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Nottingham Sounds Top 10

The Top 10 Things I Listened To, Watched And Read in 2014 (Even Though They Weren’t All Made In 2014)

Most of these are available on Amazon. Click here if you want to earn me a little commission at no expense to yourself.

Music. Albums. (Mostly).

1) AM – Arctic Monkeys  A long awaited return to form for one of my all time favourite bands

2) Silver Birches – Injured Birds  Beautifully recorded distinctly British folk, created right here in Nottingham. Like Oscar Wilde being introduced to Howling Wolf at a party.


3) FAWM 2014 Demos – Liz Frencham Unless you took part in February Album Writing Month you might not get to hear these songs for another year at least. But I did, cos I know people. Australian Jazz vocalist/double bassist Liz Frencham to be precise. I also really enjoyed getting to know the music of FAWMers Woody Muller, Expendable Friend and Hamilton Poolhall this year too. (FAWM links will only be live till Jan 2015. You can hear more of Liz’s music here and here)

4) Blood Money – Tom Waits  Songs from the play Woyzeck including God’s Away On Business
5) A Creation Liturgy – Gungor Virtuoso praise and worship. Who’d have thunk such a thing existed? Sufjan Stevens’ slightly more normal brother.
6) Hypnotize – System Of A Down Daron is the best rock guitar arranger since Jimmy Page

7) Celestial EP – Field Studies Stunning vocals and dreamscape guitars. Another awesome Nottingham band.

8) His Best Chess 50th Anniversary Collection – Howling Wolf The voice! The guitar!
9) At Folsom Prison – Johnny Cash One of JC’s strings is a quarter tone flat for about 3 songs and he does a couple of tunes off his comedy album. And it’s still awesome. Check out Johnny and June’s duet on Jackson.
10) Glassworks – Philip Glass PG’s most accessible album.

Books.

My Top 10 Books fell neatly into 2 halves

Best Non-Fiction

1) The Jaws Log: Expanded Edition (Newmarket Insider Filmbooks) written by one of the script guys (also an extra) and bound in a weird shark skin feel cover
2) Tom Waits on Tom Waits: Interviews and Encounters Hilarious, thought provoking and pure poetry. See my many blog posts here
3) Hotel California: Singer-songwriters and Cocaine Cowboys in the L.A. Canyons 1967-1976 A book about the music industry where nearly everyone is a bad person
4) Monkey Business: The Lives and Legends of the Marx Brothers I’m a lifelong fan but I learnt a whole bunch of new stuff
5) The Defeat Of The Spanish Armada Gripping

Best Fiction

1) American Gods Epic. The Stand with superheroes.
2) Suttree Probably McCarthy’s warmest, most humane book and everyone doesn’t die.
3) World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War Almost nothing like the film. Which is good.
4) Hamlet (Wordsworth Classics) Yep. I went full ReBard. Deal with it Melon Farmers…
5) Red Riding Nineteen Eighty (Red Riding Quartet) Boy are these books dark. Three down one to go…

Films

Not really in any clear order…

1) Temple Grandin – watch this film!
2) The Lego Movie
3) Philomena
4) Penguins Of Madagascar
5) Interstellar
6) Inglourious Basterds
7) Lincoln
8) Mr Turner
9) Telstar
10) Seven Samurai

Also enjoyed Sightseers, The Lives Of Others, Rush, Primer, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy and Rewatching The Fisher King and A Hard Day’s Night. TV-wise I loved Sonic Highways, An Adventure In Space And Time, Queen: Days Of Our Lives, Firefly and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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Top 10

Five Biggest Encouragements For Indie Songwriters In 2014

2014 was a tough year in many ways – I didn’t suffer from writers block as much as writer’s-can’t-be-bothered. (even though I still wrote 31 songs this, it was well below my personal best of 47). But by the end of the year these five things had helped to snap me out of it and give me a renewed sense of optimism and purpose. Maybe they’ll help you too.

They are

1) Dave Grohl’s documentary series Sonic Highways
2)
Mike Leigh’s biopic Mr Turner
3) Steve Albini’s 2014 Face The Music Keynote Address
4)
The documentary film Standing in the Shadows of Motown
5) The First Tuesday Songwriting Group

What all of these have in common is that they portray artists making art in the midst of life happening. Things like mexican standoffs with gig promoters, illegitimate children, suicides, being dissed by the reigning monarch, riots, alcoholism, threatened eviction, hurricanes. Some artists labour in obscurity, others meltdown in the spotlight, others work on after the crowds have been and gone. We have champions, patrons and supporters – to stretch our canvases and shave our dinner, preserve our legacy and remaster our lost tapes when were gone. But we do the work of an artist. And the art gets made. Regardless.

Whether you like Foo Fighters or not Sonic Highways did a great job of spotlighting unsung heroes from 8 music cities in America and gave glimpses into the process of recording in different studios, collaborating and lyric writing. A couple of episodes are still on BBC iPlayer there’s a longer trailer

and more info here

Mr Turner is visually stunning and has some great performances (especially from Timothy Spall). It’s still around some cinemas and will be out on DVD (in Feb?) 

Steve Albini’s Keynote Address is remarkably encouraging for someone with a rep of being a curmudgeon and leaves you hopeful that the music industry is heading in the right direction (at least for those of us who aren’t money-grabbing sharks) You can watch it on YouTube or read the full transcript

Standing in the Shadows of Motown is the story of Motown’s house band The Funk Brothers combining interviews, reconstructions and a glorious reunion concert. It’s bittersweet but goes a long way towards rightly crediting the men who “played on more number-one hits than the Beatles, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys COMBINED” It’s available on DVD and you can find it on YouTube.

Being in a songwriting group forces you to write regularly whether you feel like it or not. Looking back I’ve realised that many of my best songs were written solely because I HAD to write something for the next meeting. If you live around Nottingham you’re more than welcome to attend First Tuesday Songwriting Group. If not look around for a similar group in your area (or start one!). Failing that – sign up for February Album Writing Month.

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A Blog's Life Teaching Testimonials

Kids, Eh?

Had a touching moment today. Went back to teaching as we had a christmas concert to rehearse for, but after a little while my voice started to give out (due to Wednesday’s accident). And one by one these little kids strumming away on Rudolph started taking up the slack and leading the singing for me.

*The whiteboard ‘vandalism’ is by the same kids, but from a different session

 

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EP Diary

EP #2 Diary – Part 5

As winter starts to draw nearer I feel like hibernating. By about 4:30pm I feel like I’ve been sedated. At the weekend I grabbed my son’s electric and forced myself to do some lead guitar and luckily my ‘neighbour’ was quiet enough to get something down. It took way too long (of course) and I became conscious that I was losing the groove after 3 or 4 takes but it was taking me 20 or 30 to really get happy with my note choices. I spent 2 hours recording 30 seconds only to totally rerecorded it the following night. I’m unimpressed with my soloing but it does the job of lifting the track in a few spots.

I still have a bits of vocals to do, but last night I was involved in a serious accident while travelling back from the sessions Nina Smith and I have been running with Deeper Than Forever. The bus we were on had a head-on collision with a car – killing both it’s occupants instantly. The bus passengers suffered various injuries, Nina lost a couple of teeth and I injured my throat hitting it on the seat in front. So apart from just dealing with the shock/aftermath, I’m probably not going to be able to sing/teach properly for a little while. But maybe I’ll be able to prepare Fingernails for mixing if I feel up to it.

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EP Diary

EP #2 Diary – Part 4

I’m having second thoughts about the running order and as I keep switching between referring to songs by their running order and recording order why don’t I spill the beans on the track listing?

1) Everything In The World Is Fighting Everything In The Sky
2) Fingernails
3) Me And The Devil

A lot has happened since the last update. EitW has had an initial mix, M&tD is being mixed. Only Fingernails remains a working progress.
Liz Frencham sent me some wonderful bass tracks, Rachel McClean has tracked all the cello, and I’ve done all the lead vox and just need to do a few more BV’s (both mine and guides for the two singers) and maybe a few bars of lead guitar where the energy drops. I’m trying to book some studio time before christmas to track drums but it might have to wait till new year.

So the EP is moving forward, despite things like the battery slowly dying on my mac, then the power supply breaking and snapping the volume control off my guitar by dropping a mug on it.

Among my small circle of friends, recording is also being delayed by touring, moving house, having a baby and of course Christmas!

I’ve written a couple of new songs since starting the EP, one of which I shared at the monthly songwriting group I host. With the pressure of work and recording I was wondering if hosting a group is still a wise use of my time. But I realised that all three songs on the EP were premiered at the First Tuesday Songwriting Group. Two of them would never have been written if not for the pressure of having to come up with something to share and Fingernails would probably have sat in my ‘song starts’ folder for the next 20 years. So the group stays!