Tuesday, December 29, 2020

2020, some personal reflections.

(All the music on videos on this page is available to stream/download via your favourite platform).

I’ve had a great pandemic, I can’t lie.

If it wasn’t for all the deaths...

I should say “so far” of course as the pandemic seems likely to last well into 2021 if not much longer and it’s effects far longer still. As they say “nobody’s safe until everybody’s safe”, so an international effort of enormous scope and sustained effort is required and is, hopefully, underway.

For one thing in many ways 2019 had actually been a really bad year for me in some ways personally, although the band had had released the new album, Kitchen Sessions, and we had gigged it around venues and festivals, as well as a lot of other exciting music related work, I spent most of the year ill, in pain , completely exhausted yet unable to sleep with joint and other types of pains as I detailed in some depth here. So it was a great relief to start coming out of this in mid January this year.

Positive outcomes for me have, as with so many, also included some time to think, look back and reassess things. Up until late March 2020, I had taken on far, far too much... working day and night, travelling back at night often arriving home at around 10.30pm (on non-gig days) to then start preparing for the next day with seemingly no time to relax until well after midnight (on top of being unwell). This now seems like complete madness, looking back. 

A downside of the restrictions was the all-but collapse of my music tuition side of my business. The vast majority of my (very loyal) music students understandably didn’t want to try online learning so this represented a very significant loss of income for me which was a major worry for months. I have been lucky in recently getting a miss-sold PPI payout with which I bought 2 very nice guitars in late 2019; an acoustic Martin and a Paul Reed Smith electric.  It would, of course, have been nice to buy perhaps a decent bass or a laptop to replace the one that’s refused to wake up for many months, but given that I got, like so many, absolutely no government support for my music income, at least I was able to lean on this to make up for some of my lost earnings until the college I do a lot of work for was able to offer me more hours, working with music students, from September onwards.

I also, like so many, changed some of my ways of doing things for both work and leisure. I became a big fan of quite a number of podcasts; the format generally seems even more intimate than radio, which I love,  seeing as they are often related to a very specific, often quite niche subject area which you, as a listener, share with the host(s). I even planned and made 3 episodes of my own podcast believe it or not, “The Shy Musician Podcast”, something I eventually shelved realising I really had had too much time on my own!

Another real positive was that beautiful, all so glorious Spring. As a nature lover and environmentalist, the sounds, smells and sight of both airplanes and motorised traffic have a similar effect on me as perhaps walking into a cigarette-smoke filled bus, train carriage or workplace might have on you, if we were to ever go back to that kind of thing. As a public transport user, and the inherent risks in terms of spreading the virus, I’ve not been able to travel outside of my home area at all for leisure reasons, so I have hugely missed going to the beach or localish forest for instance.

A sky unscarred by plane trails, a soundscape alive with layer upon layer of birdsong without the drowning-out constant drone of cars and planes to be enjoyed on my permitted one-walk-a-day was sheer, unadulterated bliss! I’ve never heard so many woodpeckers in my life before. The pollution-haze that you can easily see on a “clear” day when looking through the thickest cross-section of the atmosphere (ie looking towards the horizon) completely gone. Clear blue sky right to the horizon. A glimpse, let’s hope, of a more sustainable future.

Working with college students online, although bringing its own challenges, was also much less stressful without the mega-early mornings (and resultant lack of sleep) to catch a train or bus to college. I’ll never be a morning person, I hate my bed at night.. love it in the mornings.

Music-wise, apart from losing so much income through losing face to face students, we also had a lot of Spring gigs booked (which we proactively cancelled when we could see what was happening with Covid), mostly paid gigs. After our Christmas gigs of 2019, The Blue Yellows did our usual thing of not planning gigs for Jan or Feb with a view to a rehearsal re-boot before we’d be onto Spring gigs and festivals. This has been a normal part of our cycle with, in addition this year, recording an EP.

For the EP, I’d already met with the band to look at tracks in the winter, and having decided on a plan,  laid down some guide tracks for our good friend and superb producer José to start working on with us. The latter was at the start of the year, and then of course... Sars Cov-2 came along, the cause of Covid, and it’s resultant lockdowns and restrictions.

For several weeks in the 1st Spring lockdown, I pretty much saw no one at all apart from the odd supermarket checkout worker, not seeing even family until later after safety concerns had been worked through. Eventually as things opened up a little more heading into Summer, the band were able to go into José’s studio, one at a time, in Covid secure circumstances, to record their parts. Far from resulting in a very worked-on sounding, contrived EP, this is by far our best recorded work yet, every band member I feel really brought their best, guided and supported by José’s great feel for the sounds. This is in spite of the fact the band has not met up, as a whole, since our last Christmas gig in 2019!

You can read more details about the making of the EP over the previous pages and posts in this blog. I can’t wait to share the EP with you next year! Being a purely lockdown project as it turned out, it seems appropriate that the video to go with the opening single was made on a phone, with clips sent in from band-members, family and friends. Hopefully it will look OK in the circumstances!

I was also able to continue some work with Rob as “the other half” of Ftumch, exciting stuff, but also on-hold release-wise until 2021.

I also contributed bass lines on the opening 2 tracks on Tim Lee’s superb album Tulpa (see Love is Easy and Performance, below). I think I actually tracked these in 2019, but it came out this year.

Another collaboration was with our aforementioned friend José who had been working away on a wonderful new EP “Journeys” (see below for the video for Asteroid B612). José and I had long since co-written and recorded the wonderful song “Travelling Light”, a song that really means a lot to me. I hear José is working on a video for this at the moment. The opening track “Asteroid B612” seemed to go down well, an unusual song (and video) with psychedelic and 70s rock influences in there among other things, to my ears. Again the whole EP is a joy for the ears and it’s been a pleasure to be a part of it.

I also released a couple of singles I’ve been sitting on for a long time; Street People and Lilt (top of page). The video for Lilt was recorded on my phone, clamped to a small tree in that glorious Spring lockdown, but I had to wait until we’ll into summer to release it as I needed use of a computer (in my local library) to distribute the track. There’s a whole new solo album connected to these tracks in fact... waiting for the right moment for release...

Going back to my own band, The Blue Yellows, we’ve been around for a little while now, but it still feels like we’re only just getting going. We’ve had 2 previous major hiatus before; both while Em took time out to have and start bringing up her lovely kids Casper and Heidi. But this one is now longer still, and who knows how much longer it will yet be? I think by the time we can meet up to regroup and start playing again, I think it will be like a new re-birth of the band with some new approaches and sounds to explore together after all this time off. Something to look forward to.

If it wasn’t for all the deaths...

That’s probably enough rambling on from me, and there’s plenty more detail of other things I’ve been lucky enough to do including the inevitable livestreams, podcast appearances and other projects this year on the other posts on this blog.

It’s been a fascinating, historic and tragic year (80000 odd deaths and counting in the UK), a time to take stock of ourselves and our approach to each other and our only, precious, paradise of a home; planet Earth.


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Masters of Sound & Vision


Work continued on the EP. Sonically it was all basically done, though once recorded and mixed we then enlisted the services of Simon Trought for track mastering, highly recommend by and booked through Oak Tree Music.

In addition to the core band members, as well as José having done an awesome job in production, one of his daughters Alba provided some backing vocals and another wider part of the  “band family”, Pete, had inadvertently provided us with a great cover image for the EP. 

This week I’ve managed to both get the tracks, cover and credit details ready for the distributors to process and send out to the various platforms.

As with the rest of it, we look forward to revealing the contents in the coming weeks!

Friday, November 20, 2020

Street People

Out on all digital platforms.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Peter Sutcliffe, “The Yorkshire Ripper” might seem an unlikely subject of this blog, but here’s why.

There’s a song on the upcoming EP by The Blue Yellows which started from the imagined point of view of the victim of a real-life historic unsolved murder and also delves into themes surrounding the extreme, murderous subjugation of women that used to prevail in the times when women who were too loud or too clever or too scandalous in some other way were burned as “witches”. The song then found a strengthened focus following a BBC documentary about Sutcliffe’s crimes from a new perspective; that of his victim’s families and surviving victims. It brought into stark focus how the extreme sexism that was widespread in the 70s & 80s in the police force, the press and the public at large led to further murders, and further subjugation of women in general. 
The victims were portrayed as “unworthy” in various ways, as “dirty prostitutes” (often with little or no evidence that this was the case, or any investigation that if it might’ve been for one or two, how this may have actually resulted from the dire poverty that women in particular were often subject to, or the factors in society which lead to women being more likely to be in poverty). Some newspapers and police officers even took the view that Sutcliffe was “doing God’s work” in “ridding the streets” of these unworthy women we’d seemingly be all be better to forget, or better off without. Members of the public asked about the crimes at the time often said the same sort of thing. 
As these murders continued, it was women, not men who were told to “keep off the streets” in the female-only lockdowns of the time. If you are female and go out, surely you “have it coming to you”? The view being that it is up to women to protect themselves from male violence by changing THEIR behaviour and lives. There seemed to be no such suggestion for men to stay indoors, even though the murderer was known to be a man. 
Notions that continue to this day.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Another “Live” lockdown show.

This was originally filmed for a filmed-at-home multiple-artist charity fundraiser concert to encourage donations to the now desperately in-need Middlewich Food Bank

That never seemed to happen but here it is anyway. Feel free, of course, to donate to this important organisation which as I say, is desperately trying to help yet more people in the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Way of The Bob


Last night and slightly into the early hours of this morning I was back in Ftumch Towers with Rob.

Apart from a from a fun catch up following a 10 month Covid-induced hiatus, Rob showed me his newly comfy, tidy and technically upgraded studio. I wasn’t expecting anything more but he played me a new composition and we came up with melody lines for it and co-wrote some lyrics. It looks like we’ve got nearly a whole album’s worth of material now.

We’re back!

Sunday, October 04, 2020

BYs EP - Latest Progess

Although all the tracking from the main band members is done, we were we delighted that the talented youngster Alba Muñoz-Burgess laid down some great backing vocals. There’s a particular part of one track which seems to require female vocal tones higher in the mix than in other areas (for reasons we might be able to make clearer at a later point), so both Em and Alba are more prominent here.
Alba who is just 12 years old, is the daughter of our friend and producer José who is also in the mix somewhere on gang backing vocals and a few percussion parts here and there.
Without giving away too much, see/hear below for a 1st teaser:

Monday, August 31, 2020

Acing the Bass!

30th Aug 2020

Our bassist Simon turned up to session 9 tonight to lay down some stunningly groovy, creative basslines with a brand new (to him) Status Shark Bass.

His grooves on two of these tracks in particular are just essential, we wouldn’t want any other approach than Simon’s.

Awesome work!

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Waterways Arts Podcast.

 I was delighted to be asked to be a guest on the Waterways Arts Podcast. Zoe Hunn asked me about my new single “Lilt”, how life on the water influences my songwriting and working as a songwriter/musician through lockdown among other things.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Vox Pop. Day 8.


I should point out that when I entitle these recording posts “Day #” etc it’s nothing like a whole day, normally we’re  starting at roughly around 5ish and done and dusted in a couple of hours or three. I’ve honestly never known band recording to be such a breeze (though our friend and producer José has all the detailed craft of mixing and production to do). This efficiency says much about José’s skill and how much at ease we, The Blue Yellows all are.
The same was true tonight where the main focus was backing vocals, so Em (pictures) came in to do her ‘live’ backing vocal parts plus a few other backing ideas we came up with. I also added some lead vocals and an acoustic guitar part we somehow forgot about earlier.
It’s all going just TOO well! 

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Recording Day 7. Pedal to the Metal (Blue Yellows EP)

A beautiful July evening for recording electric guitar and doing all the lead vocals and backing vocals. Again, José’s skill and the fact he’s a good friend help things run as smoothly as ever. 
This is just going TOO well. I sang and played with quite a lot of improvisation and with all the emotion I could muster, and feel pretty spent now, but that’s a great feeling. As it should be.

Photos by Manu Arteaga Photo by Manu Arteaga

Photo by Manu Arteaga

Photo by Manu Arteaga

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Dave brought the thunder!

Day 5 & 6 25th/26th July 2020 

Finally! For the 1st time since February we were back in the recording studio. Thunder rumbling overhead and Dave bringing his own thunder (if forgetting his drum kit at 1st!) for some remarkably quick work from José and Dave. Top work!

Friday, July 10, 2020

Lilt - coming 24/07/20

*Updated 19/07/20 & then again on 22/07/20 to include ‘facts about Lilt’ and short clip promos.

Im delighted to say that my single "Lilt" will be released on Friday, July 24th on all streaming and download platforms.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Musical Respite, a response to Claudia Hammond’s book.

I was asked to contribute to a “Continuous Professional Development” session for college staff based on and inspired by the book “The Art of Rest; How to Find Respite in the Modern Age” by Claudia Hammond. This included being asked to respond to her chapter on listening to music for rest (I can’t provide the chapter here for copyright reasons so feel free to buy it or borrow it from your library if you’re keen) and also providing a video. See below for both.

I decided to do a video on how hugely beneficial I believe learning to play an instrument is (any instrument, it could be your voice for instance) and some tips on how staff could use the summer holidays to get started on learning for fun using free online tutorials. Of course, they could hire a tutor or join a course if they got “serious” about it! 

I don’t actually really find music “restful” as such (see my bit about being an “active listener”) and find playing guitar for instance very tiring due to the state of relaxed-focus you need to maintain, and can even be very exhausting in the case of a gig/performance for instance, but it is the ultimate in cathartic, expression-making, get-it-out-of-your-system, emotion-busting of experiences and I recommend it!
Anyway, watch/read on if any of this interests you and if you’ve read the book, let me know where you agree or otherwise with me and the author.

My response to the chapter on Listening to Music in “The Art of Rest” by Claudia Hammond.

In general, the author may be right in thinking that it may often be preferable on many occasions to listen to less complex, slower music when you're "in a bad mood' and you want to reduce the level of arousal. However, I think that sometimes in for instance times of extreme stress, worry or even anger, it can be very useful and very cathartic to listen to loud, fast, complex music to help deal with those stresses and exorcise them, to "get them out of your system" as it were. To listen to more "soothing music" at such times might be the musical equivalent of "ignoring your problems" rather than working through them. 

I agree that people should choose their own music rather than listen to a particular genre (e.g. classical) as I think people know what their own 'go to' tunes or genres are that may help them with relaxation or dealing with different emotions. Some people will really dislike certain genres for a whole number of experiential, cultural or associative reasons,  be they Jazz, Metal, Hip Hop, or classical and I'm reminded for example that Frank Skinner one said that "all classical music makes me think of death"!

I personally would not choose to fall asleep to music, as I regard myself as an 'active listener' in that I want to hear every nuance of each instrument and the way that every rhythm and texture interplay, though I may listen to or play music before sleep. When I listen to music I am looking for a totally immersive experience in which I want to be completely overwhelmed by it. In this way, listening to music is "relaxing" in the same way that being lost in a really great book can be, the process can even be quite tiring due to the active nature of it, consoling, empathetic and therefore a cathartic experience which can help soothe your worries or stresses of the day, but you are still fully engaged with it rather than letting it "flow over you" in a more passive way. However I appreciate some people might prefer the more passive approach.

In terms of the need for silence in a noisy world, anyone who practices mindfulness probably realises that silence is not really something that can be achieved for most of us, but we can enjoy and take in the quieter sounds of say, a ticking clock (which I can't stand but I know some find comforting) or for instance the gurgling or clicking of heating systems. I am lucky enough to be surrounded at night by the sounds of owls, of fish and other animals moving the canal water, the sounds of wind be it a breeze or strong gusts, and sometimes rain gently tapping or even hammering on the roof. These are sounds I'm delighted to enjoy as I fall asleep, imaging the "other worlds" of nocturnal life going on out there, sounds that conjure with the imagination and perhaps lead you peacefully into a dream world.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Journeys - by Manu Arteaga - Out Now!

I’m proud to have some involvement in this wonderful EP having recently co-written and recorded the opening track  and having quickly co-written and done a recording with José on the 2nd, wonderful track ‘Travelling Light’ back in 2017, recorded live with José on ‘percussion’ drumming on the back of his guitar. Manchester musician Tim Lyons of The Sandells and The Harveys features on track 3.
Here’s the bandcamp version, but it also available on all your favourite streaming and download platforms (or will be very soon).

Friday, April 24, 2020

Lockdown Showdown

Thanks Angela Murton for this photo 
*Updated 26/04/2020 to include video.

 It seemed like a good time to do a lockdown livestream tonight, unfortunately there were some issues with my weak on-board internet so I re-recorded the set!

Thanks to Kirsty Rollings for this! 

Monday, April 06, 2020

What can musicians do in lockdown?

As Covid-19 bites into much of the world’s people and economies, the music industry as many others is being ravaged; venues shut, bands not allowed to meet to rehearse or record and unable to perform in public. It’s clearly a difficult time with many musicians losing most or all of their income.

I’m lucky enough to live on my narrowboat with open countryside in front of me as soon as I open the front doors, with skylarks, owls, lapwings  and woodpeckers all the more  audible with far fewer planes about, from my home and mamma duck back with her nest (made from my pot plants and her own downy feathers) incubating the next generation.

Personally, I’m also finding not having to organise gigs, people and so many hours of travel bundling heavy guitars and equipment onto trains and busses to reduce my carbon footprint, has resulted in a massive reduction in stress, so there are upsides. On the other hand, at the moment I’m looking at a considerable decrease in my (already meagre) earnings.

Some of my music students are continuing with online learning, though it’s not for everyone. Gig-wise neither my own band nor the cover band I play in are able to even meet, let alone rehearse. The Blue Yellows have had to cease recording our EP, just as it was progressing so well, as have the studio-duo I’m a part of. Many musicians have dipped into online gigging and live-streams. (I’ve recently contributed to this article on the subject). I’ve  started to do a little of this, strangely in a way, for me, beginning with some cover versions, just as I feel that people might want to enjoy some safe familiarity at this time of uncertainty and fear, but don’t worry the original songs are coming.

The EP I’ve been doing some work on for José now requires a video, as I understand he has completed the work, musically, on the EP. But rather than stop, José asked me to send some home, phone-recorded video-snippets of myself (see stills in this post) for use on one of the songs we co-wrote and both perform on.

I’ve also been thinking of making a series of music-related podcasts, more on that, perhaps, soon.

Stay safe X

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Back on José’s EP.

A return to José’s studio, this time for more work on his own EP for which I co-wrote the lyrics on this track, having co-written a song we recorded a couple of years ago.

Thanks, José for a couple of your instagram shots, used below.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Dr Stage Saved the Day... and months...

You may feel a little prick

Don’t be like Jonnie.

Eagle-eyed readers of this blog might have noticed a subtle recurring theme beneath the surface gig-talk etc; that I had gone to yet another gig feeling bad, ‘under the weather’ or feeling really quite wrecked. 

In fact I was properly ill for more than 8 months. My symptoms ranged from feeling a general sense of weakness and feeling ‘really not right’ albeit in an unspecific way, to pains, weakness and stiffness in my legs and arms to the extent that at times I could hardly use one arm or the other, or needed crutches to walk. I also had my eyes swell up at times, and my knuckles swelling up painfully, really affecting one gig in particular which was agony every time I came off stage, the excitement of the gig itself keeping the pain away while I was actually playing (hence the idea of ‘Dr Stage’).

It all started following a rehearsal with The Blue Yellows . I got off the train to head home realising I had just a bit of a sore throat, nothing much at all but a worry nonetheless as we had a gig at The Lymelight Festival the following day.
The next day my singing voice was good enough and the sore throat no worse, but I had that feverish, shredded nerves, sensitive, painful-skin feeling that you get when you have the flu or some other nasty fever.

That was in the 1st few days of May 2019, and I wasn’t to feel better than this again until well into January 2020, and often much, much worse.

Some days later I developed a full-on fever/virus type of thing and could barely leave my bed for a few days. I recovered from this part of the road but the underlying feeling of soreness, illness and fever remained as strong as ever.

Weird Symptoms

I would start to get weirder and weirder symptoms; on one day an arm would be so weak I could barely even lift a light rucksack with it, the next day it would be the other arm, then one leg, then the other  (but mostly both). I walk a heck of a lot and thought that my shuffling along in tiny, painful footsteps might’ve been to do with overdoing it, but it’s nothing I wasn’t used to. I noticed all down one side of my body a had a rash of huge welts. These were painless, not itchy, not red or sore or anything, but a worry nevertheless given everything else going on. This slowly faded but to some horror, returned again a few weeks later. Perhaps the strangest symptoms of all was when one of my eyes swelled up (I looked as if I’d been punched in the eye and all the flesh around it had swollen up), the next day my nose swelled up (it’s big enough anyway, thanks) and then... you guessed it, the other eye! Actually the swollen-nose part of this was really painful, it felt as if all the cartilage in there was about to explode under the pressure. In addition my hunger levels changed, I normally eat massive meals, especially in the evenings. I lost much of my appetite and even lost interest for a while in toast and marmite (which I’m addicted to).

The wrecked, painful legs were the most obvious recurring issue but far, far worse than that was that feverish, nerve-shred feeling underlying it all. On top of all this I felt constantly and utterly exhausted. 

Through July and August I was lucky enough to have few commitments until the evenings on many days, and it would often take all my physical energy and mental willpower just to get up to fulfill said commitments, there was no choice, I just couldn’t afford not to.

There were some people I ended up needing to tell, by way of explanation at least. I borrowed some crutches from some lovely friends. I had been due to do lots of help for a music festival but was completely unable to muster enough energy to do this; people kept saying the same thing: “Go to the Doctors!”

"I don't have a Doctor"

Perhaps I’m a stereotypical man in ‘never going to the doctors’? The last time I had gone was in 2012 because I had genuine reason to suspect I might have a serious problem, requiring a hospital scan, the time before that was in 2003 when I broke my pelvis in 2 places in a cycling crash, the time before that was after an eardrum had painfully burst after a few days of infection (I couldn’t sleep for 3 days and nights the pain was so bad), the time before that I must have been a child (when I was taken regularly!). I didn’t bother going when I cracked 2 ribs in another bike crash, or when I broke my toe (I know they don’t really do anything for either of these things other than generally ‘strap things up’, and not for anything else either (if you’re well enough to go to the doctors, you’re well enough to work, surely?).

By August,  the “GO TO THE DOCTORS” concerned voices grew louder, as did those in my head thinking that being ill for months on end can’t be a good sign.. 

Now I really, really hate using the phone (apart from to go on the internet, obvs!) and after many unsuccessful (and very sporadic) attempts to call my old Drs surgery (I’d only been once), It eventually turned out that this place no longer existed! I had needed to call them to get my NHS number, without which I couldn’t register with a surgery where I live now. My new prospective surgery informed me that this, and other info about me, will have gone to a related place in Scholar Green and on ringing them up, they simply read out my NHS number out over the phone - hallelujah!

You are what you eat.

I had started to have several theories about what might be up with me; fibromyalgia was something I kept looking up as it seemed to have lots of symptoms I could cross reference, some were much scarier even than that.. I had also seen a post by a fellow songsmith about feeling really sore-limbed all over and exhausted and that he needed medical help to increase his iron intake, this made a lot of sense as the issue, one I’d been thinking about more and more.

I’ve not eaten meat for much of my adult life, and having felt “fit as a fiddle” and at least as healthy and strong as I was at 18 or 19 (probably a lot fitter in fact) and without ever taking a single supplement, I know from experience there is nothing essentially ‘bad for you’ about this, quite the opposite in fact. However in recent years I had become incredibly complacent. I am a fussy and habitual eater and I, for perhaps up to a year or more, had pretty much eaten no vegetables at all (and to think, people think that’s ALL we eat)! I do find greens a bit of a chore (you’re probably thinking the same thing if you’ve managed to read this far!) and had gradually just rid myself of them. Stupid really, but having done this for so long while still feeling as fit as a flea, why change?.. again, stupid.

My initial meeting at my new surgery was with a nurse who reported that all my vital signs were good. I explained my situation/symptoms very briefly to the nurse who said I might want to request a blood test.
When the test results came back my nice new Dr phoned me with the slightly perturbing question of ‘are you bleeding profusely from anywhere?’ followed by an ‘are you vegetarian or vegan’ and an ‘ah’ on my response. She told me that I was extremely low in both iron, extremely anemic and also very low indeed in iodine (both contained in green vegetables). I told her that I had already wondered about this and had begun to take iron tablets from a local heath store as well as eat more veg (ie some). After what she had said, and doing some research on the NHS website about iodine deficiency (especially the fact that many of us throughout Europe don’t get enough iodine as there’s simply not enough of it in the soil to get into our veg), I started taking seaweed tablets too, which seemed easier to hand and cheaper than either iodinized salt or actual seaweed.

Pro Cyclists of the 1990s

I currently have more needle holes in my left arm than the average pro cyclist of the late 90s. My next test was set for 2 months later as, the Doc said with my levels so low it would take a long time for me to correct them. I was really worried at and around the time of this follow up test because I didn’t feel fundamentally any better at all. Nevertheless I was told it’s all going in the right direction. I did wonder if something had been missed though.

On Christmas Day and the following few days I became really ill with some horrible virus. I couldn’t stop coughing for 3 days and couldn’t sleep through coughing. I basically stayed in bed, coughing constantly with no desire whatever to eat the huge amount of chocolate I had been given (I’m a chocoholic). In all I was Ill with this for the best part of 2 weeks but I was starting to feel a lot better by January the 1st when I went outside on a lovely, clear new day. My legs felt really sore, I could hardly walk, felt that nervy, shivery Ill thing that I’d felt since early May, I was pleased to be recovering from this virus, but much more worried that I still had ‘IT’...

By the 2nd week in January though all symptoms were subsiding though, including those I’d had for more than 8 months by this stage. 

I’m so happy to feel fit as a fiddle again, this time I’m going to keep ‘eating my greens’, without any need for any animal cruelty. 

Whatever you do, don’t be a dork and do what I did, be well, eat well!

Some tentative, painful steps.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

For the love of Bass

Working out some bass lines for these
songs back in Summer (see insta post below)
At the time of writing, two songs on which I play bass, yes bass! ..are due out tomorrow, or if you are reading this on or after Valentine's Day 2020, you can enjoy them right now (see videos below!).

Tim Lee is a wonderfully talented songwriter of moving, heartfelt music who I've had the pleasure of sharing stages and recording studios with many times. He knew that I was really getting into bass playing and was kind enough to offer me the chance to perform bass guitar on his to-be-released album 'Tulpa'. 

Back in mid-summer; myself, fellow bassist (and another close collaborator) Rob who is also playing on the album (and, I understand,  made the video for 'Love is Easy', below) joined Tim and producer Glyn from Collossus Productions who are releasing the whole thing, for a recording session which I blogged about here.

In a sense, these songs represent my bass debut, so it's an exciting moment for me, though in reality , I have also recorded a solo album of songs in which bass features very heavily some two summers ago (though this is now on the release back burner for a number of reasons, not least because of the new recording project with The Blue Yellows which is now underway). In fact, so excited have I been about my new favourite toy, the bass guitar, that many of the songs which will be on my next solo album have been written on bass, and are very bass-orientated in terms of groove and rhythm. On the experimental ‘Raflessia Dreams’ I ‘played bass’ on the lower strings of a standard guitar, or did a vocal bass thing, and then EQed it. It seems almost impossible to pick the bass up without coming up without coming up with new grooves. Maybe I'll even get to play bass live some day, who knows?

Anyway, enjoy these two great tracks!

Sunday, February 09, 2020

EP Day 3: Keys to a great sound.

Third time in the studio and time for the band’s “secret weapon” according to a recent review, Em.

Both keyboards and accordion were deployed with keyboard sounds ranging from Grand Piano to a Fender Rhodes sound for use with one song, the plan being to record both the ‘natural’ sound of the keyboard through amp and through the infinitely flexible midi, in the end using ‘just’ the midi was fine,  plus the more breathy tones of the accordion caught with 2 mics (or was it 3 with an additional room mic?) through the air.

Emma made fast work of whipping through the tracks, mostly in one take (some tracks being doubled -up in any case). You couldn’t really meet a calmer, more professionally focused pair of musos than Em or José.

Top work!

Sunday, February 02, 2020

EP Day 2: Rock Out with your Sock Out.

Updated 05/02/2020

Although recording full drums would be the ideal way to start tracking-proper, time restraints and a keenness from all concerned meant we wanted to get on with it and record what we can in the hours available.
Drummer Dave, myself and producer José gathered at a José’s brand new home studio to record percussion and acoustic guitar tracks.
Recording sessions always seem to throw up some quirky moments... Dave found that zip-tying a pair of José’s socks to his mallets perfected the tone on the wash effect he was aiming for on the ride cymbal.
José and Dave discuss the approach.

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Monday, January 27, 2020

EP Day 1: Pre-production & guide-tracking.

*Post updated on 30/01/2020

Our good friend and talented producer José Arteaga offered to record us an EP. José, who started out as an indie-rock guitarist has spent years composing and producing music for Spanish theatre and film, including award-winning productions.
Last Friday was spent making rough phone-recordings of songs we might want to include. We sent these to José after the session and he had a say in which ones we should go ahead with.

Then, last night José worked through finding just the right tempo for each track, by both using some rehearsal recordings as a guide and working with me on whether playing the tracks like this felt like as if they were 'pushing' or 'dragging'.
So, EP guide-tracks done. Next, time, the whole band may be in.
It all starts here!

Post from producer José.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Top Ten Tips to Conquer Stage Fright for Musicians.

***Updated 30th May 2020 to include Ricky Wilson (Kaiser Chiefs) discussing his stage fright***

One of the music students I’m helping out is anxious about performing in public, so this has inspired me to come up with some tips that work for me in helping conquer stage fright/performance anxiety:

1. Be prepared in plenty of time before the performance (sound-checked, instrument tuned, amp/lead etc in place. Write a set-list out if one hasn’t been done for you, get familiar with your part of the stage) and allow enough time to relax after all this/before the show. At least half an hour. These preparations/rituals themselves will also help get rid of some of the anxiety.

2. Before the show spend some time breathing in and out slowly and deeply.

3. Look around the audience, make eye contact with them if you can, and think ‘what’s the worst that can happen ‘?! 

4. Tell yourself that the butterflies in your stomach isn’t nerves, it’s excitement! The mind is an amazing thing and you can talk yourself into this and then realise it’s true!

5. For me (and many others) I like to do a mixture of relaxing and using up physical energy to get rid of nerves. So as well as the deep, slow, breathing you might want to run manically, super-fast for a minute on the spot, or jump up and down. I will often go for a walk outside of a venue for a few mins too for a change of atmosphere. Stretching exercises are also excellent for both relaxation and preparing yourself for the physical rigours of a gig.
It is normal to feel very tired or even exhausted before a gig, it’s your bodies way of preparing you for the adrenaline rush to come.

6. One of the best things is to have a good laugh before you go on stage, brilliant for getting rid of nerves! You could even contrive a completely ridiculous thing you do with your band-mates before you go on (maybe you’re own band-version of the Haka, but a ridiculous version that will make you fall about laughing)!

7. For some people it helps to mingle with the crowd beforehand  so you realise they are nice, and not the crazed axe murderers who will hate your music that you thought they were.

8. Remember, the audience are on your side. They can’t do what you do and they’re looking forward for the gig to start.

9. Don’t worry about mistakes you will make, all the greatest musicians make mistakes. What to you will be a huge mistake, won’t even be noticed by most people. You won’t draw attention to it, just keep playing, smile to your band-mates as they probably will notice because you’ve rehearsed.. if you’ve got lost in the music you will just join back in when you know where you are. 
Anyhow, if you do make a really big mistake, big mistakes are the bits the audience love best! They find it endearing!

10. The butterflies get easier to manage with the more gigs you do but remind yourself that all the best live musicians get nervous (or excited!) before a gig. Eric Clapton used to play with his back to the audience a lot in his early days because he was so afraid of everyone looking at him. There’s a top opera singer (can’t remember her name, sorry) who actually throws up before every single show, so hopefully you’ll do better than that. Most great musicians are agreed that if you’re not nervous/excited before a show, it’s time to retire! If you don’t feel those butterflies, it means you don’t care enough!

I hope some of those are of help!
J 😊

If this article interests you, you might also like my post on my battle more generally with social anxiety, here: http://jtmusic.blogspot.com/2017/07/social-anxiety-and-performance.html?m=1

***A further update; Ricky Wilson talks with guests about his coping with extreme performance anxiety/stage fright*** https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000jnrj