Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Thu, 16 Jul 2009

First gig

I've now been playing with The Barking Spiders (previously Unforgiven) for about 8 months. We've built up a set list of about 20 covers, some more polished than others. We feel we're almost ready to play a gig now, so we need to start talking to some local venues. We decided it was about time that we invited in some friends to our rehearsal venue to hear us play and did so on Tuesday.

It was a small audience, though bigger than at some pub gigs I've been to, but was still a fun evening. We borrowed a PA system to make the vocals audible and proceeded to play through all our songs. There were a few mistakes, but the response was pretty good. This was the first time that my family had seen me with the band and they were impressed. They've been putting up with me going out most weeks to practice.

We won't get many sessions with the whole band over the next couple of months due to holidays, but we plan to learn some more songs anyway. So keep an eye out for gigs in the autumn.

I recorded most of the session, but need to sort out what is suitable for sharing with the world. Tracks may appear on our site or possibly elsewhere. We have a Facebook page, but I don't like the fact that only those registered with the site can see it properly. I'm looking at other options for getting us known. Suggestions welcome.

[21:32] | [] | Comments | G

Sun, 05 Jul 2009

Rhythms of the World 2009

RotW used to be a free music festival based around Hitchin town centre using the church and various open spaces. As of last year it was moved to a private park and started charging as it was losing money. It's run by volunteers. I've been a few times and seem some cool acts. You don't get many big names, but then you are not paying much either. This year it cost £20 for a family of four per day, which is less than a single ticket at many festivals.

We were there yesterday, Saturday.Acts we saw included:

There was lots more going on with six stages and the arena for sport and arts demonstrations. Lots of 'alternative' stalls. We had dinner (pancakes) near the Bubble Inc stall and were treated to some great bubble making. I'l like to have stayed to see John Otway, but we had to get the kids home.

The move to a non-free festival has the changed the nature of the event, but it's still a wonderful, family-friendly event.

[16:26] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 19 Jun 2009

Talking Guitar

The internet has become a great place for like-minded people to discuss whatever they are into, no matter how obscure the topic. I've used various forums to discuss A/V equipment, Linux and other subjects. Depending on how into that topic or if I need advice I may visit the forums infrequently or several times a day. My current obsession is improving my guitar playing.

I've been using Music Radar as a source of music news and they have a good forum with lots of guitar discussion. I managed to swap an old effects unit for a compressor pedal via their classifieds. I may use that again when I want to buy or sell again. To pass the time when driving to work I've been seeking out interesting podcasts. There are not too many about guitar playing. The most regular one I have found is Six String Bliss by a couple of guitarists in the US. They cover various news, talk about what they are doing and get some good interviews. They have a small, but dedicated following on their forums. Between them they have managed to put out several collections of music, generally covers. I've joined the forums and been made welcome. It's very low traffic compared to some of the big sites, but could be more fun.

There's an occaisional podcast at Boss. They have some good interviews that are not just about their products.

I seem to find several more guitar-related sites each week. There are many more forums, but I just can't take the time to look at more than a couple. There are also lots of on-line lessons in text, audio and video form. I like to run through some of these now and again to pick up some new ideas. I used to get that from the magazines, but rarely feel the need to buy them these days. I've got loads of sites bookmarked, but here are a few I visit regularly:

I'm interested in hearing about any other cool sites.

Talking of podcasts, I got a namecheck on the BBC World Service show that I've been listening to for years. They read out a comment I made on their Facebook group about early computer experiences. Not my first mention on the wireless, but it's fun to hear you name. Not quite as cool as my friend Simon who appears on Ray Davies' new album as part of the choir.

[14:22] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 25 May 2009

Eric and Albert

On Friday I got a message from my dad to ask if I was interested in seeing Eric Clapton at the Albert Hall the following night. His neighbour has a box and there was a seat going spare. I've been listening to Eric's music for many years and admire him as a guitarist, but was not really in the 'Clapton is God' camp. Still, I couldn't pass up this opportunity to see one of the greats in this iconic venue that I had not visited before.

The Albert Hall seems smaller in real life than it appears on TV. The box was opposite stage, but still not too far away. The support act was Arc Angels from Austin, Texas. Their blues-rock reminded me somewhat of Derek and the Dominoes with some nice slide playing. One of the guitarists is left-handed and they swapped guitars in the middle of one song just to show off a little. They were pretty good, but the sound was not quite good enough to make out the lyrics.

Eric took to the stage exactly on schedule with his band. I didn't recognise the first song, but it was followed by a series of classics from the Dominoes album, some Cream and solo pieces like I Shot the Sheriff and Cocaine. There was an acoustic set in the middle that included Layla. The encore was Crossroads and they left the stage to great applause, right on schedule.

Eric was a good as I would expect, mostly playing his trademark black Strat. He seemed to be using a tiny Fender amplifier sitting on the drum riser. Andy Fairweather-Low backed him up with some cool soloing himself. I was less impressed by all the keyboard solos from the two players. They got a bit repetitive. There were a series of door-sized screens behind the stage. These were used well on the acoustic set to show close-ups of the guitars, but were otherwise just distracting when just showing random patterns, presumably to set a mood.

The sound was pretty good. Better than for the support. The volume was about right. It doesn't have to be deafening as when I saw McFly with my daughter a couple of weeks back. The mood was pretty relaxed with the audience seated until the last song, but good applause and a fair bit of shouting, some by men professing their love for Eric. It was obviously a very well rehearsed show with little spontaneity. All very well done, but a bit lacking in emotional involvement. Clapton didn't say more than 'Thank you'.

It was only when we were leaving that someone noticed that the Duke of Kent was in the neighbouring royal box. I hope he and his family enjoyed it, but it didn't seem to hold the interest of two girls there who spent half the show taking pictures of themselves. I'll be back at the Albert Hall next month with my family to see The King and I.

[20:52] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 07 May 2009

Roland Cube 80x Guitar Amplifier

I've owned a few guitar amplifiers since I bought my first electric guitar as a student. When I bought that guitar I also bought a small, but sturdily built 10W unit called a 'Black Box'. It looked like someone may have built it from a kit. It made a noise, but I'm not sure it was too impressive. Next I picked up something that I think was called a V Amp in an auction when the company went bust. It was big and loud, but never left the bedroom. I used those with my old Vantage Strat. Whilst living in Germany I bought a Peavey Backstage 110. This had some use at home, but also made appearances at some jam sessions. It came along to the audition for my current band, but was determined to be a bit weedy. It puts 65W through a 10" speaker, but just didn't seem to move enough air to cut through.

For a while I've been using various amps at the rehearsal studio including a Marshall Valvestate and some random transistor combo. The Marshall sounded good, but was a bit flakey, probably due to lots of abuse.

I started looking for a new amp. The choice is vast. In the £200-400 range there dozens to choose from ranging from basic transistor amps through to pure valves with hybrids and modelling amps in between. Some people are valve/tube purists and won't consider anything else. I was keeping my options open. Somewhere I read about the Roland Cube range that seemed to get good reviews as versatile gigging amps with good reliability. The Cube 60 looked like what I needed with a variety of amp models and some effects. I was all ready to buy one when Roland announced the Cube 80x at the NAMM show in January. As well as more power it introduced an extra preset lead channel and a looper. The former sounded useful for gigging and the latter just sounded like fun. From listening to people like Steve Lawson I've been intrigued by looping and have wanted to try it. The 80x was not due out until April, so I resigned myself to hanging on for that as it just seemed ideal for my needs.

Last week it finally arrived and I 'un-boxed' it at a rehearsal. It made a very good first impression with the volume and sound quality. This was mainly using the Marshall model, but I also used the clean channel. It's very intuitive to use as you just choose the model and then twiddle the knobs as you would on an analogue amp.

To use all the features you need up to six footswitches. Those available from Roland's Boss range are pretty expensive, so I thought I would make my own. I bought a metal case and some switches from Maplin. A couple of hours of drilling and soldering, then I had something. It didn't quite work. I think one of the plugs is faulty. I also found that the momentary switch used to start/stop the looper did not work very well. Eventually I realised this was due to it being a normally open rather than the required normally closed type. I'll have to go back to Maplin and pick one up. I still managed to have some fun, but had to hold the switch down and release it when I should have just been pressing it now and again. The looper is great for recording one or more rhythm parts and then soloing over it. I can imagine that it could be used in performance to allow one guitarist to cover multiple parts, with limitations. It's not as capable as some of the stand-alone units, but then the whole amp costs less than a lot of those. Considering you are getting a three channel amp with several effects, the looper and a tuner for around £300 it's a bargain. I'm sure the sounds will not meet everyone's standards, but I think it's going to be good enough for what I need right now.

There are some professional demos on-line by Johnny DeMarco (slightly hyper American) and Alex Hutchings (more laid-back Brit). I'm getting some issues at the moment with Youtube and other Flash-based sites getting stuttering sound. This could be related to my recent Kubuntu upgrade that ran a lot smoother than previous versions.

[22:08] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 26 Feb 2009

Great music

Here's the latest from the lovely Lobelia. I've been following her and her amazing bass-playing husband Steve Lawson for a while now and have seen them twice live. They are making wonderful music outside the mainstream music industry and relying on fans and friends to spread the word. They both deserve to be better know.

You can stream or download these tracks from her new album, with more to come soon.

[13:43] | [] | Comments | G

Tue, 28 Oct 2008


A month on I'm still with the band. I've been to several rehearsals and learnt more songs. We're working through some punk classics at the moment as they are quick to learn and sound good. We still need to figure out arrangements for the other songs. Last week we played about ten songs, some several times. I've been recording sessions on my Zoom H4 and have burnt some CDs for the others. The problem with that is getting a decent balance so that you can hear everyone. This is another area for us to work on. It's not helped by the limited PA options we have there.

At least I found out the cause of my buzzing noise. It seems that the guitar lead I got with my first electric about twenty years ago has given up the ghost. I was worried that it was the guitar as I was using a Marshall Valvestate that lives at the studio last week. Once we sorted the buzz it sounded great. A nice chunky sound that made my Peavey sound distinctly weedy. I had been thinking that I need something beefier to cut through with the band. I reckon I need something with at least 50W with at least one 12" speaker. The power requirement will depend on what sort of gigs we play and whether I can go through the PA. As for the sound I think that valves may play a part. I'm not sure I can afford a full valve amp, so it would probably be some sort of hybrid. Marshall have various models, some with extra effects that may not be up to much. Another range that looks possible are the Vox Valvetronix that aim to model various amps whilst incorporating a valve. The Line 6 Spider goes all out with modeling. I really need to find somewhere that I can try several, but that will have to wait until I have the funds. I'll consider second hand if something crops up.

Playing live gigs is an unknown world for me, even though I've been to hundreds. I expect that finding the right set of gear is a long path for most guitarists, but I'm open to any advice. The web is full of guitar sites. Some even specialise in showing you famous players' rigs. I'm suffering again from information overload.

I ought to go and practice now.

[20:50] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 26 Sep 2008

Rock banned

For some time I've been looking around for some musical outlets apart from playing djembe with Secret Bass. The drumming is fun, but I feel the need for something melodic. I've posted details on various sites including Facebook and Multiply. A couple of people contacted me, but nothing came of it. I also posted to more specific sites, including Muso Finder. That also generated responses. One was for a rock band that needed more commitment than I could offer, then another came in this month that sounded more realistic.

Bass player Warren was looking for a second guitarist for a rock covers band. Rehearsals would be once a week with, perhaps, a few gigs per year. He mailed me a list of songs they do for an audition a week later. So I got searching the various tab sites for tips and used Youtube both to find performances and tutorials. I was able to work out half a dozen songs.

The venue was a rehearsal studio converted from an old barn on a farm. There I met the band, Warren, singer Ben, drummer Paul and guitarist Tom. Tom is young enough to be my son(!), but the rest are nearer my age. They all seem to be seasoned performers, but I managed to play well enough for them to invite me back. And it was great fun. Just holding down the rhythm is actually pretty hard work, requiring concentration. I'm not confident enough to play leads yet, but I hope that will come. I will also be interested to work on arrangements that make the most of two guitars. The material consists of songs from Rolling Stones, Black Crowes, Free, Bryan Adams and others.

We got together again this week, but without a bassist due to work commitments. We still managed to work on some other songs and tweak the arrangements. It will be a while before we are ready for gigs.

My Gordon Smith guitar is ideal for this sort of music, if not quite as good as Tom's Les Paul. His valve Laney is also better than my old Peavey, but that coped pretty well. I just need to work out why it is buzzing so much when I'm not playing. I may have to look at getting a newer amplifier. You can get a lot for your money these days and the choice is vast. Anything from traditional valve amps through to digital modelling units with multiple effects. I think I could do with a set-up that gives me a range of sounds to suit the different material, but I'll get by with what I have for now. I will need a few accessories such as a capo for playing in different keys and some decent plectra that do not disintegrate like the cheap ones I have. I've destroyed a couple already. I did get some earplugs. Standing next to a drumkit with amps turned up to compete is not too healthy in the long term and I love music too much to risk my hearing.

Some might consider this to be a mid-life crisis thing, but I've always wanted to do something musical and never got around to making it happen. Even if this comes to nothing I will have learnt a lot of new songs and gained some experience that could lead to something else. For now I'm just enjoying the ride.

[21:52] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 06 Aug 2008

Singing in the rain

Last Saturday I attended a singing workshop with Dafna Dori from Jerusalem organised by my friend Malcolm. I don't really consider myself a singer, but with what I've been doing with the drumming group I am getting a feel for it and would like to explore the possibilities. There were about 16 of us there including my daughter and another young girl. The rest ranged widely in age. We did some fun warm-ups and then proceeded to learn three Jewish songs. There were the challenges of unfamiliar pronunciation and scales, but we seemed to do quite well. For the last song we also learnt the circle dance that goes with it. I'm not sure what people would think of us all dancing around in the wood outside the studio singing in Hebrew, but I enjoyed it.

The fact is that these songs are religious, but I didn't feel too uncomfortable singing them. That may have had something to do with them being in another language, but they were fun to sing. I don't particularly enjoy singing hymns on the rare occasions that I'm in church, but then a lot of those are pretty boring. There is plenty of spiritual classical music that I enjoy, but the words, if any, are often in other languages. Ultimately it is the quality of the music rather than the message that tends to move me. I can be moved by lyrics, but generally because they reflect my mood or inclinations.

I recorded the session on my Zoom H4. It was not ideally placed on the floor with a small tripod, but worked pretty well. I then had the challenge of editing over an hour of material to extract the songs for people to listen back to. I've done some previous editing with Sweep, but that was very slow and took up most of my memory. Ardour would not even load the MP3 file, but that may be due to a lack of add-on. I didn't try Audacity at first as I have been having issues with getting sound on play-back, but this time it worked and was very easy to use. I noticed that it used a minimal amount of memory. I just did the basics of cutting out the songs and saving each as a file without playing around with effects, but that is something I need to experiment with. It's not something I have ever done much with. I need to find time to check out some of the tutorials out there, but I expect there is no substitute for experience. There is an interesting set of screencasts on using Ardour.

Whilst writing this up I have been listening to free tracks from the new Byrne/Eno album and bassist Kev Cooke. All good stuff.

[21:42] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 30 Jul 2008

Back to Bassics

I'm a bit knackered after a late night/early start/long day sequence, but here goes with another exciting post for my loyal reader.

Last night I returned to Darbuka for another gig by bassist Steve Lawson and singer Lobelia accompanied by drummer Ray Dodds. Support was again from ukulele strumming social media man Lloyd Davis playing some great old songs.

This time Lobelia and Steve each did some solo songs. Lo used some very night (bare) footwork to loop her guitar and voice. One song was pure voice and wonderful to hear. Steve gig a great cover of She Sells Sanctuary (on the seashore). Ray joined in with some great drumming and percussion on assorted hardware. Finally they all played together, which lent a new flavour to songs I feel I already know well. I chatted to them all as well as another bassist, Simon Little, who I met via Twitter and sat with during the gig. He's played with some well known acts and is doing his own solo work that I just obtained from his free podcast and am enjoying now.

I bought Lobelia's solo CD from a few years back. It features some songs I've heard live, but in much more conventional arrangements. I have to say I prefer them as performed now. I look forward to some more new material.

I had some cool musical experiences on the internet over the last week. Firstly I watched Steve, Lobelia and others perform at another gig via a live video stream on This included a chat forum where I could exchange messages with other viewers and people at the gig. That was fun. A recording of the gig is up now. This was followed on Sunday by them performing some songs at home and uploading them to Phreadz where others (with beta access) could post video replies. That was enjoyable too, despite some technical issues.

At work the other day a friend lent me a CD by Martin Simpson. Nice bit of folk with nifty guitar playing. I used QCD on my Windows PC and it did its usual thing of posting the tracks to I subscribe to an RSS feed there of gigs within a reasonable distance. Within an hour it included some of his. Sites like Amazon recommend music etc based on what you buy, but this was based on what I was listening to and with less commercialisation. I doubt I will go, but others would find that information useful. I've been alerts to gigs I have attended via this service. Each gig has a page where people can post comments and link to pictures etc. I've been on for over four years and just clocked up 20,000 tracks. That's what I have listened to on the computers, but I do most of my listening like that. I often use their music streaming services to find new stuff. I was on one based around what people who listen to ELO like when I passed 20k.

My last cool musical link of the week is King Crimson Live. You can buy downloads of various concerts, but they also give away the odd track via a podcast called Hot Tickle. Cool or not I love a good bit of Prog.

[21:28] | [] | Comments | G

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