We have been very busy in the studio recording tracks for “Tales of Dark and Light”, a solo project that I have been working on for some time as a side project to The Small Change Diaries.
At the time of writing we have now completed all four tracks for “Tales of Dark and Light”
Dunning Kruger Blues
He’s shooting blanks
No more street parties
Hear in the silence
The musicians on this project are Adrian Knowles/Dave Bowie Double bass, Laurent Zeller violin, Rich Ferdi percussion, Alice Higgins, Paul Conway piano, myself on vocals and stringed instruments. Carl Rosamond is producing the material.
The music is different to what I have recorded with The Small Change Diaries and as suggested in the title some of the lyrics are pretty dark. This is proving to be a fascinating project and an opportunity to stretch out sonically into some very different territory.
On “He’s shooting blanks” I don’t play any instruments, rather focusing on singing. This is a true murder ballad and one of my favorite tracks to date. “Dunning Kruger Blues” reminds me of Steely Dan, which “Hear in the silence” has a more Indian feel with some extraordinary playing from Laurent Zeller who is key to the main sound on this project. “No more street parties” is possibly the saddest song ever written, a commentary on Brexit.
“No more street parties on this little rock,
Pack away the bunting, brace for the shock”
Many songs were written on the ukulele, but the final recordings to date contain very little uke, rather focusing on other instruments.
I am grateful to have the support of so many superb musicians and remain fascinated by the whole creative process. This material has “more bite” than what I have written and recorded to date and I plan to play this new material live in the UK and USA in 2018. I am also looking at a second EP for the back end of 2018 with different musicians and a different feel to this EP
Friday Nov 3rd was the launch party for Lullabies for Cynics from The Small Change Diaries. This was also a beta tester for a bigger future platform which will be revealed in 2018. This is a platform for MUSIC of the best possible kind and nit limited to any niche style or instrument! I’m a great believer in smart music and live entertainment and this was a great group effort in every way where artists supported each other. Special thanks to the Trouble at Mill Team who organised the logistics for this evening
There was no “star of the night” the event and the collective experience for the audience was the purpose of the evening, in short
Throughout 2017 I have been looking at music promotion models and figuring out the best way forward in a changing market. This means talking to a lot of seasoned performers as well as some established promoters and people in the music business. What is increasingly clear is that its definitely a time for new thinking in these tougher economic times. People are increasingly looking for a more complete experience, and hosts and promoters should avoid dismissing this at their peril. I ran a series of polls to ask people what they looked for when choosing to see a live performance (excluding A list artists) and it produced some very interesting feedback.
The Small Change Diaries launch party was a beta tester for a bigger project. We focused on ensuring that all attendees received excellent value and added value to make it a really memorable evening. We were also keen to reach a wide section of the public and not any niche music enthusiasts. The uke community like to play, but don’t always make for the best appreciative music audiences. With this in mind the evening had a range of seasoned performers who provided a wide range of music. There were deliberately no strum alongs etc so popular with some audiences. This evening was only about creative musical entertainment of the best possible kind with an emphasis on mostly original music.
We released over 200 tickets to the event and had a full house on the night with some additional last-minute attendees. The physical space was a terrific mill and great attention was paid to giving all attendees seated accommodation, inexpensive food for all tastes and a full bar as well as free parking. Everyone received the new “Lullabies for Cynics” CD as well as the original SCD CD on arrival. In short this was a no risk event for the public and the onus was on the artists to provide a great night out. Music started at 8pm and ran until 11.15pm. We ran this as a “pay as you feel” event to ensure it was affordable for all. If an event is 20 – 30 pounds, this makes it a very expensive evening for a family and worse still there’s no food options provided.
The feedback on the vent was excellent and highlights for me were hearing Phil Doleman and Laurent Zeller playing together for the first time and Jessica Bowie and Astraluna doing harmonies on “Not one of us” which was one of the encores. In 2018 I’ll be looking at a new platform that will showcase events in UK and USA with an emphasis on offering the best possible music from some really excellent artists.
We started working on the Small Change Diaries launch party a few months ago and we are now in the final stages.
“Music for The Head and Heart” is promoted in partnership with the excellent Trouble at Mill organisation, who really know how to create a great customer experience.
We had a number of key considerations to address for this night, to make this a complete experience for those attending. This inevitably means a lot more work and a lot of attention to details. I’d looked at some events described as “launch parties” and often folks in my view really missed a few tricks, which made the event “ok” but probably not that memorable. You can usually when this happens by the lack of activity online pre and post event. We don’t claim to have everything nailed, but its all about the details.
These key details include
A great space large enough for 250 attendees with some real style
The best support acts we could find providing a diverse range of music
Great affordable hot food for all tastes including vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and other tastes
Full bar for the evening
The best front of house sound guy as well as a lighting assistan
Proving a great dressed stage for artists
Proper remuneration for all musicians for performances
Working on a “pay as you feel” model so its affordable for EVERYBODY who attendes
Attracting a diverse audience, not just hardcore uke enthusiasts
Friendly support team so everybody experiences a great evening
As well as meeting all these considerations we decided to give ALL attendees not only the brand new album, but also the first Adam Blames Eve album, so a 20 pound gift for everybody who attends on the night.
All these details mean that those attending the launch have a complete experience. I have been running polls in recent months and one key factor people love is a proper healthy great food option, an affordable bar as well as comfortable seating.
We quickly hit the initial 200 ticket allocation and were able to get special dispensation to offer some additional tickets which are now almost all taken. Its going to be a terrific night and a beta tester for a much bigger project in 2018. Special thanks to everyone who has supported this including Jessica Bowie, Jen Birch aka Astraluna, Phil Doleman, Sleepy Kev Bishop, Laurent Zeller who is flying in from France.
I’m blown away by the enthusiasm for this launch and we have Karen Turner on had to take photos of the evening as well as our band produced Carl Rosamond to run front of house. The band are keen to bring our music to as wide an audience as possible that includes uke enthusiasts BUT crucially attracts an appreciative listening audience that have a genuine love of great music.
The Small Change Diaries 2nd album “Lullabies for Cynics” is due for release in 2 week’s time. I’m also working on a solo album “Tales of Dark and Light” This project was initially intended as an EP, but I already have nine potential tracks and one “He’s shooting blanks” already mixed and mastered. Tales of Dark and Light will have some familiar Small Change Diaries musicians, as well as some new folks.
“He’s shooting blanks” has Adrian Knowles on Double bass, Alice Higgins on piano, Laurent Zeller on violin and myself on vocals. Yes you read that correctly, unusually I don’t play any instruments on this track. This may change with additional material, but it certainly won’t be just ukuleles. At present there’s also a possibility of including mandolin and Gregor Novak’s wonderful guitarelle.
I already have a gig scheduled in New York in 2018 and will be exploring other live opportunities. At a recent solo gig at “The Grove Inn” in Leeds I played “Here in the silence” which was well received. The graphics for this project are by Japanese illustrator Junko Hosomo who drew a sketch of me during a solo gig in Nagoya earlier this year which is just fantastic. I’ll be recording more tracks with SCD producer Carl Rosamond in the next few weeks and Laurent Zeller will be playing on the new material. This is an exciting new initiative and in many ways different to the Small Change Diaries material. The track “He’d shooting blanks” is probably the darkest set of lyrics I have penned to date and probably not for the fainthearted.
The release date for this will be the back end of 2018 if all goes to plan.
In 2016 my band The Small Change Diaries were invited to play at The Lagoa Guitar Festival in Portugal. This was the first full band outing overseas and it was a wonderful experience for us all.
We were supporting a french trio Les Kostards and met up with the musicians the night before as we were both staying in the same hotel. Little did I know that this would spark a great friendship and some wonderful musical collaborations!
This is when I first met violinist Laurent Zeller. At this time I had not heard Laurent play, but we got on well and both shared an obvious enthusiasm for photography. Our host took both bands on a wonderful tour of Lagoa prior to the gig and were able to see some wonderful scenery.
On the day of the gig I was blown away by his playing. Below is an example of this
The Les Kostards set at the festival was extraordinary and the guys rocked the house. Prior to the gig we met up to see if we could do a group jam on the night and I am delighted that Laurent agreed. We decided to play “Slow News Day” as an encore and as you can see from the clip below his solo during this track is extraordinary. Fast forward to 3 min to see him in action
The following day I asked him if he would contribute to some tracks for our next album. These tracks included a version of “Birdman” and his wonderful violin part can be heard on the movie short of this track seen below
Over the years I have become a genuine instrument collector and have spent many hours chatting to my good friend Martin Simpson about the joys of purchasing and playing great instruments. Many people will know me for my love of different types of ukuleles, but I have a really diverse collection of many stringed instruments, not just ukes.
I’m lucky in my other work to be able to travel around the world and Japan and the USA are wonderful places for seeking out new creative tools. My favorite stores across the globe include Ukulele Mania in Tokyo, The Ohana store outside Osaka, Poe Poe in Tokyo, Matt Umanov Guitars in NYC, Mandolin Brothers in NYC (no longer in existence) , Hill Country Guitars in Austin and Carters Guitars in Nashville. All these stores have a fantastic range of instruments and great customer service.
I also have a number of instruments that can’t be bought through retail stores including guitars and a mandola by Stefan Sobell. The Sobells came as recommendations from Martin Simpson and there’s usually a two year wait for these instruments. Similarly Takahiro Shimos instruments are also custom builds and of the highest quality and there’s a waiting list for them. In terms of instrument brands I’m a big fan of Collings and when I met Bill before he passed I mentioned that I had never played a Collings that was not excellent. The recent Waterloo guitars are more examples of the highest standards in building and an absolute joy to play.
I’m a big fan of instruments where the main focus is in using the best woods and the investment is in the woods rather than ornate decoration. I recently saw a ukulele advertised for thousands of pounds where the store commented that huge amounts of time had been spent on the inlay, so it looked really nice but I prefer a more simple well constructed instrument. Every instrument will spark different creative ideas and the best ones are always those that I may pick up in a store and find I’m still playing 30 – 40 minutes later. There are thousands of “ok” instruments, but few which really are keepers.
In terms of electric guitars I have some great instruments including two Parkers, a George Benson Ibanez, some custom Ransom strats and Telecasters from San Francisco and some Warmoth guitars as well as a brilliant Collings I35 Deluxe. This is a growing family that continue to provide countless hours of musical joy as well as being great investments. I always advise people to try out instruments for themselves rather than rely on online advice as production models which in theory should be the same often vary wildly. There are no “best instruments” only different ones. If you want to create great music, its a lot easier if you are playing an instrument you truly love.
I have been going to musical performances for 45 years and remain amazed at the differences in audiences. Perhaps I am in a minority, but when I go to a musical performance, I am there to hear the music and watch the artists.
For me the best audiences are those who come to pay attention to the performers with respectful attention to their craft. More than ever I carefully choose who I go to see and avoid some venues where I know its probably not going to be a great experience for me. These days I prefer smaller venues like The Vanguard in New York which has a 125 capacity. True jazz fans know that if you get to The Vanguard for 7 pm, with the doors opening at 7.30 pm you are guaranteed being in the first two rows in the venue. There is a strict policy of no phones or recording during the set. This makes for a terrific music experience that is respectful of the performers. Its no surprise that The Vanguard has hosted the best jazz musicians for decades. This etiquette is unusual and if I had my way (which I admit I won’t) I’d extend this way of working to all live creative performances.
In stark contrast to such small gigs there are arena experiences. Of course many major artists will view these as better commercial opportunities, BUT often the audience experience is horrendous. Many attendees seen incapable of sitting still for a 90 min gig without either texting, talking and/or endlessly going to the bar. God only knows whey they buy what are often expensive tickets. The sound is also often not great as its a bit like being in an aircraft hanger with aircraft hanger acoustics. Equally bad are open air concerts where sound can also be an issue. I tend to avoid these as its in my view not the best listening experience. That said I did see The Rolling Stones play Manchester arena and they were terrific, but of course the lads have had a few decades to perfect their craft.
With some niche music genres (like the ukulele world), many attending are not that interested in watching and listening to seasoned performers, they just want to strum with friends! I get the enjoyment of social meet ups but remain totally mystified as to why anyone would pay for a festival weekend ticket plus accommodation and then avoid seeing professional performers. I’m even more mystified as these sets are often very brief so its not even a big time commitment, but that’s a personal view. One of the reason why you probably won’t see my band play any more uke festivals is that the focus is not really on the music, so its not to my personal taste. Yes a “Chas and Dave” style sing along may be great for many folks, but for me personally its like the eighth level of hell!
In “How Music Works” David Byrne talks about different acoustic spaces for different types of music and this book is an essential read for any creative artist. I fully admit that I’m in a minority in terms of personal musical taste and have a definite preference for hearing original music. The audience is of course an essential part of the whole musical experience. I have learned that you never quite know what to expect. My band The Small Change Diaries recently played a gig where I introduced on of our tracks “Adam Blames Eve” as “a song of biblical proportions” and three elderly attendees ran for the door! Whats clear t me is that as a performer its best to adopt “an Ernest Shackelton approach” who famously commented
“By endurance, we conquer”
Its a privilege to play music to any audience and I am mindful that playing only original music is not a safe bet as it challenges audience expectations. That said personally I love this aspect of musical exploration and wouldn’t have it any other way
Now I am back from the USA, I am getting ready for a series of gigs. First up is The Ilkley Literature Festival which has been in existence since 1973. This is a great opportunity to play to a terrific appreciative listening audience. The festival is hugely popular and attracts a genuine cross section of people. This is a full band outing.
Next Saturday I’m doing a solo with friends gig at The Grove for charity. The theme is “We shall overcome” and I’ll be playing some protest songs as well as other originals. This is all unplugged and its unusual for me to be playing in this capacity, but I’m looking forward to it. I have support from my good friend Doug O Brien who is usually a keyboard player and my wife Sue. Its a bit of a jump into the unknown.
Four weeks later the full band and special guests play the album launch. Tickets are cranking for this evening and its almost fully sold out. Support is from Phil Doleman, Astraluna and Sleepy Kev Bishop. This promises to be a terrific night with food for all tastes and a full bar. This is also a beta tester for a bigger project.
Its great to have the opportunity to play to so many different diverse audiences and we already have gigs lined up for March and April, with a big festival gig in May