Monday, April 03, 2017

Too late . . .

With a truly heavy heart I have to sit down and write my tribute to Bernie Bigler . . . it’s been hard to take it in that he is gone.

I’ve know him for over 10 years. We spent many hours together playing, travelling and talking and what I loved most about him was his love of music and harmony; how music fits together and how it works.

Bernie had a great sense of humour, he was outgoing, always interested in others, he was considerate and caring and, something which is very rare, he was able to listen. I guess that’s connected with his musicality.

He was such an easy person to be with. Just last year we had a fondue together at ours. My kids were telling him he’s like a member of the family, calling him ‘Uncle Bernie’. I think he was pleased about that.    

We had planned to do some recording for my album in the New Year. There’s a song of mine I really wanted Bernie to play the flute on. I knew he would have just the right sensibility for it. We said, ‘ok, we’ll do it after Christmas . . .’

I find it somewhat shocking that the song is called, ‘Before It’s Too Late’. Now, sadly, Bernie’s flute will never grace it.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Squeezebox ahoy!

The Shabby Road branch of NewTones Studios was on the road again this week.
Hector Gubbins has been a friend for well over 20 years. He is an immense talent - artistically and musically. He is a great guitarist and mandolin player but he is also one of those people who can pick up almost any instrument and get a sound out of it.

I really wanted to get some of his squeezebox talents onto one of the songs on the album, 'Love and Understanding'. So I popped over for a very enjoyable afternoon last week and we nailed it.

This is an out-take where, suddenly, the spirit of English folk music takes over the song . . .

Hector at work

More from NewTones Studios in the coming week!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Piano session . . .

NewTones Studios was on the road this week. This was session to record piano tracks for the song 'Before It's Too Late', which will feature on the - as yet unnamed - album.

As you can see, it was a hard, hard session. Proof that musicians don't just sit around drinking coffee and cognac and eating doughnuts all day...oh wait . . .

My thanks go to Renate Dienersberger for really hitting the perfect note (and notes) for the piano parts on the song.

It's fascinating to hear the music develop bit by bit.

For the next blog I will do a video on how you build up the tracks to make a complete 'sound'...

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

For example . . .

There should have been a recording session today with my long-time musical collaborator, and highly talented pianist, Renate Dienersberger, but I had to postpone it due to unexpected work commitments.

We would have recorded piano tracks for the song 'Before It's Too Late', which will be on the album.

To give you an idea of what it sounds like when we play together, here's a video of 'Brooklyn' - a song by Steely Dan.

There are two acoustic guitars, one on the left and one on the right which provide the rhythm and a basic bass line. The piano is spread behind the lead vocal and I did some multi-layered background vocals which permeate most of the recording.


I spent quite a long time (hours and hours - in the studio 'long time' really means 'l o n g   t i m e'!!) mixing this and when I was done I saved it to my DropBox folder - however I forgot that these files are really big and switched off the laptop before the upload was done...and when I opened it the next day it was GONE!!! Horror of horrors!! 😱

Fortunately - and this is the point I wanted to make: ALWAYS make backups!!! - I had saved the mix as a WAV and that is what you listened to up there (actually it's an mp3 made from the wav).

Phew!! 😥

Thursday, February 09, 2017

So, how do you make an album . . ?

Yeah, good question.

First you have to write songs. I wrote my first song when I was about 15. And it was a big surprise. Up until then I had firmly believed that it was IMPOSSIBLE to write a song - I know there was a lot of evidence around me which should have proved to me that people could indeed write songs, but I considered it simply IMPOSSIBLE!

So, suddenly, somehow, I had written a song. And this simple fact that it was actually possible to write songs, disproving as it did that my previously held belief that songwriting was IMPOSSIBLE, was a great help to me for future songwriting.

For this album, I plan to go through old material and choose around 10 songs which have been knocking on the door for years to be finished. Some of them are featured on my solo album in a basic version, some you can hear on my YouTube page and some will be new to you.

I would like to go through the process of creating the recording here with sound tracks, photos and videos - still have to work out how to do all that 😉 - and I thought maybe the best way is to take one song as an example. The one I am working on right now is 'Low Ground' which I wrote so, SO long ago, and it also turned out to be my first ever experience in a recording studio (in Liverpool) back in the 70s (the NINETEEN 70s). It was truly a mind-blowing, life-changing feeling to emerge from a studio with a proper recorded!!

Ok, so 'Low Ground' - what's next? Record it!

I use Audacity, in the NewTones Studio, which is an open-source recording software. It's free and it's really good! The main thing you need to do is spend hours and hours using it to get to know what you can do. I'd say I have a fair idea now how to use it.

Normally the first thing you want is a click track. For Low Ground I actually had an idea for a basic drum track.

And here is is, the very basic drum track (15 seconds of it). I'll be working on that for a while. In the meantime, I will also have to work out what comes when, intro, verse, chorus, solo, outro, etc . . . that's it for now!


Saturday, February 04, 2017

New Album News

After years of wondering which studio to record my songs in and who to do them with and wondering how to pay for it all and waiting for the perfect moment and procrastinating and going round in further circles, I have finally reached the point where I have decided to do it myself, NOW!
The plan is to make one new album with my own songs and possibly a second album with cover versions of some of the songs I love.
NewTones Studio
The songs will be recorded mainly at NewTones Studio. As there is no way I can make perfectly polished professional studio recordings, there will be some rough edges but I hope to end up with music which has an intimate and human feel to it.

I also hope to feature on the various tracks some of the brilliant musicians I have worked with over the years and, of course, the fabulous NewTones.
The other aspect of this project, which for me is completely new, will be to share the process here and on my FaceBook page: I will be posting news, photos of sessions and video clips as the project goes on...

I hope we all enjoy the experience!

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Winter Solstice Thought...

I was just thinking about the memorable JFK quote "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" and I thought, "hmm, y'know, that could be extended...".

So, instead of texts from holy books and scriptures, popes' proclamations, ayatollah's admonitions, chief rabbis' recommendations and  so on, what about if we all simply said to each other, "My fellow Earthlings, ask not what other Earthlings can do for you, ask what you can do for your fellow Earthlings"...?

Something, perhaps, to ponder over our puddings.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

How About Thinking for Ourselves?

This latest atrocity, the beheading of Alan Henning by the Islamic State, is another example of concentrated barbarism carried out under a religious banner.
The fact that world leaders have condemned it is good. The fact that religious leaders have condemned it is also good. However, the way some of these religious leaders have condemned the killing is, in my opinion, not so good.
To say this act is “contrary to the teachings of the Qur'an/Bible/Torah/Vedas/etc and that it is a crime against religion x, y or z is not so good.
If you need to go scrabbling through an ancient text to find out whether beheading someone is a moral or immoral act, then there is something seriously, seriously wrong with you.
I am sure the IS would argue that they are only following the words of their religious book whereas other religious leaders are interpreting these words differently or incorrectly.
And this is the problem when you tie your moral values to some “infallible” sacred text of yours. You are going to be confronted by stuff you don't like and so you have to start interpreting the text, but then there are other people who see that text in another way - and then there are people who hold a completely different text to be holy and infallible and who think yours is just a load of tosh.
We humans know intrinsically that killing others is wrong, that killing others in a barbaric way is..well, barbaric. We don't need a fucking book to tell us this.

As a first step, how would it be if we consigned all these conflicting, holy, sacred, infallible religious texts to the literature bookshelf and started accepting that we need to derive our moral code from our own basic common human values...?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

And in Other News...

...I have a brain! And here it is (well, slices of it)

That is just SO WEIRD!!!!!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Evil in the Cutlery Drawer

Singers are hypochondriacs (ah, here I must insert my standard "joke", sorry: I don't know what hypochondria is, but I'm sure I've got it...). They are hypochondriacs about their voices - which is fair enough, seeing as their voices constitute their livelihood. But there is something deeper too; a singer's voice is an extension of his or her being, it's like an extra limb or an extra faculty which defines their essential identity. If you are a singer, losing your voice is equivalent to a footballer losing a leg, or an artist going blind.

If you don't believe me, ask a singer!

In fact, you can ask me...

YOU: Neutron, is it true what is written above?


So, having established, by elementary Socratic logic, that, if all singers are hypochondriacs about their voices and I am a singer, then I am a hypochondriac about my voice, I can then add that, being a guitar and bass player, I am also, and for the same basic reason, paranoid about fingers; cutting fingers, bruising fingers, breaking fingers, losing fingers...

There is a knife, in the kitchen. A bread knife, a very efficient bread knife. This knife knows it is too good to be a mere bread knife. This knife has ambitions. It longs to cut more than just bread. It thirsts. It thirsts for blood. This knife oozes malevolence.

The first time I saw this knife, I knew we were destined to be enemies. And so it has proved.

We had some early encounters, some sparring matches where this knife revealed its intentions to me. It would slip, accidentally, from a thick crust and swish towards my hand, it would slice through a pretzel more easily than I expected, bearing down on my palm.

"Why did you keep on using it???" you ask in perplexity...

Well, quite simply it was the best bread knife and there is that thrill of slicing effortlessly through a loaf of heavy, dark Bavarian bread which would normally need half an hour of sawing with a boring standard bread knife. To quote Herodotus, the father of history, "great deeds are usually wrought at great risks", or, more briefly, "no risk, no fun".

The inevitable happened, about a year ago. I had become less vigilant, familiarity had bred contempt for the bread knife - I was slicing, someone spoke to me, I was distracted, I looked away and it struck! Slicing into my index finger...brown bread and red blood!!

This taught me to be on my guard whenever I was slicing, but meanwhile this knife has become devious. It has gone underground and may have received schooling from Al Qaeda knife terrorist cells.

It's yesterday evening and I am clearing out the dishwasher. Plates here, glasses there, cutlery in the cutlery drawer. I start to put in the knives and forks and notice that the middle section of the wooden cutlery tray has come out. It fits into slots in the other sections. So I press it back into its slots, only to notice that the front side has also slipped out of its slot. I press down on that side with my thumb, waiting for it to click into place when suddenly there is a cold searing pain in my thumb...

The bread knife. This bread knife of evil has managed to conceal itself between the front side of the cutlery tray and the side of the drawer, blade up!!! So, as my thumb presses down on the wooden front of the tray, the steely blade presses up thirstily into the flesh of my thumb and pierces it mercilessly, slicing joyously through the skin and sending a shockwave through my body.

This is one of those moments when time runs s l o w l y and you seem to think a thousand things in a millisecond, "whichthumbisit, isitmyfingeringhandormyplectrumhand, whenismynextgig, whichinstrumentdoIhavetoplay, isthecutinthemiddleorattheside, canIstillplaytheguitarwithaplaster..."

The bread knife is now confined to a separate cupboard, but I sense the final battle is yet to be blade out...