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March 31, 2010

Guitar Players Vs Musicians

Last night I braved the unseasonably crap weather to check out the blues jam at a local pub. It's one I've been to before and the standard of musicianship is usually pretty high. Tonight was no exception... mostly.

Halfway through the evening a young man made his way to the front, joining the motley crew of musos already inhabiting the space. He looked nervous. Perhaps it was his first time.

Plugging in his hollowbody electric, he stepped up to the mic and launched into the intro to The Stones' "Honkey Tonk Woman". I say The Stones as it was their version, accurately mimicked, chord for chord, note for note.

The audience were bemused, as were the other guys onstage who stood there, mute. The MC of the evening pulled him up short, whispering something in his ear. A minute later, when everyone was ready, he started in again. The drums fell in, then bass, then the second guitar.

Within ten seconds, the band were a shambles. Bum notes were strewn over the backing track supplied by the oblivious singer/guitarist at the mic. It was a shambles. Nails down a chalkboard.

The song finally ground to a halt. Sighs of relief were breathed. And then he started into Peter Green's "Need Your Love So Bad". Once again, the song started off as a solo affair with the other guys trying to follow the changes. Just as they fell in it seemed time to climax and fade. They did. The frontman didn't. He stood there at the mic, playing and singing for at least another minute. At times the drummer offered a hit. At others the guitarist played alone.

At the end of the second song there was a hearty round of applause. The impression I got was that it was out of sympathy for the poor guys who were forced to stand up there, dying more with each passing bar.

It really drove home to me two things. First off, unless it's a I-IV-V, don't turn up to a jam with songs that your co-musos aren't likely to know inside out and secondly, that it's one thing to be a decent guitar player, able to accurately replicate a piece of music, exactly as played on a record, but it's something else entirely to be a musician and play with a band.

March 29, 2010

Summer's Coming

Fingers crossed that Summer's on the way. I actually manage to get an hour or so's playing in the sun on Sunday!

March 25, 2010

A Post, A Post, My Kingdom...

Or: "Alright, Col, I'll write something!"

I can't say I haven't been busy, it's just that the focus of my dilligence has been the home front and work. My efforts to put in some music/me time over the past couple of weeks has been side-swiped by an exploding boiler and, well, work.

Ok, so the boiler didn't explode, but it was making a tanking noise like you wouldn't believe, and after being treated (by an expensive plumber who subsequently refused to return my phone calls) to a dose of descaler and inhibiter, went from incredibly noisy to silent. Not the good silent, mind you. The oh-shit-it's-fucked silent. The only sound to be heard was the noise made by hundreds of £10 notes being flushed down the toilet.


We now have a new boiler, complete with hot water and heating. I've also cancelled our good-for-nothing British Gas service contract, which will save (=offset cost of new boiler) around £300 a year, at least whilst the new thing's under warranty. If you look at it that way, factoring in all the wasted days taken off work waiting for incompetent BG 'engineers' who may or may not turn up... well, at this point a little peace of mind goes a long way.

Am I whining? I think I am. Let's move on.

As usual, I'll preface the next bit with 'I'm not going to blog about the band, but...'

I'm actually feeling quite positive about the new band right now. Remember Rockschool? The course I did last year? Were you not paying attention? Really. You should be ashamed.

Anywho, one of the real newbie guitar players from Rockschool surprised me and my bassist (another Rockschooler) when she invited us to her band's first gig! Wot? Eh?
Impressed? Me? Hell yes.

So, we went along, not knowing what to expect and it was brilliant self-styled housewife punk (in a way). Our co-student held down rhythm guitar perfectly. She says she made some mistakes but we didn't notice. Really, really proud of her.

Seeing her up there was a real kick in the butt. I don't think it's too much of an ego trip to say that we're better musicians than they were but when it comes down to it, we're still farting around and they're up there, doing it.

As we stumbled out of the venue, bassist heading home, me heading out to find a vacant podium to dance on (it was Saturday night and all the clubs lay between me and home), we were both fired up about nailing down a short setlist and getting out there. In principal, we thought of doing roughly 50:50 covers and originals, just to be in the game.

Whilst under the influence [cough] I agreed that I'd stick to lead, pushing our other guitarist to rhythm for now. He's the better all-round player, mind, it's just that my lead's better than my rhythm, so it made sense at the time for me to concentrate on my strengths in the short term.

I also said I'd have a go at singing during rehearsals. That lasted about 5 minutes! I don't think I've found my 'key' yet. I'm not sure I have one.

Okay, so we're kinda looking at nailing down a few covers (which we pretty much have, anyway, though we need to bring in vox) and polishing up some originals for variety. Long term it'd be good to go 'all originals' but due to pressure of work for everyone, that's not so easy. So far, the only vague song ideas have been tabled by me, but I've told the guys to bring any ideas they have to the next rehearsal.

Okay, so that's it for blogging about the band!!!! The main point was that we're all in agreement that there's no real reason we shouldn't be up on stage, performing... so that's where our drive is aimed at.

I've not really come back to the album sessions since I last blogged. EZDrummer's come in handy at acoustic jams we've had round at our place, though. Plug and play.

So Col, there's a post :-) Any chance of an iPhone link on your demos?

March 13, 2010

Oli Brown & Jonathon Ross

Ok, so this was random and not something I'd normally do out of respect for celebs' privacy, but...

Last night I ran into Jonathon Ross plus wife at a book reading by David Sedaris. When I saw Mr Ross I remembered that the Oli Brown Band were trying to get on his show a while back and so, before I knew it, I did the unthinkable, briefly stopped the man and, passing him a note with the band's name on, I urged him to check them out...

Now, he did say that his show really didn't do blues, but you never know. Maybe he'll get curious about the name scrawled on the back of a lunch receipt and take a look.

Their second album is coming out soon and hopefully they'll do sone shows to promote it. If you like fiery blues guitar in the SRV vein (amongst others), do try to catch one of their shows!

March 8, 2010

Work Starts On New Album!

Okay, so as I blogged before, last weekend was frustrating in that I was supposed to start actually writing songs but I simply didn't manage to get anything concrete done.

Since then I managed to get EZDrummer installed and running under Reaper. It turned out that it was actually running correctly the last time I played with it, I just hadn't realised that I'd got play/pause clicked in my 'main window' on Reaper, which was why I couldn't audition grooves in EZDrummer. Since that realisation, everything's been smooth and EeeeZeeee.

Note to self: download free grooves from Groove Monkee!

So, I actually managed to make a start on Sunday afternoon. But how come this time around I managed to make progress, whereas last time I failed? I figure it's down to two things. First off, EZDrummer. It's a small thing, but having a realistic backing rhythm actually helps. More importantly, though, I'd prepared adequately.

Last week, after blogging about the 'style' of the album, I sat down with my iTunes library and went through it, picking out songs which either had the feeling I wanted or had strumming patterns, guitar sounds, chord changes etc that fit. On Sunday I looked over my notes and selected snippets to use as starting points. Setting up a drumbeat in Reaper, adjusting tempo and hitting 'record' I just started to play. When I hit on something I liked I'd develop the idea and save it to a 'work in progress' (WIP) file. Each WIP (my terminology) consisted of riffs, chords, lead ideas in terms of either melody or appropriate scales etc. As soon as I had an idea recorded, even if sections were filled with bum notes etc, I forced myself to stop work on that track and start anew with something else. That way I would get as much out whilst I felt creative without dwelling too much on the detail.

In the end, I think I ended up with five WIPs, all of which sounded like songs. Only one of those came from an existing composition of mine. The other four were completely original and new. If I can keep up that level of inspiration over the coming weeks then maybe this album idea will take off!

March 3, 2010

Not So EZDrummer

Okay, so I decided to treat myself to a copy of EZDrummer so that I could create/manipulate drum tracks easily within Reaper.

What's EZDrummer? Essentially a set of pre-recorded drum grooves that can be midi-triggered so that you can knock up realistic basslines for your home recordings.

The concept's great. Preview grooves, tweak, drag and drop onto your time-line etc. It's also not alone in the market. There are a few other packages that do similar things. It's actually not a million miles away from Instant Drummer on the iPhone which I've used for band rehearsals (only much more in-depth).

So far, my experience of the program, or rather the virtual instrument hasn't been flawless. I've got it working within Reaper... just about. After a couple of false starts, including the drums sounding fine when previewed then first off silent followed by sounding like a piano (midi patch 1?) I randomly clicked devices on and off until I got drums... realistic drums. Yay!

It took me about 2 hours of hair-pulling to get to that point. The installation's still not perfect. For some reason the AISO driver craps out from time to time so I have to come out and go back into the program.... don't know why. I'm sure with time I'll get things running smoothly, but after such a struggle to get anything out I wasn't feeling inspired to keep playing.

Anywho, I guess when I've had the chance to try it out in anger (possibly at the weekend?) I'll post a demo.

Oh, and I suppose I should say that I got the basic package plus "Vintage Rock" (eg a Beatles-esque kit) bundled. It looks like other kits and grooves are available from 3rd party vendors, too, such as Groove Monkee.

March 1, 2010

Baby Steps

So, this weekend I was going to start on "The Album". How did it go?

Well, I got as far as pulling out all my guitars, fixing a cup of coffee and strumming a Dsus2 chord. In terms of positive progress, that was about it.

Okay, so I'm being somewhat "glass half empty" about the whole thing. What I did do was make some choices as far as the style of the album etc and also in terms of procedures. What does that mean? Well, stuff like how I would record stuff, the need to document amp settings, mic placements etc, making sure that my hand-held digital recorder was handy for capturing ideas etc.

Musically, my mojo was on a break, though. Despite hours of noodling and brooding I didn't feel like I made any tangible progress, artistically. Still, I guess just starting is something. You gotta start somewhere...

Oh, stylistically we're talking some raw electric blues mixed with the occasional acoustic plucking. Swampy and honest.