Days in the life of a songwriter 29

Right, it’s been 5 weeks, how did that happen? I went to two Jordan Reyne gigs in that time, one at the Dublin Castle in Camden and one at the Slaughtered Lamb in Clerkenwell. I probably prefered the second one but only because the sound was better. Jordan was great on both nights. Amphibic played a gig at 93 Feet East on 29th of February. We had Ben on the drums, Nick on piano, Imogen on cello, Rachel and Tom on violins and myself on singing and guitar duties. The sound was good, even though our sound check was slightly compromised by not having everyone there and Ben managed to arrive during the first song and blend in halfway through that tune, which actually worked really well. It was an early slot and some people missed it because of that. We were on from exactly 8pm till 8:30. A friend got in touch the next day, saying they got there at 8:29 and were told, we were only playing for another minute!! And sadly, they were bloody right.

Met up with our Finnish drummer friend Jari the next day and had a drink with him and his grilfriend down Notting Hill way. He’s going to supply some drum recordings from his studio in Finland.

We also went to see the Tall Poppies at Home House, which was a night set up by a lady called Sefe Greg. There was also someone who would be fantastic on any X Factor type show (but very good really) and an offering more to our liking, called ‘The Cellophane Flowers’. Just checked the gig was on March 6th….

On the 14th of March I went to the Phoenix, off Cavendish Square, for a day of songwriting-master-class-fun with Martin Sutton who has been doing this very thing (writing commercial songs) for a number of years. Met a few interesting characters and some nice folks and had a pretty good day, including writing half a song amongst about 17 of us, within about 15-20 minutes. I was quite impressed by our collaborative effort. I have since dug out some old and good songs of mine and am giving them a once over ‘Martin Sutton’ style. The main thing for me, comes down to, ‘not settling for the first thing that springs to mind’ type of approach. Trying different lyrics (or melodies) for a given line in the song. He told us he was pitching a song to Barbara Streisand at the moment. I thought, wait a minute, I’ve got a song for Barbara too ……Oh, then I left my guitar in the pub, which i noticed when I was going down the escalator’s at Oxford Circus, ahhhhh.

My mate Atul had his musician’s meet up at the Comedy Pub on the 18th, so I went along and gave my two cents’ worth of wisdom if asked (and also when i wasn’t asked, well you know if you know me….) There’s a link to Atul on the right hand side here.

Finally got round to repairing an old Drawmer Compressor (DL231 since you asked) and I might keep it as it is a pretty smooth sounding piece of kit in engineer speak. Might sell my Symetrix instead. The Amek BC2 strip is working but it’s not as great as I was hoping it would be. So will stick to the old Alice preamp for the time being. This week I’m going to up the ante by buying a version of Komplete (Native Instruments virtual instruments collection). Almost enough of the geek talk, but also got my old Oktava MK219 out, which hasn’t seen any service the last few years, upgraded the transistor in it and a few capacitors (the grille went years ago), and it really is a fantastic mic. Just waiting for some brand new brass mesh. I will be doing a mic shootout over at Tigersonic studios with Felix Macintosh there in two days’ time. I will take along my Royerised MXL 2001 and the modded Oktava 219 and possibly my Sennheiser MD421 which works great for me on vocals too.

I think that’s it for now, next installment in about 2 weeks I reckon, be good.

Forgot to mention that Aussie company Hook, Line and Sync has accepted some Amphibic songs for their catalogue. So hopefully there will be more synching going on soon.


Days in the life of a songwriter 28

I will try and condense the last 4 weeks into a small post here. Can’t promise though. Well, the MXL2001 mic with the Royer type circuit didn’t have it easy with me. Basically, I killed the tube pretty quickly (by unplugging and re-plugging the poor thing) while I did some work on its power supply. Got a new 5840 tube and fixed it again. More about that later. Finished my tax return and got a big shock. As it was my first year without any employment, only self employment, I had to pay the tax plus NI, plus the first installment for the current year. I know, I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t damnit!! But before I start telling you about my new push for higher recording quality, let me tell you that I managed to go skiing after an awful long absence from the slopes. I can’t tell you how long, as I’d have to shoot you, which won’t benefit anyone, so leave it, will you. We went over to Switzerland for 4 days and had the most gorgeous weather, albeit at about 25 degrees below zero. Fresh! My skiing skills hadn’t suffered a tad (they aren’t fantastic) but I can live with them. Maybe because I suffer from the odd bout of Rollerblading!? After 3 full days of going up and down (the slopes) I decided to give my aching body a bit of a rest and got myself a window seat at Cafe Schneider, who are the local coffee house/chocolate/patisserie hotshots. Ordered a cappuccino and watched the world drift by and scribbled some lyric sketches in my pad. Most of the afternoon was spent back on a train to Zurich, to catch a plane back to Blighty. If there is any money left next winter, I might try it again.

I read this paper on what musicians should and shouldn’t do by Derek Sivers and as I have a bit of a habit, telling people what I think about their output, I sent him an email. He founded (and sold) a very successful company called CD baby, where artists can sell their wares to their fans, and fans they didn’t know existed. Anyway, he’s a nice man who likes to communicate and got straight back to me.

I have done a bit of thinking and have decided to submit a few more songs to the licensing company that managed to get me the placement on the American show, Switched at Birth. Apart from that, I will approach a few more companies like them and also keep submitting stuff to various Taxi listings. A consultant I spoke to recently, told me that he liked the songwriting of the new songs, but that he wouldn’t be able to present them to the labels he is in touch with. The labels he knows need the recordings to be more developed. I do suspect that the size of the labels could be relevant here, as the smaller the label, the less likely it is they’ll have money to do any developing themselves. But, he is a pro, so I’d better take him seriously. It made me mull over my recording setup a bit. It’s incredibly simple but also very efficient. With a bit of thinking and care, I reckon I can push the recording and mix quality up by a few notches. I am testing some more professional software and am doing some more mic shootouts. Have also re-connected my old Amek BC2 desk channel strip and it does beat my current preamp. Don’t want to bore you too much, so will talk about this a bit more in the next installment. Had a rehearsal with Imogen on cello last week and one with Nick (piano) today, drums, violin and cello on Thursday … So yes, we are firing up all the different cylinders at the moment….. Okay, more next time.

Amphibic on American television, yeah baby!

Right, where was I? I left for Christmas and the whole family thing ensued. Saw nephews and nieces, ate way too much and managed to get a bit of musician-geek-DIY done. I re-surrected a mic which I had converted to a tube mic (courtesy of Dave Royer who published an article on this way back). In case you’d like to do the same follow the link. I had used a different mic back then and wasn’t that pleased by the result. But with too much time on my hands, and as luck would have it, an MXL2001 which is the mic that Dave had intended the circuit for, I ripped the circuit from the old mic and put it in the MXL. I finally got round and did some early testing of this mic yesterday and I have a feeling I’ll be using it quite a bit now (yes it sounds fantastic). Maybe I should mention that I’m a big fan of dynamic mics (simpler technology), especially the Sennheiser MD421 and the old Shure SM58. I also like lo-fi throwbacks like the Beyerdynamic M55. And I should add that it’s better to record than not to record, as what is happening in front of the mic is what really counts.

Okay, that’s enough geek-age. Just before the year was out, I was joined by someone dear to me and there was a big feast featuring wild boar that night. On the last day of the year we ended up on the roof terrace of my mate’s house which is fairly high up, we had given up the plan of driving to the top of a nearby hill, to see the fireworks mayhem that visits Germany every New Year’s eve. This is due to the fact that everyone can and will buy fireworks. We did hear the fire engines later that night, as there are always a few house fires and someone’s probably lost some part of their body and possibly their eye sight. On to happier news.

There were a few more days where I could chill and I managed to borrow a car to drive up to the Dutch border where Steven (at Haldern Pop) had been storing my old guitar case for my Strat (for about 4 years). Thanks Steven! I also picked up a last batch of CDs from them. Before I got to Haldern I drove past Ollie’s place to pick up my old VOX AC10 amp from about 1958. It’s tan and I bought it in London in 1993 or so, when it was in a terrible state. They are very rare and fetch more than a thousand US. Anyway, it was good to see Ollie, Steffie and their little one, Leo. We had a couple of beers in the evening and shared a coffee in the morning, then back on the road. Ollie gave me a Fender Tex Mex pickup which is now the twinkle in my brunette guitar’s eye.

Just before I came back an email reached me to tell me that the song Hungry Man, from our EP THERE WERE MILLIONS OF THEM, had made it onto American television. It was used in a show called ‘Switched at Birth’. I think the episode is called ‘Starry Night’. I will have to see whether I should offer this publisher a few more songs, or whether I should spread the wares over a couple of publishers? But I would like to keep some new songs back, in order not to run out of ammunition for publishers here. The company in the US specializes in TV and Film.

Anyway, back here now, have done three jobs. Met Atul at his musician’s meet up on Saturday, where I met Felix Macintosh who runs Tigersonic studios. Went to see the film ‘The Artist” on the weekend and that’s it. Will do some recording now…..

Days in the life of a songwriter 27

Just got last year’s diary out to see what I did just before Christmas 2011. It’s been so long. It’s slowly coming back to me now, diaries are a god-send.

Industrial folkster, Jordan Reyne, had tipped me off about a music industry party at the Water Rats on the 8th of December. I was glad I went, as Believe-in-Digital gave us a few free drinks and I checked out one band that I liked. They are called Belleruche. Then there was a carol singing thing at St Mary Aldermary’s, just opposite Mansion House tube, which was lovely, they had wine, mulled wine, mince pies, cake and candles and I was slightly concerned that the new vicar and his crew might be burning down the house (church). Anyway, well done to James for enticing us to come along. We got louder with each carol.

There was one more industry schmooze event at the Electricity Showroom, but apart from having about 2 and a half chats to as many people I didn’t get anything out of it, so left early. Almost on the home stretch to Christmas I told loads of people to come down to the Prince Alfred in Maida Vale on the 17th of Dec. I think about 12 did and believe most would agree that a good time was had. Just before I headed into Christmas hols, where I traditionally leave the country, a small present to myself arrived. A Proteus 2000 by EMU which was dirt cheap on fleabay. It’ll make it possible for us to have some fairly cool Rhodes type sounds (electric pianos for the un-initiated) on stage soon. The box can do a lot more but that’s more for recording at home….. Right, there will be another update tomorrow bringing us to the Here and Now……

Amphibic make the ITV evening news!!!

Sorry for a bit of a break (two weeks instead of one) but one, I was dead busy last week, and two, I had the feeling that I was putting out too much!? Let me know what you think please.

One thing that I haven’t mentioned when I mentioned the Ideal Home Show the other day, was that I’m contemplating using stop animation to produce a video. I saw this stand by a company calle Hue Animation who supply you with their software, camera and plasticine to create stop animation videos. I thought it’s great stuff for me or other artists to create videos for their songs. You need 8 frames per second which means you need to create 1680 frames (individual pics) for a 3 and a half minute pop song. I can do that and I bet you can too! That’s my good deed for the day.

Jordan Reyne tipped me off about a bandcamp meet up which took place at the book club 10 days ago and I went. Bandcamp helps bands to sell their wares online and from what I saw and heard they do it better than most. They are very friendly people and even shelled out a couple of drinks and I’m sure you know that it’s almost impossible to get a free drink with a bloody gig in London!! It also had a bit of a ‘camp’ (as in tent) like atmosphere about it, a bit boyscout-y if you like. Anyway, I liked it. I do have a bandcamp profile now (see link on the right) and you’ll see it grow over the coming days.

After a couple more rehearsals we played our 12 Bar Club gig on the 1st of Dec. Just before our sound check an ITV camera crew appeared to do a feature on Denmark Street and its musical history (Sex Pistols, a Rolling Stone album was recorded there, publishers were and are based there, music shops and clubs are still there…). Well they filmed our sound check and did a mini interview with Imogen and myself and we ended up on London tonight, on Saturday evening. I found out on facebook.

The next day I went down to Goldsmith’s as Sam Lee (period folkster) was holding a master class there. He talked about his journey and how he got started. He has been running a folk club for I think 6 years in London, it’s called the Magpie’s Nest. Promoting other people for a few years means that he’s been able to connect with lots of very interesting people and is in a fantastic postition to release his own album. He did some unaccompanied singing of traditional folk songs which he does in a very serene way, I was damn impressed by the man. I had a very brief chat with him before he set off across the country to meet an Irish traveller community to hear their old songs! Great stuff.

Oh yes, our gig went well, apart from trumpeter Joe being off sick, as he’d spent the night bringing his guts up. Well, we still struggled to get 6 of us onto the stage.

Matt Jamison, Charlie Ashcroft and Jim Gellatly at Amazing Radio have all played our songs so far. Thanks lads. And I have to say, after listening to quite a few of their shows now, that they are doing a great job, only using unsigned bands and talent. Tune in sometime if you can. They are on DAB far left on the dial.

Right, last point. Am off to see the lovely Sarah Ward at JazzFM now, we’ll be talking about Christmas markets, catch up on old times and play a song. The show will be broadcast close to Christmas, but I’ll keep you posted. Laters.

Days in the life of a songwriter 26

Went to see a photography exhibition by Venetia Dearden. It was down in Brixton and we had to stumble along Coldharbour lane to get to it. The gallery is called Coldharbour London and is a great space, I think it used to be a print factory. At first I wasn’t sure about the angle the artist was coming from until I realised that the art was commissioned by a fashion house. Then it all made sense. Well almost.

I think I have mentioned that I have done some work to bring our track Dear Caffeine back to life. It has piano and violins in there now. Nick came round on Thursday night to check out the piano parts and we were joined by Rachel on violin who I met when she was busking near the Tate Modern. It worked really well and as we’ll have Tom join us on violin for the gig at the 12 Bar Club, I spent a few hours double checking the violin parts (one and two) and saving them as PDF documents so I could email them to Tom last night. I work in Logic and I might do a ‘How to’ blog post soon.

Sunday morning started in great fashion as we had two tracks played on Amazing Radio. In case you’d like to check out the show, it was the Amazing Chill on 20.11.11. Charlie Ashcroft played ‘Boy Doesn’t Meet Girl’ and then ‘Rocket Boys’ in hour two. He was filling in for Matt Jamison. They broadcast nationally on DAB and are on the olde net(te)… Then we were off to the Ideal Home Show as my partner’s company were one of the sponsors. She had to do an interview (on camera) for them, so it turned out to be a media heavy day. Sunday night mate Olaf and I went to the Bowery in New Oxford Street to check out Jordan Reyne’s gig there, supporting Marina Celeste of Novelle Vague fame. There’s a link to Jordan’s blog on the right. Jordan does celtic folk with an industrial edge. She uses machine noises and also samples her own guitar as well as voice. Visually, imaginge Pippi Longstocking living on a seafarer’s graveyard ;-). Marina Celeste had a lot of female admirers and two very good musicians with her. Das Fluff, who were also supporting, were a mix between Sisters of Mercy, Devo and Nina Hagen.

Okay, Monday I rehearsed with drummer boy Ben, down at the Imperial College before I went to Camden for Justin Wayne’s (link on the right) musician’s clinic at the Hawley Arms. I had submitted a track to be played (amongst other demos) and got to meet a couple of interesting people. One management person and Alex Kerr-Wilson who organises smallish industry showcase gigs in London. I though it was time well spent. Also met mate Atul there and had a couple of pints as a bonus. The Dead Saints had travelled from Manchester and provided some merry laddishness that was good fun. Oh yes, the 12 Bar Club gig is next week on the 1st….. laters.

Days in the life of a songwriter 25

Failed miserably in my quest to finally see Ash’s film, Self Made, by Gillian Wearing. Only realised just before we wanted to go to the BFI last Saturday that they were showing it at half six which was much too bloody early for yours truly. So, no, it hasn’t been seen yet. Damn. My journey to the World Travel Market took place on Wednesday but I was a bit disappointed. It was alright, I just didn’t see as many old faces as I had imagined…oh well. I got some much needed CDRs in the post and also a bottom skin (it’s actually called side skin) for my blue Del Rey snare. So I can hopefully put it to good use soon.

Well, we still went out and saw a movie, Tintin and something unicorn (the Adventures of Tintin: The secret of the unicorn). It was very well done, with lots of action and 3D and all (the good people at the Odeon charged us a quid extra for the 3D glasses, after taking 17 something off us already) .. if I don’t lose them I can use them next time… Jamie Bell, was Tintin’s voice, Andy Serkis did a sterling job as Captain Haddock and Daniel Craig weighed in as the baddie Ivan Ivanovitch Saccharin. My mate Olaf confessed that he, at times, forgot that it’s a CGI animated cartoon, which speaks for the plot and the pretty impressive action scenes, but keep in mind, it is still a kids movie, you need to be a kid at heart to enjoy it. We had a good laugh and our Saturday was saved. Here’s the trailer:

Had a proper rehearsal with Ben and we’re almost there. A violin player from Goldsmith’s got in touch which means we are heading towards a complete line-up with full steam ahead. Today’s the day when I finally hook up my old piano module to an amp in my room, in order to be able to play/learn piano at any time without being hooked up to my computer. Have also spoken to Celine about some regular lessons, yeah!

I used to work for JazzFm as a techie a few years back (amongst a few other London stations) and I got a call from a lady whose show I used to work on. Her name is Sarah Ward and she asked me to do a little interview with her for a show near Christmas, to talk about music, travelling and Christmas markets. Jazz Fm was resurrected a couple of years back and is now online and on DAB, which is great for fans of Jazz as the old JazzFm became Smooth Radio. Anyway, working with Sarah was always fun and I’m really looking forward to seeing her again. There will be coffee and chats!

Almost forgot, looking forward to our gig at the 12 Bar Club on December 1st. Okay, time for lunch kids.