29.8.12

Faith in Worthless Things


Lee Fletcher: octogenarian, stunt man, cyborg and father of twelve. He is none of these things. What he is though is the creator of a fabulous and surprising album, ‘Faith in Worthless Things’.

I’ve known Lee, in the electronic sense (emails, social media, musical projects, etc.), for many years and always associated him with music more in the nature of Markus Reuter’s work. Although Lee has produced a variety of artists he has somehow brought an individual vision to his own album. That might sound like an obvious thing to do but try this. Turn on the radio, listen to some pop music and tell me if you believe the artist is being true to themselves or trying to fit into a niche in an increasingly meaningless marketplace.

Lee has achieved a dream. To make an album of songs which engage the brain and the heart. He has made his own template and he has bothered to sweat the little details as much as the big ones. Most importantly, when the time came to find the right singer, he asked his wife.

Listening to ‘Faith in Worthless Things’ reminds you how pointless genre labels can be. When the violins and viola’s play at the very top of the album I was thrown and all my expectations had to be reset. Folk moves to neo-classical moves to prog/pop moves to… well, just keeps moving. The textures of the instrumentation also help keep you, the happy listener, on your toes. Trumpet, pedal steel and especially the aforementioned touch guitar of Markus Reuter all work to open up the soundscapes of this album. Lisa Fletcher’s voice is the most effective instrument of all though. It does that wonderful thing of making a lyric feel meaningful. This is the gift that separates the great singers from the ordinary.

Another thing Lee has managed to avoid is the trap of making the songs too samey, or (just as bad) leaping around from style to style so the album has no coherence. This is one of those rare collections which is bound by a vision (can you have a vision in audio?) but which doesn’t sound like ten version of the same song.

Lee is a good and talented man in a world of fame seeking ninnies and he’s done plenty of great work. But ‘Faith in Worthless Things’ is his finest achievement so far.

28.8.12

One day my oud-related pun will come

The other morning I was lucky enough to be up and out of bed early, with the oud, so I could get in a little time practising. My daughter invited me to her room so I could watch her new dance moves and I brought the oud too. What this produced was (for her) ten minutes of dancing to strange and previously unheard music and (for me) ten minutes of uncritical listening and some one to interact with while trying really hard to to play unintentional quarter tones. Overall, it worked well. I am now one tiny step closer to getting at least the left hand technique down on this wonderful instrument.

26.8.12

Weekend

What a great weekend. On Saturday I met up with a friend from Germany who I met eleven years ago at the best concert of my life. It was a chance to catch up but we actually spent nearly all our time talking about the present and the future.

Today I was at a playground with my children. My daughter was playing with an Italian girl and I started chatting to her parents. As the conversation progressed it dawned on me how much Italian culture I loved. We talked about films, music and art but we also noted the good things about being able to mix a love of things Italian and things British.

Earlier in the day Freya and I had visited Barefoot Books' Shop in Oxford. It is the least 'shop' like shop I have been in since the heady days of Borders. The daughter and I found ourselves enjoying cake and drinks at a table while she drew pictures and I perused books. It was an inspiring place.


24.8.12

More oudness


I’ve been back from my holiday for less than a week and already there are plenty of things to keep me occupied (besides the dayjob). Bands are reconvening so my chances of playing the bass regularly, and not just on my own, are increasing. There was even a gig mooted, but it didn’t quite materialise. My oud is getting played a little every few days too. It would get more attention but there simply isn’t enough time.

The oud is throwing up some fascinating musical issues that have never occurred to me before.

A slipping tuning peg: All the basses I own have machine heads that stay, pretty much, put. At least they do during a song. One bass, a very cheap one from many decades ago, used to unwind during a piece of music. The oud isn’t doing that but one string has suddenly unwound itself from a high G to a low C in a fraction of a second. The tuning pegs resemble violin or cello pegs so I’m seeking advice from friends who play those.

The other issue with the oud is tuning in general. A bass is easy. You either use an electronic tuner or (as I tend to do in the trio) you ask the pianist to play an E and then you tune relative to that. The oud has five courses of two strings each (so ten strings) and no frets. Tuning correctly to a digital tuner sort of works but then you end up with each string being perfectly tuned and an instrument that doesn’t sound right. This is much more an instrument that needs to be tuned by ear, or to the needs of whatever other instruments you’re playing with.

Likewise, tuning each pair of strings in unison (the same note) doesn’t work is they exactly the same. Two strings precisely tuned to the same note have less impact when played together. Two strings tuned almost to the same note sounds better but you have to get that micro-interval between them just right or it sounds like you just couldn’t be bothered to tune them at all.

All this is pre-occupying me before I have truly got to grips with left hand placement (i.e. fingering the notes in the right place) and right hand technique. The right hand technique involves me using the oud version of a plectrum, which is not in any way a plectrum that a guitarist would recognise, not that I have ever used plectrums. As you can see, the fun is endless. Expect a lot of posts about this fascinating instrument and my blundering attempts to get to grips with it.

 

In other news I have a had a chance to listen to the CD version of Lee Fletcher’s album, ‘Faith in Worthless Things’. This deserves, and will get, a proper review but the short version would have to read, “This is a brilliant album. Buy it now!”

19.8.12

Meg

14th August 2012 by WJCruttenden
14th August 2012, a photo by WJCruttenden on Flickr.

In the Welsh town of Dolgellau there is a cafe called Meg's Meg is a lovely lady who was sent to England by her mum so she wouldn't end up working as a waitress.
Meg's cafe is in a building which used to be an ironmongers shop and still has the original fixtures and fittings. There are games for children to play (draughts, snakes & ladders, chess, etc.) and the most fabulous homemade cake. Even the coffee is specially ground. If you're in that part of the world, go and treat yourself.

Harry Harrison

19th August 2012 by WJCruttenden
19th August 2012, a photo by WJCruttenden on Flickr.

When I was a teenager I went through a fairly predicable science fiction phase in my reading. My English teacher had done her best to kill my love of reading but somehow, Asimov, Heinlein, Philip K Dick et al kept me going. I loved the Stainless Steel Rat books by harry Harrison, even though I knew they were relatively lightweight stories. When the last book came out in 1983 I bought it but put it aside for the day when I really needed and enjoyable read. At that point I discovered the bass guitar and simultaneously discovered Albert Camus, Satre and Calvino. Last week I heard that Harry Harrison had died and so, as soon as I got back from my holiday I dug out this book to, finally, read.

Home again

Home!

Again.

Some tales of mountains, the sea and plenty of rain to come. But for now I just need to get the laundry done.

6.8.12

Oud

It's holiday time!

I've been spending some time with the family in a tiny, but lovely flat on the South Wales coast. Get up, have breakfast, go swimming in the sea. Who cares if it rained nearly every day. One outcome of this break is that I've had a chance to put some things from day to day life into context. There will be changes. Actually, there have already been a few.

The other news for today is that the long awaited oud has arrived. The oud is an acoustic instrument with eleven strings and no frets. Being a fretless bass player this isn't quite the challenge it might be for others, more used to fretted instruments. I've only had a few hours on it so far but seem to be getting somewhere. The oud is the mother of the lute, which is the mother of the modern guitar. I don't really play guitar because I'm so hopeless with chords. That's one reason why I play bass. But with no frets the oud isn't very suitable as a chordal instrument so I'm on reasonably safe ground.

One interesting development was when I sat in the kitchen trying to improve my knowledge of why, exactly, the notes are on the fingerboard. My daughter starting playing on the laptop and the music from her game came drifting across the room. At first I wanted her to turn it off, but it soon became obvious to me that having something to pay along with was a good idea. So there we sat, video gaming five year old and her dad on his oud. As ever, the unplanned moments can be truly rewarding.

I'll post pictures of the oud (it's beautiful) and write again soon about what its future is in my music al life, soon. My musical life is, hopefully, about to take an interesting turn quite soon too.