Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Point of order, Mr. Speaker…

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Last month, my band Firewire headlined at Cromer Carnival for the third year in succession. As with the previous performances, it was a killer gig from the word “go”, with an audience in excess of 1,000 well and truly up for a good time. This year, the sound crew decided to try something different with ther 15kw PA rig, grouping the four huge bass bins together in front of the stage rather than in the scaffolding supporting the rest of the speakers on either side. “Better penetration of the bass frequencies further down the marquee,” they’d said. Slightly strange to have something standing up in front of the stage like that, acting as a barrier between us and the audience, but we went along with it.

We quite often bring the first set to a rousing close with our rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”, and even if the name of the song doesn’t ring a bell, the bass part which it ends on is instantly recognisable as the theme tune to BBC1’s Formula One coverage. Generally the point where I switch on the stunning red fretboard LEDs on “Boris”, my limited edition Alembic Spyder bass, and – as you might say – give it some!

While we were setting up I’d wondered how safe it would be to try standing on those vast bass bins. They seemed rock solid, but the problem was that the shape of each one was angled towards the back, so there were gaps in between them. And I could see it would be a fair step up to get on to them, even without the significant weight of my bass hampering my movement.

When it came to it, I couldn’t really pass up the moment. I’d already warned vocalist Marcia Elliott standing next to me that I was going to “go for it”, so I suspect she was rather more apprehensive that I might fall off than the rest of the band – who weren’t prepared for what I was going to do, but by the same token weren’t surprised when I did it.

Once up there, it was easy. I just had to tell myself to keep my feet firmly in place on each speaker, and stay there until the end of the song. The result, as you’ll see within our newly released compilation video, was pretty spectacular.

And as a delightful postscript to the tale, we hadn’t even finished our last set on stage when we were told they want us back to do it all over again next year!

Tenuous link with stardom department

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

When I’m not writing about matters travel or outdoors, or planning my forthcoming escapade on Circumnavigation Record 2011‘s attempt on the round the world powerboat record, I have a fun little pastime – I play bass guitar in a rock band. In what seems like a former life, I played in a Norfolk rock band called Spiny Norman, and we came close – very close – to hitting the big time.

Clive Tully playing his Gibson Thunderbird during a live broadcast of a 40th anniversary Jimi Hendrix tributeThese days it’s a hobby, expensive at times, but playing with Firewire fulfils my urge to get up in front of a crowd of people and make a lot of noise. I’ve been through several basses, but my longest serving instrument is a limited issue 1976 bicentennial edition Gibson Thunderbird, bought in 1977. I don’t play it so much these days, as I tend to stick with the even more limited edition John Entwistle tribute Alembic Spyder which I’ve had for the last couple of years. But the one thing about the Thunderbird, which many have remarked upon over the years, is the awesome growl that it makes.

So when my old friend Steve Ayers, whose rock band Fourplay I’ve depped with on many occasions, asked if he could take some technical readings from my Thunderbird, I was only too happy to oblige. Amongst other things, he repairs and modifies guitars and amplifiers, and it transpired he’s been doing some work for the recently reformed The Darkness, playing at the UEA Waterfront in Norwich on Sunday, and the Download Festival the following Friday.

Their bass player, Frankie Poullain, has a Gibson Thunderbird of around the same vintage, but it seems it hasn’t been making that characteristic Thunderbird growl, hence Steve’s once-over of my instrument. He checked the output from the pickups, but somehow I suspect he’ll find that it boils down to the fact that I have my tail pickup extremely close to the strings. So if you happen to see The Darkness at one of their forthcoming concerts, and you think “wow, that bass sounds awesome”, it’s because people have been telling me that for years!

Hey, it’s Monday

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Not just any Monday Hey Monday: 6 Months

Derivative

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

I was amused to read this morning that my favourite rock band of all time – Led Zeppelin – was branded by the BBC in 1969 as “derivative” and “unconvincing”. This the band that went on to sell 300 million albums, and whose one-off reunion concert at the O2 Arena two years ago had over a million hopefuls applying for just 18,000 tickets. Of course, music is famously littered with such bad judgements. The Beatles were turned down by Decca in 1962 because they reckoned guitar bands were on the way out.

It seems to me that the word “derivative” was the put-down of the era. I played in a mid-70s rock band which came close to that coveted recording contract, and while we didn’t make it (a variety of factors including the advent of punk), we did get to play support to a number of top acts. An A&R talent scout from Decca came to see us supporting Judas Priest, and as a result got us into their studio to record a demo at considerable cost to them. We didn’t get a record deal, but we did at least end up with a tape we could hawk around. Amongst others, I sent it to Swan Song – Led Zeppelin’s own record label – and their “constructive rejection” included the word “derivative”. A year later, that same tape was entered into Kid Jensen’s Band of Hope and Glory competition on BBC Radio 1, and we came within the top 20 of around 1,000 entries.

The truth is that all music is derivative. Whether consciously or not, influences creep in. Nobody seemed to bother that there was more than a smattering of Beatles influence in the music of Oasis, and look how many records they sold. Neither do I have any doubt that people will still be listening to “Wonderwall” in 50 years time. And while Led Zep themselves managed to combine hard-hitting rock with the seemingly irreconcilable genres of folk, reggae, blues, soul, funk and rockabilly, they were influences nonetheless.

Derivative – is it really such a bad thing?

Influences

Friday, August 14th, 2009

The last couple of weeks have seen the passing of two people who one way or another have had quite an influence on me. The most recent was yesterday – guitar legend Les Paul. He was a truly multi-talented man – a gifted musician, who influenced many others, including Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney and Neil Young. And it was his constant quest for perfection that led him to develop the idea of multi-track recording, enabling artists to sing harmony with themselves, but also for musicians to record individual tracks at different times, and ensure each was perfect before it was all mixed into a master track. But he will be best remembered for designing the guitar which bears his name, the Gibson Les Paul.

This was the first solid body electric guitar, and over 50 years on, it’s still in production. Of course there are many star guitarists famous for using Gibson Les Pauls – Pete Townshend (The Who), Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Slash (Guns n’ Roses), Joe Perry (Aerosmith). And while most tend to associate the Fender Stratocaster with him, even Jimi Hendrix played a Les Paul Custom. From my point of view, there isn’t a band I’ve played in over the last 35 years where at least one guitarist hasn’t played a Gibson Les Paul. It has a beautiful singing sustain that other guitars struggle to match.

The other man is Christopher Portway, a travel writer whom I met on a winter snowmobiling trip to Finland 20 years ago. He rather liked the fact that I had a penchant for doing more adventurous things, and we hit it off straight away, although it must be said I nearly killed him on our first meeting when I accelerated our skidoo up to 90mph along a frozen lake, with Chris riding pillion and hanging on to me for dear life.

But Chris’s exploits make mine pale into insignificance. He fought in World War Two, and when at the age of 20 he was captured by the Germans in Normandy in 1944, he was sent to Poland to work as a slave labourer in a coal mine. He escaped from there, and attempted to get to the Russian front, jumping goods trains, and even at one point bumming a ride in the first class compartment on a passenger train. But he was caught by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz, from where he took part in the infamous “Death March”. It was when he escaped again that he was taken in by a Czechoslovakian family, and fell in love with their 19 year-old daughter. He was captured once more, and escaped once more before the war ended.

He then spent the next few years trying to find Anna, and when he did, attempting to get her out from behind the Iron Curtain. After cutting his way through an electrified fence, he was arrested while crawling through a minefield. He was put on trial and sentenced to 104 years in prison, but was released four months later after Britain turned the affair into an international incident. Eventually Anna was allowed to emigrate to Britain, where they married, but when the Czech authorities then started to harass her family, he went back in to smuggle some of them out through Yugoslavia. If you’ve ever wondered why modern passports have a clear plastic lamination over the photograph – Chris is the reason!

Chris spent many years travelling and writing about the kind of places most people would avoid. He was arrested and interrogated in Idi Amin’s Uganda, he met Fidel Castro and Colonel Gaddafi amongst others, and he was friends with the exiled King of Albania. Even in his 70s he won a Churchill Travelling Fellowship Award to do a 2,000 mile cycle ride from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

He was one of the last great eccentrics – there was a delightful element of slight bumbling naïvety about the way Chris managed to get himself into (and out of) all kinds of scrapes. A typical example would be when he climbed to the summit of 20,561 foot Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador. No one told him he was supposed to wear mountaineering boots and crampons, and he did it in a pair of plimsolls. When on the descent he and his party became lost in a white-out, they huddled together in the snow thinking they were going to die, then had to move apart some while later when they started feeling too hot!