Mike Watt gets it right (or why Econo-touring is the way to go!)

Punk bass Godfather Mike Watt has an expression for low-budget touring – he calls it ‘jamming econo’ (the recent film on the history of his seminal band The Minutemen is called We Jam Econo).

As a solo bassist, I don’t really have much choice but to jam econo – it’s not like I’m at the big budget tours end of the gigging spectrum, so it’s low cost all the way. But it would be a mistake to feel short changed and to aspire to the hotels ‘n’ limos end of things, as the econo-life brings with it a whole host of adventures that you just don’t find in hotels.

I’m just back from a less-than-two-day jaunt to Madrid, to play a show and a masterclass with Spanish bassist Charlie Moreno – Charlie’s an excellent bassist and has become a good friend over the times we’ve met on shows, and he helped Lo. and I to find a couple of shows in Madrid back in March.

He booked a show for the two of us at a cool venue in Madrid, on Tuesday. We had planned to do three or four shows, but the vagaries of concert booking took over and it became one show. So econo was clearly the only way to go. It meant that I couldn’t afford to get the train there, so I had to opt for a short-haul flight – something I’m generally loath to do, but was kinda stuck… So I flew into Madrid, got the metro to Dani’s house (Dani is the singer in Nonno), hung out, got lunch, and then Charlie arrived and we headed to the venue. The masterclass shifted emphasis as a fair few of the people there weren’t bassists, so I got to talk a bit more about what looping allows a performer to do, and how it changes the relationship between performer and audience as compared to using a backing track or triggered samples. Charlie did an amazing job of translating some pretty deep concepts,all of which contained myriad layers of metaphor that relied heavily on the words themselves to make sense, requiring him to work out the meaning and translate the intention into Spanish – a tough gig, but one he handled like a pro!

After the gig, Charlie had arranged for me to stay with a friend of his, who lived about a 10 Euro cab ride away (actually, I think I was stung by the cabbie, as from Carlos’ description the next day, his house was only 15 minutes walk from the club, so not the 15-20 minutes the cabbie took to get there.)

In the morning, I had breakfast and spent some time sorting out email things (my first time using a Linux Ubuntu instillation – wow! I need to get me an Ubuntu partition on one of my machines!), I also got to watch a cool Niacin live DVD, and hang out with Carlos, a sound-engineering lecturer, and badass live and recording sound-monkey, much in demand in Madrid. We went for lunch, went shopping for jeans (my fave cheapie jeans shop in the world is in Madrid) and he then came out to the airport to help me carry my bass….

…the point of all the trivial nonsense detail is that most of that is stuff I’d have had to pay some anonymous person for if I’d been flying in, staying in a hotel, eating in restaurants, travellin in a tour bus, whatever… as it was, I got to hang out with some fascinating locals, eat cheaply in cool real spanish places (not the touristy stuff on the high streets), find out more about the local scene, and get to know bunch of lovely people. AND I came home having netted a sensible amount of money on a gig that grossed less than €400. So I had a better time AND spent less money. It really was, as the saying goes ‘all good’.

It’s easy to be seduced by the BS of the industry, to be taken in by some lame record deal just cos they send a limmo to pick you up, or offered to put you up in a hotel after a showcase gig (you’ll have paid for it out of the record advance anyway…) – there is definitely something about having someone else pay for your hotel that for some weird reason makes it feel like you’ve acheived something. But it spoils the fun of touring. It really does. I’ve had so many great experiences by living the econo-life on tour, have met so many cool people, played loads of shows that I could never have played had I been demanding hotels and taxis everywhere. Instead, I keep it minimal, flexible, mobile and exciting. And everybody wins. :o)

This looks interesting

The forthcoming POD X3 from Line 6 looks to be the first Line 6 product since the DL4 that’s got almost everything it should have… Mic preamp modeling in a guitar processor? sounds like lots o’ fun to me.

Now if only I could find a picture of the routing for it – the ones on the website don’t show the connections in and out… and I wish they’d do a 1U rack mount, but I guess in the tradition of the other Pod rackmounts, this’ll be 2U, which makes it too big to fly with – when is someone going to do a range of really powerful tiny processors for musicians who travel by train or plane? One of the best things about the Looperlative is that it’s a small 1U rack mount box that weighs very little and comes with a power supply that’s as light as phone charger.

Still the X3 will definitely be worth investigating…

[ further investigation found this site which suggests that the classic POD Bean-shaped version won’t have a MIDI connector, or the external FX loop, or the XLR outs… I hope those are just unconfirmed rumours, and Line6 get all the features into a tiny box – some of us have to fly to gigs occasionally! ]

Putting on gigs

I got an email today via last.fm from a lovely chap who saw me play at the Spitz a few weeks ago, and is wanting to bring over a band from Germany, and was looking for some tips on putting on gig. I got on a bit of a roll with the advice, and so thought I’d copy it over here as the ideas are pretty much applicable across the board. And, in reading them, you can see why house concerts are the way to go – minimal overheads, built in marketing network, bespoke venue, and great place to form cool relationships with your audience (assuming that, like me, you find meeting the lovely people who connect with what you do as interesting as playing it to them).

Anyway, here’s the letter…

Putting on gigs is tough, as it’s affected by so many variables. obviously your first thing to add up is how much it’s going to cost in absolute terms – so that includes all travel, accomodation, fees, equipment rental, additional staff needed and venue costs. Obviously, the smaller the band, the more chance you’ve got of keeping those costs down. Anything with a drummer becomes exponentially more complicated, due to the need for a much more complex sound system, and larger stage area in the venue. Travel from mainland Europe to here can be very expensive too, especially if the musicians are bringing instruments – consider the hand baggage and checked baggage limits on the airlines being considered when you’re looking at costs.

Once you’ve looked into that, you need to find a suitable venue. There are some venues that can be had for free – often they are the back room in a pub – but they rarely come with their own PA, and very rarely ever have any kind of built in audience or promotion channel/ticketing mechanism.

As an example, the Recycle Collective is run as cheaply as possible – over time i’ve built up a relationship with the owner of the venue, Darbucka, who now lets me book pretty much whatever I want – at least partly because I have a polite sit-down wine-drinkin’ food-eatin’ audience, who spend way more per head than club-night patrons do. I own a PA that works for what I book (there is one in the venue, I just don’t like it), and I book musicians who are either a) local or b) already on tour. I promise them no guarantee in advance, but split all money equally amongst the performers, minus tangible expenses like congestion charge… For this reason, almost all the musicians I ever book live in London, have their own gear and transport (if someone is getting a taxi each way to the gig, that’s probably going to eat up half of what we’ll make on the gig!)

The alternative is to find a night that already exists and will book them – like the Arctic Circle night that booked Hauschka and Max Richta – while I hadn’t heard of either of them, they clearly have a substantial following that Ben was able to tap into and put on an amazing night, but again, his events have a history and a certain level of ‘regular clientele’ – it’s really tough to put a gig on that makes money without that.

As a bench mark for some of the potential costs involved, 5000 A6 double-sided colour flyers costs about £80-£90 – you might be able to split the cost of that with the band’s record label if you put an ad for their latest album on the other side – you then need to get those distributed, either in bars/clubs/restaurants that have flyers available, or by standing outside targeted gigs, giving them out to people who will hopefully be interested.

Contacting the press is also tricky if you have no pedigree – I’ve finally started getting good write-ups in Time Out after years of them being largely indifferent to what I did, but I think it’s because someone who was already a fan of mine is now handling the jazz listings there.

So who to talk to? Ben Eshmade, for sure. Might also be worth approaching The Vortex in Dalston – they might be interested in helping out. And any other venues where you’ve seen similar gigs – Notting Hill Arts Centre, the Arts Depot, Cargo, The Bill Chill House, possibly the Regal Rooms in Hammersmith…

Bottom line, you can never do too much research, but make sure that you’re not promising something you can’t deliver on – in my head I cut in half the projected audience that anyone says they can bring in if they are putting on a show featuring me – people who like my music always overestimate how interested the general public will be in what I do… They do tend to love it when they get to hear it, but trying to get people out to gigs by people they’ve not heard of before is REALLY difficult.

Oi! England! SLOW DOWN!!!

wow, you go away for 7 weeks, come back, and find a new prime minister, a smoking ban, a massive terrorist weirdness thing going on, Wimbledon tennis in full swing… Will i recognise it when I get off the plane? Have all the men grown Amish beards? Have all the laydees grown Amish beards???

I fly to New York tomorrow, and then – hopefully – to London on Tuesday. We’ll see what happens with all the mentalism that’s going on in England at the moment… Does anyone have an email address for the nutters with the non-exploding car bombs? It’d be nice to email them, tell them how much they are potentially disrupting my travel plans, and ask nicely if they wouldn’t mind changing their method of protest… I’m sure they’d listen if they heard my concerns about the airlines reinstating the restrictions on hand-luggage…

Strangeness on a train…

It’s a universal process – you get onto your chosen mode of public transport (plane, train, and I guess coach…), and until take-off or departure, you sit in your designated seat, waiting and hoping against hope that a better seat is available and that you get there before someone else does. It requires a certain amount of focus and determination to secure the four-in-a-row empty seats on a 747, and in all my years of flying I’ve only managed it once – on the way back from San Francisco, jan 2006.

But that’s not the point of this ‘ere blog post – the point of this, my dear bloglings, is to tell of a bizarre happening. On, in fact, that is still unfolding around me as L and I sit here on the TGV from Lyon to Paris (Lyon because we managed to miss our direct train from Geneva to Paris, and had to re-route – it’s times like this that you thank God for month-long rail passes, fo shiz…)

No, the strangeness unfolding around us began with us following the universal process listed above. We boarded the DOUBLE DECKER TGV (DOUBLE DECKER???? How bad-ass is that! I’m like a 10 year old kid, all excited to be travelling on such fantastic futuristic transport. It couldn’t be better unless the Jetsons were serving drinks!) and took our allocated seats (on the top deck, no less – YAY!!) and the carriage seemed pretty empty. all good. The train pulled away, and no-one else showed up, so L and I moved to the table seats in front of us, to get a lil’ more leg roomage. All good for about 4 or 5 minutes, when four oriental women arrived (I’m trying to work out if they are Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or from somewhere else – I’m not having much luck working it out, and it’s not that important, but I do like the be able to furnish you with these details). So these four show up, and start looking curiously at the numbers on both the tables (that’s 8 seats for four people), and point out that these are their seats. No problem, we move back to our seats. And, it seems, just in time, as their arrival then proved to be akin to the appearance of a couple of scout-orcs over the hill in a LOTR battle scene, and over the next 5 minutes EVERY seat in the carriage was filled with oriental peoples from the same party! All of them, hundreds of them, appearing from nowhere. Where the hell were they when the train pulled away from the station? Who gets on a train and doesn’t go and find their seats?? Where does one hide that many tourists on a train? So many questions, with very few plausible answers… Definitely the strangest thing I’ve experienced on a train.

Quick post from Geneva…

Sorry for lack of blog-action over the last few days – been traveling a lot, sketchy web access, and on Saturday had a FANTASTIC gig in Brescia, Italy – I’ve played there before but this was my biggest gig there so far. In the Chiesa di San Cristo, a beautiful fresco covered building from (I think) the 13th century… Half my set was solo, half with Lobelia, who was, frankly, amazing – we did one of her songs (Happy – which we also did in Croydon the week before, and in NYC), an improv thing, and she added amazing vocal loopage to a version of Highway 1, which was definitely the best version of that I’ve done since the very first time I ever played with Theo Travis, back in 2002…

Anyway, great gig, lovely time in Brescia, as always, and more stuff to tell, but I’ve just arrived in Geneva, am knackered, and need a shower and some sleeps. g’night…

House concerts – how it works…

Thursday night’s gig in Petersfield was fun, though to a tiny audience. Playing to little groups of people is always fun, though in a setting where more are expected, it’s not usually all that financially viable. So there’s the trade-off – fun gig, but no way to make a living. Which is where house concerts (like the one pictured) come in.

House concerts are a way for musicians to play to little groups of lovely listeners, in comfortable surroundings with lovely food and drink and make it pay. it’s a chance for people with moderately large houses to present their favourite music to their friends (unless your favourite music happens to be Beyonce, Elvis, The Polyphonic Spree or Cannibal Corpse – too expensive, too dead, too large and too loud, respectively).

How does it work? Well, I come to your house and play to your friends – either you can pay me to do it as a gift to them, or you can get them all to make a donation to make it happen… if you’re going the donation route, I’d need some kind of guarantee (which is going to vary depending on how far I have to travel to get there, and how many people are going to be there – the more people, the better the opportunities for selling CDs…)

I can bring my little PA with me, if you don’t have anything for me to plug into, so all i need is a little bit of space and a plug socket. It’s great fun, and it doesn’t take a massive amount of space – it’s doable even with 15-20 people in a moderate sized lounge.

So, if you’re interested, email me, and check out these links to a couple of american sites on how to put on a house concert – link 1 and link 2.
And this UK one from Acoustic Routes magazine – which looks pretty comprehensive.

Go on, you know you want to… i’m booking them now for the UK in april/may, and for the US in May/June…

Flying used to be so much fun…

As I’ve said before, I love travel. Love it.

However, airports are now stretching that resolve. Dubya and his made-up War on Tourism (brown people who do bad things in planes) have completely screwed up the process, holding people up for trying to take a tickle-me-elmo onto a plane that’s not in its box, and confiscating toothpaste… I guess you could overpower a pilot with a tube of toothpaste… if the pilot was less than 4 years old and had a severe toothpaste allergy…

The only upside is it might make more people realise what a great way to travel the train is (screwed up Irish Sea ferry things notwithstanding) – as the 80s advert said – this is the age of the train…

But anyway, if you are flying, please give a smile to the poor people who work in airports these days – it’s got to be a seriously thankless task, and one where they need to be obsessive to the point of it being clinical, about things they almost certainly don’t really give a shit about. So smile.

See you on ‘tother side of the atlantic!

Place names…

There’s a really strange element to traveling across Northern Ireland, in that almost every place name is familiar as the site of a bombing, or a murder or some kind of act of sectarian violence or political significance from the last 30 years. It’s like visiting southern california and driving past signs for Mulholland Drive and Sunset Blvd, only instead of feeling like you’re on a film set, you feel like you’re a bystander on a news broadcast. It’s a strange thing with place names – like Columbine or Waco, Darfur or Wounded Knee – they cease to be the name of a town, and become shorthand for disaster, for tragedy, for crazy behaviour.

It’s one of the interesting things about watching foreign news – or spending a lot of time in another country – you find a whole new set of significant place names. In the UK we’ve got Dunblane – site of a school shooting, Aberfan – site of a coal-slag-heap that collapsed on a school in the late 60s and wiped out an entire generation of kids there, Toxteth – area of Bristol where riots took place in the 70s. Brixton – more riots; Broadwater Farm – yet more riots; Lockerbie – the place where the plane blown up by Libyan terrorists crashed in Scotland… the list goes on. You drive past the road signs and they stick moreso than the rest of the small towns and council estates that fly past on long journeys…

Northern Ireland is littered with them. The sad thing is that it gets to the point where the feeling is a non-specific one – any place name you recognise must be the site of a tragedy, when in reality it could be that you heard it mentioned in a song, or had a pen-friend that lived there in your teens…

it’s been really lovely to spend a few days with lovely people in Belfast – the delightful Dr Higgins is a fantastic tour-guide to the psyche of the place (he hosted the amazing panel discussion at Greenbelt with the representatives from both sides that was so controversial they couldn’t release the tape of it). He’s a wise wise man, and I realise after just a couple of days how little I know about the history of what has gone on over there in the last half a century. I mean, I know the stuff that gets reported. I’ve read articles and interviews, watched the documentaries. But I’ve not even scratched the surface…

Belfast is one of those places that is now forever going to be a benevolent place in my mind – you know, those towns where the only people you know from there are lovely, so you subconsciously think that everyone there is delightful and friendly and wonderful? Nashville’s like that too. And Edinburgh is all about creative people being wacky on the royal mile… except it isn’t really, it’s just how you file things according to your experience. So Belfast is a place of community and parties and good food and great conversation and lovely lovely people and Neil Diamond, Bond Themes, hopes for the New Year, lots of hugs, a place to realise just how pathetic my knowledge of film is and how much catching up I’ve got to do, a place to walk along the beach in the freezing cold talking about child development and irving Goffman, Kierkagaard and the essence of self.

So at least one place has changed ‘Belfast’ is no longer just the site of orange marches and bomb scares. I’ll smile every time it’s mentioned on the news now.

Oh, and Gareth, if you haven’t written 2000 words today, you’ve no business reading blogs – get back to work. :o) x

Tough times for the ecomonkey traveller…

So surely after the ferry troubles on the way here, I deserved an easy ride home? oops.

I’m sat in the departure lounge at Dun… dun… Dun something – no idea how to spell the name of the ferry port just outside Dublin. it’s pronounced ‘Leary’. Anyway, I’m here, the ferry’s about three hours late, the weather’s to blame, which means there’s an odds-on chance I’ll puke again on the boat… It’s certainly testing my resolve to do this any time I come to Ireland… Nah, it’s not that bad, I just end up sitting around a lot. it’s not an efficient use of time, that’s for sure, but it’s still better than taking yet more short-haul flights.

So for tne next couple of hours I’ll be here in the ferry terminal. Thankfully, this is a much quicker actual crossing than the car ferry, and hopefully there’ll be train to london not too long after we get into Holyhead.

in the meantime, I’m being treated to piped music in the form of some late 80s hits compilation – Dub Be Good To Me, anybody? How about some Technotronic? Oh yes, just what’s needed at a time like this, music from the motion picture soundtrack ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’. Cowa-fucking-bunga.