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!