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November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving... Paris!

I needed a break... A few days away from La Guerre! Good food, good friends, good times!

November 24, 2008

Best Laid Plans...

...or Rock & Roll weekend heads south!

So, this weekend I wasn't working and Tim was away on a course so I had planned an intensive musical time.

Things started off well enough. Col of AxeVictim's band, Magic Ship were playing a support gig at the White Hart in Barnes. Magic Ship are a good-time rockin' band and the perfect way to get the musical juices flowing. For the sake of 'journalistic integrity' I have to say that their performance wasn't up to the standard of their previous Half Moon headlining gig, but there were pre-show issues with the promoter, the evening's line-up was incredibly badly thought out, with a strange mix of electric and acoustic acts, which sucked the life out of the room and then on top of that, Col's Firebird was throwing a wobbly, refusing to stay in tune. Not to mention the fact that through illness and so on they'd not managed to squeeze in a rehearsal inbetween gigs.

Despite the ribbing that we gave the band post-set, they did manage to get on top of most of the songs, particularly "Monkeyphonic Alphabet" and "Lucky Lost". Lucky's not my favourite tune of theirs by a long shot, but they managed to knock it out of the ballpark on Friday night.

A few beers, some good music and the last train home to civilization. A promising start to the weekend.

When I woke up early on Saturday morning I was buzzing with ideas. Intro riffs were running through my mind. Power chords, lead lines. The works. By the time I'd showered and my head was starting to clear I could feel things starting to slip away so I quickly fixed coffee, grabbed the nearest available guitar and started to try and nail down my inspiration.

Nearest guitar... big mistake. The nearest guitar was the acoustic. Not the rock 'n' roll leviathon that I needed. I could literally feel the inspiration slipping away as I sat there, plucking at the strings. D'Oh!

Frustration set in, so I took a step back and looked at some of the homework that had been set for Rockschool. I was keenly drawn to the first solo from "Let It Be" that we'd been told to study, learn, whatever. It's not a hard solo to learn by any means, but it's got bends, slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs etc, which I guess was the point of the exercise. I 90% learned it. Not well enough to play it through without looking at the tab, but well enough for now.

I was starting to get back into the groove. Riding the George Harrison wave, I started writing down lyric ideas... Not Good. ABORT!!! ABORT!!!! My mental rhyming dictionary was fully engaged and I couldn't not rhyme! Everything I came up with was trite.

So, I decided to take a break... at which point I realised that while music may be the food of love, my company tax return was due and I needed to get that out of the way to put some food on the table. Disruption. Documents to sign, information to mail off.

I could go on, but let's just say that from then on, whilst I did manage to play/practice guitar more, my muse had definitely left the building. It really does underline the fact that when you have inspiration you just have to seize it there and then. Don't shower, don't fix coffee. Just get to work!

Oh, and yes, I had a listen through to most of the new Guns album. You know, they just let the perfect adjective into the next edition of Collins English Dictionary: 'Meh'!

November 20, 2008

I'm Just Sayin'...

Well, I never thought this day would come...

It's not here yet, but supposedly you can listen to the whole album on the GnR myspace page. No, I'm not going to give a link. If you're interested then Google the damn thing...

Is it any good? I've not listened to it yet (though I'm sure I will over the weekend out of some perverse curiosity). Reviewers seem to be giving it a reluctant 4/5, saying that it's no "Appetite..." but it's better than "Use Your Illusion". Overall the response has been positive. The primary criticism leveled at it seems to be that none of the songs are "Paradise City" or "Sweet Child..."

I'm not a major Guns fan. I own "Appetite..." and love it, but I never heard anything off the other albums to make me sit up and take note...

And no, I have no idea why I can't be bothered to type in the whole track names! Sue me! No, not you Mr Rose... please don't sue me!

Oh, and Project news, blah-blah, Rockschool tonight... AND band practice. I have to cut part of the end of class and part of the beginning of Band Camp to shoehorn both into one evening. Eek!

November 18, 2008


When the hell was the last time I posted????

Apologies, avid reader [cough]. Busy, busy!

Last post was about band practice, eh? Okay, catchup time then.

First up, had Rockschool the following day (last Thursday). Had our first little exam. Did okay. I think I scored 80%. Most of it was about chord construction, what chords are in the major keys etc. Some was practical 'play this scale in this key' stuff. I pretty much goofed on 2 out of 10 in each section. I was really distracted that night, I can tell you. I even had to ask for one question to be read out again as I'd zoned out completely, thinking about work.

For homework we were supposed to learn our study-partner's song, then learn and tab out the chord structure for the first song in our 'easy' songlist. Mine was "Mr Tambourine Man" which has a structure, albeit a rather changeable one depending upon how many lyrics Mr Dylan wanted to throw in. We were also given a number of pentatonic hammer-on exercises, which, for some reason, have been giving me trouble. They shouldn't be hard, but my issues arise on the high B/E strings. I can't seem to get the notes clean and switching from the 2 semi-tone to 3 semi-tone interval from the G to B-string trips me up every time. Not a clue why. I used to think I was pretty good at that stuff!

I actually didn't work (real work) at all over the weekend. My excuse was that I was stuck at home waiting for a plumber, who didn't come on Saturday then didn't turn up on Sunday until late... and who's supposedly coming back tomorrow morning to try to fix our boiler startup problems, though he doesn't come across as particularly convinced that he knows what the issue is. The upside to that was that I got to wail on the axe for a bit, both acoustically and with some electrification. It felt good. Very good.

Band practice this week is on Thursday, overlapping with Rockschool, so I'm going to have to cut out of class early and arrive late at the studio. I used to complain that I didn't have enough guitar going on... now I'm having scheduling conflicts! Quite the change. I still don't know how I'm going to juggle Rockschool and The Band and still do both justice. Frankly, though, The Band comes first in my books. It's what I want. In many ways it was the reason for signing up to RS in the first place. It just so happened that, like London buses, I waited forever then the two came along at once.

Tonight I have to write out the structure of "Mr Tambourine Man" properly so that I can perform it in class on Thursday. Any more playing than that is a bonus!!!

Oh, and as Tim's away on a residential course this weekend I should have lots of time for practice. If I can I'm going to head down to the Magic Ship (supporting) gig in Barnes on Friday night to hopefully kick of a rockin' weekend.

November 13, 2008

Band Rehearsal #2

Okay, before I forget, The Project's now into its last 50 days. That's not many shopping days 'til Xmas, campers! I guess come New Year's I'll reflect on where I'm at, what I'm doing and where I'm going. I'm tempted to do so now... but 50 days is 50 days (except it's actually 48 now). Anything can happen.

The other thing I want to say up front is that I'm shattered, mentally bunged up and about as stressed out as I've been in my life. Work. Why do we have to do it, people? Why, I ask you? Would civilization really crumble if we all just stopped?

[Don't answer that. I know what you're going to say]

I remember the days,
Free and clear,
The world so small,
Was big enough for me.

So, work, stress, ugh.

Outside of that little arena I have the two major things going on. Band and Rockschool. It's too early to write off Rockschool completely (and I'm not going to), but damn, it looks like it's going to be hard work and I don't currently see where all this practice time is going to come from!!! Maybe after the contract I'm working on is done I'll have more time but right now juggling all these balls is getting to be a challenge. I can't even goof off much because a) we get tested on it and b) we're working with partners. I'm not going to complain, though. I signed up for it and the value for money quotient is super high.

That leaves band news. We had rehearsal #2 last night. Everyone turned up, plugged in and played. If I'm being 100% honest I didn't feel like I acquitted myself well last night. Not enough practice time... preoccupied... stressed. I did okay, but only 'okay'. The three hour session went in a flash. Scary.

As with last time I really enjoyed the moments I got the room to myself while everyone else was off for a fag break. It meant that I could just close my eyes, crank my amp and lean into my very own wall of sound.

[Note: the amp I got last night was an old Peavey combo... which really, really sucked]

If anything, the highlight of the evening was running through "I Wanna Be Your Dog". It's not hard to play but I got to take out a lot of my current frustration, really just letting go and surrendering myself to the moment.

We ran through the other songs we'd played before, including "Supersonic", "Strange Brew" etc. On "Strange Brew" I do the groove-rhythm. Boy did I suck the first couple of times!!!! Finally I started getting it, but my fingers were just not working early on.

We did some Hendrix stuff, too, and also had a go at revamping "Once In A Lifetime" by Talking Heads. It has potential to be rocked-up.

The surprise addition to our playlist was a song that the other guitarist, Bo, had written. It sounded really good. Most of it was just a vamp on E and A5 with some pinky 'add' notes and some low E runs. I think it may end up being worked up into our first very own original.

I have to say that I'm actually really impressed with everyone in the band. They're good guys, open to stuff 'n' all, all bringing something to the table. If anything I feel I'm lagging behind as I just haven't had the time and energy to invest in it this past month.

Energy. I need energy. I've been at work pretty much every day for as long as I can remember now. We have a major milestone on Tuesday and then another the end of the month. It'll be done, because it needs to be, but I really just want to NOT work this weekend, hang the consequences. I've spoken with my boss to try and 'manage his expectations', so we'll see how that goes.

Happy, happy, joy, joy!

And it's Rockschool tonight, so I can't work late. The positive spin on RS is that it gives me a chance to escape real life. For those two hours every Thursday I get to step out of my day-to-day situation and relax. I just hope I don't end up being the guy who comes to class but never does the homework. That'd be a major waste of time.

November 12, 2008

Venice Day

Okay, so this is going to sound like I broke my 'never drink before lunchtime' rule... which doesn't apply when one's in New Orleans, obviously... but for some reason I really felt like I should be in Venice today.

I think it started this morning when I climbed onboard my gondola... erm... scooter. The blue skies and crisp cold air were strangely reminiscent of the last time we were in the city of fallen angels, almost two years ago.

Two years. Wow. It doesn't seem that long.

I know it sounds weird, but I'm sometimes hit by 'spirit of place' moments. Some days I feel like I should be on a greek island... sometimes in Paris... quite often in Amsterdam. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to feel like I'm centred in London. On days like that I feel a real connection to the city, seeing it with the fresh eyes of a tourist.

The love of travel is both a gift and a curse. Some days you wake up to the city in which you live, knowing deep down that at that precise moment in time you're 'supposed' to be somewhere else.

Shit, maybe I just need another vacation. At least in a few weeks we're off to visit friends of ours in Paris to celebrate Thanksgiving. The benefit of being one half of an anglo-american couple. You get two turkey days a year!

I think that sometimes feeling displaced like this is a good thing. It often signals the start of a creative patch... let's hope that's the case this time as my creativity has been running at an all time low.

It's band practice #2 tonight. Maybe I'll be inspired to start writing some original songs for the guys. Right now all I'm shooting for is to be able to find my G-string with both hands.

November 10, 2008

Monday Blurp...

Once again, no time!

Toxic Slut set on Friday was really good. They did 30 minutes and really had everyone along for the ride. Covers included Clash, Aerosmith stuff and so on, punkee-stylee.

While I didn't spend the whole weekend in the office, I was briefly at work both Saturday and Sunday, which sucked. Particularly as I got embroiled in the traffic diversions from the Lord Mayor's Show during a serious downpour on Saturday. I was soaked to the skin even before I could find somewhere to pull over.

We finally get to have our second band rehearsal this week! Yay! Oh... now wait a minute... I've hardly had any time to practice the material. D'Oh! Best pull Red out tonight I guess. Neighbours, I apologise in advance.

With Rockschool, I decided to shoot for the Grade 5 exam in June. From their website:

"You will be confident in a range of physical and expressive techniques. You will be able to demonstrate your abilities across a number of styles and have control over tone and sound adjustments to suit the playing style of your choice."

Exam requirements:

These should be played at 100 bpm in a straight feel: eighth notes

Group A Scales 2 octaves to be prepared chromatically in the keys of G-B, root note 6th string
• Minor pentatonic scales: The candidate must prepare all positions and the examiner will ask two consecutive positions

Group B Arpeggios 2 octaves to be prepared chromatically in the keys C-E, root note 5th string
• Major arpeggios
• Minor arpeggios
• Minor 7 arpeggios
• Dominant 7 arpeggios

Group C Chords
• Root 5th string barre chords: C, Dm, Em7, F, G. Play as a continuous sequence

Group D Legato Study. Candidates should prepare the eight bar legato study to be performed with the backing track.

Doesn't sound too bad... but I don't know how I'll play in an exam type situation! Realistically, passing the exam is secondary to getting something out of the course for me.

Rockschool homework...? Been trying to learn all the notes on all the strings. It's not easy to do without resorting to some kind of 'relative' methodology, such as knowing that if you skip two frets down then two frets over, then if that's a C on the A-string then it's a C on the G string... just have to keep plugging away at it I guess. I learned the A-string by remembering that the 3rd, 5th and 7th frets were C, D and E respectively. Once you know that, everything else falls into place. Brain exploding... Danger Will Robinson, Danger!

Maybe I should just stick a crib sheet on the back of my guitar in case we get tested this week!

November 9, 2008

Song For School

Okay, so it's not ROCK, but here's the little song I wrote for class. The brief was to pick a key, use the 'magic decoder ring' method for getting the chords, strum a simple rhythm and then add a melody over the top. On this version I also noodled in the middle for hell of it.

November 7, 2008

Rockschool Week 4

First week back after half term. Only five people there this time. Everyone else sick, it seems!

Okay, so 'the syllabus' took an interesting turn! Rather than shoot for Grade 3 as we were previously told, we've now been informed that we can actually study for and take any exam we want to! How does that work in group sessions, where everybody'll be aiming for different levels? No clue! The main difference off the bat is that WAES will order each of us the appropriate study guide. I'm guessing that we'll effectively become self-starters and refer any queries to teach. All very odd.

I'm thinking I'm going to shoot for Grade 5... maybe 4. Depends on what Teach thinks. I'm going to email him in a bit to ask for his opinion. When I've chosen I guess I'll post the study guide here.

Last night's lesson was primarily a show-and-tell of the 'simple songs' we wrote over half term. We paired up, learned each other's rhythm part then played lead over our own compositions. It seems that the concept of 'simple' was somewhat lost on one of our more talented students, but damn, did it sound good with Teach backing him up!

With just minutes to spare at the end of the two hour session Teach threw in some new (to me) arpeggios, the blues scale (been there, done that) and a rethink of the extended pentatonic. His approach is to split the guitar into three sets of two strings, then to use the same octave (so five notes) pattern on each set.

In tab, that'd look like this for the A minor pentatonic (note that you don't start on the root note):

e ---------------------------------------8-10/12--
B ---------------------------------8-10-----------
G ----------------------5-7/9---------------------
D -----------------5-7----------------------------
A ------3-5/7-------------------------------------
E --3-5-------------------------------------------

So, same exact fingering and same notes means that the same lick with work for each position, an octave apart. That says to me that he's hinting that the first four notes make a useful box, with the fifth being just a bend or slide away.

On top of that, for homework we have to record and learn our jam partner's song... PLUS...

P-L-U-S... that we've learned the notes on the E and A-strings, we have to learn the other strings, too... in a week... STRETCH TARGET OR WHAT?!?!?

Oh well, at least tonight I get the night off from work, school and so on. I'm off to see my band's lead singer play with her 'other band', Toxic Slut! Punk in Islington! Whatever next?

November 5, 2008

Exciting Times!

Okay, so Obama has won the 2008 US Presidential election with a landslide. Doesn't need a recount. No point in complaining that it was too close to call. He even won in FLORIDA! All done and dusted, time to get on with it.

The world turns. It's another day.

All the election hype rather overshadowed the other major event of yesterday, though. What was it? I shall tell you!

Maybe I won't...

Maybe I will...

Oh, alright. I will. The Derek Trucks Band released their first single from their hotly anticipated (by me) new album, "Already Free", which is due out in the new year. It's on digital download (probably a smart marketing move, though a little too techie for me).

From the band's website:

The new DTB single "Down in the Flood" will be available through iTunes and all major digital music providers Nov. 4, a little taste for those of you eagerly awaiting the new dTb studio album Already Free (due in stores Jan '09).

Already Free was self-produced by Derek at his new home studio in Jacksonville. In addition to the core members of the dTb, the album offers collaborations with a close circle of family and friends including Doyle Bramhall II, Oteil Burbridge, Susan Tedeschi, Duane Trucks and more. The album came to life organically in Derek's backyard as friends stopped by to write and rehearse in the new studio. Derek explained in a recent interview: "When we went in the studio originally it was just to write and kind of get comfortable in the space. It wasn't to do a record, so there was no pressure. There were some times when everybody would go out to dinner and I would stay behind. If I got an idea, I would run into the control room, hit 'play,' then run out into the recording room and set up a mic. You'd hear this thing banging around and then this guitar part comes in. A lot of the album was completely done by the seat of our pants, and a lot of the sounds we got, it was just so in the moment."

Original material makes up a major part of this record, largely due to a luxury Derek isn't used to: time off. His hectic schedule finally opened a window for Derek to write at home with band mates and friends. "Everyday I would get up, and me or Susan would drive our two kids to school," Derek says. "I'd come back, have some coffee and then head to the studio and start messing around with a guitar and hope a song idea appeared. Somehow without fail, there was at least a song written every day, or some great cover idea that came to us and we recorded it. So there was a good three or four-week period where every day we were writing and recording a song. That was different for me." In addition to the wealth of original material on Already Free there are some choice cover songs interpreted and revived as only the dTb can do, including the single being released in November. "Down in the Flood," from Bob Dylan and the Band's Basement Tapes, is a tune that may have more portent now than when Dylan wrote it in 1967. "That was one that was kind of an afterthought," admits Derek. "We just went in and tracked it. I think it really turned out to be one of the most powerful songs on the album. Lyrically, it's pretty timely. Crash on the levee, down in the flood, are significant post-Katrina. They are good metaphors, as there are in most Dylan tunes."

So, two big memos-to-yourselves on November 4th: 1) Participate in democracy by casting your vote, and 2) check out "Down in the Flood" for some fresh dTb!

For me, the dTb has always been about live performance, so it'll be interesting to see how this new work from Derek's own home studio comes out. I have to say I love the sound of the recording process. I must remember to pop around to his place for dinner sometime. Maybe I'll end up inspriring a song or two on his next (or the one after... or the one after that) album.

You never know...

November 4, 2008

Super Tuesday... not necessarily so super.

Work. Ugh. I'm not catching a break right now. Haven't had much time for playing guitar, let alone updating this blog.


I'm just gonna force myself to put something down here RIGHT NOW, even if it's a bit unfocused.

Okay, so it's Super Tuesday TODAY! Got an email from the Allman Brothers today about it. Went like this:

"Tuesday we will elect the next President of the United States. The result will have great consequences for the nation.

"This election offers a choice between two men with dramatically different visions of the future. We have strong feelings about this choice. But we feel even more strongly that all Americans, regardless of political preference, have a stake in the outcome and should vote in this critical election.

"This is likely to be a close election. Your vote matters. Please use it and make a difference."

Okay, so it wasn't directly to me, but it was a mailshot from the band. I thought it was kind of cool that they pulled the ol' 'vote for who you want, but make sure you vote' line. I think I know who they're planning on voting for given they just played a benefit concert in support of one of the candidates.

You know, I just hope that this time around there's a clear winner so that the world doesn't have to go through the whole waiting game that we did last time and the time before. Times are stressful enough as it is. Truth be told, I've deliberately stuck my head in the ground (politically) over the last few weeks so as to avoid the inevitable last minute nonsense.

Onto more musical things...

I have to pull my finger out TONIGHT and do my half-term Rockschool homework. I've done some of it, but not all. It's basically in three parts.

1) List 5 songs that use 4 or less chords (so that we can analyse their structure later). I think I've chosen:

"Mr Tambourine Man" by Bob Dylan
"Taylor" by Jack Johnson
"Wild Thing" by the Troggs
"Land of Canaan" by the Indigo Girls
"Strange Brew" by Cream

Pretty random choice, I know.

2) Write a song in a major key using the tools we've been taught. The song should consist of a verse, chorus and bridge, with rhythm (to be demonstrated) and melody (to be tabbed). During class we'll partner up, teach/learn each other's song and then perform together. I have my chords and some melody, but I've not written any of it down in a meaningful format.

3) Revise previous materials for a fun spot test. Yeah, right... we'll see how that one goes on the fly, I guess. I'm going to have my hands full with 2) tonight.

Rockschool's not until Thursday, but tomorrow night looks like a busy one already.

What else? Jammed a bit on electric at the weekend, inbetween trips into the office and catching up on sleep. Started to try and groove "One Way Out" Allmans-stylee for a laugh. The Band (who I've not heard from in a few days...!) aren't likely to buy into doing the song, but I've always liked the intro riff and it's good string-skipping, pulling off and double-note practice. Hey, it's also a three chord song! Hey, maybe I should swap out one of my 5 above...

Hey ho... on Friday I plan on going along to our lead singer's 'other band' gig (she's on guitar/backing vox). Here's the flyer!

The only shag is that I have to be up really early on Saturday, so alcoholic imbibulation will be at a minimum.

November 2, 2008

Magic Ship @ The Half Moon, Putney

Rocked. Absolutely.

Check out Col's blog for pictures of the gig, here. They had the crowd from the get-go. Grabbed hold and didn't let go.

Tim actually summed up Magic Ship's performance much better than I could. His take on the show was that the band took their own original material and 100% sold every number in a way that was accessable, even to someone who hadn't heard the songs before.

When Col asked me what I thought over an after-show beer I let him know that they really hit it on every song. The only tune that felt like it needed a little more was "LoveTel Motel", the title track from the band's debut album. Funny thing, that, replied Col... somehow he'd managed to turn the volume down on his guitar and he couldn't get it turned back on! Showed the versatility of Sam, lead guitarist and co-singer. He carried the tune and nobody really noticed!

Way to go Magic Ship. Knocked it out of the park!

In celeb news, rubbed shoulders, metaphorically, with Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters on Saturday night. He was special guest at Justin Bond's show, "Lustre" at the Soho theatre and was mingling with Joe Public afterwards. Seemed very down to earth despite being an international recording artist. It's nice to know that celebs are real people, too. No, I didn't talk to him... what would I say, anyway?