A full year’s gone by since I was last on stage, at the Pit Inn in Tokyo on November 24th. The time’s flown by, to tell the truth.
Since then I’ve been keeping a low profile and, in fact, pursuing a policy of Not Saying Yes to any offers of live work. I’ve also, of course, fallen silent for the most part both on this journal and at the Sofasound site. I’ve written something about this before in previous posts and it’s still the case that entries here might well be sporadic in the future.
Since I left Manchester to start this wonderful adventure in music I’ve never gone an entire calendar year without doing a show of one kind or another. Now, at the very last gasp of the year, I’m at last managing to fit in one for 2015. This’ll be in Madrid, at the Teatro Lara, on Monday 14th December. I’ll be playing piano only for this concert – I reckon I’ve got enough piano tunes, ancient and modern, to have a proper balance and variety in the set. I must say that having committed to this I find myself looking forward to it enormously. I find travelling itself more and more arduous, to be honest, as I get older…but as ever travel with a goal is most worthwhile.
It may be the case that there’ll be more touring next year, but as yet there are no plans.
Astonishingly, it’s now a full ten years since VdGG has been a trio. Admittedly Guy, Hugh and I didn’t yet know that we had a future together back in December 2005 but we did know that if we did it wouldn’t be with Mr. Jackson. It’s a matter of some satisfaction that we’ve now managed a full decade together in this sometimes wonky & always challenging line-up.
Happily there’s more to come. We’re now well into the recording of the next studio effort, which is sounding very exciting indeed. It’ll be out in 2016 and of course I’ll write more about it in due course….
Goodbye for now. This has been a quiet and gradual return to public view.
Again the months have drifted by without a contribution from me in the journal stakes.
For myself, I’ve been quite comfortable with this. I’ve spent a working lifetime disseminating information about what’s happening on the work, release, performance fronts; frankly, that’s been nothing at all (for public consumption at least) in the last few months. Nor, indeed, have there been any announcements due or needed for future events. So I’ve stayed silent.
I understand that some have been concerned about this silence but there’s really been no need. I’ve been bleating away in public for more years than one can shake a fist at and if, as and when I actually retire I’d like to think that this aspect of “the work” will be the first to disappear. So as, gradually, I begin to slow things down (and that’s inevitable and right at this age) I’m likely to be less and less visible in both conventional and social media. It remains my belief, of course, that whatever worth there is in what I do resides in the music rather than in my ramblings.
Having said that, I (still) don’t wish to paint myself into a corner as to what I will and won’t do in the future. Basically, expect to hear from me here (or, indeed, over at sofasound.com or on twitter) as and when you hear from me. And if there’s anything to report I shall do so, as ever, personally and directly, rather than by intimating things to others.
Belatedly, I’ll say something about Merlin Atmos, firstly about the title, which has bemused/confused some. The WWII Rolls-Royce Merlin engine powered the Spitfire (among other aircraft) and was a prominent tune in the air for those of us born in the UK immediately post-war. It’s the noise which HB simulates (*not* samples, it must be said) at the start and end of our version of flight. Atmos is the feeling out among the crowd. Back in the days when we were able to wander incognito among the audience prior to a show we used to go out and see what the atmos was like…. Hope that goes some way towards an explanation.
As to where the performances come from: two different approaches were at work. HB worked mainly on individual and specific shows, with a majority of tracks being taken from Milan. Since that was the last show we did under normal conditions – Pistoia, being a festival, was somewhat out of the ordinary and control – this seemed and proved appropriate. I no longer remember the exact shows he used though. As for my efforts on the Bonus Atmos disc it may be noted that my credit on the album is “assembled and balanced” rather than “mixed”. That’s to say that I didn’t go for an active mixing approach, instead making a flat – though hopefully correctly balanced – compilation of different performances edited together in multitrack form…so this disc comes from All Over the Place(s).
Finally, yes, I have been and continue to work away. I’m in writing mode, heading toward both the next solo disc and the next VdGG one. It’ll be awhile before either of these get properly under way, mind….
Well, I fell into silence on these pages for a couple of months, which may have seemed strange in view of the fact that I was active on stage and on the releases front. Truth to tell, I simply didn’t feel energized enough to make a contribution in this period; I felt I’d be trotting out that Promo stuff if I put hand to keyboard, which is not my intention (well, not my main intention) in writing here.
So the latest solo recording(s), “…all that might have been…” have been out there for a while now. I wanted to let them go out in their various forms without further direct explanation from me, though obviously there have been press releases and the like which gave some impression of what they were about. Eventually I may come back here to give further angles on the intentions behind, the making of, my own assessment of these musics. But now’s not the time.
Apart from organizing the release of “…all that…” I also managed a couple of long-haul live journeys last November. First I went to Mexico City with Gary Lucas, giving probably the best performance to date of the “Otherworld” material. At the end of the month I had another four-gig solo stint in Tokyo, two of which were performed on electric guitar – it’s a *very* long time since I’ve done a solo show like that. All enjoyable – but somewhat exhausting – stuff.
Incidentally, since it had been such a long time since the last release I’d forgotten what a time- and energy-consuming thing it is to put out physical product. Each time I come back to doing it it’s like learning to walk all over again. A lot of falling over involved.
No surprise, then, that I spent the most part of December in passive recovery mode. January’s been clear the desk time. That’s almost done, I’m almost ready to start up again into whatever’s next.
But, but, but….most importantly, today (Feb 2nd) is the release date of the latest VdGG effort, “Merlin Atmos”. These are live recordings taken from our European touring of 2013. The main event’s a single CD and there are also special edition releases: a (single) vinyl and a double CD.
At the core of all versions are our performances of the two long-form pieces, “Flight” and “Lighthouse-keepers”. We’d played the former on our last North American tour and, emboldened by the success of that effort, made the commitment to play “L-K” as well throughout the Euro tour. Naturally, we did so without, at that stage, having rehearsed a note of the piece….
In other words, we set ourselves a proper VdGG challenge. I suppose the fact that this stuff is now being released indicates that, in our eyes at least, we’ve met that challenge. It’s really exciting – and at times surprising – to listen to, even having been there on stage!
Have I veered into full-on Promo mode?
So, not such a hard task, firing up the journal again. Let’s hope I do more in the coming months. No promises, mind, for music-making may divert me….
I’ve been spending a lot of time in the back office over the past few weeks.
Every line of work has its front office and back office. The front’s the shiny, sparkly stuff, the reasons people are originally drawn to he job. The back’s the unseen paddling below the waterline which keeps the whole show on the road. Not, in other words, the glamorous end of things, nor even – except in its own specific terms – particularly exciting.
In a musical life, the front stuff would be, of course, performing, recording, writing. Perhaps doing the publicity and interview rounds fall in there as well, along with the social media dance. One doesn’t have to take particular enjoyment out of doing this stuff for it to be front office (it’s all work, after all); but anything which involves the manifestation of The Artist’s Wonderfulness is out there, out front.
In the back office the numbers get crunched and more and more numbers are involved in the business of music. Obviously there’s basic accounting, there’s budgeting, there’s that whole bizarre guesstimate world of projected figures for sales and audience attendance. Usually these days margins are fine. A tour can stand up or fall down entirely based upon one single gig coming through or being cancelled and naturally commitment to a tour has to be made long before every element is in place.
(I haven’t, of course, been buried in tour spreadsheets in this period but they’re an important part of Back Office world….)
When it comes to preparing for records to come out there’s a whole welter of numbers which have to be created, sourced, entered correctly in order for the whole thing to run at all, let alone smoothly. Every song has to have a unique numerical I.D. in itself and another one to signify which physical medium it’s present on. It has to have a similar I.D. in the purely digital world. Any slips here – or in the various barcodes which have to be attached – and the downward slope beckons.
Most of the work isn’t numerical but simply organisational. Check and recheck – especially necessary with this ageing brain…. And of course – this is the modern world – wait in, seemingly endlessly, for collections and deliveries.
I don’t mean to whinge about this. I’ve been doing it for years and if I hadn’t taken on the responsibility many years ago I simply wouldn’t have had a career at all. It’s also true to say that it’s doing the back office work which leaves me free in the creative, front office one. That wouldn’t be the case if I was beholden to others.
One strange thing though: from time to time one can mess up creatively (in comparative terms) and still, as a rule, come back unscathed. But it only takes one major error of judgement in the Back Office for the whole house to come down, potentially permanently.
In any event, most of my office work is now done. Expect me to be back stage centre in a matter of days, thumping the tub for the upcoming new recordings….
I’m sorry to have to report that after a short illness my dear friend Stuart Gordon died late last night, 28th August.
I had so many adventures with him in music and in life and his loss is nigh unbearable.
I have no other words for now.
Naturally, it turned out to be a longer process than I’d anticipated but I did manage to complete the mixing of the new recordings by the end of June; or, at least, finished *one* of the sets of mixes of the recordings.
As will eventually become clear upon release this album is a multi-headed beast and each one of those heads has to present a subtly different sonic appearance. Any change in one potentially meant a necessary, subtle, adjustment in another.
So most of July has been taken up with intensive listening and then the process of micro-management. At this end of the operation a lot of the effort has to be devoted to coming at things afresh, as though knowing nothing at all about the pieces. It certainly hasn’t been a question of listening ot the same things in all-day-long sessions.
Rather, I’ve had to make my mind blank (in terms of what I think are really good and, conversely, potentially iffy, passages). Each time I had a listen-through, of course, I’d take notes but deliberately didn’t refer to them before the next run-through. Therefore the matters which needed to be addressed (of mixing, of ordering, of pacing) would only be those which showed up a number of times in the collected notes.
(As an aside, I do use up a lot of paper in the course of making a record; it’s a much more reliable, if time-intensive, form of record than notes made on a computer. And it’s always possible to backtrack on the paper trail. I *don’t* save any of this stuff when the project’s done though….)
Finally, now, I’m happy with things in all the forms in which they occur. The record’s done. Just the small matter of the cover, now, remains – and sorting out all the Biz stuff of release schedules and so on. So it’s not exactly about to be on your shelves in the next couple of weeks….
Sorry if I’ve seemed a tad mysterious about the nature of this release. All will, I hope, become clear in a later post, once I have a release date to hand.
Meanwhile, on the other wing of things, there’ll also soon be a live VdGG release, taken from our touring of last year. So I’ve also lately been spending some time going through incoming mixes from HB of all *that* madness.
Good clean fun….and more to come. Next week, a one-off solo show and a first visit for me to Romania.
So, as I intimated might be the case, I’ve finally managed to miss the month of May in terms of getting a Journal entry up here.
I have, though, been working towards – and meeting – a more serious deadline at the end of last month: I’ve now managed to do mixes for all of the pieces set for the next solo album.
As you’ll all know, this set of recordings has been under way for a long, long time and it’s really quite something to have arrived at a stage where they *could* be in a releasable state.
It’s been interesting to come back to all these songs for the mixing. Since they’ve been recorded over such protracted period (and in fits and starts) I haven’t held a definite memory of each one throughout the process and therefore haven’t really known what’s coming as I loaded each one up. There were *lots* of things which I’d completely forgotten about, many of them given cryptic (or no) names which didn’t really reveal much of a clue as to their nature in advance of hearing them.
In way this meant that I didn’t feel particularly precious towards any of the parts and so was fairly liberated in re-imagining what each piece should be made up of in its final form. In other words, fast decisions at the end of a long and painstaking progress. There’s been a degree of instantaneity of response in these mixing sessions which has made them very much of The Now.
Mixing’s one of the things which has changed the most in the entire recording process over the years. When I began making records it was very much a question of simply balancing the tracks which had been laid down. Reverb was restricted to (probably only one) Plate Echo and delay to tape machines. By the time VdGG was fully under way quite a lot more outboard effects were available. But because the resulting mix was going down to a single 1/4” tape it was still very much happening in real time and became in itself something of a performance. The more complicated the moves that needed to be made then the more pairs of hands were needed to make them.
That’s something which has disappeared over the years. First, automated desks came in, so that minute adjustments could be made, accurately and repeatedly. These days the advent of computer recording means that the moves can be made in software land as well as onboard desks. Often modern mixes are made “In the Box” – entirely within the computer.
I must say that I still miss something of the mix-as-performance, the feeling that This One is (and is going to be) the definitive version. Of course, I appreciate the fact that one can go back and adjust things and wouldn’t *really* want to go back to that Analogue path in toto…but I still try, at least in part, to act on impulse.
So as I’ve said I’ve now got *some* versions done of each track. It’s likely that over the coming weeks they’ll all be tweaked or, indeed, completely reworked. But another plateau of achievement in the process has been reached and, for all that a degree of thought, consideration, work remains, the end of the project is now in sight.