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February 25, 2010

An Album?

So, I got to thinking... dangerous, I know.

The band's ticking over. Everybody's keen but most of us seem to be tied up with 'life' stuff right now which takes precedence. Trying to get my own ducks in a row, let alone align everyone else, isn't easy. Ideally I'd like to rev up rehearsal sessions to once a week as opposed to once every two to three weeks, but that doesn't seem to be an option. Such is life. Not much I can do about that.

This blog started off as a motivational tool for me to learn and progress. It worked. I achieved my initial goal of getting into a band, albeit a short-lived one, and at least now I'm comfortable that I can play with a band. That doesn't seem like much, but it's definitely a paradigm shift for me.

So how should I keep motivated? How do I keep moving forwards between sessions with the band? Part of me thinks that musically I should be focusing my effort on stuff for the band but then again I also recognise that to an extent, the movements and commitment of the guys is beyond my control. I can attempt to inspire [cough] but ultimately, we're a bunch of individuals, each with their own needs, wants and situations. Realistically, the only person I can control is, well, me.

So, that leaves me with two fixed points. I want to be motivated and I'm the single thing in life that's under my control. Where does that leave me?

My gut reaction would be to say 'up the creek' (band notwithstanding) but then I thought, what's changed since I started the project and I realised that one of the big things to change is that I now have a reliable method of recording, arranging and mixing songs which isn't 'layer based', ie I can mix everything at once without having to put rhythm over drums then record lead on top, then vox etc. Oh, and also I have a method... not a great method, but a method nonetheless, of recording a bassline by pitch-shifting my acoustic guitar. Aside from vox, I now have the capacity to be a one-man-band.

Now, there's food for thought, eh? Also, even though I could do it all myself, I could also bring in the guys from the band to help out on an ad-hoc basis. If I wrote, say, 8 songs and covered a couple, that'd be an album right there. Ten songs. Doesn't seem like much, does it?


I guess I was a little inspired by a guy last weekend. We went to a 'gallery' which was hosting the debut performance of a play (monologue) written by a friend of ours. After the play there was an open mic (without the mic) and this guy came onstage (not that there was a stage) and sang a medley of songs from his 'soon to be released' album. The songs were mostly two or three chord jobs, but they were all good. Made me think 'I could do that'. That's not to diminish the whole singer-songwriter thing, but... well... but.

It's just a thought, y'know... but I'm a-thinkin'.

February 24, 2010

Time Management

So, I picked up a guitar last night, for about 10 minutes total. First time I'd picked one up since, well, since my band's acoustic jam over two weeks ago.

My time management has been less than stellar lately. Granted, immediately after a jam you sometimes want to not play for a day or so, but really I've just suffered from not being able to make time. I could diarise the week or so following the jam to prove that I didn't have any opportunity to play (I won't!) and then in the past seven or eight days I've simply lacked motivation. Work. Laundry. Life. Last night I found my first free 10 minutes to hold an axe. I started to learn the solo to "Outside Woman Blues" using the TabToolkit iPhone app I talked about before. The app worked surprisingly well. Despite the short space of time I made good progress. Perhaps at the weekend I'll see my way clear to recording OWB, or at least the backing track.

I'll admit I'm still unmotivated and unsure as to how to plan my days better to allow more time for music. I look at my calendar and I don't see many breaks in the clouds. Sometimes... often... I think it's me who makes the clouds. If I could just plan things better I'd be on top of work and house stuff as opposed to underneath it. Hmmm. Knowing what I should be doing isn't the same as doing it, though, is it?

Hey, you know what? I think I'm going to sign off here, go grab a sandwich and start planning my next recording. Just gotta overcome inertia. Gotta get the ball rolling again.

February 17, 2010

Tab Toolkit

First off, let's get one thing straight. I hate guitar tab. Why? Several reasons! Tab is transcribed music. Very few tabbers out there actually manage to hear the right notes and hence put them down on paper correctly. Second, the guitar being the beastie that it is, if you want to play any note, or, heaven forbid, a chord you generally have several places you can play it. On top of that a true musician might choose to play the same lick in different spots on a whim! Tabbing all of that accurately isn't easy. Last, but not least, most tab sites on the internet are rife with pop-ups, spyware, viruses etc. Not very healthy places to go surfing! Oh, and just when you find a decent site, they get a take-down order!

So, in my experience, if I've wanted to learn a riff or song it's been quicker to just work it out by ear. As a last resort, I've hunted for tabs... usually finding 'versions' which are clearly less accurate than what I've already come up with.

So, that notwithstanding... I give you TabToolkit... yet another iPhone application. The burning question is: is this something worth having?

My somewhat surprising answer is... yes! I think so. Particularly if you actually like tab.

What does it do? It reads and stores tabs from websites then plays them back through midi, showing you the fingering on a virtual fretboard. My first surprise was that the program works at all, which it does, seamlessly. You can read in tab, select playback speeds, follow the tab itself or the fretboard, swipe to scroll back and forwards... pretty much anything you might want to do.

The other selling point is that it uses tabs in "Power Tab" format, which means multiple instruments can be accessed, including guitar, bass and piano etc. Whilst for a guitarist this may not be too important, but what it means is that the people putting in the effort to make these files seem to go the extra mile and get the transcription better than the scruffy oiks scratching grubby pencil marks across crumpled bits of paper. I won't say that all the tabs I've downloaded have been perfect, but they've been better.

Which brings me to another new discovery, a website called "Tab Library". For those of you who can use Power Tab, it's a pretty decent resource and, apparently, 100% legal! Imagine?!?!

February 11, 2010

Movie Review: It Might Get Loud

Okay, so I don't know whether this movie went under everyone's radar, but I caught something about it in a guitar magazine a while back then I was reminded about it by a band-nut friend of mine, who insisted that I watch it. So, last night, I did.

Brief synopsis: it's a [cough] rockumentary which brings together 3 guitarists from 3 musical eras. Representing the 60's and 70's, we have Jimmy Page, from the 80's and 90's, the Edge and from the new millennium, in comes Jack White.

Apart from giving hard-core guitar nerds something to think about during sex, what was the main thrust of the film, I hear you ask. Well, I think it was trying to give some insight into what drives someone to become a musical innovator, whilst at the same time charting the course of musical history.

Yes, I'm a guitar nerd. Yes, I really enjoyed it. Watching the show was a really strange experience, though. You really got the feeling that each of these guys was a major loner and that music was their connection to the world... well, with the exception of Mr White, who I thought was pretty damn cool, all things considered. Noisy. Cool.

There was precious little interaction between the guitarists and their surroundings. Everywhere they were filmed was deserted, bleak. You got the feeling that somehow that was a reflection of their souls.

Mr Page came across as sublimely laid back, a contented survivor. Mr Edge, well, he annoyed me with his "I'm just strumming an E-chord and this 12-foot stack of electronics manned by two technicians is what's actually making the sound". Mr White, well, he acquitted himself well in an almost Tim Burton meets A Clockwork Orange fashion.

Ach, I shouldn't be so down on Mr Edge. He found his sound through manipulating and modulating. That in itself is valid in an Jackson Pollock in a beanie kind of way. I guess there's a kind of jealousy there in the whole 'you made it, but not the way I would have chosen'.

If anything, my main complaint about the movie was that it was too short. I wanted it to be a 3 hour show. I wanted more riffs, more NOISE. I wanted to know these guys more...

February 10, 2010

Back Porch

Me and the guys, sittin' on the back porch, having a strum... metaphorically speaking, of course. It's bloody cold on the back porch and there's no heater!

I don't plan on sharing too many cuts from my band's jam sessions, but I was listening back to this one today, and I found it kind of soothing. As you can probably tell from the clunks and banging around it was just a groove we had going on as we were setting up and getting comfortable.

February 9, 2010

Acoustic Jamming

Ok, so I made a conscious decision not to blog about the new band, but I just wanted to say that we had our first acoustic jam at my place together last night and, well, it was damn fun! From the get-go, listening back to the recording of it, trying to isolate cuts to share with the other guys, I was struck by how musical we sounded. Real sitting on the back porch, pickin'.

We even had a jam around on a song I wrote a year or so ago, just for fun. It's not a bluesy tune, but the guys seemed to dig it so I guess maybe we'll take that one forward...

February 6, 2010

Whisky River

Here's "Diving Duck Blues", reimagined as "Whisky River" by Colin Gillman of! This mixing lark is a challenge, eh? I think when I start recording some of my original stuff I'm in for hours of tweaking!

February 4, 2010


One of the crappy things about home recording, at least for me, is the resulting insomnia.

Last night, after having my latest stab at recording the solo for Diving Duck Blues I lay awake in bed, the background riff looping over and over in my head. Try as I might I couldn't shift it from my brain. I could not drift off.

Then, for no apparent reason, Oscar the cat started to howl. Sometimes he sits by the bed at night and mews gently as if to politely ask "Are you awake, Daddy? Do you want to play?" This was not such a sound. This was a full on feline battle cry. I swung my legs over onto the floor and gestured for him to approach. He did. Slipping past my welcoming hands he made a b-line for my ankle and sunk his teeth in. Suffice to say that for the next hour he waged a full-on war against me. Waterboarding? Pah. Nothing on Oscy. No appendage was safe. I emerged from the melee bloody and smelling of cat spit. Eventually I managed to get enough of a grip on the ferocious moggy to manoeuvre him into the bathroom and close the door. The howling started again, but at least the bloodshed was over.

I lay back down, more exhausted than before. A familiar strain of Diving Duck Blues emerged in my brain. D'Oh.

Think of another song... think of another song... Anything... Anything...



Tim. Still snoring. Had kicked me out of bed. I pushed my way back in.

No, no, no, no, NOOOOO!


Oscar howled louder. My blood boiled. I needed sleep. I wanted sleep. WHY WON'T YOU LET ME SLEEP?!?!?!

Making my way downstairs I set up camp on the couch. Lay back. Relax...


Think of something else. Think of something else. But what?

Ah, I'd caught a snippet of the Grammys, featuring the Black Eyed Peas performing "Tonight's Gonna Be A Good Night" (or whatever the song's called). That'll work. That's catchy. Yes, YES! It's working.

An hour later my mind was still churning. I'd merely replaced one catchy riff with another, catchier one. I was doomed.

February 3, 2010

Diving Back

Okay, so here's where I've got to with the Diving Duck Blues recording so far. The levels need tweaking, the end's not right yet AND I NEED VOCALS.

C'mon someone, send me a vocal track!!!!!

Here are the lyrics (I think!)

if the river was whiskey
and I was a diving
I was a diving
I was a diving duck
if the river was whiskey babe
and I was a diving duck
oooh I would dive on the bottom
baby and I'd never come up

you know the sun gonna shine in my back door
in my lonesome back
you know my lonesome back door
the sun gonna shine in my lonesome back door someday
you know the wind gonna rise up
and blow my natural blues away

let me be your sidetrack, baby honey til your main line
till your natural man
till your natural main line comes
let me be your side track
til your natural main line come
I'm a dough rollin daddy
roll you from sun to sun

[guitar solo]

put your arms around me baby
like the circle round the sun
wont you do me pretty momma like your easy rider done
wont you put your arms around me baby
like the circle round the risin sun
wont you do me pretty baby like my easy rider done

if the river was whiskey
and I was a diving, baby
I was a diving
I was a diving duck
if the river was whiskey baby
and I was a diving duck
oooh I would dive on the bottom
baby and I'd never come up

I'd dive on the bottom
baby and I'd never come up

February 1, 2010

Diving Deeper

Ok, so I had more of a go at recording a decent version of Diving Duck Blues. I'm 'mid-project', but it's sounding much better (to my ears).

I took a piece of advice from a website (somewhere) which said to basically get each track sounding right before even thinking about mixing. So far, it's working.

One thing I did was to experiment with different faux-bass options. Right now I've stuck with recording my acoustic (using a pick) then dropping an octave. Gives a somewhat funky tone which is not un-bass-like.

So... I probably won't get much chance to finish the recording for a while and, when I do, it may end up with my vocals on it (eek)... unless someone wants to volunteer their pipes? Anyone? Anyone?