Tuesday, 24 March 2015

a band

Stating you're getting a band together is pretty easy, I've personally been doing it most of my life. The effort I've put into realising this endeavour has ebbed and flowed somewhat over the last thirty five years, the results have been consistent.

I wrote the first paragraph three days ago, a couple of points could have played into this; being a novice and trying to avoid an uncomfortable truth that I'm somehow to blame for stunting my own progress. A novice for pausing the flow and avoiding blaming myself, well who likes doing that?.

In an effort to maintain a theme as well as post something of worth I'll digress.

Around thirty five years ago (aged seven) I wanted to get a band together. Within the day (probably), I'd wrote a song, got a band together and played it live. We, the band, my sister, my cousin, a next door neighbour and me, played a rendition of 'verbal diarrhoea' (lyrics below), our gear consisted of  tennis rackets, upturned buckets and sticks and a long handled brush for the mic. The stage, an old shelf unit laid flat. The venue our back yard, we smashed it.

verbal diarrhoea

verbal diarrhoea...
blastin' down my ear...
drives me insane.
blows out my brain.
come on lets do that verbal diarrhoea again
(repeated, a lot)

Not literally but I believe that's a term used to describe an exceptional live performance. What we lacked in talent, instruments and material we compensated for with heart and passion. Yeah that night we smashed it for sure.

I started this post about 2 years ago flushed with the eagerness of beginnings. I of course assumed, having never attempted anything like this before, that within a matter of months I'd have a most excellent band together and be busy deciding which venues would be lucky enough to get our bookings. As it turns out, getting a domain name, some free blogger hosting, a twitter account and posting that you're getting a band together was the easy bit and although the band is still only a blog post of intent I've got a somewhat better idea of what it takes.

Thinking back I had no idea of where to start other than some vague notion of bumping into people who would want to come along for the ride. After a few unsuccessful attempts at enlisting people I knew and replying to a couple of gumtree ads it dawned on me that my own personal enthusiasm wasn't going to be enough to convince people I was worth the effort, I needed song demos.

Years ago I remember reading a Noel Gallagher interview in which he'd said something along the lines of him only getting better by recording himself, at the time I thought yeah, that makes sense so I bought an eight track tape (like I said, years ago) recorder and a mic. My first efforts with it highlighted my lack of ability and instead of persevering, it along with my guitar gathered dust for years until I gave it away to girl in a lame attempt to get her to like me. Fast forward to two years ago and my equipment consisted of a laptop, a guitar, with an appalling action (strings miles away from the fretboard) and strings that seemed to refuse to hold a tune, my sisters boyfriend had given me (my previous one having died some years earlier but that's a whole other story) and my untrained vocals. The only way I knew of recording myself was via the built in camera and mic on the laptop. The results again gave me a confidence deficit, this time though instead of quiting I wanted to get better. It must have been that crappy guitar, that's what was holding me back. I resolved to get a new guitar, no mean feat considering my lack of funds and employment. I was and am in receipt of state assistance and the good will of my mother, so after a few failed attempts at soliciting charity I saved up for months and bought a good instrument.

The guitar I purchase, after a brief fling with a second hand Art and Lutherie that was in need of more love than I was willing to give, is a Faith Jupiter cut away electro acoustic hi gloss. I think it cost around £700, the receipt's knocking around somewhere. I'd had my eye on this guitar for a while and although it cost more than I intended to spend the sense of achievement I got from getting something I really wanted was probably worth the extra outlay, plus I didn't see it as a frivolous impulse buy, more of an investment.

A band should now be just a formality, I just needed to bait my hook with some enticing demos and reel in my pick of the finest local talent, I couldn't blame the guitar anymore. This was around 15 months ago. The astute reader will have noticed the lack of press relating to reader confusion gigs during this period. Alas I again failed to get a band together, the delay this time was also demo centred. I was running out of inanimate objects to blame and slowly starting to realise my inability to get a worthy representation of my songs down could have either something to do with my skills as a performer, which I'll go into in more detail in a post on playing live, or maybe even the songs themselves.

The desire to start songwriting, sometime in my early twenties, had been the main reason I'd picked a guitar up. I'd wrote lyrics or poetry on and off for years but never tried to sing them or put music to them. I figured picking up a guitar was the way to go and since my girlfriend at the time had one lying around that she didn't use, it began. I mention this only to draw attention to how I thought about writing songs, the punk ethic being that anyone can do it with a three chord song. I bought a few song chord books to try to emulate (a better word than steal) what others had done. I'd never heard of musical theory so my approach consisted of attempting to sing lyrics and playing different chord changes over them till I thought it sounded right, I then structured them similar to the ones in the books. I never wanted to learn lots of other peoples songs, I couldn't see the point. Other than a handful of Neil Young songs a few Oasis tunes, a couple of Paul Weller numbers and The Passenger by Iggy Pop my repertoire was comprised of my own compositions and these were the ones I mostly played. The cover versions, when I did play them, were basic renditions at best, with none of the nuances of the originals. This had been my approach until I bought the new guitar.

The new guitar is a performance quality instrument and with this instrument I wanted to perform. Although it hadn't appealed to me much in the past I thought of busking as a means to achieve this, as well as a sort of right of passage I'd maybe neglected to acknowledge. Buskers played well known songs so I needed to learn some new tunes, I thought two a week would be sufficient to give me enough ammunition to take on the high streets of the north west by the summer, around six months away at that time. I decided on Starman by Bowie and A New England by Billy Bragg for starters and by the next weeks additions of That's Entertainment by The Jam and Redemption Song by Bob Marley I had the chord changes memorised. Over the following weeks I included Another Lonely Day by Ben Harper, The Times They Are A Changin' by Bob Dylan, Hey Joe (made famous) by Jimi Hendrix a flat picked version of Imagine by John Lennon and finger picked versions of No Woman No Cry by Bob Marley, The House Of The Rising Sun (made famous) by The Animals and Fast Car by Tracy Chapman, which has a bit of finger picking and a bit of strumming, plus one or two other songs I didn't stick with and some exercises.

It became apparent early on in this process that I needed to practise more. I could grasp the rudiments of the songs but my competence when performing them was at best amateurish, both playing and singing had to improve. I'd read somewhere that professional musicians practised between six and eight hours a day, up to this point I'd played at most around two with no particular regime and some days not at all. If I was going to get better this had to increase and it did slowly from daily sessions of between two to three hours up to five or six hours and sometimes maybe more. By the time summer arrived all I wanted to do was get better, I resigned myself to practise rather than attempt busking and although I could tell I was getting better I still lacked the the confidence for public performance. This period of constant playing lasted around a year, it had to stop due to muscle strain in my left arm brought on by constantly making chords, it was very painful and I could barely move my arm let alone play the guitar.

Still no band together. I check gumtree regularly, more out of habit than an actual desire to contact anyone, just to see if anything catches my eye and to keep in mind what I'm aiming for. Most of the people wanting to join or start a band are in their early twenties and are looking for others around the same age group, to set the world alight. Some are in their thirties and would be perhaps more open to joining up with an older guy, maybe just my mind supposing, the motivations here seem to range from a career or at least a supplement to just for fun. Then there's what I've come to realise as my age bracket, self described as mature, over forty and wanting to pursue music for varying reasons but mostly fun, some as extra income and a rarer smattering who remain convinced it's never too late to ignite an audience with musical magic. The range of candidates and motivations gets me to check my aim. I, of course, see myself as part of the rare breed and as such begin to wonder if a good demo will be enough, sure I might get interest, have some jam sessions and perhaps even start a band but I know I cant count on the passion of others for what is in effect my dream. It starts to feel like it could take years to get this thing functioning as a viable entity.

Another type of ad on gumtree, I've yet to mention, is the session musician. This option could get me a good sounding demo fast, the down side to this route is they want paying which is fair enough but that needs funding. The routes to funding that I can think of include getting a record deal, a kick starter (or similar) campaign, some sort of arts grant or payed gigs all requiring an at least semi polished product for promotion, so back to square one. Busking or saving up again could provide some cash. As yet I've not costed it properly but am guessing to get half a dozen tunes done it'd be getting on for a grand maybe more. Another investment (gamble) could be to to get some sort of electronic music making system, the one I've been looking at from Native Instruments is around a grand for the cheapest set up that not only requires a learning curve but is moving away from the cherished idea I'd had of a live guitar, bass, and drums being the backbone of the band, that said I'm sure a skilled operator could make an authentic band sound which could be reproduce by session musicians if paid gigs were booked.

I decided to start writing this post having found myself at a loose end due to my guitar being in for repair, nothing serious just a set up, restring and a small modification. I've started playing again after a two or three month break while my arm got better and am building up my practise hours again. I've bought six more chord books, Bob Marley, The Stone Roses, Bob Dylan, Oasis, Billy Bragg and a Blues compilation and seem to be picking up songs faster than before. Busking this summer is a definite possibility and maybe some open mic nights. I've rewritten the chords to one of my songs I wasn't happy with and it flows much better, I used the circle of fifths so a little bit a music theory has crept in too. I plan on writing more songs soon or whenever inspiration grabs me. Learning more of other peoples songs is making me learn new chords and progressions which in hindsight I should have done years ago but we all walk our own paths an I ain't complaining.

I just remembered another type of gumtree ad, I haven't seen for a while, with demo possibilities. The sound engineer student. These usually run along the lines of needing to record someone for a college project and although they often ask for bands there are definite potential opportunities to be had.

I started this thing because I wanted to. After a long time of hiding behind not trying I finally got that not failing wasn't the only thing achieved by this approach. In some respects and by that yardstick getting a journey underway and sticking with it could be seen as a measure of personal success. A more general definition of what I want is for this endeavour to produce timeless art that moves people in positive ways and keeps me occupied doing stuff that doesn't feel like work.