Sunday, 9 December 2012

Karaoke Factor

It happened to me again the other day. "You should go on X-factor mate". It's so hard to respond gracefully when somebody throws you a twisted compliment like that.  I normally go with "I don't think I'm the kind of thing they're looking for" in preference to a lengthy verbal attack on what is probably someone's favourite television programme in the whole world, but this is the internet, and people don't have feelings here, so I can tell you all unreservedly that I think that awful programme epitomises everything that is wrong with the big business music industry.

These may seem like harsh words coming from someone who has never actually seen an entire episode from start to finish, but the whole operation drips with such cynicism that seeing ten minutes is enough to get my stomach turning and make me turn off the television to go and do something productive. After I've had a shower to stop me feeling so dirty. And taken the plug off the TV. And torn my TV license into angry little pieces to post back to the licensing people in bitter disgust.

is this man actually Satan?
Just take the opening rounds. "But what's wrong with getting a few cheap laughs at the expense of someone with mental health problems?", I hear you all cry.  Well, just put yourselves in their shoes. However misguided their beliefs in their own abilities, these people have invested a massive amount of their self-worth in their singing careers. If the couple of people I've crossed paths with who have auditioned are anything to go by, then it has been the ray of hope in a bleak time of their lives as they've kicked a drug habit, or recovered from a breakdown. And you're not just taking that one desperate ray of hope away from them, but doing it by giving them a thorough and comprehensive humiliation on national television. The kind of people who enjoy this stuff must be the sort of people who's idea of entertainment is to steal a child's sweets and grind them to dust on the pavement in front of them.

Then there's the people who do get through. Identikit, permatanned bright young things who are just doing it for their dying grandma, whose one wish before she goes is to see her progeny writhing in a skimpy outfit to a computer generated R & B ballad. It could be any one of us picked off the street and flung to stardom, as long as we have ten years music industry experience, and ink on a contract with Simon Cowell before we put our entry in.  That said, hiding the years of hard work behind every 'overnight' success is a long standing music industry tradition. My real issue with them is the way they all sound identical, chosen for their easy fit with some pre-recorded album, the marketing executive's pathetically bland idea of what music should sound like.  No musician of note from the last fifty years would ever have got past the first round because they all had musical ideas that were somehow challenging to the status quo.  Bob Dylan would have been slung off with the crazies in the auditions and mocked for his nasal voice.  Mick Jagger might have made it as far as being voted off in the first round after a tabloid outcry about his weirdly sexual rubber-faced stage antics, especially since it was always so open that he was doing it for the groupies and cocaine and not for the approval of anyone, not even his dying grandmother.  Frank Zappa? Kurt Cobain? Lou Reed? They wouldn't have got the time of day.

Then there's the manipulation of the Christmas singles chart. Once upon a time it was the home of dreadful novelty acts and Sir Cliff Richard.  Now, the odd internet campaign to reclaim it aside, with four months of prime time TV advertising it's almost guaranteed to go to the X factor winner. And the thing about the novelty acts is, as bad as they often were, they were at least novel and not the horror of music-by-committee inoffensiveness that we're now subjected to year on year. So that's why you won't see me on the X factor. I have better things to do than feed this monster that has been determinedly squeezing the music industry into a plastic lifeless conformity.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

The Bar Stool Problem

A stool is a stool, right? You can find one at the bar in any pub? Until recently I certainly thought so, but in yet another example of the hardships sent to test the working musician, I've realised the facilities provided by most public houses and venues just aren't quite up to the job of being sat upon whilst playing.

The first problem is arms. Great for preventing you slipping to the floor when you've had one too many pints, but they get in the way of the honest guitar player, forcing him to adopt a position that wouldn't be considered comfortable by a contortionist in order to actually reach his instrument.

Disaster waiting to happen.
Shiny padding and nowhere to put your feet...
The next is cushions, perfect for stopping the gradual numbing of the nether regions in an ordinary drinking context, but alas, try and play in a trendy bar where the stools are clad with an inch and a half of padding and white leather upholstery and you'll be lucky to get half way through a song before sliding off and making an inelegant face first lurch towards the crowd.

Height has been another stumbling block. Too short and there's a risk of your knee colliding with the guitar neck every time you tap your foot. Too tall and reaching the stomp box at all can be an issue.

The spindles are there to brace the legs and strengthen the stool right? Well maybe, but more importantly it's the place you put your foot to elevate your knee and prevent the guitar sliding off your lap. Imagine my horror to be offered a steel legged stool without any at all at a recent gig!  There simply isn't enough friction generated between the polished surface of a guitar and the front panel of a polyester-viscose mix trouser to prevent disaster...

So if anyone does know where I can get an armless, cushion-less,  not too tall, not too short, easily transportable folding bar stool, with good solid spindles to rest your foot on, I'd be extremely grateful if you could get in touch.  Otherwise I may have to actually learn to play standing up.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Photo shoots

I've taken delivery of some fantastic solo promo shots by Tom Wojtulewicz ( and, as good as they are, this got me wondering about the conventions of musician photos and press kits, and more broadly the need for a musician to cultivate an image.

I would really be happiest using live shots for a press kit, given that they obviously portray what I actually look like whilst playing music, however the advice is usually not to so I found myself standing around Stafford town centre in the October cold with Tom and feeling remarkably self-conscious as the Friday afternoon shoppers leered at me whilst walking past.  The clich├ęs are abundant in band photography, which gives you such a long list of things to avoid it's ridiculous: brick walls, train tracks, scrapyards & bars have all been done to death, which makes it tricky to do something fresh, but Tom had some great ideas about how to light shots that made what would otherwise have been pretty ordinary poses look amazing, and I convinced him to get a fisheye lens out, after remarking how much I liked the cover of Captain Beefheart's Safe As Milk.

I'm hardly a natural when it comes to modelling, - yet another example of the many jobs you need to get your head around as a musician. You expect sex and drugs and you get tax returns and standing around in the cold being told off for smiling.  But for all that I love the photos - I'm pretty sure I can only spot the beer gut because I know it's there, and despite my protestations that the cold was making my nipples show through my shirt, that seems to have been fixed in the editing ;)

I think I'm finally coming to terms with the need for an image as a musician.  I've always been broadly opposed to anything I considered too artificial in the past, being desperate to avoid the pork-pie-hat-and-sunglasses school of blues music, but I now find I'm asking myself again and again what I can do to be more memorable.  I think I'm finally at peace with the fact that doing things to make yourself more marketable isn't 'selling out' unless your music itself is lacking substance, and consequently I've smartened myself up on stage when playing solo.  Moving away from the jeans and converse I've always worn with .44 pistol also gives my solo career a bit of an identity of its' own which helps me in my efforts to keep them both going in parallel.

Sunday, 18 November 2012


I suppose I knew my policy of saying yes to any solo stuff that came my way was bound to lead to some weirdness eventually.  Sure enough, on Friday night, I was down in Birmingham about to play when the soundman informed me that a stripper would be arriving for one of the regulars' birthday surprise during my set.  So I got the signal, finished my song, and a lady came in and took her clothes off.

Now, whilst I'm pretty confident of holding my own in a line up of musicians these days, competing for the interest of a crowd of burly brummie blokes with the promise of soon-to-appear naked flesh is a new one on me.  I didn't think I performed too badly under the circumstances, but I definitely felt it was a room who tolerated me while they waited for the good stuff rather than one I was ever going to win over.

I realised I'm not entirely comfortable with such things either and found the tidying up of leads to be much more fascinating than usual in that at least it gave me somewhere to look.  My wife, meanwhile, speculated on the process of waxing certain body parts and complained that the number of people videoing on their mobile phones made it seedy. Personally, I'm not convinced it wouldn't have been seedy, even without the mobile phones...

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

A stage name....

Those of you who have downloaded my solo EP (you haven't? It's rather good and available here), or hit like on my solo facebook page may have noticed that I'm now working under 'Pistol Pete Wearn' for my solo material. I've been thinking for a while that plain old 'Pete Wearn' is not as memorable as it could be and toying with what I could do to make it less forgettable, without getting into the obviously fake and cheesy (Alvin Stardust, Engelbert Humperdink et al...).

Initialising my name was my first thought, after all it worked for P.T. Barnum, and when (Australian blues artist) Chris Stoneking decided to start going by C.W. Stoneking instead it gave him a definite helping hand in the old-time-blues authenticity stakes. Alas, that would have involved making up a middle name, and even then 'P.D. Wearn' sounds like a detective writer rather than a blues performer.

A lot of the acts I admire currently working seem to go for the all out ridiculous in terms of their names, and it often works. Honkyfinger, Son of Dave & Bob Log III all have very memorable names to go with their rather good performances, but I suppose I'm not really too at home with that level of artifice, and as little good will as I may have as a result of my years in .44 Pistol and as a regular on the local scene, my wife cautioned me against making myself unrecognisable to those who had already begun to follow my activities.

So I was thinking about how just adding a word in front of your real name works pretty well, about how Mississippi Fred McDowell, Blind Willie Johnson, or even (Leeds based folksinger) Serious Sam Barrett had managed to come up with awesome stage names with that trick, when I walked into my local pub, and found myself being introduced to a friend of a friend. " Oh, is this Pete the bass?" she asked, alluding to some previous conversation, "no this is Pistol Pete", came the response, and there it was.  Not too silly, but memorable, and I can even keep using all the gun graphics I've come up with over the years....

Friday, 31 August 2012

Playing solo...

I've been working on doing a bit more solo stuff of late. If you're one of the two people besides my mother who regularly checks this blog, you're probably already aware from my constant plugging on twitter and facebook of my newly recorded solo(ish) EP, which has come about because I'm playing more solo gigs, which in turn has come about because I wanted to fill the gaps between .44 pistol gigs.

 But it's a funny thing playing by yourself when you're used to working with a band. It feels very exposed, a bit like trying to play a football match without the rest of your team(or so I would imagine anyhow, I never was much cop at football, with or without a team). There's no one to look at, no one to play off when the audience aren't on your side, you just have to plough on relentlessly and hope that they come round eventually. And looking cheerful while you do is much harder when there's no one beside you to share a joke with.

 But solo does have its' upside. The issues of trying to co-ordinate three or more diaries in a band suddenly disappear. there's no need for any nervous pacing whilst wondering where the drummer is when you play by yourself. You can also take smaller gigs and still come away with more in your pocket, and not having to worry about anyone else means I can use that money to take more freebies, in the hope that getting myself in front of as many people as possible will help me develop more of a following. I've also enjoyed the freedom to be a bit different with the EP project. Don't get me wrong, I'm the person who came up with a concept for .44 pistol, and by and large, I'm the first person to defend the idea that it should stay a raw edgy, unpretentious good time drinking band. But starting work on my solo EP was liberating, because suddenly I was free from those self imposed restrictions. Ultimately the material that has gone on the EP would work just as well with .44 pistol, because that's the kind of stuff I like to listen to, and ultimately end up writing, but it was fun to approach it from a more folky angle for a change.

 Anyhow, shamelessly adding yet another plug to the many I've made this week please download my solo (with a little help from amazing violin player Jamie Parkes) effort completely free from here.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Stage invasions...

It's a peculiar thing that when a drunken person is particularly enjoying a band they often seem to suddenly decide the only thing that could enhance the performance is their presence on stage. Naturally rather than ask nicely between songs (perhaps suspecting the answer will inevitably be "no"?) they will adopt the approach of simply jumping up and forcing their way to the nearest microphone before joining in with the wrong words in the wrong key.

You can probably guess already that this has happened to me recently. Yesterday we were playing the acoustic tent at a huge local music festival and during our last two numbers a slightly scary lady first tried to grab my harp mic from me during my crowd walk, and then barged on stage. Ironically she complained to my wife afterwards, not realising who she was, that I'd been "very rude". My exact words to her were, "excuse me love, can I have my microphone back", which was very much the polite version of what I wanted to say (which I won't type out here for the sake of good taste). It's not the first time this has happened either, and I know from experience that letting them get to the end of the song means that they'll think they're being made welcome and be up during every number.

Apart from anything else I'd consider it bad manners for a professional musician to join me on stage uninvited, let alone an unknown drunk. Even in the relatively informal situation of an open mic, the very furthest I'd ever go is waving a harmonica at a performer mid-song whilst mouthing "would you mind?" from the wings. I have great friends who I've played with many many times over the years and I still wouldn't jump on at a gig without an explicit invitation to join them. I'm pretty sure they'd extend the same courtesy to me.

The flip side of this is that we don't really mind having people join us when they've asked nicely, we had a total stranger join us for a few numbers at a gig a year or two ago, just because he came up to us on the break, talked knowledgeably about music for a bit, and then mentioned if we were planning to play Crossroads he'd love to add some guitar.

But here's what I'd like to say to that lady, now when I've had time to cool off and ponder, and it isn't the expletive ridden phrases that I was biting my tongue to suppress yesterday. I work hard to be on that stage. I spend time and money seeking out gigs, I've given up weekends to gig, and Tuesday nights to practice. I run websites, I print posters, I read articles about marketing via social networks. I've been at it with some dedication for four or five years, even to be up there at a festival dedicated to local bands. I've gone from open mic nights to unpaid gigs to paid ones. I've played to one man and a dog at a country pub on a Sunday lunch time, and a rowdy coachload from Sunderland in a desperate Coventry estate pub on a Friday night. All of this has allowed us as a band to improve, to build chemistry, to reach the point where you and a tent full of people were enjoying themselves yesterday. I'm not professing to be a great musician, or even a terribly original one, but I've bloody well worked at it, and it's paid off in its small way - I've got better. How dare you presume to interfere with that, to have the arrogance to think that joining us on stage, without even the simple courtesy of asking permission, would somehow be anything but an annoyance to us, or the people who had come to watch us.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Pete Wearn - The Smash Hits interview...

Teen pop magazine Smash Hits have not yet called for an interview, an oversight that I'm totally sure is only down to them stopping printing it in 2006 and is nothing to do with the fact that niche genre musicians with tiny followings weren't ever on their radar...

Anyway, for those of you who've been waiting for it, I dug up some questions they asked 'H' from Steps in 1999 and put on my best teen-sensation t-shirt.

1. How well mannered are you?
Surely everyone is going to say that they're well mannered? Who's really going to admit that they eat with their mouth open, break wind in confined spaces and leave heavy doors to swing shut in elderly ladies' faces? Of course I'm perfectly well mannered and do none of those things...

2. Do you ever check your hair when passing a shop window?
If I've gone to the trouble of looking smart then I'll be checking it in shop windows, car mirrors, duck ponds, the side of the kettle, anything reflective really. I don't believe anyone who claims otherwise either.

3. Are you misunderstood?
Only when I attempt to speak Spanish.

4. When was the last time you fell over?
Just now - I was working on some recording and tripped over the tangled mess of wires on the floor. I'm not the tidiest of people to be honest.

5. Do you ever cheat at Monopoly?
We haven't played Monopoly in our house since 2007. It's easier to remain friends that way.

6. Who do you think are the most over-rated band around?
I don't know, U2?, Coldplay?, Snow Patrol?, anyone who's ever been near that god-awful X-factor programme? There's rather a lot of depressingly bland music out there to choose from and to be completely honest I struggle to remember the names of the worst acts..

7. What was your biggest hair disaster?
The 1990s.

8. Cows moo, sheep baa, pigs oink, what do goldfish do?
Not a lot. The loudest noise that comes from mine is the buzz of their filter which ruins all my home recordings if I don't remember to unplug them first.

9. When was the last time someone tried to punch you?

Some years ago. I was walking past someone on some pub steps whilst visiting my sister in Newcastle and he actually asked what I was looking at...

10. Where would you like to live when you're older?
Some kind of Bond villain lair. I'm thinking a hollowed out volcano would be fun.

11. The answer is 'no way, no way'...what's the question?
Which 1997 hit was voted 'worst music video ever'?

12. Are you terrified at the thought of going down the dumper?
I'm not entirely sure whether this question is intended to refer to my music career, in which case I've never really ascended any great heights to fall from, or some pathological fear of falling into the lavatory, in which case my behind is more than ample to prevent such issues.

13. Are you ever mistaken for another famous person?
Ha - "another famous person"! Someone told me I looked like Ewan McGregor the other day, which was nice. Usually they tell me I look like Richard Branson, which is less nice.

14. Do you have a special pair of 'pulling' pants?

No. Although if I think anyone else might be seeing me in my pants I do try and find a pair without too many holes in.

15. What last made you really angry?
The sheer stupidity of our elected representatives who appear to have forgotten what every GCSE history student knows, and decided to cause a depression by doing exactly the same things that caused the last one in the 1930s.

16. Are you a lover or a fighter?
I suppose I have to say 'lover', although I'd hardly profess to have a natural aptitude for either approach to life. 'Drinker' might be a more appropriate label.

17. When was the last time you caught the bus?
About 18 months ago. My car was in the garage and I'd missed the last train.

18. Do you believe in life after death?
No. I'd like to think some of my music might outlive me though.

19. What's your favourite drink?
Beer. Single Malt. Coffee. It depends what time of day it is and what's in my hand at any moment to be honest.

20. Have you ever had a dream about someone famous?
None that are clean enough to share.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Desert Island Discs

So - for anyone out there in internet land who isn't aware there's been a programme on BBC radio since 1942 in which people of note are asked, "if cast away on a desert island, which 8 gramophone records would you take?" It's traditional to put at least one classical piece in, lest the audience think you shallow, and participants also choose a book (other than the Complete Works of Shakespeare & The Bible, which are already provided) and a luxury item.

So I was pondering in the car the other day what my choices might be, were I ever important enough to be invited on. Here goes....

1. Yellow Submarine by the Beatles It all starts here really. Being from a Beatle-y household, I must have been tiny when I first heard this, and I have a memory of sitting on the spare bed of my parent's house aged 3 or 4 strumming the strings of my Dad's guitar while he made the chord shapes to produce the song. Perhaps that's why the music bug got me.

2. Help Me, By Sonny Boy Williamson (II) The secondary school I attended only catered for students up to 16, so after sitting my GCSEs I had to choose where I would go to continue my education. On the strength of a friendly seeming History department and a good show at the open day I opted for the local catholic school, which I soon realised was a mistake. I kicked against the strongly disciplined approach of the place, grew my hair, and found myself more interested in music than in lessons, especially those on maths. A subject which seemed to dramatically change from learning a series of rules that made neat logical sense and I could easily apply in exams without having to put a tremendous amount of work in, to a barrage of wildly complex equations involving sine and cosine functions that appeared to have no penetrable links with either the real world, or any of the mathematics I had learned in my education up to this point.

The consequence of this was that I tended to spend my free study periods noodling on pianos in the music department practice spaces, and getting ejected for taking up space intended to be used by those with actual music lessons on their timetable. So, it was in a somewhat adversarial mood with the school management that I elected to put myself in for their 'young musician of the year' competition. Help Me was the piece I chose to perform. I turned up for the first round, mouth organ in hand, expecting to play, hopefully make my point that there were students in the school who just didn't like Bach, but still enjoyed playing music and go home. "What's a harmonica?" I overheard a 13 year old with a grade 6 in clarinet asking her friends in the general hubbub as I entered the room. I blasted a few notes and announced, triumphant, and as cool as an acne-ridden 17 year old blues obsessive who plays the harmonica can possibly muster "that's a harmonica!". Musical Establishment - 1. Yours Truly - Nil.

To my surprise, the judges were local music professionals external to the school, and the appointed accompanist had understood the 'sheet music' I had generated by feeding a midi file of the track into a piece of software and printing out the result. So I found myself in the woodwind final. And then in the actual final, wearing a bow-tie and a dinner jacket that didn't fit, nervous as hell, in front of a hall full of people and up against students with grade 8 in more than one instrument. A self taught harmonica player, who when asked to submit the sheet music I would be playing had to hand over pages with harp tab hastily scribbled out in pencil underneath, because I couldn't actually read it. And then I was given strict instructions to walk out, bow and then play, bow and walk out again. And I forgot to bow, either before or after. And to my amazement when they announced the last four I was still in, much to the disappointment of several of the more able musicians who had been overlooked. So I played again. And forgot to bow again. And when they announced the results I didn't really mind that I was the only one from the last four not to get a prize, or that when I tried to shake the hand of the winner she turned her back on me, because I got a standing ovation and no-one else did. And I suppose having entered just to make a point I realised that playing what I love, as well as I could was enough to win a crowd.

3. Katy, by Kelly Joe Phelps This is something of an arbitrary choice, as really I want the whole Shine Eyed Mr Zen album. I bought it when I was living in Australia, and it blew me away to hear solo acoustic guitar that could easily outmatch any of the fast electric blues guitarists I was listening to at the time for expression & complexity. I also loved the way it held blues songs that didn't follow the obvious structures and had weird free association lyrics, and yet still sounded like blues. It played in my flat in Sydney and in my caravan when I moved to a fruit farm to work. I had it on headphones to block out the sound of a couple making love on the bunk below me in a hostel in Coff’s Harbour and in Singapore as I lay in the sweltering heat unable to break the timelock on the air-conditioning. It played when I was at University, trying to impress the girl that's now my wife.

Over the years this album has grown and grown on me, and become a comfort blanket for me at my lowest moments. Last year when my father in law died, after the sorting flights, and the funeral, and the laying his ashes to rest, and the being there for my wife, and the being there for her family, when I was finally home and off duty, I put this record on, turned it up, drank four beers and made the richest creamiest cheesiest pasta dish I could think of and felt better.

4. Friend of the Devil, by The Grateful Dead Whilst the two Dead country albums aren't exactly characteristic of their work this is a songwriting triumph. My Grateful Dead phase coincided with the early days of my relationship with my wife, and this reminds us of carefree days spent together when we should really have been studying, shooting around in an old camper to look at castles. Later when I started playing with home recording my sister and I recorded it together and it seems to have become a staple of her set...

5. Shake em On down, by R.L. Burnside Another cheat because really I want the whole 'Burnside on Burnside' album. I've covered this ground elsewhere but R.L. is my all time hero, and this is my all time favourite performance of his. I cover this song most gigs, along with 'Skinny Woman', and it never gets old for me.

6. Knocking on Heaven's Door by Bob Dylan It's easy to miss, with it being so widely and often badly covered, but the original Dylan version of this from the Pat Garret & Billy The Kid soundtrack is a near perfect record. There's just nothing you could add or take away to make it better. The graceful harmonies on the 'Ooooh-Oooohs' on the build in. Dylan's acoustic guitar in one channel and a twangy electric in the other perfectly complementing each other. The bass driving the song with the ever so simple tick-tock drum beat taking a back seat all just works so darn well together whilst complementing the strangely non-specific lyrics to evoke the melancholy of the gun slinger who knows his days are numbered.

7. I Feel Like Funkin' It Up by The Rebirth Brass Band I couldn't tell you what made me take up piano, harmonica, ukulele or kazoo. But I can pinpoint my desire to own a trombone to the first time I heard this song on the TV show Treme.

8. When the Lights Go Out by the Black Keys I kind of felt I had to have some Black Keys on the list. Around the time I gave up on piano and picked up a guitar I first heard this and it, along with some of the White Stripes better moments, convinced me you could still music heavily rooted in the blues I loved and sound fresh and contemporary and up to the minute.

Book - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams I'd love to put something deep and highbrow here, and indeed Orwell and Vonnegut are favourite authors of mine as well, but there's really only one book I'm sure I could read as many times as you would when stuck on a desert island and not be sick of and it's this one. I've read it a dozen times and still love it, and I suspect I could read it a dozen more and still find jokes I'd missed every time.

Luxury - a guitar (& slide!) Although until fairly recently I might have said harmonica, there's nothing that could entertain me for the endless days that being a castaway might entail like a bit of guitar practice. If nothing else I'd have the eight songs mentioned here down pat by the time I was rescued.....

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Narrow mindedness...

"Never begrudge another musician a living"

Advice my father gave me when, as a teenager, I took exception to a lounge pianist transforming Stairway to heaven into gentle background music and probably complained a little too loud. It's very much something I've found I live by since I've become more serious as a musician myself. I try not to be too dismissive of things that simply aren't to my taste. I'd never really want to find myself in a drum and bass act, but if other folks enjoy it and can make a living who am I to judge?

Although most of the musicians I know have much broader listening tastes than what you might call a general punter, I do still sometimes hear crude generalisations and dismissals that make my stomach turn. When someone tells me they 'hate jazz' or they 'can't stand country music', I often want to take them to one side and ask how the hell they know without having listened to all of it. For a start most genres are extremely broad churches. 'Jazz' for instance encompasses everything from Herbie Hancock's funk era, to Kenny G. You are of course free to dislike one or both artists, but Mr Hancock's edgy experimentalism, and Mr Gorelick's smooth, processed MOR saxophone are more different than they are similar. Likewise with C&W, you've got everything from scratchy prewar recordings of the Carter Family, to Shania Twain or Taylor Swift. The differences between live takes of a family band reviving traditional songs and modern processed studio-pop where the 'artist' seems to be something of an afterthought are far more profound than the similarities, even if they ostensibly belong to the same genre.

Which brings me to the one thing I really can't stand in music, which is blandness. From the ultra-traditional to the far-out and experimental, even if something isn't to my taste, I can usually admire the musicianship, and recognise the passion being put in. Much mainstream pop of the X-factor variety leaves me cold, because it is so artificial and unexciting. It very often sounds like no-one involved really gave a toss about any kid of self-expression and were just thinking of the paycheck. Not that people can't do a good job in those kind of circumstances, but it seems like they don't make for great records, however well they sell until their limited shelf life runs out. Slick production can never make up for the fact there's no real feeling behind the notes in the first place, and that's perhaps why, while these records may sell, they do't seem to last.

But then I've sat on the opposite side of the fence and often argued in the past that .44 pistol should push the good-time-party-band aspect more, at the expense of naval-gazing songwriting, or endless slow blues that are immensely satisfying to play, but in my own experience as a gig goer, somewhat uninspiring to watch, particularly if you're hitting the pub for a good time on a Friday night. Unfortunately if you follow the line of thinking that you should please the crowd rather than yourself to it's logical conclusion then you'll wake up one day in an Abba tribute band*, rehashing the very bland pop music that I was ranting against in the last paragraph. Just because it's popular, doesn't make it good. Which I suppose means I fall somewhere in the middle, I feel i should please the crowd, but I don't think that has to preclude educating them a little as to what a broad church good music really is.

*Somewhat bizarrely my Dad was recently asked to join an Abba tribute band. I´ve never worked out whether he was going to be Benny or Bjorn