Happy New Year!!

January 7th, 2010

Hello! and welcome to 2010!

A bit excitable perhaps, but there’s a lot of stuff to look forward to for the forthcoming year, so i though i’d update you a touch:

Firstly, the album i’ve been working on with Maggie Nicols is now Done, and sometime this year it’ll be Out and done. Not sure on what label yet (ie probably not whi music), but it will be there for you. Promise it’ll be worth the wait – we’ve been working on this for 15 months.

Whi 011 is now all teed up and ready to go as well: that’s a duo CD with guitarist Richard Harding that is the pick of the stuff we’ve done over the last year. I play soprano sax and flute with Richard, as he plays mostly classical guitar, and the soprano seems to work best with it, somehow. That particular release is so imminent, it’s not true.

Less imminent are: ‘the Frank Sinatra Joke’, which is a collaboration with poet Dinesh Allirajah and Rob Dainton from 2002 that kind of got overlooked and shouldn’t have, that i’ll be brushing up and repackaging for public consumption, and also i’ve done some pretty fab trio recordings with Simon Fell and Rob Dainton. The sharp-eyed among you will have spotted that that is a reunion of amere3, after an interval of eight years. I think they’ll be worth the wait as well, though there’ll be a suitable interval of track selection, mastering, packaging etc before that one comes out.

Hope you enjoy them!!

new recording

May 4th, 2009

Spring has very definitely sprung, and green shoots (ie the real ones, rather than politicans’ wishful thinking) are all around us. It’s a time for things to grow themselves into being, so it’s entirely appropriate that i’m in the middle of a new recording project.

Of course, the ‘Spring’ analogy is a bit spurious, as myself and Maggie Nicols (my current collaborator)  started work on this last year, so it’s quite well advanced, but somehow the new growth thing seems to fit it, at this stage (and, after all, Spring doesn’t just happen – it’s all there under the ground beforehand) . Whenever i do a recording project, there’s a point where it all seems so overwhelmingly huge that i’ll never make sense of it, and that’s pretty much where we are at now, as there’s 20Gb of files on my hard drive. However, i’ve been here before, and it’s always worked out, so i’ve every confidence that this one will be no different. Plus, and this is the most important bit really, there are several moments in the raw files that make you go “Wow!”. Which is why we all got into music in the first place, i think – and it’s great to still be getting those moments 35 years later.
There’s a lot of work still to be done on this CD, but there should be something good to announce by the end of the year…

Clinical Depression

November 29th, 2008

On Monday 13th Jan 2003 i got up and began practising. I’d had a good layoff over New Year, and should have been keen to get back to it, but i found it hard to fill only an hour, which was odd. The following day i managed only 40 minutes – it was like a toothpaste tube that has hardly anything in it, and squeezes empty easily. The day after that i took to my bed, sobbing. If you’ve had Depression, you’ll pretty much know what followed, although it’s an individual path for everyone who has to follow it. In my case, for several months i lost the ability to hear music at all; i could hear that it was there, but it was indistinguishable from any other sound. The artform’s ability to short-circuit to emotion had gone entirely. My grandfather was a man without music at all – i never found him listening to it, he owned neither instruments nor recordings, and in fact he seemed nervous and twitchy when it was playing. I imagine his life was something like that. To me, it was life, but less so, although he seemed happy enough.

For most of that year, i just wanted to die. However, i’m the main carer for two young children (11 and 7 at the time), and however low you get, however much you can convince yourself that other people would be better off without you, you can’t state with any degree of conviction that two children that age would be happier without their father. So i had to live, although with a certain degree of resentment about having my choices constricted.

Gradually (much more gradually than i’d been led to believe!) things began to fall back into place. In May i thought i might like to listen to some music again. After a few days of thinking that, without the itch subsiding, i went into town and bought the Carpenters’ greatest hits, and played ‘Goodbye to Love’, which was the first record i ever owned. A few weeks later i added Bowie’s ‘Aladdin Sane’ to the list. Piece by piece i gradually reassembled my life.

I’m not rehearsing this for my own benefit, so much as for anyone who might be reading this. If this is happening to you, be strong, be patient. You will live through this, there will be better moments. Victories will be small for the time being: simply take them for what they are, and don’t beat yourself up if you fail to gain them.

If you know someone who’s going through this, don’t give up on them. Depressed people aren’t the greatest company, and there is something contagious about that worldview (i’m toying with the theory that it’s only groundless optimism that keeps us going, and that Depression is merely seeing the world for what it is), but even small gestures help to keep you going. An email, a quick drop in. Letters are good – i revived the lost art of correspondence.

For myself, i put the final piece back in place last summer, when i picked up the sax again. Hopefully i’ve put those pieces back in a better, stronger formation. Certainly i’m having good moments with music this year. But Depression is no respecter of persons, and there’s never the guarantee that it won’t happen.

the Invisible Other

November 13th, 2008

I’m working around an idea that most times when you play, there’s someone else in the room. Not in the physical sense of playing with other people, though that may well be the case, but you invite an invisible other in with you. Someone to watch over you. I’m supposing that if you’re brimming with self-confidence, your Invisible Other might be particularly encouraging, beaming happily at you while you play. I’m a Depressive, so my IO’s tend towards the negative, though that isn’t necessarily a totally bad thing – i need to improve, and i need someone (even an invisible someone) to tell me where. The danger is that a constant diet of criticism grinds you down after a while, so you have to keep those IO’s in check.

 

Why would you need to know this, anyway? Well, there are times and uses for these people, and there are times when you just need to be alone in the room, and just play. You especially don’t need the Invisible Others when you are actually playing with real people; you just need to tune out the voices and be in the moment. There’s no need of either criticism or praise at that point.

 

Invisible Others is why a lot of pop bands struggle with their second albums: the first one was done for themselves to have a good time to. By the time it’s time to write the second one, the first has sold a quarter of a million, and that’s an awful lot of Invisible Others in the room, auditing every note. No wonder the writing collapses under all that attention.

 

An interesting case of using IO’s positively, though, is the Cadavre Esquis website, as recently documented on ‘Imperfect Silence’ (whi 010) . For those who aren’t familiar, this involves people creating a track that someone else then downloads, adds a layer to and then uploads for further layering. You have no discretion about what comes after; it’s merely a case of trusting the process. But when you’re playing, there’s very definitely an Invisible Other around, the unknown, unmet person who’ll be duetting with you at a later date. And that’s a very welcome presence.

Giving it Away

November 11th, 2008

OK, i’m a little late on the blogging bandwagon, i know, but up to now i didn’t really feel that i had anything worth sharing with the wider world, other than the music that you can find here, and that has been public for some little time. The fact that i’ve changed my opinion maybe says something about my own state of mind (more of this another time, perhaps), but i have decided that it might be helpful to outline some of the background to my work. Of course, i still hope it stands up on its own anyway.

As it’s my first outing, i thought i’d go over some of the reasons why i don’t charge for recordings, as it seems to be an area where the conventional music biz is in flux.The whi music site is currently downloading the equivalent of 1,000 CD’s a year, which is a lot in this area of music (no, really), and would be financially self-supporting if i was selling that many. Which i’m not.

The first, and most important, point to make is that if i did charge, the recordings themselves would be identical to those you can currently access. My view is that there’s a huge mountain of recordings in the public domain, and i’ve no intention of adding substandard ones to the pile. If i’ve made it public, it’s as good as i know how to get it. As i’ve now got my own recording gear, there’s no particular budgetary constraints; i don’t have to get out of the studio at five (or nine. Or three in the morning), so it’s ready when it’s ready, and you get to hear it then.

So, on the face of it, giving it away after all that work is a bit odd, no? Well, like a lot of small label proprietors, when i used to press CD’s, things were a bit difficult. It’s hard to get distribution, even harder to get paid by distributors (one or two honourable exceptions). And then, even harder still to persuade the things to walk out of shops; the bulk of what little sales you make are at live gigs. The trouble is, i do every live gig i’m asked to do, which is to say, hardly ever. All of which means that a ‘commercial’ release is costing me about £1,000 to do and i’m recouping about half that if i’m lucky.

But – for £10 a month i can host the whole lot online. It means i don’t have to worry about who i give it to (if you’re charging people for CD’s, it then looks a bit tight if you give them away to other people). It means i’m not constantly chasing distributors for small change (a micro label is definitely at the back of the queue there). It means i can spend more time making music (hurray!).

What it definitely doesn’t mean is that i’m throwing any old crud at the website “cos it’s free” – you’re hearing the result of a lot of work here.

In many ways, the old-style music biz is dying here, and the model is being rewritten: recordings aren’t valuable in the age of the CD, cos they’ve got no rarity value, and you can’t collect them in the way that you had to with vinyl. When i was 15, your musical identity was defined by your collection. To own vinyl was to collect. Now my own son is 15, and he and his mates have no real idea of what a ‘collection’ might be. Files are swapped and available, CD’s are ripped. Feargal Sharkey has apparently been appointed to combat piracy, but he’d be better off writing some new songs and singing them in his local – that particular genie is well out of the bottle, and off over the horizon. Encouragingly, the thing that does impress the 15 year-olds is gigs: if you’ve got a gig ticket, that’s the thing that makes the eyes widen. So maybe there’s hope for us after all, in a music biz where recordings aren’t valuable any more.