Thursday, 18 June 2009

Video Killed The Radio Star...

...except it clearly didn't, if the latest figures from RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research, apparently), and articles like this one are anything to go by (I know, it's the Daily Mirror, but occasionally they do come across a fact by accident). Then there's the strength and diversity of internet radio stations, improvements in D.A.B. (digital audio broadcasting), radio-via-digital-television...

But that's beside the point.

Tonight, I'm delighted to announce the Official Global Launch of my very own, personal, YouTube Video Channel!

[cue confetti cannons, wild cheering, awe-inspiring laser display, and vast-waste-of-money fireworks. Or not. More likely the latter]

I'll understand if this may all seem a little underwhelming at first. There are, after all, currently only two videos on the channel that are actually of/by me - one of them a bit of improvised fun plinking away on a cheap bouzouki, the other a montage of my own photographs of the Lake District Hills around Derwent Water, (over-adorned with 'Ken Burns'-style 'pan-and-zoom' effects, naturally), accompanied by 'Wood, Water, Stone', a meandering piece of music I wrote and recorded over a year ago. 'WWS' is, though, available in three - yes folks, that's three! - different viewing resolutions, to cater for lower-quality internet connections. Here at WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/ANDYHGILMOUR (that's just not a snappy name, is it?), we care about our viewers, we really do!

Then there's the small, but unavoidable fact that I am an utterly insignificant speck in the glittering firmament of creative endeavour, thus quite possibly indulging in hubris on a ridiculous scale. I'm fully aware of my relative unimportance in the musical universe, but why the hell not? Embrace the opportunities presented by the new technologies, say I, especially if they're available at no extra cost - and when the necessities of parenthood impose severe restrictions on your 'real-world' lifestyle, too.

I was tempted to take the silliness a lot further, by sending-out press releases trumpeting the birth of my video channel to the world's media (easy and cheap these days), but...well. Maybe next time.

Still, I'd like to think that I've got something, however small, to offer - and if you don't like my stuff, maybe you'll find music you do enjoy tucked-away in the 'playlists'. There's quite a range of material, from the glorious, overblown, symphonic metal-covers-of-80's-songs of Northern Kings, to live performances by master saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bass legend Tony Levin, and the jovial brilliance of Jethro Tull. There's even a spot or two of Hardingfele (Hardanger Fiddle), for all the traditional Norwegian folk music aficionados amongst you. Ok, so that might be only me...ah, well, nae mind, eh? It's available if you feel the urge.

And that's about it, I suppose. No great expectations, which seems pretty sensible to me.

I hope that people at least take the time to come on over and have a look. If they decide they like what they see and hear, well, that'd be fantastic.

You never know, I might even add some more of my own creations (please, try to contain your excitement). Judging by the speed I work, that'll be some time next year...

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Exposure (live at the Leith Isobar)

Monday night was fun. A most enjoyable gig with Mr. Lennon (I plug this guy so often I should be charging a percentage), albeit it felt quite strange to haul my bass (and accoutrements) down to the station, and catch a train over to Edinburgh just to do a 45-minute set, in an "intimate" (pretty full, but that's only about 30 or so folk) wee venue. Years of psychological conditioning to expect 4-hour ceilidh-insanity marathons have clearly taken their toll.

It went very well, too, and provided the unexpected personal bonus of catching-up with old friends - although our 4-star (out of 5, he hastens to add, even though he knows full well you should never pay much attention to crits, good or bad) review in the Edinburgh Evening News was more than a touch over-fulsome in its praise of our efforts. Yet more evidence that you can't believe anything you read in the press these days. I mean to say, all those reports of our hard-working, decent, upstanding, honourable Members of Parliament playing fast and loose with their expense allowances? Poppycock! Next thing journalists'll be putting it about that Lady GaGa (oh, the appropriateness of that stage name) isn't just a Christina Aguilera clone peddling sub-Britney Spears p-p-p-pop retreads. Or that Michael Mcintyre is more than a self-regarding, bobble-head-doll of vacuously mediocre 'observational' comedy. Absolutely ridiculous, so it is. And don't get me started on how they're saying that charming President Ahmaholocaustdenier might have rigged the Iranian elections. Shameless, our modern media, so they are...

Alas, I haven't got any photographic record of the event, so this archive shot of the pair of us from a decade or so ago will have to do instead. The hair's changed a bit (a lot shorter and greyer), and I don't jump around quite so much (or at all, depending on the relative level of pre-existing, children-induced fatigue) any more, but I was using the same, trusty Hohner Jack V headless bass (originally bought to play on Citizen Cain's "Somewhere But Yesterday" album back in 1993 - how pathetic was that plug for my dim-and-distant past?), albeit de-fretted now - so the picture has a hint of authenticity to it.

Also, I learnt an important lesson that night.

Never, ever, if it's in any way within your power to determine it, do a gig without some kind of amplifier.

I've been pondering the question of ideal gigging set-ups for a while, and I never thought it made much sense to own more than one bass amplifier. Have a small pre-amp, sure, for carting-along to gigs such as this one - I always carry a Hartke Bass Attack (micro-review of this handy item buried in an earlier blog posting here) and a Behringer D.I. box (in case the Hartke inexplicably fails) anyway, but what the hell's the point of owning a "practice" amp, too? Don't people know how to use a volume knob/headphone socket, huh?

Well, I was wrong.

Except I'd argue there's still no real point to having one for, well, practicing. Rather, they're an essential for small (drummer-free) gigs where everyone else has instruments that make a fair bit of acoustic noise - especially if you're going fretless, as I was that night. There were several points in the gig where I was stuck playing-by-numbers, hoping that my too-easily-wandering intonation didn't intrude. The sound guy wasn't keen on putting much bass through the monitor, which was fair enough - it was primarily a vocal rig, the singers/guitarists were the key focus of the night, I hadn't brought a compressor (naughty bass player!), and it wasn't 'my' gig. Although having said that, the monitor in question was a very solid powered unit with a nice big speaker which could have handled it no bother, but that's both whingeing and a digression... Allegedly I got away with it, no audibly cacophonous finger-mispositioning occurred as a result, but it would have been nice to feel a little more definite about it at the time.

All entirely preventable, for the sake of a bit of hunting around on Ebay, and spending about £40 (according to what was available on there today, anyway). That should be enough to purchase a solid wee Marshall B25, say? Or something similarly around the 20w mark (because that's all that's required) by Trace, Laney, Kustom, Carlsbro - whoever. Who cares? Brand name doesn't matter - the key factors for me are size and weight, i.e. it must be under 10kg, otherwise what's the bloody point? Sound doesn't really matter (it's only there to give definition and clarity after all), as long as you can either run a parallel output of some sort from your pre-amp into it, or it has its own D.I. out for connecting to the main desk, then that's fine. This does, of course, give me a perfectly good excuse to go around testing all sorts of tiny bass combos just to see which ones do sound better, examine relative build quality, and generally have a right old laugh in music shops. Again.

Back in the real world, having any money to spare at all is a moot point in my (and many other people's) houses, but come what may, for the next gig I'm going to be better equipped. I doubt I'll be turning up with one of these little beauties (warning - this link is micro bass porn: viewing may lead to excessive drooling, which could damage your keyboard and/or stain your trousers), but a bassist can dream, eh?

Friday, 5 June 2009

Exposure

For the first time this year (first time in bloody ages), I've got a gig. A proper one, too, where people will be required to part with money in order to bathe themselves in the proffered aural delights. And, also for the first time in a very long time, I must confess to being more than a little nervous about the prospect. At the age of 40, having done many hundreds of gigs with no qualms whatsoever about potentially making a grand arse of myself, I started wondering why...

Maybe part of the reason is it's going to be a duo gig - small, intimate. Just my good friend Mr. Martin Lennon on finger-lickin'-good-bluesy-folk-pickin' acoustic guitar and singing-related activities, with me sliding around on a fretless bass, mostly somewhere near a note that could - in the right circumstances (possibly free jazz) - be considered appropriate. Playing his songs, too. None of that stuff that people 'already know and are heartily sick to death of, but will get up on tables and dance/sing/grunt along to once sufficient alcohol has been consumed'. Not that any of Martin's songs are 12-and-a-half minute prog-folk epics, packed with time/key/underwear changes either (although given half the chance...). No, these are relatively 'simple' tunes, the majority of them medium-to-slow pace, with 4 chords or fewer - which probably provides the rest of the explanation for the onset of nerviness.

This isn't some faceless, play-by-numbers, (apologies for admitting it, but let's be honest, in the world of 'function-band' musical-whoredom, the band are often a great deal less than entirely engaged with the process,even if they successfully keep up the pretense - not to mention the rictus grins - and the audience remains ignorant), done-it-all-many-times-before corporate event - this is me promising to perform to the absolute best of my abilities, promoting the musical aspirations of a close friend, while playing music where mistakes/lapses of concentration/disharmonic note selections are going to stand out like a humorous-yet-non-clich├ęd-simile I haven't got the time to think of right now. But I might edit one in later.

There's absolutely nowhere to hide with this one. Performing fast, complex music in a band is far easier, once you've acquired sufficient technique to not be struggling physically. Bum notes can fly past and disappear, perhaps simply be obscured by everyone else's noise - or there's the old adage that if you make a mistake, "repeat it three times and they'll think you're a genius" (couldn't find a source for this - anyone? usually ascribed to Chuck Berry, I think??).

But when you switch to a more gentle, 'contemplative' mood, your part is 'exposed', (a swift "Titter ye not!" is, I believe, required to be inserted at this point - for anyone who doesn't understand that reference, click here, and a brief introduction to the world of Frankie Howerd shall be yours - a comedian who could render an audience helpless with laughter for half-an-hour without telling a single 'proper' joke. But I digress...), and you aren't trying to over-compensate for something with pointless 'note-cramming'; that is, in fact, a far trickier situation. Much more opportunity to do something unpleasant (however accidental) to spoil somebody else's carefully-crafted material, so it's not just my (supposed/alleged/pathetically craved?) musical reputation/self-image that would take a severe dunt.

Still, I'm really looking forward to this one. The nerves should prevent any latent complacency from manifesting itself. Well, that's the plan, anyway. Should be fine, as long as I'm not clenching too hard during the gig. 'Elegant simplicity'(!) is, I hope, what can be achieved, even after a long day of small-child-wrangling, then a mad dash by public transport which might get me to the venue with half-an-hour to spare. Which would be nice.

Life is always better with a soundcheck.

Cheers!

p.s. complete non-sequitur, but - what you get when you discuss ways of improving the dialogue in the first three 'Star Wars' films with your friends:

(from part III, "Revenge Of The Sith"
ANAKIN: I've just learned a terrible truth. I think Chancellor Palpatine is a Sith Lord.

MACE WINDU: A Sith Lord?

ANAKIN: Yes. The one we have been looking for.

MACE WINDU: How do you know this?

ANAKIN: He knows the ways of the Force. He has been trained to use the dark side.

MACE WINDU: Are you sure?

ANAKIN: Absolutely.

MACE WINDU: Enough is enough. I have had it with these motherf@@king Sith on this motherf@@king planet!

well, it made us laugh...