I had a flying visit to the Bass Show on Sunday 5th March. Due to the shitty London transport system it involved Rail Replacement buses between hailstorms. I hurried past the entrance marked “Bridal Show” at Olympia and straight into the next entrance, demanding a ticket for the talk by Andy Rourke (The Smiths’ bassist). The ladies at the desk waved me in looking rather frightened, I then realised I was entering the Knitting and Sewing Show! I soon spotted a herd of bassists (lanky leather-clad people with either abundant hair, or none of it) and followed them to the 3rd floor.
Andy Rourke spoke with Manchunian dryness about his days with The Smiths. His early influences include Mick Karn and various funk players, which explains why he came up with those flambouyant basslines that intercut with Johnny Marr’s guitar riffs to produce that trademark Smiths sound. I’ve tried playing Smiths covers on the bass in the past, and they are the only songs I can’t manage to sing lead on at the same time (Japan is tricky too!). It turns out that Rourke’s secret was the F# tuning he used – I just tried it and it makes those bass riffs a whole lot more achievable! It also helps explain why those basslines sound like they have been sucking helium balloons, or taking speed. In fact another thing Rourke revealed was that they speeded up all their songs in the hope that they could “get onto Top of The Pops”.
Coincidentally, I’d been reviewing some of our Zara band clips on You Tube.
I’d come to the conclusion that we were playing a lot of the songs too slow. Sometimes, with stage nerves, we start a song over-cautiously, it then naturally picks up pace. Time actually feels slower on stage with all that adrenalin. A song tempo can be satisfactory on a recorded demo, but everyone’s energy gets boosted if you play it a little faster live. I feel it in the room. At rehearsal today I tried to ‘up’ the tempo on everything. I’m not sure if it was the energy drinks and flapjacks we consumed, but it all came to life.
I went through the same process when writing the 4 songs for the EP, I would gradually nudge up each draft by 1 BPM until it hit pop-breaking point. 1 beat per minute makes a huge difference, it never ceases to amaze me.
I’ve been going to the Bass Show for several years and I love being able to test out the new equipment on display. The first time I went, there were hardly any women present, and people on the stalls assumed I was a marketing person, not a bassist like everyone else. Thankfully that has now changed, there are several females bassists.
I was passing a stall of basses hand-made by Oliver Lang, he invited me to try one. I wouldn’t usually go for any bass that looks remotely like a tree (I don’t want a bass to sound natural like a tree, so I wouldn’t expect it to look like one!) But he handed me a fretless that felt nothing like I’d ever played before. The feel of the neck (a smooth sanded wood, warm to the touch) made it effortless, the notes came like they were in a liquid. Playing it was very much like singing. I have a Squier fretless bass but it has an glossy Ebonol (synthetic ebony) fingerboard which is whole different experience.
With places like Denmark Street (London’s home of guitar shops) under threat, it’s very important to have somewhere where you can feel and hear instruments, amps, and accessories in the flesh. A lot of gear in the 2nd hand market has been bought on-line and disappoints.
Another discovery I made was Cog Effects. I tried some amazing pedals on this stall. My favourite was the Grand Tarkin Bass Fuzz Pedal, which gave a huge thick wedge of fuzz that drowned out a poor guy slapping some bass beside me. ‘Slapping da bass’ is very rarely seen on stage these days, but it is alive and kicking at Bass Shows! Why? Well I suppose its a “show-off” skill, and it cuts through the din. I confess that if I am testing a bass I will give it a slap to test its action and response.
Another shocker was the Cog Effects Brutalist pedal (a clone of the Brassmaster), played through a Barefaced Audio amp it shook the very stall itself. Imagine an earthquake in a box, but with pleasant musical tones. Both pedals were very versatile, and although bassists don’t tend to use any/many pedals, with tools like this you can achieve the sound of several different instruments in one.
It was great to see Roger and Paul , who have both played guitar and bass in Zara. It’s interesting to observe a lecture theatre full of bassists; bassists are nice, they are always friendly and reliable. I got offered a seat and a sweet. One of my next blogposts will be about the character of guitarists 🙂 But I’ll leave you with some more images from London Bass Shows:
P.S. look out for 2 Zara gigs this Easter weekend. Daylight hours! See Gigs.