.

We swapped CDs, and it was clear from listening to his latest album, With These Hands, that that depth of thought was already there when making the record. It’s a beautiful record, moving in parts, funny in others – the guitar playing is outstanding, but the music and Eric soul shine through. (later on he told me that he had me in mind for one of the tracks on the record – Deep Deep Down – but producer Martin Taylor wanted to keep it all solo. Listening to the end result, I agree with Martin, though it will be a source of eternal regret that Eric and I never recorded together).

After that we kept in touch via email, text and phone calls as his treatment progressed, through the hell of radiotherapy to the joyous news of his first ‘all clear’. After that came plans for a tour together, recordings, all the usual muso stuff – none of it felt urgent, Eric was well again, and we had plenty of time for that.

Met up again at the birmingham music show in November – Eric was not long out of radiotherapy but was playing so well (the version of Bushwhacker – an anti-GWB track – was incredible). After the gig we were chatting and mucking around while Eric signed things, and one guy came up and said ‘what would you say if I asked you to sign this?’ to which Eric replied in his dry caustic way ‘I’d tell you to fuck off’. The reply from the guy (clearly phased by this) was ‘I’ve been praying for you’ – Eric then recognised the guy, who he’d met before, and was mortally embarassed that he’d offended the guy, even in a joke. He’d commented before about how moving it had been for him when people who knew he was ill came to pray for him after gigs. Eric was a Buddhist, and a seeker after truth – that was another connection we had, music with a spiritual meaning.

He came to see me play in Colchester with Michael Manring a couple of weeks after the Music Show. I was so pleased to be able to tell the crowd they should buy his CDs, to put him in touch with the guys running CAMM – a local college where he could have started teaching again (he’d been head of guitar at the ACM in Guildford, but living in Cambridgeshire, the drive was beyond him now), to introduce him to the venue for a possible gig.

NAMM in Anaheim this last January was the last time I saw Eric, and it’s another huge regret of mine that I didn’t spend enough time with him there. I spent AGES dragging everyone I knew to come and see him play – he was on a punishing demo schedule for Avalon guitars, playing on the hour every hour, and I must’ve watched him play 20 times over the weekend, but we spent nowhere near enough time talking. I introduced him to friends, made everyone I knew stop by the stand to hear him. He was playing well, though as usual at tradeshows, he was amplified and cranking the top end just to cut through the hubbub of the hall.

When I heard that Eric’s cancer was back, and was inoperable, I couldn’t believe it – Eric, strong, spiritual, clean-living, had beaten it. Surely that was it? The conversation where he told me about it, where it had spread to, what the docs had said was one of the saddest phone conversations I’ve ever had. But he was still so positive. Scared, worried for his family, desperate to keep playing and meet his gig commitments.

Our jam never happened, nor the gigs, nor the recording. I’ll forever be thinking what it would’ve sounded like. We had very similar ideas about the purpose of music, about why we did what we did.

All in, I didn’t spend that much time with Eric. Nowhere near enough. His impact on me was huge, due to his beautiful music and his inner strength when facing his illness. He was an inspiration, and I was really pleased to be able to play my tune for him each night at the Edinburgh festival, pointing people to his website and recommending his music. It made me even more pleased that it was most people’s favourite tune on the gig. He never got to hear it.

I’ll miss him, I’ll miss the possibility of him and I’ll regret that we didn’t know eachother better. He left behind three CDs and a live DVD (I need to get the DVD) – the first two CDs are really good, but it’s With These Hands that is his masterpiece. It’s beautiful. Deep Deep Down is one of the most beautiful instrumentals I’ve ever heard. That he thought of having me play on it is one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever been paid as a musician.

Go and buy his CDs. Please. You’ll get some amazing music, his family will get the money. I can’t imagine what his family are going through now. My thoughts are with them – no matter how much the sense of loss that one has for a friend and musical inspiration, it’s not even close to the pain of losing a husband/dad/brother/son.

Rest in Peace, Eric. Thanks for the inspiration.

Soundtrack – Eric Roche, ‘Spin’.


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