More Willis

Here's something that caught my eye. I'm a big fan of Willis, his playing and approach to music. This interview does feature a truly awfully worded first question though.



Last night, for the first time in years, I got to hear other people playing music I had written. This was at the end of a tricky, but rewarding recording session where restraint was key. The spirit of the first tune was still in the air when I asked the others to play my piece and, with very little fuss, it all fell into place.

My next job is to complete the arrangement without stuffing it all up and ruining the music.


Music for 18 Musicians

I was reminded recently of how much I love this piece of music.

Then I was reminded how much some people can't stand it.

Musical Progress

Look at this. Two interesting musical projects are finally off the ground. The new Spingere album is in ‘go’ mode although I’m making it harder for myself this time by writing everything in advance and having more people play on it. When I was planning ‘Perfetc’ I’d wanted it to be more upbeat but didn’t quite get there. This time there are many more positive sounding chords and harmonies at work. As well as this, I’ve found a specific source of inspiration from certain other musicians who I wasn’t even aware of during the making of ‘Perfetc’. We’ll see.

The trio I’ve been playing in for the last few years (not to be confused with the excellent
Bridge Street
– more of a power trio) has begun to record its first album. The bed tracks are going down first in a project studio. Over the year’s we’ve accumulated some rather tasty recording gear but we’re still booking in to a grander place to record vocals and the very minimal overdubs needed.

I’ve been focussing almost entirely on my five string fretless bass but keep getting tempted by the Warr Guitar and an ever growing selection of harmonicas. After a recent trip to London I bought a thumb piano to add to the collection of instruments that fills our house.

My daughter has been showing signs of wanting to start her own band. Recent comments include:

“Shhh, daddy. I’m working on a new rhythm.”
“Would you play some bass guitar in my band?”
“My songs have all got fast and slow bits in.”

Her best friend is the daughter of my very good pal Richard Guitarist, who is a truly gifted musician. Even though neither girl has reached four yet, the idea of them forming a band is starting to look more likely. Freya gets to hear a wide range of music in the house and in the car but, so far, the only bands she’s seen on television are Peter Gabriel’s touring band, King Crimson (post 2000 versions) and the Zingzillas. I’m just standing back and watching what happens.

At the moment I’m just proud to have a daughter who knows who Tony Levin is.


Jug & Snail - a quick diversion into creativity

I’m working on a new album, which very few people will listen to. I’m not being intentionally obscure with my music, I’m just doing what feels right and hoping that someone, other than me will like it. So far, the number of people who like what I’m doing is small but steadily growing. That’s fine with me.

Creativity is a funny thing though. When I was very young, at school I was given a maths question. “Make up 25 pence from a variety of coins.” Despite knowing that the only coins available were the 50p, 10p, 5p, 2p, 1p and (now defunct) 1/2p I gave the following answer. “One 7p, one 8p one 4p and one 6p.”

I can still remember the befuddled look on the teacher’s face. This was not, she tried to explain, an answer that worked. I understood that she believed me to be stupid, or wilfully difficult and since I knew I wasn’t being the latter and didn’t believe I was the former, this moment became something of a watershed at school.

In a project around the same time we were asked to create pub signs. My classmates made paintings of ‘The White Horse’, ‘The Kings Arms’, ‘The Red Lion’. I made a sign for ‘The Jug & Snail.’ Again, more befuddled looks. Quite a number of my classmates explained that you couldn’t have a pub called ‘The Jug and Snail’ because (and I’ve heard variations of this argument many times since) “you just can’t.”

Don’t get me wrong. I have given many stupid answers to questions out of sheer ignorance or lazy thinking. But a healthy dose of surrealism and a shaking up of expectations is a wonderful thing. My daughter was asked, at her nursery, what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said, “Snow White. And when I’m older, Tinkerbell.” On their form the nursery staff wrote down, ‘Ballerina.’ I don't think this will bother her.


Zen and the recording bassist - but I only say 'Zen' to make this sound more interesting

This week I spent some time playing music in a trio, as their bassist. We were working on one song and intended to record it, without vocals. ver the past few years I've done more recordings than gigs and thought I'd share a few thoughts on this:

Pressing the red record button changes the atmosphere of the room. This has to be acknowledged so you can move on.

Thinking, “oh, this is going well,” virtually guarantees a cock-up. I think of this as the confidence disease. Maybe it’s just me.

The best state of mind to play accurately and interestingly in seems to be one where you become one with your instrument and the music. There are no conscious thoughts of “play over the B minor chord now” but a reliance on having either learnt the piece or knowing how you can improvise around what the others are playing. Thinking about what you are doing just gets in the way.

Let the wrong notes happen and wait to hear the playback before deciding it’s a disaster. Sometimes, wrong notes are the right notes. That said; if you accidentally trap your fingers under the strings, fall over your pedals or hit the guitarist in the teeth with your instrument then it’s probably best to stop straight away.

Much like writing; if you do something flash and are immensely proud of it, it’s probably worth taking it out.

If you’re going to play only perfectly intonated notes, with no vibrato, on a fretless bass you might want to ask yourself why you’re playing fretless.

Despite a plethora of jokes about the unimportance of bass players (“Q: How many bass players does it take to change a lightbulb? A: Who Cares.”), the role is an important one. Unless you’re a big White Stripes fan. Bass provides foundation and direction. In a band with no drummer (or a drummer so bad everyone is trying not to listen to him/her) the bass player provides the closest thing to rhythm too.

Bass players who remind other musicians of their own importance are universally despised.

Being a bassist in a live context is much easier because almost no one is listening to you.

There are exceptions to all the above points and I welcome comments, further examples or foaming mouthed invective.


Cookie Diaries Part Three

Chocolate cookies by WJCruttenden
Chocolate cookies, a photo by WJCruttenden on Flickr.

After a long period away from baking (everyone has been sick), Freya and I went back to basics and made shortbread cookies with cocoa powder. Amazingly, there a still a few left.