Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas y’all – I hope those of you that celebrate Christmas are having a fantastic day, spending it with people you love, and reflecting on the things that matter in your life.

For those that don’t celebrate Christmas, I hope you’re having a lovely time anyway!

I’m spending it in Somerset with my family, which is rather fun – it’s the first time I’ve been around kids on Christmas morning for quite a while, and it definitely takes on a whole other angle… My usual ‘grown up’ Christmas is usually just a day to relax and think about the birth of Jesus – this is the first year for ages that I’ve missed the Christmas eve and Christmas day services at St Luke’s, and it feels kinda strange, but it is lovely to see the kids down here.

Just watching Robert Beckford’s fascinating ‘Secret Family Of Jesus’ documentary – his program last year on ‘Who Wrote The Bible?’ was probably the best bit of TV I’ve ever seen on Christmas day, and this one’s pretty damn fine too.

Peace, in the name of the Prince of Peace (don’t you just wish that all those world leaders who claim to be Christians would remember that they are supposed to be following the Prince Of Peace?) xx

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!!

Typical Muse Fans….

So yesterday afternoon, TAFKASJ IMs and says ‘do you want a ticket for Muse?’ What could I say? they’re one of the few RAWK bands I’d have much interest in seeing live, they’ve got a kick ass bassist, and their set from Glasto on the TV a few years back was one of the best I’ve ever seen from there.

And, to be fair, they delivered – huge light show, drummer inside a spaceship thing, air punching, nonsense apocalyptic lyrics, mosh pit, smoke, and a singer/guitarist who so badly wants to be Brian May he’s one flourish away from a curly mullet wig.

Muse have got 4 or 5 world-beatingly brilliant singles. Anthemic, catchy, original, HUGE. The rest of the set is good too, very good, just all on the same emotional level, sonically in pretty much the same area (when Matt switches to piano to become the Liberace of Emo, the uber-compressed sound of his piano is in almost exactly the same register as his guitar. The gig is like a 90 minute encore – any song could’ve been their last. I was aching for an acoustic guitar tune by the end. or a brass band, or a string section, or…

They played brilliantly, ran around like crazed munchkins, and the drummer did all the between song chat (as TAFKASJ said, ‘you’ve got worry when it’s the drummer in the band that has all the personality’ – haha!) And it was well worth going. Hysteria is still one of the most iconic basslines of the last 10 years, fo sho.

Good jeorb!

Weird interview style, but great answers from Bruce Cockburn

Just found this via the ‘Humans’ discussion list (Bruce Cockburn email geekfest, a lovely bunch of people) – it’s taken from www.canada.com, and is a very odd way to publish an interview, just as a series of soundbites on topics, but Bruce Cockburn has always been great at one liners, so here’s the list –

On recording and performing at age 61: “It’s not so much wondering
how I could be doing this at this age as [the fact] I’ve actually
lasted this long. When I started out I had no idea where I was going
to go.”

On pop and songs that appear in TV advertisements: “Once I hear a
song in a commercial, I don’t want to listen to the record again.
It’s ruined for me.”

On songwriting: “It’s just that bloodhound hunt for the perfect piece
of writing.”

On artistic restlessness: “There’s a kind of feeling I have of
wanting to get onto the next thing. Sometimes even before I’ve
finished the thing I’m working on.”

On being prolific (Life Short Call Now is his 29th recording): “Every
album I’ve made has always felt like it might be my last.”

On mortality: “Once you’re past 50, the odds are you’re looking at
the downward slope . . . Almost everything I’ve written is about
death and hope. In some way I’ve written my own obituary dozens of
times, you know.”

On the cosmos: “I kind of feel like every speck is significant. And
I’m certainly a speck . . . Perhaps I owe this to experiences with
LSD way back when, but it seems to me that everything touches
everything, and everything is in an constant state of flux. And that
flux has an order to it.”

On why it’s not so bad to be a speck: “I’m also as essential to the
cosmos as anything else in it.”

On God: “I don’t have much of a definition of God these days. I like
the kabbalists’ way of referring to God as ‘the boundless who is not
really accessible.’ You have to approach God — in their view —
through angels or through imagery that doesn’t reflect the
boundlessness, because it’s beyond comprehension… I kind of feel
like that.”

On why his parents bought young Cockburn a guitar only after he
solemnly swore not to wear sideburns and a leather jacket: “They were
worried about rock and roll and teenaged gangs with switchblades.”

On being frequently summoned to support good causes: “Sometimes I get
frustrated. I’m not the only guy out there. Call up Avril Lavigne,
for cryin’ out loud. She’s going to get to a lot more people than me.”

On the phrase “tattoos done while you wait” which appears in his new
song, Life Short Call Now. (Cockburn was inspired while driving
through Missouri): “All of a sudden there’s this big white billboard
with small print in the middle of it, that says, ‘Mike’s Tattoos,
done while you wait’ and a phone number. I thought, ‘That’s gotta be
in a song.’ “

And now I’m off to get ready for my gig near Newport in Wales tonight. See you there!

"I like pretty much anything…"

so goes the beginning to So many people’s list of favourite music on MySpace. They then proceed to list only music that has a) singers, b) that sing in english and c) bands with drum kits, or programmed drums that sound like drum kits.

THAT’S NOT ‘PRETTY MUCH ANYTHING’!! By any stretch of the imagination, that’s a very very narrow range of what’s on offer in the world of music. This faux cosmopolitan approach to music is fostered by radio and TV shows that claim to have a hugely wide booking policy that reminds me of that line in The Blues Brothers ‘we have both types of music – Country AND Western’.

I feel like bombarding these people with MP3s of Gamalan orchestras and Harry Partch, Tuvan throat singing and Gustav Mahler, Bollywood soundtracks and Andean pan pipes, Noel Coward and Fats Waller, Henry Purcell and Meshuggah… ‘pretty much anything’ really, until they say ‘I have, in the greater scheme of things, incredibly conservative music taste, it runs the gamut of ‘white-boy stadium guitar nonense’ from Coldplay to Stereophonics, but I have got a Boards Of Canada album, cos someone told me they were cool, and it was cheap in Borders.’

For the record, I don’t like ‘pretty much anything’ – I actively dislike most of the music I’ve heard in my life. It’s not out of some musicological misanthropy, it’s just that even across the range of styles and genres I like, I tend to only like the best of it. The reason being that most music isn’t very good. That’s what’s magical about music – if it was as easy as breathing, we wouldn’t value it at all. We wouldn’t have favourites, in the same way that most of us don’t have favourite ‘walkers’ – (“ooh, just look at the way he puts one foot in front of the other”) – we can almost all do it, it’s a hugely useful skill, but it’s not generally considered a uniquely artistic one in the way that making great music is.

That said, our reasons for liking music go beyond the sound of the music itself, often. There are emotional resonances based on things we’ve heard before, there are cultural, social and personal connections with the performers and writers, there are lyrics that grab us and draw us into styles we wouldn’t previously have bothered with, there’s music played by people we know (The Cheat is always laughing at me for spending most of my time listening to music by friends of mine), there’s music that we encounter in good situations (opening for a favourite band, soundtracking a favourite film, or just on in the background when great things happen).

But that still doesn’t come close to ‘pretty much anything’ – so if you have that on your myspace page, please go and change it, and put something more honest! ;o)

OK, who thought Jackass was some kind of infomercial?

the crassness of the world of amusement parks just hit an all time low with this story – if you eat a LIVE cockroach, you get to jump the queues for all the rides…




What on earth is going on? It’s the kind of thing Steve-O off Jackass or those buffoons on Dirty Sanchez would do, thinking it was cool. But in both of their defenses, they got a TV series out of it!!! That’s a career, all be it a weird one that involves covering yourself in human waste and nailing your scrotum to a plank on occasion… The idea that eating live insects is somehow a good thing to do to get onto amusement rides quicker is utterly beyond me. Quite apart from the being vegetarian part of me, crunching up live-but-immanently-dead animals just seems very wrong indeed. (actually i doubt it is quite apart from me being vegetarian – my repulsion at it is definitely heightened by my general distain for eating meat…)

As we used to say in the 80s, pre-Blair; ‘it could only happen in America’.

now THIS is why I got a freeview box…

Before we upgraded our TV options from the regular 5 terrestrial channels to the greater variety of FreeView, I would regularly read about people watching Joni Mitchell live gigs on there, or Dylan documentaries, or jazz gigs or whatever, and that drove my resolve to get a freeview box in the place.

And now, after God-know-how-long, I’ve finally been enjoying the fruits of BBC4’s output – for some reason I’ve always missed their music output until this evening, but today have watched Liane Carroll live from Brecon Jazz, Oscar Peterson live (with the majestic Neils Hennigs Orsted Pederson on bass), a Johnny Cash documentary, and now Roseanne Cash in concert. What a marvellous evening’s entertainment!

Today’s been a fun day, recording Ruthie Culver’s voice for her album – the rest of it was recorded a while back in a studio, but thanks to a major technological breakdown in the studio, the vocals weren’t useable. So we’re redoing them in StevieStudio. Much fun! We’ll be spending a few days on this over the next couple of weeks…

Reality music TV – is it improved by Rocking Out?

I’ve just wasted the last 20 minutes watching RockStar Supernova – I was mildly interested to see if ‘Rock’ musicians did reality music TV any better than the manufacturers of pop. The answer is a resounding no. Watching losers trying to impress Tommy Lee, Jason Newsted and Gilby Clarke enough to be allowed to be their front person, by playing heinous cover versions with the house band makes for pretty wretched TV, and doesn’t seem to be any more about having anything artistic or creative to say beyond ‘check me out I’m an identikit rawkstar’.

Nope, TV talent shows are just the same as any other lame-assed talent show just with a bigger special effects budget.

Shit on a stick.

Get some lessons!!!

The new series of X-Factor have just started. I’ve blogged extensively in the past about the tragic televisual car accident that is ‘reality’ TV talent shows. The thing that I think is most sad about this is that they never seem to say ‘go and get some sodding singing lessons, you moron!!!!’ to the losers that get up there and are rubbish.

Let’s put it simply – if you REALLY want to be any good at something, you need to study at it. Singing ability is VERY RARELY innate. instrumental ability never is. It requires practice, and the techniques involved in singing are just as hard as those involved in instrumental performance. If you want to be a singer – in fact, even if you’re already a singer – you SO need to get some lessons. They’ll protect your voice from the thrashing that bad technique will give it, they’ll give you better intonation, more control, better breathing. There are NO DOWNSIDES WHATSOEVER to getting singing lessons.

So why aren’t these cabbage patch kids-grown-up who come on TV claiming that ‘singing is their life’ getting any fucking lessons?? If I ever decide to launch myself as a singer as well as a bassist, I’ll get lessons. As a bassist, I went to music college for two years. It’s what you do when you want to get good.

Is it easy enough to understand?

And the same goes for those who can already sing but want to accompany themselves. In the right hands an acoustic guitar is an instrument of almost limitless beauty and potential. In the wrong hands it’s an out of tune cheese grater pouring red ants into the listeners ear-holes. So get some lessons! Again, it can only do you good.

I went to a really good gig on Friday night – Christine Collister has quite rightly been described as one of the best female singers in the country. She’s highly in demand as a session singer, and does gorgeous versions of other people’s songs. She’s also a reasonable guitarist. If she studied a bit, she’d be a fantastic guitarist, and would have the whole package. It’s not that she’s bad, it’s just that with a voice that good, it would be fantastic to hear it coupled with guitar playing to match. She can play, it wouldn’t take her long. She’s already come up with some pretty interesting arrangements, but the guitar is very definitely her second string.

So, you want to be the best? It does indeed take the dedication that the marvellous Roy Castle reminded us of on a weekly basis is our childhood. And the single best way to learn that stuff is one on one lessons. I don’t say this because I’m a teacher, I teach because it’s true.


Steve Irwin's death…

So the big news today pretty much across all the news sources I’ve looked at has been the death of Steve Irwin. And, like a lot of people, TSP and I have been talking about him, his conservation work, how his work as a naturalist contrasted with his ‘crocodile hunter’ image (which never involved hunting them at all, as far as I can see).

I always feel a bit weird about the sadness that surrounds celeb deaths, especially those who haven’t really made much of a dent in your life – I mean, John Peel’s death felt like something major had gone from the lives of an entire generation of British radio listeners and musicians, but Steve Irwin was always a novelty character on UK TV, someone to be giggled at as he hammed up an encounter with some poisonous critter or other.

There’s a deep and genuine sadness for his family – his wife and two small children – it’s always terrible to hear of families that are bereaved. And that’s just it. There are loads of bereaved families every day, there are naturalists and conservationists dying, there are humanitarian workers being killed, peace protesters in the middle east, aid workers in Darfur, good people, unknown, unsung wonderful selfless people who die and leave a devastating hole in their families, but don’t make the news because they weren’t showbiz enough.

This isn’t to take anything away from sadness of Steve Irwin’s death, or to suggest that we should have a TV channel for obituaries of ordinary people. More that we should be aware of our own dispensation towards colourful characters, be they in the media or in our social situations. It’s easy to mourn the death of a star, just as it’s easy to mark any event in the lives of people who make themselves the centre of attention, but it’s harder to see, to recognise the good done by those who don’t do their positive work in the spotlight, who don’t have a catchphrase, or a film about their life, but instead get on with doing their thing. And if we’re not careful we’ll miss them, miss the chances we have to celebrate them, the encourage them and to support their families if they are tragically taken away.

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