Posts Tagged ‘folk music’

bossI seem to have bought one of these; a device that will revolutionise my performances. As I don’t have a band, nor the ability to find one (nor the patience to lead one, nor the finances to pay one) this will be the way to enhance my live sound. What a loop pedal does is to enable you to set up various musical phrases, chords, beats etc. that will repeat (as if on loops of old-skool tape) as you play, adding depth to your music.

I do mostly acoustic gigs, however most of my songs are ‘band’ songs; they’re written with a full folk-rock/indie arrangement in mind. Only in the studio can I fully realise them as I originally heard them in my mind’s ear when they were composed. Some of you will have heard my song ‘Drifter’, performed here with flautist George Roberts:

Here is the recorded version:

So when I play live, there is a bit of a mis-match between what I’m presenting to people and how I actually see myself as an artist. I do have some folky tunes that don’t require extra adornment, but most of my stuff would benefit from some level of embellishment.

The trouble is that extra layers of sound don’t neccessarily add interest to a live set; in fact, for a solo act they can work against it. In ‘organic’ music (as opposed to electronic), the interest is generated by the fact that musician is actually playing in front of you in real time. Layers of recorded sound (even if you’re recording them  yourself during the performance) can detract from the spontaneity and humanity of your performance. If a solo performer’s sound gets bigger and more interesting during a gig, they themselves tend to lose charisma in comparison.

The widespread use of these pedals has led to a genre of ‘loop-folk’ where acoustic guitarists layer-up guitar parts, often to a beat that they have laid down by tapping the body of the guitar. Unfortunately, they usually use simple three or four chord sequences that don’t vary. The fact they are usually using the same sound for all their parts doesn’t help. I will have to work out how to drop in and out of loops so things don’t get tedious – dynamics and chord modulation are important to me.

This device will never become my ‘band in a box’. For reasons I’ve already explained, I don’t want to dilute the immediacy of my performance (such as it is), nor do I want to risk a poor imitation of the recorded versions. But it will enable me to feature my guitar technique more, which is more from the rock tradition – soloing over chords – than the folky self-accompanying style, which is what I have been restricted to. It will also enable me to lay down beatbox rhythms  and vocal harmonies, and add tonal colour.

These pedals should be used wisely, like The Force, otherwise the dark side beckons!


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Things you find by chance are often more precious than things you find by looking. I spend a lot of time in cafes writing, reading and generally hanging out; and occasionally a piece of music comes on the establishment’s stereo that I have to know more about. If I’m feeling sufficiently self-confident (it’s somehow daunting to reveal what a secretly obsessive culture-stalker you are) I go over to the counter and ask what it is.

Here are some tunes I have discovered whilst lounging with a coffee in Liverpool.

Iron and Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days (album)
Discovered at: The Egg Cafe

I was sitting in the Egg when they were playing a gorgeous album by someone I’d never heard before. They told me it was Iron and Wine, I’m not sure which album, but it may well have been this one. Samuel Beam a.k.a. Iron and Wine writes gentle, hypnotic songs and his soothing voice seeps into you by stealth.

Camera Obscura – If Looks Could Kill
Discovered at: Mello Mello

My ears pricked up when I heard this scuzzed-up combination of Motown and Scottish indie-pop wafting from behind the counter at this now sadly-defunct establishment. I’m so glad I asked about it because the album from which it comes, ‘Let’s Get Out of This Country’ is now one of my favourite albums.

Andrew Bird – Hole in The Ocean Floor
Discovered at: FACT cafe

I was transfixed and transported when I heard this semi-classical track floating through the air at FACT. Particularly the hauntingly beautifully end section.

Tiny Dancers – Hannah We Know
Discovered at: Keith’s Wine Bar

This is a tune I had heard on the radio years ago but I didn’t hear who the artist was. It had been going round my head intermittently ever since and I was grief-stricken that I would never hear its blissfully repetitious chorus ever again. Then last week, it was playing in Keith’s and I finally got the chance to identify it.

Remember, if you hear a tune you like, don’t be shy. Ask what it is!

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When I was a kid I was in love with motorbikes – along with dinosaurs and knights, they were one of the great obsessions of my childhood. 

I can’t remember how it started, but by the age of nine my bedroom walls were lined with posters of Kawasakis, Suzukis and Hondas; I amassed a sizeable collection of books on the subject and I drew and painted the machines incessantly. When we moved onto a street with a motorcycle showroom on the corner, the fire was stoked still further and I would indulge my two-wheeled fantasies constantly.

All of this was of some concern to my mother, who envisaged me killing myself as soon as I got the chance to ride. An ex-nurse, she was full of lurid tales about road accidents involving motorcyclists and would recount them regularly in order to put me off. It didn’t work however. It was clear to me then, as it is now – the motorcycle is the most exiting invention humankind has ever devised.

The sound of a bike is enough to quicken the blood; the growl of an exposed engine turning over gives off a feeling off danger before you let even out the clutch. That element of risk is what makes it sexy, combined with the individualism of the solo rider, who is bonded to his metal steed in a way humankind has known ever since we first tamed wild horses millenia ago.

I have never understood how anyone could get exited by a car. Sitting off to one side of the vehicle, dragging round a whole lot of extra seats, space and weight, the car driver is contained; cossetted within a piece of vehicular real-estate. Contrast that with hurling yourself through the cold air, exposed, with an angry engine between your knees. A motorbike is pure freedom.

As I got older, my interests changed. To everyone’s surprise, and some relief, I didn’t become a motorcyclist; I kept my feet on the street. But I still salute the individualism that the motorcycle represents, and the cultural impact it has had.

Motorbikes have appeared everywhere in popular culture, from films like Easy Rider to literary eulogies such as “Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. But my favourite piece of motorcycle culture is a song by the English singer/songwriter Richard Thompson.

A master of storytelling and character in song, Thompson (a founder member of folk-rock legends Fairport Convention) recounts the tale of a rebel motorcyclist who woos a  flame-haired woman “Red Molly” on his motorbike, only to come to a messy end, handing her the keys to the machine on his deathbed. Accompanied by his unique, virtuoso guitar playing, this is a Thompson classic. Enjoy…

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The music community recently mourned the great Pete Seeger, who finally left the stage at the grand old age of 94. Seeger was a key figure in the protest song tradition, nurturing and inspiring a generation of left-leaning folkies including Bob Dylan.
It occurred to me that when Seeger started performing in the 1940’s, he could never have foreseen the breadth of political songwriting he would help to foster. Here are some personal favourites, in no particular order.

1. Billy Bragg – It Says Here                                                                                                                                                                                                    Billy addresses the twisted patriotism of the British Press

2. Bob Marley and The Wailers – Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)

The Jamaican icon reminds us that poverty + hunger = riots

3. Bob Dylan – Masters of war                                                                   A seething Dylan puts the arms manufacturers on trial

4. KRS-One – Sound of Da Police

The influential rapper compares US police to overseers on slave plantations

5. Dead Kennedys – Nazi Punks Fuck Off

Jello Biafra’s fearless broadside Nazi infiltration in the US punk scene.

6. Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hoprisy – Television The Drug of The Nation

A powerful indictment of mind-numbing US TV

7. Tom Robinson Band – Glad to Be Gay

Catchy queer anthem that hit the charts in 1978

8. Stevie Wonder – Living For the City

Stevie shines a light on the grinding poverty of urban blacks

9. Yes – Don’t Kill The Whale

English proggers address the whaling issue


10. Artists Against Apartheid – Sun City

A host of stars line up to urge a boycott of South Africa during the aparthied era

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