Friday, 14 February 2014

Under A Shady Tree

Three albums in. I have now been prodding and poking the business side of music for four years, trying to figure out how it works. What a mysterious beast it is! Having spent 25 years in the relatively normal world of technology (yes, really – normal) I was reasonably confident at the outset. I have (at last) realised that the two words that should not be associated with the music business are ‘music’ and ‘business’. The term ‘Music Business’ is meant to be amusing and ironic. A bit like ‘Military Intelligence’ or ‘Customer Service’.

The good news is that the music business has had little impact on the things I love about what I do. The sex and drugs …. I mean the writing, recording, rehearsing, travelling and playing. I also love the intricate and creative supporting activities: recording technology, musical instruments, graphic design, video production and tour management. And I love the musicians (well, some of them anyway) who combine amazing talent with Zen like calmness in the face of their challenging career decision. It really is hard to make a living doing this. And I love the moment when someone (anyone!) I do not know responds to something that I have created.

A great deal of my early confusion came from ignoring the difference between software and music. Music is a matter of opinion. It is not just about how good the music is, or how hard you work to reach the audience who may like it: the music that gets played and broadcast is filtered through a very small number of taste makers and gate keepers. This is particularly true in the UK where radio is monolithic, narrow and seems to focus only on two markets: the callow young and the nostalgic old (with the honourable exception perhaps of radio 6).

And yet everyone I know loves music. Including all the people I knew before I was a musician. Most of my friends from my previous life simply do not know that there is any new music that they may like. How would they? Following blinding flash of inspiration on the road to Wolverhampton or perhaps Derby during the Huey Morgan tour, I saw the error of my ways and have made some decisions about how I will approach the next stage of my musical adventure.

To that end I have teamed up with some raw talent and joined Shady Tree Music. We plan to carve out a little space outside the business. I will no longer listen to radio pluggers who tell me what people want to hear; or record company executives who ask when the chorus is coming after 20 seconds; or PR advisers, worn out promoters, or any of the rest of the teeming ‘I used to be in a band’ army of music business professionals. I wasn’t in a band when I was young and I never made it in the music business, because I wasn’t in it – and I now realise that my lack of scar tissue is my greatest strength.

So, I am going to do exactly what I want to do and, with the team at Shady Tree, we are going to create a home for like minded song writers, lyricists and musicians. We will organise gigs and events; get the music on stage at the right festivals; release music and generally get on with creating. I hope that people come along; I like playing to at least one person – but I would rather play my music to one person on my terms than dance to someone else’s tune in the hope of reaching a thousand.

I am glad I got that off my chest. Come and join me under the Shady Tree

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

On The Way To Toronto

I am just packing my bags for a Canadian adventure. All I really need is a guitar and a passport, so I wonder why my bag is so heavy? It must be the songs. Let’s hope I don’t have to leave them behind to get within the baggage allowance. 

I am very excited to be working with legendary Mark Seymour. He was busy writing hit songs in the 80s while I was writing computer code. I threw in the towel on my technology career in 2009, and made an album. Thanks to a rather strange video involving dwarves (don’t ask!) I ended up on stage at the Hammersmith Apollo within 6 months of releasing the record. It has been downhill ever since, and I expect to end up busking in a London Underground station, or perhaps on the Toronto Subway (or the Toronto PATH - which seems to be just like the London Underground but without any trains - which is a brilliant idea). 

My guitar is ready to fly!
I am sometimes asked how difficult it was to make the transition from technology to music. It was easier than I expected. To my surprise musicians are similar to computer geeks - creative, difficult and slightly crazy. 

The big difference is that musicians do not expect to get paid. And songwriting is similar to writing code - it’s all about simplicity and elegance. The big difference, and the major challenge, is that people who used my computer code had no idea I wrote it, and did not expect me to come and recite it to them in the local pub/ theatre/ stadium.  

Speaking of musicians, I have been rehearsing with Paul Silver on keys and Kim Murray on guitar. They are the ‘melo' section from my band the Melo Maniacs, and assuming they are allowed into the country will be with me on stage. 

We seem to have mastered playing in time without the missing ‘maniacs’ on drums and bass. If anyone is expecting a nice quiet acoustic show - forget it - Kim is poised to challenge the decibel limits wherever we play. Paul has promised to pull the plug if it gets out of hand. We shall see. 

I do sometimes wonder what it would be like to start out as a musician back in the day. I am not sure it would have worked. The other day I found a poem I wrote when I was apparently in my musical prime. Ouch! It seems that I needed 30 years of world weariness under my belt before I could write something that did not make my toes curl in embarrassment. Of course if it had gone well, then I would now have a rich musical past to draw on, but then I would be forced to live in it. I love writing new songs and I am lucky to be allowed to play them. When I say ‘new' of course, I don’t mean hip-step or dub-hop. My songs have the slightly battered vintage feel that comes from being over 50. It’s new old music, or old new music - I am not sure which. 

I am hoping that his is the first of many musical adventures in Canada. I have family connections here through my mother in law. My wife and kids have Canadian passports, and I have a sister-in-law living in British Columbia in a place called Nelson. I asked her if she wanted to come to the gig, but apparently Nelson is further from Toronto than London is. That led me to check the population density of Canada and apparently you only have 3.4 people per square km compared to 255 in the UK. Given that Toronto is 630 square km that makes 2,142 people. If I exclude anyone under 16 and over 70, I assume that means ALL of you are coming to the gigs …

Monday, 8 April 2013

"Grand Reveal" - Track by Track

"Grand Reveal" is my 3rd studio album. You can buy the album on Bandcamp, you can download it from iTunes. Or you can even copy it from a friend! But for those who would like to dig a little deeper into the songs, here is a track by track guide, with a miniature embedded player for each song. For some of the songs I include links to behind the scenes footage on Youtube that give some insight into the recording process. I know how I felt when I wrote the songs, and how I feel when I play them. I hope to share that feeling with you, so dig in.

1. Skull Beneath The Skin 

Am I a serial killer or a story teller? Well, unsurprisingly, I see myself as a story teller. After watching one too many episodes of Dexter I decided to write a song from the perspective of one of his victims. Once you dive into the murky mind of a killer, you have to commit. Watch out for the blistering Hammond solo by Jonny Dyke and Baz Warne (of Stranglers fame) on guitar. You can watch behind the scenes on this Youtube video. And do tell me where the bodies are buried.

2. Grand Reveal

One minute I was absent mindedly playing a blues riff in the studio, the next minute we were recording the song. Once the lines and melody "I am older than I look, but I'm younger than I feel." came to me, I knew it was a song and not just a jam. Look out for the guitar solo by Kim Murray, who plays lead guitar in the band. You can see him play the take on this Youtube videoIn my mind's eye Grand Reveal is sung by the seasoned veteran observing the young folk running wild, wishing he were young again but understanding how little the young know about anything (yet). I cannot think where the inspiration came from ....

3. War To Begin

"You can spend your whole life and never see the light, because the stars are too bright." The opening lines were the first written and they are what the song is about. In an outcome obsessed world it is hard to keep focused on what you do rather than what you get, and it easy to be distracted, disheartened and downright depressed by the success of others. Welcome to the war.

4. Amazing

I often cast myself as the observer commenting on absurdities and twisting words to play with ideas. Not this time. Everything about Amazing is simple and naive. It is about loss, and someone at a loss - no commentary, no observation, no ironic twist. Baz Warne added some howling guitar to the play out to complete the twist of the knife. 

5. Giving It All Away

The song makes the simple observation that we are defined by what we have lost rather by what we have. I had been sitting on the chorus for a while but it had a very different and complicated verse attached. Ed Cox, an irritatingly young and talented musician, passed through the studio and pointed out that most of the verse chords were in fact unnecessary. I simplified the song and Jarrod Pizzata (drums), Baz Warne (guitar riff) and Jonny Dyke (piano) worked out the rest. I then added the harmonium to the pre-chorus and we were done.  

6. The Murderer

I stumbled on the metronomic guitar riff and it suggested time passing. It was a short hop from there to the notion that we spend our lives killing time. This was the last track we recorded and Catherine Marks (who produced Man On The Ground) joined Jarrod Pizzata (co-producer of the album, drummer extraordinaire in the band) and me in the studio. We bought a couple of wind up robots to add sound effects, wrote soaring string parts, encouraged Bex Reichwald (who sings in the band) to be as operatic as possible and threw the kitchen sink at the track. The result is three minutes of mayhem from the soundtrack to an imaginary Tim Burton film. You can watch Jarrod play the fool on this Youtube video!

7. Forgive Me Yet

Never start an argument you cannot win. Unless of course you want to turn it into a comic song! It was not too difficult to conjure up the mindset of a mystified man who has no idea what he has done wrong. The argument at the start of the song was recorded in one take with Bex ranting in response to my question as to whether or not she could pick me up in the car. Look out for the inspired drunken bass playing by Eddie Hoffman, who plays bass in the band.  

8. Girl On The Roof

A simple song about a girl on a roof! It was written in Los Angeles while sitting on the roof garden of a hotel with a pool and a bar. It could have been about any of the girls on the roof, all of whom had their heads firmly in the clouds. 

9. More Than I Can Say

This is a song for anyone who has lain awake at night compiling lists of things to do to their enemies. The clock, the cat and the traffic warden are the stage props for the imagined rant. The pay off is the realisation that the planned revenge is just a fantasy. I am making plans for you, just for me. 

10. Doesn't Care

The song started as a rage against belief, and this is reflected the chant like persistence of the musical elements in the song. The chorus originally ended with the line "... but God, he doesn't care". The lyrics took an unexpected turn and it became clear that the song was really about a misogynist who abusively denies and disparages the beliefs and values of their partner ("God took my rib to make you Eve, so you believe, so don't take his name in vain, unless you want to give it back to me."). The chorus changed to "God knows, that I don't care" but the song title stuck. Jonny Dyke, who plays most of the keys on the album, was stolen away for a world tour by someone really important (!), and Paul Silver came in to play keys on this track. I knew I had found the perfect player for the band. Whatever I think the song is about is probably irrelevant, because on record and live it is all about the guitars! You can see me playing the guitar take used on this Youtube video.

11. To The Grave

This song is made from three originally unconnected song fragments ("To The Grave", "Bigfoot" and "Learn To Wait"). In each case every time I tried to complete the songs they seemed to lose their emotional power, so they remained stubbornly unfinished. The guitar tuning for the first section was unusual (the B was dropped to a Bb and the top E to a D). As an experiment I transposed the other fragments so that they worked with this tuning and in an instant they became three acts of a single song. My string arrangement was inspired by Randy Newman's beautiful score for the film Pleasantville - I can always dream! It was beautifully played (with multiple overdubs) by Vaughn Jones & Alexandra MacKenzie. 

So that's the album. I hope I'll see all my old friends and make new ones on the road as I rewrite the songs every night with the band. Because that is where music really lives ....


Monday, 25 March 2013

Then Jerico Tour

I have just completed detox from the brilliant Huey tour only to find that I am back on the road in May! We are supporting the excellent "Then Jerico" on 13 dates throughout the UK, and this time we are taking in Scotland and the North!

We will be rolling out the new album and playing some old favourites. Click on the image to go to my Faceook page events tab to see all the dates and for links to get tickets. 

Meanwhile I am also giving away "The Murderer" as a free taster for "Grand Reveal". A spooky video made by the brilliant team at Eyesonthewall who won the Marlin film competition with this video for "Steve McQueen" last year is also on its way. Here is a still from the video shoot. 

I hope to see you on the tour, Mike

Monday, 4 March 2013

The Grand Reveal

Not only can you pre-order my new album "Grand Reveal" from Bandcamp, but you can get a £1 discount from the purchase price. At £6 the album is cheaper than a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc - and it is so much better for you. The album comes with two bonus tracks and will wing its way to you on the release date of 8th April.

Click on the album cover image to visit the shop. I am sure you will spend many happy hours in the Marlin superstore browsing for an extra small t-shirt or a commemorative mug.

One of the great things about Bandcamp is that the download is available as high fidelity 320kbps mp3 files, or for the real audio-philes with infinite disk space and super fast broadband in lossless format. The album will also be available on iTunes.

Even better, there is a way to get the "Grand Reveal" CD before the release date. I will be selling the CD (and giving away badges) at the the shows on tour! Just in case you missed the bill boards on the Hammersmith fly over, I am supporting the excellent Huey Morgan & The New Yorkers. You can find all the details here. You can also enter a little competition to WIN tickets here.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Grand Reveal Interview

I was interviewed a few days ago sitting in front of the painting by Pierre Marie Brisson that is the "Grand Reveal" album cover. Phill Savidge was asking the questions, Bex Reichwald waved around a second camera and I ranted for 45 minutes. Through judicious editing this has been boiled down to a three 5 minute interviews that cover my past, my music, my philosophy and a track by track discussion of the album (or most of it).


Music & Philosophy

Grand Reveal Track by Track

Monday, 18 February 2013

Grand Reveal CD Details

Here is the final artwork and track listing for the "Grand Reveal" CD. Over 48 minutes of music, 11 tracks - including the upbeat 8 minute epic "To The Grave" to finish. The cover painting is Les Blanches III by the brilliant French artist Pierre-Marie Brisson. The photo on the back was taken by the amazing Ami Barwell, projected on to the side of a building and then re-photographed by Ami - a photo of a photo. Click on the image to see an enlarged version.

The album has a full lyric booklet, and here is an example two page spread for the first two songs:

The next step is to allow pre-orders ... coming soon!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Blood, Sweat & Tears

At last. Here is the trailer for the first single from the new album "Grand Reveal". I have prepared a tasty little trailer featuring a bloody tear and skull - so don't watch this on your own in a dark room!

The song was clearly inspired by all the dark Scandinavian detective series I have been watching recently. As a result I am off to Finland to film the video for the song this week. It will not feature a knitted fisherman's sweater ("The Killing") or an autistic female lead ("The Bridge", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo"). It will feature snow, blood and a supermodel ....