It's been a busy weekend. I dropped back in to the sessions at Green Door for Matt Kivel's album and played a bit of piano, and while I was there Sam Smith also plugged my iVCS3 into his good old tape-driven Roland Chorus Echo for the full authentic Eno ambient effect, with a combination of old and modern technology ... which is fitting given that most of the rest of the weekend was spent on the second edit of our Purcell album which is coming on a treat, for release in June. Joe Davie has also started work on the cover painting which I'm looking forward to seeing very much.
Speaking of next June, I've been letting the schedule take shape for our fiddle band project, and I'm currently on a train to Cambridge so that I can drop in on rehearsals for Barnaby's pipes/harp/medieval fiddle experiments with Bill Taylor and Clare Salaman.
Meanwhile, El Sistema's magical run of perfect PR in Britain, in particular with the Guardian, the BBC, and the Scottish Government, may finally be coming to an end. I'm sure the Big Noise project doesn't fall into all the same traps that the Venezuelan original did, but even so, public critical analysis of what the 'system' is really about has been very much lacking, and is long overdue.
It's not often I come out of a gig not wanting to hear any other music. But last night I was so entranced for an entire evening that I didn't want it to wear off. I was at the launch gig for Stevie Jones's Sound of Yell album, and I'd gone with no idea what to expect at all other than that Alasdair told me he was playing hurdygurdy. There were three sets in the evening and it sounded like each was inventing their own musical language, often using vaguely familiar building blocks but putting them together in a quite new and fascinating way. Sacred Paws kicked off and at first I couldn't quite believe there were only two of them: just Telecaster and drums, both playing and singing with what I can only describe as sophisticated naivety. And clearly enjoying it.
Then Nerea Bello came on, eventually sitting down at her Singer sewing machine table to accompany her voice (or should that be voices) with mbira, rice (I think), some glass bowls, a plastic bag, and then eventually finishing the set by wrenching her necklace off and allowing the beads to fall over all of the above, and the floor. Singing in Spanish, Basque and English with a determined focus and command of the stage, by doing often very small things.
I had no idea that Stevie even played the guitar, let alone that he had written an entire album of guitar instrumentals and recorded them with a crack team of improvisers, including Alex Neilson on very fine form, and Pete Nicholson knowing exactly when to make beautiful melodic sounds and when to do something different entirely. And Stevie's music takes what seem like familiar patterns of 70s folk guitar playing, and moves them into perplexing harmonic and structural places so that the whole thing is like a very gentle exploration of the future. I wanted the set to be at least twice as long as it was.
So if you're in London go and see them at the Vortex Jazz Club on Saturday and see if you can figure out what kind of music it is: the Chemikal Underground website suggests 'acoustic psychedelia, folk, jazz, improvisation' but perhaps you can do better. I'm going to listen to the album now and see if it's as great as the gig was.
I visited the Distil residential in New Lanark yesterday to talk about the Bass Culture project, but as should always happen with any artistic enterprise, it ended up being about a whole lot of other things as well. It's great that Distil is still thriving and creative after 10 years on the go.
The first question they asked me about my appearance wasn't about what I was going to say or what equipment I needed, but whether I would be having lunch. This is a good sign. I took a wind-up gramophone (my Gran's HMV 102 portable, just like this one), an iPad and a melodica, and we explored some examples of early fiddle sources, playing some tunes and basslines. I was asked some extremely intelligent and pertinent questions, much more searching and relevant than the questions I'd generally be asked in a university, and it was all really very useful indeed, to me anyway. Often you only find out what you know about something when someone asks you the right question, and I'd never really thought before about there being a continuum or spectrum in Scottish fiddle sources between the actual documentation of musical practice and the idealisation and transformation of it for other purposes.
Anyway, after all this interaction, David Francis asked me 'Can you stay on and take part in our afternoon creative exercise?' OK. I wasn't really expecting to stage a wedding on a boat, try to save a drowning drunk with my hat, or get eaten by a shark. And the level of musical talent being put to completely childish purposes was very impressive: Raymond MacDonald was officiating at the wedding on behalf of the Church of John Coltrane, and Gráinne Brady was the shark, for example, and the whole thing was just a bit silly ... but the process of negotiating the details of a performance in a very short space of time with a new group of people is something we all have to do as musicians now and again. And we laughed a lot. I also met Callum Armstrong for the first time, and we found we had quite a lot to talk about (and not just that he has a green HMV 102) ... more another time I'm sure.
Here’s the Stodart square piano in its current state. Do you think it’ll be ready for Friday’s gig in Kilmardinny House? We do have a backup plan just in case it isn’t, but I hope it is …
Adrianne just sent me this closeup of my harmonium (alright pedants, reed organ) in action from two weeks ago.
And I may just have succeeded in negotiating to be paid some forthcoming recording session fees in Octomore.
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