Work in Progress

It’s not all fun being a celebrity. At least I imagine it’s not. What with lockdown and renovating a house in rural central Brittany, France I have been busy trying to finalize a new album – and I am nearly there! Once I have uploaded my tracks it will take a couple of weeks for them to chunter through the steam powered sausage-packing plant (vegetarian – I hasten to add) that is the internet and pop out the other end as fully formed bangers ready for consumption … and then I can sit back and let the money roll in. OK – now those of you who are indy musicians could well be holding your sides laughing. You have to be pretty lucky if ANY money rolls in. But we do it for the love of music. Don’t we though?

I published on YouTube a week or so ago one of my tracks called Dizzy Heights, a sort of rollicking and unapologetic romp, a happy toe-tapper – and this is one of the tracks on the album. I’m also including a tune with what I think is an endearing little title: Butterfingers Rag Blues Stomp: a sort of a blues – but not. Or just Butterfingers – here is a video on YouTube of it which I recorded a couple of years ago in Carnac, Southern Brittany. This melody draws influences from my youth. When I was a kid I fell in love with country blues, and then a little later boogie-woogie piano. Much later I listened to some to the stomp greats and this piece reflects these influences – right down to the fact that one of the LPs I had (showing my considerable wisdom – sorry I mean age) was scratched and had to be nudged to keep playing. Yep, that’s in there too. And quite a lot of hair. And a few things besides.

I hope you enjoy it! I wrote it to raise a smile.

In this uncertain new world – Stay safe!

Tony

Dizzy Heights indeed

I’ve just uploaded a new video to YouTube (link here…). This is a tune called Dizzy Heights and it was written during lockdown in France where I live. It was born out of that desire that all of us must have had during this awful year for a bit of escapism – and it makes me smile!

I have been asked who my influences are and that’s always a difficult question to answer. Those of you who might be aware of my music will know that I have very eclectic tastes – the best type of music is generally the last thing I listened to that excited me. Usually it will have an unusual chord sequence, “crooked” rhythm (you know – the kind of music where you would fall over if you tried to dance to it), or some other pop of colour, interest, peculiarity.

But in this piece I think there may well be more than a hint of the great Chet Atkins, peppered with a little Doc Watson, but a soupcon of Josef Rheinhardt (Django’s brother who played rhythm for him – and who deserves more credit and recognition than he receives. I mean you try and play that rhythm and never lose the pulse – not easy!)

Whatever this is a foot-tapping happy thing and I hope it brightens you up as you face whatever you have to face in this changed world.

Take care and stay safe – do what needs to be done to protect yourself and others.

Over the Style (sic) and into the Woods

I am a member of various fiddle groups on Facebook – and a question that seems to come up quite a few times is “what’s the difference between the various styles of playing?” Would it hinder me if I learnt one style and then decided to go to another? I thought I’d chip in my thoughts and comments on the topic. My purpose here is not to go through the different styles – there are acres of YouTube footage there for you to familiarize yourselves with the various styles but this post is more focused on the question should you focus on one as a general rule?

the answer to the question is…. long pause with heavy bass line and anticipatory drum beat – yes and no. Don’t you just hate that yes and no business? The thing is this: as we go through life we experience things, and learn things and learn from things; we are informed by the world around us and our experiences in it and of it. Very philosophical, you might say. We cannot simply dismiss our experiences or unlearn things, we cannot un-know things we now know and we can barely imagine what our lives were like before we knew them. For that reason if you learn to play in a particular style it might prove tricky learning a new style that necessitates a new bowing pattern, a different rhythmic structure, different tone production, dynamics and so on – our muscles might have to unlearn what it took us a very long time to learn if we want to experiment with other styles. So I guess that’s the yes bit: it could hinder you. But read on.

Now for the ‘no’ side of the argument. On the other hand I believe that, potentially, the range of skills that the human brain can acquire is limitless. I think it might be easier if we come at the subject from the perspective of a professional violinist – because the process of acquiring a new skill which might seem to undermine all those technical skills you have worked so hard to master must seem not only daunting but also a step backwards. If you are a relatively carefree and self taught big fisted saw-hand who is familiar with hacking out a howling tune any old how, (like me), with little regard for the ‘string highway’ of Jascha Heifetz (I pull over into a lay-by after a bit) then there is less to lose – at least perceptually. Apart from your friends maybe (like me). However, how many times have you heard about the true ‘greats’ in the music business who have distinguished themselves precisely because they have – and I’m quoting countless music critics here – THROWN OUT THE RULE BOOK? (Like me! ha – I never had a rule book to throw out in the first place!)

What does that tell you? These folks learnt to do it the ‘right’ way, by the established route. They put in the 10000 hours of practice; they dedicated themselves with passion and focus; they honed to a razor edge their skill and technique; perfection, precision; they were punctilious. (Can’t even bring myself to type ‘like me’). Then they ‘threw it all away’.

Except of course they didn’t really. They couldn’t completely indule in rule book heave-hoing. No more than you or I, could they have unlearnt all that they had learned – they could no more dismiss all that training and practice than any one of us. It’s all still there in the background. Everything in the background in addition to their new direction made them what they became. Every bit of learning; every experience informed their style, their interpretation. All of that came to define them.

When you are just starting out to learn to play an instrument I think it is probably impossible to imagine how you will make it sing with your own voice. After all you can’t yet get it to do much at all in the early days. Just a load of funny squeaks and squawks and bizarre noises off. But if you are really passionate one day you will make it sing. I use the term obsessive often when talking about playing any musical instrument because I believe that’s what it takes – and I am not wholly convinced it is particularly healthy – but it’s a trait I’ve seen in many musicians – myself included (or at least my wife says so) and I believe obsession to be absolutely imperative.

Keep going, keep practicing, keep the faith. Learn as many styles however contradictory they might seem, however inimical one might seem to others, keep thinking, and keep playing hard. You are forging your own style. You are dragging your own voice from the caves of your earliest human ancestors and learning how to communicate in that peculiarly musical way, in words molded from pure emotion and spirit – no language cluttering up the proceedings; no preconceived meaning. No easily comprehensible proverbs, epithets, common phrases or sayings arranged in neat order. Nothing getting in the way of how you truly feel, your music separating the fact from fictive life. Of course it’s difficult. If you learn one style then yes it might be a ‘bit difficult’ to learn others – but if you want to stay away from difficult things then stay away from the fiddle – or any other musical instrument – or even music – for that matter! It’s all difficult.

But don’t stay away. Don’t give it up. Please, I beg you, keep at it! If you are genuinely passionate about an instrument or indeed music in general you owe it to yourself and to me and every other living human on planet earth to share your perspective on it all. If your passionate it won’t seem so difficult anyway. Don’t tell yourself ‘I’ll have a break for five years’, if you do you will just be five years later achieving your goal.

All music is yours if you want it. Not just folk, classical, jazz, celtic, fado, flamenco or any other of the fabulous offspring of sound and rhythm – but all of it. From the simple heart-rending ballads sung by grieving, love lorn, unrequited country folk to the soaring Mozartian arias. Drink it in and experience it and let those experiences change you. I couldn’t imagine life without music any more than I could imagine life before I could play the guitar or the fiddle or piano or mandolin or trombone. Actually the last one was a bad example: when I play the trombone it sounds like a jilted dugong.

Be brave. Be fearless. Be obsessive. Sign up for Facebook groups about your instrument and watch, think, listen and learn from them.

Yours, most sincerely, Never Dun-Ranting…

Under the Influence:  Who do you think you sound like anyway?

This is a question that musicians get asked a lot:  Who do you sound like?  I understand the reasons – a listener with a penchant for the music of Johnny Cash might well have a tendency to like country and western while not getting on too well with rap and vice versa.  It’s a good question – intended obviously to  guide listeners to your music directly rather than stumbling across it while looking for something else .  And sometimes we find ourselves listening to an artist and saying ‘hey that’s good – it’s got a bit of Kate Rusby in it, with a soupcon of thrash metal, peppered with Drum and Bass’.  Well, that might be going too far but you see what I mean… we like to feel there is something comfortably familiar in the music we listen to – and there is nothing wrong in that.  Sometimes of course the music is plain derivative where the melody and the arrangement are slightly different but there is a clear intention to create a clone of an existing piece. To be fair that can be because the performer worships the original to the extent that they try to emulate it.

Now that’s all well and good but I want to urge all you budding songwriters and musicians to create something different.  Something new.  Admittedly (at least in the popular music industry, and in our hemisphere) you will be constrained by the norms of musical convention and, if subconsciously, by the rules of musical composition.  But there is still a seemingly infinite variety of styles, instrumentation, melody variation, chord structures and musical imagination out there to make something truly original within those bounds.  Just think of the blues: 12 bars , limited chord sequence but within that an incredible variety of truly seminal music has been written – there can hardly be a songwriter who has not at some level been influenced by this art form.

When you sign up to some of the social media music outlets they will often ask you ‘Who do you sound like?’  I wish they wouldn’t!  I have no idea who I sound like (if anyone) – and that is partly because I am not very good at hero worship and partly because I am pretty rubbish at imitation.

More precisely and more truthfully I should say that of course I have had musical heroes – I had the honour to see B.B. Kind live many years ago and  to call him one of my heroes doesn’t  come close.  But I strive actively to not sound like those I admire greatly.  But It is only partly because I don’t want to – I would give my right arm to have a voice like Tom Jones, or Leonard Cohen, or Bob Dylan, but I haven’t – so that’s that then.  It’s also because I believe very strongly that each of us has a voice to use describe the world as we see it – not as anyone else does – our own unique perspective.  We have to find our own style – and that is a lifetime’s work.

Over that lifetime our style may change.  It would be strange if it didn’t – each new experience good and bad will change who we are – when we find someone to love, lose someone we love, feel passionate about some cause, see injustice, maltreatment,  acts of unexpected kindness – all these things change our souls at the deepest level and that should change our approach to what we write.  I say should – at the very least if you are in earnest about the trade of song writing  it ought to.  Churning out the same old same old because it’s what we have always done isn’t the way forward – it’s a way of staying put.

If you listen to my music or anyone else’s , and if it seems a little left-field, different, unlike the normal run of the mill stuff it doesn’t make it good.  Of course it doesn’t but it is surely worthy of a second listen .  Once upon a time a diminished chord (formed by taking every third half tone) wast regarded as the devil’s work – centuries later it was common place in rock, pop, jazz, blues and film music when a particular mood needed to be conveyed.  Somebody decided ‘hey that deserves exploring’.

So, go forth and explore.  Not everything that’s new is good; not everything  different is bad; not everything original is truly original but none of that matters.  Just don’t try to be someone else.  As  the old saying goes: be yourself:  everyone else is taken.

Social Media Meltdown

This is admittedly a bit of a rant.  But here goes – and I suspect many will agree with me this time.

If you started a business you would hardly expect it to be an overnight success if you could only spare an couple of hours a day promoting it.  Yet in the music business that’s what we routinely do.

I’m in the process of renovating our 400 year old farmhouse in France and that, as you might imagine takes up a lot of time and money.  So when I have finished my daily work – whether that be plumbing, plastering, tiling and general building work  – I have a shower in the shower I finished installing yesterday  and I sit myself down at the computer.  Then if it isn’t my turn to cook something for dinner I set about the process of trying to persuade people that I’m an all round good egg, superb musician, in-demand, up to my ears in work and a number of other vague mis-truths.  Some are true enough but one thing I am not great at is the marketing side of things.  Ploughing through the mind numbing tedium of bashing a few tracks out to potential venues and facebook groups, twitter feeds and so on can drive one to the edge of madness – an edge I am all too close to as it is, without the assistance of Social Media.

How did they do it in the old days?  Well they sent out tapes, CDs or some other physical thing which cost money to produce and maybe after trying for years someone would take an interest –  so on the plus side the ‘modern’ way is better.  The old way I think proved a level of commitment – it’s harder to part with cash unless you are confident and self-assured enough to know its worth it.

But I wonder if it is still possible to do it the old way?  I mean if you were to say to a potential booker of talent ‘I’ve decided I’m going to be different: Instead of doing what every man and his dog does I’m going to drop social media and all its hype and do it the old way.  So hello my name’s Tony and I’m really good at what I do’.  You know it might just work better.  The problem with the ease with which we can now  a) record and produce and b) distribute our music is such that there is now an ocean of competition.  Millions of other talented musicians trying to stand head and shoulders above the rest.  There is a massive flood of talent with the wherewithal to go for gold.

Your music is your business – and no, you cant do it justice with just a couple of hours a day.  It takes time.  It takes a maddening amount of time to get it heard.  Social media might be a pain but you just have to do it.  Put up and shut up.

There I’ve finished for now.

Stay tuned for the next thrilling instalment of the grumpy old guitarist (see what I did there? Word play they call it)

Love to all.

Tony

Soundify? SpotiCloud?

It seems to come up quite often on Twitter – which should you plump for Soundcloud or Spotify?  Or maybe both?  It’s all a bit of a conundrum isn’t it?

The trouble with Spotify one might argue is that sure, you get paid – but you aren’t going to take the wife out to lunch unless you are really turning over some serious business.  I think of it this way:  If I do one gig, how long (possibly in centuries) would it take to earn the same amount on the Spotster?  I think we have to ask ourselves why we are in it – this whole music game – to make money, to get heard, to get discovered, or for the sheer joy of it – whatever the reason may be we definitely have to get some perspective.

In my case it’s a bit of all of the above – I have written some songs which I know in my heart and gut are great songs and there’s no reason why some big name band shouldn’t one day approach me and say ‘I can really see us playing that song ‘ and then beg in abject dust eating grovelling for me to allow them to do so.  I simply love playing music (more than the business of music that’s for sure) and the gigging aspect is pretty important to me. Even house parties and unpaid events can bring great joy, especially if people are up for joining in – the thrill of such things can be unbounded.  If you get paid for doing it then that’s the icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned, dosh being the sincerest form of flattery.  Getting heard is part of that process – after all people follow noise not silence so if you don’t kick up a bit of a rumpus who’s going to know you even exist?

To get on to Spotify you have to be signed up with distributors whose job it is to deliver your tracks to them and many other platforms: iTunes, Deezer to name but two.  I suppose the biggest players in the distribution market are CD Baby and Tunecore – but there are others.  There in hangs another little snag – you have to buy the service – if you want to release and album say, you buy the rights to upload your tracks and then the nice people at your distributor will share the love and send the tracks around.  And the distributors charge you in different ways – one of you charges you per track and then it’s there forever, another charges you per annum – so if you don’t want to pay next year that’s your hard luck.  I might be oversimplifying the situation but it works something like that.  I don’t mind being controversial so if you don’t agree send me a message and we can type in capital letters to each other for a while until one of us backs down (probably me…)

Soundcloud on the other hand at least for the basic level is free.  We do like that word, us musicians.  It’s not like musicians get paid particularly well for their decades of painful training and obsessive dedication, so when someone says ‘free’, boy, don’t we prick our ears up.   For free you can upload something like maybe 50 tracks – there’s a limit and it depends on how large the file sizes are but it’ll be quite a few.  Then – there you are in front of the public!

You’ll have instant success when people will like and sometimes repost your track – and you’ll say ‘Yay! here we go!’ till you realise they want you to buy their services to make your hard work go viral.  Maybe it would work – I don’t know – never tried it – but I will leave it to you in all your sagacity to make the judgement there.

But at least you will get heard.  Apparently you can monetise on Soundcloud but the rules are a bit stricter – and I believe that you can’t unless you’ve had at least 500 downloads and I suspect that you have to pay for the Pro service.

So my question is to you guys out there who know very much more about the business end of our delightful creative pursuit than I (and bearing in mind that our cat is more clued up than I am in that particular field) what would (or do) you go for?  Soundcloud? Spotify? or one of the other hosting sites – Reverbnation and so on.

One final question:  Do you release ‘Albums’ and if so what even is an album these days?  If people download tracks willy nilly  what does it matter if you have for some personal whim grouped them together in some way, for some reason only you in your gargantuan intellect will ever know.  Not saying you shouldn’t – just struggling to get my head around the modern world.

Keep smiling, keep playing and keep hoping.  I’m with you

 

Love Tony

And next…

The summer madness is nearly done. It’s been great for us, I have to say and we’ve played lots of gigs, had lots of fun and met some great people along the road – musicians and audiences alike. Taking a wee breather now but we’ll be doing a quick trip to the UK in early October, then November 2nd down to the Restaurant in Reflexions Restaurant in Saint Vincent sur Oust.We’ll be playing from 8 pm. So why not come along and grab a bite to eat and join the party!As usual there are a few more in the pipeline… But if you’re looking for a band that prides itself in engaging with the audience – as well as in fine musicianship and just great fun give us acall!

hooligansrule@yahoo.com

Or

tonysimister@hotmail.com
Or even call me on+33 (0) 760 51 22 76
Enjoy the rest of the summer and See you soon!

La Jument de Michao

I’ve just uploaded this song to youtube – La jument de Michao is an interesting song – it is a traditional Breton song that originates from Vannes.  I’v provided a translation below, for all the good it will do you – but I think it rocks.

It is supposed to be a parody of the Dies Irae – a part of the latin Mass, and as I say on the YouTube commentary there is probably a deep significance to the lyrics which have long been lost…  if anyone can provide an insight I’d be very interested to hear it!  I will add that the weasel is the official animal of Vannes and you will see it everywhere (wearing a cloak).  This extract is from the Quimper-Vannes Blogspot:  I hope they forgive me for copying it here:

The ermine (Mustela erminea) a.k.a. stoat or short-tailed weasel is the national emblem of Brittany.Its much sought after white winter coat was used for the cloaks, crowns and caps of the aristocracy.
Ermine

The eleven ‘ermine spots’ which form the pattern in the top left corner of the Breton flag represent the way the black-tipped tails were hung on the white fur. This heraldic ermine canton was a feature of the arms of the Dukes of Brittany.

Breton flag with ermine canton

The story goes that Anne de Bretagne, the last independent Breton ruler and the wife of two successive French kings,  saw a group of hunters chasing after an ermine. When the ermine reached the edge of a muddy lake the ermine decided to stand up to his attackers rather than risk soiling his beautiful white fur.

ANNE DE BRETAGNE

Anne, it appears, was so impressed that she saved the ermine and adopted it as the emblem of her dynasty along with the motto:

Plutôt la mort que la souillure.
It is better to die than to get dirty.

end quote.  Couldn’t have said it better myself.  The ‘better to die’ bit in particular.  Here are the lyrics:

In ten years time, I will go

I hear the wolf and fox singing.

I hear the wolf and the fox and the weasel singing

I hear the wolf and the fox singing

In nine years time I will go

Michao’s Mare has gone into the meadow

Michao’s mare and her little foal have gone into the meadow

and eaten all the hay.  (repeat)

Winter is coming lads, winter is coming – Michao’s mare will regret it…

 

So, there we have it.  Better now?  Great song though.

I hear the

Everybody Out!

We’re coming to the end of our season here in beautiful la Trinité sur Mer, Brittany, France. We’ve had a cracking time and enjoyed every minute of the music we’ve been fortunate enough to share with our audiences at the fantastic and friendly Bar’oudeur in Carnac, the Fête de la musique in Pleugriffet, the impressive and delightful Château Ville Voisin, the Fest Noz at Guillac and – well just thank you to everyone we’ve met along the way for your kindness appreciation and support along the way.

That’s the truly great thing about music – no matter what age, gender, nationality you have to just love it. Over the summer we must have played for dozens of nationalities – to people from all walks of life and you know what? They all love music. If I was a lot cleverer if like to write a thesis on what part of the human soul needs music- and it seems to be one of the absolutes of the universe – but I’ll just have to settle for the knowledge that it is simply that- imperative.

Next gig will be at the Reflections Restaurant in St Vincent sur Oust on 2nd November 2018, from 8.00pm.

Be great if you could make it!

A few others in the offing and I’ll keep you posted….

In the meantime stay safe

Tarra

Tony