writer, performer, musician, wine drinker
May 12, 2013Posted by on
I should start this review with two caveats. Firstly, I haven’t taken this amp gigging yet, so I’ve no idea how it behaves itself in front of a sweaty pub-full of punters, huddled down by the only available powerpoint in the dark and left to its own devices.
Secondly, I’m an acoustic amp virgin. Back in my student band days I had a 30-watt beast the size of a small fridge that eventually, mercifully, expired; the past few years I’ve operated with a 10-watt practice amp with few pretensions to any level of complication beyond bass, middle and treble knobs with an optional ‘tubeblaster’ switch that has now stopped working.
Two things made me think it was time to upgrade. Firstly, I’m now doing more gigs than I ever have before, and in some of them the guitar playing has to be even half way competent, given it’s the only actual instrument playing. Secondly, I bought myself a LÂG T100ACE which, although beautiful in tone played acoustically, really suffered when its preamp hit almost any system set up for electric guitars (actually, my little 10 watt Rogue gave it a better sound than a lot of higher-spec systems).
And so to my favourite purveyors of noise-making devices, iiMusic (who I’d also bought the LÂG from). They matched the internet price, which was pretty keen. Buying the Vox AGA 30 from them almost immediately brought dividends as, on unpacking the box, I discovered Vox had put a European plug in. The guys replaced that right away – a whole lot easier than having to deal with wefloguguitars.com at a thousand mile distance.
Having got the right plug, and having tested the Vox out on all three guitars, I can now say I’m thoroughly pleased with it. It has two inputs – a standard/XLR which could take mikes as well as instruments, and a standard guitar input. On both channels there’s a gain switch, bass and treble (no middle), volume control, and a reverb/chorus knob (of which more later). There’s also a master volume and a feedback control, all nice bright white (and white lettered) against a dark background, well designed for the murky pub environment.
Overall appearance-wise, the Vox is a lovely wee thing, all dark tan vinyl covering and diamond cloth effect grille, its edges rounded off to give it an organic, vintage kind of feel. More importantly for any musician, it’s light (6.5kg).
I tried the LÂG out on it first. In the ‘normal’ channel it sounded fine: nice warm tone, quieter than I might have expected, but with a bit of reverb, really more than acceptable. The reverb/chorus knob is useful, obviously, for giving different textures: for the fingerpicking I use the LÂG for, I couldn’t imagine much use for the chorus, but the reverb is subtle with just a bit of bite to remind you you’re amplified.
Then I plugged into the standard/XLR slot, and couldn’t go back. This channel has a valve pre-amp stage, and though the standard slot had added warmth, the valve sound washed a Jacuzzi-full of tone over me. With the reverb up to its mixing point with chorus, it was like swimming in a bath of asses’ milk, hand-warmed by underground coal braziers, tended your personal slaves. I’d imagine.
Of course, this gives the guitar player a problem. Do you let your singer plug into the XLR slot or tell (in my case) her to sort out her own amplification, if she doesn’t mind? I can’t stress enough that the first channel sounded fine; but once you use the valve sound, you don’t want to let go of it. I sense a discussion ahead, Kelly.
The other guitars were also well served by the Vox’s capabilities. The Ovation copy (De Ville, does anyone else have one of these? They seem to have disappeared) obviously has less tone to start with, and is the guitar I use where more attack is required, or just plain frantic strumming. Again, there was a nice sound came out of it, crisp but with plenty of bark if you chose to turn it up a bit. The chorus was subtle enough to be useable for some of Venus Carmichael’s material.
Last test was with the Freshman 12 string, a truly gorgeous creature that, even when strummed without amplification, has a shimmering, reverby quality of its own. I use a pretty cheap removeable pickup on it at present, but even with that weak link, the sound that came out of it through the Vox was like listening to the sound of melting chocolate.
To sum up, then:
Cons: as other reviews have suggested, it’s not the loudest 30-amper you might get. I won’t know how much of a handicap that will be until I take it out with me, but in the kind of venues I play in, I suspect it won’t be a problem.
Pros: Value for money, portable, good-looking, and, for me, a really pro sound. It actually makes the guitars sound like they do when you hear major recording artists live. It doesn’t make me play guitar as well as them, but you can’t have everything.
Price paid: £177.00
April 26, 2013Posted by on
26th April: Brighton was an unseasonably warm 22 degrees yesterday, but I doubt that its most famous rock and roll resident was donning flip flops and knotted hankie headgear. I may be wrong, but it just doesn’t sound like Nick Cave’s style: a recent interview in the Guardian confirms that he even shops at Homebase fully suited and booted.
I came to Nick Cave late, thanks to my nephew Dave Allen, always a touchstone for stuff I should be listening to. He not only got me along to a gig at Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange, a couple of years ago, but diligently burned a pretty comprehensive collection of the great man’s oeuvre for me in advance. The gig was fantastic, with Cave in storming form.
Not long after, I organised Dylan Uncovered at the Voodoo Rooms, a series of 8 acts reprising and reinterpreting that other great rock poet’s work. It was one of the most stressful nights of my life (key learning outcome: 8 acts + grumpy sound guy + inexperienced promoter + three hours = a lot of blue-arsed fly impersonation for promoter) people seemed to enjoy it, and shortly after, Mike Melville (another purveyor of excellent aural narcotics) said I should ‘do a Nick Cave one next time.’
That was over two years ago, and like childbirth (I imagine) the pain recedes and is replaced by a happy, warm glow of how successful the event was. So, what I’m looking for is:
- 3 more bands (Isaac Brutal and the Trailer Trash Express are already signed up, and will close the show)
- Half an hour each of imaginative reworkings of Nick Cave songs: Birthday Party, Grinderman, Bad Seeds, you choose. I’m not looking for faithful replicas. Take Cave’s version as the jumping off point, not holy writ. You can slip in one or two of your own songs if they’re compatible, but the vast majority of the set should be Cave.
- If possible, some sort of demo of a song or two uploaded somewhere by the end of June. If I know you already I may trust you but the more info you can give me the better. It would be great if we could use some of that as trailers for the show but I would ask you first of course.
- A list asap of what songs you’re thinking of, to avoid too much duplication. Taken already:
15 feet of pure white snow
Bring it on
The weeping song
Death is not the end (yeah I know it’s Dylan, but Cave does it too)
The gig will happen in September, as a warm up for the great man himself descending on us at the Usher Hall on 1st November (already sold out, so there’s pretty clearly an audience).
I’m still finalising venue. At the moment the most likely ones are Henry’s Cellar Bar or the new Bongo Club, although as I’m currently looking into venues for Writers’ Bloc there may be other options.
Financials will be dependent on venue cost, back line hire (if necessary) and so on but I’ll basically be looking to share any proceeds with the bands. Dylan Uncovered left enough for a beer or two for everyone, and while I want to improve on that, if money’s your motivation, maybe this isn’t the gig for you.
Once we’re off and running I’ll create a page on my site which I’ll keep updated as we go along. If you want your possible involvement to be top secret, let me know.
If you have any queries, contact me at venus [dot] carmichael [at] gmail [dot] com.
April 13, 2013Posted by on
Madrid – Cordoba – Madrid April 2013
Airport taxi traversing the patchwork quilt of roads in North Madrid, unsparing accent flat to the floor; then, typically, reversing to check the directions to the hotel entrance were understood;
A walk in chilly spring sunshine through the Parque Del Buen Retiro to catch the southbound express: broad acres, Victorian stone majesty shrinking beneath the new season’s growth, the breeze-ruffled lake, runners pounding miles of gravel paths;
The AVE, leaning into the countryside, laser-straight, clean and spacious to an inch of its state-owned life, to Cordoba, drenched to its ancient bones in a rain storm;
An apartment blotch-bright in Andalucian ceramics, quirky, the shower floor lumpy as a Gaudi sculpture, but warm, fringing a patio clambered with plant life; welcoming smiles;
Then sun, watery at first, turning to full beam, and a Saturday when the quiet square erupts, sprouting crowds, old, young, red wigged stags, eating, drinking, dogs barking, toddlers passed from hand to hand, drinking, eating, empty Amstel bottles multiplying, just a thing they do each Saturday the sun shines (and by the morning, the ghosts have swept the square clean again);
A Sunday in Seville, the two Guillermos showing us the futuristic town square in the sky, the city spread before us, cathedral spires and telecom spikes and ruined banks’ towers of hubris holding up a sky as blue as any flag; a local restaurant, tureens of paella;
Back in Cordoba, Plaza de la Corredera rough and ready with watchful drinkers, scooters exploding from side alleys, beer lorries from improbable corners, harder edged; best cerveza del grifo in the whole damn place;
La Juderia, streets like fingers of light and shade in a broken Moorish tile, sudden wells of coolness glimpsed through iron gates, clamour of tourist shops and French voices quieting as you head uphill, scents of frying garlic, spice and orange blossom;
Everywhere, Moorish mouth music, shivering Andalucian guitars in a minor key, dark eyes, dark hair, (or bleach-blonde);
Last but not least the Mezquita, giant mosque that swallowed a cathedral, losing it in telescoping vistas of red and white arches, peace ruptured only by the messy business of living, whining drills, and distantly, the organ pondering the morning mass; a glass floor unmasking pointedly, below, tiles said to show before the cathedral, before the mosque, an ancient basilica.
March 30, 2013Posted by on
To celebrate our heading off to Spain soon, here’s another bit of translation – my version of the classic poem Mar Adentro, by Ramón Sampedro. The movie’s good stuff, if not necessarily Saturday night viewing. Unless a story of assisted suicide in deepest Galicia is your idea of Saturday night viewing, in which case, go for it.
The original film version of the poem, with subtitles, is on YouTube, so you can compare and contrast the official translation (there’s also a lovely bit of Celtic-stylee soundtrack going on there, and of course it sounds ten times better in Spanish read by Javier Bardem)
I’ve also put this up on the In Translation page.
Mar Adentro (by Ramón Sampedro)
Out at sea,
the sea inside.
And in the weightless depths,
where dreams resolve,
two wills combine
with one wish.
A kiss sets life on fire,
Lightning, then thunder,
and in a metamorphosis,
my body no longer is my body,
like diving to the universe’s core.
A childish embrace,
the purest kiss,
till we see ourselves reduced
to a single desire.
We gaze at each other,
an echo repeating, with no words
‘further inside,’ ‘further inside,’
through our bones and our blood.
But always I wake,
wishing for a state of death
that would mean going on being
with your hair
tangled in my mouth.
March 27, 2013Posted by on
I’d be rubbish as a real judge. I mean, the width of a defence lawyer’s pinstripe could, in itself, lengthen an accused’s sentence. Or maybe one of those nasal, urban accents that cuts right through you. Ten years for that alone.
Fortunately for the world of jurisprudence, that isn’t about to happen any time soon. However, I am scheduled to make my first appearance as a judge of anything, ever, at tomorrow night’s Scottish Slam Championships. I’m not actually sure I can announce this – I mean, following the slightly scary description in the Peter Ross Scotland on Sunday article of competitors howling at judges, I’m not sure if it’s a bit like being a judge at one of those Sicilian Mafia trials where your identity has to be protected, and you arrive at court flanked by gun-toting, shades-wearing bodyguards (I hope so actually, it sounds kind of cool).
Anyhoo. A pretty stellar line up awaits, so I shall need to sharpen my literary wits and prepare to be dazzled but undazed. If you’re not doing anything else tomorrow night, come along.
By the way competitors: if you’re thinking bribery and corruption, I’m not really financially motivated. You could try corrupting me, but to be honest, I’m pretty far gone already.
And my bodyguards are highly trained female ninjas. You’ll never see them coming.
Scottish Slam Championships, Pleasance Cabaret Bar, Edinburgh, 8.00 p.m.
March 24, 2013Posted by on
Normally gig reviews start with a long story about the bands and who’s in them and what bands they were in before and all that David Copperfield kind of crap. As time is short however this is going to be a bit more impressionistic, and link you to the bands’ sites so you can go and have a listen. And you should go and have a listen to all of them.
I suppose I should have started with a declaration of interest: Mike Melville and Andy Wood, the keepers of the Cool Cat Club, are known to me, in that Mike is a close colleague and Andy has played at the one and only gig I’ve ever (so far) put on. Your only comfort that this isn’t an old pals act is for me to say that, as I type, I am surrounded by guitars, keyboard and recording stuff, leaning in and calling on me to play: so if I hadn’t really, really, liked the gig, this wouldn’t have got written.
First then, the name. The Cool Cat Club has a pleasing alliterative monosyllabism that conjures a picture of leaving a joint in one of the major Western cities at 3 am, perhaps one more bourbon to the wind than was wise, after a night in a club where membership is based on the tilt of one’s trilby, and the jazz is so cool sometimes the saxophone plays all by itself, squeaking and grunting mid-air in unseen hands, while the musicians repair to the bar for a restorative absinthe.
The reality, four indie acts in a somewhat sweaty upstairs venue in Dundee not far off the backside of the Overgate Centre, was different, but no less fine for all that. As the night went on, the place filled to pretty much capacity, creating a truly excellent atmosphere.
Indie gig audiences are often complex, multi-layered affairs, and this one was no exception: at the back, middle agers like your reviewer, with teenage children in tow (or perhaps they were towing us); down the front, a twenty-something crowd, many of whom were increasingly intent on celebrating the birthday of a girl called Vicky.
People were still filing in when the first act, Luna Webster, came on, so she had the unenviable task of engaging an audience distracted by the buying of drinks and meeting of mates, armed only with an acoustic guitar. That she did so is testament to her strong, distinctive singing voice and some really good songwriting. It would sound patronising to mention her age so I won’t, but this is a young, young talent that is well worth watching.
Next up were Randolph’s Leap. I had heard good things about these guys and no –one had been exaggerating. The lyrics are literate, quirky and well-observed, and the sound is … well it’s a Randolph’s Leap kind of a sound. They describe themselves as folk-pop, but if that conjures up some sort of pale Mumford & Sons knock-off be prepared to have your socks knocked off, for this folk band has a brass section and it isn’t afraid to use it.
The line up on the night comprised acoustic guitar, bass guitar, violin, keyboards, trombone, trumpet, and drums. The resultant noise was exceedingly pleasant, and what also really worked was their ability on occasion to strip things back to something simpler. Adam, the front man, has an engaging, gangly presence, reminiscent of Andy Murray with added personality.
Highlights included News and another song I didn’t catch the title of but involved weathermen. If Randolph’s Leap aren’t suitably humungous by this time next year, well up the batting order at festival line ups, appearing on Jools Holland and making plans to break the States, I’ll eat my hat – the leather one. To paraphrase Jon Landau, I have seen the future of indie-folk-pop-with-a-brass-section, and its name is Randolph’s Leap.
The confusingly-titled (in that they are not all men, and some were definitely using machines) Man Without Machines were next up, describing themselves on their Facebook site as ‘pacey electro-pop,’ and living up to that promise with some great, driven tunes where the guitars and keyboards that make up their sound meshed perfectly. This was a tight, tight musical unit, and if they suffered slightly for this reviewer in comparison to the bands before and after them, that’s probably more down to personal taste than anything else.
Certainly their lead singer and guitarist came across as engaging, although he perhaps engaged too much with Vicky’s birthday party in his banter for his own sanity. However, it was all good clean fun and nobody lost an eye.
Closing the night in assured fashion was Kid Canaveral. Previous experience of them a couple of years ago had suggested they were pretty great, and this time they were possibly even a little bit greater. This is a band that has so much going for it: catchy melodies, charismatic front man, moody and magnificent female guitarist, and a solid bass and drums unit that ties everything together.
By now the front row of the scrum was getting pretty excitable, but lead singer/guitarist David MacGregor showed his performance chops by keeping them onside, while leading the band into some superb moments. Amidst the barnstorming set there was time for some quieter moments (some of which to me might have called for an acoustic guitar, but that again may come from personal preference) as well as some excellent harmony backing singing from the girls which might well be a growth area for the future.
One tiny discordant note to finish a review of such a great night, but some of us middle-agers up the back would have preferred the DJ to dial down the volume on his between-band interludes (nothing wrong with his musical taste, mind). But I’m reliably informed that may just be our age.
Great night, great acts, and kudos to the sound man for working the desk so that everyone could give of their best. Well done, Mike and Andy, and I hope to tilt my trilby at another visit to the Cool Cat Club soon.
March 11, 2013Posted by on
Last week I got a reminder from my domain name provider, and was surprised to realise that andrewcferguson.com is a year old. This got me thinking – maybe not as much as another big birthday non-digital me had last year, but still. What was my digital life all about? Had I got past the toddling stage yet, or was I still on the website equivalent of rusks?
Another event which more or less coincided with my first birthday – whether or not coincidentally – was an email, forwarded by my email provider, from an outfit called Media Discovery. They had clients who wanted to advertise on my site, they said. They would pay me money, they said.
At first I ignored it, thinking it was some randomly generated nonsense from some sort of spambot thingie (I’m hazy on all that sort of stuff, but generally picture a spambot as an insectoid lifeform made of diamonds like one of the bad guys in a Hannu Rajaniemi novel). Then I noticed the signature at the bottom. It was from a lady called Doris Fuller.
Now, that may seem like a small thing to you, but it somehow comforted me that I wasn’t dealing with a spambot. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with the name Doris Fuller. It’s a very nice name. I have a mental picture of Doris, and it’s a comforting, non-threatening sort of a one. In my mind’s eye she doesn’t look insectoid, or indeed at all scary. Put it this way. Can you picture Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of his Terminator roles saying, ‘I’m looking for Doris Fuller?’ Thought not.
So I wrote back to Doris, setting out my concerns about putting my vulnerable, barely-walking-yet website in the hands of a slavering corporate machine. And she replied right away, explaining patiently that they would either supply a custom made piece of content for a new page on my site, or I could write my own stuff for it, as long as the client’s name was embedded in a link on it. She even supplied an example of one, a car review site, which looked very nice. Very hot red Chevy.
Which probably makes me an idiot for turning Doris’s offer down, and if any of you guys get the same offer, I won’t think any less of you for taking it up. In a way it’s heartening that wee sites like mine are of interest to the niche advertiser. Perhaps you could see it as a democratisation of the advertising industry. It’s just … I don’t know, not exactly the Clash going on Top of the Pops (for those of you old enough to get either of those cultural references) but, in some way, a ceding of a little part of my digital self to someone else?
Anyway, happy birthday to digital me. Some day I’ll work out the best way to sell myself between this site, Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest. My top number of hits, during last year’s Fringe, was 65. But so far what I have done is have lots of fun. I have written what I liked, and when I liked, and that’s not always something even a part-time writer like me can say. I hope some of that fun has rubbed off on the rest of you.
If you have any comments on what you think so far, feel free to let me know. Meantime, I intend to materialise in the flesh tomorrow night at Literary Death Match, so I hope to see some of you, non-virtually, there. And share a non-virtual glass of rioja.
February 24, 2013Posted by on
As previously promised, the translation of the Cortazar short story is now up on a new page, ‘In Translation.’ Thanks to all who helped with the translation, both Ana, my wonderful teacher, and the members of Writers’ Bloc who then worked on the finer points of the English version I’d produced – especially Mark Harding, Andrew Wilson and Bram Gieben.
February 24, 2013Posted by on
You may all have got my invite on Facebook, but here’s details of the gig on the 12th. I’m looking forward to this, although I’m slightly more keyed up than I usually would be (normally I’m only ‘judged’ in the sense of someone buttonholing me after a gig, and normally they don’t do that if they thought I sucked). I don’t know if anyone normally thinks of themselves as a ‘stalwart.’
Literary Death Match Edinburgh – Voodoo Rooms, 12th March
In our first UK show since our game-changing TV pilot shoot, Literary Death Match returns to brilliant Edinburgh (and more specifically: Voodoo Rooms) for a lights-out night of never-ending wonderment that will life-change, titillate, entrance and edumucate. Click above to get discount advance tickets and guarantee your 12th will be spectacular. We cannae wait!
The night will feature four writers reading their own love/anti-love stories for seven minutes or less, judged by three all-star judges. Two finalists will be chosen to compete in the Literary Death Match finale, a vaguely-literary game that will steal your affection.
PLUS! If we can figure out how to work a projector, we’ll show the first-ever footage from LDM TV: The Pilot — which will make your brain/heart explode in the best possible way.
Literary Merit: Kirsty Logan, spoken word supremo and literary editor of The List magazine
Performance: Doug Johnstone, journalist and author of the all-new Gone Again (and four other novels)
Intangibles: Susan Morrison, stand-up comedian extraordinaire!
* Zoe Venditozzi, author of the debut novel Anywhere’s Better Than Here
* R A Martens, spoken word rising star beloved for her weird/absurd short stories
* Andrew Ferguson, stalwart of the Writers’ Bloc spoken word group
* George Anderson, a spoken word must-see lauded for his mixture of prose and poetry
February 17, 2013Posted by on
I plan to do a progress report every now and again – partly it’s just a note to self to keep me on the same set of tracks for more than one minute. So, in no particular order, this is what you’ll be hearing from me about in the next few months:
Venus Carmichael – plans are being finalised for the CD, and plans for a much bigger album in due course. Given Kelly’s impending parenthood, the latter won’t happen in a hurry, but the 5 track sampler is still sounding good a couple of months on, so we just need to sort things like cover design and so on. More on this soon.
Stories – yes, there are a couple of these bubbling under, one for the Caledonia Dreamin’ anthology I mentioned previously, the other moving further in the direction of music and spoken word…
Nick Cave – just over two years ago, I curated a Dylan tribute night, with 8 separate acts all in one crammed gig at the Voodoo Rooms. I’m now letting myself be talked into doing a similar thing for Nick Cave: working title – Cry of the Cave People. I’ll be putting the word out soon for bands and – potentially – some spoken word if it can be fused with some musical ideas, but be warned – there will be only four slots for bands, and one of those is taken already… I have learned some things from Dylan Uncovered …
…oh, and the translation of Cortazar’s Axolotl will be up this week!