Thursday, 28 January 2010

New material, facial hair

Well, it's been a long time in coming but my facial hair is starting to look like a beard. In fact, Claudia McKenzie (bassist) even called it a beard in rehearsals at the weekend (in the context of me 'getting salad in my beard' because I forgot to bring a fork). Hurrah, finally. It's got a way to go yet, but it's even beginning to look like it was intentional. I must be growing into a proper man, I couldn't have done this a year ago.

Anyway, been a busy time. The charity gig takes place this Sunday, an 11 hour gig with 15 bands playing, but it has been by far the easiest thing I've ever organised - bands just want to play, the press need something to write about, the whole thing is just rather lovely and the poor chaps in Haiti will benefit from it too. It's gonna be a decent night. I'll be playing in a few bands that day/night myself, hence why I found myself rehearsing with 3 bands for nearly 11 hours on Sunday - I thoroughly enjoyed it and am confident that Losers, Matt Corrall Band and Under The Streetlamp will all perform admirably. Had another rehearsal with 'Streetlamp last night (my gig with Eureka Stockade was cancelled, so I was very happy to still be drumming) and I'm buzzing from it all, probably more than ever. I'm really wary of the band because we've tried two times before and fizzled out, expectations rise too quickly and then it's painfully frustrating when things don't happen. But as long as, in my head, it's a band that I can play with and be happy with - with no expectation - then I should be fine. We reformed 2 weeks ago, have had 2 rehearsals in the last 4 days, a couple drinking sessions, a gig this Sunday and next Sunday we start recording the album. If the album, which will largely be recorded live, sounds like our rehearsal last night I'll be a happy chap. The problem is, and probably always will be, is that we're all such busy people. But if the album takes off, you never know. Last night's rehearsal was just wonderful, musically it was challenging and the whole process of playing those songs is physically demanding at times, but the laughter, honesty and joy to be back in a rehearsal room with these incredible human beings is something I've missed.

I took a days leave on Tuesday to finish the Brighton material - that's 3 short plays and 1 full-length piece now to be workshopped next weekend by my carefully chosen team of actors. This latest piece is called 'Cat Food', it's the silliest thing I've ever written but I needed to write something cheery like this because the other material I've been churning out this year has been a little too dark at times. I'm really happy with 'Cat Food', as far as first drafts go at least. 4 plays in a month - that's a lot of writing, but I really wanted to write 5. That elusive number 5, 'Totally From The Heart' keeps getting nudged aside, which is weird because it has the potential to be the best thing I've ever done. I don't understand myself, sometimes.

Yet, despite all this oozing of creativity, both in the rehearsal room and at my desk, it's the simple, normal things which drive me to frustration. This week it's the turn of a slow puncture, which has gradually turned into a much quicker puncture than I would have liked. Why do garages only open during office hours? Can't they understand that most of their customers work the same hours as them so can't actually get in to get their vehicles looked at? Eventually I managed to work through a bit of my lunchbreak, left the office early and dashed down to the nearest tyre store to get mine sorted, only to be told by the idiot there that I've left it too late in the day and he wouldn't have time to fix it. Kwik Fit my arse.

Currently listening to: Electric Soft Parade - No Need To Be Downhearted, Elvis Costello - Live At The El Macombo, Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy (lets be honest, I've not stopped listening to this since last August)

Currently watching: Citizen Smith - series 2 DVD, endless clips of the Ben Folds Five reunion gig on YouTube

Currently reading: The instruction manual of my new camera, which all seems a bit complex.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Charity, and other stuff

It's very rare that something on the news grabs me so much that I feel the need to actually do something about it. I mean, lets face it - in this world we live in pretty much everything is bad news, if we are to completely believe what the media tells us is a fair assessment of what's going on. But the recent Haiti earthquakes dragged me out of my normally thick-skinned, ignorant shell. A Blog isn't the right place to pour out my sentiments to those who are suffering, but in a time when I moan about pretty much everything (the quality of beef in microwave burgers, the fact that I'm late to the office most days because of the slow women in people carriers doing the school run), the Haiti situation is one of those stark reminders - which normally come occur about every five years or so (September 11th, Tsunami etc) that actually I have no right to moan - I'm pretty lucky. And the extension of that thought process soon leads me to realise that somehow I should be able to help those who have lost their families, their homes, their lives, their loved ones. I'm a stupidly busy man, but nothing I do can't be put on hold for a couple days whilst I put together a charity gig - it's really the least I can do and I'm baffled/concerned that nobody else has done it already around here. Fortunately, with venue managers as willing and as switched on as Jo Tomkins around, finding a location hasn't been a problem - the gig takes place on Sunday 31st January at The Haymakers, a venue she has recently taken the reigns of, and is an all dayer - midday till 11pm. I need to work on the line-up, but the early indications are good - Lone Wolves are decent addition to the billing, The Lost Weekend should keep things lively and it'll also be nice to play again with Under The Streetlamp - it's kind of our comeback gig, if we ever did split up? We're still not sure and it was never official, we just never did anything, touched our Myspace page or spoke to each other for 18 months, but we all went out and got drunk at the weekend and are looking forward to starting our musical journey again together. The show is only £2 on the door, but we'll get a lot more than that out of people - I'm aiming for a grand, if a city like Cambridge can't raise a grand for a cause such as this then it's a pretty sorry affair.

Elsewhere, all is frantic. Got told one of my plays from about 4 years ago, 'An Ambulance Stuck In Traffic' is being performed in London on the 21st March, which is all very nice but I'm slightly baffled as to why people keep wanting to perform my older material - I'm a better writer these days, surely? I mean, I can't have got worse. Talking of new material, I've nailed the 3 short plays for Brighton Fringe Show 1: Some Plays About Indie Rock - the plays are called 'Reviewing Jonathan', 'Jason's Last Night In Town', and 'Honey, I've Been Really Struggling'. They're all about 15 minutes long, and people will love it - if they love the music of Ben Folds Five, Ed Harcourt and Camera Obscura of course, if not, it's probably not worth them turning up. The second Brighton Fringe show, which has a working title of 'Roger Verses The Fenland Tiger' will be more accessible to a mass audience, I'd like to think, not that I'm a great judge of these things. The venue for Brighton is just about sorted, as is a party down there, I just need to get some actors and a director and we'll be well away. I've organised a read-through of my new stuff for early Feb, which will be a good test for it. Meanwhile, the brilliant Elaine has agreed to direct my Edinburgh show (as long as the script isn't a stinker), just need to write it now.

Still plenty to do on my checklist for the month, like book the rest of the MC Band tour (still only got the one show in Holland), but rehearsals for various projects have started well and it's just nice to be drumming again on an intensive basis, I feel strangely comfortable when my schedule is cluttered. It's been a good year so far, been to some nice parties (the wrap party for the theatre show 'Clockwork' last weekend was particularly charming), met some nice people, have discovered the joys of television masterpiece Citizen Smith, and I've found the time to write and drum my arse off. So far, so good - which is even more reason to give a little of my time back and do some charity work.

Monday, 11 January 2010

New Year, new projects, old projects

It's been a strange start to the New Year. There's something about the dawning of a new 12 months that puts a little pressure on me to get somewhere, an added intensity perhaps to really make it work this year. The result has been some very clear plans, which already I've not stuck to (such as 'not going out on weekends so I can concentrate on writing new material during Jan/Feb'), but some other things are making progress, alongside the inevitable bouts of staring at a blank screen wondering why I'm not a creative genius. The big plan for this year is to tour; I've always wanted to, it would be a lovely way to see some new places and to give out my session drummer business card to new territories - it's time for an adventure, a few scrapes. Random aside: If my life were a sitcom, and every year was a series (I've always like to think the series started in the year 2000 as that's when my life really seemed to begin) I don't think 2009 would have warranted a full 6-episode series, there was just too many flat moments, perhaps it would have been a 2-part Christmas special to catch up on the characters? This year though, it has to be a full series again, series 9 I guess, the characters need to stay fresh. Anyway: touring. On Christmas Eve, over a couple festive beers, I expressed my plans to tour to my good mate Matt, whom I recorded with last year. Our release was strange - we got a bunch of us in a room, most of us with hangovers, and recorded some random, improvised blues/jazz led by his spectacularly good harmonica playing. The result is an album which got to 34 in the MP3 blues charts, and hung around the top 3,000 in the UK charts for a while. Matt likes an adventure, and I need to tour, so it makes perfect sense that we take this random project on the road and see how far we can push it. We tour in June, I've just booked the leave for it, and that felt very good - asking for leave to go on tour makes you feel like somebody. The tour so far only has one gig - and that's in Holland on 6th June, but we're asking around everywhere else to see what we can get our hands on, looks like we have a very good contact for a gig in a cave (yep, a cave) in France, and Matt's welll connected in Denmark as he used to live there. I'm also fairly close to getting us a show in Cardiff, which sounds far less glamorous, but touring doesn't have to be glamorous all the time. We're both skint so plan to fund it by playing pub gigs in Cambridgeshire in April/May time, sounds like a great idea - hope this one works out as my bank balance can't afford another hammering, Christmas was typically enormously expensive. If we can can get enough gigs, including the well-paid pub warm-up shows, there's no reason why we can't do this. Oh, we probably need to actually have a full band though as we're called 'The Matt Corrall Band', and to tour as a drums/harmonica duo wouldn't work. We're working on the band line-up at the moment, I'm sure it'll be cool.

Meanwhile, I've been sorting through a few ideas about what I want as a musician, what kind of songs I actually want to play, where I want to be with them, and sometimes that does mean every now and then I have to part from a project or two. It was with a little sadness that I told my bandmates that I would no longer be able to commit to The Damsons - who are, frankly, a lovely band with lovely and talented people, and I'm sure they will strive for big things. It just wasn't me though; I didn't actually realise I'd 'joined' the band as such, I depped for them at The Secret Garden Party Festival last year and never really left, but deep down it wasn't what I was looking for and it was a good time to go. I've not left them in the lurch either - I can still dep for them if they're really stuck, and have even offered to still record their new studio stuff with them if need be, it's just in the long term it's best they find someone who can dedicate more time to it. One of the biggest plus points of last year for me was the Losers EP, which was largely ignored by everyone because we did nothing to promote it, but I was really proud of what we recorded, and I love playing James' songs. Happy then that I can commit to the project a little more now, Losers should be out there a lot more in 2010 - we're both keen, and with the odd guest joining us on stage, I think there's a good little band here.

It is strange though, looking back. I don't like looking back too much - but little things prompt you to have a quick glimpse in the other direction. For example, this year is the 10th anniversary of my first ever gig - when I drummed for Alighting (and The Origami Heroes) at the St. Ives Corn Exchange (ironically next month I'm drumming on Alighting's album for them, which is all rather fitting). At that point in my life, that was unquestionably the happiest day of my 19 years of existence - it was a life-changing experience, being on stage for the first time and not only surviving, but enjoying it, it opened doors which I didn't know existed. But 10 years...that's a long time, there's a little (okay, HUGE) part of me that questions why I've not got anywhere properly as a musician yet. So, okay - I'm doing well, I'm very much in demand as a studio session drummer across 2 or 3 counties, I've recorded in some great places, I've played some great gigs (good bits of the London circuit, Cavern Club, Corn Exchange, some good festivals etc), I get offers for work on a very regular basis. But I'm still working in an office, living in roughly the same area, I still have the same ambitions that have yet to be realised. Like most musicians do. Sometimes though these little things prompt you to have a think about, as my friend Claudia put it, 'the bands that got away'. And with that in mind, and with a listen to a former band's Myspace page from a couple years ago, I've actually completely and utterly ignored the saying 'you shouldn't go back'. The band in question split about 2 years ago, none of us are better for it, all of us want to do it again, it's just a question of who is willing to swallow a little pride and say 'lets start playing music together again, think of how fun it would be'. That would be me then. I sent a Facebook invite earlier to my former bandmates requesting their attendance at the pub on Friday evening to discuss everything, they all accepted within 3 mins without hesitation. I'm feeling excited, all over again.

Elsewhere, on the writing front, plenty of ideas as there always is, and one or two pieces nailed in a first draft sense. With the deadline for the Brighton Fringe at the end of the month it's suddenly become my priority, my idea for this being 3 short (15-20 mins) plays about musical obsession, with a juggler in between each play to keep the audience occupied. Obviously the whole musical obsession thing is something I've done a couple times before (Patrick in 'With Arms Outstretched' has a crush on Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis, and pretty much all of 'Frank's Aim Is True') but these are very, very different stories that work really well I think, with a new rhythm to the dialogue. I discussed all the ideas in great detail to actress Heather Yeadon on Saturday night at a party and she seemed to believe in the ideas too, which is a good thing because she's pretty honest. I've nailed 2 of the 3 so far; 'The Best Imitation Of Myself' and 'Honey, I've Been Really Struggling'. I think the latter may shock people with it's dark twist, I sincerely hope so. Hopefully I'll have the third piece 'Crichton, Hall and Porter' finished this week, and then I just need to find a juggler who'll be up for a jolly up by the Brighton sea. Then I'll start proper work on the Edinburgh show, which I have 8 pages of notes for and am very confident about - I'm so clear about this idea it's going to practically write itself I feel. I've written 4 chapters of my novel, 'Johnny In The Real World', and whilst I'm on a brief break from writing the rest of it I think I'll send these sample chapters around to potential publishers, just so they can reject it and make me feel downhearted about writing the remaining hundred pages or so. I still don't know how many shows to take to Brighton - probably 2, and Edinburgh - probably 2 at this stage, but ah - I always wanted to take 3 to Edinburgh. Should probably write lots of decent material first though before planning these the meantime some of my older material looks set for an airing soon. The party on Saturday was a birthday party for my director friend Sarah Ingrim, who herself has just formed her own theatre group called 'Flying Handbags' (I think thats the name, will have to double check), she gets commissions from various charities etc, not too sure how it works but she makes money for good people, and also gives writers she likes a bit of exposure too. She's taking my play from a few years back, 'The Healthy Option' under her wing (she directed it originally) and also hopefully my much forgotten ode to the July 7th bombings, 'Letters To Sparkle' - I really want to see that on a stage again, and she's the right kind of person to do that. And also this week I'm meeting with director/writer Gytha Lodge for a good old chat about all things Fringe to see how we can collaborate, and also my good friend Elaine, whom I'm hoping maybe interested in some ideas I can throw her way.

It's all going to happen, I can feel it - all of it, it's going to be an exciting year. And when it does kick off I'm going to be bloody knackered.