Archive for June, 2010

see you at the Maverick Festival gig July 3rd

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

On Saturday July 3rd at 7pm I’ll be playing a fun gig at the Maverick Music Festival in Easton, Suffolk, UK. I’ve formed a temporary band called The Toad Lickers and we’ll be playing a short ~1/2 hour set to celebrate the release of the ‘Amerikana’ EP. It’s quite appropriate as this is an Americana music festival. It’s a relaxed and upbeat affair that takes place on a working farm, with several stages featuring great roots American and ‘Country And Eastern’ bands and singer songwriters. It’s in its third year and is run by my friend and neighbour Paul Spencer, long time music video documentary producer (and former drummer with the Alex Harvey Band!) On the surface I’m an unlikely person to play a barn dance with linedancing picnickers in cowboy hats, but actually if you’ve read the lyrics to ‘Toad Lickers’ from the EP you’ll know it’s not quite such a stretch! In fact, I’m going to be shooting a video earlier that day, so if you do make it and would like to be an extra, make yourself known.

You can get a one-day ticket to the event for £25 – either online via ticketweb.co.uk (probably not ready till next week) or by phone from NAC on 01603 660352.

I mentioned Maverick in an interview with the Bob Harris show on BBC Radio 2 which will air in the early hours of this Sunday morning (June 26th) around 12.15am. We’ll be rehearsing at Kevin’s later that day, taking a 2-hour break to watch England v Germany. We’ll try to put together another rehearsal on July 2nd, but that’s it. So it’ll be somewhat less spontaneous than the Union Chapel gig in February, but not a lot! I won’t have a big synth rig, so don’t expect pyrotechnics. It’s an organic, low-budget affair, with a tight stage, but the band lineup should be as follows:

drums: Justin Hildreth
bass: Matthew Seligman
guitar: Kevin Armstrong
fiddle/banjo: Aaron Jonah Lewis
pedal steel: BJ Cole
backing vocals: Barbara Ann Spencer (Paul’s wife!)

Nick Sinclair took some really nice pics to help publicise the event. I got to pose with this gorgeous 1930s Indian motorcycle:




YouTube clip talking about ‘Amerikana’ EP

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

The EP’s only been out 24 hours, but the feedback has been overwhelming! There have been well over 1,000 sales already–DiscRevolt who are handling the downloads are very surprised themselves. In fact, that’s probably enough to get me in the UK Top 20 these days, though I don’t think they track independent sales like this. Just imagine though: enough fanatical Dolby fans to get a $3 EP into the charts. In the old days round about now I’d be getting a call from the BBC asking if I can do Top Of The Pops.

Which reminds me.

In the ‘old days’ (ie the eary 1980s) this is the way TOTP worked. As you probably know, this legendary show ran for decades and was by far the biggest and most influential pop TV show in the UK. You couldn’t have a hit without it, and if you did appear and your record didn’t go up by 10-15 places in the following week’s chat, something was seriously wrong. And both TOTP and BBC Radio 1 were controlled by a handful of ageing BBC ‘loveys’ who got to play kingmaker, and who of course were constantly wined and dined by the big record labels.

So on a Tuesday the new Music Week singles chart would be published. Based on promising sales, the Beeb would select the acts that would be shooting TOTP on the Wednesday, for broadcast on the Thursday night. So let’s say my single went in the chart at #26. I get the call from EMI saying I’m invited to do TOTP—yes! I will be mimin,g of course, ion front of hoardes of screaming teenagers. But because of Musicians Union rules, the song has to be re-recorded specially for TOTP. So every Wednesday the BBC has a half dozen recording studios booked around London for 3 hours each. So along with my band (whoever played on the record) I show up at, say, Air Studios at 6pm. The roadies are already there setting up the drums and amps. Also present is an EMI rep, a BBC rep, and a guy from the MU. The musicians start to tune up and the engineer is setting mics. About 10 minutes in, the EMI guy says to the BBC and MU guy, ‘well chaps, shall we just np around the corner for a pint?’ And they leave.

At around ten to 9, they come back, sozzled. The roadies are now packing up band have long since gone. And there on the desk is a gleaming 1/4″ stereo master tape of the ‘re-recording’. The BBC guys takes this away, the musicians and crew and engineers will get paid, and everybody is happy.

This system was put inplace in the days of Petula Clark and Cilla Black when records really were done in 3 hours. But if you’re the Electric Light Orchestra or Frankie Goes To Hollywood and your new single took 5 months to make, 3 hours is not really enough time to re-record your hit. So of course what happens is, a 1/4″ copy is made from your original master while the boys get sloshed down the pub, and that’s what the Beeb plays on Thursday. And everybody, I mean EVERYBODY knows what’s going on. It’s a bloody pantomime!

But I digress. Yesterday I shot a little video intro to ‘Amerikana’, the first of four. It took me tll this morning to figure out how to get it off my iPhone to edit and put up on Youtube, but here it is:

‘Amerikana’ EP released today!

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

(Pic: NKguy.com)

Today I’m releasing my first new studio music in nearly 20 years. It’s called Amerikana, and it’s available ONLY to members of my online fan community, The Flat Earth Society.

I’ve chosen not to make this a full commercial release for various reasons. My plan has always been to put out a series of three digital EPs (taking their names from the 3 sections of my upcoming album A Map Of The Floating City) followed by a physical album with additional tracks. But as I’ve yet to settle on a particular release method for that album – be it self-publishing, a record label, or some new hybrid – I’d prefer not to undermine the album’s commercial appeal by pulling the trigger too early. However, my ‘hardcore’ audience have been following my adventures on my blog and web site as I go through the process of writing and recording these songs, and it’s only natural they would want an early listen to my new music. So I arrived at the idea of releasing the EPs exclusively to FES members. You will only be able to buy it here on my website, and not on iTunes, Amazon etc.

Amerikana is an affectionate look back at the 22 years I lived in the USA before returning to my native Britain three summers ago. While living in the States I became very fond of roots American music. And as it’s music that was always spread and shared by travelers sitting around camp fires, I felt I’d add my traveler’s voice to its ongoing story. Needless to say, I’m no hillbilly or good ol’ country boy, so my own flavour of americana is a bit twisted, a bit mischievous. ‘Road To Reno’ charts the progress of a pair of hapless lovers as their red convertible blazes a trail across the desert in a kind of indie road movie, serenaded by my longtime cohorts the Jazz Mafia Horns. ‘Toad Lickers’ is about a group of crazed eco-hippies in the Welsh mountains who get high on Bufo alvarius and creep into the local town after hours in search of munchies. It has cameos from Imogen Heap on jaw harp, longtime FES member Crackers on accordion, and fiddler Natalie MacMaster.

But the EP’s ‘coup de resistance’ is a 7’38″ epic entitled ’17 Hills’. Very much in the tradition of ‘I Love You Goodbye’ and ‘Budapest By Blimp’, this song weaves a bittersweet tale using words, sounds, textures, and surprising left turns in the arrangement. It features beautiful playing by Mark Knopfler, who graciously allowed me into his private studio as he added some of his signature licks, complimenting my vocal to perfection. Pedal steel player Bruce Kaphan, who produced American Music Club and has toured with David Byrne, adds soaring atmospherics. Natalie MacMaster injects a touch of Cape Breton charm with a mesmerising looped fiddle solo. Radical string quartet Ethel beckon us into the realm of the surreal. And Jeffrey Wash’s pristine fretless seems to channel one of the greatest bass guitar showcases of all time, Joni’s ‘Hejira’.

As I mentioned, Amerikana is only one section of my album, and three of its four songs are represented here. The price, including high-res MP3s and a print-ready digital booklet, is a very affordable $3.00 / E3.00 / £2.00. The subsequent two EPs ‘Oceanea’ and ‘Urbanoia’ – available later in 2010 – have quite different styles, and some may prefer one over another. My albums, as you know, often cover a wide range of genres, because like a novelist I really enjoy exploring a new idiom, instrumentation, time and place; and thankfully my core fanbase has been willing to go along for the ride. So you have options: you can choose to wait for the full album and get all the goodies in one package, or you can plunge in now, and see where you end up! The eventual AMOTFC album will definitely contain at least 3 songs not included on the EPs.

That said, there is a theme running through the EPs that you might want to be aware of. The album has a backstory which is something you will have to dig a bit to uncover. Contained on each EP is a ‘clue’, and you’re going to need to unravel its secret at each stage of the proceedings. I won’t say more than that for now. My recent visit to JJ Abrams’ facility in California might give you a hint about what I’m up to!

Here’s the link to buy the EP. If you’re not already a community member, now’s the time to sign up!

I hope you enjoy Amerikana, and will look forward to hearing your feedback.

TMDR

Don’t fret….

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

I should clarify, in case you’re worried, that nothing was actually lost forever. What was erased was Glenwood’s copy of the ProTools multitrack sessions for the 3 songs. On one of them, I am already happy with the final mix. Bill was going to make small tweaks to the other two by recalling the mix we did (matchning up faders, EQs, outboard settings etc), making the changes, mixing down to 1/2″ tape, then transferring back to 96khz digital stereo. Without the ProTools sessions he’s unable to do that. The PT sessions still exist on my drives in Suffolk, so I have to back them up once more and send them to LA, in the hope that there is a studio day available soon at Glenwood Place that also coincides with Bill being able to fly down from Northern California. They total several gigabytes, so I can’t risk doing a digital transfer, because I have a weak broadband signal at home and it may be Tuesday before I find out the transfer was corrupted or interrupted. So the fastest way may be ‘sneakernet’ ie sending a hard drive to LA Monday morning via FedEx. I’ll probably do the transfer as well for safety.

The standard procedure is for studios to keep a copy of all work on their drives until the producer/artist/lable gives them the green light to erase it. The tapeop knew that I was flying back to the UK with my drive, so he certainly shouldn’t have erased the studio copy, because had something happened to my drive in transit, theirs would be the only existing copy. What I would have expected to happen is the tape op would ask the studio manager, who would contact me or Bill to ask. We would of course have said no, especially as we’d just booked another day to recall and remix the songs! So it was a dunderheaded decision however you look at it, and totally against industry norms, and–as has been pointed out–pointless in an age when terrabyte hard drives cost a hundred bucks.

It may mean fans on my web site have to wait a few days or even a week longer for the Amerikana EP. But they’ve waited so patiently for new music for the last 18 years, another week ain’t gonna hurt too much.

Catastrophe!

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

Bill Bottrell got to Glendale Place Studios today preparing to do the last couple of tweaks to my EP mixes, and the tape op said “will Thomas be here soon with the hard drive?” “WHY?” says Bill, knowing I am 7000 miles away in Hull, UK. “Because I needed some hard disk space last week so I wiped all his multitracks off our drives!” So the silly bugger wiped me clean off, without checking, and now the only existing copy is at my house in Suffolk UK, 4 hours south of where I am. And Bill had only today free to remix, having flown down specially from N.Cal to do it. So right now I don’t know how long it will take me to make a new drive copy, get a courier to pick it up, get it to LA, and then, when the studio AND Bill will next be available. It might come down to me having to fly back to LA for a day to do it myself. And there’s now a strong chance the June 12th EP release date is blown out of the water. I will keep you informed.