Sunday, 27 January 2013

Recording with Dowsing For Sound

One thing that I've started to discover about myself over the last couple of years is that I get a real buzz when things that shouldn't work, work. That's probably the reason why I enjoy Dowsing For Sound so much, the sheer scale and ambition of Andrea's imagination makes me look comparatively boring, and now - having played a few big gigs (that incredible debut in 2011, that difficult Corn Exchange gig in 2012) and a few smaller events, it's time for this project to be recorded properly.

I'm really glad that Andrea chose to use Rob Toulson for this project - he's a top producer/engineer who I have worked with a lot over the last few years and also a close friend too. He gets results, and never backs down from a challenge - this is no ordinary studio session to say the least.

Today the band were in to record three songs, with the choir doing their lovely thing in a few weeks time. I started the day feeling a bit sluggish, it's very much a Sunday thing, and Liz/Julia's party last night was fantastic in many ways but a bit of a late one. Warming up, I didn't feel like I was entirely hitting my stride, but then Gav our bass player turned up and soon as we started jamming I instantly felt bang on the groove. See, Gav Sirisena is a remarkable bassist - we have a great rhythm section connection there and work well together, but to be honest it would be hard for any respectable drummer to not work well with Gav as he just makes life very easy for the musicians around him. I appreciate at this stage this blog post is pretty much just reading like a massive list of praise for people I enjoy working with but that's because I am genuinely thrilled with today. So, a bit more back-slapping...Nicky's violin playing was just frightening today - I can't think of how anybody can have that much energy - we all know she's a top musician anyway but this was in a different league at times, Sammy's solo in 'Notches' caught us all off guard (I think I said quite loudly at the time, " where did that come from?!" - in an entirely positive way), Jemma, John and Jules' guide vocals deserve to be kept in the mix somewhere as they were a treat to my ears and to them it must have felt like a really long day with lots of waiting around for us muso types to work out stuff so they deserve a lot of credit. Andrea, whilst playing note perfectly on piano, held things together, we wouldn't expect anything less from her now given her previous high standards, but I still have absolutely no idea how she does it...

From a musician point of view, 'Empty Room' was tight, professional and I think it sounds as solid as we've ever sounded, 'Sweet Disposition' (recorded acoustically with piano, bass and congas) was performed with suitable subtlety - both of these tracks very much serve their purpose of being both perfect backing for the choir but also interesting in their own right. They were also both recorded to a click track to ensure near-perfect timing...but that was going to be impossible for 'Notches' - our mad, exuberant track which changes tempo and feel constantly (as a result, it's my favourite song ever to play I think, a drummer needs to be challenged sometimes). So, we recorded it pretty much live - Andrea, Gav and myself in one room, Nicky in another, Sammy in another, the singers in should have been a mess, mostly because this is a song that relies heavily on eye contact. Not wishing to sound arrogant or anything and apologies for swearing, but it was fucking joyous. One of those lovely moments when it all comes together (I say 'one' - we got it in four takes), it felt like we all raised our game. Gav reckoned it was the best studio session he's ever been involved in - and I think it probably was for me too. Sometimes things just work out a treat, today was a bit of a treat indeed. The choir will now sing and make it sound even more special - and it is about them at the end of the day - I can't wait to hear the final results (I was planning on popping in to their session but sadly I'm filming that day so will just have to wait to hear the finished product).

Curry afterwards with Andrea, Gav and Rob (with Nicky joining us briefly) for good food and even better conversation, and Rob gave me a CD of Eureka Stockade demos to learn for our second album, recording for that starts in just over a week. I really, really like being a drummer you know. But then again, I really like being a playwright too - in the last week I've started booking tour dates for the solo-ish show (another 8 days on the road for 'Some Plays By Paul Richards' - in November I plan to tour another show of the same nature called, 'Short Plays For Lanky People'), have confirmed the details for a 6-part series of my plays to be performed in front of a live audience to be released as a YouTube series (come and see the shows! 10, 17 and 24 March) and started working on Edinburgh Fringe show plans with Izzy (working title: 'Redudancy Party'). If only I could find a writing project that matches the excitement of studio sessions such as the one today that is a challenge.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The First New Material Night Of The Year

I wasn't looking forward to last night's show as much as I normally do - it's been a slightly uncertain start to the year and I was even more uncertain about the material I had been working on for it. I needn't had worried though because the first Fat Fox Productions new material session of 2013 was a genuine cracker - sometimes things just work out. The audience played a big part in this - the opening piece, 'The Lovely Girl In The Supermarket' was met with big laughter from the very first joke, and if you get them laughing early on everyone calms down a bit and that vibe continued throughout the evening, especially for 'Great Achievers' which was supposed to be a comedy-drama of the darker nature but when you have a comedy crowd in they see the humour in everything. Izzy was on top form throughout, just a little reminder at how good an actress she actually is, and our guests were fantastic too - Anne-Marie Eeles with the stand-up and Rick Letchford playing tunes. Big-ish crowd there last night which worried me a bit at first as you sometimes don't need that when trying out material you've literally just finished writing - but they were all lovely, good to see people who haven't seen my work previously turn up (Rhian, Georgia, Richard, Onat, Lucy, Roisin, Thomas) alongside our regulars (Liz - an incredibly loyal supporter of my work who was sadly there for the last time before she moves to Australia, Julia, Andy, Hind, Marcus, Alister) and obviously some people I didn't know.

Last night's show helped me a great deal - I learnt that 'The Lovely Girl...' is suitable for the tour show with a little tweaking, 'Great Achievers' works a treat but isn't a fringe show but it's nice to have it in the bag anyway. That does mean though I should probably start working on the actual fringe show at some point.

I know having a really good crowd isn't a way of measuring the quality of material or performance, but I really needed that last night - this is what I do, it works, we're onto something here and we have been for a while - more nights like this please.

Monday, 21 January 2013

2013...Absolutely Nothing To Worry About, Honest

It's been an odd start to the year so far, and perhaps not the one I predicted. This blog is mostly for my more creative endeavours so sorry to bore you with this minor detour, but I'm being made redundant from my day job at the end of April - it's a few months off yet so nobody is panicking too much, but it has changed things completely. See, I started the year (after a nice family-based Christmas and then a hangover after New Year's Eve, as was always going to be case) with my usual set of ambitions for the year - many of them unattainable (like doing 20 different fringe festivals) and yet all of them probably would only serve as useful CV notes rather than any sort of progression as an 'artist'. I've always wanted to give this a go professionally - and 'this' being my life - session drumming, touring plays, generally doing exciting things, LIVING THE DREAM, but have always been wrapped up in this safety blanket. The safety blanket will be taken away from me at the end of April, and it's knocked me sideways - it's tough getting a job out there at the best of times and to actually lose one I quite enjoyed is a shame (and like everyone else says - it's not so much about the job at that place, it's about the people - and I'm deeply saddened that this cracking little team of ours is being split up), but this will be a positive thing. I am a drummer, I am a writer, and now there's nothing holding me back. Yes, it's scary, yes I haven't been sleeping too well trying to work out how exactly things are going to work out and a result I've been a little dizzy (physically, not just mentally scatty) over the last couple of weeks, but this is completely the push I've needed for a long while. Now, to make it work...

Touring, 'Some Plays By Paul Richards' again in April, have set aside a week to do this and it's going be similar to the last show only with the audio bits cut (they were nice but slowed things down) and replaced by a third piece (which is called, 'The Pretty Girl In The Supermarket' and I'm trying it out tomorrow night at the new material evening), will start booking the venues this week, then have a think about casting, poster and all that. Tomorrow night's new material session should be really interesting - as well as trying out the new solo-ish piece, we're giving a first airing to a play I've been working on called, 'Great Achievers'. It's a dramatic re-write of a play I wrote 7 years ago about an adventure on a rickshaw - I've been meaning to look and develop that script again for a while and I also had some 'issues' I wanted to get off my chest and needed a vehicle for them - it's barely recognisable from the original (the genders of the characters have even changed) and it's turned into quite an emotionally charged piece...tomorrow's show looks like it's going to be busy, not sure why as normally for the new material nights we get about 10 people in maximum, but by the sounds of things we'll be hitting capacity which is crazy. And crazy to be trying out arguably my darkest material yet, still - it's all about risks, isn't it?

Musically, The British IBM will be doing a live session soon for Q Radio (Q Magazine) in Birmingham and it's these kind of sessions that as a musician you just want to do - it has a kind of kudos to it, you know? I enjoyed the gig a lot on Saturday in Derby, it was far from a vintage gig - it was a small venue with a small audience, but it just felt good to be back again doing what we do. Recording starts on Sunday for the Dowsing For Sound debut release and the choice of songs is exciting, and I'm also recording with Fred's House and Eureka Stockade soon...and also a covers band I've formed with Ali and Izzy called Popping Candy. I've always been openly anti-covers band, but I'm a proper working musician now and it's a must, and if you're going to do it you might as well do a unique one and this project is - piano, congas and female vocals, Izzy has the while Kirsty MacColl vibe going on, Ali and I have played in bands together for years and have such a rapport it's been a joy so far.

Lots in the pipeline - fringe shows being plotted and written, my diary is being filled with good things. And I'm even eating healthier, cooked a stir fry for my mate Heather the night and I have to admit, it was damn tasty. My parents are naturally worried that I just won't get another job, end up on the dole and waste away or something, a couple of my friends doubt that my creative flourishes will make me any money, I have no idea myself - but there's really nothing to worry about, honest, things happen for a reason.

Currently listening to: Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out Of This Country, Miniature Tigers - Tell It To The Volcano
Currently watching: Stressed Eric (DVD), Match Of The Day
Currently reading: just finished reading 'Mack The Knife' by Lee Mack (highly recommended), will probably move on to 'But Beautiful' by Geoff Dyer now.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Gig report: The British IBM @ The Victoria Inn, Derby

Band: The British IBM
Venue: The Victoria Inn, Derby
Date: 19/01/13
Audience: Small, but incredibly enthusiastic
Set: Not sure - a typical British IBM set, mostly with material from the album although opening with Make It Happen/Pain In My Heart and also with Guns and Washing Machine (which ended the gig) and a brand new song in there.
Notes: The Victoria Inn is very much one of those venues that you just have to play - you only have to look at the walls of the venue to see some of the acts that have performed there over the years to realise it's part of a circuit you need to be on if you're serious about this, which we are. It was a nice day, most of the country seem to be panicking about the snow but we had no problems making the three hour journey up to Derbyshire, stayed in a nice hotel and arrived early so enjoyed a couple beers and good food there - it's good to be back with the band again. The hotel was just around the corner from the venue and our manager, Matt, joined us too and he's great fun to have around, probably the most enthusiastic person in the country - it must be a youth thing! Played this one acoustic, and we're always just that bit tighter acoustically and it gives us the freedom to wing the set a bit; there's a certain structure to the set in the sense that we often start with the same couple of tracks and end with Washing Machine but the stuff in the middle is very much down to Aidy to decide during the show, judging the vibe of the room. We'd been rehearsing a couple brand new songs in the run up to this one and played one of them live last night (it's so new it's still untitled) and despite a couple sound issues we hit good form and we're happy enough. Matt joined us on stage as a special guest to play extra percussion on Not Your Day, it worked a treat. A bit of a scuffle kicked off at the venue (football related, we assume) but that didn't stop those who did make it enjoying themselves and the staff/soundman at the venue were nice people. Headliner Sam Forrest was fantastic - it's the third time we've been on the bill with the 9 Black Alps frontman and he's a joy to watch, and chat to/drink with before/after the show. A worthwhile trip indeed.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

2013: Hitting the ground running

'Hitting The Ground Running' would probably make a really good opening track for a blues album, you know - New Orleans deep groove in the pocket kind of thing. Or maybe not, I don't know - I have a lot of ideas at the moment, there's a fair chance that quite a few of them aren't going to work. But it has been a slightly frantic start to the year after what could only be described as a bit of a slow Christmas. Don't get me wrong, it was lovely to see family, and friends who I haven't seen much of recently, and it's nice to eat lots, drink lots and sit in the freezing cold watching Cambridge United scrape a 1-0 win too - these things are tradition. Apart from perhaps the Cambridge actually winning thing. But even before 2012 was out I found myself in meetings about new projects, in long email conversations about ideas and plans that will eventually turn into something. Part of me fears I don't know how to relax, part of me thinks it's because I'm single and relaxing with friends isn't quite the same (although let's be honest, many hours were spent in pubs over the festive season), and part of me thinks relaxing is for those who are content and I'm certainly not that, yet. And also because I'm genuinely excited about the 12 months ahead, if I can pull off all of these new projects - and properly - 2013 will be amazing.

Anyway, I'm rambling, and that's never good for a first post of the year. In short though I'm working on a musical called, 'The Worriers' at the moment - it's a concept I've had ticking over for a while, and over Christmas I just felt the need to drop what I'm doing and start working on it as things felt a bit clearer about how it could work. I'm working my backside off on the script and lyrics at the moment, Martin White (who is now based in Australia) is writing the music and I'm really happy to work with him again on this (he's an incredibly good songwriter), and after a very successful meeting I now have my musical arranger of choice in the team - can't name her just yet until the project is fully up and running but she's awesome and I think this will work a treat. More soon on that, but it's scheduled to open in early September, going to need a reasonably substantial cast and quite a few singers for this one, do get in touch if you wanted to be kept in the loop from a professional point of view.

That feels like my most ambitious project to date - and back to the 'working with lots of people' thing - which is completely different to the other shows I have lined up to work on. This is mostly centred around the new Edinburgh Fringe show I'm writing, which will just be for Izzy Rees and myself, and I quite like the idea of it just being a duo show, gives us a certain amount of artistic freedom - we feel like we made a lot of mistakes at the fringe last year, but this year we'll rock it big style. I'm also incredibly keen to do more with my solo-ish show, 'Some Plays By Paul Richards' - the show really worked (by the end of the run, at least) and with a bit of tweaking and with a short third piece added I think it'll do me proud this year, and I've already learnt it which is a bonus. Part of me wants to do every fringe festival in the UK with this one (18 of them), but part of me is also aware that I've already missed the boat for one of them (in Cambridge, of all places) which is annoying but there's plenty of opportunities still. Obviously this show does involve a few lines for an actress, I've already discussed it briefly with Claudia (who played the role so brilliantly last time, but is also the busiest woman on the planet) and Izzy, tonight I'm at the birthday party for another actress who seems keen, and tomorrow I'm meeting yet another one to discuss future plans so there's a few options there. Ah yes, and there's also the radio sitcom, 'Technically Single' to nail ahead of the recording soon, and the fringe show for Louise Hamilton which is, structurally at least, coming together nicely.

Musically it's been great to be back in rehearsals with The British IBM - I've actually missed Aidy and Dave, we've got some gigs and stuff coming up this month, there's also gigs with Flaming June, Eureka Stockade and Trevor Jones, all of which I think I'll enjoy very much. Recording the new album with Eureka Stockade soon, and recording drums for the debut Dowsing For Sound EP, both of these releases are produced by Rob Toulson which gives me a great sense of comfort as he knows his stuff. I've also, as of today, started a new project with Alister 'the absolute genius' Bunclark - it's just the two of us at the moment, it could possibly stay that way as oddly enough the drums/piano thing works a treat. We go back many years and have such an understanding by now, the rehearsal today was a complete joy. Anyway, we're going under the name of, 'The Fabulous New Sounds Of Alister Bunclark And Paul Richards' and the album we're working on is called, '7 Years Tomorrow' - it'll all make sense soon, promise. Alister and myself are also hopefully going to be playing acoustic covers with Izzy, it was discussed briefly before Christmas and we're keen so that should kick into life soon.

Anyway, part of me fears that this year will be all talk and not enough doing, so best get doing something...