Categories
Music in Sheds

Can You Sing?

A year on, and Stockport Music in Sheds is still lacking a regular singer. A few people have had a stab at it, but no one claims to be any good at it. Besides, it’s difficult to sing and play an instrument at the same time. It can be a bit like patting your head and rubbing your belly.

Cloudburst 1982, Stage invasion

I’ve toyed with the idea of singing, on and off. It’s not like I haven’t done it before. Back in my Cloudburst days, I used to sing backing vocals. Backing vocals is easy. You generally can’t be heard above the main singer anyway.

I’ve only ever sung lead vocal twice: once when Cloudburst performed Hawkwind’s Spirit of the Age. [And if you’ve heard the song, you’ll know that it’s more of a monologue.] Not only did I sing lead, I played the keyboard at the same time. Well, I say “played” — I’d actually programmed the keyboard to arpeggio, all I had to do was hold down two chords. It sounded pretty awful.

Cloudburst, Christmas 1982: Spirit of the Age

The next time I braved the mic was 20 years later, when I was recording a song for The Moles’ Worm Pizza project. I’d reinterpreted We Are the Moles by Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, and it needed a vocal. As there was no one else to sing, I had to do it myself. I attacked the task with the attitude that I was going to sing in the style of Peter Murphy or David Bowie. I sounded nothing like them, but it was a passable vocal. Job done.

The thing is: it’s probably fair to say that most people can sing — a bit. We’ve all sung in the shower, in church, at the match, at a gig, etc. But that’s usually because no one can hear you. And, let’s face it, when was the last time someone complimented your lovely singing voice?

It’s true that some people can’t sing for toffee. In my experience, a small number of unfortunate souls are tone deaf, and the sound coming from their mouths is not what was intended, at least some of the time. I don’t know why this happens, but it’s a terrible curse. I like to think that they excel in some other respect, to compensate.

Hovis Malone singing

But, the main barrier to singing, at least in my case, is embarrassment. How do singers do it? I guess I have the same problem with public speaking too. I can do it, but I hate it. Once I get started, I can talk to a room full of people, after an initial rush of fear and adrenaline, and several hours of anxiety. I’d just rather not. It’s less stressful!

So when Munsif, Rick, Lee, Richard and James sang at Music in Sheds, I was full of respect. No one laughed, and it helped the flow of music tremendously. It didn’t look scary at all.

So, if you fancy having a bash at singing with Music in Sheds. Please, let me know!

Categories
General

2019 Favourites

I used to pride myself in keeping up to date with contemporary music, but in recent years, this has proven harder to manage. I guess I’m not in regular contact with as many fanatics as I used to be. So, in a way, it’s a special treat when I come across a really good album to obsess over for a few weeks. In 2019, I managed three:

The Silver Globe (2014), Jane Weaver

The Silver Globe (2014) by Jane Weaver

I’m kicking myself for not paying closer attention to Jane Weaver. I remember visiting Piccadilly Records in Manchester, reading their 2014 recommendations, and seeing a great write-up on this album. I mustn’t have followed it up properly. Fortunately, an old friend mentioned her early this year in the same breath as Broadcast and Stereolab, and I remembered to look.

This album shouldn’t work, but it does. It’s a weird mix of psychedelic space rock, folk, motorik krautrock and pop. I even recognised a purloined Hawkwind sample in one song. The melodies are very catchy and the repetitive driving rhythms are hypnotic. Love it. The Amber Light quick follow-up is very good too. I saw her play in Manchester this year, too.

Heartbreak (2019), Unloved

Heartbreak (2019) by Unloved

I really enjoyed Unloved’s first album (Guilty of Love), so I was pleased to learn that the follow-up was out this year. I first discovered their music through the TV crime thriller Killing Eve. When I googled “Unloved” and discovered that DJ/soundtrack guru David Holmes was involved, I was in for the ride.

At first, I was disappointed in this album, as it’s not as brash, catchy and immediate as their first. But after a few plays, each track introduces itself to you, and you realise that there’s quite a lot going on under the surface. And, despite it having a real 60s Phil Spector vibe going on, it’s amazingly modern and sophisticated. I got to see Unloved live in Manchester this year, too. Highly recommended.

Three Friends (1972), Gentle Giant

Three Friends (1972) by Gentle Giant

As a big Progressive Rock fan in my teens, I listened to all sorts of weird and wonderful nonsense, from Amon Düül II to Zappa, via Genesis, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Yes and Van Der Graaf Generator. At the time, I bought a Gentle Giant album (The Missing Piece), but it was awful, and I forgot all about them. Reading about them again recently, I decided to try some earlier albums of theirs.

I’m very glad I did. Their most popular album Octopus (1972) is great, but the preceding two albums are even better, to my ears, especially Three Friends (also 1972). The first track is a mind-blowing combination of virtuosic playing, time signature and key changes, poly-rhythms, with rock music colliding with choral music. And it does all this without sounding contrived or pretentious. The rest of the album jumps about from one experiment to the next, with plenty of soul and sweat thrown into the mix too. Why did I leave it so long?

Categories
Guitars

“Anything but a Strat”

My first electric - a home-made guitar

Like most teenagers learning to play guitar and forming a band, I couldn’t afford a really good guitar. So I made my first electric guitar out of plywood, cheap hardware, and parts from a scrapped guitar.

1976 Kasuga LG-480BS

I was about 16 when I’d saved up for a second hand Kasuga LG-480BS ‘Deluxe’, from Reidy’s in Blackburn. The Kasuga was my main guitar for the next 10 years. But, after the eighties, it’s either hung on a wall hook or sat on a stand in my house.

At the end of my computer musician phase, I decided that I missed the instant feedback of playing an instrument. After a brief stab at learning piano, I decided to have another go at guitar. But, as I was now a ‘grown-up’, perhaps I could make up for the budget limitations of the past?

Richwood TL Thinline

On a whim, in 2012, I stopped at Louandy’s in Colne, which I’d been passing for months, and I walked out 30 minutes later with a used Richwood TL Thinline. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it eventually started to gather dust, just like the Kasuga.

Boss ME-70 multi-effects box

The following year, I replaced my Boss BE-5 multi-effects box with an ME-70 from Banks in York — a digital processor with a dizzying array of functions, which made my home-made Noisewarp look like a child’s toy.

But it wasn’t until the establishment of Stockport Music in Sheds, in January 2019, that my guitar playing restarted in earnest. And the desire to buy that guitar I always wanted was rekindled.

The Quest to Find the Dream Guitar

But, where to start? I was seriously out of practice, and I’d forgotten most of my repertoire. I was worried that I wouldn’t know a good guitar if it fell on my head. The last time I’d visited a guitar shop, I was overwhelmed and ran away in embarrassment. But, now I was older and less easily shamed, I decided I’d visit all the guitar shops Manchester had to offer, and spend as much or as little as necessary to get a good guitar.

I guessed that I should have a vague idea of what I wanted — although I would be seeking as much advice and information as possible. I envisaged possibly replacing my Les Paul copy with a real one. Maybe an SG would be a reasonable alternative? A Telecaster or Jazzmaster might be the way forward in the Fender world (anything but a Strat, which is only played by guitar heroes). Do I need to be careful about where they are made? Are the Epiphone/Squier versions just as good? What about the new kids on the block? How much do good guitars even cost these days?

2014 Gibson SGM Min-ETune

Being my local guitar shop, I visited Fab Music in Stockport first. The shop guy was very helpful, but the stock at the time was mostly odds and sods, with only a few interesting items. I tried out a quirky Gibson SGM with a missing tuner button, which I liked, and a bastardised Fender Telecaster, which was a good price but slightly disappointing in action.

Sounds Great Music near Cheadle was next. This shop reminded me of Reidy’s, back in the day — walls of lovely shiny guitars, some cheap and some eye-wateringly expensive. I was chaperoned by Danny senior, who couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. I tried out 8 guitars, including ones I’d never heard of. Surprisingly, I didn’t really like any of the guitars as much as my old Kasuga — even the expensive Les Pauls. I was starting to lose faith in my quest.

Fender 1960 Relic Stratocaster

As I was preparing to leave, we got chatting about the second hand pink Fender Stratocaster in front of me. Danny said that it had created quite a stir in the shop, and lots of people had gushed over it. I joked about my lack of interest in the guitar heroes’ axe of choice, but asked for a quick play anyway, just so I knew what I was missing. I wasn’t prepared — it was like the guitar had been made for me.

Encouraged by this revelation, I now knew that my dream guitar was possible. I had more of an idea what I wanted, and I started a tour of guitar shops (including Marvel Guitars, Live Louder, Dawson’s and PMT) to find it. But, the longer I spent trying out different guitars, the more I realised that the Pink Strat was still top of the heap, and by a wide margin. So, I headed back to Sounds Great for another go…

This time, I had a proper try-out, plugged into a nice amp. As I was noodling around the 15th fret, playing with the pickup switch, I heard the guitar from the start of Shine On You Crazy Diamond come from the cab. Suddenly, I was David Gilmour, and the guitar was Pink, this was too spooky. I bought the guitar.

Guitar-Playing Renaissance

Over the following weeks, I couldn’t walk past the Pink Strat without stopping for a play. Within three months, I was back to the level I was at when I stopped playing 30 years earlier. Some of the guys at Music in Sheds were into 60s British Blues, so I was regularly playing Clapton songs and improvising pentatonic solos. I had revisited all my old Pink Floyd records and learned some of Gilmour’s solos. I even learned how to play Smoke on the Water correctly, from a YouTube video.

It was then that I realised: I had become one of those sad old guitar heroes. Damn the Pink Strat!