Monday, 22 March 2010


 I remember when I was but an excitable young guitarist in my early twenties, talking to what seemed (back then) a dinosaurianly old geezer in his early thirties.  He opined that he was no longer particularly impressed if someone played him a very good song on the guitar, as loads of people had done that, including a friend of his.

Putting to one side for the moment the possibility of bias re his friend, I was back then somewhat shocked.  My whole raison d'etre had been to try and craft finely-honed songwriting gems, learning the Simon & Garfunkel and Beatles songbooks, etc.

Now, however, I'm starting to see what he meant.  Go to pretty much any open mic in Edinburgh of a weekday, and you will probably hear some very good, possibly even great, songs.  But, they're still just songs on an acoustic, nice though they are.  If you were to listen to a whole album of that, you would possibly get a bit tired before the end, due to the arrangement being all the same, i.e. one guitar, one voice, and the ear/brain combo naturally rebels against uniformity of sound.

But, you may cry, surely with a bit of judicious arranging, these songs could be filled out even more, like a songwriting Cutty Sark under a fair westerly?  Ah, but therein lies a problem.  It would appear that the same skills that enabled the young troubadour to fashion their heartfelt piece, do not spring from the same source that enable good arrangements.  In fact, what can happen is that the song can be diminished, not enhanced, by a dull bass/drums arrangement, or a distracting melodic second instrument of some sort. Or the vocals are too quiet.  Or the guitar sounds crap as it's been DI'd. Or . . .

In actual fact, it's very hard to arrange and record a song so that it does justice to the song itself, and doesn't get in the way of what the song's about.  Choice of instrumentation, how everything sits in the mix, how effects are applied and to what, the room it's recorded in, the attitude of the sound engineer . . . the list could go on for a long time.  It all somehow plays a part in the final recording.  Speaking as someone who has oft-times been disappointed with their band's results from a recording session, I cannot claim knowledge of any of these secrets.

That's probably why, in the harsh light of reality, very few local artist's CD's are on repeat listening in my house.  The songs may be there, but the arrangments aren't.  There's some honourable exceptions to this, but in general, on getting the CD home, a vague sense of disappointment fills one on hearing the first few tracks.

Next issue:  Those (IMHO) worthy CD's!!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Two local music nights

I've been to two music nights in the past week, the first being Secret CD's, the night of ol' Hairy Legs himself.  Prior to the gig I thought Ukellilli smacked of faintly irritating novelty fare, but on the night itself, it was actually better than I had anticipated.  I found that I tired of the uke's musical possibilities quite quickly though, much like Impossibles John did. Speaking of which, it was very nice to see John again, now that Callum Haddow has gone to Australia, I'm going to propose him as the new "The nicest man in rock" (in the Edinburgh area, at least).

Despite the obvious technical accomplishments of both Windlestray and The Douglas Kay Band, I found it was Callum Carlyle's performance that I got the most out of.  Possibly as I'd heard some of the material before, possibly because I sort of know him, and possibly because The Storm's cellist Al was playing bass, but mainly because I think his songs had something to say.

On seeing Mr Cakes the next day, I mentioned I'd been to the night.  "Shit venue", he said immediately.  Thinking about it, I've often been unable to see the band, and it can feel a bit claustrophobic.  I think Jim has proved that there's an appetite for a night such as his, and the musical quality is usually very good, so logic would suggest a bigger venue.  Not easy to find the right place though.

On to the Blue Blazer on Sunday, for Tommy MacKay, whom I hadn't seen for ages.  Now sporting a crazy wild man's beard, he remains his affable self.  Some people are naturally funny, and I think Tommy is one of them, there were times during his set that had me laughing like a maniac.  Even more surprising perhaps, was turning to the Doc of Rock, and to find her in even more uncontrollable fits of mirth.  There was a priceless moment, when Tommy was singing something suitably ridiculous, when his facial expression seemed to combine horror and revulsion, that will live in my chuckle-banks for many a year.  Brilliant, and an engaging cameo from Big Jim's "Theakstons in the Sun" song too.  Fun was had.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Diamonds v Domes

The other day, I was listening to Radio 2's Saturday lunchtime show while making lunch.  Up-and-coming popsters Marina & The Diamonds were on, but I thought the presenter had called them "Marina And The Domes".  I was quite disappointed when I found out it was "diamonds".

Anyway, just now I had a listen to their latest single, and felt a bit bored quite quickly.  Nothing awful about it, but why should I listen to a paler imitation of Kate Bush?  I guess those young folks won't have heard of her, so won't care.

I think Mr Cakes' idea was good though.  If they were the "Domes" and not the "Diamonds", she could have been surrounded by a bald backing band.  That would have amused me, at any rate.