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July 30, 2008

Song Writing

No time for a long post, so here's what you get, short and sweet.

Tim and I ran through "Summer Strum" last night, in the vain hope of finding some meaningful lyrics to go with the tune. Did we have any luck? No.

What became abundantly clear from our session was that the verse probably worked better as the chorus (as it's more driving/agressive), the chorus wouldn't be out of place as a bridge and the bridge could be tweaked and turned into the verse. What freaks me out, though is the tonality, as I can't get my head around having a major-sounding verse, with a minor chorus. That probably sounds stupid, but sometimes my brain gets stuck in these so-called paradigms. When it comes to writing music, thinking outside the box isn't my strong point.

And, much like a model's entire face hanging off her cheekbones, this song needs a stunningly good intro to set the whole vibe up properly. Without the knock on the door and 'hello', it's never going to amount to anything.

After last night's revelations, what I probably need to do with this tune is just cut the different chord sequences into loops and play around with the structure until it works. Dunno. Sometimes this whole musical journey seems like the best thing in the world... sometimes it's like pulling teeth. I'll admit to being slightly demoralised about songwriting right now as I feel like I have some good ideas but they never seem to work themselves into anything worthwhile.

Tim pointed out something obvious last night, too, which is that the songs I write are never grounded in my musical influences. Where are the screaming guitars? Where are the complex, synchopated rhythms? Where are the blues..?

...Right here I guess.

July 28, 2008


Busy weekend. No progress on The Project, though. Visits with friends, riding the bikes all over London, mostly out east to Greenwich, the Thames Barrier, O2 Centre etc. Saw Batman: The Dark Knight, which was much better than I expected. Lots of twists and turns. I actually thought the movie was over a couple of times before the end, but The Joker just kept on getting the better of the Caped Crusader. Heath Ledger steals the show, much as Mr Jack did in Tim Burton's feature. Definitely a real shame that Heath's gone. I can only imagine the franchise would have gone from strength to strength if he were still around.

Saturday saw us out at Shunt Lounge again. Every week it's a different place! Saturday night was very focused on live music. First off we watched a weird 4 piece from California (I believe)... violin, bass, drums and a unicycling guitarist. Style? Kind of peasant folk-musicy... ish? Lots of fun. After that they had a band called Le Pico onstage, playing cranked up Spanish rock... ish! Their first couple of songs were really good. Not so into the remainder of the set, but they were definitely different and worth watching, especially as they were playing dressed in white suits and wrapped up in fairy lights! Too weird an effect!

Sunday came around pretty quick and I managed to knacker my right arm at the gym, throwing off plans to have another stab at recording (still-working-title) "Summer Strum". We'll see how it feels tonight. Might have a go at it then, or at least spend a few hours working on the lead guitar part... anything that doesn't require me to strum. That motion kinda hurts right now!

Grabbed a couple of cheap CDs at Greenwich market, too. Random stuff... did I mention they were cheap? Ray LaMontagne's second album "Till The Sun Turns Black", "The Best Of Little Feat" (replacing my old copy) aaaand... what else... Oh, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals "Lifeline". We'll see how they work out. I actually thought I was buying Ray LaMontagne's first album, the one with "I've been saaaaaved... by a woman" on it. Oops. He really does have a great rootsy voice and the musical arrangement is deceptively simple. Very stripped back yet with atmosphere. He plays the silences, as it were. I've been meaning to check out Duffy's CD, "Rockferry". I keep hearing "Mercy" everywhere I go, which sounds really retro-cool. Didn't manage to find a bargain-bucket copy this weekend, though, so that'un will remain on the wish-list.

Update: As I munched on my lunchtime sandwich I realised that I'd never bothered to check on Amazon marketplace for discounted new/used copied of Duffy's album... ended up ordering a few more discs, as follows:

Duffy, "Rockferry"
Scrapomatic, "Sidewalk Caesars"
Rhett Miller, "The Instigator"
Old 97's, "Fight Songs"

A couple of random alt-country selections there at the bottom. We'll see how they pan out! I've been in the mood for some more more melodic stuff, so... Oh, and Scrapomatic is the side-project of the Derek Trucks Band singer, Mike Mattison. Their previous CD, Aligator Love Cry was a fantasic back-to-basics country blues/folk album, recorded from the gutter, looking up. You could feel the dirt between your toes as you listened to it. Haven't heard much about "Sidewalk Caesars" but it's got to be worth a go, eh?

July 24, 2008

Is No News Good News?

It's a no news day!

I can't even do an iPod DJ as my iPod ran out of juice this afternoon. Besides, the jack plug on my 'good' headphones is broken (replacement jack ordered) so I can't even use those... I had to resort to using the crappy supplied Apple ones... not that they're terrible headphones, but the grey fluffy bits are so worn that I don't really like putting them in my ears. They resemble cheap socks that have been chewed by a spin-dryer.

Hey, look, I'm creating news out of thin air. Cool.

So, no iPod + no decent headphones = no music.

About the only thing I can report is that last night I loaded "Summer Strum" (both the version I posted yesterday... yesterday or Tuesday?.. and a stripped down one with just the basic chords onto my Tascam MP-GT1. The MP-GT1 is a gadget which is a bit like a stone-age iPod with a built in guitar amp so you can jam along over tracks. I figure it's probably going to be the best tool for me to work out the lead guitar parts on, without driving Tim insane with my noodling...

...which won't be tonight. We're off to the theatre. Won't be tomorrow night, either... off to meet friends near South Bank. Dunno when it's going to be, actually!

Meanwhile, back at Band Camp, I'm trying to set up meetings next week with a jazz piano man and a young multi-instrumentalist fello who's local to me and who writes and records his own cool little songs. From what I gather he's on a quest himself to record a song a week for the year. Sounds like a tall order, but possibly very productive! No firm meet-ups yet, though. Just provisional days.

July 22, 2008

Summer Strum

I realised last night that I haven't actually posted any music here lately, so I figured, well, I might as well upload a sample of the work-in-progress song I've been screwing around with over the past few days, originally entitled "Five Minutes Of Summertime" but now the working title is simply "Summer Strum" as I want to leave myself open to all possibilities.

It's a long way from a polished demo or even a complete song, so don't expect too much! I basically just sat down with the acoustic before bedtime and strummed the chords randomly for a few minutes, paying no need to verse/chorus/bridge structure. Next I got down to the task of adding some drums on top.

I'm terrible at programming rhythm tracks, so that's actually what takes me the time on demos. In total, including set-up, the guitar parts took around 10 minutes to get down. All I needed to do was plug in the mic, hit record and after a couple of false starts they were in the can. The drums took forever, though!

At about midnight I figured I might as well draw a line under the drum track and have a go at getting the flavour of the melody down. I recorded my first pass through then blanked out anything that went horribly wrong. That first recording is what you hear on the tape, complete (or incomplete) with gaps and accidental noodles, where I forget that I was supposed to be writing something that can actually be sung!

Here it is... "Summer Strum (Work In Progress)"

Non-project news? A while back I heard that one of my favourite musicians, Derek Trucks, had started work on a home studio with the aim of recording his band's next CD there. The Derek Trucks Band is a group that I don't talk about much here, mainly because I tend to gush about them. I absolutely love them and take every opportunity to see them play live, which is really their 'thing'. Previous albums have been good, but live they're absolutely great. Check them out on the Live Music Archive if you don't believe me. I have to be careful about listening to the dTb as once I start I often listen to them compulsively, ignoring every other band.

Any road up, I'd not heard any news about them for a while so I thought I'd do some googling and I came up with a recent report that got my pulse racing. Cherry picking snippets from various sources, it seems that not only is Derek's new home studio complete, but it's a 2,300-square-foot affair, designed by the man who built Electric Lady Studios. Sounds like a no-expense spared effort, with Derek even purchasing the 1970's soundboard that was used in the Kinks’ studio in London.

What really got my attention, though, was a quote from Derek which suggested that the new dTb album is in the can and that they spent months working on it as opposed to the usual 7-10 days in a rented studio. What does that mean? I'm hoping it means that the band have been writing some new material. My guess is that even if the record has been finalised it probably won't be released until late 2008 or early 2009, though. D'Oh! I already know what I want for Christmas!

Update: I just checked out the Live Music Archive and it looks like the latest dTB recordings all feature new songs, or at least ones that I've not seen them perform live before. I'll have to get myself, my broadband connection and my iPod down there quick smart to see what's shakin'. I'll bet they're honing some new cuts on the road...

July 18, 2008

Blind Man Blues

So it's Friday, and those watching closely will have noticed that I've not posted for a few days.

I went blind on Tuesday.

Okay, so that's a lie... or at least an exaggeration. Somewhere along the line I managed to pick up an eye infection in my left peeper which started off on Monday night with itchiness and pain, then slowly got worse over the course of Tuesday up to the point where it was agonising to even look sideways at my computer monitor. Since I literally could not work and was in serious pain I figured a quick trip to A&E was in order! As a contractor it totally went against the grain to leave before the end of the work day, but, y'know, eyes are kind of important.

I'm glad I went, though. After a remarkably short wait to be seen, I was sent home with a tube of anti-inflamatory, anti-biotic eye ointment and a leaflet on eyelid hygene! Ordinarily I'd have been mortified at the merest suggestion that my eyelids were anything less than pristene, but since my left one's a bit dodgy due to ptosis anyway, I simply thanked the doctor, took the leaflet and went on my merry way. Getting home was a trip, I can tell you. Pain, nausea and tunnel vision on public transport. Hey, sounds like the end of a good night out, eh?

The good news is that the ointment is working its magic and I can (mostly) see again. I'm back at work, rather enigmatically wearing sunglasses in the office. Things are still a little scratchy and blurry, but hey, better that than the alternative.

The other bad news was that as I couldn't stand to look at computer screens I had no choice but to take 2 days off work. I spent the time avoiding all things bright and shiny, drinking copious cups of tea, ointmenting myself and, much to my surprise, writing a song... or at least starting to.

Much like my other unfinished masterpieces, I have the entire song mapped out in terms of chord progressions for the verse, chorus and bridge and I even have a melody. I've also been through several strumming pattern iterations and I think I have one that works pretty well. The big problem I have is that I've become fixated on the work-in-progress title: "Five Minutes Of Summertime" and I can't think outside that box at the moment.

The concept was that the song's either about someone who's saying that he wants the object of his affection to give him a chance and he'll show them the world OR it's about how he gave someone everything but only got 'five minutes of summertime' in return. Not sure which...!

I recorded a demo with some freestyle lyrics (which I can't remember at all right now, but they weren't good) and the melody really meshed well with the chords. I was definitely pleased about that. I wasn't pleased that my lyrical muse was playing hookie, so I got nowhere fast on that front.

In other news, I phoned another contact from Partysounds. He's a guy who's been playing jazz/blues piano for a couple of years and is starting to look at playing with other folks. Supposedly he's very local to me, which'd be handy. Looks like I need to bone up on my Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers! I told him that I'd hook up with him as soon as my eye perks up a bit. He seems keen, which is a good thing considering the luck I've been having lately with getting together with people. Jazz wasn't where I planned on starting out this process, but I have enough of that stuff in my 'influences' that I have no problem having a crack at it for a laugh and to get me going. Another 'watch this space' moment.

July 14, 2008

Musical Stepping Stones

It's Monday. Uncharacteristically for me, I don't have the energy today to post anything too in-depth, so you get snippets. Here goes:

I'm still having difficulty finding people to play with. It doesn't look like the guys I was supposed to be meeting up with for a jam this week are going to come through, unfortunately. They postponed and postponed and the last thing I heard was that it might be today or tomorrow. I've been trying to get hold of them but have had no response. You ever get the feeling you're being ignored? Well, like I've said before, I'm not going to hold out too many hopes or put too much emphasis on any of these contacts until something actually happens.

Okay. The weekend? Erm... coffee at Starbucks (eugh!) Musak version of the theme from Hawaii-Five-O! Totally groovy in a Hank Marvin solo-guitar stylee. Realisation as to what it was crept up on me slowly, a bit like when my favourite cabaret act, Kiki & Herb, mixes "Smells Like Teen Spirit" with "Suicide Is Painless" (theme from M*A*S*H)

Speaking of Teen Spirit, we were at the Shunt Lounge under London Bridge station on Saturday night. Shunt is... well, Shunt. Erm... it's a bar/club/art space/avant garde performance arena. Oh, just go look at their website here. The things that were going on included some mic'ed up 'singing' pendulum sculptures that you could play with, a 3 DJ club room with some performance dance stuff in the background, a simulation where you got to 'escape' from a crashed jet via a massive rope slide... and the reference to Nirvana, there was a dance floor which was having a 70's to 90's night, spinning stuff like Nirvana back to back with Bowie and Guns 'n' Roses! I've never seen a mosh vibe take off so quickly as when the intro to "Welcome To The Jungle" kicked in. Very cool.

Oh, and for the dedicated drinkers amongst you. They free pour Absolut vodka. Whereas normally I can slam overpriced 'club' mixed drinks and feel virtually no effect all evening, two of those and I was well on the way to being smashed. Surely the larger, more well known clubs wouldn't water down their stock? Surely?

On Sunday we headed over to Regent's Park for a bit of an impromptu pic-nic. The sun was out, the sky was blue. All was good with the world. We picked a spot just off the inner circle, parked up our bikes and headed for the nearest grassy knoll. As we did, we were treated to the most surreal sonic experience. It sounded like some kind of native american chant. Very odd. Even more strangely, the chanting kept repeating, slowly building up the tempo and as it did the whispy white clouds turned grey then black. Damn it if it wasn't a freakin' rain dance they were doing AND it was working! Spooky.

July 11, 2008

Friday Is... Placebo Appreciation Day!

Actually, the past 7 days have been Placebo Appreciation Week (or PAW for short... hey, PAD and PAW! How very animalistic).

I first got into Placebo because of their storming debut single, "Nancy Boy". It was back in the days when some people still followed Top Of The Pops religiously and I was one of them.

At I sat, watching the idiot box, listening to the banality of the latest batch of trite pop songs, I was totally unprepared for the pure vitriolic goth rock that was about to spew from the speaker... and it wasn't just the music that thrilled me, it was the lyrical content. In less that 4 short minutes Placebo ripped the still-beating heart of gay music right out of the Jimmy Somervilles, Marc Almonds and countless divas, crushed it underfoot and painted the world black.

"Alcoholic kind of mood
Lose my clothes, lose my lube
Cruising for a piece of fun
Looking out for number one
Different partner every night
So narcotic, outta sight
What a gas, what a beautiful ass."

To say that Placebo weren't pulling any punches is an understatement. They were standing up onstage and saying, "You don't want to hear this stuff, well here it is IN YOUR FACE". At the time, for me, that really struck a chord. Cultural acceptance of homosexuality was nowhere near as widespread as it is now and I genuinely felt that society as a whole was trying to marginalise 'us'. Placebo's emergence made me feel that if society said it was acceptable for folk to be prejudiced against me then it was equally okay for me to stand up and give society the one-finger salute.

After hearing "Nancy Boy" I could hardly wait until the next morning to run down to the store and buy the album. To this day it is one of my favourite 'go to' discs. It's by no means perfect, it's not brilliantly produced, but it's a piece of my history and that makes it special to me. Placebo's music then and now is about single-note solos and driving power chords (ironically in 100% straight time). Their debut album turned out to not just play on gay themes, but was firmly rooted in androgeny and, basically, any subversive counter-culture. Placebo's fan base certainly isn't 100% gay, and rightly so. Their music is for anyone who wants a glimpse into an alternate, somewhat darker, reality.

"Nancy Boy" was released 12 years ago and I'm here to tell you that since then it's been a wild ride but y'know, both society and I have grown up immeasurably. Back then I would have never believed my family and friends would accept the person I love so willingly, that I would marry him and that our future together would seem so bright.

Placebo has grown up, too. In the period between then and now they released 4 more studio albums, the latest being "Meds". The middle three albums were all okay, but for me I was most consistently drawn to their first offering.

Until "Meds", that is. Placebo's sound evolved for this CD and I'm here to tell you that it's a great album. Truly great. I listened to "Placebo" and "Meds" back-to-back a couple of days ago and let me tell you, "Meds" eclipses "Placebo" in every way.

Ironically I dragged Tim (kicking and screaming) to see Placebo play live at the Alexandra Palace a few years back on the "Meds" tour (he loved it!) but I never got round to buying the CD until recently. I guess I just didn't feel like their brand of music was an essential part of me anymore. A couple of weeks ago, though, I picked it up at a 2 for £10 sale at HMV and I've been hooked on it ever since. Every track is superb. My current favourite is "Infra Red" which is basically a song about planned revenge...

"One last thing before I shuffle off the planet
I will be the one to make you crawl
So I came down to wish you and unhappy birthday
Someone call the ambulance
There's gonna be an accident

I'm coming up on infra red
There's no running that can hide you
'Cause I can see in the dark
I'm coming up on infra red
Forget your running, I will find you."

I've also just ordered their one and only live DVD, "Soulmates Never Die" (from Amazon Marketplace... cheap!). It's supposed to be a stormer. Somehow, I bet it is!


I was warned a while back by the erstwhile Axe Victim, Col of Magic Ship, that I should prepare myself for a frustrating time looking for band-mates over the summer months. Oh boy was he ever right. I've been working hard at finding people to play with but everyone's social schedules or vacation plans are causing havoc. It's bad enough trying to get 2 people in the same place at the same time, but organising 3 or 4 is a nightmare. So far, apart from a swift beer or two with a couple of potentials I've drawn a blank. I'm not giving up, but it's becoming clear that the search for bandmates is going to be a long, drawn out affair. Wish me luck and watch this space!

July 8, 2008

Concert Review: Jason Mraz, Shepherd's Bush Empire

(What is a shepherd's bush, anyway? Inquiring minds want to know!)

For completeness, I should probably mention that Jason had two support acts last night, Bushwalla and Dawn Kinnard. We missed them. Sorry. They're supposed to be decent acts and any other night I'd have been keen to get in there early to check them out, but frankly, our concert stamina was running low so we elected to skip them.

The man himself came onstage promptly at 9pm with a different band set up from previous tours. This time round he'd added a horn section and man did they add a fullness to the sound! Very cool, indeed. The first song, however, was a solo affair, just Jason and his guitar doing the singer-songwriter thing (unless you count the audience, who were singing along). I don't actually remember which song he did, but I thought his voice sounded a little raspy, so I was concerned that he might have vocal issues later on. He didn't! Yay!

The band ran through tunes old and new and really struck a good balance between the slower, ballad-style numbers and the funkier up-tempo ones. After hearing the live versions I think I finally 'got' some of the songs from his latest album, "We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things".

All in all the 90 minute set was great. He's moved past some of the cheesier old stuff and updated his best songs to fit in with the new material. While he played some of his more well-known tunes, like "The Remedy", he steered clear of some of the more obvious hits like "Curbside Prophet".

[Tim was so disappointed by that omission that he asked me to mark Jason down a star in this review. Since I don't 'do' stars, that makes it tricky!]

The band was also joined onstage by up-and-coming recording artist James Morrison, who assisted in a duet during the encore.

Even the crowd were great. Lots of hands in the air, lots of clapping, lots of dancing... though I think we were the only folks there over 30. Hey ho! I even found myself jumping up and down at one point, which probably explains why my back's a bit angry again today.

I'm going to have to put the Jason Mraz concert at the top of the honours list for concerts we've seen so far this year. Really great fun, fun, fun!

And for those who like percussionist Toca Rivera's jokes, his attempted funny last night went something like:

Two muffins walk into a bar. One muffin asks the other, "Do you want a beer". The other one goes, "Whoa! A talking muffin!!!!"

July 7, 2008

The Longest Day Of The Year

...or how to squeeze three buzzes, one drunk and a whole lotta music into a 24 hour period.


1) I'm an athiest, so my observation of religious stuff is from that perspective. I do not intend any offence by any of the comments below, but while I try to be non-judgemental of most religions, frankly, sometimes they scare the bejesus out of me.

2) I do not advocate drinking to excess as it's not clever... even if it's fun from time to time and yes, I've been known to do it.

3) I am not, nor have I ever been, a Dolly Parton fan. As such, I know little about the lady, other than what she told the audience when onstage.

Saturday morning started slowly. I first woke up at 8, but, knowing that it was going to be a long day I forced myself to go back to sleep and managed to doze off until around 10am. A veritable lie-in!

Batteries fully recharged, we got up and set about preparing for the wedding we were going to that afternoon in Wapping. Shoes were shined, best duds were pressed and donned, hair was fixed as best as possible. As is typical of couples, Tim and I dressed seperately but somehow managed to 'match' anyway.

Getting to the wedding was relatively painless. Two buses and we were there, on time... just. As we made our way to the church, a long haired, long legged blonde women sprinted past us wearing a dress and flip flops, clearly headed to the same venue as us.

"Going to the wedding?" We called after her.
"Yes, I'm SINGING in it!" She shouted back.

Quite a surprising turn of speed, considering her attire.

The wedding was between one of Tim's study mates and her long-term boyfriend. It seems that they've been together since they were 15. At 22, they decided that they are ready to formalise the deal. 22 years old. Wow. In some ways I find the idea that two people can meet and marry their soul-mate like that heartwarming. That sentiment is balanced with a heavy dose of incredulity that anyone these days would even consider settling down at such a young age. There's just too much to do and see out there. I firmly believe that, in this day and age, kids don't fully mature until the age of 30... at least.

The wedding was the first real Catholic ceremony I've been to, or at least the first that I remember going to. I have to say that for the most part I agreed with a lot of the sentiment of the ceremony. I guess I'm the kind of athiest who agrees with the social building blocks inherent in much of the religious doctrine, but without feeling the need to put it into the framework of deity-based worship. "Thou shalt not kill". Sounds good to me. "Thou shalt not commit adultery". All good stuff. Those folk who say that without religion you can't be a moral person are talking out of their collective behinds.

The priest officiating made some good points about each person in a marriage needing to be allowed to grow as individuals and so on. He also start the proceedings by trying to be very inclusive by saying that he welcomed everyone from different faiths and so on and that we all should come together to celebrate the union. I did catch him later on, though, sneaking a line into a prayer that made my ears prick up... something along the lines of "Lord, help all people to recognise that there is only one true faith". Bang. You can eat in my restaurant, but don't bring in your own food.

Lots of hymns were sung. There was lots of standing up, sitting down and kneeling. I wasn't prepared for any of the 'expected' audience responses to calls from the priest, so for most of the service I kept my mouth shut. By the end of the ceremony my back was killing me again. I'd taken a couple of painkillers as a precaution, but they didn't seem to want to cut through the twinges.

As we posed for group pictures I was definitely feeling uncomfortable and was unsure whether I would make it through the concert that evening if we were called upon to stand up. Things started to look up, though, as the post-ceremony champers was dished out. Two swift glasses and Daily Buzz No. 1 was incoming. As the family photos were being snapped, four of us sneaked off to a local bistro for a bit more bubbly and some mezze. To our surprise we got to do some celebrity spotting. As we munched on our nibbles, in walked none other than Graham Norton, with his plus one. Now, we often see celebs out and about, but my policy is that 'they're people, too' and so I basically ignore them. I couldn't help but catch Mr N's eye, though, complete with its irreverant Irish twinkle. I have to say that if I was a ROCK GOD, I don't know how I'd cope with celebrity. I'd hate to have people recognise me in restaurants.

Anyway, after that we headed out from the bistro to the reception, which was being held at a cocktail bar in the city. Very nice. Free bar. Hello Buzz No. 2.

After an hour or so we had to leave to go to see the Dolly Parton show at the O2. We met up with one of our friends, had a coffee and took our places just in time for the main event.

At this point I would like to mention that our tickets were FREE. I did not pay to see Dolly. It's not my bag. Really.

So, we took our places, sandwiched between cowboy-outfitted geriatric freaks and nubile 20-something lesbians. I'm not kidding. That was the demographic for the entire audience. Dolly actually mentioned that she was expecting more drag queens to turn up, but I guess being Gay Pride on Saturday, the long-nail, wig brigade were up the West End.

The show started with a string of musicians 'introducing' themselves by executing centre-stage licks, then making their way to their respective positions. All of them could play. The band were tight. I have to question whether Dolly really needed 4 different guitarists onstage at one time, but hey, it's her show, right?

Right, I'm going to complain about the sound. We saw Prince at the O2 'in the round' and the sound was awesome. The setup for Dolly was traditional stadium style, with the stage at one end of the oval. Our seats were close to the front, off to stage left. Unfortunately, we got output directly from the speakers plus really strong reflection and so the sound was really muddy. Not good.

At around 8pm Dolly came onstage. How that woman can walk without falling on her face all the time, I don't know! The show was split into 2 sets with a 15 minute intermission. No costume changes, no wig changes, just Dolly, blinged to the hilt, singing hits old and new and recounting anecdotes inbetween songs.

She did every Dolly song that I knew, including "Jolene", "9 to 5" and "I Will Always Love You". She also did most of her new album (available in shops NOW) and a smattering of 'old time' songs.

She did a good job. Her voice was powerful and accurate. Her tales were endearing and she came across as just a humble ol' country girl made good. In her pre-amble to Jolene she recounted the true story that the tune was based on, where a red-headed temptress had tried to steal her man, but that she'd managed to run her off. She closed out the story by saying that sometimes when she looks at her husband of 42 years, snoring in his barker lounge chair, she sometimes wonders where Jolene is...

Musically, the high points for me were when she sang traditionally styled songs, with a celtic twinge. Heavy on the vocals, backed up with acoustic lap-steel, they were haunting. Think soundtrack to "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?"... or perhaps "Deliverance".

Just as I was starting to get into the concert, letting my guard down, she called her backing band to come sing a capella with her. As they made their way out of the shadows, wearing their predominantly black outfits, the spotlights caught the sequins on their shirts. I'm not kidding that on first glance I thought they had swastikas on them (as they looked like armbands etc), but they turned out to be Christian crosses. Whilst I was relieved that the symbols weren't from some neo-nazi group, I was still slightly alarmed. There seemed to be a lot of praising of God kicking off, particularly from the cowboy freaks next to us, who were becoming increasingly evangelical. When Dolly pulled out "I Will Always Love You" I thought we were safe, but she followed it up with a song off her new album called "Jesus & Gravity" which whipped our neighbours up into a fervour. Now, I'm a fan of devotional music to a degree as it can be truly uplifting, but these guys were so into it that they were spreading their arms as though they were hanging on a cross. I couldn't get out of there quick enough. It freaked me out. To make matters worse, the girls on Tim's side were dancing as though they were having seizures, nearly hitting him in the face from time to time.

Weirdos and bad dancing notwithstanding, I have to say that Dolly's performance was a good one. I was never bored throughout the entire two hour show. She charmed us with her tales of growing up on a farm as one of 12 kids, with stories of how she set up a reading club for kids, seeing as her dad was completely illiterate and so on. She seemed like a very talented, outgoing, courageous woman... and I have no idea how she managed to play guitar so well with those nails. I suspect she may have been shadowed by one of the multitude of other musicians onstage.

By the time we made it home at around 11:30 I was in dire need of some secular music therapy. We popped open another bottle of champers, leading to Buzz No. 3, stuck on some Freemasons dance mixes and promptly decided to go out. Strangely, at some point in Dolly's show, my back had stopped hurting! The healing power of music? The healing power of Dolly herself? Who can say!

Cutting a very long story short, after two clubs and enough overpriced vodka to put a small dent in our finances we crawled into bed. 7am had arrived, bringing to an end our 'longest day' of the year (so far). Today we have 'club lag' (like jet lag, only you don't actually have to go anywhere). No rest for the wicked, though. It's Jason Mraz tonight, over at the Shepherd's Bush Empire. Hopefully I can stay awake for the show!

July 4, 2008

Picky, Picky, Picky

Okay, so it's Friday and I shouldn't bitch, but I have a couple of things to complain about.

First off, picks. I cut my teeth on the Jim Dunlop Tortex picks of varying thickness. I like the red ones for strumming and the yellow, maybe blue ones for lead work. Recently, though, I heard the sirens call to try something different and I placed an order for some Clayton Ultem picks. I was seduced by the sales pitch that the "Ultem closely resembles real tortoiseshell in sound, feel and color" and from a buyer review which said that they were less slippery than the Tortex ones.

First impression was good. Felt slightly stiffer than I expected and grippy. However, as soon as I started strumming, something about the shape of them made them rotate between my finger and thumb, presenting the broad side of the triangular shape to the string. Clunk. Okay, so for me they were a complete waste of money. I might as well strum with a whole tortoise for the sound I get out of them. Worse, though, is that in the interim I've misplaced all my Jim Dunlop picks, so I'm SOL! Grrr...

Secondly, I've just bought myself a ticket for the Drive By Truckers show in London on the 4th August. Col of Axe Victim and Magic Ship fame put me onto them. I'm still not sure I'll be able to make it, but just in case I thought I'd lay some money down. Ticket price? £16. Can't go wrong with that, eh? Well, yes you can. If you buy through one ticket agency, who shall remain nameless... oh, ok, it's TICKETMASTER. They slap you with a £3.95 service charge, and then you have the hassle of having to have the ticket sent by secure post, requiring a signature... and they charge you another £4.95 for that privilege. Rip off? I should co-co. I ended up going to TicketWeb instead. The service charge was only £3 and I specified 'will call' at no extra cost and no extra hassle.

So, Ticketmaster £25, TicketWeb £19. That's a 30% difference in price. Who you gonna book through next time?

Other news? Dolly concert tomorrow. We'll see how that goes, considering I'm not really a fan... played on Red for a bit last night, before I had to put him down as my back was hurting (though it's doing much better). Beautiful guitar, smooooth as smooth as a thing made of PURE ROCK can be. I need to restring Blackie again. The strings are just dull, dull, dull right now. No sparkle at all.

Ach, it's Friday, it's sunny and lemme tell you, there's gonna be some drinkin' and some partying going down in London town this weekend! Yes, siree-bob (oh no, I think I peaked on Dolly too soon!)

July 3, 2008

iPod DJ, Vol. 3

Round and round she goes, where she stops nobody knows!

Holy cow, there I was expecting my little box of electrickery to shuffle to something brand-spanking new, but wouldn't you know it, it pulled an Austin Powers on me and landed back in 1970!

Ladies and gentlemen, heeeeerreeee's DONNY!

Album: Everything Is Everything
Artist: Donny Hathaway
Year: 1970
Rating: 5/5 Sho'Nuff

Okay, so what's not to love here? The album's a mix of soul, blues and jazz. Damn, if you ain't clappin' your hands you ain't feelin' it.
It's all about being black, equality, and violence on the street.

Can I get one more Sho'Nuff?


I got this album on the back of listening to the Derek Trucks Band's version of the title track, which is itself a musical tour-de-force. The whole disc has it's groove on. And as for Donny, the man can sing and his songs have a message that still needs to be heard today.

If you're looking for a hit of funky orchestral soul, Donny's debut is the one-stop shop you need! Dig it?

July 1, 2008

The Beginning Of The End

...or "It's All Downhill From Here"!

Actually, I have a feeling that the summit is still a ways off. Tuesday July 1, 2008 is a milestone for The Project, possibly the biggest milestone outside December 31. Today is the official start of the second half of the year, so I'm here to tell you that this is where things hopefully start to get interesting.

I was going to revisit the ol' action plan, but the action plan days are long gone. The options now are to s**t or get off the pot.

I've started contacting other local musicians with a view to trying to get a band together, whatever that means. 'A band' could just be a group of like-minded individuals who want to jam together. It could just mean finding one other player to collaborate with. If things start to look desperate then it could just mean me on my lonesome, learning some songs for an open mic.

Whatever happens, the clock is now ticking and this is no time to rest on my laurels. Potential band-mates... look out, I'm comin' to getcha!

So, I'm not going to sound a fanfare to announce the start of hunting season, I'm just gonna saddle up and start shootin'.


Oh, I don't know. I was 'in the moment'. Gimme a break.

Okay, in other news, I finished Slash's autobiography. I know that this is likely to be an unpopular opinion, but lemme just say it started off well but then rapidly degenerated into a seemingly interminable list of the times the top-hatted one got hooked on booze or drugs. Up until the time Guns got signed it was a really interesting portrayal of a young man starting out life on the edge. Even past then, where it's clear that although Guns were getting an international following they were still as poor as dirt, unable to even buy food. Once they start playing stadiums the storytelling starts going downhill, rapidly becoming a one-sided Slash vs Axl cage match. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed reading the book, but I have to question whether the thing had to be two inches thick?