A joyously free day – lots of sleep and only a few emails and things to chase up. It’s really important in my experience to thank people for their help the day after a gig, and potentially set up another opportunity down the line. I email the IPO organiser David Bash to tell him how honoured we were to play and ask if we might play again next year, to which he is very receptive. I also text and contact all the guys I met on the day.
Other than that I just snoozed and listened to the radio until my wife got home from seeing her friends in Leicester. We had a big cooked dinner and I started to feel a bit more human again.
Excitingly, we’ve been asked to play as part of the International Pop Overthrow festival in Liverpool. This is quite frankly a big deal – it’s a much respected festival filled with people who genuinely love music. It’s hosted by a lovely American guy called David Bash who heard about us through a mutual friend. The “IPO” as it’s known, takes place in a number of countries around the world over different weeks throughout the summer. My band The Housekeeping Society has been asked to play at Eric’s Bar, and then at The Cavern today and by all accounts it will be packed.
Now two sets in a day are just about manageable, however, on the same day, also in Liverpool, I’ve been asked to do two sets with a Beach Boys covers band I play with called “Surf’s Up”. One of these sets is an acoustic set at The Lomax as part of the Beach Boys Britain Convention, and the other is at The Cavern as part of the IPO. So this means my day looks like this:
4pm Surf’s Up, The Lomax
7:30pm The Housekeeping Society, Eric’s Bar
9pm Surf’s Up, The Cavern
9:45pm The Housekeeping Society, The Cavern
Add to that that I’m gonna drive down before and I have to drive home straight after.
On the plus side I got a decent lie in and lazed about til around 12 after which I packed things into the car and hit the road. It’s about an hour and a half journey during which I’d made a playlist of all of the songs I was doing with the two bands to keep all the chords / words / incredibly complicated harmonies in the front of my head. I was driving on my own today as I needed to be there a few hours before the Housekeepers to report for my surf duties. The journey was frankly boring and for every mile closer to Liverpool I got I realised I would be driving back, knackered in the wee small hours of the morning. As I get into the centre of Liverpool – a city I’ve only ever been to twice, and both times on the train – I wonder how we functioned before we had satnav. The massive picture of a car that is supposed to be me snakes through a colourful labyrinth of roads and I find somewhere to park.
The Lomax is incredibly dark inside and I struggle to focus as I try and find the rest of the band. Surf’s Up is a band of huge Beach Boys geeks lead by my friend Sean Macreavey. I really like all the guys and particularly enjoy the diversity of characters. There’s not many bands with such an age range – there’s a lad who’s in his teens and one bloke’s retired. The bands also from all over the country with some guys travelling from Aberdeen out of the pure love of the music. Anyway I track them down and we do a bit of a thrown together set in which I do a mixture of piano and percussion. It goes down very well with a very appreciative audience.
Then on to Eric’s bar, and so begins a lot of standing about. The bands on before us are varied to say the least; from a set of mods to a band of Spaniards to a Swedish band so Vegas slick that I felt like I was on a cruise ship. Once the other band members arrive we are concerned about our quiet delicate little music fitting in in quite a boozy environment. As luck would have it the Champions League final starts just before we play and a lot of people leave, leaving only the hardcore music fans. Our set goes really well – fortunately quite a lot of people from the Beach Boys convention have come to have a look at what I do who seem genuinely interested. The sound guy is frankly brilliant – not something that can always be said and all goes to plan.
After the set I pack up and fly across the road to the Cavern, which, as the name suggests is down a lot of stairs. I know it’s not the same one as the Beatles made famous but it’s a close as I’m going to get so I’m pretty buzzed about playing. I meet surfs up backstage and find a joyously comfy couch to rest on for 20mins. We are performing songs from the Beach Boys album “Wild Honey” tonight and as such there are loads of us – I think maybe 11, vocals, saxophones, guitars – we are a soundman’s nightmare and frankly, he doesn’t cope very well. It takes ages to set up and the sound on stage when we finally start is awful. We do however make it through unscathed and the crowd are eating it up – I even did a song on the drums which went very well (I love playing the drums, but I’m not really very good to be honest).
Me and my fellow Housekeepers are again concerned at the nature of the audience – very boozy and the bands before (including Surf’s Up) have been very loud. As we are setting up however we are again helped by the football; the game had gone to penalties, the last of which was scored before we played, which meant that a lot of people crowding around a big screen in the corner of the venue left. This left about 150 people I reckon who were pretty receptive to what we were doing. The sound onstage was amazingly bad and one song nearly killed us. I hate having to talk to a sound guy when onstage but I had no choice on this occasion. All told though the set went pretty well and the audience applauded with surprising verve after each tune.
By now it’s around 11pm and I am hugely knackered. I grab all my stuff and one of my Beach Boys pals Laurence and he helps me carry my piano back to the car through the hen nights and stag dos currently rubbing up against each other in the centre of town. I bid my farewells, set the satnav and hit the road.
The journey back is punishing as I’m really tired but the Bob Harris show saves me. It does give me time to ruminate on the point of these things… it’s very difficult to enjoy doing days like this but I do enjoy having done them. This makes me wonder about my sanity briefly but overall I’ve had a day I will always remember, played four sets to complete strangers and seen some friends. I get home around 1:30am and am instantly hit by the adrenalin that accompanies the joy of getting home safe and sound. It does however, not take me very long to get off to sleep zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….
The morning starts very well. Slept like a log and as my alarm goes of i am slowly greeted with the realisation that I don’t have to go to my ‘proper job’ today. Breakfast in bed for me and the mrs is followed by dozing and listening to the radio for a bit.
I do some computer faffing (including uploading yesterday’s blog) and follow up on some exciting news. One of the tracks from the new album is going to feature on the covermount cd of next months Word Magazine. Not only is this exciting because it is a respected national music magazine, but also one I actually read. I tweet and Facebook this to our colossal fan base (!?) and well wishers comment, rt and ‘like’ as is customary these days. Difficult to know how I feel about it - obviously it’s brilliant but I’ll be very interested to know what this amounts to in terms of sales for the record. I’m really hopeful that we’ll get some fans and at the very least it’ll give us a great pull quote for press releases so my fingers are firmly crossed as are the bands.
Get a call from a journalist from the Yorkshire evening post who is writing a piece to go in Mondays edition. Her questions could all be paraphrased as “why is Yorkshire the best?”, this coupled with a hilarious Monkeesesque photo-shoot with their photographer last week makes me shudder at how we will be perceived by their readership. Still all publicity is good and it’s great that a massive paper like this is writing anything about us at all.
Manage to have a quick listen to last nights radio session to check we don’t sound like idiots - we do, but pleasant idiots and the music sounds surprisingly good for a couple of mics in a radio studio.
Grab a sandwich and hit the road to the train station (again) with my ukulele (again). On the way I stop off at the shop to grab a copy of the Wakefield express - there is apparently going to be a feature on us today. I find it, despite being roughly the size of a postage stamp, and am intrigued by the headline “Beach Boys on a Bridge” is this a pun? I’m baffled but all is well - plugs our gig in Wakey on Monday.
I take to the train and start going over my lyrics again. Today I am meeting the lads in Leeds as we’re driving down to Barton marina to do an hours acoustic set on the book barge. The book barge as the name suggests is a canal boat that sells books. We played on here last year when it was moored in Leeds and had an awesome time. As a venue it has a capacity of around 20 but it’s a really good laugh and we’ll get some goodwill and some nice photos. It’s one of those businesses that makes me feel like we aren’t all as screwed as most of the newspapers would have us believe; thoughtful, intelligent, run with care by a devoted owner who genuinely cares about her custom.
Health wise, I feel very good. When I have important gigs, never mind this many, I am always more petrified of getting a cold or a throat infection than I am about anything musical. I’m trying to look after myself as best as possible, but tomorrows IPO festival (more on that tomorrow) might just kill me. Imagine my joy therefore at getting into Ivan’s car to discover that Spence has a stinking cold and i will be locked into a metal box with him for the next 2 hours. I hope this echnacia is doing what it says on the tin.
The journey is fun and we chat about things and write down a possible setlist - Georgia is accompanying us once more as the owner of the boat is a friend of hers. bangers and mash in the nearby pub and we’re ready to play. pleasingly the boat is quite full (not difficult) and there are about 20 people all told. the set goes really well and spence manages to cope well despite his running nose and sore throat. At this point, making music together is second nature and the songs are frankly the least of our worries - it’s the logistics that are more complex.
There’s a great atmosphere on the boat, helped by my father in law and a couple of his friends having come to watch along with an old frien of my wife and I’s who is always a good laugh. after the gig we sell around 20 CDs which more than covers the petrol down there and make some good friends and have a good time.
In amongst the marketing its really important to us that we don’t just generate sales, but that we generate good will amongst the people we work with - genuinely feel like we’ve made some friends today who’ll enjoy the album more because they’ve experienced it in a fun and interesting way. afterwards the entire band and audience congregate in the pub (diet coke for me as alchohol will weaken my cold defences) for chats and giggles. Ivans had a couple of pints so Georgia is designated driver.
The journey home is wet and long, but good humoured as we listen to some Beach Boys and discuss our musical passions. good to be amongst friends on a day like this, as i sit in bed finishing writing this it feels its been a good worthwhile day.
Today’s been the first in a series of days organized to promote my bands new album. We’re called the housekeeping society and we’ve just released a record called Postcards about the history of the British coastline.
When you’re an unsigned band (as we are) it’s pretty tricky getting a new product out into the world as usually record labels and press work hand in glove and serve each other. There are however a few ways of sharing your music with a receptive audience. A lot is blathered on about these days regarding how much easier it is to get a record made and on iTunes (the biggest record shop in the world). Here’s the problem; how do you get heard above everything else and not become just white noise?
The album we’ve made has a pretty unique selling point, what with it being a concept album that uses found sounds and loops - these things differentiate it from piles of moaning Indy bands writing songs about how thier parents don’t understand them. A decent press release, created in our case by ourselves, with a little polish from a friend of our whose been a journalist for years, has lead us to a few outlets already; we’ve had a two page spread in the Yorkshire post, a feature in the Wakefield express (that lands tomorrow) and something in the Yorkshire evening post (probably Saturday). As well as this we’ve had some reviews from a lovely Bradford based arts magazine called HowDo (editted by a friend our percussist, and written by a friend of mine), an online site we trust called whispering and hollering (done by our friend Sam saunders) and a bit in r2 magazine as well. All of the reviews have been very favorable and hopefully more will follow.
Today though marks the begining of the more agressive end of the marketing campaign and we are doing 7 appearances in 9 days. This is a tough ask for a three piece band who all work full time. Tonight we’ve appeared on BBC radio Leeds with a long time supporter Alan Raw.
I got home from my day job (music lecturer for those who don’t know) at 5 knackered and had 20 minutes to relax and have some crumpets before I got the train into Leeds. I love the train, it’s a 25 minute journey, which gave me time to go through my lyrics and do some internal rehearsal (listening and writing down chords) in readiness for a gig I’m doing Saturday with a beach boys covers band. I walked through Leeds with my ukulele in tow and remembered taking the same journey many many times in my mid 20’s doing 100’s of solo gigs and open mics etc to virtually no one - that said, they were good days and I’d be lost without the experience I gained back then. I pass alot if bars that I’ve played in, most of which have changed thier name but look the same, even the staff and clientele look the same but I’m sure they must be different folk. All of this serves to make me feel melancholy and frankly, older - I decide to re title this feeling as ‘wiser’ and shuffle on. It’s chillier than a usual May evening but not so bad as I can’t dawdle a bit and listen to the sounds of a city as it changes between the work shift and the drunks.
I arrived at BBC Leeds and met with my bandmate Ivan and his wife Georgia (who was along as roadie specifically to hold my coat) and before long the third and final member of the band Spence arrived. We were particularlly excited to bump into most of the ‘stars’ of the Calendar news team on the way in (spence was notably starstruck). We’ve done shows with Alan before and he is a genuinely interesting and unique presence in the the music industry - some one that actually takes a real interest in a wide variety of music and promotes it on his two shows (one on BBC Leeds, and one on BBC Hull). The guys he works with are always warm and welcoming and they give us a little room to go in to run through the songs. We rehearse (and sound pretty good) and talk rubbish for a while - the atmosphere between us is really good - something that will be tested to breaking point over the next week and a half. band relationships are weird - they’re closer to families then friends to be honest, we all have to trust and rely on each other and be happy in each others company without hanging out being too much effort. Spence and I for example went to a gig last weekend and had a one hour train journey where we barley spoke - he read the paper, i listened to Miles Davis. This is not an awkward silence though; deeper friendships, like the ones you need if you’re going to have long term musical partnerships, don’t rely on the sirens and alarm bells that sound when you’re meeting a mate for a pint. Truthfully we all get on really well and are similar enough to have stuff in common and different enough to not cancel each other out. so many bands think that you have to find people on your ‘wavelength’ and other such empty platitudes, when in fact its fusion of different ideas that makes most art have any kind of spark.
The session went really well, Alan was interested, i remembered all my lyrics and no one swore. its hard to say what effect it has on the public; someone tweeted in to say they really enjoyed it and a couple of long term fans texted to say they were tuning in, but whether it leads to sales is hard to work out. marketing is weird - it is virtually impossible to know what has worked and what hasn’t. People will of course get the opportunity to listen again on iplayer, which i would think most people will do while sat at their desks at work. Alan gave us a few suggestions of festivals we should contact (he seems to know everyone) and we said our farewells. Ivan and George went to see the Avengers and Spence headed home.
I walked back through the streets of Leeds feeling briefly triumphant until some rugby lads shouted ‘Thats a small guitar’ in reference to my uke - i have heard this joke many times. The same bars have a different atmosphere now and the odd square of just-cut damp grass is starting to smell like spring. i arrive at the station one minute late to catch my train and resign myself to getting the next one, giving me 30 minutes to have some McDonalds chips and an orange juice and send some texts, while simultaneously writing the words you’re now reading (typed on my phone, hence the myriad of spelling errors I imagine). The train journey is pleasant and i listen again to the songs for Beach Boys set. Home by 10pm and off to bed to rest before tomorrows adventures…
This is a video about some strings arranging/recording I’ve been doing for the new Housekeeping Society album. Lizzie Hussey played violin and viola and Gary Chilton engineered. You can listen to a particularly pleasing an excerpt below. This will eventually end up in the track “The Coast is Clear”
I have an incredibly talented friend by the name of Joe Simpson. He is frustratingly gifted, funny and young (in fact his only flaw is his refusal to drink lager from bottles, preferring instead some namby pamby glass). He has a new exhibition down in that there London in which he has done paintings of lots of different musicians including Brandon Flowers, Mark Ronson, Paloma Faith, Maxi Jazz, David Gray and Jamie Cullum.
Anyway he is a brilliantpainter and visual artist who I have had the pleasure of working with a couple of times. Not only did he do all the photography for my second album “Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time”, but he also invited me to be part of his amazing “Almost There” project. For this he did a series of 12 paintings that had the loose story of a road movie, he gave each painting to a different musician or band for them to create an original song. I was one of these artists along with the likes of Nizlopi and The Voluntary Butler Scheme.
Above you can see the painting he gave to me. As you can see it’s amazing. he also gave me some source tracks as inspiration, most notably “Over The Hill” by John Martyn - which is a great track. I came up with the song “Dotted Line” which is also the opening track from my third album “Someone Else’s Home”.
Above is a vid of me and the lads doing a performance of it. The project was one of my favourite songwriting experiences and, in truth, was the first step that lead to the work I’m now doing with The Housekeeping Society - this was one of the first times where I was challenged to write a song outside my own experiences - a theme that has continued with our first album “This Way to Power”, and is progressing on to it’s seaside based follow up.
Anyway, he’s generally great so London based life forms should go and support his new exhibition.
This is a demo of a song we’ve written for the new Housekeeping Society record. Musically it’s based on a soundscape that we created that keeps three notes at the top throughout (C, G and C) so I tried to come up with a set of chords that were intresting, but still kept a C and G in - this lead me to some pretty sexy dense chords. The main riff and vers is;
// C - Gsus4 - / Abmaj7 - Dm7b5 - //
Then in the chorus we modulate to the key of C minor (meaning I can change the emotion whilst still keeping C and G at the heart of the key centre);
I’m really pleased with the way the major comes back in after the chorus - sounds lovely.
Lyrically the song is written from the point of view of a suitcase, who hopes every day, that he will once more be put into use by his owner. I tried to play with the idea that you think it’s about a romantic relationship between a man and his under appreciated mistress right up until the chorus when the reveal happens. Spence suggested the image od still being “filled with last year’s sand” which i really liked and knew i’d have to fit in somewhere.
Over the next few weeks my wife and I are heading off on a trip around Scotland. We’re gonna take in Glasgow, Mull and Skye as well as a few other places, and I’m very excited. We’re doing it all by public transport so there’ll be plenty of long train journeys to enjoy the scenery and listen to a lot of music.
So with that in mind, here’s a playlist I’ve put together for the trip featuring exclusively Scottish performers. Excitingly, I don’t know some of the songs very well at all as they have been suggested by people on Twitter, but hopefully by the time I get back I will know them inside and out. I always like to make a playlist when I have a long journey, or a trip away. If all goes to plan then those songs will forever be entwined with good memories of the places I have been or experiences I have enjoyed – even now I can’t listen to “Firecracker” by Ryan Adams without being reminded of a four hour car journey from one end on Cambodia to the other, and Oscar Peterson playing Cole Porter’s “Every time We Say Goodbye” will always remind me of a beautifully hung over morning in a sun soaked morning, lazing in Central Park, New York.
So here’s the playlist; don’t be too concerned with the order as I’ll be ‘shuffling’ anyway. Also, I make no apology for the repeat use of a few Scottish artists that I’ve always loved, among them The Trashcan Sinatras (“Freetime” was the first on the list as the lyrics to this song have always made me want to visit Scotland in the first place; The hills of Glen Rosa, stand in our future…). Also, Del Amitri and their front man Justin Currie, whose album “What is Love for?” is just incredible. And no Scottish playlist (or any playlist for that matter) would be complete without a word from the bizarre but oddly moving Ivor Cutler.
You can listen to virtually the entire playlist on Spotify here; Scotland trip
1.Freetime – The Trashcan Sinatras
2.Swim Until You Can’t See Land – Frightened Rabbit
3.Many Legged Boatman – Appendix Out
4.Only Love – Justin Currie
5.Say What You Want – Texas (not very cool I know but I adore the guitar playing in the middle 8)
6.Pull The Wires From The Walls – The Delgados
7.Barabadabada – Ivor Cutler
8.Now You’re Taken – Mogwai
9.Patience of Angels – Eddie Reader
10.I Need Direction – Teenage Fanclub
11.Wild Mountainside – The Trashcan Sinatras (this is an amazing song, after a long days travel this one will be ideal when accompanied by some expensive whiskey)
12.Driftwood – Travis (not a big fan of the band but have always liked this tune)
13.Oblivious – Aztec Camera
14.Your Swaying Arms – Deacon Blue
15.Your Smile Stops The Hands Of Time – Roddy Frame
16.Whiskey Remorse – Del Amitri
17.Ae Fond Kiss – Eddie Reader
18.There’s a Touch – The Proclaimers
19.Somewhere In My Heart – Aztec Camera
20.Go And Sit Upon The Grass – Ivor Cutler
21.Oranges And Apples – The Trashcan Sinatras
22.Riddle Me This – Alasdair Roberts
23.Drowned On Dry Land – Del Amitri
24.Here Come The Ocean – Roddy Frame
25.Cody – Mogwai
Here is a little taste of some Trashcan Sinatras to enjoy
Recently, me and Gary Chilton (The engineer and mixer on the last Housekeeping Society record) went and recorded some grand piano and double bass to use in three tracks for our upcoming record.
We had to experiment with mics do get the results we wanted
and we had to be pretty creative on the double bass mics…
As I talk about in the vid there’s a lot of difference between recording real piano and MIDI piano. One difference is that recording with MIDI allows me to go in after the take and edit things in case I’ve made any mistakes (which almost never happens, honest…), or if we choose to change some elements, like changing octaves in different sections if the arrangement calls for it.
The sound though is the main difference as this clip demonstrates. The first part is the recording me and Gary did with the acoustic piano and then it swaps to the Midi piano halfway through. Please note the wealth of overtones and room noise that disappears when it swaps over to the MIDI piano.
The double bass was an interesting instrument to use. It’s a fretless instrument (meaning there’s no delineation between the semitones on the fret board) which means that the tuning is a bit more loose. Again, this is the kind of thing you would try and get rid of if you were using a MIDI instrument or even a standard electric fretted bass, but in the right context these little deviations in pitch can add a real warmth and ‘wonkiness’ to the overall feel. Here’s a little example of the bass part from a recording that Gary and I worked on in the same session.
Here is a video of some recording/experimentation I’ve been doing with a grand piano and some digital effects. I’m hoping this stuff will work in the mix of a track The Housekeeping Society and I are currently working on. On our last album “This Way To Power” we used a lot of effected glockenspiel, and I thought it would be interesting to try to treat an acoustic piano in the same way.
You can listen to an early mix of the sound effects here