Mustang Sally? No thanks.

Regular readers of my blog will know that a few years ago my friend Rich and I gave up playing in covers bands to concentrate on making the music we wanted to hear/play/write.

It's been going well. We found a fabulous drummer and then an equally wonderful singer. We've written songs we're proud of that are both catchy and complex. We have put our hearts into this.

As this band plays original music, rather than covers this is making getting gigs quite hard. Even for support slots. One venue has, in its conditions... "Do you play songs that everyone likes? We have a party crowd that enjoy a mix of classic indie, rock, funk & soul covers from 70’s to current day to dance to. (We’re happy for bands play up to 4 songs of their own material)"

Do we play songs everyone likes? Maybe. But we won't know if we can't play at your venue. Sigh.

We could expand our list of covers, which would be easy given our history, but that would be missing the point. On the bright side we are booked back into the studio to record more of the songs you probably won't hear in certain venues.


When marnie was there

A short while ago I picked up a book for my daughter. I was drawn to it because it was to be made into the (possibly last) Studio Ghibli film and I have been a fan of their films for a long time. The film still hasn’t made it to the UK yet – we would have to pay a lot of money to get the un-dubbed Japanese version of the DVD – but the story appealed.

Freya is reading a lot at the moment. She is taking in all kinds of genres and is open to and surprised by story forms that I might have become a little jaded by. She hasn’t read Tom’s Midnight Garden yet and so, I thought, might be pleasantly surprised by how a story like that pans out.

So I bought the book and Freya wasn’t interested in it. She had too many other, more tempting books available and it turned out that I had misjudged her reading age slightly. Not wanting the book to gather dust I read it myself.

When Marnie was there was written in the 1960s and describes a world which is beginning a process of accelerated change. The references to people watching telly make it sound like pastime that had only recently been a novelty. Almost no one makes a phone call. The rhythm of the day is governed by the light and the tides.

The subject matter of the book is a girl who doesn’t quite fit in but who, maybe with a tiny bit of magic, finds a way to be happy. OK, I’m not a girl, but this appealed greatly to me. I loved being in this world. Because I had read Tom’s Midnight Garden I could see what was coming. Or at least I thought I could. But the dynamics of the story still swept me along and I even gasped with surprise in one of the last chapters. This was reading for pleasure and I look forward to seeing what Studio Ghibli make of it. More importantly, I can’t wait to see the look on my daughter’s face when she makes this discovery for the first time for herself.


Holiday books

To read...


I am now on holiday. This means I will be stressing about dayjob related things without being able to do anything about it. But wait, there is an up side. Two weeks with my family, a stack of books to read and a chance to 'relax'. Let's see how that goes.



Some years ago I wrote a blog post about playing fretless. You can find it here. Recently, with New Accelerator I’ve been playing more fretless than ever, and exploring what’s possible on the instrument. That’s what’s possible for me, not what’s possible generally. I’m not that good.

I passing comment in a recent rehearsal had be trying out an octaver on certain parts of a song. If you don’t know what I’m talking about an octaver (usually) creates a note an octave below the one you’re playing. On the higher notes of a bass it creates a really pleasing, fat down.

While mid song, octaver on, a name popped into my head. Keith Wilson. He was the bass player in a version of the seminal English band, Squeeze. Keith played a fretless Fender Jazz and produced a wonderful, lyrical growling tone from his instrument. I’d seen him in concert with Squeeze and playing in a trio with Jools Hollland and Gilson Lavis. I loved his tone and the way he played but, after that version of Squeeze broke up I never heard him again. Keith used to say, “every note is torn from me,” and I tried to put a bit of his style into my playing last night.


Auto correct

About six months ago I upgraded the software on my mobile and embraced the world of (supposedly intelligent) auto correct. It did help with my spelling mistakes but at a cost. Whenever I wrote a word it thought was wrong I would have to fight the software to get my own way.

Recently I found myself giving in and letting it have its way, at the expense of my original meaning.

That was the point where I deleted the software, turned off autocorrect and felt a lot happier.

Spelling is important, but not that important. Meaning is key.


Erase, reboot, destroy

I have been re-reading William Gibson's 'The Peripheral' and marvelling at the man's imagine. Not that the idea of a future where a mysterious server can connect people to a possible past time so that people from 60 years apart can interact using peripheral devices. No, it's more that Gibson can imagine a future where computers can do anything without slowing down or breaking.

I am having laptop issues. About the only satisfying interaction I've had with it this week is managing to click the button that started the seven level erasing of the hard drive before it goes to the repairers. that's not paranoia, just an expression of control that isn't there.

Now I'm wondering if the laptop hasn't become a metaphor.


It's all abuot the oud

My musical experiments with the oud have taken another step. Possibly a step forwards. After years of listening to and enjoying oud playing I decided to give it a go, starting with a beautiful, handmade traditional instrument but giving up because the practicalities were driving me mad. The curved back (its, not mine), the violin style tuning pegs and the tuning of eleven strings on an instrument that was never in tune when it came out of its case, put me off.

So, I got a modern oud. Mine is made by Godin and it has a flat back, guitar style tuners and a tendency to stay in tune from one day to the next. It’s not for purists, but I love it.

The next issue was tuning. I had started with a Turkish classical tuning which didn’t quite hit the spot. Then I tried tuning it in fourths. This helped as I knew where all the notes were, but failed because it made the oud sound like a stupid, badly intonated guitar. I found the tuning that Anouar Brahem uses. I love his playing, but his tuning combined with my playing style didn’t work either. Then I spotted guitar maestro David Torn playing an oud and, through the wonders of Facebook, I wrote and asked what tuning he used. David took the time to explain and the moment I began to play I felt I’d arrived.

The penultimate part of the puzzle was playing technique. I’m still working on that but seem to have found a happy medium between traditional and not-even-slightly traditional.

Finally, I needed to play. I called up my guitarist friend Russ and we began to jam, coming up with some piece for acoustic guitar and oud in which we stayed out of each other’s frequencies as much as possible. We’re now on our seventh piece, each one being different in style and each one impossibly hard to classify easily. What began as Arabic Bluegrass seems to have settled into its own genre. What’s fascinating (maybe only to me) is the way that guitar and oud playing together sometimes touch on the territory of the lute, which is the instrument that came from the oud and led to the guitar.

What is satisfying is that my confidence is growing and I’m exploring an acoustic instrument that doesn’t primarily work in an accompanying role. The only problem is trying to find the time to squeeze this in with the fun I’m having as a bass player and the progress I’m trying to make on the touch guitar.