Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Mid-life Crisis?

I turned 30 last week.

Now I understand it's traditional to have some kind of mid-life crisis at this point, and purchase a motorcycle or take up base jumping. Instead I found myself being presented at my birthday party with a trombone I don't have the faintest clue how to play. This came slightly less out of the blue than it might first appear and was clearly a sign that my good lady wife had been paying rather more attention to the things I say than I had. Those who follow my twitter & facebook feeds will already know that I've developed something of an obsession with New Orleans Brass Bands since watching David 'The Wire' Simon's New Orleans set TV series 'Treme' on DVD a few months back. Cruising down the motorway with the Rebirth Brass Band cranked up good and loud, I had expressed a desire to own a trombone and then promptly forgotten about it. That was until Mrs Wearn presented me with one.

So now I'm making my first fart-sounding notes from the instrument I'm wondering if this is my own special music-geek version of a mid-life crisis? Given I still can't play harmonica like James Cotton, or slide guitar like Son House after years of trying, am I just being distracted by something new and exciting? Should I have just traded in the tour bus for a zippy red convertible and been done with it? Alternatively I might be joining the Memphis horns in 6 months, you never know...

Still just to prove that in spite of it's image the trombone is every bit as cool as a guitar or drum kit, here's a little clip of Rebirth funkin' it up:

Friday, 15 April 2011

The joy of a good record...

There’s something special about music. Clearly it wouldn’t play such a major part in my life and the life of so many other people if it wasn’t somehow special. The hundred year old technology of recorded sound should still qualify as one of the great achievements of our time. Yet it has become so ubiquitous, so commonplace, that it devalues and banalises that which it was invented to preserve.

From the radios in our cars to the music piped into every lift, the omnipresence of recorded music obscures the greatness of that music. Who sits in their local coffee house and ponders how many years of craftsmanship, practice and hard work went into the trumpet solo on the Miles Davis record that’s playing? I’m pretty sure it’s just me. For that matter I’m pretty sure I’m in a minority even noticing which record is playing. There’s so much wonderful music out there, and yet by putting it everywhere we go, we forget its brilliance.

Indirectly this lack of value placed on music manifests in underpaid musicians and the fact that no one stops to listen to buskers.

All of which, by somewhat circuitous route, bring me to my love of vinyl. I’m no Luddite. Digital music has much to offer. Reduced recording and distribution costs associated with the digital format mean many wonderful artists are easily accessible who wouldn’t be otherwise, and as if to prove that point I own two packed mp3 players. But, in my life at least, digital music seems to inevitably form the background to some other activity, whether it’s listening to my mp3 player on my run, streaming internet radio as I type this, or even the CD that plays in the kitchen as I make dinner, it always seems secondary to the task in hand. We put on digital music, just to ignore it.

A good old fashioned record doesn’t do that. You can’t put a turntable in your car (not since the invention of the speed hump at any rate). You can’t spin a Long Player on your jog. Records are beautiful, bulky delicate things that need to be handled with love. So when you put on an LP you have to carefully drop the needle onto the crackly surface, sit down in your living room and actually listen to the warm sounds flowing forth. A little ritual to pay homage to the miracle of recorded sound, to the fact that this music is so good it couldn’t be left in the moment it was played, but instead needed to be preserved to be repeated and enjoyed again and again.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

My taste in guitars

Why do all guitars have to look like this...
Why do all guitars have to look like this...
As a guitarist I think I’m fairly unusual in that I tend to find expensive guitars incomprehensibly unexciting. What excites me is the quirky, cheap and unusual. My dream is not of one day affording a 1962 Stratocaster in mint condition, but rather of unearthing something unique and bizarre sounding in a pawn shop.
Alas the way in which guitars are manufactured and designed in the modern age means that this is probably just as unlikely as that ’62 Strat falling into my lap. The revolution in Far eastern manufacturing means that, by and large, cheap guitars look and sound very much like the expensive ones. This is a mixed blessing in many ways. There’s no doubt that compared to picking up a bottom of the market guitar 30 years ago, the difference in playability is astounding. My father tells tales of guitars with two inches of string clearance that may as well have been strung with barbed wire. But in those days cheap electric guitars were built to whatever shape and design floated the manufacturer’s boat. These days they’re effectively built to two designs, The Stratocaster or the Les Paul, and to my mind the world is poorer for that.

...when they used to look like this?

...when they used to look like this?

I guess my love of resonators come from that desire for the ‘different’ in guitars. What could be more different than a guitar that sounds like a tin dustbin? My main gigging axe was £160 new on EBay. It’s made of cheap Chinese plywood and when you look at it closely the f-holes aren’t exactly the same size. It’s been glued back together with epoxy after the guitar strap came off and sent it crashing into a drum kit. It's missing a volume knob these days as well. I changed the main pickup myself after that developed a loose connection that caused it to only work intermittently, and I love the beast all the more for that, because it doesn’t look or sound like all the other guitars out there.

My trusty resonator, in a rejected shot from the album cover shoot
My trusty resonator, in a shot from the album cover shoot

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Marketing strategies....

OK, so maybe I bought into the whole 'don't need a record label' idea a little bit too whole-heartedly. The net is full of articles about how easy it is to put out a CD yourself, and they're all true. It was very easy. However, I find myself with a spare bedroom full of albums and realise I'd only thought this one through so far. The whole process of making a record was great fun, and I was happily swept along by it all. Recording it ourselves without anyone looking over our shoulder, getting it professionally mastered, seeing and hearing the finished product is all a dream come true and I'm tremendously proud of what we've done. Yet it suddenly dawns on me this CD isn't going to sell itself.

For a signed artist this is where the label would swing into action and their massive advertising budget and finely honed PR team would make the whole world believe they need our record now. I've got a book called "DIY PR" out of the library and two days off from the day job a week to try and do the same! Meanwhile, the 5 CDs I sent to CD Baby in order for them to get the album onto Amazon and iTunes seem to be in the ether somewhere mid-Atlantic and I'm fidgeting nervously and putting 'available to download soon' on press releases. For all my confidence in what I do, I suppose this is the first time I've had money over and above the price of a tank of petrol invested in my own music career & I'm actually feeling a little out of my depth.

But hey why not download some free songs from soundcloud and if you like those, plod over to and order the album! /shameless plug :)