Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Embryonic Prog?

This weekend I had a good little jamming/writing session with a friend of similar musical sensibilities and abilities. He played bass and sang, whilst I was on the keyboard. We tried a few things, and got the start of a backing track together for one of his songs. My keyboard skills were never too hot, but by the end I was feeling quite comfortable in the chord structure we arrived at, and was starting to add some ornamentation to the part.

He has a contact who plays drums, and we talked about looking to put together a recording over a long term with a couple of other like-minded folk. I'm really keen, though it's almost 2 hours to get to him in the centre of Glasgow which is a bit of a pain, though hopefully worth it in the end. I'd like to focus on keyboards and maybe backing or acoustic guitar parts, and even bring in the theremin once I've got a better handle on it.

In the meantime, I've still to get the Deserters' tracks onto CD, which has turned into one of those jobs that gets covered in fits and starts and will hopefully come to an end soon....

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Etherwave Has Landed

My theremin has arrived.

It's quite wonderful.

It's incredibly difficult to play, but that was expected. It looks fantastic - well-finished wood with 2 big wooden knobs and lots of shiny chrome dials. It sounds out of this world - with plenty of scope for altering tone colour and a wide picth range. It's just so good to to finally have the Moog sound at my fingertips after years of using digital keyboards

I'm starting off with simple tunes to get the swing of it, then aim to move on to use it a bass and backing for other music before graduating to using it as a front-line instrument.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Fly Me To Dunoon

I came across a cache of old half-written songs over the weekend, which brought back lots of memories - it's amazing how many of the tunes (most of which are still unrecorded) came back to me. I guess that's a sign of a good melody. Pity the same can't be said of the lyrics. Most of the songs I found have about 6 decent lines each, about another 10 which are weak and several more which make me cringe, wince or grind my teeth.

Having said that, there are some little gems in there which I'm going to revisit shortly. Which leads me on to the subject in hand... Dunoon

I don't recall consciously writing so many songs about Dunoon, but it clearly made a significant impact on my psyche. A quick bit of highly condensed history; the town of Dunoon was a traditional seaside resort in the West of Scotland, which has a unique character compared to others as it is more accessible by boat than train or bus, and is still regularly visited by the steamer Waverley. After seaside resorts lost their charm, Dunoon benefitted (or suffered, depending on your point of view) from the nearby US naval installation at the Holy Loch, and had an economic boost from the many servicemen who stayed in the town.

Lee and I both have spent time in Dunoon, as our families had many ties to the area, with many fond memories. However, as youths we were quite disparaging about the town, mainly because it had passed its glory days, and seemed to be trying to hold on to the past too hard, as well as the fact that it had little to offer the younger generation.

In all I found four songs related to the town in some way. Kirn Beach is an instrumental inspired by the walk from Dunoon to Kirn and beyond, whilst Jim Crow is an upbeat look at the things that have passed around Kirn's local landmark (a large glacial erratic painted with a black face). The Man in the Boat is a sad tale about the figure on the road to Dunoon who sits in a boat in the middle of a field, and ... And the Rest is short song about the trek up the Rest and Be Thankful (a saddle between two glens marking the top of a long steep climb for travellers).

Add these to the already recorded Rage in Dunoon, and there's nearly half an album's worth of material. Jeez - a concept album about Dunoon, what next?

Friday, September 23, 2005

Hands Off!

I finally got the push I needed to get a theremin.

I've been scouting round looking for one at a reasonable price, and had come to the conclusion that it was going to cost at least £130 for one that's actually playable rather than just a special effect. Then I discovered yesterday that Turnkey are flogging off their stock of Etherwave Pro's at a knock-down price.

The EW Pro is built by the legendary Moog (r.i.p. Bob) Music, and is just about the best theremin money can buy, with the exception of a couple of specialist dealers or an original RCA theremin (which now cost seriously silly money). So I paid more than I had intended, but what a deal! Like going out to buy a starter guitar and finding a top-of-the-range Les Paul for an extra hundred quid.

So, the order's gone in and been confirmed - now I just have to wait for delivery - hopefully early next week...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Deserted Refurb

I've given the Deserters' website a bit of a make-over, as it was looking pretty sad. It's still not perfect, and there are various bits of extra info to be added like music clips, lyrics and family tree. Those won't be added until November, but I think the site's looking much more readable now and I've added some more photos which I came across.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Songwriters' Guild

The internet can be a delight on occasion.

There I was, searching around for something mundane, when I came across a link to a page about the compilation album the Deserters appeared on many moons ago; "The Songwriters' Guild".

This was a project put together by a number of bands, including the Deserters and Anekdoten, who host the information about the album. The tape featured artists influenced by Peter Hammill, but not playing his music.

The range of styles is pretty diverse, and there are some great tracks on it. It's a pity that I don't have a copy on CD, or I'd be playing it now.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Got me dem ole Yobstick Blues

Okay, so I saw my favourite Yobstick builder at the weekend and have been mulling over various designs in the back of my head for most of the day. There's too much other stuff to be doing at the moment to do anything practical about it, but it's just one of several things floating around in my mind shouting at me "Hurry up and free some time so you can get on with me!" It hasn't helped that my morning read of Music Thing with my coffee led me off down a path to the very wonderful Oddmusic site, where there is a gallery including sound clips of dozens of ancient, ethnic and newly-invented musical instruments. Inspiration I surely didn't need.

There are 2 things I want to do with the next yobstick - one is to make it an electric yobstick. Not quite sure how practical that is, but it would be great to trigger samples with the welly end, or stick the string through a distortion and delay line. The other thing is to make the string more playable, i.e. instead of it being a single note I want to be able to play simple bass lines on it. Again, not terribly sure about how to do this, as one hand holds the stick and the other plucks the string - either some sort of tensioning lever (like a whammy bar) or a sliding bridge.

I just know I'm going to be dreaming about yobstick construction tonight.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Bass Cobwebs

For the first time in ages I've got together with a bunch of guys to play music. I'm buzzing!
We played for a couple of hours - mostly just jamming around ideas, a guitar riff here, a bass-line there. Covered a pretty good range of stuff within a general hard rock area - some fast and funky and some slower and laid-back.

I'm definitely the weakest link - the others played much faster and more fluently than I did. It's been a while since I last played much bass and it showed, though I did manage to keep up most of the time by keeping it simpler than I would usually. I'll need to do a bit of ear-training too - there were a couple of places where I got lost and took a while to work out what I should have been playing.

So, the cobwebs have been dusted off (the bass, at least) - now I need to get down to seriously polishing up on technique...

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Website Improvements

I've upgraded my website hosting recently, so Deserted, the website at www.the-deserters.co.uk, will be getting a bit of an overhaul soon.

I now have more server space and hope to fill it with some sound clips and other goodies...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Slydee Returns

One of the self-built instruments used by the Deserters in our earlier days was an electronic gadget called the Slydee. It grew from a physics project about transistors where we had to make a circuit to flick between two bulbs. Lee (Newe) and I figured that if we linked this to a speaker instead of a bulb we would get a tone, and we were right. I then added a fader rescued from some old music system or something similar (Tandy, perhaps?) to give a very basic and almost totally uncontrollable keyboardless synth with a character all of its own.

I was wondering about the possibility of rebuilding it some time ago, as I've no idea what became of it, when I heard a radio programme about the theremin. After a bit of research I came to the conclusion that I deeply want one. No, need one!

Theremins (therema?) are controlled without touch. You move your right hand near its pitch aerial and left hand near the volume aerial to control the sound. It at worst it sounds just like a Slydee - at best it sounds almost like a human voice. Some folk use it for special effects, whilst others like Peter Pringle have gained sufficient mastery of this awkward littlecritter to make some wonderful music. I aim to be somewhere in between.


Way back in the mists of time we had a concept for a video for the Deserters' "Renaissance" period which we considered, at the time, to be a turning point for the band. The song was to be called "Reborn" and was to feature a video of the band doing various things in time to the music, but backwards - jumping off walls, dropping things, etc. All very Monkees, had it ever come to pass. Now it's my turn...

The last 3 years of my life have been a bit of a musical desert. I've hardly touched an instrument, and most of my music gear has spent its time in boxes. It's been annoying and difficult, but a necessary evil due to various things going on in my work life - i.e. the stuff that pays to keep the wolf from the door, the children fed and the electricity flowing. Well, the time in the wilderness is coming to an end - 2 months to go and I should be back to living a more normal life where I can actually spend some quality time with family instead of having to schedule them in, I can get on with some of the projects that have peaked my interest over the last 3 years and I can live the music once more.

So - what's new?

I'm refreshing all the Deserters material that I have transferred to PC, and will finally be editing and sticking it onto CDs.

I've dug out my bass from storage and am getting back into the swing (I think) - starting to work on some nice new callouses. Next will come the trusty old DX7 and finally I'll fish out the guitar.

I'm getting together with some local musos to do some jam sessions, which may or may not lead to something better - I hope to report on this next week.

I've also got a couple of experimental music things I want to put together - I'll probably start this in the new year - quite a bit of programming will be involved on the ST (old faithful music computer), which I've not really done much of in the past.

Finally, I want to build a new Yobstick - the last one disappeared during a house-move, and I feel somehow incomplete without it. Perhaps I can encourage my yob-luthier to return to the trade!

Exciting times ahead for me - here's hoping we all enjoy the ride!