Like The English Sea 

This is a picture of me today attempting to walk on water in the North Sea at Whitstable. Silly, I know, (I found a thin sandbar) but the sea fills me with magic. In a previous life I must have been a Mermaid or a Sea Witch, possibly an actual fish. I’m a Pisces, and like all water signs (are you one?) the sea pulls me like a magnet, I am literally ‘in my element’ here. It’s a great place for creative inspiration and self-reflection. Staring out at that infinite mass of blue puts your own petty problems into perspective. We miss out on this living amongst the stifling high-rise buildings in London where it’s hard to see ‘the wood for the trees’. Who hasn’t gazed out to sea and thought existentialist thoughts?

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Death is never far away. 7/17

“Why do you think old people live at the seaside?” I ask my daughter. (My elderly relatives live in Felixstowe on the East Coast). Is it for the clean air, for health and longevity? For the relaxed pace of life? We see a dead seagull get cleansed by the waves, a dead crab becomes sand eventually. Death and regeneration go hand-in-hand here.

 

Dived into the surf to get some iPhone footage for “Like The English Sea” 7/17

And let us not forget the immense power of the sea. I’m looking out now at the wind turbines in the ocean off Whitstable, these beauties could save us from self-destruction with fossil fuels. I recall crossing the ocean to Belgium and Holland with my dad when I was little (he was a sailor), the big waves crashing over the deck, and me throwing-up over the side, it felt so dangerous. In my twenties I ran into difficulty swimming during a boat-trip in Turkey, I had no snorkel or flippers like everyone else, they were all facedown looking at the pretty fish, a riptide swept me away and I swallowed so much water, I thought I was going to drown. I let out the biggest scream I ever have made and then my lungs filled with water, luckily someone on a boat heard me. The images of refugees being drowned at sea were uppermost in my mind when I started writing “Like The English Sea” a year ago.

“Spare me, my dignity, as your spirit crashes over me” – lyric

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King Canute tried to show his courtiers that even he could not stop the tide. It got passed down as a story of how he tried in vain stop the tide. This is just me singing over the sound of the sea Felixstowe 7/17

It’s my favourite song on the EP.  It’s unusual for me to write a song about a place, (can you think of rock songs about the sea?) I’m using the sea as a simile for powerful emotions, which are like unstoppable natural forces. The guitar riff in the choruses sounds watery to me, like the waves. There are heavy shouty sections, like those sudden storms that come out of nowhere and batter you.  It’s the only song from the CD “Breakables” that we have not yet added to the live set, I’ve been saving it until last. I’ll post the lyrics next time. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of the sea if you care to leave a comment in the box below:

 

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.