writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Monthly Archives: January 2019

(Not Quite) All About the Bass: A Sonic Journey into the Nether Regions


Image result for bass

Not that kind, obvs!

I’ve been thinking a lot about drums and bass recently. Almost always the last thing I put in any track I’m creating, they should, of course, be pretty much the first thing. I mean, the rhythm section, right?

There’s a very good series on BBC4 just finished called ‘Guitar, Drum and Bass’ which covers all three instrumental elements of most popular music setups: you can catch it on iPlayer if you’ve missed it.

In it, Tina Weymouth (bass) Stewart Copeland (drums) and Lenny Kaye (guitar) trace their instruments’ history, from early blues and jazz right through to the present. They’re all good, but my favourite was Tina, who as Talking Heads’ bassist has probably had a few musical styles thrown at her over the decades!

I’m not quite sure why bass has been so neglected in my music making. I suppose we all have slightly different hearing ranges, and it may be that mine is tipped towards the treble end. In any event, the Tina Weymouth episode inspired me to experimentation on a track I’d had half-done for some time. In particular, a section on 90s DJs, and their search for ever more profound bass sounds got me twiddling about with the available knobs on my music editing software (of which, as I’d just shelled for the Pro Edition of Mixcraft 9, there are several).

Firstly, I used the Korg synth to record a really basic bass part, as low as I could go on the keyboard. Then, using Mixcraft, I duplicated it, then dropped the second track an octave – or twelve semitones, something I should have known without looking up. That sounded … interesting: basically, I now had a bass part that would have my left hand hanging off the end of the keyboard for most of the notes. And then I thought, how low can you go?

Third track, another octave down. You could still hear it, but it was WAYYY low, growling away to itself. I imagined swimming ever lower and lower, down into the sonic nether regions, beyond the range of the human ear where Beelzebub and his minions lurked, sending messages to the unwary through the sub-bass demonosphere.

Pleased with myself, I got as far as finalising the track with all three octaves of bass on it, growling away underneath the song. I was going to put it up on Soundcloud.

Then next day I decided it didn’t work, cut the two lower tracks and stuck it up with the ‘normal’ bass. Hey ho. Perhaps one day I’ll dive towards the nether regions once more, torch in hand, but not on this song!

(The track itself, by the way, is one of a number of contenders for my next album, Otto’s Biography. It’s not in yet, so any feedback gratefully accepted)



















Down below here are only the demons of advertising



In search of the perfect Haggis wine: the never ending quest

Tonight is Burns night, when Scots and Scotophiles – or even just Burnsophiles – celebrate the poet’s birthday by eating something very specific: a haggis.

The excuse for this is that the dude wrote a poem about it, extolling its virtues over all that fancy foreign muck. It’s also, of course, an excellent excuse (as if we Scots, according to stereotype, needed one) for a piss up, generally featuring lashings of that other Scottish staple, whisky.

Well, I’ve got some conflicted views about Burns, and whisky for that matter. Probably a case of overexposure to both at a relatively young age. However, I’ve got real unconditional love for haggis: and I’ve always been on the look out for the perfect red wine (which, by the way, Rabbie was just as keen on as uisge beatha, as they say in the Gaelic) to accompany our national dish.

This isn’t completely straightforward. Haggis, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, is a combination of various of the, er, lesser eaten bits of a sheep, spices, suet, and oatmeal – not something that finds its equivalent in many wine making countries. However, that doesn’t stop me pursuing this quest relentlessly, and tonight will be no exception:

Image result for sainsbury's zweigelt wine

First up, a Sainsbury’s Austrian wine we opened on Tuesday and have had vacuvin’d since: part of their Taste the Difference range, this Zweigelt wine has a quid off at the moment, which brings it down to £8.

Like many people, I was put off Austrian wine by the diethylene glycol scandal in the 80s, when several of their producers were caught adding what amounted to antifreeze to their wines – I can’t remember why, now. However, be put off no more: this is a belter!

We first came across the Zweigelt grape in neighbouring Hungary, a couple of years ago, on a fantastic wine-tasting trip my sister inveigled us into. It’s a really good combination of fruit and heft, and you should totally give it a try.

However, there’s only half a bottle of that left. What else should be put up against the aforesaid haggis, served in our house with tatties (Charlottes in our case, although it should probably be some floury Ayrshires traditionally) and carrots (as opposed to the more conventional turnips, or swede).

Discovering Zweigelt in Hungary


…and up against it is…

(drum roll)



Yes, that’s right, ladies n’ gennlemen, the tried and trusted Campo Viejo brand of Rioja, this time a 2013 Reserva going for the same as the Zweigelt – £8 on offer at Sainsbury’s.

There are a couple of reasons why we’ve gone for this one: a) it’s on offer at the moment, so it’s worth testing out to see if it’s still drinking well, or if it’s on offer because it’s starting to lose its legs a bit and they’re keen to get it off their shelves (non-expert tip: a Reserva of this age should still have a bit of fruit left in it as well as a good whack of oak. Smell the cork, and if it smells of anything other than cork or wine, treat with extreme suspicion); and b) we’ve found in the past that Rioja is a good foil to the fatty, spicy, but still meaty flavour of haggis, and can even cope with the sweetness of carrots in the mix. They do, after all, have their own version of black pudding – morcilla – in Spain.

And the winner? You’ll have to wait till tomorrow, obviously – I’m too busy drinking it to blog about it on a Friday night! What kind of saddo do you take me for???




P.S.: and, after thorough research, the winner is… the Rioja. Not convinced it’s the greatest of its kind – that will be put to the test tonight, when I try it with something it’s more suited to – but the oak gave it the structure to stand up to the haggis better. Mind you, after the main course, the Zweigelt was very agreeable drinking on its own…



Still Behind That Curve: The £150 Laptop

HP Stream 11-r050sa 11.6" Laptop - BlueHP Laptop: CRUCIAL UPDATES MISSING

Me: I’m busy with this cat meme on Twitter at the moment, okay?

HP Laptop: No, I’m not letting you do anything else until you click on this message about CRUCIAL UPDATES

Me (sighing): Yeah, ’cause it’s not like you’ve not told me I can’t get these updates, like, 5 million times?

HP Laptop: Maybe the updates would include software to deal with sarcasm and exaggeration?

Me (clicking on the thing): You seem to be dealing with these okay at the moment.


Me (closing dialogue box): Now who’s exaggerating? Now f***k off.

Laptop (in a hurt tone): Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

My occasional series about the cheapest laptop in the shop. Not an advert for HP as such, but an advert for sometimes, just sometimes, how buying the cheapest thing isn’t a false economy. Until it breaks and it is, of course.

It looks like it’s nearly three years since I posted about the acquisition of this little beauty: isn’t she lovely? And, guess what, she’s still trucking! I suppose it shouldn’t be amazing that a piece of technology should still be working after two years and nine months, but it feels that way…
























This blog is not sponsored by HP. Or anyone else, for that matter. But everyone has their price … in my case, guitars



Albums of 1979: January

1979 Ford LTD Sedan related infomation,specifications ...Why 1979? Because it was forty years ago. And because, scarily, that was the year I became 17, and therefore marks the time when music really took on a whole new significance for me.

1979. Back when cars were proper cars and, er, women were gratuitously used as bonnet ornaments. Great hair though.

That perfect storm of toxic hormonal poisoning (or being a teenager, as it’s generally known) the onset of life-changing exams, and reaching an age when it was legal to do various things (or, in the case of alcohol, close enough for jazz, in Scotland at least) meant that music took on DEEP SIGNIFICANCE for me and my mates.

Of course, I could have chosen 1976, with punk’s first wave; or 1977, when some truly great albums came out, or indeed 1978, when I became 16. However, I’ve only just caught up with the concept, which I’ve frankly stolen from fellow blogger Vinyl Connection, who did something similar for 1968 last year.

Plus if I’d done it earlier I might have had to ‘fess up to something truly musically awful being the music I fell in love to (or, in the grown up world, had a serious infatuation, or bad case of the hots, to). I’ll spare the unwitting (and, in some cases, unknowing) recipients of said feelings the embarassment of naming them: they did nothing wrong, after all. Even the ones that crushed me by wanting to just be friends…

A word on the 1979 teenage, Scottish schoolkid musical landscape: music came out of radios via either the generalist Radio 1 (if you were pretending to be cool, the John Peel show was sacred territory) or by means of television shows, principally the generalist Top of the Pops. Albums – or LPs – were generally bought on vinyl, but often lent to mates to allow reproduction on long-dead tech called ‘C90 cassettes.’ Remember HOME TAPING IS KILLING MUSIC – AND IT’S ILLEGAL? That was a successful campaign, right enough. They should try it with free downloads and streaming.

I don’t remember people making up mixtapes back then: the idea was you taped the whole album (or LP: the names were mainly interchangeable at that point) in its original sequence. So you could listen to it, in its original sequence. Because that was how the musical gods who had made it intended. Which could be a bit of a bugger for any albums over 45 minutes long, because you couldn’t squeeze all the tracks onto one side.

Technology problems aside, 1979’s teenage musical landscape was a multi-layered, nuanced affair – at least if you were still at school or university. It was tribal beyond belief: were you a punk, a metal head, a folkie (not many of those in late 70s Glenrothes, let me tell you!) or, perhaps, just a Serious Rock muso? My friends and I probably pretended to the latter, although none of us had any problem in adopting the new wave acts that had grown out of punk – step forward The Clash, Costello, Blondie, Boomtown Rats, and so on.

ABBA - WikipediaNo one was allowed to like Abba. At least officially. So I bought all their albums unofficially and hid them when my cooler friends came round.

Abba looking windswept and interesting somewhere in 1979. From Bjorn’s (or is it Benny’s: I could never tell them apart even when only one of them had a beard) fetching jumper, probably Canada.

For me, it was always Anna-Frid. Since you ask.

So. Enough context already. It was also, I think, the year I first picked up a guitar in any sort of earnest, inspired by Dylan. However, although a much-derided live album of his will crop up in April, I don’t intend to bore on about him all year, don’t worry. Instead, let’s have a look at some other people’s albums in January, and then next month, February, and so on (at least, that’s the plan: I haven’t even researched this enough to be sure there were albums of merit in every month of that year, but given the year it was, I’m pretty confident it is, and if not, hell, I’ll make some shit up).

So, without further ado, ladies n’ gennlemen:


…and we’re off to a rippingly good start. Declan McManus’s third album, the second with the Attractions, and stuffed full of those early-period Costello lyrics: ‘Accidents Will Happen,’ and ‘Oliver’s Army,’ were the singles, although I always had a soft spot for ‘Green Shirt,’ which seemed to have just a bit more emotion in it. Plus that great line about fingerprints on his imagination.

Nick Lowe produced, and Costello’s version of his ‘What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding’ (later to be murdered by Curtis Stigers) featured on the US import. Initial pressings included a live single, featuring three of his best: ‘Accidents Will Happen,’ ‘Alison,’ and ‘Watching the Detectives.’

Meanwhile, in another planet altogether, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards had written and produced

SIster Sledge We Are Family 1979.jpgWE ARE FAMILY, by Sister Sledge. Not content with the success of Chic, the boys served up some dance floor fillers for the sisters: the title track, obviously, plus three other hits: ‘He’s the Greatest Dancer,’ ‘Thinking of You,’ and the one you’ll probably remember, ‘Lost in Music.’

Nile Rodgers was quoted later as saying that, of the various he and the rest of the Chic Organisation produced for themselves and others, “pound for pound, I think We Are Family is our best album hands down.”

Yes indeedy people, disco was still alive and well in 1979. In fact, on 6th January, American Bandstand featured the first known performance of the Village People’s ‘YMCA dance.’

Chertakemehome.jpgThose are probably the two most long-lasting albums of January. However, you also had TAKE ME HOME, Cher’s attempt at the disco genre (okay, I mentioned it mainly for the bonkers cover, but laugh all you like, it went gold in the States);

Joe Jackson released LOOK SHARP, Joejacksonlooksharp.jpgwith his classic ‘Is She Really Going Out With Him,’ as well as a rather more understated album cover: taken by Brian Griffin in five minutes on London’s South Bank, when he spotted a shaft of light and asked Jackson to stand in it. Despite being rated by Rolling Stone at number 22 of 100 great album covers of all time. Good to see, by the way, that Jackson’s got a new album coming out, 40 years on.

Defleppardep.pngWhat else? Def Leppard issued their debut EP, confusingly titled THE DEF LEPPARD EP. In line with the punk DIY ethos if not the music, the first 100 copies featured lyric sheets that singer Joe Elliot had phtocopied at work during his lunch break: he and his Mum did the gluing of the 1,000 sleeves.

Those first 1,000 copies, by the way, have a red label and were issued by the band’s own wonderfully named company, Bludgeon-Riffola.


Zappa sleep dirt.jpg

Others included Herbie Hancock’s FEETS, DON’T FAIL ME NOW; The Scorpions’ LOVEDRIVE; and John Denver’s self-titled album.

Oh, and Frank Zappa issued SLEEP DIRT, and then everyone in his world sued eveyone else. The excellently named Chad Wackerman did drum overdubs on the CD reissue: an example of nominative determinism if ever there was one.

I’d love to tell you I bought all of these albums at the time, just to show what a musical polymath I am. I think I had an illegal cassette of Armed Forces. What can I say? I was busy studying for my Highers, not to mention coping with those hormones.

Next month, February. See the pattern there?

















Adverts there be down here. Things have moved on a bit from 1979.