Thursday, August 18, 2011

See how I suffer for my art!

Well I thoroughly enjoyed my time on Music Scene Investigation, and I'm pleased to say that I will hopefully be appearing again later in the year. (Well, fairly obviously I won't be appearing again earlier in the year but you know what I mean.) Ian, Tom and Rich were all very helpful, I managed to work Skype correctly (and what an amazing thing that is!) and if you didn't catch it then click here to see me wearing unfeasibly large headphones and sounding almost as though I know what I'm talking about. Excellent!

And apologies for the Warhol-esque nonsense above; having had one of these MacBook thingys for Gawd knows how long I've only just worked out how to take pictures with it!

In the meantime that was my first weekend for a while without any gigs (bah!) and although I never think I'm particularly busy I've just had a look back through the last few months worth of postings and considering these dark days of recession and depression I've not had a bad run overall. I've spoken to quite a few musicians lately who have had nowhere near as much work so I'm not going to complain (for once!) Still it's got me thinking about the nature of what it is that I do...

For quite a few of the shows over the last few months I've been obliged to learn songs specifically for the performance, or to learn different arrangements of otherwise familiar material. This has been both good fun and not a little daunting - I'll say now that the Killers song 'Mr. Brightside' which we played at the York show back at the start of May is one of the most difficult songs I've encountered in ages. It might not sound too hard but the intro and verse chords feature some enormous stretches (have a look at this clip of them performing it and see you'll see what I mean) which have never been a strong point of mine. Their guitarist must have very big hands, or very long fingers, or both! I also learned a Michael Buble song for that show which was easier to play but had the added pressure of being the couple's first dance, with all the scrutiny that that entails. From my point of view this sort of thing normally means a fair bit of time listening to the original tracks, looking at You Tube clips and generally attempting to work out what's going on in the song. There are numerous guitar tablature sites on the Internet, many of which can be very useful and save quite a bit of time although their accuracy is sometimes questionable as anybody can post onto them.
At the other end of the scale there was the Upper Cut gig in Staines a couple of days earlier where we were billed as a Rod Stewart tribute band - faced with a number of requests (!) we busked a reasonable version of 'The First Cut Is The Deepest' which went down well with the Rod fans. Something like that depends on several factors - fairly obviously some songs are easier to play than others even if you all know the song well it can still catch you out; there's also things like how well you can all hear each other to take into consideration, as well as how good the band is in the first place. Then there's how good your ear is - can you anticipate a chord change correctly if you've never played it before? Most of us have good days and bad days at this so you can only hope that it's one of your good days when you need to do it!
And then there was 'The Servant' at last weekend's gig with T.V. Smith which I managed to make a mistake in before the vocals had even started - and we might never play it again so I can't make amends!

So what's the alternative to spending hours in front of a CD player or computer screen? Well for the jobbing rock guitarist there really isn't one. Horn players are invariably excellent sight readers with their parts written out for them - guitar and bass players rarely if ever have anything provided for them, and most of them don't sight read conventional music anyway. I suppose this gives rise to a vicious circle where players don't learn to read music as they're never given anything to read, but parts aren't provided because most players can't read them. A notable exception to this are West End theatre shows and the like, but that's another subject for another time (and let's face it, another guitarist!)

And then there's the question of sound. It's fairly obvious to even the most casual listener that the guitars on a heavy metal recording sound a lot different to those on a funk tune. Playing the correct notes is only part of the story, you've got to sound right as well. Leaving aside the fact that this could be seen as spurious justification for owning a large number of guitars, amplifiers and effect pedals (perish the thought!) there's actually a serious point here - I agonised over which guitar to play at the afore-mentioned York show for quite some time, eventually choosing my SG as it was the easiest guitar to play the scary 'Mr Brightside' chords on. I nearly went for a Stratocaster (I needed a guitar with a double cutaway so that I could play chord high up the neck; there wasn't much in it to be honest) but I think I chose correctly in the end. This might seem like nitpicking but it's something that I find is spending a bit of time thinking about and indeed trying different instruments - the right guitar can make the gig, the wrong one can literally break it.

With regards to effect pedals, I've never owned a great number of these as I like to try to keep things as simple as possible, and the ones that I do have are fairly traditional types like booster pedals (to make solos louder), distortion, chorus, echo etc. I was talking to a guitarist recently who had a huge array of processors on a custom built pedal board because, as he put it, 'I might need play "Livin' On A Prayer" one minute and then "Mustang Sally" the next'. Hmm... I've had to do that sort of thing too but I've still only got a pedal or two wired up at any one time. This is not to say that I'm right and he's wrong (far from it - he's a lot more successful than I am!) but it does indicate a different approach to the same situation. As I say there's no right or wrong here - I just prefer to get different sounds out of the guitar and amplifier. With that in mind I'm starting to realise that I could do with a more versatile amp to go with my Fender combo which are great for clean sounds but not quite so effective on rockier material. Then again I could just get myself a decent overdrive pedal... actually haven't I got one of those somewhere?

Anyway I can't sit here typing, I've got work to do - I'm depping in The Duplicates at the end of the month and have nearly 2 hours of material to learn. The circle is unbroken... better get on with it then!

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