2014 – what happened there?
2014 has been a fun year here in the world of online guitar sessions. Here’s what was going to be a quick round up but has ended up being a sort of digest of my working year.
Pimp my rig
Fun stuff first – new guitars. The biggest, most inspiring thing as far as I’m concerned is my Gibson ES-335. It’s an old one – not a collectors item but it’s had a life and has its own totally magical thing going on. I find it contributes towards playing choices in a way that’s totally new for me and I bloody love it. I’ve used it on gigs and recording sessions and that character is undeniable. Where have you been all my life?
I also picked up an old Martin J-40 acoustic. It records brilliantly, basically because it already sounds like a record. I’ve been looking for the right acoustic guitar for literally years, going through quite a few but never really enjoying any of them that much. Acoustic guitars often just feel like a necessity. But this one makes me happy when I play it.
The Webber acoustic I acquired is beautiful too. But equally interesting (and at a tenth of the price) is an old Japanese dreadnought strung in Nashville tuning. Very inspiring, lots of fun and actually really beautiful sounding.
Other additions to the studio includes a Shinybox/Lundahl ribbon mic and a matched pair of SE1A SDCs.
Going back to guitar gear, I feel very lucky to have established relationships with some great companies. Dan and Dave from The GigRig have helped me out with a customised G2 and all the pedals on both my electric and acoustic pedalboards are powered by their excellent power supplies. We did a fair bit of work on my main board to get it working just right and as a result my live rig just sounds phenomenal, as you’d expect from the guys who did boards for Guthrie Govan, Ed O’Brien, Biffy Clyro, etc.. These guys are the best and have really helped me out, they have a wonderful company and sharing the quest for low noise and great tone with them has been a lot of fun and so educational.
The guys at Westside Distribution have been helpful as ever, sorting me out with more stuff from Way Huge, MXR, Mono cases, and of course Dunlop strings and big bags of Max-Grip Jazz IIIs! On the boutique fancy-pants side of things Effectrode have been really kind too. I’ve been using one of Phil (he who makes pedals for David Gilmour)’s amazing Blackbird valve preamps for recording and it’s the most versatile, great-sounding little black box. I think they’ve used a piece I recorded with it on their website as a sound sample.
I’m also now onboard with G7th capos. Their Performance 2 capo is a revelation and I’m so happy to have been introduced. If you thought capos were boring or all the same, you have to check these out…
Playing-wise a few things have changed in 2014. For some years I’ve been playing with the RockPins, and together we have rocked many a corporate do and wedding. Unfortunately with other stuff coming in I’ve not been able to offer them quite the level of availability required, and there wasn’t the flexibility there to allow me to do both. At the same time I’ve been wanting to start a high-end events band with some of the great musicians that I know so it seemed like the right time to dial things back with the RockPins and make the dream party band an actual thing. This band is MonkeySelfie – we’ve got a great sound, really fun repertoire and have done some cool gigs so far. It sounds fantastic and I’ve also got quite into DMX programming – we have a really cool lighting setup and a properly sequenced lighting/laser show. Hoping for big things in 2015…
Also taking off – albeit in a slightly more glamorous and stylish way – is Tallia Storm, who has now signed with Virgin/Capitol. Our little acoustic duo has expanded to a trio, with the rather tasty Adam Falkner joining on percussion. Together we’ve played some cool events, including an introduction session at BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge, the Cosmo Girl awards in Amsterdam, dates in Glasgow, Edinburgh and most recently City Showcase at the Apple Store on Regent Street. We also shot a video for Paul Frank which I think was used for a Primark fashion campaign. Tallia and her family are genuinely nice people and great to work for – it’s a fascinating insight into the fashion world too and I always wonder what uber-cool event we’re going to be playing at next.
My ‘other’ acoustic duo is rattling along nicely too, that being the one containing my wife. As Java Duo we got ourselves a residency in a Piccadilly hotel, which is now twice a week. That’s two days every week where we get great food and don’t have to wash up. We also played in some cool locations such as on stage at Cafe De Paris and on an old Orient Express train. It’s helped us expand our repertoire and get really tight as a duo – it’s also been the scene of a rapidly flourishing relationship with my RC-30 looper pedal. I’d previously been a bit reluctant but now that I’m into it, I love not only the opportunity to solo over a great accompanist (me) but also the ability it provides for me to just take a break every now and then… I’m still a bit hesitant to do the full guitar percussion thing and I don’t really like the ‘here’s the rhythm track’ method, but by clearing and re-recording several times during songs and using different parts each time, I like being able to construct interesting arrangements. Crucial when you’re doing 2+ hours of acoustic guitar accompaniment.
In October I had a run of about 20 dates at Tulleys Farm in Sussex – I helped put together the live band for their Shocktoberfest Halloween run. Basically they repurpose this farm to put on these award-winning events which included a number of ‘scare mazes’ and activities like the zombie paintball shoot, a creepy hayride where you sit on a tractor trailer towed around the haunted woods, and possibly the worst frigging thrill ride I’ve ever been. My god I hated it. Every night for a month we heard saw this thing swinging around opposite the stage and we could hear the screaming occupants from our dressing room. One night someone turns up some free passes for it and before we knew it we’re in our break after the first set and we’re getting strapped in. Well not really strapped in, it’s just a bar that comes down. The ride takes eight people, four at either end of a long arm which swings vertically around a central pivot, a bit like a Mary Rose but with these open ‘pods’ swinging freely at either end and much, much higher. High enough for the outdoor stage we were playing on to look like a matchbox. High enough that when you’re at the top the noise of the fair fades away, and all you can hear is the wind buffeting the pod and your fellow passengers saying things like ‘holy shit…’.
If you’re in the first pod of seats, you get swung straight up to the top to WAIT while the people at the other end get off, and the next group get on. Probably only about five minutes but feels like an hour, swaying helplessly in the wind, feet dangling out of the seat into thin air. Horrific. Then, it all gets a bit tumble-dryery as the main arm start spinning you round and round like the London eye on nitrous, the individual pods also rotating so sometimes all you can see is the black night sky, then suddenly the concrete at the base of the ride hurtling towards you at about 80mph. I didn’t mind this bit too much, it’s quite insane and you’re pretty much just screaming in terror. But then it slows down and guess what – we stop at the top again for another wait wait while they unload/reload the other pod. Way too much time to think, too much time to notice the side winds and see the planes taking off from Gatwick. Did not like. My heart is pumping just thinking about it…
Anyway, other than that those gigs were a lot of fun – lovely band and cool people at Tulleys.
Sessions & recordings
Lots of guitar sessions this year. I’ve got some regular clients now who keep coming back with new music every few weeks, and new clients are finding me online and getting in touch which is brilliant. In addition to the UK clients I’ve been doing work for guys in the States and Italy. People are using me for a range of stuff, mostly original pop music, but also soundtracks, library material and live backing tracks.
2014 has also seen the debut of the Online Session Band! With this people hire me, Adam and my good buddy and all-round sexy bass player Tiago Dias to record full live band rhythm tracks for their songs. We’ve been working out of a little studio in south London and the three of us combine really well having worked together for a number of years now. We think like producers and have developed some quite basic material into fully-formed arrangements. This is a service we’re going to continue to provide in the new year as what we’ve done has worked out really well and been a lot of fun.
The online guitar session stuff though continues to grow. Those that I can, I put on the Samples page but there’s a lot where for various reasons (rights, release dates, etc) I can’t post. I’ll keep updating. There’s been a nice range of music and I’m so pleased with the actual guitar recordings I’ve been providing. The process is still getting faster and the new guitars have helped keep the quality going up, which has made me very happy.
Composition & soundtracks
This has been one of the most exciting bits of my year, working on this stuff. They’re all corporate videos, and I’ve provided a range of soundtracks for them. There’s the John Mayer-influenced pop rock in the ‘What is M2M?’ video, the spacey ambient guitar stuff in the Unilever stories, and the folky Pelipod track. I like them all in different ways and am proud of them. I like working to deadlines (stops me procrastinating), to specific briefs and cues (stops me procrastinating) and to a budget (stops me procrastinating). The feedback was very positive and I hope to do some more work in this area next year. I think I’ve also found my true calling, which is effects and foley work. I expect real foley artists would laugh but I’ve absolutely loved creating sound effects for the animations – it really brings the visuals to life and the differences that tiny variations in timing make is fascinating.
In 2015 I hope to continue building the guitar session business, and get MonkeySelfie nice and busy. I’m looking forward to continuing to improve Java Duo and of course hope to carry on working with Tallia. Also it feels like it’s time to set time aside for music-making that isn’t paid work; I love doing what I’m doing and feel very lucky but I also feel the need to develop my artistic voice by also playing purely for pleasure. I think a creative project is in the near future… Also: playing jazz. More of that. And get fitter. And be more patient. And be more relaxed. Maybe set more goals…
Meanwhile, I wish you a very merry Christmas and a musical New Year!