One of the advantages of being a spare time singer songwriter who's going nowhere, is that come the end of the year, I can just cut n paste the previous year's article, make a few changes here and there, but pretty much "same old same old". So... what happened in 2014? What were the lowlights? (I'll get them out of the way first). What new original songs did I write? What new covers did I attempt? What collaborations did I start with who? What new skills did I start learning? Who cares? Along with video/song links, here is a year long review of someone who "likes to strum" in some of his spare time...
(Last year I wrote something similar, including the 30 new acoustic covers I attempted in 2013, as well as a similar article the year before including my Top 80 acoustic covers I performed in 2012, some of which I've probably performed this year too, but I'll focus on what's new this year.)
1. BBC Christmas Top Of The Pops
Like Mr Mulligan from Roehampton, I continue to think that the BBC is a load of old crap (80s Not The Nine O'Clock News Points Of View Sketch). Amongst other things I think the BBC has pretty much turned mainstream music into the monster that it is today, from shutting down the weekly Top Of The Pops show, from gradually turning Radio 1 from a mainstream all-ages station to a niche ageist station, from disproportionately favouring just a few artists instead of spreading it around more, from playing lip service to new music with BBC Introducing, from letting X Factor in to replace Top Of The Pops, to trying to imitate X Factor with The Voice (BTW here's a video of me performing my song Talent Shows in 2014, an anti-X-Factor song).
For me, the BBC's Christmas Top Of The Pops summed up their failures completely, when for the show's grand finale they played a video of the X-Factor winner's number 1 song, a video which was basically a big advert for the X Factor. Hold on BBC, you're not supposed to show adverts. If the Number 1 artist couldn't be arsed to turn up and play his song live, and that artist didn't have a music video that wasn't a blatant advert for something other than the artist or song, then get some dance troupe like Pans People to dance to the song! If anybody wants further proof of how the BBC has failed Britain's music culture, then check out Karl Phillips's excellent debut album from 2010 including Pink Champagne, if this was the 80s then Karl would have been on the weekly Top Of The Pops when Pink Champagne was released. Shame on you BBC.
George Ezra's Budapest performance on that show was probably the BBC's only saving grace, well done George! (even though technically as a singer-songwriter you didn't write the song yourself)
2. BBC Radio 2's Festival in a Day Hyde Park, Trevor Nelson Playlist
This might seem a bit odd! There was some recorded music between live sets, but to have half an hour of good music, with just Trevor Nelson's name in big lights on the main stage (I don't think he was there, he just selected a playlist), to not show or say what the songs were and by who, and at the end of the playlist for the announcer to say "that was Trevor Nelson!", it did nibble at my goat somewhat. That music wasn't Trevor Nelson, it was Toots and the Maytals, Dawn Penn etc. Cameo were very prophetic about the rise of the superstar DJ with their 80s song Word Up which talked of "sucker DJs who think they're fly" and I'm so glad that Word Up is a song that I regularly cover, here's a live performance at Hart Brewery this year, as it helps to vent steam.
On a positive note I did get to see one of favourite singer songwriters Jeff Lynne (ELO), as well as Blondie and Billie Ocean, so all in all a great day!
3. BBC Introducing
Radio DJs and BBC Introducing are still the gatekeepers to a walled garden, it's just that the BBC's Walled Garden is not what it used to be when BBC had a mainstream radio 1 station in the 80s and a weekly Top Of The Pops mainstream TV show. BBC Introducing doesn't provide the level playing field it boasts about. I for one, have submitted songs to BBC Introducing over a year ago which still haven't been listened to! And I can't submit any more songs because songs have to be "listened to" by the gatekeepers before you can submit more. BBC Introducing - big fail.
4. Woodfest, Irchester Country Park, Rained Off Sunday
Damn you British weather (shakes fist), for raining off the second day of Woodfest at Irchester Country Park. I was due to play on the Auden Acoustic Cave stage on the Sunday. I went along on the Saturday to catch some great acts and get into the vibe, but due to weather warnings for the Sunday, Sunday had to be cancelled. To be fair I did turn this disappointment around a little, by performing my set anyway at home at the time I was supposed to play at Irchester, recording it and putting it on youtube.
OK. That's enough moaning...(maybe)
What new original songs did I write? Not a lot! To be honest I didn't want to actively songwrite this year, with the thinking that I've got enough songs, too many, already. When I'm lucky enough to get a feature slot, that feature slot most likely is 25 minutes, and with 2 albums of 24 original songs in total, that means I've got to say "sorry mate you're not on the list you're not coming in" to a lot of my songs I like. To write more songs would mean that I'd be disappointing myself more by excluding more songs from feature sets. But saying that, several new songs did pop in to my head in 2014, which I just roughly recorded on my phone and put away to do more with some rainy day in the future, maybe 2015. Perhaps I should release a super-duper third album for 2015 and submit some new songs to BBC Introducing, oh hold on I can't submit any new songs to BBC Introducing until they've "listened to" the songs I submitted a year ago, which they haven't! Cheers BBC Introducing.
I was very pleased in 2014 to see 2 of my songs get covered by other local artists, not just straight covers but interesting and different versions, so a big thanks to Junkyard Crew for their Long Time Coming jazzy version, and HazeyJane for his trance dance version of Mi Amor. Thanks Steve, Bob, and Chris! If anybody else fancies having a go at covering my songs please do, I'd be interested to hear what you do with them, and if you need any help with lyrics or chords just get in touch. In the past I've covered songs from quite a few local songwriters including Karl Phillips, Stevie Jones, Kenneth J Nash, Bob Cousins, Stevie Rigsby - it's a fun thing to do, and unlike covering mainstream songs, you can actually talk to and get feedback from the songwriters!
a. Acoustic Duo with lead guitarist Phil Sheridan
I continued playing/jamming with excellent jazz improv lead guitarist Phil Sheridan for the first few months of 2014, thanks Phil!, and here's my favourite video of us in 2014 playing at the Horseshoe Wboro open mic, recorded by Janis Grieze (Castle Mountain Project), thanks Janis: I Worry hip hop rap (original song)
b. And then there were three, with drummer Ian Ballantyne
Drummer (and singer guitarist songwriter) Ian Ballantyne joined Phil and I for a few months, and here's my favourite video of us in 2014 playing at the Old Swan Earls Barton open mic, thanks Ian and Phil!: Long Time Coming (original song)
c. And then there were four, with Rebecca Freeman (May) on piano:
Piano player (and singer guitarist songwriter) Rebecca joined Phil, Ian and I for a while in 2014, and here's my favourite video of us 4 in 2014 playing at the Royal Oak Wboro open mic, thanks Rebecca, Ian and Phil!: Arctic Monkeys Do I Wanna Know cover
d. And then there were a different three, with Rebecca Freeman (May) and Esme Eva:
With singer songrwiter and guitarist Esme Eva joining Rebecca and I, we went for a more democratic approach where we split our set in thirds and each one of us took turns at taking the lead, singing our own songs and covers, and here's a highlights video of us 3 playing at the Hart Beer Festival Wboro, and here's us playing Esme's excellent song That Ain't Gonna Help You None at Wboro Waendel Beer Festival, thanks Esme and Rebecca!
e. And then there were two, with Esme Eva:
Esme and I performed a couple of sets over the summer as a duo when Rebecca wasn't able to make it. One of the good things with our democratic trio approach was that as we all took the lead, if any band member couldn't make a gig, we could still do the gig either as a duo or solo act. Here's a video of Esme and I at a wet and windy August Castle Fields Wboro fun day: Come Back (original song), and here's a video of us performing Happy Pharrell Williams at Chloe and Ryan's engagement party (thanks Chloe and Ryan for letting us play).
f. And then there was one, just me
Any bands who crack on and stick together have my utmost respect. It isn't easy, it's very hard, perhaps harder still for an originals band who don't have the dangly carrot of paid pub gigs at the weekend, perhaps harder still for a different originals band that don't follow the stereotypical mould of what the mainstream expects new originals bands to be today. But hopefully we all learnt something from trying! And I count myself lucky for having the opportunity of playing with these very talented people. I would certainly recommend to anyone to play with other people, although for now and the foreseeable future, I'm happy as an act to crack on solo, and just play with others at open mic/jams. For solo performances, I've steadily improved my live loop setup over the year, so I'm now live looping drum, bass, guitar and vocals for that band sound, for example here are some videos of live looped arrangements of my original songs: Devil Comes A Knocking, Waiting For The Sign, I Worry, Come Back, Spinning Around, Mi Amor, Long Time Coming, and Sitting On A Barstool.
g. Other Ad-hoc Jams
Other jams/ad-hoc collaborations in 2014 have meant that I've been lucky enough to get to play with quite a few people, including: Phil Sheridan, Ian Ballantyne, Rebecca Freeman (May), Esme Eva, HazeyJane, Nicola Sinclair, Tanya Page, Jules Vocalist, Pat King, Steve Ward, Gary Clarke, Stevie Poole, Dem Urban Foxes, Junkyard Crew, Dan Hughes, Steve Baigent, John Hynes, David Muir, Darryl Irons, Michelle Marks, Stephen Wilkins, David Williams, bass Bob at the Brit, Nick Harvey, the guys who joined me onstage at the Horseshoe Halloween open mic when I did Monster Mash. Cheers everyone!
This is usually the section I find most interesting. Whenever you go to an open mic it's always interesting to see if anyone else has a new cover, as it often reveals a bit more about that person (of course original songs reveal too, but not so immediately as already known covers, since you have to have a gain familiarity with a new original song). Although I love playing my own songs, I'm a sucker for learning, creating, and performing solo acoustic arrangements and more recently live loop arrangements of my favourite songs by other artists too. Here are the 15 new covers I attempted in 2014, roughly in date order, with some live video links (some of them first live performances of the songs! some first time jams with other people! so a bit rough!):
01. Third World - Dancing On The Floor (live video)
02. Arctic Monkeys - Do I Wanna Know (live video)
03. The Specials - Gangsters (live video)
04. Nick Lowe - I Live On A Battlefield
05. The Stranglers - No More Heroes (live video)
06. Fun Boy Three - The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum) (live video - live looped)
07. Rufus Wainwright (and George Michael) - Going To A Town
08. Pharrell Williams - Happy (live video)
09. Gladys Knight - Licence To Kill (James Bond tune) (live video)
10. Buffy Sainte Marie - Little Wheel Spin and Spin (live video)
11. Rage Against The Machine - Bullet In The Head
12. Alvin Stardust - Coo Ca Choo (live video)
13. The Carpenters (George Benson, Leon Russell) - This Masquerade (live video)
14. Electric Six - Danger! High Voltage (live video)
15. Fleetwood Mac - Tusk (live video)
15 new covers performed live isn't much for me compared to other years, yes I've been a lazy bastard, but perhaps I've also been busy doing other things.
Pretty much small scale for someone of my small fry standing! The majority of my live performances have been at open mic nights, which is a good way of keeping a regular flow of live performances and practice levels up, once or twice a week. In most cases I've kept things local, mainly Wellingborough's Horseshoe Inn Acoustic Club (open mic run by Rob Matheson every Wednesday), and others including The British Arms Irthlingborough (open mic run by Steve Baigent every Tuesday), Rushden's Conservative Club (open mic/jam run by John Hynes every Thursday), Esme Eva's and Track 2's Earls Barton open mic (monthly first at the Old Swan and now at the Earls Barton Working Mens Club), Green Dragon Higham Ferrers (Kirsty Crawford) fortnightly Tuesday open mics, Wildfire Sessions (Stevie Jones) open mics, Dukes Arms Woodford weekly Thursday open mic, NiNi Events (Hannah Faulkner) showcases, Dan Hughes open mics, Krab open mics, Dan Plews Aortas open mics, Darryl Irons open mics, etc.
I've performed some featured artist sets at Wildfire Sessions events, Dan Hughes events, Hannah Faulkner NiNi Sessions events, Graeme Armstrong events at Hart Brewery and The Horseshoe Wboro, a Daniel Knight event at Kitty O'Shea's Northampton, local beer festivals, local fun days, and an engagement party.
Possibly the biggest local venue I've played at was The Castle Theatre main stage, Wellingborough, I got to play a few tunes while the votes were being counted on the Wellingborough's Got Talent night.
A big thanks to all the open mic organisers, showcase event organisers, beer festivals and other event organisers for supporting local live music and letting me play in 2014, and thanks to everyone else who played or who turned up supporting these events.
The music events I've organised, promoted, got other acts involved, lugged my own PA system, done the sound, hosted, and performed, were local beer festival related (surprise surprise), all 5 hour local acoustic music showcases on Saturday afternoons. Two acoustic showcases at the Wellingborough Beer Festival (annual and special one for the Waendel Walk), and the Great Doddington club beer festival. Thanks to the event organisers, Alan Piggot, Rob Hart, Farmer John, Mark Zok, thanks to the performers including: Anna Bassett, Nicola Sinclair, Esme Eva, Rebecca Freeman (May), Dem Urban Foxes, Krab, Ray Beck, Junkyard Crew, Stevie Rigsby, Half The Farriers (Grame Armstrong, Duncan Howarth, and Jordan), Tim Jon Brophy, Brett Bradshaw, Graeme Armstrong, Paul McCabe and The Tallest Hogarth, and thanks to everyone who turned up supporting these events.
I started learning some improv lead guitar soloing late 2013 and I have continued learning this in 2014. Along with learning live looping, I'm also live looping drum and bass too (using a portable drum pad, and an octave pedal) and some multi-layering of vocals. In 2015 I would love to be able to start playing bass and singing at the same time as part of a live loop performance, but I'm finding that a bit too difficult at the moment (I'll try harder).
p.s. Thanks to all my facebook likers, if you haven't done so already please "Like" my facebook music page. Thanks.