Categories
General

Performance

If a tree falls in in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Despite the length of time I have spent on Earth, this philosophical question has only just become relevant to me. Let me explain…

When I joined what was to become known as Crimson Creatures in 2021, there was always the aspiration that the band would gig, if all went well. I was nervous about the prospect, not having played in front of an audience since the 1980s, but nerves are normal and, sure enough, just before our first gig, they left me, and I was raring to go.

3 gigs later, and I am no longer in the band. The gigs were successful, in that we played well and sounded good. Did I enjoy the experience? Hmm. Yes, and no. I mostly enjoyed the 45–60 minutes I was on stage, but the rest of it?

I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to do any more gigs. The lead up to each gig was filled with repetitive rehearsals, gear prep, and a nagging apprehension that something might go wrong on the night. The next gig was always lurking in the back of my mind.

The gigs involved lugging gear up and down stairs from badly parked cars, solving equipment problems, sound checks and fighting sound systems, playing to half empty rooms, and packing up late at night. I was sober in a room full of well-oiled people, before a long drive home, when I really could have done with relaxing. You can keep your Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle.

Now, when friends ask about my musical activity, I tell them that I’m concentrating on writing and recording. They will inevitably ask when I’m gigging again, to which I reply that I’m not keen, and it may not be for a long time, if ever. The reaction is always the same — total dumbfoundment. It’s as if there’s no point making music, unless I’m playing it live, probably in a bar near to them. This is where the philosophical falling tree comes in.

What is the point of making music, or being in a band, unless there are gigs and the performance? I’ve thought about this a lot recently.

Listening

I’ve been listening to and collecting music since the 1970s. I can’t usually remember what I ate for lunch, but I can tell you in what year Band X made their 2nd album and who played on it. There’s no feeling like discovering and going through the honeymoon listening phase of a great album.

Once I learned to play an instrument and how to record and mix, it was natural to want to make something vaguely resembling the amazing stuff I loved. So, by the age of 17, I’d made my first album and played in front of a big audience.

To be clear, those first gigs were playing covers of popular songs to crowds which were coming anyway. We were the entertainment, and we were appreciated. It was great. We later introduced our own songs, with limited success, and realised that the public wasn’t ready for our stuff. Still, a crowd is a crowd, and memories were made.

But, isn’t that what being a musician is all about? Well, no. Music isn’t made to get a round of applause and a pat on the back — though it’s nice if that happens. Many people make music because they they want to create something great sounding, thought-provoking and original that they can listen to and can be proud of. If other people like it too, fabulous, so much the better. It’s a huge buzz to add another great recording to your collection, especially if it’s been made by you.

Of course, people like to play music in front of a crowd too, because they want to share, perform and entertain, and that’s fine. But not all musicians are entertainers. And not everyone makes music for entertainment.

Keep Music Live

When recording studios really took off in the 1960s, until piracy became widespread, popular music was consumed voraciously in its recorded form. But, as artists lost revenue from falling sales, they had to hit the road to make a living from music. And now streamed music is king, and recording artists get very little income from streaming, nothing is set to change.

Digital technology has enabled anyone to become a recording artist. This is a double-edged sword, and there are more recordings being released now than ever before. It’s difficult to get noticed amongst the sea of music, unless you have any marketing skills or staff at your disposal.

So, musicians are expected to perform, whether they like it or not. “Keep music live,” they said. Well, music wasn’t always live.

Categories
Guitars

Yamaha SG1000

In the early 80s, I was a guitarist who was very much a product of the 70s Rock decade. I’d learned songs by guitar greats such as Steve Howe, David Gilmour, Steve Hillage, Tony Iommi, Steve Hackett, Robert Fripp, Mike Oldfield, Dave Brock and the rest. But, this was all becoming a bit comfortable and safe.

I became aware of a new breed of guitarists who were less like stars, but were bringing a whole new range of sounds to the party. These new guys included Robert Smith, The Edge, Will Sergeant, Bernard Albrecht, Hugh Cornwell and John McGeoch.

Yamaha SG1000

I found myself writing heavily effected angular warbly guitar parts. This was probably due in no small part to my obsession with a string of albums by Siouxsie and The Banshees. So, I guess it was inevitable that I would one day acquire a Yamaha SG1000, McGeoch’s weapon of choice in Magazine and The Banshees.

It’s not really a guitar hero’s guitar. It’s nicknamed the Les Paul Killer after all. It’s not very sexy, it’s not a classic guitar, and it’s not that common. In fact, in all my years, I’d not actually seen one in a shop until recently. But, there it was, in Johnny Roadhouse in Manchester, this summer.

I had to give it a spin. The first thing I noticed was its weight. It was heavier than all my guitars. But it is crafted beautifully. Solid resonant mahogany, faultless build, with an exquisite glued in slim C neck and 10″ radiused ebony fretboard, gold hardware, a belly cut, front neck and body binding, and fancy inlay. It oozed quality, with a matching price tag. But, when I realised that its pickups worked as humbuckers and single coils, I bought it.

Since leaving Crimson Creatures, I decided to make it my current workhorse. It’s a real Swiss Army Knife of a guitar. Expect to hear it on my next project.

Categories
General

Progressive Punk?!

Some said it couldn’t be done, but, finally, it has. Wire and The Stranglers both had a good stab at it in the late 70s. But, we are now seeing what happens when you cross-breed two seemingly incompatible musical genres.

For the First Time (2021) by Black Country, New Road

It started in 2021 with Black Country, New Road‘s debut album For the First Time. It was a Post-Punk album with clever arrangements and striking contrasts. It was closely followed by Squid‘s debut album Bright Green Field. This was arguably more Post-Punk than Prog, but the extended instrumental sections begged to differ.

Bright Green Field (2021) by Squid

Black Midi, who had been getting a name for their blazing rapid-fire controlled explosive music and Mercury Prize nomination, finally harnessed their full potential, and dropped Hellfire! on an unsuspecting public.

Hellfire (2022) by Black Midi

Their third album is a dizzying whirlwind of genre-hopping, face-slapping, sprinting thrash-laden, crooning horror. It’s an eloquent, masterful album, with equal measures of raw power, Dadaist technical brilliance and Zappa-esque humour. The first time I played the album, I couldn’t listen to anything else for at least an hour, my senses had been so assaulted.

Motorbike (2022) by Blue Bendy

Struggling to follow this up in 2023, I eventually stumbled upon the Motorbike EP from 2022, by another young band called Blue Bendy. A bit less Post-Punk and a bit more Progressive, their music is bristling with ideas, condensing a huge array of sounds, rhythms and emotions into their songs.

Blue Bendy’s music is so dense, it might be a difficult listen for some people. But it is saved by their sweet and delicious sounds, which reward the listener with new layers with every play. I have played this at least once almost every day this year, making it a clear winner of my ‘album’ of the year, without either being an album, nor released this year.

Categories
General

Life on the Road

When I joined Crimson Creatures in 2021, we talked a lot about the music. We talked a lot, full stop. We talked about writing songs, and recording them. Pretty soon we had 12 songs done. We also talked about the possibility of playing the songs live. And, as it became clear that we were able to do the songs justice as a live group, we stepped up the search for a drummer.

We struggled to get the right drummer, but, 8 months later, we finally managed it. After 4 months of rehearsals, we played our first gig, and it was largely a success. I say “largely” as there were some technical problems beyond our control, and some that were down to us. And the audience was small—many people being distracted by the other goings-on at the festival. But the main thing was that we played well.

Crimson Creatures, live in 2023

With another couple of gigs lined up, it seemed it was onwards and upwards. But, with the change of focus to live performance, Ego started to affect the band dynamics, and the ecosystem of the previous 18 months started to unravel.

I’d been quite nervous about playing live. In my last gig (with First Night With the Indians) I was almost 20. I’d had a 38 year hiatus from gigging. But, as I watched the band on before us, I realised I was raring to go. I was buzzing at the end of our set.

This all changed with the 2nd gig. From the outset, my reservations about the venue were realised. For 45 minutes on stage, I had to struggle with feedback, lack of space, and poor sound. On top of this, the Ego was bolder and more vocal with the audience.

We finished the gig with different feelings. Half were pleased, half were disappointed. We’d been building up to this for months. And for what? An audience of maybe 20 people, one of whom was complimentary afterwards. We packed up without much talk that night.

Third time lucky though, eh! I brought along a big group of family and friends to gig number 3. We played our best chops, and the sound was spot on. I relaxed a bit, and enjoyed the intimate atmosphere. Unfortunately, the Ego had fully blossomed by this stage, and the evening was punctuated by a series of annoying incidents.

Fortunately, I’d thoroughly enjoyed myself, and I had lots of friends in the audience to distract me. But, after sleeping on it, I started to see more negatives than positives. Do I really want to be putting this much work into what is effectively just a hobby? Can I really stomach any more of the Ego? Is the audience ever going to match or exceed this, without bringing all my mates? Why does no one else in the band share my concerns?

Of course, it’s always the last straw which breaks the camel’s back. A silly argument about something which shouldn’t reasonably need discussing was the tipping point for me. I’d had enough; I wanted to make it stop. And, all of a sudden, I quit the band.

So, the moral of the tale? You shouldn’t regret decisions to try new things, but be wary of changing circumstances affecting the delicate balance of something as simple as a rock band. And keep talking.