2012 was bipolar – but I’d do it all again
Well, that was a… colourful year. And who could ask for more? Rather that than the alternative, which is a dreary thought. Death!
So what happened? (I’m still asking myself that, so this summary is as much for my benefit as anything else.)
1) Released 2nd album. Got more, and better, reviews than #1 – which was kind of the idea.
2) Did a brief and eventful tour after release – pretty much broke even: another first. Played a fair few other gigs, mostly solo, some with…
3) A band, which orbited around the songs for roughly 8-9 months and then exploded. With hindsight, it was never going to last, but during that time we played…
4) Live on BBC Introducing: The South (and the single got a little air-time too). This was exciting.
…Besides these bare bullet-points, I’ve just kept on doing it, “it” being more songs. Met some potential collaborators in the last couple of months, had a few tantalising overtures; again, I’m not going into detail yet for fear of The Jinx; in this game, so many promising set-ups tend to evaporate without warning.
But it’s promising just the same. And it’s been a blast – on a gross venal level, the trickle of royalties makes filling in an income tax Self Assessment form such a thrill.
Joking aside, I’m still fuelling off the highs and regret none of the lows – hope you (whoever you are) likewise. Happy New Year.
notes from waaay underground, Sept 2012
It’s hardly an original observation, but we’re in an unprecedented place with music right now. And that’s leaving aside the hopelessly blurred question of illicit downloads (although the idea that music should be a free, inexhaustible and perpetually-available resource, like sunlight or oxygen, is utterly self-defeating). (Strawman argument, anyone? Sod it – like I said, blurred.)
What we’ve got is an ever-more-entrenched top tier – the trad music biz – with a chokehold on all outlets still, despite everything. Shrinking but sucking up all the gravy, digging in, skimming off as much short-term profit on karaoke and career-path indie as possible… and then there’s practically everyone else. Okay, there are exceptions when someone interesting somehow gets over the fence, but you know what I’m saying.
“Everyone else” being the huge semi-pro DIY mass, squashed in a corner, playing the long game. Doing it for the love of it, waiting for a break, gambling on longevity – or persistence – or bloody-mindedness – or vision, call it what you will. (If the sheer volume of ever-accumulating stuff out there on the internet hasn’t made a nonsense of ideas like “back catalogue” and “posterity”, for unknowns anyway.) This in itself isn’t a new thing; it’s the extent of the lower tier that’s new. There simply aren’t enough outlets that pay – either in terms of making a living, or the finer commodity of sustained visibility. Of course the situation could eventually stabilize, even improve; something unexpected might come along and change the game again. Until then, though…
They believe in what they’re doing, these hidden dreamers, so they roll the dice and carry on regardless.
As will I, despite the discouraging recent experience of having a backing band blow up on the launchpad. Discouraging, not fatal – with 20/20 hindsight it’s best in the long run, for reasons I needn’t go into here. Gave me ideas on how I’d like to continue, which is something; time now to get on with it.
Another year, another gamble: thankfully, the work is its own reward. Clearly lots of other people feel the same.
I haven’t fronted a band since Empty Vessels on 14th Dec 2006 at The Montague Arms (RIP): so what’s changed? Happily, very little.
Solo acoustic (or with perhaps one other musician, eg. keyboards) is a totally different animal – I’d forgotten how charged the atmosphere at a real gig can be. The New Cross Inn on Friday was vibey as ever; I, Ludicrous sounded good – well, their soundcheck did, we’d buggered off back to Brighton in the van by the time they went onstage – and the sheer power and physicality of the experience was… well, there aren’t any words, really. I just love feeling the drum-cracks and noise-shreds blast my spine, and aiming my voice right… through… the middle; worth every second, every minor discomfort and expediency.
It went over well, too; nice crowd. It’s good to be back. More to follow, soon.
oh, and many thanks to Andy Clarke, without whom…
The Facebook link above has the necessary, but bare bones: it’s at The Hydrant in Brighton, suggested donation of £3 for entry, starts 7:30pm – I’m onstage 7:50ish. It’s also the last solo gig I’ll do for a while, all being well.*
It’s also, needless to say, in a good cause: ie. to help prevent Benefits being stripped from those who need them most by a bunch of blinkered, sociopathic Victorian mill-owner types… who wouldn’t know genuine, compassionately-motivated positive intervention if it lined them up against a wall, blindfolded and executed them by firing-squad. (Think it’s plain where I stand on this issue.) Anyway, enough frothing & ranting. There’s bands and comedians and stuff – should be a nice night.
*(See below: got a good band behind me now, locking down tracks from album #2. Speaking of 2nd album, I’ve got the rough mixes and they sound great. It’s a bold step forward musically, sharper and leaner – will be mastered and finished within a week.)
…and for my next trick…
Last night’s Interrobang gig was great – good atmosphere and venue, receptive audience, lots of interesting stuff going on. A welcome reminder why I do this in the first place, and confirmation of the gut feeling I’ve been getting lately about what kind of gigs work best for me, and everyone else in the room.
So – a good place to stop, chill out for a week or two, and think carefully about how best to carry on. There’s only so much one guy with an acoustic guitar can do, after all; it’s kind of limiting the options. Might be good to try putting a band together… (Although ironically, the new material written for album #2 suits solo acoustic much better, so who knows? The last thing I want is to end up with yet another by-the-numbers indie band.)
With all kinds of ambitious but as-yet unformed ideas*, I’m taking time off from live stuff for a couple of months to try out different approaches. Last night was good enough to make me regret the decision, which proves it’s the right one, if that makes sense.
*About presentation, not format – you won’t see me turning music into an app, for instance. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, full of fear and envy for a future I don’t understand, yet want to skull-fuck… But instead of being exciting and meaningfully interactive, that just smells of focus groups and Tory Big Society outsourcing mentality to me: You do it, we can’t be arsed.
Anyway, more and better, coming soon.
PS: I’ll still be posting stuff on here, videos etc, and play a few open mics to keep my hand in. The Windmill in Brighton last week was particularly good fun.
so debt-o-geddon didn’t come. The world economy abides. Celebrate yr disposable income: see a gig
2 more gigs coming up soon – London on Tuesday 2nd, Brighton on Thursday 4th.
London gig’s in Camden & info can be found here…
doors 7:45pm – onstage 8:00pm
Right then. I’m playing a Club Fandango night tomorrow at the Bull & Gate in Kentish Town. Not only is Club Fandango “the undisputed daddy of London’s indie showcase scene” (sez Time Out), but the B&G itself holds a sentimental weight with me – well, as sentimental as I ever get over London nowadays. My old band in its various line-ups played there a lot, running the whole gamut from unbelievable triumph to unhinged, drunken, bleeding-all-over-the-guitar disaster. Anyway, it looks like a good night and is £6 in, or £5 advance or with flyer. In these debt-stricken times that can’t be bad.
Advance tickets here.
Or if you prefer, flyers can be found here.
…and all who sail in her
Thanks to everyone who sent in comments to the BBC Introducing programme this evening. Very much appreciated.
It can be heard on iPlayer for the next week, here:
…And Hands Up starts off the programme.
(In fact, I was disentangling myself from some internet admin guff and very nearly missed my own song. Was in that weird mix of frantic busy-ness and frustrated inertia that only technology can create – watching lots of little coloured bars creeping slooowly toward fulfilment, only to be thwarted by tiny circles and incomprehensible error messages… I shudder just thinking about it.)
Anyway, all’s well that ends well. The whole programme was great – if you didn’t get a chance to hear it on broadcast, give it a listen on iPlayer.
spent yesterday recording songs and having a comedy horn blasted in my face. It just doesn’t get better than this.
Started on recording the 2nd album. Apart from the vocals being tentative – and therefore weak – it was a pretty productive session. Once I’ve got all the basic guitar tracks down I can re-record the singing, then start fleshing out the songs; meddle with them till they’re unrecognizable, even. They’re all very new, haven’t been aired live (hence the uncertainty), so I’m not tied to them emotionally; if it feels right, they could be stripped down again, completely re-structured, lose the guitar, find permutations of sound hitherto unimagined, ineffable aural perspectives never before glimpsed by humankind… Well, it’s a possibility.
I love that. And it was all harmless fun.
Good to be back in London – knowing I could leave – and good to catch up with friends, good to be doing music. Also, shot a few minutes of footage that might go into the video for Hands Up. Had to stand very still while someone let off a big, comedy horn (the irate honking kind with black squeeze bulb) right into my face without warning. Very hard not to shriek and jump two feet in the air like a simpering girl’s blouse each time, which of course was the point of the whole exercise.
So – a rich harvest indeed. The projected new album doesn’t even have a title, and there’s a lot of work still to do. The timing may seem a little odd, given that album #1 hasn’t yet been released; but it’s also satisfying to remind myself what all this is an aid of, namely music an’ shit. (Yeah… I’m not just stroking my own bloated veiny ego here, it’s about laying a pure and pristine offering on the altar of the muse… right?)
Anyway, sounding good so far.
After what feels like several lifetimes’ worth of preparation, the single’s now available to buy. If you go to the Shop page you’ll find it available via Bandcamp (complete with lyrics and video). If you feel like searching around various other internet bazaars instead, like iTunes or Amazon, you’ll find it there too.
I also have a few copies left of the promo CD, complete with handmade sleeve and unique enamel paint splatters – but you’ll have to come to a gig if you want one of those.
God, that’s a milestone straddled. There will be a second single called Hands Up out in July – details to follow.
This was fun.
I’m a broken man, but a happy one.
No, not really – broken, that is – just a bit wiped out. I’d forgotten what a shock to the system all this can be – in a good way, but one that leaves little in memory other than a sense of speed, urgency, hyper-reality and savage well-being.
To be crude, how many orgasms could you list and grade out of a lifetime, much less describe in minute detail? (Actually, forget I asked.)
I got on the train with my guitar in the afternoon. How I used to look down on people in my position when I was in a band: the travelling minstrel, the hopeful young geek with his/her instrument case and floppy corduroy druid costume wafting incense and sweat; the middle-aged folkie with chinstrap beard, “special” pointy fingernails and a warm flask of nettle tea in his satchel. Aagh, Christ, I’d sooner die than join that sinister authentic mass! I thought.
Well, I know better now. They were (and probably still are) braver, clearer-sighted souls than I. So anyway, I got on the train, right – it was great, the landscape dropped away and dimmed to a crude matte backdrop even as it broadened and ramified, which was quite nice to watch – it arrived at a station – I’m told this happens a lot – and I met Chris and Esther from Deliberate.
Right, enough of that. Cheap flippancy aside, it was all great. The venue was fit for purpose – in fact it was fine. This in itself is noteworthy, as anyone who’s lost any time hanging round these places will know with an aching, bone-deep, emotionally-vandalised, “is this where my hopes have led me, this rotting wooden cave that stinks of fried food and violence?” kind of knowledge. The promoter and sound guy were perfectly pleasant, too.
The first act was three laptop-gazing blokes; it sounded okay. Call me a Luddite, a philistine or a Narcissus; that’s about all I can think of to say. No really, they were okay. I just need something a bit more brash and vulgar – or animate even.
Then it was my turn. It felt good. It’s always hard to judge past the haze of adrenalin, but I think it went over well. It was recorded, so pretty soon anyone who likes’ll be able to hear for themselves.
The collaborations with Deliberate were the high point for me – Chris came on to give The Black Membrane a wonderfully turbid and nightmarish drone backing, like the final annihilating horn-blast at the heat-death of the universe (which is always good)… Then I got to play guitar on their track Volunteer, which after precisely 0.5 of a rehearsal sounded much better than it should.
It was just a buzz to share a stage with other players again. I’ve been having trouble finding and keeping musicians lately – can’t think why.
So yeah, Deliberate did their thing – which was very fine – then I turned in and passed out. Next morning, I went to an urban farm, petting zoo affair in Sheffield city centre and stroked a beige goat-like creature. Maybe it was a goat, maybe some sort of sheep; some shit like that, with funny eyes, anyway.
On the way back to Brighton, I saw a Middle-Eastern looking guy arrested at Victoria Station. He was a few feet from me at the time, and five or six police piled on top of him and hustled him away; they were very keen to keep his hands out of his jacket, where he kept reaching for something. He had a conceited, euphoric look, a rapt sneer of martyrdom – either because the harassment and racial profiling to which he, an innocent man, was subject went to confirm his most humiliating fears; or because he was trying to blow himself up. Of course, he could just’ve been a common-variety villain with no interest in extremist fuckery – it was all curiously workaday in its ugly way, and the body-language was unclear. Also, they didn’t shoot him.
Don’t worry, I won’t bother labouring to draw conclusions or “put it all into perspective”. I just got on another train and wrote this bit of internet puff-pastry, didn’t I? It was a lovely gig, and if it was as exciting to watch as to do, it was pretty damned exciting.