happy xmas. *hic*.
Thursday, December 25, 2003
Thursday, December 18, 2003
First photos from the Pressure Point gig are now up on the Assistant website! The gig went really well; we got an MD recording of the first two songs which I'll try to make available soon. Our next gig is at the Spice of Life in Soho on January 17th, supporting Girlinky (who, supporting us at the PP, were great) - there's some further information here,
Monday, December 01, 2003
Thursday's gig at the Pavilion Tavern went well. We were beset by technical problems, unfortunately - we couldn't get the 303 working so we had to drop 'Engines and Anvils', and the first couple of songs were affected by Pete's guitar amp cutting out, which was a bit of a shock at the time, but we kind of got on with it without too many problems. The set seemed to lag a bit in the middle so we skipped 'A Century too'. I don't know, for some reason I felt I was missing confidence this time; but all the same - I think we were good, and people were very nice afterwards. The set was
1. Get Away
2. You Should Know
3. Easy to Leave
4. John Wyndham
5. Vine to Vine
6. It's Alright
And, on a couple of occasions (Easy to Leave, Vine to Vine and Freaks) I thought we sounded really great; but we need to do more gigs, I think - the other bands, Everything Crash and Feline Dream had much more in the way of self-assurance than us. Nevertheless, some things we did on Thursday we did better than ever before. It was great having the keyboards, great playing Easy to Leave, and I thought I perhaps came across better; I tried to actually talk to the audience every now and again, and that helped. We gave away quite a few CDs too, and spoke to some lovely people afterwards. And got quite drunk :-)
Had a nice weekend afterwards; I had Friday off so I spent most of it playing bits of music, listening to Momus, Bedsit Bomber, Aesop Rock and Van Der Graaf Generator and looking forward to Vic coming home. We went to the pub on Saturday with Anne-So, Sam, Pete, Mark and one of Pete's old friends, and Sam (who had started earlier than the rest of us) fell asleep, meaning that we could poke him, insult him, pour beer down his nose etc without him minding, which was nice. Went back to theirs afterwards and drank revolting schnapps and watched 'The Daytrippers' and dozed. When we left, about twoish, Vic just hared away from the front door and ran down the street. I tried to follow, running up on the high grass verge, and tripped, doing a tremendous drunken semi-somersault. Pete says the last he saw I was lying on my back on the wet grass laughing. Left my glasses where I lay, too, but rescued them the next morning. Phew.
Hangover on Sunday, which meant painful visit to Waitrose with a sore head and later, Love Actually at the Odeon. I may be tempted to go into this in some detail later, but for now suffice it to say that, even to a seasoned champion of Notting Hill and About a Boy, it was the most transparently manipulative, cynical, misogynistic and offensive film I ever seen. Utterly stunningly bad. Ah well. Charles II, a bit later on the BBC, was fine, but I couldn't help thinking it was Freddie Mercury.
Thursday, October 30, 2003
Brighton is, I'm told, buzzing with excitement with Radio 1 down to stay for the week. Apart from a noticeable increase in young men with feathered hair in the Station on Monday night, I've not seen much evidence. Last night's Careless Talk Costs Lives gig at the Albert was nominally a radio 1 event, but there was little to denote the fact except a banner behind the stage. It was the Everett True show, really - he compered, DJed and - as his alter ego The Legend! - played the second set of the night.
I've wanted to see La Momo for ages, having admired their website and influences previously, and they were no dissapointment, better than the first band on stage has right to be. Doing that hyperactive space-rock thing with a clattery drum machine and a bit of gusto, they were occasionally brilliant - when the singer added a tom drum to the mix they invariably sounded twice as good, just as they did when their odd and stretching backing vocals added peculiar harmonies. I really enjoyed their set - they made me think of The Residents 'Hello Skinny', which was fine.
The Legend! did a good job, it must be recorded, of emptying the room. One wonders whether their set (beer and poetry over taped piano and a squalling guitar) would be tolerated if it was anyone other than Everett True centre stage. Probably not. Nevertheless, I'm not being deliberately provocative when I say that I enjoyed the set through my furrowed brow, and - alone it seems - never once willed it to end until the final few minutes when it was, perhaps, going on a bit. All the same, it was a kind of hotch-potch of Simon Munnery, avant-mode Sonic Youth and - best of all - Gavin Bryers' unequalled 'Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet'. It was laugh-loud funny in places and I could have danced to it if I wasn't so inhibited. Nevertheless, should anyone tell me it was self-indulgent, over-long and embarrassing, I wouldn't be able to argue. Still, see them once, do.
Miss Pain know how to dance. Or at least, their singer (confusingly also named Miss Pain) does. Miss Pain (collective) are an elegantly conceptualised synth pop act with dashings of punk guitar - Goldfrapp and Huggy Bear in air-hostess uniform. I envied them their lovely keyboards and their bravery. They dispensed Mills and Boon novels, circulated a mirror to be kissed, sang through a megaphone and fell over lots. Their songs were called things like 'Campari and Sex', but I saw them having crafty swigs of Grolsch between songs. It kind of gave them away. They were great.
Thursday, October 09, 2003
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
I always tended to write Billy Bragg off on account of his stullifying earnestness, and I certainly don't recommend too much listening to his music. In isolation, however, some of his songs are stunning, and - all round - it's pretty hard to resist the general feeling of geniality towards him.
Went to Waterstones at lunch and read some of Michael Moore's new book, the brilliantly named 'Dude, Where's My Country' and noticed ruefully that the book is priced at £17.99. Whose side are you on Mike?! I can't remember Billy Bragg, an equally direct if rarely as funny kind of activist, ever pricing himself so out of the market. Indeed, his new triple CD (though a retrospective) is only eleven pounds. I know this because, after going to Waterstones (or the pub), going to MVC to see what dross is on their listening post is my wasting-my-lunch hour-method of choice. The choice is usually pretty crap, and the only good record on there recently (the new album from the intriguingly un-starry Siobhan Donaghy) I've already heard. But the Billy Bragg record was on there today and I thought I'd listen back to some of those early songs which, despite their earnestness, bear repeated listening (I suggest three years apart, or every time Tony Blair does something right, whichever comes soonest).
Between The Wars still raises hairs, crackling on the nape of my neck. But how naive it sounds now - and how far away his sentiments seem. It's the kind of song that makes you want to belong. But how? Can I really claim that my England is 'the green field and the factory floor'? Or hanker after England 'Between the Wars' And what do you when that history hasn't been passed down to you, or is as unfamiliar as an overheard conversation? You stand in MVC until your lunch hour ends and walk back to work wondering whether you can pay £17.99, or £11.99, for someone else's heritage - Flint, Michigan or Barking.
Tuesday, October 07, 2003
Lots of reading recently; the Guardian is going through a purple patch at the moment, with great recent articles by Jon Ronson and Michael Moore, an interview with Rod Liddle and more besides. The new Martin Amis novel - Yellow Dog - is deliciously Amisian, as was the following exchange, reported in the Guardian
On Friday's Night Waves (Radio 3), Martin Amis talked movingly about getting older, writing, and smoking. He was brittle and brilliant on the subject of hostile reviews from younger writers. "The Matts, the Nats, and Theos and Jeds... I only have to see these Christian names to know I'm going to get a stinking review. If they're called Brett or Toby, I've had it. They're Christian names and I'm a surname in the most horribly resonant way."
And still enjoying, though still perplexed by the musical references, Blissblog.
I sometimes think I would rather read about music than listen to it - there are many bands who I have read about and felt transfixed by the idea of, who in reality have in some way failed to meet the expectation I had; have not matched up to the hyperbole of their reviews. I don't mean rubbish like The Libertines or The White Stripes who are talked up and never deliver, but the kind of bands whose description summons up oblique and unfamiliar concepts which are out of the realm my experience.
So when I read about the icy robotic future-funk of Kraftwerk I imagined something very different to what I heard (and liked) later on. Later still I heard a little known group called Clatterbox who sounded exactly as I expected Kraftwerk to sound. That doesn't happen very often. You can't get their record now but I'll copy it for you if you ask. Still - imagined music can be more real that the real thing, and the real thing a disappointment - witness The Residents, Van der Graaf Generator, Lee Scratch Perry, Pole, 'Sandanista' by the Clash, early Detroit Techno, OutKast, Syd Barrett, Aaliyah.
That's not to say that those artists aren't (sometimes) brilliant, but they sounded better when I was just imagining their 'electronic dub / pyschadelia / pre-punk prog / progressive hip hop etc. Anyway. Looking again at Blissblog I notice that Simon Reynolds says of a piece of writing...
Course I'd much rather prefer to read this description than actually listen to a Dillinja record these days
So it's not just me. Anyway, spent much of last night listening to Dizzee Rascal and the convoluted point to all this is.... that his record is every bit as magnificent as the writing of Reynolds and Alexis Petridis led me to expect.
Monday, October 06, 2003
We had a fun rehearsal on Saturday; Pete was in Oxford and, though it's never as good when one of us can't make it, it usually gives us an opportunity to spin off in a different direction. We rehearsed a few new songs - Easy to Leave, which is coming together around it's 303 spine, and Vine to Vine, which Anne-Sophie sang, and which sounded much better for it. The rhythm of the song is misleading and I always struggled to play the (easy) guitar line and sing the chorus simultaneously, so this way I could play the guitar with a bit more vim, and Anne-So's got a better voice than me anyway.
Then we worked on a new song of mine, 'Engines and Anvils' and completely deconstructed it. After a bit of tinkering, it begins with a loping piano riff, adding drums, a weird guitar riff (which we eventually disposed of - Pete can resurrect it perhaps) and an evil sounding synth line on the 303 which threatens to drown all the prettiness of the piano with glitches and bursts of distortion. It builds up and then suddenly breaks back down to another, two chord piano riff and a first appearance of my much-maligned melodica before building up again in a long instrumental passage. I thought it sounded great, probably my second favourite thing we've done in the last few months (after Easy To Leave) and I can't wait to get back to it. So that was good.
Later that day I finally dispensed with my much-and-totally-fairly-maligned computer, thank god. Andrew has just bought a new G5 so he donated his previous Mac to me; am more excited than I should be. iTunes, in particular, is an incentive to sit listening to music all day and night. Hmm - perhaps an incentive I can do without. Nevertheless, it's fab.
Went to The Juggler on Western Rd on Sunday and noticed that everyone had a fashionable t-shirt on except me. Then I remembered I had one on myself (under my jumper), and felt much better subsequently.
Friday, October 03, 2003
sporadic pos(t)er though I am, a couple of blogs have caught my eye recently. Blissblog is maintained by Simon Reynolds, who used to write for the Melody Maker when - for a few years in the early 90s - it combined great music with great writing in a way that's increasingly rare. Reading Blissblog is quite similar to reading MM actually - there's that same feeling that you've stumbled across something rare and exclusive which, if you work at, you might be permitted to share in. It's the opposite philosophy of the modern NME, which editor Conor McNicholas speaks of now as a "club [which is] a hell of a lot easier to join". That's as maybe, but the quality of the journalism is shocking. Blissblog covers 8step and Dizzee Rascal in depth, but the last few week's postings find plenty of opportunities to mention the residents, bleep'n'bass, the byrds, jungle and an intriguing debate about London as the UK's centre of musical innovation.
One blogger who hasn't said anything in the last couple of weeks when half the web has been alight with gossip about the seven players rumoured to be at the centre of the rather horrific rape case in the news, is the author of footblog. Hardly surprising. He is, apparently, a player in a top English team intent, like the wonderful Aki Riihilahti, on demystifying the world of English football. I've got no idea if this is for real, but it's compelling reading regardless. Whether he will address the behaviour of his fellow (cough, cough) professionals, I don't know.
And although everyone seems to know the names of those (apparently) involved, it's hard to see anything but harm coming out of their (surely inevitable) unmasking - another prejudiced trial, though with DNA tests involved this should be a bit less cut and dry. The players involved should be sacked from their clubs if it's proven and their registration's held so they can't pick up their career elsewhere. It'll be interesting to see how ITV deals with the matches involving their teams on Saturday - there's bound to be uproar from the crowd if the players are picked, and if there are chants or banners then ITV risk a libel case themselves. I suppose they will have to edit the sound. Anyway.
Thursday, October 02, 2003
Went to see British Sea Power and the Tenderfoot last night with Vic, Pete, Anne-So and Sam. The Old Market in Hove is a nice venue; somehow reminiscent of a school hall, but with a nice sound and a good atmosphere. The Tenderfoot sounded lovely; they're a very delicate band, very deliberate and precise with faint, pretty tunes and a good line in between-song banter. All the same, they lacked muscle; they reminded me of Tindersticks, a group that never really took their sound anywhere, just down a blind alley - but all the same, you won't hear a better song this year than 'Still Holding My Stomach In'.
BSP, on the other hand, are all taut aggression and drama. Opening with footage from David Lean's 'Great Expectations' and playing an album-heavy set to a lively reception, they were good but short of convincing; the odd song - Lately, and Carrion, particularly - sounded superb, and welded the two extremes of their style (early 80s gloom-rock and sub-N.O.U chaos) well; at other times they were self-indulgent and dull. When I last saw them I didn't know any of the songs and they seemed bright and chaotic - seeing them playing the songs I now know I felt disappointed that they weren't as eccentric as I first thought.
Towards the end of Lately, however, when they dispensed with caution and launched themselves up a gear, they mimicked Pavement's glorious 'Filmore Jive' so accurately that they were briefly transformed. And - conversely - at one point during the flabby encore the singer's 'It's time to get some sleep' refrain echoed the same song's gorgeous 'I need to sleep - why won't you let me?'. But by that point they'd been playing the same two songs relentlessly for the best part of an hour, and it was a question I felt like asking too.
But there's something about them that is endearing; maybe just the fact that they are doing something different, and as a visual spectacle they're still brilliant. It was a good evening - Vic even bought me a t-shirt, which is really nice. It says 'Bravery Already Exists'. Hmm. I suppose it's fairly brave to play a 15 minute instrumental coda at the end of your encore...
Friday, September 05, 2003
All sorts of shifts and changes in the Assistant world lately - me and Vic have been away and moved house, Pete has (currently) about 10 minutes left of his job before he moves to pastures new (well, just down the road), Anne-Sophie came back from Luxembourg, then darted off to Egypt for a holiday, and is coming back this weekend before (gasp) moving house next week. Andy and Ali remain, thankfully, as solid as a rock and the model for any rhythm section. Somewhere in the midst of all this Assistant have tentatively begun to reconvene.
But, true to form, even we've been shifting - so, awkward and hopeful as ever, expect our new stuff to sound newly twitchy and awkward with the return of the keyboards and a new Roland 303, and a bit of Gallic phrasing on the vocals. Still, it's many months since we all played together - hopefully in 8 days we will have. So there's something to look forward to.
Friday, July 25, 2003
Tired and hungover today; out with James and Becky last night which was nice - James's job is going well and he gets to bring home stuffed animals, and Becky has a cool new haircut. We went to Triple Trax at the Belle Vue which seemed to consist of lots of different DJs playing the same record (a notable exception for the chap with a very small head - not much bigger than an acorn - who played Bad by Michael Jackson).
Spending much of this weekend packing, I think, though hopefully I'll find some time for a bit of recording. Have written a few new songs in the last month or two and am slowly piecing them together using Reason. They're generally pretty good, kind of frail, spidery songs with tuff bass lines and metronomic drum-beats. They're nice, half-songs with half-tunes and half-lyrics. But using Reason is a long process; drawing in the notes slowly, my computer crashing, not having enough time. I can't remember the last time I strummed my guitar.
Here the weather has been abysmal but it's just brightening up. Please give me a weekend.
Thursday, July 24, 2003
Ah, a really busy day at work today. Last night we went over to see Andrew and wish him a happy birthday; ended up drinking champagne and playing with his new midi keyboard, sparking off a happy, fresh new obsession. Well, considering the parlous state of my finances, not too happy.
A splendid article on Idi Amin in the Guardian today by Giles Foden. The cover of his book, The Last King of Scotland, has transfixed me periodically in bookshops over the years. Perhaps I shall read it now.
Meanwhile, Assistant re-convene on the 5th August. It's official.
Tuesday, July 22, 2003
Seeing as Assistant are on something of a summer holiday, I thought I'd use this as something more of a personal blog for a few weeks; it's a nice summer but pretty much all I'm doing is flat hunting and preparing to move. Well, actually, am pretty much there now, but it's a busy few months. No Assistant activity for a while, but I have a few new songs and we're getting ready to go again.
There was a good article in the Guardian today; an interview with the wonderful terry hall - his new album sounds interesting; with Mushtaq from Fundamental he's produced a pop album which blends (apparently) hebrew with arabic vocals. Somehow Hall manages to be both earnest and near-mute without sacrificing his amazing charisma. Anything he does, I will always be interested.
Meanwhile, the new album from recent Warp signings !!! (pronounced chk chk chk) is amazing, and XTC are still, emphatically still, the greatest band there has ever been.
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
back into the studio last night! or rather, back into the rehearsal room with Ali's 8 track. He recorded the drums to six songs a month or so ago and we've been sitting on them ever since waiting for an opportunity to add to them. Last night we put guitars and bass on four of them - sleepwalk, tonight, john wyndham and it's alright. recording stuff is about striking a balance that you can only master once you've had a bit of experience - the novice is drawn to one of two camps; being wilfully neglectful and not clearing up mistakes, or being really anal and wanting to do everything 50 times. I guess I come down towards the neglectful side, only because I err towards thinking everything we do sounds great, and because I love so many records that are in some way flawed (there's a great song on Pavement's 'Watery Domestic' EP with a few dropped drum beats which I wouldn't have smartened up for all the tea in Sussex). Plus I read that XTC biography (Chalkhills and Children) and saw how Andy Partridge's perfectionism and pedantry made every single album a trauma and seem a compromise. Not that I compare last night with a month in a garden shed being terrorised by Todd Rundgren. Anyway, so we recorded quickly again, fixing the odd mistake but not worrying unduly. It gives you quite a sense of satisfaction, making these loud noises and then just letting them be; far better (I reckon) then getting obsessional. We'll do two more next week, and vocals.
Tuesday, May 06, 2003
Two bits of news to be going on with...
1. The Assistant website can now be found at the flash sounding http://www.assistant.org.uk, or here, if you wanna go there right now. There's a new message board, too
2. We're (probably) playing the Pav Tav again on June 12th. Keep an eye on our news page for details.
Friday, May 02, 2003
Last night's gig at the Pavilion Tavern was a success in just about every way I think. Having played the first gig without really relaxing I kind of wondered if you ever did, when you were on stage in front of people. But at this one we were confident and relaxed, really enjoying the experience. The Pav Tav, despite what you might think, is a really good place for a gig (at least the wooden decor complete with crests upon the windows and earthenware pots on shelves behind the stage tickled my imagination) and the set we played was a definite improvement. Her Own Escape, who we supported, were very good, sweeping, overwrought and dramatic and featuring some fine guitar playing (apart from the solos, which were probably good but I think solos are generally pretty horrible unless it's me or Pete playing them). They were young and dedicated and impressive. Vic said that when we played we were very different; grinning and laughing and drinking - but I don't think that matters. I'm neither studious nor detached, and, furthermore, I rather think I am a fool. I looked up lots more during this gig and, I have to say, I liked the attention. Couldn't stop grinning like an idiot though. It was a good show.
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Wednesday, April 09, 2003
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
New songs then. We've worked on three in the last few weeks. The first week after we finished the demo we decided to have another play of one of my older songs - You should know - which has hung around on the edges all this time without ever being worked out. We added a kind of instrumental section to the verses which, back home when I was trying to work out words, became a a nice, high pitched, dramatic chorus. Playing it together again Pete added some backing vocals and we reversed the quiet verse / loud chorus approach of the demo to make it a little odder and sweeter. It sounds good.
Next we worked on a great song of Andy's which, on first play, came across a bit like an early Blur number. By the time we'd mucked about with it a bit it had acquired a slightly darker hue but retained a big, rolling chorus which would have not have been discarded by even the most discerning of late 80s indie-dance acts. It doesn't have a name yet I don't think. But it's a really good one.
Lastly, a rare day off from work earlier in the month gave me the opportunity to turn a short bit of guitar I've been playing for a while into a whole song - probably the song I've been most pleased with since I wrote Losin My Mind nearly a year ago. I'm really enthusiastic about it; it's kinda Smithsy, Idlewildy - potentially much more of a 'song' than my usual efforts. We only played it together briefly last week. But it's next on the list. Being for once proud of the lyrics, you can read them here...
Thursday, March 13, 2003
The longer you leave it the harder it becomes to write. That's one kind of fact. But another is that the longer you leave it the less is required. Details which might have seemed essential a few weeks ago don't seem to matter so much now. So I don't have to go through every middle eight.
So what have we done this last month or so? We did a demo, which meant I had to re-write some lyrics, having failed to revise the improvised ones I'd come up with when the songs were written. So I did a little but they seem to have acquired meaning without still very much meaning anything at all. Although they don't mean what I might once have thought they would later mean, instead they mean what I was thinking when we wrote the song. They recall that experience, and for me their meaningless doesn't seem to matter so much. It becomes part of the point of the song. Hmm - maybe I try too hard to rationalise my laziness. But if I am attracted to the first take of a guitar line and reluctant to perfect it (which I am, and see no problem with) why do I feel nervous about the words? Because they are words, and I know what words mean, I suppose, whereas notes and chords are alien things which I can strike if I wave my arms frantically in the air. I think. Ah well.
The demo came out really well; recorded fairly quickly, pretty much live and without too much fuss. You can hear the four songs here. We're pleased with them, so pleased that we plan to do some more soon.
This done, there's a strange kind of release. Hearing the recordings back was like readng a letter from a child that you'd released into the world; a letter that told you they were getting on fine. That was one less song to worry about. Or four less, rather.
here's a good link - Agony Andy
Tuesday, March 11, 2003
This week one fifth of Assistant is listening to
1. Blur - Think Tank LP (Their best album in a long time)
2. The Futureheads - 1-2-3-Nul! EP (Terrific art-pop from Sunderland)
3. Har Mar Superstar - Power Lunch (don't know what to say about this)
4. Faust - The Lurcher (incredible Peel session version)
5. Aphex Twin - Bociferous Bouncing Ball (Vic Reeves played it on Desert Island Discs! great)
Tuesday, March 04, 2003
Once again I am fillin in details retrospectively, which is not really the way I wanted this diary to be updated but I've been busy lately, so.
Last night (I'm pretending this was really written on the 4th March) we did some more recording. Readers who don't remember any being done in the first place can be reassured by the fact that I never mentioned it. But last week Andy, Pete and Ali recorded two tracks using Ali's fabulous 8-track recorder, and we did two more today. We've been weighing up the idea of going and doing a proper studio demo for a while now but in the end worked out that with Ali's equipment (and considerable talents as a producer) we can get four tracks sorted out during our normal weekly rehearsals. Today certainly seemed to bear that out. I haven't heard the products of last week's session (Bomba and No-one Need Ever Know) yet so I'll just concentrate on what we did today.
Which was basically whizzy, no frills but great-sounding instrumental demos of Losin My Mind and Get Away. We did our thing. Ali bashed away at his drums (at a deafening volume), me and P hacked at our guitars and Andy played all sorts of scattered, brilliant basslines what you can only hear proper once you've recorded it, or you're not thrashing away at your guitar elsewhere in the room at the same time. We did a few basic overdubs, marvelled at the technical wizardry of Ali, and packed up.
And bands spend years in the studio! Next week - vocals and a bit more guitar... then we should be done.
Friday, February 28, 2003
Just a quick note - I don't know how to make a guestbook or anything like that, but there's one on the Assistant homepage, so if you'd like to leave a message you can do so by following the links below.
Monday, February 24, 2003
On Wednesday 19th February 2003 Assistant became a figment of reality. It was one of the strangest and longest days in memory, actually, seeming to last forever as the day shifted agonising towards our set, and then to rocket by in a flash as though time was being stretched out like an elastic band and then pinged back fast into normality.
At around 11am I had a phone call from Ben, the thoroughly nice bloke who runs the Bootleggers Ball, telling me that, amongst other things, we’d be headlining the night, which came as a bit of a shock as we assumed that we would in effect be the third band in the scheme of the things. As it turned out, only ourselves and The Candidates played. Nevertheless all of a sudden the wait until we were on was lengthened yet further. Headlining would mean we wouldn’t be on stage until midnight. Which left plenty of time, of course, for nerves.
But it didn’t actually quite happen that way – all along I thought that I would feel terrible before the gig and fantastic during it, but I didn’t feel too bad – if anything more nervous on stage that off. When we started playing I didn’t relax instantly the way I thought I might - it made me think of being in a car and being unable to apply the brakes; one has to just keep going and turning the corners. But we didn’t crash.
After a really long day we met at the venue at 7pm, and carried out our first soundcheck; I suppose it was at this point that we were at our most panicky; the dynamics of am empty club are strange, cold, and a bit intimidating. Conversely Ben and The Candidates were welcoming and friendly. Once we were on stage and playing it felt amazing, actually, although again it’s a disorientating experience – the temptation, particularly, to put one’s head down and sing through the nose at minimal volume is great. But it doesn’t work that way – to make yourself heard you have to really project. Actually, credit should go to Andy here, who ripped through Bomba with gusto. Soundchecking Losin’ My Mind, with it’s glottal stops and half-spontaneous lyrics made me feel extremely silly, but the other band met it with it with warm, kind applause. Suddenly a cloud of nervousness was lifted, for which I have to thank them, and us, for it was at that point when I first thought ‘maybe we’re just like any other band, not something which will incite pity or embarrassment'. So I felt OK from there.
Yet the downside of soundchecking so early and playing so late meant that we now had three and a half hours to kill. Ali, once more showing a sensibility beyond his years decided to go home and relax. Anne-Sophie, Pete, Andy and myself, demonstrating a mentality symptomatic of our lifestyles, went to the pub, but not until we had met up with friends – Victoria, Sam, Andrew, Chris and one or two others. It was a comfort to know that there were people around who would treat us kindly, and good to see people like Chris travelling to Brighton to see us. Good work. Arriving at the venue we found further friends; Carrie, Jeanne, David from The Feline Dream and various other mates. Thanks for coming down to those people.
All the same the reality tends to kick in at this point and you find yourself thinking ‘my god, is this really happening?’. Several times throughout the night I found myself suddenly remembering that I would be onstage in a matter of hours where I had all but forgotten moments earlier.
The Candidates went onstage at about 11.15. We were lucky to have such a nice band to be playing with us; the singer even going so far as to intimate they were there to ‘warm up’ the crowd for us. The Candidates themselves were, I thought, very good – tuneful, classic indie pop with warmth and feeling. The singer in particular was charismatic and funny, a good frontman. They were at least as good as any number of bands in the limelight at the moment. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to play with them again, and maybe we could warm up their fans next time.
Once they finished there was a lull as we suddenly realised that in the following moments we would have to get ourselves together and prepare to play. I seemed to spend the entire next twenty minutes on the stage looking nervously at my guitar and out into the crowd, who had gathered in reasonable numbers around the stage. I still didn’t feel that nervous, but instead like a bit of an imbecile, awkwardly out front when I wanted to be tucked into the crowd. We didn’t know when to start. We got pretty much ready and then me and Pete went and bought a beer each. We must have been nervous by then because as I write this my stomach is churning a little with tension, remembering how it felt. Now I can feel my hands tingling a bit. But we got on stage OK and the music stopped. I decided not to say anything until the first song was over. And then we played It’s Alright.
Everyone warned me in advance that the easiest trap to fall into is playing too fast. And falling to me as it did to start the first song, I scrunched my eyes up and tried to play it slow. As the opening chords came out it sounded like I was playing them at half the usual pace. By the time the drums and bass had joined in I realised the pace was right. Which just goes to show how difficult it was keeping the songs under control. The song went well though – Ali curtailed the close as we had discussed, reasoning that although it’s tempting to be as difficult as possible, doing so in the first song when you’ve already dispensed with the idea of having a chorus may not be the most inclusive idea. So we cut it short, and did it right.
From there on in (for a while) it was pretty good. Losin’ My Mind we played a bit too fast but after that Bomba and Broken were much improved. Playing Get Away I thought to myself ‘This is probably as good as we’ve played’, and I think I was right – when we get this song right we sound fantastic. It's strange that this song seems to have just evolved into something without us directing it. I can't remember how it all came together, who suggested which chords, when the chorus acquired lyrics, how we managed to impose some kind of form onto it - but it works well. At the gig we gave this one everything we had. We sang and we smiled and we bashed at our guitars until they were thoroughly, hopelessly out of tune.
And had no tuning pedals to help us correct the problem. Obviously it’s common practice to have them but we didn’t really give it much thought and didn’t have time to get ourselves back in tune onstage. It was awkward. The remaining songs were done well enough but everything was accompanied by cautious glances between us as we tried to work out just how mis-aligned our de-tuned strings were. There was a definite loss of confidence. At the time, I felt we'd blown it. An over-reaction, judging by the kind and enthusiastic reports we got afterwards, but I felt a bit shaken and upset that the good start hadn't been maintained. It seemed so obvious too that it would happen, and that we didn't have the means to get it right felt so unfair. Of course, if we had brazened it out a bit more people might hardly have noticed, but...
It didn't matter, not really. Of the remaining songs Freaks in particular stood out as a song that'll just get better and better, and the rest probably sounded pretty good too, but for the fact that that feeling of confidence had gone a little; it does make a difference you see – it’s the difference between singing at full pelt and falling away, between really playing with conviction and abandon and going – to an extent – through the motions. But when we finished the crowd cheered, and it wasn’t long after that that we had time to think and realised 'fuck it, we enjoyed that'. And we can be much better next time. We will be.
And how does it feel being on stage playing? It is scary, but it is exhilarating. It is exciting, buoying, brilliant, but it needs confidence and it needs you to be able to say 'fuck it'; it can be a strain to stay on top of the momentum and a strain to keep your head. But god, it's fun.
Most of all, though, it's over much, much too soon.
Tuesday, February 11, 2003
not having been that good at keeping up with my diary recenty, I feel like a guilty husband who has to return home to tell all. Okay, not that bad but I sympathise with him if he ever thought he had nothing more to say to his wife. Maybe that's what happens when you keep rehearsng without other diversions along the way. But I'm not saying that recent rehearsals have been boring or that any of my enthusiasm has dampened. Nevertheless, I was wondering what I would keep writing about the band and our slow march of practice sessions on this site, what I could say which wouldn't bore you (the hypothetical you) to tears, or worse, which would singularly fail to do justice to the giddy pleasure of being in our band. Despite the fact that we were just rehearsing and not playng live or recording, I haven't been bored. But finding the words to reflect this enthusiasm is very difficult. Maybe I find it easier playing guitar than I do writing? I don't think so, but all the same, where do you go when your diary becomes a weeping wife? Why do the boring keep these things? Why be reminded?
But (there's a but), there has been some news. So now I get to confess all, and finally write something interesting.
First (and best), Assistant will be playing our first ever gig at Casablancas in Brighton on Wednesday 19th February 2003. Details can be got from the Assistant website. The night is known as The Bootlegger's Ball, and is a new (and seemingly successful) Band Showcase night; three bands playing and running from 9.30 'til 2 in the morning. We don't yet know what time we are on but we've been promised a 30/40 minute set, which is really good, as it cuts down the problem of culling our set (of which more later) and means we have time to play a few songs. I don't know who else is playing yet either, but the increasingly in-the-public-eye Clearlake headlined last week, so I don't think we are dealing with quite the same level of amateurism as we did in our ultmately fruitless contact with The Toad last year. Pete went to watch the first night and noted all the (reassuring or panic-inducing?) signs - the sound is good, the evening was well attended. And we may be nervous but we are also ready, so I'm looking forward to it unashamedly, without reserve. About fucking time, too.
2. And bad news always follows good. Well, news which has sorrowful ramifications for the band anyway. Anne-Sophie, our dazzlingly continental keyboardist, has just got a job in Luxembourg. Of couse,this is jolly good news for her, but it means that she is leaving us, at least she is assuming that she does not come back to Brighton. In the hope that she will, we're calling it a sabattical. Who knows though - she'll be greatly missed, and not just coz she makes cool noises. This makes attendence at next week's gig doubly essential, I need scarcely hasten to add - if you want to see the five-piece in all it's angular glory, that is.
3. Not so much news, I suppose, but an update on rehearsals is probably due. Mostly we've been working on refining the set, although we've found time to do some more work on Freaks (now sounding really great) and Sleepwalk (complete with gorgeous intro and a bit less clutter). Trimming our songs down to a setlist has proved really difficult, of course, particularly when people have preferences. Pete and I were musing on how hard it must be to pull together an album. Nevertheless, we decided on a setlist consisting of...
1. It's Alright
2. Losing my Mind
5. John Wyndham
6. Get Away
8. No-one need ever know
11. I want a cigarette.
Having said that, with one rehearsal to go... who knows. This time next week we may be playing a 40 minute bass odyssey.
Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Tuesday, January 21, 2003
A proper rehearsal today, though no Andy, who is off encountering the psychedelics of Love tonight (the pop group, not the emotion). When one person isn’t at a practice it always seems a little strange, you can hear the gaps where he or she would be. Funnily enough though, when you know, for example, a bassline quite well you can kind of hear it in your head even when it isn’t there. Nevertheless, it isn’t quite the same.
Tonight was good though; we played a few of the oldies, slowing cranking ourselves up in volume with each song, and Ali making idle adjustments to his drumkit and sabotaging himself in the process, via new, wrongly weighted drumsticks (sheesh, what a muso) and his adjusted bass pedal. Of all the oldies I was best pleased with Get Away, which we tried to imbue with a little of yesterday’s carefulness, and managed to find new spaces in the noise. Turning to new songs, we had a great time with Sleepwalk, which is shaping up as a great little song, churning away grungily for the first half before Pete’s guitar goes off like a sparkler at the close, leading us to a chiming countrified end. It sounds really nice.
I’d put together a couple of demos in the week and we spent a bit of time working on one of my new songs, which I think we called Islands though that might change. Victoria has accused me of ripping off XTC on this one, and she’s right. It was one of those songs which we played together quickly and satisfyingly, though it needs work. Another simple and maybe promising one. We ended, as is our wont, with an abrupt version of I want a cigarette, within which I screamed myself hoarse. It hurt.
Monday, January 20, 2003
The first in a happily active two days of Assistant activity, just when I was wondering when I'd next get the chance to play. Last week Victoria got a new job which was such good news it felt wrong to rehearse, so while the rest of the band went along as normal and played without me, me and Vic stayed in. Or rather, went out and had a celebratory drink.
So yesterday afternoon, when I went over to Pete's flat to play guitar for a couple of hours, it was, if you'll pardon the expression, fuckin' great. Really nice to do it, and strange that some of our songs seem to work so well acoustically, even Get Away, which tends to get pounded into submission when we play it as a band. Some observations though... I am knock-elbowed; shifting them outwards to accomodate a stretched-out chord is near impossible - I need someone standing nearb y to wrench my arm outwards at the crucial moment. Secondly, my fingers hurt. I sound like I'm moaning now, don't I? Thirdly, I love playing guitar with other people.
I couldn't be less like a bedroom-bound guitar-huggist. Playing alone usually leaves me irritated, unless I happen to chance upon something I like; I don't play just for the pleasure of playing. But I love intermingling the experience of playing with someone else; it's fascinating and fun. It also seems improbable, creating such an improbable sound; all the notes bouncing around off eachother.
Afterwards we went for a drink with Victoria and Andrew. The Belle Vue, the pub at the top of our road, has recently been bought out by the owners of The Freemasons. They've added some lights and hiked up the prices. Hmm. Thanks guys. But we went to The Freemasons for the first time and it's lovely. We aimed for one pint and ended up drinking three or four, as usual. My obsession growing, I talked about html. What has happened to me?
Thursday, January 16, 2003
Thursday, January 09, 2003
Went to the pub with Ali and Carrie last night and tried to make some plans for the coming months. Some of the things that we're going to try to do in the next month or two include..
- finishing off old songs; we've got about six or seven unfinished songs which need tidying up and being sent off into their world so that new ones can grow in their place
- recording: we're thinking we might try to get a live studio recording of our set; not through an MD, a proper recording
- gigs: we'll get some - possibly trying to play with the fantastic The Feline Dream, whom we like.
- demos; we're building up a list of local press / industry / gig contacts but if anyone out there knows of newspapers, venues, clubs or websites which may be of interest, or which may be interested in Assistant, do let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org - we're always grateful to friends, and have long memories...
Tuesday, January 07, 2003
(spots pattern emerging) No rehearsal last night as Ali's band, Over Sea Under Stone, played at the Freebutt - me, Pete, Anne-So and Sam went to cheer them on; they were loud and a bit pissed off; few new songs and um it looked like they didn't want to be there. I'd still take them over a million Electric Soft Parades or Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disasters though. But Luke, really... stop wearing sunglasses. Please.
Friday, January 03, 2003
Ah, I like Christmas carols, although I realised the other day that, the odd memorable bit aside, I don't actually know the words to anyway. Any sing along instigated in the Shipley household would mean a lot of 'hmm nnng la-la-la'ing. Luckily, no such chore was required; a few dirges buzzed away on the radio in the background, but Christmas back in London with my family was a reasurringly irrelegious affair - the nearest we got was a Bob Dylan compilation I bought my dad (Dylan was, apparently, God, but the he went 'electric' and became the Devil, something like that, I dunno, I'll ask Pete).
Well we didn't get another rehearsal in before Christmas, which is why the site hasn't been updated for a couple of weeks and the diary has no new (pretentious, I'm informed) musings. So today's diary entry is rather less band-related than usual. I haven't yet seen everyone from the band again so I dunno how their Christmasses went -well, I hope. Rehearsals and diary entries proper will resume again soon, I promise....