Move along, nothing to see here…
Just a chap getting on with recording his latest album. That’s exciting internally but as far as the outside world’s concerned…pffft!
It shows how long the process has taken this time that I’ve gone from having to have the fan going to cool things down to, now, having to put the radiators on well before I go in to start work for the day.
Things are now at the stage where if I were a writer of prose I’d be spending a good deal of time staring vacantly into space. In both that discipline and this one (of music) one has to wait for the right tone to be struck, the word to arrive.
Words (The Lyrics) *have* arrived in the current project and so have top lines, so there’s a semblance of lead vocal now laid down on all tracks. Whether they’ll all survive – or whether they need to be bolstered by harmonies or supported/undermined by B Vox – is, of course, a matter for the future.
So, it’s an album of songs, that’s established. But the nature of the songs here is a long way from conventional, even by my standards. I won’t go further than that at this stage, save to say that only a couple of pieces here come from what might be considered a traditional starting point.
Hence the staring into space. I have to look to fill in on what are already angular and/or skeletal structures. Generally that means deciding upon an improvisational angle to come in on – and, instinctively, finding a sound/instrument which will suit. Once those things are decided I’m doing my best to work quickly and in the moment. It’s the run-up to the moment that takes the time…
I’m not looking to myself for virtuoso stuff , naturally. But by now I’m more or less aware of my own capabilities and am comfortable enough in not having anything to prove that any attempts at showing off would be useless in any case. Economy of effort and of expression are ever more important to me.
As ever, once I’ve decided on a given course of action I go into record from the very outset. Often the first unknowing stab at a part will have a charm and naturalness which more considered efforts lack.
Well, this one’s still got another couple of months in the making, I reckon, by the time the holiday season has swung around. Doubtless it’ll be quite different from the current state of things as well in its finished form.
It’s now at that point where every song could go in a number of different directions and I’m free – and delighted – to follow each one. Later, things which I’ve spent hours on will be discarded. But they all have to be tried and tested to reach that stage…
Pauses, sits. Stares at the screens. Grabs a guitar….
So, November rolls in tomorrow. The clocks have gone back and the early evenings are dark now. Winter won’t be far away.
In a few days I’ll have reached pensionable age, though I’ve no intention of stopping work right now (or, probably, ever, as long as I find stuff to do which seems engaging). I’ve noticed, though, over recent years that I’m definitely slowing somewhat in both word and deed. There’s no surprise there and actually there’s nothing to get in a state about either. All this, like the process of autumn into winter, is part of the natural way of things. And there’s time, now, to spend in consideration rather than in pell-mell activity.
All of which is by way of saying that continuing progress on the current solo album is going at a pretty glacial rate and – surprise, surprise – it won’t be out till later next year. I *am* hoping to get it finished in the next few weeks but now more than ever it’s going to take as long to come to maturation as, it seems, it wants. It’s taking a great deal of “stand back and consider” to get to that stage. Interesting work, though, I think. It’s also definitely an Album.
So 2013 has been one of those rare years when there’s been no release from me at all. On the live front there’s been only the VdGG tour and one four-show solo stint in Tokyo.
In contrast 2014, though still in the planning stages, should see much, much more in terms of shows and recorded music. There’s a long and winding way to go before we get there, mind…..
For now though I’m going to sign off after this brief missive and get back to work. While I still can.
Doubtless more, of rant and/or rumination, will beam in once I’m in receipt of that Pension Book!
I’m not generally a big fan of biographies of musicians or of bands but one upcoming one has caught my attention: “Tune In”, Volume 1 of Mark Lewisohn’s evidently exhaustive account of the Beatles’ story, which is coming out in a few days. Ahead of its publication certain snippets (showing how deep is the research…) have emerged, among which is the fact that “Love Me Do” received *no* UK radio play on release.
Well, I suppose it wouldn’t have done, would it? At the time the only BBC radio station which might have played it would have been the Light Programme. Light, as in Family Entertainment, as in Don’t Scare the Horses.
But *I* remember hearing it on the radio. Of course, it was Radio Luxembourg and I was listening, under the bedclothes, on my transistor radio. I have a clear, clear memory of this. I knew, instantly, that this was something else. I also knew that the DJ was 100% wrong when he announced it as some kind of UK answer to the Everly Brothers. No, please, (I muttered, in my memory) there’s evidently some kind of other edge here….
I was already – at 13 – a complete music fan. And it was purely for the music, as there was little other, going on no, media coverage of artists at the time. And of course I can’t remember how I’d even stumbled on to Radio Lux in the first place. But I *do* remember thinking that this music was MINE.
Now I find out that actually that the play of “Love Me Do” I heard was one of six paid for by EMI on their sponsored shows on Radio Luxembourg. Every record played on the station was paid for by one record company or another…. Like so much that went on back then, it wasn’t exactly clean and pure in a business sense.
Nonetheless, since the memory has stuck with me it’s clear that I knew something else was going on, something had changed.
Yes, the Beatles couldn’t get on the Light Programme in 1962. By 1963 they had their own tea-time half-hour show and I can also clearly remember hearing an outstanding version of “Money” on that, which knocked the subsequent recorded version (on “With the Beatles”) into a cocked hat. Maybe (he remembers) it was the fact that the radio version was guitars only, while the one on the album had piano as well, in some strange way mirroring (I thought) George Martin’s gtr/pno setting on the Dakota’s “The Cruel Sea”…. (OK, it didn’t track in exactly the same way; ok, spot the nascent music geek…or was that, already, someone wo *really* cared about this stuff?)
There again, “With the Beatles” is pinned in my memory for other reasons.
Release date: 22/11/1963. I got my copy on the 23rd. (Yes, advance mail order really worked even in those days, though doubtless paid for by a postal order or two.)
And yes, it was on the morning of the 23rd that we heard of JFK’s assassination on the 22nd, so that the two or three times in succession that I played the album were also burned into my brain in connection with that “Oh, whoops, the world has shifted” moment.
I had quite a few other, later, immediate responses to music. I’ve often spoken about hearing the “Dancing in the Streets” snare sound coming out of a record shop in Derby (‘64), hitting me right between the eyes, the soul, the heart.
Equally, “Hey Joe” grabbed me (‘66) by the throat *purely* as music before I had any idea of The Hendrixness.
These things are, perhaps, hard to credit in the modern world of blanket – and controlled – coverage, be it through mainstream media or viral creep. Back then it was all still stuff of minority interest – although, wow, was that minority interested!
I’m sure everyone can do the timelines of this incredible period. 1962, no Beatles on BBC radio…by 1966, the whole Group explosion been and gone and *already* Hendrix…1967, well, y’know….
And by 1968 this particular music fan, here, who’d begun by getting a harmonica, scratching a “song” together, plunking a tune on a piano, noodling on an acoustic guitar, was, actually, heading for (what some might call) a career in music.
And, along with every other musican who’s ever sparked off on stage, going….
Please, love me. Do.
I’ve been, as I’ve often said, a lucky guy. I chose It and It chose me.
Under the bedclothes, 1962, aged 13.
It’s only eight weeks back, but of course it now seems a lifetime ago that we wrapped up the latest VdGG tour. Alarums and excursions done, it fell to me to spend a fortnight or so sorting out the accounts and inevitable Outstanding Business. Once again, we came through OK on these fronts, which – considering the nature of our joint enterprise and the continuing leaps of faith across many platforms which underlie it – remains a source of mild surprise but also of great satisfaction. Do right and you’ll be done right by. Naturally, there’s an enormous amount of paddling under the water which goes on from everyone involved but, once again, we got there.
Various bits of paddling on my own behalf took up most of the remainder of July. The reality of being a working writer/musician has always been that Business has got to be taken care of and in my view that’s always been right and proper. “I’m only concerned with my art” would be a motto associated with the outlet for that art getting closed down sooner rather than later and/or with the Artist losing track of whatever passes for normality in whatever a normal life might be….
The trick – *if* it’s a trick – is to be absolutely clear about when one’s doing business and when one’s doing Art. If they’re kept apart from each other then both should be able to get along. I hope I’ve been pretty clear over the years that in order to keep going the eye’s got to be kept on the ball and that there’s no shame in that. In any event, I’ll leave the results of my July paddling for another day.
August arrived and – shock – I went on holiday. No, I mean, I really stopped for a couple of weeks. No internet, no mails, no work at all. And what better place for an old school retreat to simpler times than North Norfolk? A long way away from anywhere in time/travel terms and all the better for it. It’s not (surprise, surprise!) that easy for me to slow down, calm down, but this time I managed it. And the lack of internet, that constant need-to-update/be-updated was fantastic. Sometimes I think I should take at least a week-long retreat from the voracious onslaught of Online each month in any case. Oh, but the paddling might suffer? Well, when I finally logged on again it was illuminating to find that, actually, there was nothing of urgency at all awaiting me.
And so to County Durham for two days of the Ashes. (I make no apologies for, once again, bringing sport – and for the most of the planet particularly arcane sport – into things.) Hey, we’re spur of the moment chaps, so we’d only bought our tickets for this game two years ago, the moment they went on sale. Neither the cricket nor County Durham was a disappointment. As if. And cricket is just such a wonderful game. Well, it is now that, finally, we win some matches!
Finally, then, back home, the Ashes won (I’d watched every ball of coverage and also – thanks Adam – had a day out at Lord’s) I got back to That Solo Album.
This has been a long, long process and still has a few weeks at least to run. I’m still diving in and out, playing minute parts which may or may not survive and then switching to attempts to get the big picture. It’s flying solo and actually it’s by far the most complicated of the various things I continue to do.
For that I’m thankful. Stuff continues to be done, to be found, to be honed. I’m back in the Office.
And so another bout of touring, another belt of VdGG activity is done. All of our gear has been returned to us and what of that’s VdGG-specific is now packed away wherever we individually store it. Another fine little run.
For most bands this would be an impossible way of working – prepping for and then undertaking month-long stints and then closing up shop until the next time. For us, it still seems to be an admirable modus operandi. There’s enough time to get really panicky about what’s upcoming, about what we’re expected to do, individually and collectively, and little enough time available so that each show, each day has a special character. We’re not trapped on that conveyor belt of a career (even an indian summer career) in music. After all, it was exactly that feeling of being on the belt, being consigned to The Box, which so unhinged us back in the day. These days there’s no question of it.
Of course, we now have no idea what or when the next little burst of stuff will entail. Traditionally, we’ll meet up in January or so and – over a civilised lunch, naturally – discuss what we might hope for (careful!), what we might dread, whatever might be next. My hunch, at the moment, would be that we’ll aim to do some fresh recording but the how, when and where of that is be a complete unknown at present.
Quite a few people have sent in mails wondering/hoping about the possibilities of future American tours, of both North and South varieties. For various reasons I’m not sure that gigs over there are at all likely in the foreseeable future. As far as the USA is concerned the visa process has become more and more draconian, more and more expensive. (You’ll probably find quite a few people having a go about this out on there on the Wider Web if you take a look….) Even when this hoop has been jumped one’s still faced with the withholding tax question. This is an ongoing problem everywhere. Each country (including the UK as it happens) now wants to grab whatever slice they can from the gross takings of tours for their own tax chest. In principle, after a long wait and a great deal of crossing and uncrossing of fingers, it’s possible to reclaim a certain percentage of the tax. But this kind of uncertainty sits ill with what is an already uncertain enterprise. Usually one has to commit to a tour before all the “i”s are dotted, filled with the undimmed enthusiasm with which the ongoing musician is all too familiar. It doesn’t always work out and the current tax-claiming regimes make it harder than ever.
In South America (and further afield) our problems in terms of setting up tours might extend to tax questions but principally they’re to do with air freight. To do a show, anywhere, I, personally, could break my equipment down to a guitar, an fx system or two; Brain could take just fx and, probably, cymbals and pedals; our other needs, from amplification to kick drum, could be met by local hire-ins. But HB can’t play on any kind of local pick-up rig. His double keyboard + bass pedals set-up is unique and impossible to replicate…so has to be air freighted wherever we go. And air freight is now starting to have the same kind of price hikes that we’re seeing in passenger fares. Needless to say, there’s big kilo-age in that organ rig.
So…I’m not saying that it’s *impossible* for us to undertake transatlantic jaunts in the immediate future. Certainly I’m not saying that we’re exhibiting reluctance to do so for any reason. But I *am* saying that it’s difficult to see how we might manage it in the current climate. Who knows, though, in the future? I hope that the above isn’t taken as a wave of negativity. We have to be realistic these days and that’s often a neutral position. After all, we’ve paid our dues in terms of wild, unrealistic enthusiasm, leading to shipwreck…back then. I don’t think it does any harm – and I don’t think it’ll come as any surprise – to say that there’s quite a lot of paddling under the water that goes on to create the serene passage of VdGG across its touring schedule. It’s as it is, it’s as it should be.
On a final note of positivity, though, I’d like to thank Ed, Will and Carl, who’ve once again pulled us through in this tour. And particular thanks, as ever, to our agent Andy, who once again managed to produce a routing which made sense, in all senses. It’s not necessarily that easy to do so….and we’re well aware that we’re not the easiest band to book in.
Oh, finally: yes, we recorded most of the shows. Sometimes extreme heat clagged-up hard drives, sometimes electrical glitches ma gled otherwise faultless (ahem) performances. But hours and hours of stuff are now digitally stored. Eventually – almost certainly sooner rather than later, but probably not *too* soon – it’ll fall to one or all of us to go through the “tapes”. Don’t hold your breath, but don’t think that you’ve heard the last, yet, of what were some pretty sparkling and dynamic shows.
Though, as always, I say so myself.
It has been, it continues to be, a joy, a privilege, a pleasure to do this 21st Century VdGG stuff. For now, though, it’s a wrap.
So here we are. Only a matter of hours to go until we finish the Northern European part of the VdGG tour with tonight’s show at the Barbican in London. It’s been quite a ride already and after this 3 dates in Italy await us.
We’re so pleased that we took the decision to attempt “Lighthouse-keepers” and perhaps even more so that we made the early announcement that we’d be playing both that and “Flight” each night on this tour. Without that public commitment we might have exhibited a bit more reluctance, internally and externally. But having said we’d do it there was no turning back.
It’s meant a set list with very few songs and hardly a moment to pause for breath. All extremely dynamic, with sweeping scene changes and quite a few turns on a sixpence. As ever, we don’t really consider overmuch whether a piece is new or old in provenance, as they’ve all now been imprinted with the stamp of the current trio…but we’re managing to a mixture of things each night in any case, shuffling around a number of other exciting pierces to go with the long forms.
Not that we’ve played things perfectly; there are always a few fingernail-hanging moments in the set, as goes with e territory. But it’s all been good serious fun.
There’s been a wide range of venues too, including quite a few with standing audiences, right up close to us. Very much like the old days!
For now, there’s little more to say than that. It’s been a month for action rather than explanation or comment. And what a blurry, speedy month at that. It seems an age since we pulled out from the rehearsal room on the drive to Prague, though in fact it’s only just over two weeks ago…
Finally, my apologies to those (quite a few, judging by the comments) who thought I was talking a load of geek gobbledygook in last month’s entry. All I can say is that since it’s all natural language to me I suppose that only goes to show that I’m in familiar and comfortable territory in that particular techno land and, by extension, not at all a slave to it. Or something like that.
The sound check awaits.
At the time of my last journal entry I was on the edge of decision, the brink of a leap forward into a new technological set-up. I dare say you can’t wait to hear if I jumped or not and, if so, how.
I suppose the fact that I went public (in so far as this journal is any kind of blaring from the rooftops) meant that I was in effect pushing myself into it in any case. Yes, I made the jump.
In itself this might not look like such a massive turnaround: I’ve changed my mixing desk, I’ve got a new computer, I’ve upgraded some software. In reality these are big shifts in the tectonic plates upon which my recording efforts float.
A word of warning: things might get a tad geeky here…
My previous system had been with me, more or less, since way back in the days when Terra Incognita had its home at the top of Walcot Street in Bath. It was built around a Yamaha 02R desk which at the time it came out was a completely groundbreaking piece of kit. It had ADAT lightpipe inputs and outputs, automated mixing with moving faders and in general was exactly what I needed. It’s still been working fine right up to the present day, in fact.
Over the years I’d gradually changed Macs to run the recording end of things and had ended up with the very last generation of laptops which had G4, rather than Intel, chips. They were also the last to have a cardbus slot, which was crucial in my set-up as the communication from Mac to desk was via and RME interface which used precisely this channel to get things in and out.
I’m not generally in the habit of chasing the very latest thing, the very latest upgrade. I use the computer fundamentally as a straight recording and editing machine (for both audio and MIDI) and effectively it’s just the same kind of thing to me as old-style tape. I don’t need to do any shuffle-quantising and I don’t need any particular extra bells and whistles. I *know* that things get “better” but I’ve mostly been prepared to work with the ancient stuff I have in – hopefully – new ways…as opposed to applying ancient techniques to “new” things.
A few months back – aware that, obviously, any computer or hard drive is mortal and will fail sooner rather than later – I sourced an identical G4 laptop to the (then) current one, so that I’d be able to move seamlessly onto that machine in the event of system failure. (The version of Cubase which I’ve been running, naturally, is also pretty ancient, as is the Mac OS I’ve been using. Neither would run on a newer Mac, so I had to find something vintage….) This was evidence of my contentment with the rig and my belief that, actually, I’d probably carry on working with it for the foreseeable future.
So, here we are about to start the latest VdGG tour and one decision we’ve made is to take our own monitor desk out on the road with us. It’s the new Behringer X32, tres moderne. I bought this last month and immediately thought that it had the potential to be a studio desk just as much as a live monitoring one.
The only way to find out if it would do the job, though (and here’s the position I found myself in at the end of last month), would be to plumb it in and start working with it.
In fact that meant ripping out everything else completely (not without *very* carefully noting down all the routings and connections which had been built up in the rat’s nest of cables over the years). Most of this stuff hadn’t been touched or changed in any way for nine years or so, and was based on original set-ups going all the way back to Terra-in-Bath.
The X32’s digital input and output is via Firewire. The old Macs were, it quickly transpired, quite capable of handling multitrack audio in and out using this interface but I realised that, actually, it really was time to get a more modern, faster machine. Not your ultimate all-singing, all-dancing chap, but at least something with the latest OS. And in turn of course (see above) that meant getting a more modern version of Cubase as well.
There I was, then, earlier this month, everything plumbed in, ready to roll and embarking on the learning curve.
“It’s all logical stuff, it all must be logical stuff”, I’d mutter to myself as I ham-fistedly attempted one simple task after another. Those tasks which had been second nature to me in the old system but which now didn’t seem quite so simple in the new. I’d got the manuals available onscreen of course but everyone knows that manuals are only helpful once you’ve actually found out where to look for the answers…which means you’re on the verge of knowing the answers anyway.
In the old days (back in Bath) there’d always be people around who were going through the same – or equivalent – learning curves and so there was something of a shared pool of knowledge and enquiry. These days (ah, the modern world!) I find myself pretty much alone in my explorations.
Thank goodness for the internet and the wisdom (or not) of the Forum. It kept me fit, as well – I (deliberately) don’t have internet access in the studio, so I had to keep zipping back into the house for my online research.
It probably took me a whole week to get my head round the new system, much of which I spent in a fog of slow panic and with the nagging feeling that I *might* have to put the old stuff back together again. But eventually I surfaced, breathing easy.
Now I have to say I don’t regret the decision at all. This system should see me through the next few years, the next few albums, with both clarity and precision.
Oh yes, the albums, better get back on *that* track….
Oh, now, here comes that VdGG tour, better get my muscle memory back into action for *that*….
On, into June.