Monday, April 25, 2016

"...and for those of you watching in black and white..."

Like swans, we musical Narcisseae generally glide serenely across the waters of this business we call show whilst underneath our little legs scurry away in a frenzy, forever reaping and posting, commenting and colluding, and trying to ensure that the machine is adequately fed and watered at all times. So many platforms to fill, so much media to refresh – and all for the fear that if we don’t keep buoyant, our online presence will sink to the bottom of a watery grave, our career floating in the starry firmament in exactly the same way that bricks don’t. Honestly – if I’m not dropping the latest Rare Candy remix on Tidal I’m generally up to here issuing Cease and Desist writs to the paps. It’s never-ending.

I’m swamped.
As it happens, there’s not a lot to report at the moment, but I like hanging out with you guys, so in a spirit of “Well, and what have you been up to recently..?” let me take you through my virtual week, since it’s mainly involved the subject of visuals and video and they’re quite fun to look through. At the last Neighbourhood Dogs get-together we were going to collaborate on a song. I came in with a couple of verses and a couple of chords and looked forward to a pleasant evening wrangling over middle eights and taking things to the bridge, but on the first run through La Mulley conjured a melody out of the ether, Mr. Wendell found a few inversions he could play with, Turny wandered up to the dusty end of the banjo, we all threw in some 10CC-esque “Aaaaahhh”s in the turnaround and Producer Andy pronounced himself satisfied with the outcome to the point where he suggested that adding any more chords in would unnecessarily complicate the whole thing. I suspect that this would have pleased the shade of Our Former Glorious Leader, who was forever trying to edit things down - preferably to the point where a song consisted of one verse (possibly repeated twice) and one chord, and that being without a major tonic*.

What with us being freed from the constraints of arguing about diminished fourths for the rest of the evening we decided to lark about with some guerrilla promo-making. Ordinarily when doing something for the interweb one would ensure that the lighting, camera angles, shooting script and sound source were all in tip-top condition and ready to be tweaked in post-production. Even Zoella makes sure not to fall over the scenery, I'm told. What we did was prop my iPad up on the breakfast bar and point it at the sofa. It’s on Facebook, which tends to annoy some people but then again, so are we.
Here it is 

In the same week that we did that, a far more professional editing job appeared over on the YouTube courtesy of Tony James Shevlin, who I did a session for the BBC with a few weeks ago. Those nice people from Unity in Music turned up with a couple of cameras, thus obviating the need for any of us to casually approach and fill the screen (an action which is a lot easier for me than it used to be these days) when we needed to cut between shots. My main job in this one was to sit quietly to the side and not fuck things up, which I think I achieved with commendable aplomb – my model for this role being Bill Bruford, who once received a writing credit on a King Crimson track for not playing anything, the reasoning being that although he was there in the studio, this was exactly what the song needed. What I will say is that that third harmony was my idea and in the absence of Dirk the Drummer on backing vocals, I was pleased to be able to dep in and perform it.
Last, but by no means peremptorily, was the astonishing discovery that MySpace is still a thing! Going back to my opening remarks, back in the day that’s all we had. I think Justin Timberlake owns it now, in which case he has the rights to this performance from The Cornbury Festival of ten years ago, wherein the single camera edit is skilfully utilised by our friend Nick Cooper who was already rather conveniently out on the weekend doing something or another with Spiers and Boden. See how crowd cutaways allow him to switch between angles. You’d probably never have known unless you were the sort of person who could instantly distinguish between a banjo and a mandolin** - keep an eye on Russ Barnes to the left of your screen. He's the, er, one in the hat - not the one in the frock.        


*The notable exception to this would have been that time he set out to write a song with a central riff containing all twelve notes in the scale. He did it, as well.  
** Unlike the guy on the desk out front doing our sound check.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Nashville State of Mind

Further to that update from a couple of weeks ago, a video from the BBC Radio session I did with Tony James Shevlin is now available for your delectation on the YouTube. It's a nice little performance, although half way through the second verse one nervous onlooker did ask "...but what are you doing with your hands..?"


Sunday, April 03, 2016

Carry On Up The Helstock

A pleasure and a privilege to be able to stage manage/MC the annual Helstock, wherein folk of all stripes gather in order to celebrate another year in La Mulley's impressive ongoing accumulation of uninterrupted years of existence. This year she also claimed credit for a quarter century's worth of sole bragging rights on our erstwhile Glorious Leader's attentions, and so Yakima Gold had been procured, a venue booked and donations of cheese encouraged. There was also the small matter of half a dozen turns to get on and off the stage in good order but, hardened by a triumvirate of succesful stage wrangling weekends at Maverick*, I felt that this was the least of my concerns.  Indeed it was. Thanks to the provision of a late Easter Cracker I was able to both read a suitably awful joke for my first onstage announcement and to have the opportunity to sport a paper hat in order to establish whether I were appearing as compere (wearing) or, when bereft of headgear, as an artiste - Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogs also making a brief but perfectly performed intrusion as part of the evening's proceedings. I thought I'd made a suitably positive statement by taking off my hat to perform, whereas Helen upped the stakes considerably by removing her entire skirt.  

"That hat" someone asked "Is it crepe?" "It does the job perfectly well for what it is" I replied.

After many hugely talented turns, including debut performances by Joe and Tev Partridge**, who have been listening to their mother perform since they were in utero, it was time for putative headliners The Black Feathers, who were in turn mesmerising, beguiling, extraordinary moving, and funny. Having pretty much exhausted my stock of amusing off-the-cuff intros I suggested that I should just do a "Ladies and Gentlemen..." then run up to the top and back of the multi-tiered stage and bang the massive gong which resides there for the use of the Ipswich Hospital Band. I would then announce them in a vaguely hysterical Hugh Dennis The Now Show fashion. That seemed to work quite well. I made my way out of the performance area and sat down next to Becky, innamorata of our own, dear Turny Winn. She turned, measuredly toward me and addressed me with perfect Gerald Thomas-inspired timing. "Rank stupidity".  

*I'll say. We once got a thank you letter from Mary Gaulthier. "All festivals should be run this way" she wrote.  

**Also an opportunity to use the old Mike and Bernie Winters story - "Oh god, there's two of 'em".