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April 30, 2008

I'm Going Home

Managed to find an hour this evening to play, so I recorded a quick first verse from Hootie & the Blowfish's "I'm Going Home". A work in progress... need to listen to the record again to get the lead right. Starting to be more confident carrying a tune. At least recording myself helps me hear what I'm doing wrong.

How To Make Time

Since starting The Project I've tried to figure out how to make better use of my commute to work. I've thought about bringing a laptop for mixing/composition, a guitar (fellow passengers would love that!), writing pads and so on.

I've even considered whether I should rent a room close to the office Monday through Thursday. Cost-wise it'd be do-able as I could work some overtime and still have more free time.

What I haven't really put too much thought into is whether I should just look at taking a job closer to home. I have a long history with the company I'm currently contracting for and we're halfway through a major project. I'm not usually one to change horses mid-race.

However, an agent rang me yesterday and asked whether I'd be interested in an alternate position close to our loft which would save me at least 2 hours a day.

Two hours. That's a long time. Add that up over the course of a year... balancing for vacation... HOLY COW! That's about 12 man weeks per annum!!!


So, the money would be less, but my quality of life would increase exponentially. On that basis I'd seriously consider taking it! I'm due to go have a chat with them about the role on Tuesday. We'll see whether it sounds interesting...

Open Mic @ The Half Moon: Rain Stops Play...

...or at least postpones it.

Last night I went along to the Tuesday night open mic at the Half Moon pub in Herne Hill. It was my first time there, but I'd read reviews that it was usually pretty busy. When I arrived, though, the place was like the grave. The organiser and one act were there, but otherwise no one was there. To be honest I wasn't surprised. I'd considered staying home myself due to the foul weather we had in London yesterday.

As I've mentioned before, the Half Moon has a decent sound stage in the back. It's where we've seen Oli Brown and Devon Allman's Honeytribe play blistering sets.

After downing a swift pint I chatting to the MC and then the sole act in attendance. He'd done a few open mics, but not many. He was noodling while we chatted and he clearly knew his way around a fretboard. He generously offered the use of his guitar if I wanted to get up on stage and pop my open mic cherry. I didn't take him up on his offer. When I do 'get naked' up there for the first time it'll be with my own equipment and with a setlist prepared. He actually said something interesting to me, though, as we waited for more acts to arrive. For years he had struggled with singing but one day found the register that he was comfortable in and suddenly everything fell into place. It seems to me that I may suffer from the same issue.

Slowly but surely the place started to fill up, with a maximum of 10 to 15 people present at any time. Maybe it was the weather, maybe the votive candles flickering on each table, maybe just my mindset at the time but I actually felt transported to Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon Street. A weird sensation, like space and time had folded. Anyway... that's an aside!

The standard of play was actually pretty high. There were a couple of egos present, notably one guy who acted like he was too good to be there. He wasn't. As with many singer-songwriter types, he could sing, he could play, but his compositions, save one, were non-descript.

There was also variety. The MC opened the night with a poetry reading, there were blues players, folk singers and even a kind of country blues guy who creatively generated his own rhythm section using a kick-box.

To my surprise, the stand out performance wasn't from a musician at all. There was a girl there who quietly sat at the back until she was called up, then launched into a really intense poetry recital whose subject matter ranged from generational physical abuse to gang feuding. I just sat there thinking, "Holy crap, this girl is really a talented writer". It turned out that it was her first time performing her stuff. Wow! I would actually have loved to have discussed her process with her, how and why she'd started writing and so on, but before I got the chance she'd bundled herself up and stalked off into the night.

I'll definitely go back again, on a night when the weather's better! Hell, I'd even consider getting there really early to see whether the MC'll let me up on stage to try playing when nobody's there.

April 29, 2008

Felicia Remembrance Day

This morning when I checked my email I saw that my inbox contained a message from a band looking for a guitarist. Sounded very cool. Blues-rock with a punk edge. I thought to myself, "I can do that!"

And then the tag line. The message said that 'transport' was 'essential'. Now, I have transport, but I share it with the masses. I ride the big red bus and hobo around on graffiti tagged trains. Most days public transport gets me where I want to with relative ease... even when drunk. Me alone, that is... if I factor in moving my amp, guitars and all the associated paraphernalia... well that's another thing.

Thinking back to yesterday where it took me two hours to get to the office and this morning where it was raining so hard that I got soaked to the skin within minutes of leaving the loft, I have to say that despite knowing that getting rid of her was the right thing to do (housing is, after all, more important than a thrill-ride)... I found myself missing Felicia.

Felicia was our 2002 Corvette Z06. We bought her brand new when we moved to Houston TX from the UK. Our rationale was that a) we deserved to have fun whilst in exile and b) because we knew that when we eventually returned to England we could take her with us, keep her for a year then sell her on for a profit. Pretty sneaky, huh? When push came to shove we ended up keeping her a year longer than planned as she'd become one of the family. When we finally sold her we just about broke even. Not bad when you consider we managed to run a 5.7l V8 supercar for three and a half years at no cost.

Goodbye Felicia. Hello house deposit.

I don't know that we'd do it again. Owning something like that makes you paranoid that someone's going to steal it, ding it, scratch it, or in the case of one of our previous neighbours, park their SUV so close that the exhaust burnt a ring in the paintwork. It's stressful.

On days like this, though, when summer seems so close, I can't help but get sentimental about the old girl and something deep down in me craves the freedom that car ownership affords.

So long Felicia. It's been more than two years since we've seen you, but wherever you are, I know you're bringing a smile to someone's face.

April 28, 2008

Action Plan Update... 247 Days & Counting

Yes, it's that time again. Time to revisit the ol' Action Plan.

I just looked back at the last update (here) and was surprised that not much has changed. In light of recent events, though, I'm now able to put some meat on the bones. Here we go...

1) Record Demos
I've been trying to decide which songs I want to record. My plan is to do a couple of covers and one or two originals. As and when I have them in the can I'll post them here. Hey, I also set up a MySpace page a while back, but have yet to format it. That'd be another good repository.

While I think about it, I need to maybe make a page on this blog and put a permanent link over on the right.

My current thoughts on song choice are:

"I'm Going Home" by Hootie & the Blowfish. Okay, so I'm not going to take any crap about covering Hootie. Their 1995 debut CD, "Cracked Rear View", was above average 'New South' rock. They suffered from being over-played on the radio. Once they made it onto "Friends" they were toast, any semblence of 'cool' being completely shattered. They became popular.

Why choose "I'm Going Home"? Well, it's got a strong chord progression in E major and the lead guitar is textbook major pentatonic with a few colour notes thrown in. It sounds impressive but it's actually easy to play.

I'm not going to dwell on it, but yesterday was incredibly frustrating. I'd got 99% of the way through recording a decent version of the song, including vocals (which surprisingly weren't bad!) and through my own stupidity I lost the lot... well, everything except a 3 second clip. Less than impressive. Even when doing demos I have got to set up a work process that minimises the risk of losing everything and then STICK TO IT!

Rant over... move along... nothing to see here.

Other possible covers, include:
"Over & Over" by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Again, a simple chord progression and pretty basic grunge guitar. The powerful intro riff gets things rocking and from there on in you're flying.

"Walk Away" by Ben Harper
This was one of the first songs I learned by listening to the record and figuring it out myself. It's a pretty 'claw-hammer' song in G with a walking baseline. Over the weekend I was noodling around on it and had a 'eureka' moment. In the bridge there's a section where I was playing the second fret on the low E string with my index finger, then having to switch to the first fret on the B, deadening the note. By using the thumb-over-the neck technique to fret the low E I managed to get the piece to flow much better.

"Angel" by Matt Nathanson
This one's more like a nugget of a song than a real song. Blink and you'll miss it. If I can get some decent vocals going, though, it's a nice piece.

On the originals front, I was thinking about doing something bluesy, maybe an 8 bar blues (to be a little different) in a BB King stylee. I also have a pop song that I've written the music to, but have yet to figure out lyrics for. Working title: "Your Own Time".

Oh, I've also been taking Red out for a walk, which usually leads to a vamp on the E7#9 shape, moving it around the neck and adding fills. Noticed that when playing on the acoustic, letting the low E ring out isn't too much of an issue, but when overdriven on electric it muddies everything. Solution? Use the thumb again! Hit the low E to play it, but when using the moveable chord shape, make a fist to dampen the bass note. If I can get a decent recording then it'd be a good demo of the harder, funkier edge I can get. Think "Foxy Lady" for the new millenium!

Finally on the demo front, I may do some stuff on video instead of just audio. I realised that I have software which allows me to overdub, so I can actually record using a mic to get better quality sound.

Back to The Plan...

2) Find Other Musicians To Play With
I'm still processing my recent experience playing with "The Sociables". It gave me the hunger... the desire to run with a pack rather than starve at home, alone. It also taught me that practice rooms are actually accessible. I've looked up a few locally and on Saturday I visited one of them, Husky Studios, which is less than half a mile from our loft. I had a quick chat with the receptionist, took an up-to-date list of their rental equipment and checked out their notice board. I think it's a good idea to print up an advert and post it there.

Studio Lounge is also close by, and is slightly cheaper than Husky. When I get the chance I'll check them out, too. Apparently they were used to record a lot of the Stock, Aitken & Waterman stuff in the 80's. I'm not certain that's a good thing...

I've had a few responses from band websites, notably Party Sounds. We'll see where they lead.

3) Get Out There
I'm going to focus on finding other musos for a bit, but I'm still going to consider doing the open mic thing. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks I'll get to check out a couple of new ones, maybe network a bit. Items 1 and 2 are my priority right now, though.

And I'm going to add number 4 to the list:

4) Sing More... And Improve!
I've managed to convince myself that I can hold a tune well enough that it's worth trying to improve my vocals. I'm going to look into courses. In the meantime I'm going to try to sing more and record myself more, to see where I can improve.

In other news, I just finished reading "Guitar Man" by Will Hodgkinson. A most inspirational novel! Axe Victim put me onto it as it chronicles the adventures of a guy who decided one day that in 6 months time he'd be playing guitar in a band. Sound familiar? It's not great art, but it's funny and contains many 'I've been there' moments. Like Axe said, I AM Guitar Man!

I can add one more to the summer's concert list: Jason Mraz at the Shepherds Bush Empire. Tickets went on sale on Saturday at 9am.

Last but not least, I really need to find a way to make more time. A good choice would be to change job. This morning it took me 2 hours to get into the office, which sadly isn't unusual. My average commute is about 3 hours a day. If I can get those hours back somehow, I'll be much more productive on weekdays.

April 24, 2008

07:47 Southbound

Lyric idea from way too early this morning.

Picture this: the stage dims, a single spot picks out the singer, cradling his beaten acoustic, head bowed over the mic. A hush falls on the crowd. Pin-points of light flicker across the stadium.

[For realism, some w**ker right in front of you is shouting at his mobile (cell) phone "Yeah, babe, listen to this, yeah, I know, but, yeah, listen, yeah? Wot? Noooo... really? She did?"]

The singer murmers, "This one's for you, T."

Someone in the crowd whistles.

Someone else calls out "No Tomoooorroooow"

[Fingerpicky folksy intro, slurring harmonica in the back]

Why do we agree to be
Such slaves to this eternity
Tied by fate, tied by time
Hung up on the starting line
Y'know I never really saw the harm
In no tomorrow

As I sit here in the sun
Just waitin' on my train to come
I smile up at the skies above
Thinkin' 'pon my life, my love
Knowin' deep down, where you lead
I will surely follow

Days like this it burns in me
Our time won't last indefinitely
All things pass, all things end
A red light's always round the bend
And now I only see the harm
In no tomorrow

April 23, 2008

About Last Night...

As I lay awake last night, staring at my bedroom ceiling, my head buzzed with so much stuff it was hard to sleep.

Yesterday was my first experience of a number of things: playing with a real live band, learning to play a song in one session, being in a practice room, experiencing band inter-personnel dynamics... many, many things. I had planned on waiting a few days before blogging about it, as I felt I should organise my thoughts and feelings, but I figure that the more I get out now, the more I'll remember to talk about.

First off, I have to thank Axe Victim for arranging the opportunity for me to jam with "The Sociables". It was a most unexpected, most welcome surprise. My 'band cherry' was broken last night, much earlier in The Project than I expected, but not before time. For those in the London area, his main band "Magic Ship" are performing songs from their debut album on Friday 6th June. Details of the gig and links to their MySpace page can be found on his blog.

So, I turned up at the studio yesterday evening excited but tired (see previous post!). I was nervous that I'd be playing in front of strangers and using someone else's kit. I should also have been nervous that I'd be called on to play rhythm guitar a) standing up and b) on electric, both of which were outside my experience. I've only just let Red Dog out of his kennel again recently, so I'm rusty on the electric. Playing lead whilst on my feet feels natural. Strumming does not.

We'd pre-arranged that we'd jam on "Melissa" by The Allman Brothers, a song which I'm very familiar with, though it's been a long time (as in years) since I've attempted playing it. By the end of the evening we'd managed to hammer out a decent "Melissa" as well as grooving on some of Axe's original material.

If I go into too much detail this blog entry's likely to rival "War & Peace" on the word count front, so I'm going to try to crystallise what I got out of Band Day into bullet points.

In no particular order:

1) Be in control of your sound. Know your guitar. Know your amp. Know how to kick in volume when you need it. Know which switch position you want to use. If you're comfortable with all these aspects then you're not going to worry about them.

2) Keep spare picks in left hand pocket, or at least handy. When playing, the right hand pocket is hard to get at.

3) Finding people to play with isn't the only hurdle. Finding the right people is also hugely important.

4) You gotta give the drummer one. He's totally the backbone of the group. I was fretting about remembering when to switch between chord progressions so that I didn't get out of step with everyone else. Turns out the drummer gives you hints as to when chord changes are coming up! Never knew that! Playing for real it suddenly became blindingly obvious! The band's a team, after all, I suppose. Once you realise that the guys around you are helping out you can concentrate more on sounding good.

5) Barre chords standing up! 'E' forms? Easy. 'A' Forms... not so easy. I found myself constantly screwing up until Axe called for a time-out and we practiced 'A' progressions. I realised that if I pull my right elbow in towards my body the guitar fingerboard angles up, giving me line of sight on the chord. I'm sure that once I'm grooved on playing rhythm on the electric this'll be less of an issue. I need to spend more time on this aspect of playing!

6) Practice rooms are cool. Sorry, but I thought that was worth mentioning. This morning I checked to see whether there are any local to me. Turns out there's one just up the road! Score! If I want I can go there and MAKE NOISE, either solo or with others. It sounds stupid, but I'd never really considered that a possibility before. The one local to us will even loan you a huge amp for £1 an hour. Hmmm...

7) Right now I suck on electric. My fingers have completely forgotten what they're doing. But... electric is exciting. It's what rock's about. I need to get back into playing Red. As an aside, the Epiphone Les Paul that I borrowed from Axe was actually a totally decent guitar. It didn't feel precisely like Red, but it was definitely a relative. I wasn't 100% plugged into it, but that may have been the situation as much as anything.

8) Today at work I feel like Clark Kent. That's a good thing. I'm glad I got a taste of what it's like to wear my underpants on the outside. God, I hope that makes sense to someone!

9) When I look for a full-time band, it needs to have focus and direction. It needs to know what it's about. Without clarity it'll be hard to get 'a sound'.

10) Digital recording and PODs. I'd heard the term 'POD' used on guitar forums but never really knew what one is. Last night Axe was talking about how the band records 'live' in the studio using PODs for everything except the drums. Turns out a POD is a digital device which is effectively an amp modeller with an output for digital recording. If you use PODs rather than micing amps you can independently record everyone playing together in a room, using headphones to hear the other players. That way you get the whole song in one take before overdubs and mixing. It also means that you can experiment to get the exact sound you want at home, bring your POD to the studio and you're good to go.

11) I'm ready to form a band, but I still have a long way to go before I'm going to sound good. Having said that, I could comfortably join/form a pub band right now, learn 5 or 6 numbers and get out there.

12) I'm more interested in making original music than doing covers. The creative process is where it's at, rather than slavishly trying to reproduce someone else's sound.

13) I *can* drink one beer and still play. Used to be that any alcohol would throw things out.

14) I was comfortable in the studio. That's actually a biggie for me.

15) is an extension of 14... Mood lighting actually really helps. Bringing the light level down lets you relax into the music more.

16) You need someone to be in charge. Bands should not be ruled by a committee. You need a leader otherwise you don't move forwards.

17) You need a plan as to what you're doing in the studio. Even a 7 to 11pm slot is not really a long time when you're trying to work something out.

18) You need to PLAY LOUD to cut through the drums. Towards the end of the session I was trying (and failing) to up the volume when soloing (see item 1)

19) If your fingertips are turning purple it probably explains why your fingers aren't going where they should anymore!

20) Keep a towel handy. Things can get sweaty and you could fall off your guitar and hurt yourself.

21) The band does not mix the tracks, a mixer does. This is probably obvious to most, but as a DIY home recorder, it was something of a revelation to me. Do I sound naive or what?

Last but not least...

22) Trains stop running early in the suburbs! Know your exit routes!!!

I'm sure I'll remember more stuff that I wanted to say over the coming days and weeks, but for now I'll leave it at that. As we packed away our instruments last night, I suddenly became self-conscious about how well or how badly I'd played, having not really thought about it all evening. At times I felt like I was starting to find my feet then at times I counted more bum notes than good 'uns. As we all shook hands and went our separate ways I wondered what the other guys were thinking, whether they would want to meet up again or whether it was the musical equivalent of a one night stand. I don't think I'll be disappointed if it turns out to be the latter, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't be up for Round 2.

Irrespective, I had a great time and learned so much, both about my own strengths and shortcomings and about what it meant to play within the context of a band. What's clear is that I need to revamp my action plan over the next few weeks based on yesterday's experience. I'll admit that recently I've questioned whether The Project is truly viable. Last night I had my faith restored. 252 days 10 hours 45 minutes left on the ticker. That's just over 8 months, including all summer. I think we're in with a chance.

April 22, 2008

Band Aid

So Tuesday 22 April is Band Day. I don't know as yet whether it'll just be two of us (guitars) or all four (add drum 'n' bass) playing tonight, but hey, whichever's fine. I feel very positive about this experience. Irrespective of how it turns out, I'm chuffed that The Project has furnished me with this opportunity to progress towards Rock God... hood... ity...!? If I had stuck around at home, noodling away and not 'doing this', well, I'd still just be a bedroom noodler. Many thanks to whoever invented blogging! I salute you (and your countless millions of dollars).

Today did NOT start out well, though. At around 3am I was awoken by a screeching noise, emanating from the alarm clock. Even now I don't know what had gotten into it. Satan? Suffice to say that a) it was enough to wake me up (though Oscar, the fearless guard cat, slept through the whole episode) and b) I was not happy about it. Somehow I wrestled the stoopid device into submission, stared at the ceiling for a while, then drifted back to sleep.

When the real alarm went off I rose, showered, dressed and headed out the door. Today was going to be a big day for me. As I walked down the hall I glimpsed the wall clock out of the corner of my eye. The hands were in the wrong place. It read an hour early. D'Oh! No wonder it was so dark outside! I realised, too late, that I must have accidentally changed the time on the bedside clock when it went crazy in the night.

Feeling grumpy, tired and harassed I went back to bed and spent the next hour watching the minutes tick by on my latest mortal enemy. "Supreme accuracy with a comforting night-time glow" my a**e!

At least my daily bus, train, train, coach journey to work went without a hitch.

To treat myself, and to try to restart the day properly, I decided to invest in a cup of coffee... a tall, steaming cafe latte. All was going to be good with the world after I'd downed that bad boy. I'd do a decent day's work, catch the train, go play some guitar.

That was when disaster struck. As I got to the till and reached into my pocket for some change I felt that 'oh no' sensation of the paper cup crumpling in my fist, the lid exploding skywards.

Yes, dear reader, for the second time today I took a shower, this time in hot foamy milk and espresso. Not only that, but I also managed to soak everything within a 3 foot radius, including the till. Our ever-dour canteen server didn't even have time to mutter her daily mantra of 'Oh no, here comes Trouble' before the decks were awash with caffeinated slop.

I'm surprised she let me off with a simple frown and tongue clucking. Her pills must have kicked in. Oh well. No harm in the long run. The stains probably won't even show on my £10 sale jacket from Target (Branson Missouri Outlet)!

I'm nervous about this evening, but in a good way. It's going to be a good experience. With luck my fingers will work, my brain will rise above the fog it's in at the moment, I'll use my ears and pay attention.

Last but not least, I want to make sure I have fun.

April 21, 2008

Quantum Leap

No, not the 90's sci-fi series starring Scott Bakula. Remember that one? Me neither...

Quantum leap (noun):
An abrupt change, sudden increase, or dramatic advance.

Whatever the outcome, the Fillmore Five Project got a major kick in the right direction over the weekend. I was contacted by another blogger, who's been trying to put together a 4-piece as a side project to his main gig. It's pretty clear that our influences are a good match and the band's expectations aren't super-high, which takes the pressure off a bit. For me, this is a major step forward as one of the issues I was struggling with was how to meet like-minded folk. We're getting together tomorrow for a jam... to shake the tree and see what falls out.

Very exciting! There are no guarantees that anything will come of it, but when someone hands you a goose you gotta give it a squeeze to see if a golden egg pops out, don't you? Oh, okay... no... that's just me, then. For those rockin' goose farmers out there, that was meant to be a metaphor. I don't actually go around squeezing geese. That would be a bad thing to do. Bad geese-squeezers. Bad!

This really is virgin territory for me. Instead of playing along with records there'll be real live people filling in the gaps. I also get to play in a recording studio for the first time! I'm going to borrow a guitar/amp from one of the guys tomorrow, but maybe next time (if they invite me back!) I'll take Red Dog for a walk.

Right now I feel like I've been selected to appear on Jim'll Fix It. Not that I remember that show, either [cough].

April 18, 2008

Get Well, Gregg...

I don't normally post band/industry news that much on The Project, but I just heard that the Allman Brothers have cancelled their annual NYC Beacon Run this year. It seems that Gregg Allman is undergoing treatment for Hepatitis C. Not nice! Get well soon, G!

Looking on the bright side (!!!!) the band have announced that they're going to pull out all the stops to celebrate their 40th anniversary at the Beacon early in 2009. Time to start saving the pennies.

Does EasyJet do NY?

Hot Dog

I plugged Red Dog in last night.

Les Paul Standard... Cable... 100W Marshall...


Locals in the Southwark area may have noticed their lights dim ever so slightly between the hours of 8 and 10pm last night. I've never seen our cat move so fast as when he recognised the familiar pop-click-hummm of the amp power switch. Move over Dyson, your days as feline public enemy number one are at an end!

I've not played Red for too f**king long. Focusing on the acoustic is great. It really is. But it's not Red. Oh no... My 'relationship' with Blackie the Ovation is one of comfort and love. Pipe and slippers with a nice cup of tea. Red makes me want to jump into my (neighbour's) Aston, crank up the Bachman Turner Overdrive and bury the loud pedal into the custom-fitted shag.

Excuse me, I think I may be wet...

What does suck, though, is that with all the practice I've put in over the past months on the acoustic, my skills on the electric have atrophied. Last night I found myself overbending, missing strings and fretting too hard. My fingers acted like digital Keystone Cops, falling over each other instead of getting out of the way. BUT... even one note, played well, on a Les Paul is capable of fracturing space and time.

You know, I think I'm going to stick with the stock Burstbucker Pro pickups for now, rather than swap them out for Pearly Gates as originally planned. They sound soooo nice... like a chainsaw slicing through hot butter.

I'm telling you, there's nothing like strapping on a Gibson to put the swing back in your stride.

April 15, 2008

Open Mic @ Spice Of Life, 14 April 2008

I was brought up to believe that if you didn't have anything good to say about something then you should keep your mouth shut. In that spirit, I'm not going to rip last night's open mic to pieces. There were a couple of decent performances, but when I left early, at around 21:30, the venue was half empty and I couldn't help but wonder: what happened?

In the past I've been extremely complimentary about the standard of playing and singing at the Spice Of Life, but last night it felt like there was something missing. The rarefied creative atmosphere had gone.

So, what did happen?

After a little investigation on the wonderful world-wide web of misinformation I believe I have found the answer. When I noticed last night that the regular MC had changed and there was a second guy manning the soundboard it struck me as odd, but I didn't think too much about it. This morning I discovered that the "Up All Night" music team no longer run Monday nights at the Spice Of Life. They've moved their regular open mic session to another venue, "The Grand Union" in Kentish Town. Presumably their regular performers have also decamped.

I'm not saying the Spice Of Life open mic can't make a comeback, but it would appear that it's struggling to find its feet right now. Next time I have a Monday night free I'll be heading north to check out The Grand Union instead.

To be fair to the Spice Of Life pub, I should point out that it's just the Monday night programme that's changed. It's business as usual for all other nights, including the blues jam on Tuesdays.

Finally, I just found out about another open mic night, this time on Tuesday evenings at the Half Moon pub in Herne Hill, which is where we saw the Oli Brown Band play last Saturday. Ironically, as I sat watching the boys play I caught myself thinking about The Project and whether one day I might be up on that stage, performing... looks like that might not be such an unrealistic fantasy after all!

April 14, 2008

XtremeMac MicroMemo Pros & Cons

I've been living with the MicroMemo for a few days now and overall I'm very happy with it. It's not perfect, but for the price it's a decent tool.

On the plus side:
1) It's tiny and powered by the iPod so it can go anywhere you go
2) It's simple to use, just plug it in the bottom of your iPod and it's ready
3) You can manage recordings (ie delete crap ones) in situ
4) The bendy mic makes placement easy
5) Recording quality is decent with surprisingly good bass/treble

On the other hand:
1) The switch from 'mic' to 'line' to 'earbuds' is terrible
2) You can't download memo files without going through iTunes
3) Other than by selecting 'line' or 'mic' there is no volume control
4) There is some hiss on the mic

And the stuff I didn't really care about one way or the other:
1) The built in speaker isn't great
2) The side button which does something, but I'm not sure what
3) The supplied mic is mono...
4) Once the MM is plugged in nothing else can be
5) There are two sample quality settings

I'd definitely recommend it for anyone who wants a decent quality mobile digital recorder. It basically does what it says on the box and it does it surprisingly well.

April 13, 2008

Oli Brown Band & XtremeMac MicroMemo Reviews

As expected, Oli Brown and the band were great.

The power trio played a double set of original material with the occasional cover thrown in for good measure (including a storming "Black Betty" by Ram Jam - good to hear that one live again!)

I'll be buying their debut album when it comes out later this month. I'll let you all know how it stacks up against their live performances.

In other news, the XtremeMac Micromemo for iPod arrived on Saturday. I'm actually pleasantly surprised by the quality of the recording. The mic it comes with is slightly hissy, but hey, you can fix that with a filter. The digital recording itself is flawless and it's really easy to use through the iPod menu and iTunes.

As a demo, I learnt, recorded and mixed the following version of Matt Nathanson's "Angel" in literally an hour or so, exclusively using the iPod recorder. Please forgive the vocals (I told you I can't sing)...

April 10, 2008

The Scene Of The Crime

Blues jam? What blues jam? Cancelled apparently! So here I am, stuck with an overpriced beer, wondering what to do next. No notice. Not happy.

Update: Apparently the Thursday night jam is cancelled indefinitely.

Concert Alert: Robert Randolph @ Borderline

Just the other day I was bemoaning the fact that I didn't want to go pay VIP ticket prices to see the upcoming Eric Clapton show in Hyde Park. When I heard that Robert Randolph and Jason Mraz had been added to the artist roster it made me mad as it felt like the promoters were TORTURING ME!

This morning I heard that Robert Randolph is playing a side gig at Borderline on Manette Street, just off Charing Cross Road! It's not clear whether The Family Band will be with him or not. The concert info just says 'plus guests'. Hey, maybe Eric'll sit in?

Credit card out, logged onto Ticketmaster, pair of tickets purchased!

Side rant:
Ticket price is £13.50... but...
Booking fee is £3.25 per ticket...
Postage is £4.95 (and the tickets will doubtless be delivered at a time we won't be home so we'll have to chase around London trying to find them)

All up price comes out at £38.45, or £19 plus change per ticket. So, on a pair of tickets you end up paying 42% over and above face value. If you just bought 1 ticket you'd be upcharged 60%. Consumer rip-off? I think so!

Any road up...

We don't have many concerts lined up this summer due to work and study constraints. So far our schedule looks like:

12 April: Oli Brown Band
3 June: Rufus Wainwright
27 June: Robert Randolph
5 July: Dolly Parton

Also thinking about going to the Skinny Molly gig (organised by Pete Feenstra) on 3 May.

Assuming it's still on (!) I plan on going to the blues jam at The Old Explorer pub, Oxford Circus, tonight. If it's good I'll make it a regular Thursday night gig.

April 9, 2008

Putting Taylor To Bed

Well, I hate to admit it, but I've got to the point where I don't enjoy playing "Taylor" by Jack Johnson anymore! I just don't seem to be able to 'feel' it, so I figured I'd record as far as I've got with it, post it here and put it to bed for now.

Here's the intro and start of the verse. Pretty much from there on out it just repeats...

It ain't great, but it is what it is...

Coffee House Rock

I've been living with The Nadas and Matt Nathanson albums for a few days now. I bought them after hearing songs by them on Pandora Radio. So, what do I think?

I should probably mention that as I type this I'm enjoying my first cup of coffee this week... on Wednesday. That's a big deal to me. I normally don't function before my morning caffeine fix. I'm not on any health kick. I just thought I'd see what happened if I throttled back on the juice. I can't actually say I've missed coffee as much as I expected to. What I miss is the process of having one. There's something grounding about it. Morning coffee is a punctuation mark. Having that first cup says '...aaaand GO!'.

Coffee. There's a tenuous link in there with Matt Nathanson. As I understand it, through very limited background reading, he's an artist who started off playing in coffee houses then went on to record with a label.

I mentioned in my previous post that I'm a bit of a Mraz-a-fan (a fan of Jason Mraz). I got into Jason's stuff before he got his deal. When I first started listening to him the recordings were live, punctuated by the rattle of coffee cups, the hiss of espresso machines and the calls for double caramel frappe macchiatos. We're talking Cal-if-or-ni-a, here... San Diego. The set-up was just Jason on acoustic/vocals and sidekick Toca Rivera on backing/percussion. Together they had this lyrical/rhythmical thing going. Okay, so this post isn't supposed to be about Mraz. I will mention that he has a new album being released next month. There's some marketing gimmick going on where they pre-release EPs with alternate cuts. Don't quite get it, but there are details here.

So, Matt Nathanson's "Beneath These Fireworks"... I'm going to stick my neck out and classify it as folk-rock. There are a few layers of production in there but you can still smell the singer-songwriter under the blankets. Okay, so did that sound weird? Tough, you have that image now!
My first impression wasn't great. Most of the album sounded kind of samey to me. "Curve of the Earth", which I'd heard on Pandora, made me stick with it, though. After a couple of listens through I started to see through the production, listen to the lyrics and suddenly the hooks started to get me.

I think I like it. I think it has longevity. I think I'll be buying his new album.

As I understand it, The Nadas are a different animal altogether. Born from the college-band circuit, they stuck together after school, sidestepped major labels to remain independent and now pretty much record and release what they want to.

The style of "Listen Through The Static" veers from genre to genre but somehow manages to stay on the rails. If anything it's the imperfection of the album that solidifies it. Again, it's a grower. I wasn't into the album the first time round but quickly found myself digging it.

The song of theirs that I heard on Pandora was "Life Becomes Me", which is basically a song about how being successful isn't always about making a fortune or writing a bestselling novel. Sometimes it's about finding the right person and just being in the right head space. The guitar sound is cheesy, surfer, Shadows-esqe... BUT IT WORKS! It's about as frikkin' feelgood as you can get.

I think some people classify The Nadas as alt-country. I don't know that it's fair to saddle them with that label, at least based on this album. Some of it's soaring major-tonality rock, some's acoustic folk and yes, some of it has a country twang. And if I'd heard Track 3, "The Deal", by itself I would have guessed from the intro that it was Duncan Sheik.

You know, I think I really like this album, too.

Damn. I finished my coffee. Change of subject!

Recently I've been seriously considering swapping out my Les Paul Red's pickups. Way back when, I bought a pair of Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates humbuckers as used (allegedly) by Warren Haynes and Dickey Betts. Now, if that's not a stellar endorsement, I don't know what is. I'd always told myself that if I ever got a real Les Paul then the first thing I'd do would be to change out the stock pups for the Seymour Duncans.

Red came with shiny new Burstbucker Pros, though. I don't know what to do. Having played the Pearly Gates through my old guitar they definitely give a raucous sound that I like, but is it stupid to change out the Burstbuckers? Don't know. Don't know... DON'T KNOW!!! If I hated the stock pickups then it'd be a no-brainer, but I like them. I don't know that they're 100% what I want, but their sound is pretty damn good.

What to do? What to do..?

April 7, 2008


Okay, so here's the skinny. I was way too knackered to attend the Old Explorer blues jam last Thursday. I'm going to make every effort to go this week, though, assuming it's still running. Watch this space.

Practice and progress were non-existent last week. The weekend was no different. I have temporarily stalled... hopefully not for long. I can't afford to lose momentum like this or I'll end up going backwards. Unfortunately I don't see myself getting moving again until tomorrow. Too much to do about the loft to bring it back to 'habitable'. All plans for the weekend slipped away when we heard that some friends of ours who live in Paris were over. We were out most of the time, drinking... [hic]. No regrets, though. Good friends, good times. Weather-wise the weekend was f**ked up! Friday was a beautiful Summer's day, Saturday was Spring-like if a little damp. By Sunday it was snowing!

In other news, I've ordered a micro-recorder that works through my iPod. I keep getting song ideas but before I can play them they disappear from my head. Think mini-dictaphone for the mp3 generation. I can't imagine that the quality will be great, given the low-low price tag, but hey, I figured it was worth trying. If I can just capture one or two song ideas it'll be worth it. It should be possible to use it for recording guitar, too. Have to wait and see. I often jot down lyrics in a notebook, but by the time I get round to reviewing them the musical concept has evaporated so I'm back to square one. Oh, the device is called an Xtrememac MicroMemo if you want to google it. I'll let you know how well it works.

Other musical news...

Going to see the Oli Brown Band play on Saturday. Looking forward to that. They're showcasing their debut album, which is being released by the German outfit Ruf Records.

Bought a couple of albums on a whim. One by Matt Nathanson, entitled "Beneath These Fireworks" and one by The Nadas, "Listen Through The Static". Both were artists I discovered through Pandora Radio. I got them on the strength of a couple of songs so we'll have to see whether the rest of the tracks are up to much.

Finally, I found out on Friday that the upcoming Clapton gig in Hyde Park not only has The Man Himself playing, along with Sheryl Crow and John Mayer, but now Robert Randolph & The Family Band AND Jason Mraz have been added to the roll.

I just don't like listening to concerts in places like Hyde Park. Bad acoustics and you end up a mile and a half from the stage, wondering what the hell's going on most of the time... needless to say that even if VIP seats up front were still available, they'd be price prohibitive.

Having said that, since buying "Unclassified" I now desperately want to see Robert Randolph perform live and I'm not afraid to admit a bit of a closet Mraz-a-fan. I mostly dig his solo acoustic stuff, but I've seen him play in Houston and London and his shows are a guaranteed fun time.

April 3, 2008

Standing At The Crossroads

So, since coming back from vacation I've been trying to make a decision about the way forwards. Do I focus on strumming and do the open mic thing? Do I lay down some demo tracks and put them out there online? Do I just go all out trying to find other local musicians to form a band?

Whatever I do, I still have to keep up the practice and make sure it's structured as opposed to just reverting to form and noodling aimlessly. Structure is good for me, though I naturally rebel against it! To some extent I feel like I've been in limbo this week. What with going away on holiday then catching up at work, I've barely touched my guitars.

I think one of the most important things for me to do right now is to start learning to play songs from start to finish. My first song selection will be... (drum roll)... a solo acoustic version of "Outside Woman Blues". I've been listening to a lot of Hendrix lately and have the urge to tackle some of his funkier stuff but I already know half of "Outside Woman Blues" (and it sounds cool and somewhat Hendrixy, using a punchy E7#9 chord) I might as well learn the rest. How hard can it be, really?

I'm giving strong consideration to attending a brand new blues jam tonight, just around the corner from Oxford Circus in London. The only thing holding me back is that I'm knackered from work. Hey, tomorrow's Friday, right? Who needs sleep when the weekend's on the way? If I do go along I'll let you know whether it was a hit or a miss. I don't expect it to be too busy (famous last words) as it's the first time it's taking place.

Venue? The Old Explorer pub on 23 Great Castle Street, kick-off at 8:30pm.

If I don't go along tonight then I'll probably try it next week.

So... what am I going to do to move The Project forwards? I'm torn between doing the 'open mic' thing and the 'record demos' thing.

For now I'm putting the 'join a band' option on ice for the simple reason that it seems to be really hard unless you run in the right circles. Open mic-ing might put me in those circles. I've been searching for band stuff on the internet recently using a number of different websites with absolutely no success. Either I'm selling myself wrong or the sites simply don't work, at least for me. They seem to be populated by 15-18 year olds looking for similar. When it comes time to look for bandmates (unless they find me!) I think I'll resort to the old school methods of posting flyers in music stores and so on.

I guess if I'm working towards open mic-ing then I can always record demos along the way as part of the process of learning songs. Let's see, I've got 272 days remaining, according to my countdown clock... that's three quarters of the year. Gotta just keep up the momentum and catch my second wind. I guess that gives me a date for the calendar: July 1st will be halfway through 2008 and hence midpoint for the project.