Sunday, December 16, 2007

Here we are again,

with what is increasingly becoming a monthly update...

It is bloody cold, and looks set to continue that way for a while. The only thing to be said for this is that I intend to go up to the Botanic Gardens in a while and try to convey that cold with my camera. I feel that I am making slow but steady progress with the camera as an expressive tool. I used to be quite happy with my little Olympus Stylus compact, but having the Nikon D40 has disavowed me of this, and ruined my contentment. Now I carry the large Nikon and a couple of lenses, which massively increases the paraphernalia I must carry. And I really need to get a tripod too, which will probably be the straw that broke etc. etc.

I prefer to use my energy to transport my capacious stomach, but needs must.

What else to say? Perhaps now would be as good a time as any to summarize 2007 chez Jimbo.

It was the year that I took my inability to create in any material way outside my head by the horns - although contrary to what tradition would suggest I do not actually have horns outside my head. I got myself a modest home recording setup based on an iMac to replace the Zoom 8 track I was using, which means I can fire ideas in quickly and edit them with relative ease later. I count this a relative triumph, although I remain unconvinced that the iMac is any more stable or productive than my PCs. It's prettier and more elegant though, and those who know me are aware that I set great store by this.

I largely ignored the attentions of various interested women, which I feel I may have done in error. This lesson is a hard one to learn.

I had a holiday that was marred only by internecine strife and illness on the part of a participant.

I avoided changing cars yet again and the hassle that goes with it. Not to mention the cost.

I gigged a fair bit, and this is very good. I could have worked more on recording others and profited by it, but things have been slow. It's terribly expensive to live here, and musicians of course seldom have any money.

I bought quite a few guitars and basses, and I even like some of them. I learned the value of buying ones which play well from the outset by not doing this. I could, after all, always set them up later. This proved somewhat incorrect, although I do seem to do a better job of it than a famous tech who shall remain nameless. Obviously more of an art than a science. Perhaps I am too fussy. At least all my amps and outboard are a delight, due to taking good advice from friends.

Clothing remained stable and functional.

I bought a decent bike which turned out to be rubbish, and I am very cross about this. I have not yet resolved the matter. I sorted out one of the two indecent bikes I had in rage and frustration, was pleased, and then some pikey stole it from my yard within days. I have now gone from two crap, knackered bikes to two crap knackered bikes via the expenditure of real dosh. Watch this space.

My neighbours the Maroc Deli are tossers of the first water, and will pay for their actions big time. If you give these people your money, you contribute to the sum of evil in the world.

I drank gallons of Lady Grey, and it was good. Hopefully Earl Grey will not discover this.

I repaired my mother's senescent word processor saving her a fortune on a laptop which can now be postponed. She can use this money towards some of the damage she has caused this year by mistaking her car and its replacement for battering rams.

I failed utterly to understand the first thing about MIDI, but then I don't really need it so what the hey.

I took a fair number of pictures I am quite proud of, and even got one published.

I did not blog much, but I'm afraid I don't care.

I spent a lot of time in Second Life, currently rather less. I made a couple of good friends there, and it was, and is, fun.

I made quite a few new friends in real life, and this has more than made up for setbacks in other areas.

And I had the craic. I really did. Here's to the next one.

Monday, November 19, 2007

And again

I emerge from the swamp. Yet again, haven't posted for a while. I suppose that I am just not as enraged as I was, just less likely to be sitting at the computer in the early hours filled with piss and vinegar, or bile, or whatever it is that causes the organism to kick off. Maybe this is a good thing, I don't know. I remain, of course, enraged. Just not writing it up as diligently as I should. Ah, the old times.

Cor, this "Raising Sand" - the new countryesque (I'm no authority) thing from Krauss and Plant, gets all Zep in places, with an ire-inducing stomp. I may be old and whitish and a bit fat and, as my friends all know, I'm openly pretty much from Maidenhead, but I don't really get the Zep thing. I mean, Lord knows I'd dearly love to do it to people. I'm just a little unconvinced about it as a spectator sport. Draw your own unspeakable parallels (no doubt about them L's).

The country bits are ok, actually. Miserable. Melodious. Quite nice. That's the Krauss, you know. But for me I'm afraid it'll still be other stuff. Than the Zep, and the Krauss-Zepelthing too.

Music. I've been concocting grooves from loops by hand in an audio editor. If that means anything to you, you can appreciate the pain. There's no separation per se, because yer loop is a stereo mix, so there's that. And if you replace something with something else then the lengths of the bits you are cutting and pasting have to match or you alter the feel. Which, sometimes, is what you want. But there must be an easier way. The way I'm doing it's like urban self-sufficiency. The warm glow is eclipsed by the fucking drag.

Ford Assist, eh? When I bought my newish secondhand Ford they threw in Ford Assist breakdown recovery. It's for Europe too, I'll have you know. It's the kind of thing that costs a lot. It's the kind of thing I want. So when I remember what it is that's tickling the back of my head about the car that I have now had for a year, I get out the wallet card for the old Ford Assist. I want to avoid the kind of scenario that has me abroad and motionally challenged and being told politely to get bent by my only friend, the Ford Assist. With splendid but unintended authority the card has no expiry date, or indeed anything else of a personal nature. Nothing at all. Could be your card, if you have one.

So I think I'll have a look on the web and see what the score is. The only mentions of Ford Assist - which has no web site as such - are on sites selling, yes, Ford's. It is, as I already knew, something they chuck in when you buy a Ford that is new (perhaps) or nearly so (for sure). No better information on the time period, which varies it seems, or the renewal details, or the cost.

Why do I think it will take me an age to find out the truth about Ford Assist? I'd get easier access to more details if I had my vehicle recovery with the Knights Templar.

Mind you, they're more sort of Mercedes boys I reckon.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Once again I've left it for ages between postings here

I suppose you can blame this on the increased amount of gigging and audio work going on here. And, possibly, the fitting of a rather frenetic social life around it. I think "don't hold your breath" is becoming the motto around here. I seem to have lost the will to rant on the internet, and to some extent in real life. Whether or not this is a good thing depends, I guess, on your perspective. These days a semi-rational urge to get away and an entirely rational one to get more done in the real world seem to be the priorities. So I am sat here pulling apart instruments, learning software, listening to a tide of remixes, watching Jonathan Meades and generally not doing much writing. Sorry to any disappointed souls. I have been sticking some stuff up on Flickr, which should be a partial consolation.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Well, here I am,

grounded temporarily by having to wait for my mobile phone to charge. And confounded in this by constantly needing to use it, therefore defeating the progress of the electrons. In any case it has taken up residence in bastardland these days, in that unique way these things do. The battery level indicator now bears little relation to the actual state of charge. Fortunately it's that time again, and Vodafone will likely give me another in an hour or so when I drop by. They want my contract renewed, they have to bribe me. It's (mostly) all good.

In other tech news, the Telecaster I was awaiting turned out to be nothing special, so I politely declined. I remain enmeshed in Strat evaluation and modification in any case, and I have a new Fender valve amp which sounds great.

My Apple Mac is, I have decided, bollocks. And slow bollocks at that. I am using it for jobbing audio work, but it doesn't seem likely to ever win a place in my heart as my main desktop system. XP is still by far the best thing for that.

I now have one and a half working bicycles out of three, so my range is a bit expanded. My enjoyment vastly more so.

Cool cat pics are up on Flickr. Link at right.

Epic stuggles with band mailing list of a couple of hundred-odd addresses are nearly over, after a log hard fight. I don't know whether to blame Thunderbird or the massed mail servers of the web for my troubles. I don't think many of the replies I got back from dead, suspended or otherwise bolloxed addresses told me anything in the least bit useful, but there you are. I was particularly irked when Thunderbird's reaction to any attempt to send out our updates to a large list including one or more dud addresses was to hang about for ages and then pop up a dialogue saying "SMTP server not responding". Possibly this is what happens when the one mail goes to loads of recipients under these circumstances, but it doesn't help me know which addresses are dud. And it turned a ten minute chore into an eight hour struggle. And dead accounts, eh? Surely as a clued-up person one's last task before changing providers or addresses would be to send a mail saying "don't bother with this anymore" to everyone in one's address book. It's not rocket science, is it? Just common courtesy.

Off to town. They have sandwich shops and record shops and phone shops. I'm there.

Why am I not in Belgium and Holland?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Will we ever get a sustained period of decent weather?

I posit not, at this rate. I hate this horrid chilly overcast weather. It's bad for lurgy, and it's bad for morale. I have turned to the rabid acquisition of Squier guitars, a largely indoor pursuit. So far I have got real bargains on a Strat and a Tele.

The Strat is a nice off-white late eighties or early nineties job with a maple neck. The methods for precise dating from serial numbers break down rather with this particular series, so we'll never know. It's old enough to have settled down, anyway, and it's pretty nice. It has ceramic magnets for the pickups, rather than the alnicos which are often found in Fenders and which have greater depth to the tone. This is assuming that the alnico pickups sir is wailing on are good alnico pickups, however. The ones generally found in the recent Squiers are utterly lacking in that elusive musical attribute that we shall term willy. So I'm quite pleased to have the ceramics really, and I have a seventies reissue Fender Strat with alnicos anyway. I think I'll end up using a ceramic at the bridge and alnicos in the middle and neck positions, in fact, for best results. Then again, I think I'll end up using a Tele...

The Tele should be coming today. It's going to be lovely, unless I have been mislead. It'll need a few parts, but I have the cannibals playground of decent Fender parts under my bed to plunder. It'll be an old one, and the older the better with yer Squier. I am looking forward to making this a bespoke instrument.

Little else to report. I am playing around with fuzzboxes and delays at the moment, having recognized that this is pretty much what I do. I also continue to play bass in the Talc Daemons, which is good fun. If I could fit it in the boot of the band Escort I'd get a decent bass rig, but I can't so I won't.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Well, here's me with a lurgy.

I knew I'd get it. I've spent a lot of time recently sat in the company of those whose lurgy exceeded my own, showered with predatory germs and generally nasty breath. So now I'm all lurged up. Therefore my mind turns to trying to get some music done. It's not that I only think of this when I'm ill, but rather that I should not be out riding my bike or taking photos or seeking cool art, and therefore may as well be sat at the computer playing with loops.

More and more I realize the fruitlessness of this. All I seem so far to be proving is that yes, I can play with loops. Actual music, though, is remarkably scarce from these experiments. I shall enumerate my frustrations here, and then at least I will have a list of things to address in the future:

First, there is no point in trying to put down guitars or basses while doing ones own engineering. There may be those who can flip between their playing head and their engineering head at will, but I'm not one of them. I need an engineer, therefore a budget. Also, it helps little that I have a chair with arms that get in the way of the instruments. Note to self: Get a chair with no arms for this purpose.

Second, I am not by nature someone who gets on well with loops. I can get good results by using them to ornament existing work, but outside the realm of straight dance music they have little point. I must assemble musicians to play live improvisations, and then use these as the source material for pieces. It worked for Miles. Now I need to get it to work for me.

Third, much though I like to use the little Boss Micro BR for my environmental recordings, it is a royal pain that it takes so long to convert stuff for export. I must revert to using the eight-track when at home. In fact, the setup I have is insufficient to do what I want. Bugger. I don't have any kit that I shouldn't have bought, thankfully, but I really need to get some more space so that I can set things up rather better. Nothing new there. Back to looking at the Boss catalogue again for a sixteen track or similar, and back to wishing desktop space were not so limited.

Fourth, this musing is not helping either. Back to the real world for cable-wrestling and A4 scribbling.

Morale is low, but it'll all be better in the morning.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The nature of the beasts

Perhaps I should have decided at the outset that I was simply going to blog about music, in a loose sense. Certainly I am spending virtually all of my time lately doing various things which are musical. And there's nothing wrong with that, far from it. I do have to apologize to all those who used to tune in, here or on the old blog, to enjoy(?) my misanthropic rantings about the state of things, but I'm afraid that I have decided with characteristic perversity that the best form of attack is defence. So I'm countering the sorry state of the world with immersion in those arts I have some aptitude at. Well, you'll be the judge of that. There are photos going up on the faithful Flickr sporadically, and there are sounds a-cooking.

There follows musings on a number of musical topics.

My basses. I primarily gig as a bass player, and like all musicians who have any techie bent - or an ear for good sound - I am still looking for a setup that allows me "to fully express myself". In plain English, an instrument which sounds a little less like a drunk kicking a cardboard box to death in a fit of temper than most. Yes, I realize that this is more about amps than basses. I'll get to that. Over the course of my lengthy but on-off bass playing career I have tended toward conservatism. In 30 years I have owned maybe ten basses, if that, and generally they have been of a cheap and cheerful disposition. Basses are by nature pretty tough old birds, and I changed them only when I was skint and not playing much, in order to free up beer money or even pay the bills.

I had the statutory first bass so rubbish that it was barely usable. A B and M, I think. I followed it with a Shergold Marathon, with a body made of balsa by the feel of it, which balanced so poorly that all my time was spent holding it up by the neck to the detriment of musical expression. Finally I got a Squier JV '57 Precision reissue, which would be moderately valuable these days. Great quality bass, but a neck so large that it hurt my hand to play it. As a result of misaligned upper vertebrae I am more than usually susceptible to shoulder, arm and hand trouble or at least pain. In a ten year subsequent span of musical non-activity I had no bass, unless someone I knew was virtually giving something away in which case I'd noodle awhile. I had a nice Tokai Jazz, but sadly it had been de-fretted before I got to it. Fretless playing is lovely, but it's not what I do.

A return to actually gigging resulted in my acquisition of a Yamaha RB 270, which was a great cheap bass that in some ways I wish I still had. I foolishly replaced this with a more upmarket Yamaha with two pickups and active circuitry. I coped badly with the complexity, and found that I don't much go for active circuitry. Two pickups is nice though, for tonal variation. I also had the cheapest possible Dean, bought with a few knocks from their sales rep on a whim for double figures, and found that this simple one-pickup, volume and tone passive bass was the one I used all the time. Still got it, albeit a little battered. It had the twin attributes of good balance and a comfy neck, which I belatedly realized were the sine qua non of basses. I ditched the glitz and I played the Dean, whacking some very big screws in to stabilize the bridge and replacing bits of machine head with bits of old credit card to sustain it. Student model, not entirely designed for systematic heavy grooving.

Then some loot appeared, and as is the way of such things I became ambitious. I succumbed to temptation and brought a pretty Ibanez, which among other things did a very creditable impersonation of a Music Man. It had a criminally crap bridge though, and still awaits my going through hoops to put something that actually works on it. I then picked up an actual Music Man, which is something I always wanted and which was my first reasonably pricey bass. A stroke of bad luck meant it had an iffy neck, and after I and the local talent and then Music Man themselves had tried to get to play decently I eventually got a refund for it. Another pricey job was a Fender Jaguar, which looked great and had the Jazz neck to end all Jazz necks. Pino Palladino uses one with The Who. All I can say is that he must have fitted working tuners to his, and he must be tolerant of fairly bad balance or have found a way around that. Got my money back out of that one too, with a bit of wheeling and dealing. I would dearly love Pino's signature model Fender Precision, but then I'd dearly love the two grand required as well.

Apart from the student Dean Playmate which I have semi retired until I get a decent set of tuners for it, and the Ibanez for which carpentry will be required in order to remove the disintegrating rubbish recessed bridge, I now use two fairly humble basses. I have a Squier Vintage Modified Precision, which can be picked up for a couple of hundred quid and is generally great, and a Yamaha BB - the non-active variant. The Squier is as bassy as a very bassy thing, so one needs to be careful with amplification, and also has an output so high that it actually tends to overdrive my bass amp. I use this with care, or for reggae, which amounts to the same thing. The Yamaha I have fitted with a Seymour Duncan Bass Lines pickup as a replacement for the Yamaha P-bass type pickup, and I use that rather than the rail pickup at the bridge. It's nice to have the option though. It's a work in progress, this bass, but I can't recommend Yamaha highly enough as a maker of good inexpensive working instruments. I love them. I intend to wire it as a Jazz, with two independent pickup volumes rather than a toggle switch, at some point. And I will almost certainly fit a Badass bridge, although at the moment Loctite Blue is doing an admirable job of keeping the Precision-type bridge in whack. Great balance, great neck, good sound.

And that's basses. Guitars will have to wait for another time :)

For a bass amp I am limited in that I need my amp to fit in the boot of the senile Escort which we use to get to gigs. I always had Peaveys, a couple of TNTs (old ones are great) and a big old Mark 6 head with huge Peavey Black Widow cabs. I still have this big rig, and it's fantastic, but I don't have the back or the wheels to take it out. I currently have a compact Ashdown Mag 300, which gives you a 15" speaker and 300 watts in a very portable package, again very cheaply. I don't think it sounds too great, but there's nothing to touch it for size / price / performance and I can get a lift in the Escort with it. I don't want the burden of a big rig right now, or to be subjected to the refreshment-free sea of pain which is driving to gigs myself. When I find something better the same size I'll get it. I did want an SWR but the rep told me that they blow speakers like they're going out of fashion, and rely on a specific driver to sound the way they do, thus precluding replacement with something more robust.


I am using my first Mac, an iMac. This is proving productive, although as yet I am using GarageBand still. Well, it was there. It has limitations, but it is good for the looping stuff I'm working on. I am exploring "proper" software but as yet it's either a ton of money or theoretically great freeware that I have yet to thoroughly tweak into working properly. Hoping to get Ardour going when I persuade Jack to play ball. Getting guitars and basses down via a Line 6 TonePort, which is cool, and also via the little interface which came with my Behringer Xenyx desk. I have a Korg Electribe rhythm synth, grooves for the manufacture of, and I'm using a little Boss Micro BR for getting ambient sounds and ideas down. I have some nice rain and traffic...

I stick this through decent-sized Samson monitors, and a part from the odd software issue I'm getting on well with the learning curve of it all. Roll on being thoroughly familiar with the software, which I shall persevere at!


I remember listening. It's what I did before I immersed myself in trying to create. All hail jazz and groove podcasts, which I can have going on the old PC for inspiration and entertainment. Here, as a reward for your perseverance in reading thus far, is a list of the podcasts I get, or at least the music ones. There are many, many out there. These are just what I've stumbled across and found good. Please feel free to give me a heads-up if you know of more similar cool stuff. There is commenting available here, along with a range of snacks and beverages.

Well, there's commenting at least. Perhaps you'll need to do your own tea and sandwiches.

Bending Corners, jazz and groove monthly show.

Dub Session Podcast, which I think describes itself.

In the Groove, Jazz and Beyond, also pretty self-explanatory.

JaJaClub, a French eclectic 'cast. Little-updated these days, sadly.

Also Radio Free Amsterdam, Taran's Free Jazz Hour, Waxing Deep, mindReset and the list goes on. You'll have to Google these. I have run out of time and cannot easily cut and paste info from iTunes into here I fear.

Back soon!