26.4.13

Today

Today has been quite a day. I've been celebrating my dad's birthday in a low key way. I went to see my  mum and drank a pint of Kentish Ale. But I also picked his ashes up and, on getting home suddenly found myself faced with the problem of where to put them. In the end he's been tucked in next to the booze and by some knives. I think he would have appreciated that.

Also today, my daughter ricocheted off her Space Hopper, into a wall and broke her collar bone. I bought extra chocolate and ice-cream and that, along with her brave spirit, meant we got though the day without trouble.

25.4.13

Work in Progress


Last night I got together with fellow members of the Eclipse Trio and we tackled our ‘difficult’ tune.  In the recent recording sessions it had resisted being played properly and had been similarly awkward when we played it live. Nothing too obvious, but obvious enough that we wouldn’t want it enshrined on CD unless it was played correctly.

So, we had two plans. One was to add drums to the problematic second part and play along, then remove the drums once we’d managed to play all our parts in time. Plan two was to analyse exactly where we went wrong and try to avoid the same mistakes. Plan Two won out. We found a section where the rhythm guitar part effectively grew an extra beat and then threw the rest of us off. We took the tempo down a little bit and played through to see if it happened again. Thankfully we were recording because, for whatever reason, this take came out perfectly.

Hugely relieved, we spent the rest of the evening sorting out minor fixes and then dumping the separate tracks onto CDs ready for mixing and mastering. I also took the time to make a roughly mixed version of the album, which we played, at volume, while packing up. Considering nothing had been panned, eq’ed or given the tiniest hint of reverb, it sounded pretty good.

Next week should see more progress with my other band. This one started in a very humble way (as an exercise in keeping playing when none of my usual bands were active) and has grown into quite an amazing group. These are exciting times.

22.4.13

The Voice


Dreams are funny things. Last night I managed to fit in two of them, between bouts of being woken by a small child who was either kicking me in the head or pulling the covers off me.

At first I dreamt I was in a place similar to where I actually live, except the sky was made of mist and there was a huge cinema at the end of the street. It had a big eyeball on top and I could see a picture of Grace Kelly. The film showing was Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ but in place of Hitch’s name I could see David Bailey. Right.

Then I was in the kitchen at my mum’s house. From the dining room came my dad. In the dream I knew he was dead but being a polite English type I didn’t bring this up. I can remember looking at him closely, aware of the texture of his skin. I remember hearing his voice (which is one of the things I miss the most). Sadly I don’t remember a word of what he said. Then, after what felt like five minutes, he went back into the dining room and I knew he had gone forever.

When I woke up I thanked my subconscious for this quite amazing and precious gift.

Recording with The Eclipse Trio: Day Four


For the last day we knew we had to be done by five o’clock, so there was a bit more pressure than before. While our piano man was out Russ and I played the remaining song for our other album. This allowed me to use my much loved but rarely played electric upright bass. Martin (piano) returned and we began the process of fixing our problem song.

On and on we went. It would have been easy to gloss over the few bars, layer something on top, or hope it could be fixed in the mix. But, with my producer hat on, I knew (as did everyone, really) that we had more work to do. The first half of the song survived but the second half would get fixed only by playing it again. That wasn’t likely to happen for another two weeks, which was frustrating but unavoidable.

So there we have it. Four days, an album’s worth of music (just about) and a tired, smelly bass player heading home to his family.

There will be more on this album later.

21.4.13

Recording with The Eclipse Trio: Day Three


On this day we recorded our remaining song without too much trouble and then began listening back to repair any parts we’d missed before. This process went well until we hit the seemingly trouble free  tune from yesterday. Just as before, this was a song that suffered from timing issues. That’s a very polite way to say we played a four bar sequence like three people in different rooms with no monitors. It was rubbish. Not quite rubbish enough to warrant a feeling of re-recording the whole song, but it did begin the discussion on how to make it better.

This was postponed by the arrival of Fiona Paige, ace singer. She was here to record vocal for two songs and add some backing on another. Fiona had sung with us before and my memory of how we, as a band, had to raise our game returned. Fiona recorded her lead vocals, and harmonies with a refreshingly professional attitude.

Then we stopped for an evening meal, which allowed Fiona to tell us stories from her life on the road with a great variety of bands. Once she had set off home we listened back to the tracks and called it a night.

20.4.13

Recording with The Eclipse Trio: Day two


We arrived back at the studio bright and early. A say bright, but the beers from the night before had reminded me how little I drink these days. We arrived early.

Today there were two songs on the schedule. The first song was the easiest. Only a few chords, a straightforward structure. What could possibly go wrong. Almost inevitably, everything went wrong and the song to an age to record.

The second tune virtually fell out of our hands onto the tape. Or maybe it just felt that way after the first song. We had expected more trouble and, indeed, the song came back to haunt us. But now we found enough time to record a song scheduled for Day Three. This too came together without too much trouble. Perversely, the songs we had played live and new well seemed to cause trouble, while songs we had hardly played before came out easier. There’s bound to be a good subject for music/psychology there.

So, at the end of Day Two we had six songs in the bag (or so we thought) and enough time to order an Indian takeaway. Returning to the guitarist’s house afterwards I had intended to get to sleep before midnight. However, an espresso, or maybe some adrenaline from the session kept me going and I finally got to sleep at about half past two, having put together a short trailer for the album.

19.4.13

Recording with the Elcipse Trio: Day One


As I’ve posted before, the Eclipse Trio decided that two years or more was just too long a time to record an album. So, we booked four days in a studio and got to work recording the next one. Although, since the last one isn’t strictly finished either (deep sigh) it’s quite likely this one will be out first. Here is a potted history of how those four days went.

On the first day I arrived with three basses, bags of leads and a folder of track sheets to help me keep track of everything we recorded.

Once we had all the equipment plugged in, switched on and checked it was time to record the first song. We played it fairly well for the first two takes and got it right on the third. This was a seven minute opus that was followed by a six minute song. These formed a part I/part II tune which dominate the album. The third song came in at a snappy five and a bit minutes but proved to be harder to record. Having no drummer we’re following a pulse that is felt, rather than laid down on tape. In this song there is a section where it is surprisingly hard to have the three intruments play convincingly well together. When we’ve played it live it didn’t seem to matter. Certainly, no one noticed a problem. On tape (well, digital pretend tape) this tricky few bars had to be dealt with, or it would leave us with a deeply unsatisfying scar on an otherwise great record.

So, hours went by as we listened carefully. Bass and piano sounded good. Guitar and piano sounded good. Guitar and bass… well, you get the picture. The only combination that didn’t work was all three of us together. As the working day approached the twelve hour mark we had one more take and this time got it.

I was staying over at the guitarist’s house and enjoyed la few beers and ate night pizza before turning in.

Other music news

With the Elcipse trio taking off it's worth noting that my other band is also making progress. We now have half a set of original material and last night took the significant step of naming all the songs (rather than refering to them as Song 2, Song 3, etc.). I have high hopes for this fascinating, international band, although we're still looking someone to complete the lineup.

10.4.13

April update


This year, as I may have already said, is shaping up in quite a positive way. The two main musical projects I’m playing in are making progress.  The Eclipse Trio (that’s the one without a drummer) has almost completed an album and will commence a marathon recording session to complete the next one very soon. The other trio (which is actually a quartet waiting for the fourth member) now has more than half a set of all original music.

My short book of poems is undergoing a final edit (although there will be a final, final edit) and will be available as an e-book and a limited edition print copy. More about that, later.

Even more exciting is seeing what my friends are up to. Everything from having a baby, making excellent podcasts, taking fabulous photographs,  to touring the world playing great, original music. The problem with having talented friends is that it can make you not want to try. A good example would be a very good pal who plays guitar. He’s also a much, much better bassist than I will ever be. Should that make me stop? No, of course not.

Excuse the rambling nature of this post. I have been suffering from a vomiting and diarrhoea bug for three days and it’s left me weak and empty. It hasn’t shut me up though, obviously.

6.4.13

I wrote this


If you are moved to re-post somebody else’s view on Facebook, particularly if you don’t know the person, do your research first. It’s tempting to see simplistic ideas as true, when all they really are is badly researched, opinionated rubbish. Sometimes they happen to be true, but if recent re-posts I’ve read are anything to go by, not often.

On the other hand, if the so called Christians who feel threatened by secular culture and atheism have to resort to cruel lies and nasty inversions of the truth to get their point over, maybe this will help people wake up a bit. Just because you label yourself as belonging to a group that purports to have a high moral sense doesn’t mean you’re not a mean-hearted tosser.

Let’s also point the finger at the thinly disguised racism that hides behind posts about how terrible it is that we give money to people in other countries (i.e. people with different coloured skin) rather than spend it on our poor and sick. Massive over simplifications and Daily Mail style logic might seem harmless, but they promote hatred and callousness over compassion and humanity.

So, if you want to appear racist, or cruel,  or ignorant, write the words yourself. Then we can all see exactly what you mean.

5.4.13

Guitar


The other night I was in a rehearsal room, playing through a new piece of music. I had one of those Proustian moments where the sight of the guitar took me back to the first time I had knowing looked on an electric instrument and wondered at the design and capabilities of it. That’s to say, when I was a lot younger, I found myself gazing at a pair of bass guitars outside a dressing room. I was bewitched by them and wanted to live in the world they lived in. My far more practical friend pointed out this could only happen if I learned to play the bass and got good enough to deserve such a piece of kit.

So, almost immediately, I abandoned my plans and embarked on becoming a bass player.

Back in the rehearsal room the thought occurred that, after all this time I should be over the delight of seeing yet another guitar, but I’m not. The idea of such a thing, passively waiting to be played, was just as exciting. Of course, the guitar is just a tool. But it’s a powerful tool, capable of healing, bonding and enrapturing a listener.

This was just one seemingly trivial moment among the many hours of playing music, but it reminded me of why I love what I do.