Roger Williams has very kindly had me back on A World of Difference to talk about the release of Beacon and Half-light - it'll be broadcast on Tuesday evening from 8pm UK time on Blues and Roots radio. The previous interview we did is below - the musical segment of this is a great summary of everything I'd done pre-Beacon so if you have time to catch up here it is:
As you may know if you've already got a copy, I play a bit of viola on Beacon (I took it up last year after playing the violin at school what seems a very long time ago).
I also play with these guys - currently known as Sarabande Stone but in search of a new name I believe - and it's become a little musical solace for me, away from the hubbub of playing solo and promoting my own songs. We jam, we riff occasionally, there's no lead and no front-person. It's just meditative, and completely different, and truly ours rather than mine.
We were playing at the Oval in Croydon tonight and the Icarus Club's Phil Dearing got this great shot of us - thanks Phil!
Rick Stuart from Roots and Fusion in Stockport has been a great supporter and encourager ever since being the first to give my songs UK airplay two years ago. I invited him to the launch purely on the off chance and was completely floored (not to mention overjoyed) when he agreed to come! We had a great night - eventually I will post about it too - and Rick has written up his impressions for the Blues and Roots Radio Blog here. I'm really grateful to Rick for sharing his experience so generously and most of all just glad he seems to have had such a good time! We're looking forward to welcoming you back to Croydon any time!
I believe Rick's going to play something from the new albums in tomorrow night's Roots and Fusion which airs on Blues & Roots Radio at 9pm UK time.
Here are a couple of photos from the launch courtesy of Quentin Fletcher - more to follow.
(yes, you read that right!)
I had an amazing opportunity to sing at Alexandra Palace yesterday - this is thanks to the wonderful people at The Brook and Vegan Life Live. Singing out into that massive beautiful space was such an incredible experience. The sun came out during one song and started shining through the roof - it was just beautiful. Here are a few photos - some mine, and some courtesy of Mark Flanagan and Ric Adams - there's also a video from Ric below. Thanks to everyone who said hi and especially those who trekked up from SW London to see us all play!
[Oh dear blog! It looks like I went to Wales and never came back again, understandbly.]
This is a round-up of what I was so busy doing last year that I didn't get around to posting about!
I started out at the start of 2017 with a good year of collaborations and writing under my belt and sat down to make a list. Something about 2016 - (honestly I think it was working up the courage to ask other people to work with me and that this was happily well-received) - expanded new avenues in terms of the music I felt I wanted to make. I had a growing backlog of songs, some on guitar, some on piano, some I knew I wanted to build a band for. Rather than try to pour everything into one project I decided I’d break it down into separate projects based on the the musical setups and producers involved. And suddenly, there it was: the masterplan…
Suffice to say of the five projects I planned, only one got finished within the year - the Doesn’t Take Much EP with Stephen Nurse (which was the easiest because it came together in two afternoons of live sessions!) In total I did at least 30 days in the studio (on top of extended hours at work), very nearly drove myself crazy, and never got to writing up any of it here - but I’m pleased to say that everything is now (very nearly!) done and it will all get released this year.
So here's a run-down of what's out and what's on its way:
1. Doesn't Take Much EP - this is the EP featuring Stephen Nurse on Harmonica with Vicky Keohane on bodhrán, the product of two afternoon sessions in May and happily released in July. We did this live as a trio and it includes remakes of Solid Ground and Wish You Were from These Hours plus some new material I wrote after meeting Stephen.
So far so good!
This is the new full-length studio album and accounts for the biggest proportion of the work from last year. 12 brand new songs (although some that have been kicking around an awfully long time live - Swim Any Sea, Some Kind of Comfort etc.) and a re-make of From You originally on Doesn't Take Much. These are guitar-based songs although I did end up putting a little piano on a couple of them where I felt it benefitted the song (more on piano songs to come!) and there's quite a list of credits: Vicky Keohane is back on bodhrán, her dad Aidan joined us on mandolin, Daniel Fitzgibbon and Russ Watts on drums, Chris Hyde-Harrison on double bass, Maggie Casey on whistles and producer Gareth Cobb played bass guitar - plus there's a tiny bit of viola from me and quite a bit of harmony work. We've played mix and match with instrumentation and I don't think there are any two songs that have exactly the same ensemble. There's also a wider range in the writing compared with These Hours.
Beacon is launching on 4th February (that's tomorrow!!) and we have a launch gig at the Oval Tavern, literally just round the corner here in Croydon, where we'll be putting the band together live for one night only. I'm super pleased with how Beacon has turned out and we'll see where it goes.
Half-light is the acoustic album launching at the same time as Beacon - it has the straight single acoustic takes of most of the Beacon songs (the ones that work best as solo acoustic songs!) plus the songs on the Renegades EP (keep reading...)
This is a live-in-the-studio collection like These Hours and some of these acoustic takes were the base we built the Beacon tracks around - it actually proved to be quite an efficient way to work. It's there because I know some people just prefer the raw acoustic sound, and because I like to keep a record of what I'm doing as I go along!
4. Reckless Heart EP - this is a live piano + band EP of 6 songs I wrote for piano and as a result is quite a different, poppy sound. This was something I've wanted to do for a really long time: we set aside one full day in the studio and put all six songs down live. It was one of the most amazing experiences I've had, and I'm endlessly grateful to producer Andy Brook, Dan Smith (drums) and Daniel Fitzgibbon again (this time on bass guitar) for making it happen.
This project is all mixed and mastered and ready to go once Beacon settles down and we've all recovered from the excitement of Sunday's launch!
5. Renegades EP
Yes! As originally planned there is going to be an EP built around Renegades which has been out since late 2016. I've been working with producer John Lovell who has been doing beautiful things to three other songs to go together with Renegades as a mini release. This could have happened much sooner but various things (Hoodoo's closing for one) have gotten in the way and then I got caught up in Beacon - but this is very nearly finished too and the acoustic versions of the tracks are out tomorrow on Half-light.
Altogether that's 42 tracks - with duplicate versions I think it's 25 songs altogether. Which I know now is too much to try to do in one year! So at least I've learnt something... I'm not entirely sure either where this leaves me in terms of songwriting for 2018 as everything I've done in this list has been so great to do - where next? But for the time being I'm back to writing on guitar in my quiet moments.
Even songwriters need a holiday from time to time, right? I had my first ever trip to Wales last week! It was just what I needed - wild beauty and solitude. I had the guitar with me but didn't even take it out of the case - I was so caught up in the surroundings and wanting to get out and explore.
I can't explain how these scenes translate into songs when it's so long since I've really written something new (somehow being in the middle of recording last year's material seems to put a natural stop to writing anything new) but I know that the inspiration filters through somehow. I was just filling up my tank on all that nature.
A few snapshots below to show you what I mean...
Had some great gigs recently and got some lovely things coming up - keep an eye on the shows page or Reverbnation and I'll try to get the Facebook listing up to date as things come through on there. We had a brilliant time with the Spinners Legends in Orpington on Friday, and a truly hilarious day at the Sunset Festival in Carshalton on Saturday - big shout out to Chloe Ray and all who organised for making that such a brilliant day for the Sepsis Trust. I also really enjoyed the afternoon at Cafe Dolce Vita in Petts Wood - despite losing my voice! - these relaxed coffee-shop-style afternoons are very much my thing and I'm on the lookout for more of those!
Sometimes at some gigs something special happens and the magic just descends and this happened last week at the open mic at the Bridge House in Penge, where Glenn Lawrence, as always his utterly supportive self wherever local musicians are concerned, caught this video of Solid Ground. This was at the end of a short set where I'd already sung Wish These Years Away and Renegades and there was a strong sense of connection in the room - it felt like a truly shared moment.
If you're local enough to make it to one of these nights, they're the first Tuesday of the month and a real haven for local musicians, such a lovely crowd there and always a good mix of regulars and newcomers - but it's only once a month so got to make the most of it!
The EP I've made with Stephen Nurse - Doesn't Take Much - is ready for release and will be available digitally on the 21st July (getting my hands on some CD copies TODAY!)
There are 6 songs on the EP and they're live-in-the-studio tracks we recorded at The Fold Studios in Forest Hill, with Vicky Keohane playing Bodhran for us on some of the tracks.
Here's the track list:
1. Doesn’t Take Much (5:10)
2. Wish You Were (5:32)
3. Wish These Years Away (5:47)
4. Water is Wide (5:16)
5. From You (7:39)
6. Solid Ground (6:06)
Since we've dramatically failed to produce anything under 5 minutes we've also released a radio edit of the title track Doesn't Take Much which is on Soundcloud and also downloadable here.
We already released Wish You Were as a taster on Soundcloud - this song and Solid Ground are re-makes from These Hours and the other three are new songs, plus a version of Water Is Wide which a lot of people will (hopefully!) recognise.
The title of the EP has a lot to do with how the process of making these songs went - it was very easy! When I first met Stephen just under a year ago (we still talk about that night a lot!) I was blown away by his versatility and his ability to jump in and improvise sympathetically on almost any style - and though his background is more jazz/funk/blues we just ended up naturally playing together and this is the result. We also hit it off in a major way, so these new songs (and the older ones I guess, as they take on new meaning) are mementoes of the journey we've made. I particularly remember Doesn't Take Much as a song starting out as a noodle in a hotel room on one of our first weekends away. All records tell a story but this one is, as far as I'm concerned, so clearly rooted in our first year of being together and how our lives have changed.
Anyway I hope you all enjoy it, and I'll probably be back to say some more about the individual songs as we go on.
I was out playing (with Stephen Nurse, again – you’d be forgiven to thinking this was my duo-of-the-year project. It’s all lots of fun for me, if no doubt little confusing for everyone else! Hopefully it lasts longer than a year.) on a Monday night in Hammersmith and I was reflecting shortly afterwards on how relaxed I’ve become about making mistakes when performing. Stephen and I do a version of Scarborough Fair that is always a complete stab in the dark – partly because we don’t do much in the way of rehearsal, and partly because we have different ideas about the rhythm and they just haven’t settled on this particular song yet. It’s a magical song and one that I would hate to overplay – in 6 months I think that’s the second time we’ve played it.
I think back on when I started playing live – just over 3 years ago – and how I would rehearse each song excessively and had a very determined idea in my head of what “right” sounded liked when it came to performing all the songs. And something would ALWAYS go “wrong” (hint: something always does!) with a performance, a missed lyric, a dropped chord, an entire verse forgotten or even in the early days a complete lapse in memory. I could never imagine being one of those people who looked “perfect” on stage as if they never dropped a note, and were always professional and on top of things – effortless. And I come from a classical background, where the music is known in detail by so many, and someone seems to always be there to lay claim to every note you miss.
Fast forward to now and I know that with some songs you do just reach a point, after a certain amount of play, where you can usually guarantee a fairly consistent rendering of a song time after time. Muscle memory and the physical confidence of coordinating yourself in the right way enough to relax and assume it will come – it usually does. But along the way I learned two things that fundamentally changed my view of music.
The first thing was a rule I made for myself – that I only had to be 80% right. When it comes to playing your own songs for an audience that’s probably never heard them before, you can pretty much guarantee that no-one’s going to notice the first 20% of what you might yourself class as “mistakes” – because no-one knows what’s supposed to come next. And even if you do mess up, hey! it’s live – it’s highly unlikely anyone is going to hold it against you! People are much more likely to be aware of your so-called screw-ups if you act like you screwed up.
The second thing I learned about was simply this: improvisation. Not having had any jazz or improvised/jamming background, it was a revelation to me that there was music that was not only not perfect, it wasn’t even planned. Or rehearsed. That perfect strangers could stand up together and make amazing music. That I could stand up and roll with the evolution of notes and phrases – I may well never be a pro at it like Stephen but I can at least figure out how to turn a near-miss into something that sounds tuneful. There’s that Miles Davis quote - “It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note – it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.” Which is maybe a lesson for life in general too – it’s not the mistake that matters, but how you deal with it.
Anyway, here we are working it out as we go along, which seems to be a theme this year...
We've had a great review in from David Kidman at FATEA of our SumnerAnderson duo album from last year, Out Along The Bend - read the full review here: http://www.fatea-records.co.uk/magazine/reviews/SumnerAnderson/
There's a second review in Folk London, by Nygel Packett from The Goose is Out. He says that Swim Any Sea "is the kind of song that just gets inside you and once it has it doesn't want to leave". Check out the current June-July issue for more (I was pleased to see there's also a great piece on the Orpington Folk and Blues club!)
Thank you to all those who have given their time to review what we've made, it's really appreciated and we love to hear your feedback!
There are a handful of CD copies of Out Along The Bend available in the Store if you'd like to get one of your own to keep!
The lovely and ever-hard-working (seriously who in London is doing more for live music right now?) Romeo from UK Open Mic has started making each night's videos available online - that's a lot of footage of a lot of great musicians! We'll usually hit up one of these nights most weeks at least and with two to four songs a session (sometimes more!) there are quite a few songs floating about by now. I wanted to share this one of Just A Story as I don't play this one live that often (and almost never in a jam with a conga! - big thanks to Freddy Macha) although it's always been one of my favourites. I liked how this worked out.
Check out the list of UK Open Mic regular venues here - they're great places to play and catch a great mix of live music around London.
Here's the lyric video for Water's Edge -
Stephen Nurse and I recorded a new version of Wish You Were (originally on These Hours) and we've posted a video version from one of the gigs we played at Orpington Liberal Club to YouTube. We've also uploaded the EP version to Soundcloud ahead of the EP release at the end of this month. This is one of six tracks that make up the EP, there's another song from These Hours, one cover and three new songs. Wish You Were is the first song we picked when we started jamming together live. I love these expanded versions with Stephen's melodies and improvised lines. Watch and listen below - a big thank you goes to our friend Polly for capturing the video.
Hi folks! Here's a collection of links to some programmes where my songs have been played lately - many thanks to all of these presenters and compilers and to everyone who is helping these songs pass from hand to hand and ear to ear.
A final reminder that the session with Doug Welch at BBC Radio Kent is still on the iPlayer but it's the LAST DAY! So may disappear at some point tonight. This is the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04nb0q8
There are eleven hours of great, great music there to get stuck into!
If you're a hosting a show of your own and would like a download link or a physical CD sending you then it's a simple matter of filling out the form below:
The tracks featured in the BBC Radio Kent session from 15th January are now up on Soundcloud - a big thank you to Doug and Dave for letting me have them to take home!
There is one more unbroadcast recording to come but I'll save that as a surprise for later!
Here is the link to Sunday's session with Doug Welch at the BBC Radio Kent Folk Show:
It'll be there for 30 days (well 27 now!) so listen as many times as you like! Many thanks to Doug and Dave for being so welcoming - it was a really pleasant, relaxed evening. They even gave me copies of the recordings to keep!
Kent I will be coming your way soon - I'm hoping to pop down to Ron Truman-Border's guest show at the Orpington Liberal Club on the 27th.
2017 has been great for airplay so far. Here are some mixcloud links to shows who have kindly taken up tracks - thank you! Always such lovely words from Rick at Roots & Fusion and great to be picked up by Chelmsford Community Radio - I grew up just down the road from there in Great Baddow so that area is full of childhood memories!
Back in the Autumn last year I was offered the fantastic opportunity of a spot on the FATEA showcase sessions - a downloadable album of songs from a wide selection of current artists, which runs for three months (in this case to the 31 January, so get to the link and get your free copy before it runs out!)
The current session is called Mirror and is available for download here:
It's packed full of great tracks on here from a real range of styles - I find myself going back to this over and over as the variety is fascinating and the quality of the musicianship is great, it's been a real inspiration to me. Personal favourites were Ruth Theodore's Buffalo, Bel Blue's Wild Dog Rose and Fara's version of The Games People Play. Also in great company with Ange Hardy and Lukas Drinkwater who have just won FATEA's award for Band/Duo of the year 2016, and Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage - I saw them supporting Sarah Jarosz at the Union Chapel late last year and my favourite song of the set, Lady Margaret, is on the Mirror Download.
To mark the download I've made a lyric video for Tide Will Turn which is now up on YouTube:
Here's a run down of releases this year that I've sung on: two singles of mine, the Sumner Anderson duo album we recorded in the spring, and some featured vocals for Devon Sol and the Calling For Serenity collective:
I've contributed to a couple of other projects that are due for release early in 2017, along with hopefully a new album of my own in the works - better get to it! I've written 15 songs this year without about the same number underway.