London Bass Show Report

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.

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Andy Rourke pic-Bass Show mag

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.

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“Faster” Zara rehearsal

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.

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Me having a feel of some Danelectro basses at a previous London Bass Show

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Oliver Lang pic by Roger Millington

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.

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cogeffects.co.uk

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.

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pic by Roger Millington

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.

 

Proscrastination

I’m a Pisces:  I’m creative but I’m 2 fish swimming in opposite directions, it is hard to make decisions. Looking back I’ve been a jack-of-all trades … TV, art, theatre, writing, photography..  but my passion was always music.  Music (in my head) has kept me awake at night since I was a kid. I dabbled in bands in my teens but I have put music off. I put it below practical things like studying, earning and family.

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The Day of My Dad’s Funeral. Felixstowe.

When my dad died of cancer 5yrs ago, my priorities changed, music shot to the top of my list, the floodgates opened.

Making the debut EP “Breakables” in 2016 was gruelling. There are thousands of tiny decisions involved… one extra verse?  Should the guitar play D or A? Is the bass too low?  Some of the choices are made by experience, but most rely on gut instinct alone. That’s why its like tearing your guts out.

Any artist is a glorified decision-maker. At the end of the process, your invisible decisions, your abstract thoughts,  your emotions, have  built a network,  the skeleton of an actual thing, like a song, or a sculpture. I see it in my mind’s eye as a pattern like a  mandala, but in a 3D geometric form.  The process is draining, but it’s like you’ve made a baby out of thin-air, and if people enjoy your creation , well that’s the best I reward in life to me, and the biggest high. That’s really why we procrastinate, we like to leave the “icing on the cake” until last.

Now that the EP “Breakables” is complete,  I am procrastinating about how to release the music to a wider audience than the initial core Pledgers who coaxed me through the recording process. Videos, radios, interviews, gigs, I could pursue all of that, or none…. and meanwhile bubbling away in the background are a bunch of NEW songs rushing in to fill the vacuum. I have opened a can of worms.

Sometimes there are dark days when its easier to do nothing, than to do something. You’ve beaten yourself up from all the decisions and you look down at the world and every decision seems petty anyway. Which of course it is. Whoever you vote for, whatever you do, its a blip on a blip of a blip, on a tiny blue dot. That’s a crippling feeling.

Even this small task of making a website has been fraught with procrastination. I literally asked so many people for advice on where to host it etc, I got 100 different answers, and even now I am delaying publishing it because there is a shade of lime green in the free template that I don’t like. Perfectionist? Yes. I want you to get the best impression of me.

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Feeling at home with fish, Brighton Sea World

And here’s a thought – perhaps its those conflicting fish that MAKE good art happen…   As artists we question things, its never-ending. Why are we here? WTF am I doing here? What if i went that way, what if I swum the opposite way…

I’m always going to be experimenting, working with new styles, new instruments  and new people.  If anyone wants to put me, or my music in a box, its not going to happen because originality has to be fluid and evolving. Originality is my holy grail. Its time to embrace the “chameleon” way, it never did any harm for David Bowie.