Ooh La La

So, this week, the band took another big step forward. We left the relative comfort of our Camden nest, spread our musical wings and ventured out to explore the crazy world that is.. Europe. Namely, Paris. Which is in France.

We bought train tickets, packed the guitars, gave the bassist his monthly bath and set off to play a gig, shoot a music video and have a great time in the city of fluff. Ooh-La La.

(N.B. This blog isn’t just going to be an itinerary of what happened on our trip, there is a point to it. I promise).

After a few breakfast gin & tonics on the Eurostar we arrived bright, early and motivated in Paris on Thursday morning. Even though we were carrying several hundred tonnes of equipment, we were in good spirits (no pun intended) and decided to head off to see the sights of one of the most beautiful cities on Earth on a gloriously sun-drenched July day. After 20 minutes of walking, crawling and sweating, we found a bar by a canal and stayed there for five hours.

We played the gig that night and it was tremendous. It was a private live show for several friends and collaborators that had been set up in one of the city’s live studios. We had managed to make friends with a group of very talented musicians & film makers who had amazingly organised the whole thing and also scheduled the weekend to include the filming of a music video for one of our new songs.

After the gig we were all buzzing, filled with confidence and cheap wine. Brimming with smiles, we all headed out into the late balmy Paris night, where we quickly found a bar, and stayed there for 5 hours.

There really has been a better feeling in the group over the past few months. An excitement that finally, after all this time of dedication, persistence and learning our stage craft, we are no longer just OK, we are becoming a seriously great live band. None of us are pretentious, sure, we talk big and strut around like the cock of the chicken coup, but we know what we are and we know that in order to be better we have to work very hard. No-one gives you anything for free if you’re crap. So get good.

Scorching sun, blinding light and sticky-beer-sweat made up the ingredients for the next day as our new French family (love you guys) packed the band, 5 gallons of water and several thousand pounds worth of filming equipment into a car and a van and made the 2 hour trip to a desert south of Paris (yes, there is a very small desert south of Paris). The whole pitch for the video had been made to us by a very talented French director & special effects wizard a few months ago who had the concept of filming in very extreme but contrasting locations and it fit perfectly with our sound and the song. Because we are a very generous band we jumped at the chance of paying him virtually nothing so we could use his talents, sleep in his house and drink all of his wine whilst he created an amazing video for us. Yes, there were slight hiccups whilst filming and a lot of the time we were just waiting around, carrying heavy equipment and sweating like a group of nuns at a penguin shoot, but it really was a small price to pay for the truly outstanding professionalism and hospitality that we received.

And now comes the point to this story.

Surround yourself with people who can help you.

If you’re determined to get to the top in what you do (band, solo artist, pony whisperer) then it’s soooooo much easier with a group of dedicated and eager people helping to push you along. It also really helps if they’re fans too. And rich.

But the only problem is getting good enough that people want to help you. As a wise man once said – if you’re crap, no-one will give you anything for free. So practise and get good.

There are so many things for a band to do in the modern world in order to stand out that there is no way you can do it alone. Ok, you can write the songs and play them in pubs and small clubs but if you want to play bigger venues and actually make an impression on the world you need to do so much more. Social media, professional recordings, music videos, merchandise, photo shoots, blah blah blah… All of which you can do on your own but it’s more difficult and tiring. Plus, if you have a traditional rock band like ours, you have to organise 4 slightly dim witted fools into one smooth, cohesive machine and that’s never easy.

Getting a label or management team can be good but very often it’s not as they just want to bleed you dry rather than genuinely help you. That isn’t meant as an attack on labels of course, obviously they’re a business, not your mum. However, once you do start to make them money it becomes much easier to justify the help they give you and the benefits are much greater. If you’re a good band, a good label will get you to Glastonbury. You will never get that sort of opportunity from your mates no matter how much they help you.

I think that the trip to Paris really opened our eyes to the opportunities that we can hope for. We were all surprised at how much people wanted to help us just because we showed up with guitars and played (very) loud music for them. Also our regular gig nights that we run are helping us to make a good circle of band friends that we like and can trust to bring a decent crowd. I understand now why awards acceptance speeches are so long, because if you achieve something amazing it’s normally because you have a shitload of people in the background that have helped get you there.

The end of the trip culminated in four very tired but very happy band mates limping back into London late on Sunday night feeling extremely proud and excited about the future.

Until the next adventure.

C xx

 

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Bass to the Future

John Lennon was an idiot.

Not only did he claim that “all you need is love” (what about spoons, eh? John? Need them. You try eating a sainsbury’s family sized trifle without one. Or elbows, we need elbows John. Ringo would be even worse without elbows) but he preached the message of “Power to the People”. Granted, when he said it in 1970 it was in a slightly different context to now but LOOK WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GIVE PEOPLE POWER, JOHN.

My last blog post was back in June 2016 and I don’t really need to apologise or explain why I haven’t been able to get out of bed and drag myself to my computer since then do I? We all know what a massive clown-car-fuck-show the second half of 2016 turned out to be. I really, honestly thought that everything was going to be ok and then democracy showed up.

We choose politicians to make the decisions for us. That’s what they’re for. They’re supposed to be educated and intelligent enough to judge how the country is run whilst we get on with our lives and eat all the cake. That’s what we’re for. So, why, in the name of Donald’s comb-over, did they fob us off with the task of deciding whether or not we wanted to be the most hated country in Europe? If a heart surgeon stopped during an operation to phone Greg Thompson (47) a Chartered Accountant from Littlehampton, to ask him what he thought he should do next, everyone would die.

Anyway, I’m not going to rant on about everything that’s happened. It’s too late now and I’m completely ranted out, as are you, most probably. When I started this blog I promised myself it wasn’t going to be simply a place for me to moan about the shitty problems of day-to-day life in London but rather a guide or documentation of the lives of musicians and bands struggling to make that leap from unknown to stardom. So I’m going to draw a line under it all and write off the past 6 months as a terrible dream brought on by a combination of ibuprofen, undercooked fish cakes and warm milk before bed.

Let me fill you in with the news on the important stuff…

Being in a band is tricky.

It’s a complicated ecosystem where all internal and external parameters have to be just right, the moon has to be aligned with the seven gods of rock and every member has to give the same amount of sweat as every other member. Otherwise it’s a boring, soul destroying avenue into depression.

Obviously, I’m not talking about covers bands or wedding bands because they’re piss-pot easy to be in (just know what you’re playing, wear the correct tie and try to consume as much of the buffet as you can before the bride’s father scowls at you).

Being in an ambitious band is tricky.

Since my last post we have lost our old bassist (not dead, just quit and moved to Uxbridge – so probably dead) and gained a shiny new younger bassist that smells of dog.

When our previous bass player told us that he was leaving it felt like a major crossroads in the life of the band. He was one of the founding members and we had been a constant in each others lives for the best part of 5 years. At least 10 hours every week spent together rehearsing, writing, drinking, laughing and fighting all pushing the band as far forward as we could in order to make ourselves a better group. He felt like a friend, colleague and brother that was always going to be there, like that mole under your armpit.

That can only go on for so long though and this is just one of the major hurdles that every band will have to either jump over or crash into. People change and people move on with their lives. They get old and tired. They get married and have babies and move to Bristol to open an owl sanctuary. Or, they just realise that they’ve given all they can to the band and feel like their time has come to and end. This can be a positive or negative thing for the remaining members, it depends on how you choose to use it.

So, we played our last gig together in August 2016 at a small club in Soho, London and the next day we woke up bassist-less. Our management team were a little worried with the situation, we were a little worried with the situation and we needed to make some very big decisions very quickly about what we were going to do.

We could either:

  • Act like it never happened and try to limp on without a bassist in a live rock band(?!).
  • Get a new bassist as fast as possible, like-for-like.
  • Spend some time auditioning, interviewing and testing replacements in order to find a new member who was not only better musically but could also bring another dimension to the group.
  • Set fire to the studio and run around in our pants crying uncontrollably.

It may shock you to discover that we went for the penultimate option. After a 30 second meeting with the remaining members of the band over a pint and assuring each other that no-one else wanted to leave, no-one else felt like the band wasn’t important anymore and yes, we all wanted to crack on to achieve great things, we decided to start advertising for a new bass player.

A lot of old shite is invented when you read about how a band met. Great time is spent by people coming up with a band bio (or EPK) and writing something interesting about how “the spark of the band was ignited when the nephew of the keyboard player from Spandau Ballet was at a Scandinavian Metal Festival and took part in a midnight jam session with an african-dutch guitarist.” – It’s all crap. Most of the bands that I’ve ever been in or met on the circuit have got together either as friends or over the internet. And that is how we all met. Forums online for new band members where you can see pictures, hear demo samples and read about who these people are and what they want out of a band. It’s like Tinder but without the disappointment of meeting them and they’re fat.

So, auditions done. We chose our new bassist within 3 weeks and began the long, tiresome task of integrating him into the band and teaching him the songs. Except, it wasn’t long or tiresome. Quite the opposite.

Sometimes (most times) doing things you have to do turns out to be annoying and tedious. Going to work. Cleaning the bathroom. Shaving the cat, etc.. But we got really lucky with finding our new bass player – as any band in the world will tell you, finding a bassist that is musically good, has great on-stage presence and is also a committed nice guy is like finding Dodo flavoured unicorn sperm.

Now, over the past 3 months, we have grown again as a group and we are a different beast than we were. New material is pouring out of us like musical gravy, gigs are more intense and animated and there seems to be a more business-like approach to the control of the band.

Since he left, our previous bassist has recently attended a gig we performed at The Camden Assembly (formerly Barfly) and it was certainly weird, but also reassuring. After we played I spoke to him and said that seeing him in the crowd was like making love to a beautiful woman, while being watched from behind the curtains by your ex-wife. I asked him if he was stood there judging me while I played and noticing every little mistake that I made, he laughed and said that he didn’t notice any mistakes and that we were really good. Lying bastard!

I am confident now that we came to the best solution for everyone. Like those odd people who can still be friends with their ex-partners(?), everyone seems to be happy (for now) in a situation that could and should have spelled disaster. It is a very small percentage of bands that can lose a member, find an even better replacement and everyone concerned is still very much friends.

But then again, we are not like most bands.

C x

 

 

 

 

Sir Francis

I think I’m finally turning into my mother.

Don’t worry, I don’t mean in a sort of Norman-Bates-hair-in-curlers-doing-the-ironing-with-a-fag-hanging-out-of-my-mouth way.  I mean I’m finding myself more regularly coming to the same conclusions that she so rampantly voiced during her life. Especially when it comes to music.

Time is repetitive, we live our lives in circles and you unfortunately cannot help but become a cliché, just ask any hipster. So when I decided to do some research this week into modern social music I was completely un-shocked to find myself echoing the feelings of my late-great mum.

Everybody has a musical taste that their parents don’t appreciate. I am fairly certain that your parents, to some degree, wheeled out the old classics:

  • It’s just noise.
  • Wheres the tune?
  • I think the record’s got stuck.

During my youth (oh that crazy day) I used to listen to a lot of metal, mainly Metallica, Pantera and Sepultura. I can still remember the look on my old mum’s face when I played her the track “Refuse/Resist” from Sepultura’s seminal album “Chaos A.D.” It was priceless – imagine someone had popped a teaspoon of bull semen into the mouth of Blakey from “On The Buses”. After only 20 seconds she made me stop the song and proclaimed that the singer “must have belly ache” and the guitars sounded like “a bag of angry bees.”

At the time, I was perturbed by her opinions. Who was she to say that? Stupid old cow. She wouldn’t know good music if it rang the doorbell, introduced itself as good music and proceeded to sell her a complete set of luxury steak knives.

The problem is she was right. It was dreadful noise. But it was MY dreadful noise. It was exciting and rebellious and it made me want to jump around the lounge and eat the wallpaper.

When she was young, my mother used to listen to jazz and rock & roll. She used to sneak off to dances where she would meet boys and dance to the latest chart topper. And I’m certain that her parents thought that her taste in music was crap too. And their parents thought that their children’s music was crap and so on and so on all the way back to Eric the caveman, who’s dad thought that the sound Eric’s giraffe bone made when he bashed it against a fleeing hedgehog, was crap.

The only constant I can see throughout this timeline of hereditary musical taste is that, whether the children actually like the music or not, they use it to either effect their older generation or create a situation where they can expand their personality.

Piss off the parents or grow an attitude.

However, I feel slightly confused about the chosen offering of the latest generation. As I mentioned before, I’ve been doing some research into what the latest scene is and whom the preferred artist is of the mainstream youth. I found that the best way of discovering this is to sit on the top deck of one of London’s buses, or “scum wagons” as I prefer to know them, and listen to the whiny, tinny music being squeaked at deafening volume out of the mobile phones of various hooded scallywags.

One of the biggest artists at the moment is a chap called “Drake” who dresses like a sad clown and has a head like a well worn tennis ball. The genre that Drake is known for is “Grime” which is a bit like hip hop, a bit like R&B and a bit like a Viking rowing chant.

I’m a big hip hop & rap fan (been to see Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, De La Soul and RZA) so I like to think that I’m not completely out of touch with modern styles. Hip hop can get you fired up and jumping in a hot club as much as any rock or metal band. So, Mr Drake must have therefore found the perfect blend of musical nuance as he appears to command the amount of online presence that a small nation would be proud of. He must make his millions of adoring fans feel amazing and I can only dream at what his concerts must be like.

Except, (this is where I feel old) I just don’t get it. It’s terrible. He’s terrible. And the music isn’t crap, it’s just plain dull. These are his top listed songs on YouTube:

  • Hotline Bling – 763 Million Views
  • Energy – 117 Million Views
  • Work – 378 Million Views

Just those 3 songs have been viewed over 1.2 billion times. That’s the population of India.

So why are they so popular? Have a listen to them and let me know if you can find a reason, because I really can’t. Everything I’ve ever been taught about songwriting is a lie apparently because this guy breaks all the rules of making interesting music and gets paid in golden horse shit.

Drake’s music is banal, stock and as monotonous as lift music. His voice is that of a duck speaking into a kazoo and he seems to have been trained at the Punch & Judy voice academy.

What he sings about is boring and what he raps about is nearly 20 years out of date. Yes, well done, you’ve got lots of guns and shiny watches/cars/teeth. Oh, what a surprise, you like ladies with huge breasts/backsides and drinking Hennessy/Courvoisier brandy. Lordy lordy, apparently I am supposed to be shocked as he keeps saying nigger over and over – like anyone gives a shit about that paralysed, bleached and tormented word anymore. The true vile exposition and depravity of the word grows lost with every utterance drawn forth from his dull little pea-brained head.

The worst thing about his music, is that it conjures up absolutely nothing from today’s youth. If I had children, I wouldn’t be angry if they listened to Drake, I wouldn’t bang on the ceiling and tell them to turn that blasted row down. I would simply shake my head, open the windows and turn the volume up on some Metallica.

C x

 

 

Pickled Onion Head

So I bought the new Radiohead album, the worryingly Coldplay-esque titled “A Moon Shaped Pool”. I had heard the first single “Burn The Witch”, seen the inevitable genius video and read the glowing reviews about the number one album in the country. I downloaded it with fervour on Saturday, as I thought it would be the perfect accompaniment to the two hour drive myself and my girlfriend had to undertake in order to reach my sister’s house for the annual Eurovision-drink-a-thon (more on that later).

I love Radiohead. From my first listen of The Bends in 1995 to the unrelenting scratches that cover my CD copy of The King of Limbs in 2011 I have regarded them as the highest notch on my musical influence broom handle. As individuals they are not perfect studio musicians with unlimited technique. Thom Yorke always sounds like he’s half way through eating a pickled onion and Philip Selway’s drumming seems like he’s been dragged away from a very hot bath and is eager to return. An old friend and past band member of mine once said that you could play any music you wanted to a dog underwater, and it would think it was Radiohead.

All this aside, I think that they are possibly the most consistently astounding band ever to grace my eardrums (The Beatles don’t count because I don’t regard them as a band, just as flowers don’t regard the Sun as a big hot yellow wobbly thing in the sky). Radiohead continually evolve, reshaping their style and presence like a virus. Just as there is no cure for the common cold, so too there is no tiring of what Radiohead can produce. Plus, they always seem to prove me wrong.

Before we set out on our car journey I had a quick listen to the bulk of the tracks on the album, just to get a feel for the mood. The first song is the aforementioned first single, a perfect melding of intrigue and expectation with just a light dusting of danger. I imperceptibly salivated at what might come next. Four tracks later I felt slightly sick. Hollow. This can’t be right? Yes it was all very well crafted music with sweeping choral strings, but where were the SONGS?! I expected to hear something that would make me either want to dance, cry or become a Norwegian performance artist, but this was just, nothing. After 30 seconds of track six I noticed myself hit the skip button on my iPod. Surely not? I felt my physical form slump into a chair and by track nine I was dead inside.

My other half clicked her seatbelt into place and adjusted the drivers chair while I put the overnight bag in the boot and shut my jacket in the passenger door of our hire car. It was not until we were safely in the warm arms of the M25 that I decided to give the album a second chance. I tried to sync my iPhone to the cars Bluetooth music player and after a short ice age (which largely comprised of me being sweary at technology) the speakers were warbling with music.

Fuck. I was an idiot. They duped me, again. The album is perfect. Everything. Everything from the unashamed bass lines, right through the twitch-inducing groovy drums and all the way up the back of the ethereal guitar tones to the hypnotising vocals of old pickled onion face.

If my band recorded an album like that (we wouldn’t be able to) then we would have doors all over London slammed in our faces. Not hooky enough. Where’s the catchy chorus? We need more oooooooh’s so festival crowds off their heads on MDMA can sing along.

How do they do it? How do they get away with it? Mainly it’s because Radiohead have already done that, proved their talent and now they have tenure to record whatever the hell they want. So many artists get to that point and just release limp shadows of their previous sound (Mr Gallagher I’m looking at you) but not so with any of Radiohead’s last 3 albums. They just keep morphing into a group that moulds my jelly brain into a new shape.

With regards to the Eurovision party, there was Champagne, beer, brandy, various sickly fruit cocktails, pizza and more cocktails. My 5 year old niece was at the point of tears when the “pretty man” from Russia didn’t win and to be honest by the time the UK entry came on stage I was so drunk I couldn’t spell UK.

C x

Paradise Last

How long can you live in a dream? It’s an odd thought but one that has been surfacing in my mind for a while now. I’m not talking about actual dreams (I don’t really have those and when I do they are so boring – usually I’m walking down the street and then I buy some tea bags –  I try to forget them as soon as I can) I’m talking about perceived “happy-ever-after” dreams. The paradise places we would like to ultimately spend our days in with the people we love. Think about it now for a second… If you could leave everything and everyone behind and bugger off to your fantasy location FOREVER where would it be? And who would you go with? A desert island? A log cabin high in the mountains? Guildford?

The reason I ask is because the very thought of that scares me to death. For one very blatant reason, boredom.

I recently saw the Tom Cruise sci-fi film Oblivion (which is basically a documentary about how to blow a film budget on CGI and realise there’s no money left for costumes, script editing or more than 3 members of cast) and without wanting to spoil the ending for you (like you’ll care) Mr Cruise’s character winds up spending the rest of his life living in a wooden shack on the edge of a tranquil lake with his wife. Bliss. Or is it?

Forever. In a shack. With your wife.

Can you possibly put your hand on your heart and say that, even in your dream location with your dream companion, after 6 months you wouldn’t want to scoop out their  eyes with a shoehorn? Even golden boy Tom Cruise would surely be losing it in his shed by the lake. Shortly after the 700th game of shirtless monopoly he would be pouring the remains of his dandelion soup over his head and ramming the little dog and top hat into his ears.

Now, I love my girlfriend with all my heart, I adore the very air she breathes and when we go on holiday for a couple of weeks to explore far away lands I’m filled with unbridled excitement. 10-14 days just me and her enjoying each other’s company and discovering new places, new customs and new things about ourselves. However, if we were alone on a desert island I dare say that it wouldn’t be a huge amount of time before we both tied coconuts to our ankles and walked silently into the sea. My Knock-Knock jokes can only keep our morale up for so long and she’s already heard 60% of the top quality stuff.

“Knock-knock.”

*Sigh. “Who’s there?”

“Mr Parrot.”

“I’m going to kill myself.”

These paradise places that we dream of are really just easy ways for film makers to end their films. They end up together in paradise and walk off into the sunset, fade to black. The only way you can possibly stay sane is by keeping yourself occupied with all the stresses and strains that come with living in modern society, and then the time spent in nice places is all the more enjoyable. So, if you do find yourself at any point in the future at work thinking “this is actually quite enjoyable”, maybe poke yourself in the leg with a fork.

C x

 

 

Oxygen

For the vast majority of people, music plays a fundamental role in their lives. It is very rare that you will go through an entire day without listening to some form of music, either in a secondary or tertiary capacity. You wake up to the radio, listen to music in your car, through headphones as you sit on the train to work, sit at your desk listening to the office radio, in the bar after work, again on your commute home and finally bombarded with background music from the TV as you munch your second bowl of coco pops (girlfriend is at yoga).

I love music. I need it in my life as much as I need oxygen. But what I’ve realised recently is that I can’t enjoy it anymore. For the last ten years I’ve been in bands trying to carve out a career in music. Trying to get to the point where I don’t need to worry about my 9 to 5 job and can concentrate on doing what I love. This has made me very robotic and analytical when it comes to music.

I grew up in a family where there was a lot of different music being played around the house. My father is an accomplished jazz and blues guitarist so there were plenty of instruments lying about to tempt me. If he wasn’t playing Bix Beiderbecke standards on his banjo he was listening to Muddy Waters on the vinyl player. In contrast, from another room would come my older sister’s music, OMD, Pet Shop Boys, INXS. All my friends were into post-grunge rock and metal. So I was served up a veritable endless buffet of musical canapés and I found that I loved everything. I can still remember putting on Dark Side of the Moon, laying back and getting lost in the endless soundscapes that were being created. Same with the White Album, Master of Puppets, Stoosh, Axis Bold as Love and hundreds of other albums that blew me away.

Now though, I’ve lost that.

When I hear a new song I’m immediately analysing it. That snare is too loud. The vocals aren’t loud enough. Why is this 20 year old singing about the complexities of relationships? I seem to be unable to simply enjoy the sounds coming out of the speakers. Likewise with live music. At gigs I can remember going crazy, dancing like a demented squirrel to the cacophony of thunder being blasted at me. Now I just stand, transfixed at every movement of the frontman, every chord change of the guitarist, systematically identifying what they are doing and how I can steal it to make me better. Perhaps this has ruined me? Will I ever again be able to be lost in the aura of tones resonating from an amp or have the feeling that my heart will burst through my chest due to the bass?

My despair doesn’t last for long however, as that is exactly how I feel when I’m on stage with my band.

C x

Corned Beef Cake

There comes a moment when you are a performing musician that someone will inevitably ask you the dreaded question “so, who are your influences?”.

Now, this is a perfectly acceptable route of enquiry from the listener/fan/journalist because they want to get a better sense of who you are, what style of music you play and where your music is coming from. The answer(s) you give will help them understand more about why you arrived at the sound and style that you have chosen, strengthen the connection between them and you and also (maybe) enrich their musical portfolio of acts to seek out and enjoy. Consequently, this is also good for you as an artist. Many a friend and fan I have made from this question after several pints of Guinness and drunken recitals of lesser-known Metallica album tracks.

When you start out on the journey of beginning a new band, this is the main question that new members ask. Along with “do you have a car?” and “after how many pints will you fall over on stage?” The influences of the individual musicians will ultimately determine the collective sound of the band.

The problems of how you go about answering this question are huge and create a potential mine field of unwanted misconceptions. Personally, I grew up listening to a massive eclectic mix of traditional jazz, blues, rock, metal, pop and dance but if I tell an eagerly awaiting fan that my voice was sculpted by singing loudly along to Andy Bell from Erasure and my guitar playing is modelled on James Hetfield then the best response I can hope for is a raised eyebrow and confusion. Too many influences given is like too many ingredients – I love corned beef but wouldn’t put it in a Victoria Sponge Cake.

On the other hand, if you don’t have enough influences, you seem uneducated and narrow minded. Our ex-keyboard player was obsessed with Muse and made no excuses to the fact that he had no real interest in any other acts. It was therefore unsurprising that the only contributions he made to the band were space-warping synth parts and ultra-soprano dog whistle backing vocals. (Note: never trust anyone who doesn’t like The Beatles).

When I was 23 I was in a rock band in Brighton. We all loved exactly the same musicians and tried to create something interesting. We wanted to be soul/grunge. As if Neil Young and Marvin Gaye had joined Nirvana. So we wrote a ton of songs and spent a crap load of time and effort making it happen. After several months we were excited with the results and started gigging, keen to reap the praise for our obviously plentiful genius. After our first gig, an overly hairy middle aged biker approached me and said that he had enjoyed our show as it had reminded him of Nickleback. Other comparisons from subsequent gigs were: INXS, Pink Floyd(?) and Motörhead. So the lessons learned there were; it doesn’t always sound like it does in your head and soul/grunge doesn’t work.

The members of my current band have a wide range of tastes and musical backgrounds from metal to drum & bass. We are all from different parts of the world and are varying ages from 23 to 45. So what do we tell people when they ask what our influences are? How do we craft a suitable list that: A) reflects the music we play without being too obvious, B) intrigues the person asking into expanding their musical catalogue, and C) doesn’t make us look like incompetent twats?

Unfortunately, it is quite obvious that I have no idea. Just turn your amp up until you can’t hear them anymore.

C x

Pay To Play

Last Friday was a wake up call.

I had been invited to a gig at the Alley Cat in Denmark street, a traditional rock venue set amongst the famous guitar & music shops in a part of London that had played home to legendary musicians over the years such as Hendrix, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

The gig was a final goodbye show put on by  friends of ours called From The Ashes and it turned out to be a raucous, yet emotional  thunder clap of a show. Fitting for a band that put so much work into what they loved doing.

However, as I supped my overpriced Mexican beer and listened to the band, I couldn’t help but feel a slight mixture of anger and frustration. What was going on with live music right now?

There are good bands out there in London. There are a host of talented guys who want nothing more than to strap a guitar to themselves and go crazy at a packed-to-capacity venue. The main problem is that they don’t have the cash to do it and their friends/fans don’t have the cash to come and see them.

It goes like this:

“Guys! I got us a gig in Camden!”

“Great! What have we got to do?”

“Well, we have to set up a Facebook event and put up posters ourselves to promote the gig. Then we have to get 20 people to come who have to pay £7 to see us play at 10pm. There are cheap tickets online but they’re £6 (with a £1 booking fee). Beers are £5 and we don’t get any free. Also we have to get off work early to be there at 4pm for soundcheck and hire a van to get all our stuff there. And we’re not getting paid.”

Even a normal gig on a wet Wednesday night can cost a band £100+ and you’ll only bring 15 people who are your close friends, so don’t imagine you’ll make any new fans.

Pay-to-play gigs are even worse. Some promoters will book you in to play and then tell you that you have to buy 50 tickets at £10 each off them. It’s ok though, because you can sell them for whatever value you like and keep the profits. Who is going to pay over £10 to come and see an unknown, unsigned band? You might get 10 of your friends to actually buy a ticket if you’re lucky, but you would still be £400 down before even playing a note.

The problem is, the vast majority of promoters don’t actually promote anything. There are some that do love what they do and will work day and night to make a gig a success, but the majority that we have worked with just think that booking the bands and putting up a link on Facebook is enough. This isn’t right. And now it has spiralled into a black hole of a small number of live music venues just worried about turning a small profit. Relying on the bands to bring people instead of actually creating regular, reasonably priced live evenings.

There is still an audience out there, there are still the bands out there, but sadly neither have anywhere to go.

This is our idea: a regular monthly slot at a small live music venue in London. Under £3 to get in. Cheap drinks. Good bands that can regularly play and build up a fan base. Good crowds that don’t have to take out a mortgage to listen to new bands and go crazy.

Who wouldn’t want that?

C x

p.s. Just to remind you, go check out my sister’s blog. She’s a sci-fi author.

http://www.authorinanotherdimension.com

 

 

Riding The Feather

What is cool?

There appears to be a very thin line in modern society that divides what is determined as “cool” and what is twatty. Cool controls fashion, music, art and all other forms of media that, in turn, control how society moves forward. Cool is the determining factor as to whether a film, tv show, band or indeed pair of trousers garner a huge amount of admirers or is lost into the cold void of obscurity.

If that wasn’t scary enough, cool is constantly changing. Like a feather on the wind – or a woman’s mind – the very nature of cool is scattered from hill to valley on a daily basis.

In an ideal world I would like to simply concentrate on music. It would be heaven not to worry about anything else but writing and arranging songs that I can play  to a willing audience and have a great time. That’s pretty much what the band is about. But in a digitally connected world where competition is high and judgement is passed in a swift click, the modern band has a much better chance of being a success if they’re cool. This means talking the talk, walking the walk and creating something that people can attach to.

Successful bands all had periods of cool. Longer lasting bands are the embodiment of cool. And some artists realised that to be at the top forever, you have to constantly ride the feather of cool and change everything to be the coolest. Bowie, Madonna, The Beatles and Michael Jackson were trend setters, refreshing everything from the hair and clothes to the style of the live show. The Rolling Stones found a style that worked of timeless coolness and stuck to it. Even though Keith Richards is nearly 103 he still pulls on the skin tight jeans, covers his wrinkled wallet face in makeup and swigs from a JD bottle to be the character that people expect him to be on stage. Even if the whiskey is replaced with cold tea (it is) then why should we care? It’s all for the illusion of cool.

Bands like KISS mastered cool for a period of time but would that work now? Face paint, matching costumes and excessive fashion accessories are a gamble. If you time it perfectly they can add a “fuck you look at us” factor to your show or they can forever tarnish you as a tongue in cheek novelty band. Look at the rise and monumental plummet of The Darkness.

As a rock band in modern society, the decision we have to make now is – how do we project an air of coolness without looking like dicks or being so cliché and bland that nobody notices us? Leather jackets and jeans but with a cheeky feather boa? Sandals? Selfie sticks?

Maybe we just let the music do the work and wear whatever we fucking want? That’ll never work.

C xx

Being real

“So, what’s the next step?”

As the band sat in a coffee shop next to our management company’s offices we grilled our newly acquired mentor about the progression of our careers in the music biz. Dressed in a tshirt, jeans and casual suit jacket our manager leaned back in his chair with the air of a seasoned yoda ready to outline all his secrets to his (young?) apprentices. As eager as fox Cubs learning how to hunt we huddled together and didnt breathe so as to not miss a syllable that poured from his lips.

“Image.” He purred. “Now we have a marketable asset we need to create a marketable brand and story to go with it.”

The asset he referred to was the 3 track EP that we had spent the past 5 days recording. It sounded good. Totally different to our previous attempts to record ourselves in our own dark studio, these tracks were alive. Instead of being meticulously recorded with individual instruments to a rigid click track and equalised to near perfection, these recordings were done live. We simply hooked ourselves up to amps and played as a good live band should do. The sound was raw, energetic and encapsulated everything that this band is about – having a good time.

We had decided a year or so ago that the band should have a structured image. We have a strong name and logo and consequently the live image of the band should mirror it. So we had the idea of wearing suits on stage, not full on double breasted numbers but shirts, ties and the odd bowler hat. This worked well for the most part as people seemed to remember who we were and could easily spot us in photos. But, it never rang true with the sound of the band. People seemed to be confused, were we pretending to be part of the establishment or playing rock in order to rebel against it? I think we all felt that we needed something to link us together on stage but I’m not sure we cracked it.

“I don’t like the shirt & tie thing.” Announced our manager. And that’s what he’s for. At this point we don’t need fans & friends saying they like what we do, because if we go on stage dressed like chickens they’ll say they like it. We need someone to have an objective monetary position telling us where we’re going wrong.

“The music is live, the songs are real and you sound really passionate. But the look of the band isn’t real.”

We concluded that we are better off being real. Wearing clothes that are natural and projecting an image that doesn’t bullshit the audience. Because, the music doesn’t do that so why should we.

“I fucking love the songs though.”

Then he finished his coffee, got up and left.

 

C x