I finished a song a day or so ago. I slightly messed up the final transfer of the mix so I had to redo it. Its fairly conventional sounding tune for a change. Straightforward one might say in many ways. As I type this we have gone from a heatwave to conditions more like the beginning of November in the space of a week or so. So I am sulking as I cant go out to play mostly due to the dread C19 virus messing things up bigtime. I dont expect much sympathy as you lot can’t really keep calm and carry on either can you?
So here is the song first in case you dont want to read all the whinging first.
I am glad we got that bit over first. So back to the whinging then. Some people are relentlessly upbeat all the time.How do they do it and what are they on? The walls continue to close in on me I am afraid. I have been trying to open the doors but the wind is blowing them firmly shut again. The damp is making my bones complain again.
I cannot say I have ever felt as isolated and out of touch at anytime in my life so far as I have during the weeks since March 23rd this year when lockdown restrictions were formally introduced in the United Kingdom. Everything is strange and surreal. Even the most mundane activities as we go to the shop masked like cowboys with bandanas as we buy a hand of bananas. The novelty has worn off now though.
Will we ever get back to normal? I am not convinced its going to happen anytime soon. One year, two years, longer perhaps. It’s hard to imagine really. So far we have had restrictions for 159 days. And we are still here.
if only I still had something to say.
“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
“He that can have patience can have what he will.”
― Benjamin Franklin
“Why is patience so important?”
“Because it makes us pay attention.”
― Paulo Coelho
Well today was a bad day. I felt very low, sometimes however much I try things just get on top of me. I get angry, frustrated and all logic goes out of the window. That’s one of the gifts depression brings to the party. So today I have been trying unsuccessfully to shift my mood with many distractions. Listening to music from my teenage years Neal Young, Elton John, Hendrix, Yes and also a bit of other stuff like the Dudley Moore trio. !968 to 1972 in particular was an incredible time more music and revisiting it helped me a bit. I am still fighting it out with a French Language course but being dyslexic doesn’t really help to much, but I can’t give up. So many times in my life it seems as though I have had to though. Its very frustrating, or maybe I am a lot stupider than I thought I was.
I also started recording a track which will be a song once I have sorted the lyrics into some sort of order. I spent a couple of hours working on that. I think it might be a reasonable number if I can get a good enough vocal on it. I can sing but my voice is not going to win awards. In the past I did work with some guest vocalists on some collaboration’s but personal circumstances make that a bit difficult to do here.
Also I am listening to the sound and production on recordings I really like to see if I can get some sort of warmth into my own stuff. Some of the 70’s stuff is particularly appealing. Perhaps I need to open the doors up figuratively and literally and try again?
Now I am a bit wary of people and i am not always a good judge of character, I can be easily fooled or duped if I don’t keep my wits about me. Also I often get suspicious of peoples motives and that can get me in trouble if I misinterpret them. The trouble is often ends up with me feeling isolated and cutting myself off from opportunity.
It’s been a fairly busy few days, 4 gigs in a row and a bit of website stuff to sort out for the Delta Ladies. Plus I am working on a new tune or two and have now managed the basic track for a new song. The lyric is incomplete at present, but I have the main part and the chorus. It’s a funny thing but although I am quite competent technically I occasionally get a bit of a block and for get whats possible. I try to keep the focus on the musical aspect and not the production part, but you can get blown off course. The almost limitless options in terms of production on even the most humble demo home studio really does mean its just a matter of your own creativity. You can’t really blame the gear anymore. I remember saving up my penny’s when the first Teac Portastudio 144 appeared and having great fun with it over the years. It was very simple but gave good results. In those days you had to actually worry about head room and signal to noise big time. Now all that’s pretty much an irrelevance, just make sure you record to -4db as peak and you are sorted. I think you had to have more of a sense of adventure then to actually make something special.
The next big deal for me was when I got my Korg W1fd. I had had various keyboards before but this was my first workstation that I could build up complicated arrangements on. It also had a real time sequencer, so that was a great leap for forward for me. Before that I had a couple of Korg analogue synths (one was the Monopoly), but I never really got the full potential out of them. I then got a Yamaha Piano and started learning Piano as opposed to keyboard playing. One thing I regret selling though was a not particularly good fretless bass, I could play it a bit and even used it on a few recordings, but lack of space and funds caused me to get rid of it in the end. It’s fun playing a bass. Maybe I will get another one some time 😉
Another regret is that I never did master sight reading music, but I had been playing by ear for a long time. I started working on it about ten years ago, but I am still pretty crap at it. I can do lead sheets fairly well though.
I am dyslexic, and I wonder if the 2 things are related. Still that’s life I guess and I wonder if I would have been inspired to do the other stuff if I had been playing by the rules. Its interesting that many iconic songs have been created by people who have inherent musicality but have not had any formal training. Of course the reverse is also true at times.
I sing, but I am never happy with my voice. Not much I can do about that really. But I shall still keep singing. My musical tastes are very eclectic, so the stuff I create and write is very wide ranging. That keeps it fun though not everything works of course. I first picked up an instrument about 1968 I guess and my first instrument was a Harmonica. I never really got much out of it, then I attempted guitar which was a bit more successful. Then came the violin which was difficult. So difficult that I gave up after 6 months or so. But about a year later I thought I would have another try. I got a slightly better instrument, which I still have in my collection and spent about 18 months fighting with it, but this time with more success.
Day jobs of many different flavours and finally a 13 year dabble in IT databases websites and programming whilst being a Civil Servant at which point various problems caught up with me, and I ended up leaving a stable job and leaping in to the void. I seem to be still here but I can just about keep my head together on good days. At other times I don’t do that well but I do better than others in my situation.
I very rarely played live until I joined Elephant Shelf (now defunct)12 years back at the tender age of 48, But I have done about 1500 gigs, so I have a bit of live experience under my belt now.
So that’s me, the depressive dyslexic and often cripplingly shy person who strangely finds one’s self performing in front of the public. Occasionally I even tell jokes on stage, but once the lights go off I am soon back in my shell.
The way the world is now, is there is a lot to concern me, but I can’t write protest songs with lyrics that anyone can understand. I am not going to save the world with a song, but I might know some folks that can.
Songwriter, producer and revered New Orleans R&B performer Allen Toussaint has died aged 77 after suffering a heart attack, according to reports.
Toussaint died on Monday 9 November in Spain while on tour with his performance quartet, according to Louisiana station WWL-TV, and had played his last show in Madrid on Monday evening.
Toussaint was next scheduled to perform in Antwerp on Thursday 12 November and in London on Sunday 15 November, before returning to the US at the end of the month.
Last week, non-profit organisation New Orleans Artists against Hunger and Homelessness announced Toussaint and musician Paul Simon as acts confirmed to play an annual benefit concert on 8 December. Toussaint co-founded the organisation in 1985 alongside Neville Brothers lead vocalist Aaron Neville, in a bid to help homeless and impoverished citizens of New Orleans.
Beyond his philanthropic work, Toussaint was a legendary fixture of New Orleans R&B. Born in New Orleans on 14 January 1938, he started his musical career as an apprentice to composer, bandleader and producer Dave Bartholomew, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Toussaint then came into his own as a session musician, before becoming a songwriter and producer affiliated with record labels Minit and Instant.
Toussaint wrote hit R&B songs for the likes of Neville, Ernie K-Doe, The Showmen and Irma Thomas and collaborated with Joe Cocker and Paul McCartney, among many others.
His songs often found new life when performed or covered by other artists. He was responsible for Lee Dorsey’s Working in the Coal Mine, Fortune Teller, covered by the Rolling Stones and Benny Spellman, K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law, Southern Nights, covered by Glen Campbell, and Ruler of My Heart, famously recorded by Thomas.
Toussaint was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and made a Grammy awards trustee in 2009.
Music can inspire, move, even devastate, like few cultural forms. Its functions and roles differ: making that morning jogor an afternoon of exam revision bearable, the backdrop to millions of unforgettable nights out, the comfort blanket after the traumatic end of a relationship.
Music can date our lives like the rings of a tree trunk. We sometimes listen to a song because it conjures up a period of our lives. And because of its raw emotional power, music has the potential to make us contemplate social injustice more effectively than any column the likes of me can churn out. Yet this function has been neglected – partly by circumstance, partly by conspiracy.
When I told friends or acquaintances that I was going to be the Brit award-winning singer Paloma Faith’s support act, the response was a mixture of bafflement and concern that either my career or life was going to end in a volley of bottles at London’s O2 arena. I shared their nerves, though comforted myself with the positive response I received when I took to the stage at Glastonbury to rail against injustice and nuclear weapons in 2013. This audience would be rather different, it was pointed out. Faith was taking a risk, too, but her courage and strength inspired me. The daughter of a Spanish immigrant, fed up with the scapegoating of those at the bottom and the failure to hold those at the top to account, concerned that a disillusioned electorate would not use their hard-won democratic rights, she wanted to find new ways to engage her fans. But here’s what moved me: she wanted to rebuild a link between music and politics that was once strong, but which has been heavily eroded.
Politics and music once blossomed. When the US was convulsed by struggles over civil rights and the Vietnam war in the 1960s and 1970s, music reflected many of the contemporary traumas. Marvin Gaye’s anguish at the social ills of the era was voiced in songs such as What’s Going On. “Vietnam, police brutality, social conditions, a lot of stuff,” he said at the time. “With the world exploding around me, how am I supposed to keep singing love songs?” I remember singing Pete Seeger’s pained anti-war anthem Where Have All the Flowers Gone at primary school; little did I know how he and other politicised musicians such as Paul Robeson were hounded and persecuted by the McCarthyites for speaking out.
There was Bob Dylan, of course, capturing the upsurge in challenges to the US social order in 1964 with The Times they are a-Changin’. He was consciously allied to the insurgent struggles for emancipation, saying later: “The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close for a while and allied together at that time.” The blue-collar hero Bruce Springsteen was radicalised by Ronald Reagan, and – rather like Paloma Faith – railed against the demonisation of immigrants. Hip-hop is often portrayed as corrupted by hyper-commercialism and rampant individualism, but Public Enemy incited rebellion among US youth in the late 1980s.
The marriage of music and struggles against an unjust status quo is a global phenomenon, of course. Chile’s Victor Jara – Latin America’s very own Bob Dylan – was part of the movement that culminated in Salvador Allende’s election. Shot dead by August Pinochet’s henchmen, he penned a poem in his final hours: “Silence and screams are the end of my song”. From the struggle against Nigeria’s military dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s, Fela Kuti founded the entire musical genre of Afrobeat. As if to underline the potentially subversive power of music, the Russian authorities had Pussy Riot locked up in 2012 for singing against Putinism in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.
And then there’s the political music traditions of Britain too, of course. When Thatcherism stripped industry from swaths of the country, entire communities were left without work or hope. With despair growing, no wonder the Specials’ Ghost Town resonated in 1981. Red Wedge brought together musicians united against Thatcherism, including Billy Bragg, Madness and Paul Weller.
Yes, politicised musicians are still there, but all too often they are deprived of a mainstream platform. What happened? It’s complex, certainly. Like much of the media and popular culture generally, barriers have been erected that prevent those from non-privileged backgrounds from making it. From acting to journalism to music, it is those who can afford to live off the bank of Mum and Dad who are favoured: everything from the housing crisis to the benefit sanctioning regime help see off musical acts with limited financial means. The accelerated commercialisation of music hasn’t helped either: the big businesses dominating mainstream music are hardly sympathetic when it comes to musicians sticking it to the man. There’s fear: speak out, and the Daily Mail will retaliate with a series of hatchet-jobs on your personal life. And then there’s the general decline of the left: all those defeats under Thatcherism, the disappointments of the New Labour era, the unabashed free-market triumphalism of the post-Cold War era.
No era lasts forever, of course. That celebrities such as Paloma Faith, Russell Brand and Michael Sheen are speaking out about politics is symptomatic of a broader trend. There is a rich seam of disillusionment with Britain’s current social order, and it occasionally bubbles to the surface. It is often directionless, lacking a coherent alternative in which to invest hope and truth, and frequently contradictory. But it is there all the same.
The current election campaign will be marked by character assassinations, while the Britain of food banks, zero-hours, in-work poverty, housing crisis, job insecurity and young people facing a future bleaker than their parents will not be given the hearing it deserves. When I supported Paloma, no bottles were thrown: the crowd (some who I’m sure were pretty bemused) listened politely and cheered me at the end, no doubt with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
Let’s be honest, though; even well-intentioned commentators and politicians fail to stir popular emotions about the great causes of our time. Music, though, can reach us where modern formal politics often does not: our hearts. Love and loss always have their place in music. But there are other traditions, too, and maybe our musicians should start rediscovering them.