Get ready for TEDx Aldeburgh Music on Nov 6th

September 19th, 2010

On November 6th I’ll be hosting an exciting TEDxAldeburghMusic event at the Snape Maltings in Suffolk, UK, home of the Aldeburgh Music festival, featuring an excellent lineup of performers including Imogen Heap, William Orbit, Martyn Ware, Tim Exile and Tod Machover.

I’ve written a lot about the TED Conference here over the last few years, but in case you didn’t know, I’m TED’s music director, which means I help select and book the musical performers for the events, as well as providing the House Band. TED now has two regular annual events, the main one in Long Beach in Feb/March, and TEDGlobal in Oxford in July. A year ago we launched TEDx, ‘an independently organised TED event’, which enables any community or venue to stage their own mini-TED conference, within certain guidelines. TEDx events must be not-for-profit, and can use a quota of pre-recorded TED talks; but you must bring in your own speakers, video their talks, and send the results back to TED.com for possible inclusion on the main site. There has been an astonishing response to TEDx program over the last year with over 1500 events taking place all around the world.

Aldeburgh Music is an organisation that hosts the Aldeburgh Festival of mainly classical music. It was set up in the 1950s by composer Benjamin Britten and tenor Peter Pears. My mother was the first secretary of the Festival, when the audience was about 100 people and it took place in the Jubillee Hall in Aldeburgh. As it grew, a new venue was selected: The Maltings at Snape, a beautiful disused industrial building complex set in the reed marshes on the upper reaches of the Alde river. I have a family connection there too—my great-great-grandfather was the brewer Newson Garrett who built the Maltings in the mid-nineteenth century where his company loaded malt onto Thames sailing barges bound for London and the Continent. So I’ve been going there for as long as I can remember, and Kathleen and I got married there in 1988. I even remember watching its huge roof burn in a terrible accident one night in 1968. It was subsequently rebuilt, and is now better than ever, housing the Britten-Pears Music School, as well as several peripheral buildings including the newly completed Hoffman Building which is used for extra activities such as Faster Than Sound, a series of experimental electronic music events, performances and installations. The expansion has been brilliantly masterminded by Aldebugh Music’s dynamic CEO Jonathan Reekie.

As I’m now living close to Snape again with my family, Jonathan and I had been thinking it would be nice if I could get involved in Aldeburgh Music in some way. Keen to grow Aldeburgh’s scope beyond just performance of music, he was very interested in TED, and when the TEDx program started up it seemed like an ideal opportunity to put together something that might even turn into an annual event. So the idea for TEDxAldeburghMusic came about. Joana Seguro, who produces the Faster Than Sound series and runs multimedia company Lumin, was engaged as Producer, and the three of us began lining up speakers and refining the theme. After a few months of planning we settled on a date and a speaker lineup.

So I’m pleased to announce that on Nov 6th TEDxAldeburghMusic will take place at the Snape Maltings, Suffolk. It will be a day-long, all-music themed event, featuring live talks and performances by Imogen Heap, William Orbit, Tod Machover, Louis Lortie, Martyn Ware, Tim Exile, United Visual Artists, David Toop and others. You can read their biogs here. As is always the case with TED events, speakers have a maximum of 18 minutes onstage, which means that during the course of the day the audience will witness a rapid-fire succession of brilliant speakers and performers, with a diverse range of wild ideas that will hopefully blend into a coherent theme. The main areas covered will be the creative process; music software and hardware tools and techniques; music in the community; and the future of the music business itself. Mixing up talks, live music, demos and video, along with some of the musical higlights from the last few years of the main TED Conference, I’ll be introducing the program and (hopefully) tying it all together. It promises to be a great day.

The proceedings kick off at 10am and last until 5pm or later. TED events are very interactive, so bring your friends or make new ones. It’s perfectly ok at TED to continue and expand the ideas presented onstage via conversations with complete strangers in the foyer or in the lunch break. Tickets are a very reasonable £20  (£15 if you’re under 27) and you can buy them here.

More information at:

http://www.aldeburgh.co.uk/events/tedx-aldeburgh-music-ideas-worth-spreading-conference

Julian Lennon and the giant banana

August 25th, 2010

For some reason a conversation I had with Julian Lennon years ago came to mind recently. (Sometimes I wonder if events and places from your distant past flash before your eyes right before they fall off the edge of your memory bank forever. That also happens to me with random intersections in cities I used to live in.)

Anyway we were talking about crazy fans. I told him the story of when I accidentally picked a volunteer out of the crowd at a lecture I was giving, who when I asked their name turned out to be a crazy fan I was actually quite scared of.

But Julian went one better. He told me he was doing a live TV show once in NY, David Letterman or the like. This was not that long after his dad’s death. He was sitting at the piano and in the middle of the song (I think it was ‘Saltwater’) a giant banana came and sat next to him on the piano stool. He assumed this was part of the TV production. But at the end of the song the banana produced a notepad and asked for his autograph. It was just some fan who had walked straight in off the street past Security.

Good tip for rock festivals: nobody asks to see your wristband when you’re dressed as a piece of fruit.

The origin of the Nutmeg

August 17th, 2010

I have asked Dave Clark’s permission to reprint this fascinating email he sent me regarding the possible origin of my lifeboat, the Nutmeg of Consolation. The only documentation I have concerning her parent ship is a certificate indicating that she belonged to the HMS Queen Ann. I knew this ship had been damaged by a German sub in WW2 but I didn’t know the details. Read on….

>>

Thomas,

Hello. I’m relatively new to the Flat Earth Society (actually I just joined) but I have been fascinated with your blogs…especially concerning your lifeboat/recording studio. You had written that she came from the HMS Queen Anne , a motor merchant ship built in 1937. I did some research on the Queen Anne and discovered some rare photos of her (see attached). She was anything but glamorous, but beautiful in her own right. Apparently she was a work-horse during her short life—not to mention solid, reliable, and beloved. It looks as though she had two lifeboats on the starboard side, however, the lifeboat in the forward position is smaller than that located behind it, but that may either be the camera angle or my eyes. On her port it looks as though she carried only one lifeboat; and this too looks like the larger one located at the same position on the starboard side. I believe that one of these two aft lifeboats is your Nutmeg of Consolation . If so, there is a fifty-percent chance that your boat was responsible for rescuing over a score of sailors after a German U-Boat attack.

The Queen Anne had left Manchester on 9 February 1943 with Master Charles Hicking Radford at her helm. She was bound for Beirut, Lebanon by way of Capetown, South Africa and was scheduled to make stops at the port of Aden (in today’s Yemen) and Alexandria, Egypt. She was carrying 6,126 tons of government stores and 698 tons of general cargo including explosives. She was never to reach her final destinations. Early in the morning of 10 February 1943, the Queen Anne was attacked by a German U-Boat, U-509, commanded by German naval Captain Werner Witte. Between 26 October 1942 and 2 April 1943, U-509 had attacked 9 British vessels, sinking 6 and damaging 3 others. The Queen Anne was the smallest vessel destroyed by Witte’s torpedoes (which, for some reason, makes me all the more proud of her). Witte attacked the Queen Anne just after her departure from Capetown and she descended to her watery grave just eight miles south-southwest of Cape Agulhas, South Africa.

After sinking the Queen Anne, U-509 was attacked by the ASW trawler St. Zeno . The St. Zeno opened fire on Captain Witte with both gunfire and seven depth charges…but to no avail. U-509 survived unscathed. The St. Zeno rescued 18 sailors from the Queen Anne. It is difficult to know for sure if the sailors were plucked from the water or from a lifeboat. It is certain, however, that 22 more survivors from the Queen Anne did make landfall—via lifeboat—at Bredasdorp near Cape Agulhas. Sadly, the Queen Anne’s master, Charles Radford, along with two crew members and two gunners were lost in the attack and are believed to have gone down with their ship. As for German Captain Witte, he was killed along with his entire crew, 54 men, in the mid-Atlantic on 15 July 1943 by homing torpedoes from “Avenger” aircraft belonging to the USS Santee.

When I look at the pictures of your beautiful Nutmeg of Consolation I only wish she could speak to you and tell you her stories. Perhaps her life was more exciting after 10 February 1943, but I doubt it. I see that since her tenure as a lifeboat she has taken on a both a cabin and wheelhouse and she is more lovely than ever. I once heard a quote long ago that if we ever find ourselves in a lifeboat we must remember to sing! How very ironic. As she looks out to the North Sea from her dry-land home, I don’t sense she misses it much—even when she sees the other ships float past. She did her duty. She sits proud with new paint and a new life. I know that you love her and care for her—perhaps better than she has ever been—and may she ever care for and inspire you! Take care.

Dave Clark

Annotated Bibliography:

The pictures of the Queen Anne were found at http://www.photoship.co.uk/. This fascinating site has four photographs of the Queen Anne as well as countless additional photos of hundreds (if not thousands) of other vessels. The site also includes links to additional databases. For the Queen Anne’s original entries in Lloyd’s Register of Ships see the searchable database at http://www.plimsollshipdata.org/ship.php?ship_id=33064&name=Queen Anne. There are copious amounts of online information regarding German U-Boats, but one of the best is at www.uboat.net. For information on U-509, Captain Werner Witte, and the Queen Anne please see http://www.uboat.net/allies/merchants/ships/2646.html. More on Captain Witte and U-509 may be found in Rainer Busch and Hans-Joachim Roll’s German U-Boat Commanders of World War II: A Biographical Dictionary. This book details the service records of some 1,400 officers of the German Kriegsmarine. See page 291 for U-509.

a strange dinner with Julian Assange of @WikiLeaks

July 30th, 2010

Reading all the furore about WikiLeaks and its mysterious frontman Julian Assange, I feel compelled to tell this story about a recent dinner conversation I had with with him.

It was at a private ‘do’ at a restaurant in Oxford right after TEDGlobal earlier this month. Julian slipped in to the party uninvited, plonked himself down opposite me and ordered some fish. Just that morning he’d given a candid interview to Chris Anderson on the TED stage in which he’d quite convincingly defended Wikileaks and its right/obligation to publish leaked military secrets that, some could argue, put lives and reputations in unnecessary peril. A cloak of secrecy surrounded his visit to the conference and even the TED production team had been kept in the dark about the identity of our surprise final day guest.

Julian Assange is a slender 6′ Australian with a flock of white hair. He cuts a striking figure in a white dress shirt, sneakers and jeans. It struck me that this charismatic guy who’s Public Enemy #1 in the eyes of several large and deadly organisations — not least the CIA — might do better to dye his hair brown and wears specs and an anorak. Sitting across the table from him, I half expected to see a tiny red laser dot dancing across his white shirt. In fact, if you’re going to stick around overnight in a city where you just made a controversial public appearance that was instantly tweeted all over the blogosphere, why not just paint a big red target on your back?

I asked him if he fears for his life. “All the time,” he said, “but if it comes I hope it comes quickly”. (I’m recalling this as accurately as I can.) “Just today after my interview at the Playhouse Theatre, I walked down the street to my hotel, tightly surrounded by a crowd of people wanting to congratulate me, or heckle me or whatever. I got to the concierge desk. As I was waiting to pick up my bag I felt a strange itch on the back of my neck. I felt for it and shit! it was a Band-Aid I’d never seen before. Christ, I thought, this is not good, this could be the bloody end right here, and I looked around for someone scurrying off into the shadows. Did I feel okay? yes, but…. then I realised. It was the sticky tape from the wireless headset microphone I’d just worn for the TED interview.”

Julian Assange left our post-TED party and reportedly gatecrashed another, leaving that one early by the emergency exit, setting off the alarm, choosing a dark back alley to make his escape in preference to the brightly lit Oxford main road. He says WikiLeaks is underfunded. I only hope the company has room in its budget for a little Kevlar in its CEO’s wardrobe.

Just saw an awesome @AnnieLennox soundcheck

July 12th, 2010

I’m at TEDGlobal 2011 in Oxford which starts tomorrow. I just witnessed an awesome Annie Lennox soundcheck in the intimacy of the Playhouse Theatre, where she will be performing solo with piano tomorrow afternoon. She ripped through a selection of recent material as well as a few classic hits. For my part I’ll be playing the ‘Amerikana’ EP in its entirety, joined by pretty much the same band as played at Maverick last week, with the substitution of Rachelle Garniez in place of BJ Cole.

The theatre where TED is held is right across the road from the Ashmolean Museum where my father had his office for most of my childhood when he wasn’t traveling. So it feels a bit like a homecoming to play here. How strange then to songs about crime and suicide in the wild western USA, and halucinogenic reptiles in the Welsh mountains!

BTW if you haven’t already seen it, here’s a series of cool video clips that went up on YouTube today of me on the Nutmeg dissecting the first of the EP tracks ‘Road To Reno.’

PlayItForward

July 8th, 2010

I was invited to take part in an MSNBC panel show entitled PlayItForward, where pundits and futurists get on their soapboxes about various current issues relating to technology, music etc. and the audience gets to vote on who they agree with. Shockingly, my views are not nearly as popular as those of a sexy 26 yr old national tech TV show hostess! The only possibly reason I can think of is that she has enlisted the help of her fan community to jack up her votes. So if you’ve got a moment (and if you agree with what I’m saying, of course) please visit one of these URLs and vote for me!

http://playit4ward.msn.com/?section=articles&topic=1210886&dataID=dolby_hits&source=msnhp
http://playit4ward.msn.com/?section=articles&topic=1210888&dataID=dolby_lasting&source=msnhp
http://playit4ward.msn.com/?section=articles&topic=1210886&dataID=dolby_method&source=msnhp
http://playit4ward.msn.com/?section=articles&topic=1210887&dataID=dolby_album&source=msnhp
http://playit4ward.msn.com/?section=articles&topic=1210894&dataID=dolby_shared&source=msnhp
http://playit4ward.msn.com/?section=articles&topic=1210887&dataID=dolby_value&source=msnhp
http://playit4ward.msn.com/?section=articles&topic=1210886&dataID=4_Thomas_Soapbox&source=msnhp
http://playit4ward.msn.com/?section=articles&topic=1210887&dataID=5_Thomas_Soapbox&source=msnhp
http://playit4ward.msn.com/?section=articles&topic=1210888&dataID=6_Thomas_Soapbox&source=msnhp
http://playit4ward.msn.com/?section=articles&topic=1210894&dataID=12_Thomas_Soapbox&source=msnhp

Maverick Music Festival report

July 7th, 2010

I had a fantastic time at last weekend’s Maverick Music Festival in Suffolk, UK. The band and I spent all Saturday shooting a jolly but low-budget video for ‘Toad Lickers’ in an old milking barn, with noted video director Paul D. accompanied by two wonderful burlesque artistes and a group of volunteer line dancers. Several were from the Flat Earth Society, as well as from the Maverick crowd at large. FES members also helped out with moving gear and hay bails, travel, and production assistance.

It was quite a shift to go straight from the video shoot to the live stage in another barn, with no sound check. My band consisted of Justin Hildreth (drums), Matthew Seligman (bass), Kevin Armstrong (guitar), Aaron Jonah Lewis (fiddle and banjo), BJ Cole (pedal steel and Dobro) and Barbara Ann Spencer (backing vocals) as well as the aformentioned burlesque pair Sophie St Villier and Millie Dollar. The audience was terrific, and very open-minded considering my style is somewhat broader and more ironic than many of the old time country and folk acts on the bill. We played the three songs from my current Amerikana EP ‘Toad Lickers’, ‘Road To Reno’ and ’17 Hills’, as well as Cajun-tinged oldies ‘Silk Pyjamas’ and ‘I Love You Goodbye.’ It felt pretty good to give the new songs an airing for the first time, and we’ll be performing them again at next week’s TEDGlobal Conference in Oxford.

I’ll be posting links to some more of NKGuy’s great photos in the next couple of days, but here’s one for starters:

see you at the Maverick Festival gig July 3rd

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

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!

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