Previously…

16 Apr
The Beehive, Swindon

The Beehive, Swindon

A very belated happy new year to you all! What a slacker I’ve been – last November was my last update. Since then I’ve reached the grand old age of fifty (yes, I know, hard to believe given my youthful exuberance and good looks) and also celebrated thirty years of being in the music business. Christmas and Easter have been and gone and although much beer was drunk over the festive season I managed to avoid the other brown devil that is chocolate.

It’s been a strange start to the year in terms of gigs. A trip to the USA with Sons of the Delta to play at this year’s Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale was cancelled due to a clash of commitments for some of the guys, a mini-tour of Spain was put on ice due to the major recession over there and here booking gigs has been harder work for the same reason, apart from our favourite regular venues who know a good thing when they see it and continue to re-book us.

What do musicians do when they are not gigging as much? No, the answer is not ‘starve’ thankfully (not yet anyway!). They write songs and record, so it’s good that both the Sons of the Delta and the Jigantics are both working on new albums. Because of the different styles of music in each band, the approach to the recording process is a little different. For the Jigantics it will be our debut album so everyone in the band is keen to make it as representative as possible. That means it needs to highlight the strengths of the band – especially the great arrangements and lovely harmonies. In light of recent changes to arrangements some of the tracks currently recorded will be remixed, others may be re-recorded and a few newer songs in the set will be recorded for the first time. So although things are well on the way, it may be a few months yet until the album is finished. The Sons of the Delta album will be our third and will have a mixture of duo and band numbers, representing both aspects of the Sons. The first two albums were pretty much all original numbers and although album three will still have plenty of great originals we are planning to record some of our audience’s favourite covers. I’m finishing some demos of the new originals so that I can distribute them to the rest of the band prior to us putting in some hard work on learning them. Then it will be off to the studio to spend a solid weekend recording the band songs – none of this ‘we were in the studio for two months’ malarkey! The duo numbers are less demanding of everyone’s time and so Rick and I will work on and record those on a rolling basis.

I’m looking forward to the summer now – recording, various festival slots for both the Sons of the Delta and the Jigantics and my great friends the Myers Brothers are coming over from Ottawa late July to play at the Upton Blues festival, the Gloucester Blues Festival and several other dates. Can’t wait! I will try to keep you updated a bit more regularly…

November

28 Nov
The crowd at the Arriola XXII JazzBlues Festival in Elorrio

The crowd at the Arriola XXII JazzBlues Festival in Elorrio

November has very much been a behind the scenes month with not a lot of public activity apart from a few gigs, most notable among those being our gig at the Arriola XXII JazzBlues Festival in Elorrio up in the beautiful Basque country near Bilbao. As always, the capacity crowd was really appreciative and danced for pretty much the entire three hours of the performance. There are a few photos from the trip on the Sons of the Delta Facebook page. We look forwards to heading back over to Spain next year.

I’ve been busy writing new songs for the next Sons of the Delta album with at least four songs in the bag and a few more on the way. The album will be a mix of band and duo songs to best represent both permutations of the Sons live. The songs on the first two albums have all been originals but on the new album we may include studio versions of a few cover songs that we do live, mostly obscure and re-worked, that always go down well and have become favourites with the audiences. I’d like to avoid any obvious covers – ones that have been covered a hundred times before – as that would be lazy and not really add anything to the global blues collection.

The Jigantics debut albums moves forward. Most of the recording has been completed so now comes the task of mixing. There is an equation when it comes to  studio time: allow twice as long for the mixing as you did for the recording. So with that in mind, the album is still a little way off but hopefully not too long!

the Myers Brothers Band, who I had the privilege of gigging and recording with in Ottawa in October, have just released their latest album ‘Drive’. The album was recorded during both my trips over to Ottawa and I am delighted to be involved in the project both as a guest performer (harmonica and Hammond organ) and as co-producer. The album is available now as a download via CDBaby – click here to visit the page – and the CDs will be available in the next few weeks. A big thank you to Mike and Stevie for inviting me over and I look forward to revisiting Canada next year.

If you want a flavour of our trips over to Mississippi, try and watch ‘Rick Stein Tastes The Blues’. It’s no longer on the BBC iPlayer so you’ll have to keep an eye open for its appearance on YouTube. He meets several of our Clarksdale friends and also stays in the very shack at the Shackup Inn that we stayed at last April. The programme is a great mixture of music and food, so what’s not to like?

Right, I’ve got another tune in my head so I’m off to do some more songwriting.

Canada

2 Nov
The Myers Brothers Band with Mark Cole at the Rainbow, Ottawa

The Myers Brothers Band with Mark Cole at the Rainbow, Ottawa

I did take my laptop to Canada but I was way too busy to think about anything other than the odd Facebook update and too busy since my return to do this post.

Canada was, as expected, fantastic and the Myers brothers looked after me exceptionally well. Last year when I visited we recorded the basic tracks for an album and we were determined to get the album finished this trip. But first we had our Ottawa gigs – Saturday night at the Bass Line Station and Sunday night at the prestigious Rainbow, Ottawa’s long-established premiere blues venue. Both gigs went really well and it was a special joy to play at the Rainbow and to add my name to the many famous names written all over the dressing room walls (thanks to Jamie Cashin for his Rainbow gig photo at the top of this post). The Myers brothers, with Pepé Lopez Jr. on drums and myself on harp and occasional slide guitar, kept the venues rocking with two sets totalling nearly three hours. Those boys deliver! Back to the recording and we managed to get some of Mike’s vocals completed at the Ottawa studio early the following week then it was off to Mike’s lakeside cottage up in Quebec. Most of the time was spent at Pine Door Studios finishing the vocals, some extra guitar work and mixing down but we had some time to relax at the cottage and take the boat out. You can’t beat the taste of food cooked out on the BBQ next to the lake! On Saturday night we made the short trip through the woods to Maniwaki and played at Le Resto. It was a return visit and I really enjoyed catching up with the friends I had made at the gig there last year. They are a really appreciative and friendly crowd who really know how to party! Everyone was up dancing from the first song and by the end of the night I was playing harp on the tables and Mike was crawling on his back across the floor as he played guitar. Wild! It was a late and crazy night but we rose fairly early the next day and managed to get the album finished, including an impromptu acoustic track which we recorded at the cottage. It’s getting mastered over here in the UK and the CD should be on the shelves in time for Christmas. Don’t worry, there’s one reserved for you ;) and if you prefer downloads then iTunes will have it early in the new year. Keep your eyes open for “The Myers Brothers Band – Drive”.

There was no time to rest after my return – I had to repair a guitar that broke just before I flew to Canada and also one of my harps which took a hammering while I was away. Then the following three nights I was out gigging and then in the studio for the start of the mixing down of the Jigantics debut album. Sunday night I saw the excellent J Alexander and the Blues Devils at the newly formed Gloucester Blues Club and Monday night Steve Earle at Birmingham Symphony Hall. What a superb concert. Over three hours of songs old and new, with a great band – the Dukes and Duchesses – which included his wife Alison Moorer. If you haven’t seen him make sure you don’t miss him next time he’s in your area!

So that’s why this post has had to wait a while. I’m now off to write an article on my time with the Myers Brothers plus transcribe an interview I did with them, to be printed in a British blues magazine in the very near future. It’s all go! Not so many gigs this month but I need to concentrate on finishing the Jigantics album and write new songs for the next Sons of the Delta album. No rest for the wicked! ;)

Ireland’s Green Shore

3 Oct
The Lee Delta Blues Club, Cork.

The Lee Delta Blues Club, Cork.

The sun is shining (for now) and I’m drying out my clothes after a very wet but very wonderful weekend in Cork, playing at the Cork Folk Festival with Rick as the Sons of the Delta duo.

It was a weekend of not much sleep and a lot of beer, so pretty much what you’d expect from one of Ireland’s best live music cities. We arrived at our hotel lunchtime on Thursday after a three-hour drive to Pembroke port, a four-hour overnight ferry trip then another three hours driving from Rosslare port to Cork. Needless to say we grabbed a few hours sleep before heading into town to check out our first venue, the Lee Delta Blues Club held at the Corner House, only a five-minute walk through the rain from our hotel. Words can’t do justice but the atmosphere in the place was fantastic as was the warmth of the people – and that’s true of all the venues we played at. See the Sons of the Delta Facebook page  for some of the photos I uploaded during the trip. It was especially gratifying to see a large number of younger people in the audience. Not only did they really enjoy our show but several of them bought our CD, proving my belief that if they are exposed to good blues and roots music they will enjoy it. Take note all you major radio stations!

Friday. After one of the most fantastic coffees we’d ever had, at the wonderful Cork Coffee Roasters, we spent the day as wet tourists and then headed to the wonderful Crane Lane Theatre for our gig that evening. The theatre was less a theatre in style and more like a club from the 30’s. Think of a darker version of New York’s Cotton Club and you’ll get the idea. Again there was a good crowd and apart from some trouble with Rick’s amp the gig went very smoothly and we had the crowd dancing in front of the stage. The rain certainly didn’t stop people coming out to enjoy the festival.

Saturday. The day started dry but by the time we’d set up and started to play at the open stage on the Grand Parade the rain had started once again. A real shame as although we were covered the crowd wasn’t but it didn’t stop a brave few from huddling under umbrellas to watch us play an acoustic set. Job done and Cork conquered; we headed back to Rosslare for the night ferry home.

Other highlights since my last blog have been the South Coast run of gigs for both the Sons of the Delta and the Jigantics, most notably the Southsea Folk & Roots Festival, and the Jigantics were proud to headline this year’s Gig @ the Quarry in Avening. This annual event is a fundraiser for the Meningitis Trust and everything is given to the event by sponsors and volunteers. My youngest son had meningitis when he was young and so this cause is particularly close to my heart.

This coming weekend the Sons of the Delta duo have three gigs at the Swanage Blues Festival. Really looking forward to those and catching up with the friends we made last year. After that I’m off to Ottawa again to spend time with the Myers Brothers Blues Band. Mike and Stevie have asked me over to play some dates with them around Ottawa and up in Quebec. We’ll also spend some time out at Mike’s lakeside cottage mixing down their latest CD on which I play harmonica. I may take my laptop and keep you updated while I’m there and I may just wait til I get back and tell you all about it then.  I’m going with the flow.

Spain and beyond

17 Aug
Casa de Cultura, Gandia, Valencia, Spain.

Casa de Cultura, Gandia, Valencia, Spain.

It’s been a hectic time since my last post.

The Gloucester Rhythm and Blues Festival was great fun as always with a great variety of blues and blues-influenced music. I managed to see a lot of acts and also had the pleasure of performing quite a few times during the week with the two highlights for me being our Maxwell Street Blues Band gig in the function room of the New County Hotel on the first Saturday night and our Sons of the Delta band gig at the Pig Inn on the last Saturday night. The back room of the Pig was decked out in Christmas lights for the night and as always the sound in there was tight and punchy, just what we love. Add in to the mix a very hot and sweaty atmosphere and a large crowd and you have all the ingredients for a great juke joint experience. Special thanks for the whole week should go to Tim Porter and Bryn Williams for organising an eclectic and enjoyable selection of bands.

The Jigantics had a great gig at the Bath Fringe Festival and it was a real pleasure to perform in the Bell Inn again. I think the last time I played there was with the Dockery Boys back in the early ‘90s. It hasn’t changed – the sound is still great, the crowds large and enthusiastic and the beer fantastic! Hopefully we will be back there later in the year.

Last weekend the Sons of the Delta played two fantastic outdoor gigs in Spain. We had the pleasure of performing in one of the most beautiful venues that I for one have ever played at – El Patio de Arboles, Torreon de Lozoya in the historic town of Segovia. Visit the Sons of the Delta page on Facebook to see photos. The venue was in a small and very old courtyard which held about 300 people – quite an intimate and select location. We managed to play most of our hour and a quarter set before the rain started to fall and we had to come off stage. We were hoping the rain would stop and we could continue but thunder and lightning followed and that was the end of our performance. Fortunately the ticket price included as much cava and hot roasted almonds as you wanted and so the audience was happy enough after our hour of playing to get stuck in to the food and drink. The second gig, a five hour drive away, was at the Casa de Cultura in Gandia, a coastal town near Valencia. It was a much bigger venue with about 600 seats and this time the stage was covered and so rain wasn’t going to be a problem, although the seated area wasn’t covered. The rain stayed away thankfully. Before the show Rick and I were interviewed by Patricia for the Canal 7 TV station and we ended up playing an impromptu duo version of Few Short Lines. If I can get my hands of a copy of the finished thing I may share it with you.  It was a very hot humid night and I think we almost got as wet as if it had been raining anyway! After the show we drank a lot of water then joined the crowd in the garden bar for a few beers. Shame we can’t sit out til 3am in the UK in short sleeves and still feel warm.

In amongst all of the above I took a week out to relax in Fethiye, Turkey. There’s a great tent bar near the hotel with a fantastic traditional Turkish band and I spent many an hour eating great Turkish food, drinking Efes and enjoying the occasional hooka pipe. I couldn’t resist buying two musical instruments (last year I bought a saz) and I came home with a zurna and a cumbus. The zurna is a reed instrument very similar in sound to the classic snake charmer’s instrument and the cumbus (pronounced Choombush) is a 12 string fretless banjo with a deep aluminium bowl which makes it sound more like a 12 string resonator. I have no doubt that it will get used on a recording, maybe even a gig, at some stage in the near future.

Coming up over the next few weeks, a phone interview with Maverick music magazine at the weekend, two local Sons duo gigs and then the Southsea Folk and Roots Festival. Both the Sons of the Delta and the Jigantics have slots at the festival and I’m looking forward to catching up with my buddy Dave Arcari, hopefully while propping up the bar for a few hours after our respective gigs.

Festivals and more recording

21 Jul
TASCAM 85-16B

TASCAM 85-16B

It’s festival time and life is super hectic. Upton Blues Festival looked like it was going to be a very wet one – not as bad as the 2007 floods but wet enough. Early Saturday the heavens opened and let loose some pretty heavy downpours. Rick and I had a slot as Sons of the Delta at the festival playing on a river boat and had visions of us lashed to the deck with the wind and rain howling all around us. Fortunately the rain stopped at lunchtime and by the time we set sail it was sunny and dry. Our stage was below deck and indoors anyway and the emerging sun brought a good large and enthusiastic crowd on board for our one hour set. I enjoyed watching some of the other acts afterwards, especially Kevin Brown, but found myself agreeing with one festival goer who I overheard saying “for a blues festival there’s not much blues here”.

This week coming I’m going to be busy performing or supporting other bands at the 2011 Gloucester Rhythm and Blues Festival. Check out the schedule here at the Festival website. It’s mostly up to date but I should point out that there’s a Sons of the Delta Acoustic Duo gig at the Cross Keys Inn on Saturday 30th at 2pm (not listed) and the Sons of the Delta gig that same night at the Pig Inn is a full band gig, so for one night only the back room of the Pig Inn is going to be the nearest thing Gloucester has got to a Mississippi juke joint. If you live in the Gloucestershire area please come and support as much of this week-long festival as you can. It’s always fun!

A bit for the techies now, or anyone interested in old kit. In my last post I talked a bit about my thoughts on recording techniques. Well, I’m slowly putting together the equipment for an analogue recording studio and I am now the proud part-owner of the lovely piece of kit in the pic above. It’s a mid 1980s TASCAM 16 track 1″ tape machine. Needs some TLC by way of a good clean and a service but the heads are good and it came with a full service manual, something which by all accounts is as rare as rocking horse poop. The search is now on for a decent old 16-8-2 desk, some outboard units and a house with enough land or buildings to put the studio in!

See you at a gig soon!

Rain and recording

16 Jun
Today's rain...

Today's rain...

Well, so much for the summer weather here in the UK. The Jigantics were supposed to play at a festival in Stroud billed as Summer Music Day last Sunday and a phone call woke me up early that morning (early for a Sunday at least) to say it had been cancelled due to the high wind and torrential rain. Being ever the optimist I have to take the view that it was a good thing it was cancelled. There would have literally been no-one there to watch at all and we would probably have been soaked to the skin and our instruments damaged. As we are now getting deep into the festival season, and as both the Jigantics and the Sons of the Delta have open air festival slots this year, I can only hope the summer arrives pretty soon or it won’t be good for live music or my bank balance! Strangely, I wasn’t too bothered about the rain at a very warm 3am when the Sons were finishing our set at the Playa Viva Blues Festival in Gran Canaria but it did bother me when we played outdoors in heavy rain at the Upton Blues Festival a few years ago and one of the f-holes on my steel guitar just happened to be directly under a leaking tarpaulin which caused the guitar to fill with water…

The Sons of the Delta album, Made in Mississippi, has just been reviewed in Maverick magazine and received 4.5 out of 5. I haven’t read it yet but hopefully there will be some quote-worthy text we can use and the review might inject some freshness into the sales of what is now an ‘old’ album even though it’s our latest. Keep an eye on the Sons website or our FB page to see the review once I get my hands on it. We took out an ad to go with the review, so that should help us pick up a few more fans too.

Talking of Sons of the Delta albums, writing songs for the next one continues and it looks like it will keep the balance of the current album with regards to acoustic numbers and full band numbers. I personally like to mix it up a bit and as the Sons perform as a duo and a band it’s good to be able to represent the album at both types of gigs. I think the album may be recorded at a number of different studios, depending on the kit they have and whether they can accommodate the way I’d like to work on the album. I love the sound we recorded in Mississippi and I’d like to try to get a similar feel on this next CD, which means keeping the session as live as possible and using distant mic techniques. The shape and size of the room is very important so who knows, if we can’t find a studio that’s right we may have to find the location and set up the studio there. I’ve always preferred that kind of recording – one that has space, atmosphere and texture, rather than something sterile, clinical and over-produced. Good job that the former is very much in vogue at the moment, largely due to the great award-winning albums produced by T Bone Burnett over the last few years. And of course, the Jigantics still have more tracks to record to complete their debut CD plus I’m still slowly getting songs together for my (eventual) solo album.

What a surprise… it’s raining again.