Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Ego wall

I've gone off my music a bit recently, and I've been wondering why.  I've started wondering if it's because I've actually achieved a lot of what I wanted to do, albeit in a very small, non-commercial manner.

So, what have I done exactly?  Well . . .

I played electric guitar in a fairly straight ahead indie pop band (Scatter)

I played acoustic guitar in an acoustic duo (Jim and Nelson/Flowers For Algernon, Mk I).

I played harp, by which I mean harmonica - note: not harpsichord, as was claimed in Visual Opinions ("Nelson Wright played the harpsichord and gave a wonderful texture to the piece") - in a Blues Band (Sawmill Buddhas, Mk I)

I played djembe and bass in Norman Lamont & The Innocents (Mk 3?), and also guitar in Norman's "Roadblock Band"

I played bongoes, djembe and an occasional full drum kit with the G (along with the aforementioned Obi-Norm-Kenobi)

I played bass with The Sawmill Buddhas Mk II

I played all of the above, apart from drums, in various incarnations of Flowers For Algernon.  I played piano once for them too.  Not that I can.

I played fairly distorted, reasonably loud and dirty electric guitar in a sort of heavy pop band (The Hairy Apes).  "Surprisingly heavy" opined Mr Cakes at the time.

I played acoustic guitar and mandolin with Norm in The Wright Brothers.

I've also done quite a few collaborations, e.g. I've played guitar with Jill Hepburn, and Ben from The Honeyshot, harp for David Ferrard, electric and djembe for Ms Fi etc.  I've doubtless done more than that, but I can't remember right now.

I currently play djembe and harmonica with The Storm.

So, I've been in an electric band, an acoustic band, an acoustic electric band, a two, three, four five and six-piece band, a folk-pop band, a blues band, a rock band, a pop band.  I've written songs, I've written lyrics, I've arranged songs, written second and third guitar parts, sung backing vocals, got to know how the basics of how a studio and sound engineering works.  Speaking of which, I've also done live sound, recorded sound (not very well), created music websites,   organised music nights, designed logos, posters and fliers, handed out fliers in the streets, and flyposted.

Until relatively recently, the one thing I hadn't done was to play solo.  It's not the most obvious course to pursue when one is 37, not least because the notion terrified me.  Now though, I have managed to do that, and I've got to the point where I can tell that at least some people in the room want to listen.  I think the culmination of this phase was playing a solo set at the Blue Blazer (along with the excellent musicians Fi, Dr S and Norm that is), something which I found unthinkable even a year ago.  It's not exactly the Albert Hall, but for me, it meant the achievement of something.

So, what now?  As much as I like playing the acoustic, I'm starting to miss playing the electric.  There lies a whole other world though, one typically beset by the demons of transporting amps and drum kits, practice room fees, wasting hours at soundchecks, and a load more hassle for potentially no more gain. 

Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Last Picture Show

I ambled along to The Picture House in Edinburgh on Sunday with the Doc of Rock, to see a very un-rock-like band, Beirut.  I'd never been to this venue before, and was interested to see what it was like.  I say I've never been here before, but I had once, a very long time ago, when it was an extremely grotty club.  Thankfully, it's no longer grotty, and is in fact quite presentable inside.  Kind of like a smaller, cleaner, more friendly Barrowlands, but without having yet earned that rock 'n' roll grit.

 I wasn't sure what Beirut would sound like live, as a lot of their songs have orchestral instruments.  It was surprisingly powerful, partly because they dispensed with any songs requiring strings, and instead focussed on the brass section ones.  When a trumpet, trombone, and a higher trumpet-thing all blast in together, it fairly makes an impact.  All the musicians were great, and the singing was excellent too.  All in all, I think I enjoyed it more than I thought I was going to.  And, all that without too many recognisable lyrics or choruses.  As the Doc remarked though, it was like the instrumental passages were the choruses.  I guess that's what they call a refrain?

It's a shame there aren't more bands that I want to see appearing at The Picture House, they often seem to have well-known covers bands or the like.  That's the rough and tumble of the post-modern milieu I guess.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Did you see the drummer's hair?

Possibly because I'm not in too many bands these days (whittled down from it's peak of five to my current one - The Storm), my imagination has started making up bands.  Thus, we have:

No Meat For Bad Boy - These are a Japanese Post-industrial Techno-Metal band.  I've no idea if that genre exists, or what it may sound like, but they're in it.  It's kinda heavy, but has a weird pop feel at times, which is a bit unsettling.  They're big in Japan and Belarus, and have sold about 200 records in Britain.  Yet their arty posters are curiously popular on Leeds University students' bedroom walls.

Pagan Gizzard - Metal Nu-prog (again, I am a bit hazy about the exact genre, or if it even exists), but at least two of their members have plaited beards.  They're Dutch, and have been touring Europe for a long time in their camper van.  No-one knows why, but they're very popular in Birmingham, and have sold more records than you may think.  Long-term fans refer to them affectionately as simply, "The Gizzard".

Not Pagan Gizzard
I was hosting the Listening Room on Sunday, after what seemed to have been a rather successful "Rum Club" evening.  Rather a struggle with noisy fellows at first.  "Is it really especially character-building playing to noisy disinterested people?" I wondered, as I went down like the proverbial lead balloon.  If so, I should be getting beatified sometime soon, the amount of character I must have built up over the years.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

An experiment

So, I went with the Doc to see Susanna McDonald's Experimentalista show.  I'd seen a sort of warm-up gig at OOTB some weeks before, so I had some idea of what to expect.  What I hadn't realised was that Susanna was accompanied by a dancer, which is sometimes enough to make me run screaming from the room, but in this case, I think it worked.

The show itself was more reminiscent of cabaret-style entertainment than your average singer-songwriter showcase, which in my mind suited Susanna perfectly.  All those years strumming a guitar, and she sounds better with a piano.  Who'd have thought?  There were tender moments, occasions of powerful drama, and even fear at some points.  I'd recommend it.  It's interesting to see a performer adapt to the Fringe, and it's well done in my view.

The only criticism IMHO would be that for me, there didn't seem to be a lot of recognisable choruses in the songs, although some I was hearing for the first time.  For some people, that's not a problem, but I like to have something to hang off.  It probably mattered less in this setting, as there was always a visual element to keep you entertained.  But well done Susanna!