Category Archives: Music Industry

arts review of 2010

Here’s a list of cultural things I loved this year. Please feel free to stick yours in the comments (or a link to wherever you’ve published yours).

Although it was an OK year for culture generally, I think it was weak for music. So much over-complex, expensively echoing indie stuff – and glitchier R&B things with similar indulgence issues – that was hyped up through the year, left me cold. Several acts I love forgot to bring the songs. Also I suppose I inevitably feel detached – antagonistic even – because I had Love Is Not Rescue out there and because I didn’t travel overseas as much as usual, so got a less international feel for the year’s music. That said, looking back through previous years, this year’s Top 10 albums is as strong as any. Also, great telly and books. These moved me more, especially after I had my phone stolen, because I rediscovered reading.

Albums

1. Gill Sandell – Tarry Awhile
2. Pulled Apart By Horses – Pulled Apart By Horses
3. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
4. The Xcerts – Scatterbrain
5. Thirty Pounds Of Bone – Method
6. Lianne Hall – Crossing Wires
7. Grasscut – 1 Inch ½ Mile
8. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
9. Bellowhead – Hedonism
10. Taylor Swift – Speak Now

Honorary mentions (this would be my 11-20): Far, Seashell Radio, Napoleon IIIrd, Frightened Rabbit, Corinne Bailey Rae, Grinderman, Lissie, James Yuill, Gil Scott-Heron, Gypo Buggane, plus Springsteen’s remastered Darkness boxset and the private one-copy-only compilation album Songs In The Jim Of Bob that everyone made for Jim Bob’s birthday, which was incredible.

Songs (not on albums listed above)

1. Tom Williams & The Boat – ‘In Love’
2. Caribou – ‘Odessa’
3. Isy Suttie – ‘Pearl and Dave’
4. Kate Nash – ‘Don’t You Want To Share The Guilt’
5. Kanye West ft. Pusha T – ‘Runaway’
6. Frank Turner – ‘I Still Believe’
7. Robyn – ‘Hang With Me’
8. Tinie Tempah – ‘Pass Out’
9. New Pornographers – ‘Your Hands (Together)’
10. Eminem/Rihanna – ‘Love The Way You Lie’

Also nods to: I Am Arrows, Mavis Staples, Anna Madeleine, Robyn again for ‘Dancing On My Own’, LCD Soundsystem, Tim Minchin, Emily Barker, The Fall, The Hold Steady, Warpaint and She Makes War.

Special props here to Jon Boden’s Folk Song A Day project, where he’s released a new recording of a traditional song every single day since June. Without picking one out, the average standard is phenomenal. He’s basically on a one-man crusade to broaden people’s understanding of ‘folk’, which is important.

Books (not necessarily first published this year)

1. Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall
2. Jim Bob – Storage Stories
3. Kirkman, Adlard, Rathburn – The Walking Dead books 1-8
4. Various – Dark Mountain volume #1
5. Stewart Lee – How I Escaped My Certain Fate
6. Paul Auster – Invisible
7. going back through the collected works of Geoff Dyer
8. Stephen Fry – Fry Chronicle
9. China Miéville – Iron Council
10. Malcolm Gladwell – What The Dog Saw and other adventures

Films

My favourite film by far was Inception which I saw twice at the cinema (which I almost never do). I also got a lot from American: The Bill Hicks Story and Four Lions. But I simply didn’t see enough of the big films out this year to make a list. After even just those three, I’m struggling to name anything.

TV

1. The Walking Dead
2. Tremé
3. The Trip
4. Miranda
5. Daily Show
6. How Earth Made Us
7. Sherlock (episode 1)
8. Wonders Of The Solar System
9. Caprica
10. Have I Got News For You

Gigs (watched)

My lamest year of gig-going for a decade; not for quality but for the few shows I actually attended. Properly gutted about this looking back – a wasted year. I have 10+ potentially great shows still listed in my diary from the past 12 months, where I just stayed home, or had something else to do that wasn’t worth the effort. 2011 will be about showing up… Meanwhile 2010’s best were:

1. Midwinter Picnic 2 at Brighton West Hill Hall (Dry The River, Singing Adams’ debut, Thirty Pounds, Tom White, Ben Marwood, Lianne Hall, many others)
2. Fonda 500, David Ford and Ingie with a live samba band at Mannifest 2010
3. Kathryn Williams at Queen Elizabeth Hall
4. Jim Bob + Isy Suttie at The Garage
5. Ultrasound at The Lexington
6. nine-hour ‘gong pooja’ at Florence House, Seaford, apart from the post-gong silence spoiled by snoring hippies
7. 65DaysOfStatic at Two Thousand Trees festival
8. Robyn Hitchcock at Brighton Komedia
9. Motel and others at Andrew Rayner’s 40th birthday party
10. Fever Fever, Something Beginning With L, Local Girls, Lily Rae at Brixton Windmill

Gigs (played) – rated according to my experience, not (particularly) whether I was any good (though of course that does have an effect). I don’t think my ‘best’ performance is in this list. So hard to tell, anyway.

1. Dartington College – playing an immense Steinway
2. Two Thousand Trees Festival
3. Several gigs on the Love Is Not Rescue tour, especially Newcastle, Bristol, Winchester, Glasgow, Cotherstone, Brighton, London. Memorable in the best way.
4. Hoodrats at SXSC Festival in Winchester
5. Marcus Brigstocke’s Greens benefit at Brighton Theatre Royal
6. Dublin with Frank Turner (Belfast was pretty class too)
7. Hoodrats at Lexapalooza where the music rescued an awful day*
8. Spoonhenge in Mr Spoons’ back garden with Mick Thomas
9. Uncivilisation Festival – for head-fuck conversations as much as anything
10. Bury Fringe Festival with Jim Bob
* sorry, clumsy phrasing: not Lexapalooza itself, which is always lush. I meant I had a stressful day elsewhere and missed 95% of the festival.

Visual Art

1. my Henry Moore walk
2. Brian Eno – 77 Million Paintings at Fabrica / Speaker Sound Flower Installation at Marlborough House
3. David Nash at Yorkshire Sculpture Park
4. Surreal Friends at Pallant House, Chichester
5. Decode at the V&A

Words, not music

1. Fiona Shaw  – ‘The Waste Land’ at Wilton’s Music Hall
2. Neil MacGregor – A History Of The World In 100 Objects (Radio 4)
3. Collings & Herrin Podcast
4. Just A Minute (Radio 4)
5. Private Eye
6. Johann Hari’s columns
7. Pecha Kucha on ‘The Nature Of Reality’ at Fabrica, Brighton Festival
8. Chimene Suleyman at War In The Park
9. Now Show into Any Questions on Saturday (Radio 4)
10. Vinay Gupta and Dougald Hine across social media


Can you help?

Hey hey, I hope you’re well. I don’t normally post music-related mail outs here but it’s not like I put out a record every day, so here’s the ‘call for help’ email I just sent to my mailing list. If you can do anything, email chris@christt.com.

Obviously in my house it’s album time: LOVE IS NOT RESCUE is out in 2 weeks, the ‘Nintendo’ single is out to download on Monday and my UK tour starts this weekend. But before life goes nuts, this is an extra email to ask for your support – please can you help me spread the word about all of this mess? There are a few simple things that you could do if you feel like it that will make a real difference:

1. Just talk about it. You know, if you’re coming to a gig or like the album, or if you don’t. Every time you mention it online or to your friends, or stick the CD on when there’s people around, or discuss it on a forum or add a song to a Spotify playlist, you’re doing me a big favour. Promo means nothing compared to real people connecting other real people to the music they’re into.

2. if you’re going to buy LOVE IS NOT RESCUE and come to a gig, please pre-order the music and buy tickets in advance.

you can get ‘Nintendo’ from 7Digital here:
http://www.7digital.com/artists/chris-t-t/nintendo/
or get the exclusive 4 track iTunes EP version of ‘Nintendo’ here:
http://itunes.apple.com/gb/preorder/nintendo-ep/id358476472

and links to UK tour tickets are here: http://christt.com
it’s ace, most gigs on this tour are doing much better than the last few tours and a couple may even sell out, so thank you very much if you’ve already bought tickets. I promise I WILL NOT go back to the same cities and play the same album again later on. This is your only chance to hear LOVE IS NOT RESCUE in this format in these towns.

3. Please don’t illegally download or fileshare it. I know it’s been leaked and is out there, it’s easy, God I know, weirdly I even feel guilty for asking. But please don’t. Go and buy the motherfucker and maybe I’ll be able to make some more.

4. Tell me your favourite loo. Seriously, if you follow me on Twitter you’ll know I’m tweeting photos of every loo I go in (!) in museums, houses, venues, wherever. I’m using the hashtag #loo2010. So what’s the best loo near you? If I can get there, I’ll snap it with a credit for the tip-off. And one day you’ll be in a big coffeetable picture book.

5. Posters and flyers. We’re sending out beautiful golden A2 posters & flyers this weekend to lovely people around the UK who always help me by sticking them up in record shops, cafes, wherever. Do you want to join us? You’ll get as few or many posters/flyers as you need. Just reply or email chris@christt.com – with your postal address – and we’ll send you a pack. Thank you so much.

I hope that’s cool, most of all, come and say hello if we’re in the same room. See you out there.
Chris xxx

TWITTER: http://twitter.com/christt
SOUNDCLOUD: http://soundcloud.com/christt
TUMBLR: http://tumblr.christt.com
FACEBOOK: http://facebook.com/christtuk

the right kind of tired.

It’s left me queasy in the stomach and cut-up and physically very knackered but I had a brilliant, totally different day today: up on the steep-sloped Sussex downs, clearing back brush and cutting it down to the roots for the Sussex Wildlife Trust. The company for whom I write charidee fundraising guff organises a staff volunteer day and invited me to get in on some rural hard labour action. Couldn’t resist. The SWT also has more seasoned volunteers who work every week on clearing miles of the valley. So far it’s taken four years. But they regularly chuck groups of slack-handed city corporate types and students up there as well for much needed fresh air. Voluntary? If Michael Caine is going to bang on about national service (pay your taxes mate, contribute properly yourself before you start barking opinions on sorting the kids out) then what about making this kind of environmentally sound contribution a compulsory part of the curriculum? Or the whole curriculum? But, in the words of Ronnie Corbett, I digress. Apparently the staff at Brighton Amex went along with a huge Waitrose picnic hamper, packed beer instead of water, were totally fucked up by lunchtime.

Anyway, the work involved chopping and sawing brush away from its roots, creating huge thorny balls of unhooked plant, roughly the size of a small cottage, then rolling them down to the bottom of the slope like a giant snowball, where they were chucked onto a big bonfire. Basically, since the war and mixymatosis in the 50s, no animals have grazed the southern downs properly. Now the whole thing is becoming a National Park, they’re trying to recapture what downland should be like. First get rid of the overgrown nonsense, then bring the animals back to graze. SWT have their own sheep and cattle already on the job – however apparently regular farmers can get paid to allow their livestock to graze on the downs.

If you know Sussex, we were up behind the white cliffs of Lewes.

While I was there, sawing away, the details of next year’s single, album and tour all got remarkably smoothly ironed out and fell into place during an email conversation between the guys at ITB and Xtra Mile. It was weird because the normal music industry organisational discussions all took place with me joining in on email while actually rolling around in sheep shit and getting thorns in places thorns should never ever go. I even got the iPhone covered in rabbit droppings at one point. Although it was tempting just to stop and concentrate on music things, I would’ve looked a right dick sitting on this gorgeous piece of empty downland tapping away at my phone.

Now, I’m the right kind of tired. Don’t get it very much, certainly not at home. 95% of my life, my brain gets tired by the end of the day but I haven’t really exerted myself. Even on tour, when we’re carrying gear around or performing or what not, it’s not truly heavy exercise – and comes in small doses. But spend a day doing reasonable (not even particularly extreme if I’m honest) physical labour and the kind of tired I feel at the end is so much better, so much healthier and more balanced, it’s a stark reminder the depth of the koyaanisqatsi we find ourselves in most of our days. I don’t watch Hugh Fearnley-Wotsit very often because of how much he loves to eat everything alive. But I hadn’t realised he was behind the land-share project, where people who have spare land let other people make positive use of it. Genius. Let’s connect younger, hipper companies and collectives either to the kind of volunteer projects I sweated on today or, even better, get them involved in sharing land and putting it to good use.

A campfire micro-tour circuit. Create a series of spaces across the country where small gatherings take place through summer to share unamplified music, like tiny miniature folk festivals. Keep them responsible, fewer than 50 people, nothing like an actual festival, and base the whole thing around a campfire. Make it a “between ‘proper’ festival” tour circuit. Include stand-up and storytelling and non-stage theatre… but make it tread lightly, take its litter home and don’t fuck up the land. Could be epic.

So anyway, I got home as inspired as I was cream crackered.

catching up

Argh! Fucking fuckedy fuck! My friend (a promoter out west) co-runs a stage at Glasto. He emailed me earlier this year and offered a good slot on one of the smaller (but still legitimate, advertised) stages.

This precious Springsteen-tinted golddust email went to an old address, which I haven’t bothered to check recently. I missed it.

I literally first saw it this morning, one day after the final lineup got advertised. You cannot imagine how gutted I am right now, I’m wondering what evil shit I must’ve done in a former life to deserve this year’s karma. Fuck.

Right, deep breath. I’m sorry it’s been so long. Honestly, I’ve written and deleted three or four entries since getting back from the States. I’m tempted to blame Twitter because Evan’s right (see previous entry comments), it’s tougher to write long-form blogs once you’re habitually posting every idea the moment it pops up. I love Twitter but there’s also a slight issue with its effect on creativity: One of the classic songwriting ‘rules’ is not to tell anyone your song idea til you’ve finished the song. This is nothing to do with protecting it from theft but simply because once you’ve told it to people, your instinctive need to express it gets drastically reduced and it’s much harder to complete the song. I think that’s from Jimmy Webb’s book on songwriting – really works for me, anyhow. So possibly a similar process happens with Twitter, where you share your early bursts of creative thought, instantly making it much harder to develop them.

17% left on my battery, let’s see how far I get before the laptop dies. I’ve broken the charger cable and keep failing to get around to buying a new one (perhaps because it’s 60 fuckin quid). 

I’ve been having a weird, intense feeling of embarrassment when I get onstage recently – it happened for five gigs in a row and totally threw me. Then luckily it went away the last couple of shows, which was a relief, though I’ll be totally blitzed if it comes back. Maybe it’s beard-related. Started at the tail end of the USA tour and lasted right through to that Trafalgar Square gig for ‘Strangers Into Citizens’ (which was also my biggest audience I think – they said 8k-9k – overtakes the crowd for Frank at Reading and Leeds).

It means I can’t disconnect and get into the song, or just find something in the situation to enjoy. I think it’s a really dangerous place to be in, to be unable to shake off the cringingness – especially when you do material like mine.

My other big fuck-off headache right now is the PRS, the Performer Rights Society, which is the agency I belong to, who are supposed to collect royalties for me whenever and wherever my songs are performed or broadcast. Over the last few months I’ve gone back through my PRS payment statments for more than five years and can’t find a single payment for Frank Turner singing The Huntsman Comes A-Marchin’, not a single one.

If you know Frank you’ll know he played the song fucking loads between 2005 and 2008 and you’ll also know he’s a 100% honest guy and would’ve written the song down assiduously on PRS forms, including at festivals and on big tours with The Automatic etc.

It’s not money Frank pays, it’s money the venue pays for their entertainment licence, which then the PRS should pay to me because my song was performed in the venue. Simple. But can they find it anywhere? Can they fuck!? Did they try!? Well someone looked it up on a computer and sent me a thing saying I’d been paid £43.50 since 2005 for six performances. I checked the performances, they were my own fucking performances! Frank? Nada. When I first flagged it up with them, I provided a massive gig list, a pile of Youtube links and links to print and web reviews where the performance of the song got mentioned. By which I mean I did their job for them (this is what they tell you to do). They are a collections agency. Well go collect! It’s not about the money, honey. But it fucking is.

Anyway, even thinking about that makes me angry, the deeper I dove, the more confused I got – most recently discovering I have two separate IDs as a songwriter with them, even though I only ever registered one. Their website, and in particular the interactive database where you can check claims and make claims, is a total fucking mess. Frustrating.

On happier ground, here’s where I’m at, heading into summer: I’ve almost completed the LSD ep, built from improvised piano and Garageband sessions I did on acid after coming home from tour last autumn. I’ll hand that in this week and we’ll announce things properly next month, when Agent Ashmore has booked me a few shows to go with the EP. Separately I’m working hard on finishing the mizzog new songs for a quiet, personal album, which I’ll record in summer. Meanwhile got seven festivals.

Sounds fun, now I just have to not feel like a cretin throughout. Next blog sooner, unless I tweet everything I want to say.

Amerikaland #3: South By Southwest

“Stephen, you’re the Hunter S Thompson of legal highs”
– @vgan

Vivian Girls are the first band we see. They aren’t great this time round (doing a ton of gigs here) but they’re zippy, will be better later in the weekend and the bassist’s auburn winnie-fringe stretches one’s patience into the fourth song. Just what all-girl bands appreciate: being judged on their looks.

Queue for ages to score a wristband, then queue again round the corner to access a party run by a famous clothes store. A recurring motif on the first day, til we’ve aquired enough wristbands to get everywhere fun. Party involves a free bar serving Southern Comfort with obscure fizzy-pop mixers, so despite the early hour and lack of food I’m well disposed towards Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head from Seattle, a keys and drums quintet doing bouncy disco-pop where Ting Tings meet Shy Child or even Scissor Sisters. Lily Allen’s US tour support. Sarge dances loon enough to earn a shout-out. It’s fascinating how the US west coast picks up these ‘edgy’ Brit pop fads (like nu rave or 60s chic) and softens them for their own, more controlled and ‘talent’-driven musicians.

We can’t sneak into the rammed 4AD bash, though Annette from 4AD is our housemate. She’s at a label dinner in their hotel when we go say hi. We stand around chatting at a table containing Mr Coxon and various Future Of The Left members, none of whom I notice until Sarge tells me off afterwards for not saying hello. I’m still a shit networker after all these years.

Annette is super lovely (ah Christ I’ve picked up the American use of ‘super’) but she’s running around like crazy all weekend and we’ll hardly see her. I hope she’s comfy, I suspect Frank’s bunch of local guests on the final night will keep her awake. Annette also officially has the best haircut of the whole weekend, her fringe at a slight angle is intense.  

I’m more excited about Decemberists playing Hazards Of Love than anything. In the end, they’re brave and the music is great, an elaborate, beautifully realised folk-prog-metal concept piece about a love triangle (I think). The weakness is hesitancy or even nervousness in performance. Broadcast live on NPR too, to add pressure, yet still terrific. Guest singers Becky Stark (Lavender Diamond) and Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) playing the protagonists almost steal the show and ‘I Was Meant For The Stage’ as second encore is fucking perfect.

Frank Turner with Steve Soto’s band backing him sets me thinking as well: last night Frank showed up at the condo at 2am after a nightmare journey and was then out before 9am to go rehearse with this bunch of much older, American bar band musicians he’d never met. At the British Music Embassy (wtf!?) it’s fun but not brilliant, they have the chops but not (yet) the love, though the tour should fix that: to play half a set after a few hours rehearsing was damn good. I miss Nigel though. Positives: St Francis is on fantastic vocal form, I suspect he’s stepped his singing up a level through the Gaslight tour. New song ‘Try This At Home’ gets the best audience reaction – always a good sign when your new material competes with your best-known stuff.

Catch up with Oliver at the Six Shooter Hootenanny, where the heroically good-looking Luke Doucet (pronounced, I’m told, Doo-set, rather than my choice Douche) is storming this little alt-country bar. I already loved some of his darkly self-abusive country-rock songs (especially heroin one sung by Oliver at his 60th birthday a few months ago) but I wasn’t prepared for this ferocious, quiffy guitar work, the guy is brilliant.

Hold Steady play a bunch of times, so we catch a celebratory singalong at an afternoon outside party. Kicks total arse, damn right. I steal a poster off the wall which is on thick card and beautifully printed, frameworthy. If FT hadn’t already got a Hold Steady tattoo I’d be considering it as part of my current “5 tats before I’m 40” obsession.

The @Vgan Cvar shows up and instantly fixes our condo’s wifi. He’s out with us sometimes but spends a chunk of time working. Afterwards we’ll almost convince him to join our roadtrip back to the coast, instead of flying home. He makes the right decision though, because he pulls as soon as we leave on Sunday. Maybe we’d jinxed him up til then.

Also catch up with D and N from SF who have special cookies, herbal E and big smiles. Yup, lovely to see them! We won’t cross paths often over the weekend because they’ve got a whole big groovy agenda of their own – but it’s nice when we do see them. Same deal with Countessian really, she’s out and about snapping bands and living too hard, as per. Sally too – but none of those LA girls’ scenester barriers come down: face-time is rationed according to whether our pool is heated and sadly it isn’t.

By day two-and-a-half we still haven’t hit a market for breakfast supplies, we’re still eating almost nothing of value, consuming far too many naughties, beginning to get a little crazed. I think SXSW is the weekend I ate least for a long, long time.

To a Canadian showcase for Sarge’s friend Trevor’s band Wet Secrets who dress as a marching band, with two women at the front playing trombone and trumpet. It’s great fun and they have songs too. Cleverly they walk around in costume all day inviting people to the show.

They’ll also be at the Six Shooter hootenanny where we’ll catch Luke Doucet… oh, so that happened later? Sorry, linear time is a victim to the mix, the weekend slides towards Jeff Noon territory and I can’t remember when I saw what but it doesn’t matter. Everyone is tweeting like crazy, til you find yourself tugged this way and that by different enticing tweet opportunities.

A moment of peace and sanity: Oliver hosts a dinner for us. Cast includes his friend Paul who hated Decemberists, John Parish and his band, minus Polly, plus me. We’re in a lovely Mexican place opposite Stubbs, where Paul talks us past the maitre d and makes a friend for life in the process. I’ve not met EDF before, sitting next to me. He’s bass and keys in John’s band and amazing company, really cool but I’m a bit overawed.

Thankyou Jay Jay Pistolet for solving my plectrum-loss problem on Saturday evening. I only caught a couple of songs of one of his sets but his singing was superb. And Beans On Toast has cut his hair! Looks quite attractive.

At some point during the morning I actually make it up and out to see Little Steven Van Zandt speak at the convention. He’s a charming, funny speaker but I disagree so vehemently with 95% of what he says, I’m working on a rebuttal blog entry. Be warned, it is coming.

…donate so we can buy the next keg…

The finest small band I’ll see is when Sarge drives us out to a suburban party in back of a bike shop where Local Natives are playing. 90% of the audience don’t have wristbands or owt to do with SXSW beyond hitting the edges and getting fucked up. Kids in the backyard pump beer into plastics from kegs and get off with eachother. Local Natives are a superb, duo frontman proggy outfit with unbelievable harmonies (especially given the crummy gear). Frantic keys, violin, electric lead lines. Hints of British Sea Power (especially in the two frontblokes) but more choruses. Fucking superb, basically. 

PJ Harvey & John Parish Utterly staggering. Beyond any expectations (and they were high) the show is all new album and the previous Dancehall… collaboration. Yet the songs and band are so impossibly good, PJ on such unbelievable vocal form, that the audience reaction is ecstatic to every track as if it’s a ‘hits’ set. So calmly they steal your breath. This is in my top 10 shows of all time, and I’m going to see them at least twice more 🙂

Stand through most of (post-Andy) Razorlight to make sure we get into the JP&PJ show. I’m prepared to give them a sincere go with an open mind, because Borrell still has a voice I enjoy… but it’s no good, a demoralising half-hour. No energy, which always sprang from the man behind the kit. No personality, ditto, and JB doesn’t give a fuck. They go off after 35 without playing America or a couple of the other biggies. Were they expecting an encore? 

In other circumstances Alessi’s Ark – who I know vaguely from doing songwriting workshops in schools – would be a real highlight, she’s developing into a classy songwriter and is shaking off the Newsom-isms to find her own voice. But it’s mere minutes since PJ&JP (oh, I’ve got my linear timeline back) so I’m too dazed to let her sink in. She makes me smile though.

I chased around all weekend but missed (every time) both Bearsuit and Graham Coxon. Can’t believe I didn’t even see the Bearsuiters in some social way. When I discover they have no more sets to play I really start thinking I’ve been at one SXSW and there’s been 100 others around the corner to have experienced and you’ll never know if yours was the right one.

Me After loving the beautiful woodeny old upstairs hotel bar venue and being treated well since I arrived, my 1am showcase set starts in a mess and struggles for a hellish 20 minutes of bad tuning, tinny sound and distracting street-noise spilling through open balcony doors around me. I’m wishing quite hard that I’d never been born.

I wonder how you recover, once you start to be embarrassed with yourself as a performer.

Thank fuck something clicks and it’s, well, it’s, I guess, not bad. A patient late-night audience which grows throughout, til luckily it’s really busy just as I improve – so at least more people see the better bits. Far too much American bourbon in the small hours with the charming organisers (a thousand thanks Chris and Wendy if you ever get near reading this). 

You know, I’d had a vivid pre-gig fantasy of destroying the room, then piedpipering the crowd out to the foyer to play a last song on the hotel’s delicious baby grand piano. In reality, I smiled, said “thankyou” and snuck tiredly into the backroom for more booze and contemplated getting a job and moving to the Isle Of Man. Like Piglet when he realised the Heffalump was Pooh.

Then we went and partied as hard as we could.

So, an un-fucking-believable few days – sublime and ridiculous. And it’s not done, I’ve got five more shows between here and the Pacific coast on this tour, before flying home at the end of the month…

I’ll post photos on Facebook.

999,999 Solutions

Buy this Dark Was The Night it’s extraordinary.

I just wrote a Morning Star column about Spotify and ended up thinking optimistic thoughts about a future for selling recorded music, for the first time in a long old while:

What if, as music consumers move away from the bother of downloading, towards building playlists and streaming tracks using legal collectively held libraries (like Spotify or Last.fm or even the BBC iPlayer), this means they semiconsciously move back into the mindset of actually having to pay for music? The legal streaming royalty may still be tiny – fractions of a penny for plays – but it adds up and is negotiable in the long-run. What it does do, that’s a massive positive, is put value back on music. You either get used to the advert breaks, or you buy a premium account.

I really like the idea of increasing that per-play royalty a large amount but allowing the first 2-3 plays of any song by any individual for free or discount. Not a new idea I’m sure.

I also love the idea, in the long-run, of a compatible, direct-relationship streaming system between artist and audience. So I hold tracks on my own site and people stream them and an automatic process by which I get paid takes place. Liberating us (again) from the middle-man of the streaming hosts.

The solution was so damn simple after all – a user-friendly front end. Maybe I’m being over-optimistic but there’s a purism about streaming I like: it’s truly meritocratic, meaning that if you write a ‘classic’ and thousands of people play it over and over again over the years, you make more money. Obviously, if someone buys one of my albums, it’s (usually) so goddamn brilliant they’ll treasure it and play it several hundred times over the next decade. Ditto lots of people I love, from Decemberists to Radiohead to Tom Williams.

But if someone buys the latest hype album on the basis of the one good song on there, they’ll probably only ever play it a few times.

Consumer benefits because they haven’t shelled out for shit. I (by which of course I mean ‘good’ music) benefit because even if my initial core audience is smaller, they will repeat-play more often. 

In other words, repeated plays are hype-proof. So there’s one solution.

Last night Jen & Jon took me to see Robyn Hitchcock – he was excellent, much better than last time I saw him playing solo. This time he had a terrific band (his UK band, not the celeb-heavy Venus 3) with Rob Ellis drumming and Tim Keegan got up as well, who used to accompany Hitchcock all the time – and also fronted one of the great lost bands of the early 90s, Departure Lounge (they were on Bella Union and produced by Simon Raymonde, I think, who, if memory serves, made them sound less good). 

I used to vaguely know Robyn Hitchcock’s Mum, I interviewed Hitchcock at WOMAD about 10 years ago. When I introduced myself he said: “Have a cup of tea,” and passed me a plastic cup. “Thankyou,” I replied and took a big swig, “I just found it.” He said.

Anyway, I listened to Hitchcock today, then various other things connected (for me), Decemberists, Yo La Tengo, Fairport, Okkervil River, Delgados, the aforementioned Keegan, Mary Hampton, Bellowhead, other stuff, then found myself heading back to Capital, wondering if it was too ‘boring indie rock’ or was lacking something with hindsight. Fuck that though: I hope it’s not too arrogant to say – or at least you’ll take it as an honest feeling – but listening to it on Spotify, I sincerely can’t understand why it wasn’t a smash hit record, it’s great. Doesn’t matter though, the next two will be 😉 and actually, that doesn’t matter either.

So there’s another solution and it’s not yet 3pm.

2009, the myth of process and what not to talk about.

Sorry this blog has been sparse (so far) this year. No excuses, I haven’t found reasons to write moving forward into 2009 and I’m confused about what to do and where to go next.

I started handing in my pile of new song demos. They vary between loud, quiet and odd/groovy in between. I like them all (or they wouldn’t get beyond my MacBook) and I’m extremely proud of a few of them, although the trademark ‘sound’ of Garageband is all over them, which I hope everyone relevent can “hear through”.

Left behind for now are what I’ve mostly been composing but isn’t useful or appropriate: nasty electro ideas waiting for a structure and improvised Keith Jarrett-style romantic jazz(-ish) piano. So you can tell, I’m all over the place creatively. In fact, I’ll probably hand in some of the piano impro demos at the end, and pitch that we accompany the next album with a second disc of that stuff, taped at the same time as recording the album. Would be ace fun, cheap to make and probably a strong extra record.

A funny thing with demos: I’m sure most people have the song completely written and it’s just the recording / performances that are ‘demo standard’. For me, the song itself is still at a demo stage, so incomplete or a work-in-progress. In particular, lyrics aren’t done. Jon Clayton will tell you (probably through gritted teeth), I’ve literally had to redo vocals at the final mix stage, when I’ve found a tweak in the lyrics that’s too important not to include.

Ach, I’m talking about process. See below. 

So here’s a million dollar question which I always resist asking… Do you prefer Chris T-T music loud or quiet? solo acoustic, full band or somewhere in between? or is it more an issue of content… Should I be writing more psychedelic nature / animal / love songs or keep up the commie shit? 

comments more than welcome, obviously, or I wouldn’t be asking

I know what some of my closer friends and family think but never really know what the record-buying, gig-going ‘fans’ prefer, or whether the split (if there is one) is even. 

Of all the things spoiling culture at the moment, I’m starting to pinpoint the worst as what I’ll call The Myth Of Process. This is the shift by which everyone thinks they know how it’s done, even though they don’t really. It’s the real damage inside the reality TV talent show movement but can equally be found in every area of culture and in the instant communication of those making culture. Interactive shows, Twitter, blogging or posting demos on Myspace are just as much a part of this as any celeb gossip columnist.

No (or very, very rare) communication between an artist and audience (or potential audience) is entirely truthful, simply because the artist wants the audience to increase. So as we increase the amount, intimacy (hey @wossy or @schofe on Twitter) and regularity of that communication, what we’re actually doing is increasing the spin / lying.

Even at my level, I’m mythmaking / spinning. I’m not going to tell you which artists I hate that I’m friends with because it’ll stuff my friendship with them (or worse, lose me professional opportunities ;p)

So the audience now almost always think they know how it’s done and, alongside this, becomes obsessed with the process itself, rather than the product. At the same time, us artists fall for the same myth. 

When musicians hang out, why don’t we talk about making music anymore? A few years ago, we’d sit around yacking about guitar pedals, snare drum compression, which towns had the best audiences. Now, to a much greater extent, we all yack distribution demographic this, PR that, business shit all around their mouths.

I’m guilty totally myself and, in a sense, have always been one of the worst offenders: a keen music industry gossip and process-hound, disguising myself as an aloof ‘pure’ music maker. But I don’t get it: do we now actually enjoy the business more than the music? Sounds bonkers but feels increasingly, heartbreakingly true.

I love the visual arts because I don’t know how they manage it. The mystery is still intact. When I hear a pop hit, I am aware that what I’m loving about the first 30 seconds is primarily a snare drum sound and a bunch of reverbs – and can make informed assumptions about how they achieved those. But with a brilliant classic painting, I have no idea where to begin with process – and don’t want to.

And that’s what we need to recapture, somehow. But talking about it – and especially asking your opinion – contributes to the opposite. Doh.