Modern Music Is Rubbish (not)

Oh no it’s not.

As Matt Stevens has already pointed out, this argument could have been used at almost any point in pop’s history. Yes, there is a load of tat in the charts, but there always has been.

Some of us, as regular readers will know, make music that has been put together with effort and love for the craft. Listen to the incredible diversity of music available to you and tell me it’s too formulaic. Even in my little music appreciation corner I’ve heard fabulous, electric violin playing in the modern classical tradition, alternative pop with brains and feeling, jazz with so much life it could resuscitate a corpse and the undefinable music of Centrozoon who surprise and delight with every release.

And that’s just what I’ve heard in the last ten days.

If you think modern music is rubbish you might want to check and see if you’re using expressions like “in my day”. Because, guess what? Your day is not over.


The Wall

Twenty five years ago today I flew to Berlin with some friends. We spent the day in the city, chipping away at the wall, shaking hands with the east German border guards and sitting in cafes listening to people worry about their jobs once the folk from the east flooded in.

The atmosphere was incredible and we knew we were in the middle of an historic moment. The hordes of fellow wall-woodpeckers may look now like opportunist tourists, and maybe we were. But at the time we felt like part of something more important. There was an almost tangible sense of two groups who should never have been separated, coming back into each other’s lives.

I kept a tiny piece of the wall as a reminder of that day and that time. It is a powerful reminder of what is possible.


A report from the bass player

When I was a lot younger I had at least two ideas about what the fun part of ‘being in a band’ might mean. Firstly, I thought it was all about the song as everyone hears it. The Beatles song I heard on the radio ‘was’ the Beatles and all I understood about bands meant creating those few minutes of magical stuff that played on the radio. The second thing was that being in band would mean I knew what the song was about and what all the words were.

Not long after I joined my first band it became evident that nobody really knew what the songs were about. As for the lyrics, there were times when even the singer didn’t know what the words were.

But the real revelation, something that has been highlighted for me recently, is that the real magic about being in a band is the period you spend creating the music. It’s great to hear the finished tune belting out of your car’s stereo but by the time that’s happening you’re already thinking about the next piece.

Back in the world of New Accelerator we’re writing and arranging our next batch of songs. Previously we had four almost complete songs and our newly arrived singer wrote melodies and lyrics to complete them. This time all four of us are part of the process. That’s four creative people with opinions and ideas. Luckily this is another band with no ego and so no amount of shouting or posturing is likely to get a bad idea through. Not that there is any shouting or posturing.

As I’ve already mentioned here, I’ve brought a different instrument in for these new songs. The  previous four featured fretless bass (traditionally tuned in fourths); these all have touch guitar (tuned in fifths).

Meanwhile our guitarist is designing and building his own guitar amps, our drummer is moving the beats around and pushing his own boundaries and our singer is stretching herself. She’s written a rare lyric that would pass the Bechdel test (there should be more of these coming) and is currently working words around a 7/4 verse.

We are having fun.


New Accelerator

New Accelerator has a complicated history. The simple version is that my talented guitarist friend Richard and I wanted to start a new band playing original music in a style that we could enjoy working in. We soon met  Bobby, who brought a fresh approach to the drums and overall arrangement of the tunes. For months the band rehearsed and wrote as a trio while looking for the missing instrument that would add an extra sense of melody. The missing instrument turned out to be the voice of our great friend Emma Jones. Once Emma was onboard the band found a sense of direction and we were ready to go.

For these recordings the band are joined by the extremely talented keyboardist, Colin Henney.


Neil Cowley Trio at the Barbican

In the last post I wrote about a day in London. That day’s highlight was a gig at the Barbican by the Neil Cowley Trio.

I first heard about the trio when my friend Colin Price sent me a link to this video.

I immediately bought the Face of Mount Molehill album and was hooked. Not only did I love the music but my whole family did too. This is a very rare occurance.

The trio are interesting because, although they look and sometimes sound like a jazz trio, they seem to upset people because they are not jazz enough. There aren’t tons of solos for a start. Trying to explain why they do or don’t fit into a certain category is a complete waste of time. The thing to do is shut up and listen to the music with an open mind. Let’s make a flow chart: do you like the music? Yes – great. No – oh well.

Anyway, the Barbican gig was an important one for the band and you could feel this from the moment they came out on stage. The energy, nervous or otherwise, was palpable. There was so much emotion generated in some pieces my wife almost had to get out of the room. I too felt an overwhelming vibe running through the audience and the reactions (at least two standing ovations) showed this. It easily makes it to my favourite gigs of all time list.

Neil Cowley showed a mastery of the piano and pulled melodies, dynamics and rhythms which demonstrate just how versatile this instrument is. Rex Horan played the double bass and made it sing. Evan Jenkins played the straight ahead parts and complex rhythmic changes with a gleeful ease. At the end of the concert everyone seemed to be smiling, there was so much joy in the room.

I went to see the trio again at their Oxford gig the following week and, despite their wonderful playing, I was reminded how Oxford audiences can seem so restrained compared to, well, almost anywhere else.

My son, at four years old, really loves this band and keeps asking when he can go and see them. Hopefully it won’t be too long.


A day in London

I love London. I spent a large part of my childhood with my dad, being shown the famous and not so famous corners of the city which he was born and grew up in. When I got older I continued visiting and exploring. It’s not so easy to go as often as I’d like now but we went up for my daughter’s birthday and, last Friday, I got back there for a gig.

My wife and I rarely have any time on our own so this was a great opportunity to get into town and enjoy ourselves. Thanks to our incredibly supportive network of friends we knew the children were in safe hands and took an early train to Paddington. From there we took the tube to Oxford Circus and walked down Regent Street, stopping for lunch at the excellent Tidbits on Hadden Street. We then walked through Piccadilly and Leicester Square to the National Portrait Gallery. After a few hours gazing at paintings and photographs we moved on up Charing Cross Road with a quick stop on Denmark Street where we made an exciting decision I’ll reveal later. Denmark Street is lined with musical instrument shops, so that should be a clue.

We stopped for a snack then walked up to the British Museum, which was a favourite stop of mine as a child. I was fascinated by the everyday items from ancient times: cups, plates, pots and vases. I loved the idea of these ordinary things being used by someone long forgotten. They seemed to be a gateway back to times that only existed in books and pictures. It was one thing to see an illustration of an ancient Roman family enjoying meal, something else to see the actual things they ate off of.

The other reason I loved the British Museum as a child was because it was close to a shop called Davenports, which sold professional magic tricks and apparatus. It was a fascinating place to hang out in and my pocket money could usually stretch to a small trick for me to learn over the following weeks.

The gig we went to see deserves a post of its own.


More Warr

I wrote a few days ago about playing the Warr Guitar again. After the last band rehearsal I decided to keep the instrument for one or two songs but not to bring it to this week's rehearsal. Keep it simple, I thought. Stick with what you know (the regular bass guitar) while you're learning new songs.

So when I left home I picked up the bass in its bag and looked forward to a night on a completely familiar instrument.

But no. When I opened the bag I found the Warr Guitar and was forced to play everything on it. Of course, having no option but to rethink my parts I had some panicky moments but also had a ton of fun. My kind bandmates also seemed to enjoy the change.
Teaser No. 2 - work in progress from the band New Accelerator from Will Cruttenden on Vimeo.