The Perfection of Imperfection

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That’s a picture of the Yin Yang. It’s one of the most identifiable and iconic graphics in the world. It’s beauty is its simplicity. It encapsulates the ideas and belief of Taoism in a single circle, a curvy line and two dots. I won’t go into the overall Philosophy of Taoism but as the Yin Yang shows it means in its basic form that everything has two sides but contains part of each and are inseparable yet distinct i.e. everything contains its opposite. One of the great ideas this ideology imparts is that for something to be perfect it must be imperfect, by which I mean that which makes something truly great is its fallibility.

I have known this since I was a kid. I liked finding mistakes or problems in things I liked because if I still loved it after that then it HAD to be good. For me this is most evident in film and music. There are plenty of films that have significant problems that only stand to make me love it more but what I really wanted to write about was the music side of things.

My brother recently wrote this post on his own blog about the difference in ‘Clean’ and ‘Dirty’ blues. Now I fall pretty heavily on the Dirty side of this particular Yin/Yang argument, my favourite Blues musicians, in fact any musicians/songwriters/albums, are the dirtiest. My argument is that it is the errors that makes it more human and sympathetic. The implication in the Clean and Dirty argument is that the dirtier it is the more visceral it is, more emotion, more power but less refined, slightly ‘uglier’ because of it. The clean music on the other side is more accurate, more refined, more thoughtful but more sterile and less emotional. My favourite two examples in Blues at the moment are Gary Clark Jr and John Mayer. Gary is de-facto dirty whereas Mayer is the most pristine clean you can get. He uses Dumbles for crying out loud. Now Mayer sites Ray Charles as a big influence which is evident in his vocal style, Charles being another artist I’d call ‘clean’, but if we start looking at older recordings a bit more closely the dirtier they become.

Pre the ice-barren sterile age of the 80s (and even during) there are so many examples of errors and distinct uncleanliness in most recordings and this set me thinking. I wonder how many errors you could find in some truly classic recordings. I’m not talking about fly-by-nights or garage bands, I mean number one singles and bona fide classics. It turns out, it’s harder to find recordings without any mistakes. I took to Twitter to ask the hivemind what they could think of as examples. The examples I gave were the wonderfully jarring honk from a trumpet in Move On Up, the oddly out of tune brass in Stevie Wonder’s Uptight, the early saxophone on Land of 1000 Dances by Wilson Pickett and the clangourous humdinger of a wrong chord in Hound Dog. The cause was kindly taken up on Twitter and fast became an avalanche of recommendations on some truly glaring errors and fumbles on some truly classic and legendary recordings. I won’t list them all but some of my favourites were: “Fuck!” Loudly from the drummer in Louie Louie by the Kingsmen, Sting hitting the piano and laughing in Roxanne, various incidents of unwelcome phones ringing, Brian Wilson’s cough during the Organ solo in Wendy, the UTTERLY bizarre knocking in Beat It by Michael Jackson, the ‘you-can’t-unhear-it’ pop at the start of EVERY CHORUS in Paper Planes and likewise the painfully out of tune guitar on Jackie Wilson’s Higher and Higher.

The most ‘hits’ came from The Beatles. Now for the band that have undergone the most scrutiny over time this doesn’t surprise me and quite a few are well known but many had completely passed me by. For instance: ever noticed the really obvious “fucking hell” in the middle of Hey Jude? Or McCartney’s hilarity inducing bail out of a note in If I Fell (no link because the youtube versions are suspiciously doctored. Find a CD or record version)? Or when John & Paul bugger up the lyrics in I’ll Get You? We’re talking arguably the greatest band in the world and number one hits here.

I discussed this briefly the next day with my brother as we debated the lore and apocryphal stories surrounding these bloopers and errors and then realised that this sort of thing is going the way of the Dodo with digital technology and the ability to erase even the smallest recording error, or auto tune a flat vocal, or generally smooth out the audio of anything. And instantly you have lost something. Whether you argue for or against ‘cleanliness’ there is instantly a loss of mystery, there can be no discussion on what the knocking in Beat It is because it would be edited out but I think we can all agree that song isn’t classed as one hit wonder or a B-Side. The dud bass note in Born to Be Wild didn’t stop that becoming a worldwide hit (the movie might have helped though).

What am I getting at? Well I’m certainly not saying add in a fuck up in post but nor am I suggesting we leave every recording untouched by the digital wand of pro-tools. What I am saying is that we live in an era where humanity, emotions and what some consider a soul are being actively distanced through a way of living. I am not knee-jerkingly accusing the internet or social media as I love them but at a time when it took the photo of a dead child drowned on a beach to mobilise certain people in our society and acknowledge this is a problem that’s knocking on our door and won’t go away, I think the small rebellion of leaving in the faults, “warts and all” in the things we create so we can recognise our own foibles and problems is only for the good. There has always been the notion of something being too perfect and it is always seen as a negative. If we look at a robot immaculately replicating our face and expressions we are repulsed by it, it’s called the uncanny valley effect. Perfection is actively refused by our conscious mind. Humans are a messy and disorganised race and our art is no different. When it comes to Blues then, the most deep down howl of despair and melancholy and anger, this should absolutely be the messiest and wrong and error filled music to listen to or it, for me at least, isn’t capturing that sense of our humanity.

So the next time you wish to ‘find fault’ see that as a good thing. We can only ever improve if the errors are pointed out and besides we’ll never create something faultless and utterly perfect. We’re only human after all.

P.S. Twitter amazed me with its suggestions the other night. I storified the whole list of replies if you want a laugh and some truly gob smacking how-did-I-not-notice-that moments. Thanks to Danny Baker and Moose Allain for getting the ball rolling.

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Awake

For the last two years I have written a poem for Christmas so here’s this year’s in what is becoming a bit of a tradition for me. As Christmas poems have a mixed history I’ve found, I did a bit of research this time and read a few of the notable ones, as well as Ms. Duffy’s latest addition to the ‘canon’. Milton, Tennyson, Betjeman, Dickinson, Eliot, McNiece, everybody has written Christmas poems it turns out and of wildly different styles and tones. Generally the earlier ones tend to be dour and severe calls to remember Jesus Christ and forsake the wanton revelry for sober reflections of our souls, whereas latterly they become misty eyed reveries for an almost entirely fictitious or at least nostalgic past.

My last two were very much half and half. One was a sad recollection on how I have grown up and how different Christmas is to me now, the other more of an abstract pondering on what christmas is and what it really means. So for this one I wanted to do something different, as Robin Williams said “we must constantly look at things in a different way”. My favourite Christmas poem is by one of my least favourite writers, Thomas Hardy, entitled ‘The Oxen‘. It falls into the former category of dour calls to worship but is done in a very oblique way. More than anything it is a vignette, at little snapshot, putting one tiny element of the nativity and the (then) present day under a microscope. As such, I nicked this idea and wrote this poem. I hope you like it.

Awake

There is none so dead, so still

As that Winter’s night. None awake

and snow let silt to the ground, a chill

White plain, a blank marshmallow lake

 

When your eyes break cover and draw

A shadow painting with that white

And bare feet press carpet floors,

A curtain hood unveils the night;

 

The cold desert with no manger,

The guiding star and her sisters

Shattered on the floor with no danger

of seeing that unspoken father

 

Arriving to fill stockings, empty

Before sherry, pies and carrots fed

A myth and gave plenty

with a weight at the end of your bed.

And as a special treat here is my improvised rendition of one of my favourite carols:

Merry Christmas everyone!

“Recent changes to your circumstance…”

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Life’s been a bit mental lately so haven’t had time to give anyone any news or updates so will try and get everything out of the way on here. As such, this will be an ‘update’ sort of post so may not be of interest to many of you. So, buckle up:

Moved –

Due to continued unemployment and lack of funds I have been living off the kindness of strangers (good friends actually) of late by sleeping on their floors, sofas and sparerooms. Naturally then, due to my constant Catholic guilt I could no longer impinge on the goodwill of my friends so instead of running around and living out of a rucksack it came time to depart my beloved Manchester if only for a brief time. I hope. As such, I have returned to the bosom of my family in Kent and am living back in my old room at my Mother’s which is not ideal for either of us but I think we are all hoping this will only be temporary. This does however take the pressure off things somewhat and gives me the time I’d like to get more writing done and other stuff that is generally steps toward my fledgling “career”.

Maladies –

Predictably, due to me being such a runty little dweeb, just when I didn’t need any other additional setbacks I got some sort of horrible infection that is going around giving me a sky high fever and causing me to faint in my friend’s kitchen, this was further compounded by my own idiocy in breaking two of my ribs. All this was not ideal when having to move from house to house and sleeping on sofas. Ouch.

Mingling –

My good friend David Hartley invited me to support him for his launch of his collection Threshold at Fyg in a sort of tit-for-tat repayment for having him support me for my own launch. It was quite a stellar night and the place was packed with a very receptive audience. Sadly this fell at the same time as the ribs, the infection, a debacle regarding finances and being unable to get there on time and other personal issues that meant it was, only for me I reiterate, something of a shambles sadly. Everyone else seemed to have a great time and it was indeed a success but as always seems to be the case with me at times of great importance, things go quite specatcularly wrong. David and Ian did great readings though and it was great night. Fyg is such a lovely place too, go if you’re in Manchester.

Manchester Poets –

After my splatter gun effort of applying to every magazine and competition towards the end of last year one has actually stuck and I am being featured in Puppywolf Press’ “Best of Manchester Poets, Vol.3”. Its not that big a deal but its a small bit of recognition and I can officially say I am a published poet now, which looks good on the CV. The poem selected is ‘Anaesthetic’ which some of you may have heard and was noted by my pal Luke Kennard (a proper poet) as being of a good quality. The collection is due for release toward the end of March so I’ll keep you updated but you can check out their website here.

More Poetry –

I wrote a sequence of some eighty sonnets over Christmas (I was bored) and after initial interest from a publisher who in the end didn’t have room to publish it, I have decided to YET AGAIN self-publish it as a pamphlet. However, this one is slightly different… I will be publishing this collection digitally on a website I have set up with my friend Amelia. It is still being developed at the moment and not having my computer with me hinders its progress considerably but I am hoping to have it up in the next few months. It will be completely free and open to all and will have no other posts or pages purely the poems themselves. I will keep everyone updated however, so watch this space.

Media (Social) –

Due to being all over the place at the moment I am trying to stick all my media together so everyone can keep an eye on me. I have a variety of online presences and would like everyone to have a look at each one as all of the refer to something different. So if you want to stay abreast of my doings, comings and goings day to day check my twitter here. I have an iPhone so am always on it and check it regularly. I am on Instagram and Vine, of which I am also a “heavy user”. I have a music site over at leocookman.tumblr.com if you want info of that nature (there will be updates on there soon). I have a facebook page too that could do with a few more ‘Likes’ to be honest so head on over here. I’m also over at youtube with some silliness you can watch here. I also have another ‘comedy’ blog over at tumblr that you can have a giggle at here. Generally I am all over the internet so just google me and I’ll appear in some form or other.

Music –

I have two albums essentially written that I would like to record at somepoint in the near future and being back in the Bubble in Kent means I am back amongst the regular gigging fraternity so keep an eye on the mentioned social media for updates and ‘ting. If you can’t get enough I have two albums on iTunes and have my very own soundcloud which has B-Sides and demos galore if that’s your bag.

My True Love –

So I’ve had a crush on Jennifer Lawrence since Winter’s Bone came out and have weathered the storms of the fickle public through X-Men and Hunger Games hoping her fame would disappate and our non-existant love could blossom. Anyway, she just won an Oscar so that’s that crush ended because now everyone’s all like, “oh she’s so great”, “I totally have a crush on her”, blah blah blah. Yes I KNOW she’s dating Nicholas Hoult but that would mean nothing were we to meet. Obviously. Anyway, I’ll stick with Christina Hendricks then… WHADDAYA MEAN SHE’S MARRIED?!

That should keep you for the time being and I seem to be a busy bunny at the moment so must fly. Please do comment, subscribe and all that crap as I have big plans for 2013 and would love to be able to share it all with you lot. I will hopefully at least be visiting Manchester soon as my friends recently got engaged, some other friends have babies on the way and generally all my stuff and life is up there but if you live in the south please get in touch. I’m actually quite bored.

 

The Sound of My Life and My Mind

Back in 1998 I was a bookish and bullied teenager who sought refuge in the umpteen books I read on the sofa at home. I had an outside interest in music, I liked some of it, I even loved the odd tune/album, but it was not an important part of my life. Then one afternoon during that summer I was sprawled on the sofa reading my book when my sister came home with a new album she had just bought which she put on the CD player. Within 10 seconds not only had my opinion on music changed, I wanted to play the piano and my life was suddenly very different. That particular album was ‘Whatever and Ever, Amen’ by a band called Ben Folds Five.

This is an oft repeated anecdote by me because it really is a very easily pinpointed moment that changed my whole life. I explain my love for that particular album here which I recommend you read first. The reason I say all this is because they have just released (to a select few) their first album in 13 years for which I am using this post to review. Therefore the previous is a disclaimer so I can justify the slavering tongue bath I am about to give this album. If you’re not into PDAs look away now…

Ben Folds Five, despite their name, are a three piece from North Carolina (originally) consisting of Ben Folds on lead vocals and Piano, Darren Jesse on Drums and Robert Sledge on Bass. Their last album ‘The Unauthorised Biography of Reinhold Messner’ was released in 1999 to mixed reviews and signaled the end for the band. It was a fitting Swan Song in retrospect and has definitely grown on me over the years. Being my Favourite Band of All Time Ever™ I was disappointed that they had split just as I got into them and as Ben went solo I figured a reunion, despite their split not being acrimonious, was never on the cards. They were not the sort of band a label would come crawling to for a reunion. The fans, however, did. We BFF fans are a nerdy and passionate bunch and so 13 years later they have used us to help record and release their new album. They crowd funded the album using Pledge Music to overwhelming response and are starting a tour in the next few months. They released the album via a digital download to all the people who helped fund it yesterday a week or so before official release. So not only does this gushing fan get a whole new album he gets to see his favourite band of all time ever live. I never thought either of these would happen so please accept my humble apologies for my pant-wetting excitement over this development.

The Sound of The Life of The Mind is probably the only thing I don’t like about the album. Its a petty gripe but in the same way I felt ‘Rise of The Planet of the Apes’ was clumsy I equally feel this one is a little clunky but considering their former album’s titles being quite long and unwieldy this actually is not really an issue. What struck me first about the album, other than it being better than I had hoped, was the production. Reinhold Messner was criticised for being very ‘Wet’, in that it had a lot of reverb and delay on the instruments and vocals, it was very airy which jarred with some people after the tight and natural mix of Whatever and Ever. Life of the Mind, on the other hand, seems to swoop back to their eponymous debut album. This is one of the many delights on this album for me. Having sat through a decade of interminable bullshit from the music industry that is constantly regurgitating the fucking 80s A DECADE WHICH I HATE, it is wonderful to finally hear the start of the 90s revival. If that’s what it is. Each instrument has a very tight yet roomy focus but pushed through the modern rack of protools to add definition. The resulting ‘Sound’ of the album is bright, close, yet warm and simple. The set up hasn’t changed, there are no other instruments but the three of them and those oh-so-pretty harmonies all of which get their own sonic space and very literal breathing room.

Techy bullshit aside – The album itself is absolutely what I wanted to hear. I would have been disappointed if they had simply rehashed one of their other albums and likewise would have been upset if they tried too hard and made it a genre hopping jazz-hip-hop-country-screamcore album. I wanted to hear the same band follow the trajectory of development they showed before and produce an album that has their innate sound but more developed, refined and mature which is exactly what this album is. Everything I loved about this band is still present yet more so.

The title track, Erase Me, shifts tonally minute to minute from bombastic rock to soppy pop and is a planting of the flag for the rest of the album. It is an instant reveal for the three musician’s technical skill and the sensitive production. Darren’s snare rolls are killer, Sledge cracks out the Big Muff in style and Fold’s solo is as pumping as ever. Michael Praytor is power pop at its finest and sounds like a cross between the Eagles and Billy Joel but in a good way, it s a return to their ‘Where’s Summer B?’ and ‘Eddie Walker’ style of Harmony driven chorus hooks. Blue Sky is my personal favourite on the album. It was written by Darren Jesse who wrote the catchy chorus for ‘Brick’ and the emotional high from Reinhold Messner, ‘Magic’. The ghostly and angelic harmonies constantly floating ethereally in the background remind me somewhat of Star Me Kitten by REM, the introduction of the piano riff for some reason really summons up a less 80s sounding Bruce Hornsby. In the same way as the harmonies and apposite lyrics of ‘Missing the War’ utterly break my heart ‘Sky High’ is an understated yet dizzying piece of wistful melancholy that grabs a handful of my angsty heartstrings and leaves me in the same place ‘Evaporated’ used to. Probably one of my favourite songs full stop, not just on the album.

The title track, to be honest, sounds a bit flat to begin with but by the time the backing vox and that chorus kick in I was sold. The production really sells this one. It sounds huge for their little 3 piece and is probably the catchiest on the album. After that I was waiting for the mid album ballad which I got in spades. On Being Frank like ‘Alice Childress’ and ‘Selfless, Cold and Composed’ before it, this one requires a little time to get into. It is wordy and measured not histrionic like seems to be the norm for ballads these days.  The string arrangement is sympathetic and not overpowering and Ben’s vocal delivery is understated and thoughtful, everything I want from a ballad. Darren and Robert sit back comfortably propelling the song toward it’s simple harmony laden climax. Structurally one of their best songs. The string arrangement and performance remind me of ‘She’s Leaving Home’ from Sgt. Pepper. I can give it no higher praise.

Draw a Crowd is their rockin’ leap back into the rest of the album. Oddly this is also a continuation of their trend of critical and acerbic appraisal of music culture, see ‘Underground’, ‘Battle of Who Could Care Less’, ‘Army’, ‘Rockin’ The Suburbs’ all follow this lyrical formula for pointing out the absurdities of modern music and its surrounding bullshit. The refrain of “If you can’t draw a crowd, draw dicks on the wall” is in exactly the same template as “Will you never rest, fightin’ the battle of who could care less?” and “Officer Friendly’s little boy’s got a mohawk” and “some producers with computers fixing all my shitty tracks” in it’s irreverent appeal. Another anthem for people who honestly couldn’t give a crap about modern pop culture or looking “Cool”.

Do It Anyway was released early as a pre-release single and to me it sounded, and still does, the most like Ben’s Solo stuff. This is not a bad thing as it shows yet more development but again benefits from the production and Darren and Robert’s much more idiosyncratic approach to their respective instruments. Robert’s Bass playing is seriously tasty on this one and Ben’s Solo is a pip. Reminds me most of ‘Redneck Past’ and ‘Regrets’ form Reinhold Messner. Hold That Thought, is a country infused slow number that again seems more like Fold’s solo material such as Jesusland and The Ascent of Stan but that beautifully Crosby, Stills and Nash organ and harmonies make it different again making probably the most non-Folds or Five song on the album but in a really good way. The lyrics on this one are great too. A bit of a grower but a track that really shows growth and an ability to not follow a formula from all three, probably the most pleasing track on the album for me.

Away When You Were Here, wanders dangerously close to generic pop balladry to begin with but, typically, when those strings kick in with that little refrain you’ve got another little emotional gem. More importantly it is the (admittedly fictitious) account of the death of Ben’s father. My own father, who encouraged my piano playing and got me lessons and whom I played together with in a duo, died a few years ago making the lyrics and subsequently the whole song heartrendingly pertinent. It meets an odd union with the rest of the album but couldn’t have been done by anyone else and typically speaks to me in a very profound way and I wouldn’t have it written by any other band.

The album closes with ‘Thank You for Breaking My Heart’ another quiet and simple ballad that follows the Five’s brilliance for closing an album with absolute classics like ‘Boxing’, ‘Evaported’ and ‘Lullaby’. The instrumentation is sparse and light but the production holds your interest on the lovely Satie-esque piano line right until the wonderful, bathetic, end.

In short, I have a new album to add to the favourites. It has been a good year for me and music after having spent bloody years in the wilderness of the cavernous void of creativity and banal, dull market saturation from the likes of our modern pop icons over the last ten years but Dr. John’s latest and Graham Coxon’s along with this album has given three albums this year I have not just enjoyed but really loved and SOTLOTM is the cherry on the cake.

I know not everyone likes this band, most site Fold’s accent and somewhat saccharine lyrics as to why, but I couldn’t care less about his accent and the lyrics are largely why I love this band. As I said in my review of ‘Whatever and Ever’, I cannot be objective about this band or its material. I honestly think they are a great and musical band with some wonderful songs to their catalogue but the fact of the matter is this band is Me. They are nerds, they are cynics, they are scared of girls yet can’t live without them at the same time, they are easily heartbroken, they love music, they love the Beatles, they are everything I am and all of my character traits in a single entity so I am naturally going to be drawn to them. Apart, they don’t grab me as much as they do together but apart they have developed into the same thing I have developed into, whatever that may be, so hearing them again is like meeting old friends and finding we still have so much in common. We’re still just as cynical, just as angry, just as heartbroken, just as silly, just as funny, just as thoughtful, just as sad, just as happy but with the benefit of time and perspective have given us fresh eyes resulting in this fantastic album.

I’d recommend it but as a very much outed fanboy I doubt you’ll be able to take me seriously now. I don’t care. My favourite band, just wrote some of my favourite songs and released my new favourite album, which, if you don’t mind, I’m off to listen to again.

De Blues

SO! I have a new album coming out at the end of May (check here for updates kids) and I have recently been gigging my behind off for the first time in about 4 years. Easter Bank Holiday I managed to do 3 gigs in 24 hours which I don’t think I have ever done and as such I feel the need to expound on the music wot I play.

I love all kinds of music, as pretty much everyone does in this day and age. It is rare to find someone who listens to NOTHING BUT TRANCE/DUBSTEP/BLUEGRASS or whatever. Sure people will dislike types of music but in general you present anyone with a good track people will dig it, man. Personally however my favourite genre/type/whatever of music has always been the blues. Even my favourite modern or popular songs are melancholic. The Establishment has very definite rules about what constitutes ‘De Blues’ and it normally involves 12 bars, syncopated rhythm or 3-4 chords. I call Bullshit on that. The progenitors of this style of music never defined it this way. It grew out of singing to ease the pain and worry, it was mournful yet cathartic, always sad but made you wanna shake yo thang at the same time. Being a miserable bastard I warmed to this genre immediately. It helped my Dad was an undisputed master of the oeuvre and had most of the classics on record. We played as a piano and guitar duo many years ago and was the main way I got into being a gigging musician and how I cut my teeth playing.

Pub Bands do a lot of blues, hence its somewhat derided reputation in the modern age. A lot of those bands seem to be stuck somewhere between 1982 and 1989. They pretty much epitomise what I hate about the Blues. Middle aged men (or young men with popped collars) rattling off learned by rote licks on a Stratocaster with the cold dead eyes of an ‘Blues-Matron 3000’. To me, that ain’t the Blues. The Blues hurts. It howls, it aches, it shouts, it hollers, it whoops, it stamps but it never just goes through the motions. The Blues is a shared catharsis: Singing about your troubles to a room full of people with the same problems. I am slowly learning how easy it is to win over an audience with the Blues and how much they enjoy it. Obviously it depends on the mood of the song (a slow one chord dirge of a blues probably isn’t going to get ’em to shake their money makers) but in general people like to empathise with a song, I know I do. People are also a lot more forgiving with the Blues. Note to note perfection is not required or even expected, real  Blues needs to be wrenched from the guts and spat all over the stage to mass applause. Or a less disgusting image…

I learned to play the piano first thanks to Dr. John and pretty much learned his style verbatim which was a really stupid thing to do as now I find it very hard to not sound like him when I play anything and, much as I love him, I want to sound different occasionally. I was asked; What motivates me to practice/learn? Sheer excitement. I am listening to that track on the link and bopping away as I type. Boogie Woogie can save the world if you got the whole world at one gig and played it, I swear. Every time I learned a new thing on piano that made me sound one iota like Dr. John, Ray Charles, Jools Holland, I could. not. stop. playing it. (Much to my sibling’s and parent’s anguish I might add) I think that’s the key to anyone wanting to learn anything, be passionate about it. If you find something you want to spend all your free time doing and obsess over you will get good at it. I get some very nice people telling me I’m talented (occasionally) to which my answer is “It’s not talent, it’s a lack of social skills and an obsessive personality”. Playing an instrument is a soothing balm to my day-to-day work and when you hate that as much as I do and are as single as I am, being sanctioned to scream, wail and moan about it is unbelievably gratifying.

I learned piano first and got stuck in the aforementioned rut so moved on to playing drums for a few years. That is harder to practice but I like to think I didn’t fall into the same trap as the piano and have carved out an idiosyncratic little niche for my style of drumming, I would like to be playing drums more often to be honest, its great fun and equally cathartic in a “BEAT DRUMS!” kind of way. I then learned Bass so I could essentially be my own backing band. Bass is HARD, I had a good grounding in piano as your left hand needs to know basslines but being that solid is tough. I can do a good impression of a Bassist but that’s about it. In the last 4 years I’ve learned to play the guitar and have only really come some way in the last year, this was due to getting a better acoustic guitar and a good amp for my electric. Since then I’ve come on leaps and bounds to the point where I am now only ever going out as a guitarist to gigs. This was a practical choice more than anything, not being a driver and such, but for the Blues it is a lot more satisfying. The piano is great for Boogie Woogie which shares a lot with the Blues but is much faster and jollier. The wonderful thing about the guitar and the Blues is you really have to put your mood through the strings. The piano, you just push buttons, the Guitar you physically move the strings to get a sound and that is TOUGH. You have to hit the strings perfectly to get the sound you want and that’s up to you. Very hard thing to get right. But when you DO. Oh my! The beauty of a good guitar amp is it literally amplifies that feeling so if you hit a sweet note everyone feels it and that is just sooooo satisfying.

With this new album in mind I’ve been listening to a lot of Blues lately and have streamlined my top 5 Blues-ists:

  • 5 – Leroy Carr
    A little known Blues artist from the glory days but he wrote the Blues Standard ‘How Long, How Long‘ as well as some other corkers – Papa’s on The House Top, Gettin’ All Wet, etc. If you can find a CD, check him out. Often found with a great guitarist called Scrapper Blackwell, also brilliant. ‘Alabama Women’ is what I see as pure Blues.
  • 4 – Eric Clapton (Pre ’71)
    Post ’71  fuck ‘im. But prior he could kick serious arse. He knew the Blues inside out and delivered it in spades. As the guitarist in the Bluesbreakers he did some of his best stuff, ‘Hideaway‘ is incredible, but Cream clearly had some balls and used the Blues in some brilliant ways. Listen to any version of ‘Stepping Out‘ particularly the Klooks Kleek live version. Incendiary.
  • 3 – BB King
    The man. What I was saying about how you play each note. This man did it. In spades. His solos were short, quiet and simple but still some of the best. And the voice. Oh the voice. He’s still got it too. Nearly 90 and will wipe John Mayer’s ass all over the floor. (Seriously, fuck John Mayer) A true giant of the Blues.
  • 2 – Peter Green
    Probably one of the most overlooked these days but in his heyday there was none finer. Clapton, BB King and Hendrix all acknowledged him as the best at ‘De Blues’ but lots of drugs and too soft a temperament ruined the poor guy. He doesn’t even approach those days now but what we have of his amazing ability from the 60’s is probably the best electric blues you can get. Albatross is a tour de force of what you can do with the Blues.
  • 1 – Robert Johnson/Huddy Leadbetter
    A definite tie. Neither of them invented the blues as some claim but whatever they did with it, it wasn’t the same after. They took what had already been well established and fine tuned it to basically what we have today. They were both exemplary musicians, great songwriters and wonderful singers. Johnson wrote ‘Crossroads‘ and Leadbelly wrote ‘Goodnight Irene‘. Your honour, the defence rests.

Okay, okay, I know I left out Willie Dixon, Skip James, Muddy Waters, blah blah blah but that is my Top 5. They’re the ones that give me the shivers and get me deep down. They’re the ones that immediately make me want to pick up an instrument and play, they’re the ones that make me feel better after having heard them wail and moan about their own troubles and woes. And the blues is not confined to pre-war or 60s revival. There is some really great stuff kicking around today too. Check it out.

I was asked for an example of a cover that surpasses the original. This does not surpass the original but this one still bowls me over. I can’t stand the artist but this is a damn good version of an already good song and if I’m honest, adds something to the original. This is the Blues. Don’t judge me until you’ve heard it:

“Blues is the roots, everything else is the fruits” -Willie Dixon.

Bright Lights, Big CD

So finally, after a looooong wait, the moment you have all been waiting for… Yes, its the release of the 3rd official Psychotic Reaction LP!: I See Lights When I Close My Eyes

Williams and I went into BigSqueak in March 2008 for a long weekend and nearly four years later the fruits of our labours are finally released into the wild. I played drums on all the tracks and a bit of piano and keyboards here and there but mainly was sounding board/wrist-slapper during development. I am really proud of the album and honestly think it is great, I joined the band because I felt the same way about the second album (I still think of Rumble as the first real album though) and this one is even better. Ordinarily with albums I like/love I’d give them a review but obviously that is out of the question as I am in the band and would therefore be biased…

HOWEVER

I was this evening emailed an astonishing review of ISLWICME set to appear in the next issue of Rolling Stone. I thought you might like to read it:

“The Psychotic Reaction have been through several line up changes in the last ten or so years but their powers remain undiminshed. This is proved by their latest album:  I See Lights When I Close My Eyes and it is this generations Sergeant Pepper. This comparison is particularly pertinent as the album’s production is so evocative of 60s Psychadelia as to create waves of synthesia without the aid psychotropic drugs. Swirling guitars open the album and a late sixties style ‘jam’ ends it but it covers all points in between. Despite describing it by an era I cannot possibly describe it by genre as it defies genre. Some part punk, others balladry, some part avant-garde free jazz, some parts metal, others Pop-tastic yet it never feels schizophrenic or uneven.

This is largely down to the mysterious Alex Williams (who it is said once had an affair with Raquel Welch before he was born) at the helm. The albums’ producer, songwriter, guitarist, racket maker and Tea enthusiast, anchors the whirlwind of creativity with preternatural skill. Guitar sounds range from familiar note perfect emulations of Clapton and Hendrix-esque crunch and Fuzz, to Branca/Moore noise via sounds and audioscapes until now never committed to record. What he lacks in vocal dexterity he makes up for in verve and lyrical ability. Songs range from seizing the day and sex to mental illness and modern music culture but what else would you expect from the man who co-founded British Leyland in 1968 and helped Jim Marshall develop his amplifier under the pseudonym Dudley Craven?

The counterpart to the capricious and tempestuous creative core of The Psychotic Reaction during the album’s protracted development was Leo Cookman (who’s army of Owls regularly patrol the night sky in search chocolate buttons). Cookman mainly plays drums and as you will no doubt have guessed what with John Bonham and Joe Morello lauding him until their untimely deaths where upon they reputedly “passed the baton” to him. We will say nothing more of the almost metronomic skill yet loose “groove” of this generations’ Buddy Rich but instead focus on Cookman’s as yet unheard of piano and keyboard playing. Adding textures sympathetic yet driving the collaboration can only be described as like that of Keith Jarrett and Miles Davies circa ’71. Cookman was also instrumental in the albums development, working with Williams on song selection, production analysis and helped design the sleeve.

In addition to the two mainstays the addition of the then regular Bassist and modern Jaco Pastorius, Alex Powley (who it is said can digest an entire ungulate without chewing) on several tracks completed the triumverate and brought new definition to the word power trio.

The material had been well gigged at the now legendary performances in and around Canterbury (think the Manchester Free Trade Hall but BETTER. And LOUDER) so they were a tightly knit unit able to improvise without fear and develop, examine, reinvent and undermine contemporary music in the most enjoyable yet catchy way. Admittedly the time in recording was long and some fools leapt to the assumption that money ran out or the drummer moved to Manchester or Williams’ artistic temperament caused several revisits but whatever the rumours the development time was worth the wait. We finally have the game-changer. The bench mark by which all future music must be judged. In the same way the Beatles hoovered up the surrounding societal shifts The Reaction have created an album almost quixotic in its design but somehow prescient in its audiences attitude to their own music and therefore nothing less than a masterpiece.

It is, at the moment, available as Download only but I would expect nothing less from a band this forward thinking yet practical. In the same way Radiohead changed the way music was bought and paid for the Reaction have taken it a step further by realising the market is driven in this way (that is not to say there won’t be a CD and 12″ release soon). In short this is the album we have all been waiting for since the birth of the album as a concept in the sixties to which this album so ably doffs its cap. These three Gentlemen from the south should be congratulated on creating music for another time and a stone cold classic of now.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got to finish this review of this really good and in no way dull, boring and insipid Coldplay album before my meeting with Steve Jobs.

Five Stars

Pull Quote: “If Hendrix had made another album, it wouldn’t be as good as this. Thank God for The Psychotic Reaction and buy this album”

Blimey! Well I can’t say more than that can I? Except that it is available at CD Baby now to download and will shortly be available on iTunes and Spotify as well as on CD in the near future. Please check it out it would make having sold my old drum kit feel worth something… *sniff*