British-good-at-making=pop-music-2SeasSessions-Blog

Why are the British so good at making Pop Music?

Why are the British so good at making popular music?

'This sceptred Isle…'

A relatively small island nation just off the western coast of mainland Europe has been responsible for more world-beating music over the last 60 or so years than any state in Europe and can happily compete a with the continental American Big-boys across the Atlantic ocean.

How's that then? With a population slightly smaller than Thailand it can't be a big population boon and with a landmass a little less than that of the African nation of Guinea, At 0.0014198 square miles (about 39, 000 square feet) per capita it is hard to believe its a geographical factor.

The closest neighbouring country is a little over 23 miles away across the English Channel. France has a similar sized population to the UK and roughly three times the landmass but nowhere near the intensity of quality music despite its international cultural acclaim. In fact, it is difficult to find a place on the globe, short of Jamaica, that has a similar hits-to-population ratio. What is it then that sets this 'green and pleasant' land apart?

The accent of rock’n’Roll?

Opera is sung 'in Italiano', Rock'n'Roll is sung in English. The home of Rock'n'Roll and all things related is undeniably the United States of America. That’s where it was born, that's the culture it comes from, but it is worth remembering that this cultures primary language is English. Is that the key?

It is true that there are certain phrases and words that only a person whos' first language is English can naturally vocalize. During world war two British troops would try to trap German interlopers by simply asking them to pronounce the word ’Squirrel’ and much fun can be had by asking a Frenchman to pronounce the 'th' at the beginning of ‘that’ or ‘there’, nearly always being mispronounced as 'zat' or 'dere'.

Can it be as simple as zat? Is it just that the British have an innate cultural handle on the nuances of lingual Rock'n'Roll or is there more to it?

“Playing in the UK is hard-work”

Ask any working musician, UK citizen or not, about performing in the UK and they'll tell you it is hard work. Perform anywhere in mainland Europe and you’ll be greeted by a “Hey, how are you? Thanks for coming. Would you like some coffee or maybe a beer? Please, have some sandwiches and fruit. What would like for dinner?” In the UK it'd be more along the lines of “Oh, you're the band, right. Well, we don’t want it too loud OK? Look, you set up over there (pointing vaguely near the toilet door) don’t make any mess or block the door, yeah. There's a chip shop round the corner if you get hungry, but you can't bring it in here though, right, it'll stink the place out”
The audiences are tough too they expect a quality not necessarily reciprocated by their audible appreciation. Far from ignoring they can adeptly persecute an act by means of an occasional firm stare or a crossed arms disapproving stance.

Unlike many other European counterparts, there are no government subsidies for music or the arts at a start out level. No guaranteed wage as in France or public grants as in Germany or Sweden.

You have to be good and insanely committed to the cause to get along in the UK as a musician, with no slacking.

Little Islanders

That little island just off the coast of Europe has throughout its modern history punched above its weight. There was a time not so long ago that the sun never set on the British Empire, huge swathes of land around the globe and their native populations, all much bigger than Great Britain', were ruled and contained by the heavily outnumbered inhabitants of that small island. Maybe that's it, just a pure sense of superiority. 'We can do this better than you' and so they do.

So why this place?

Perhaps it's a sly combination of all of the above. Sociology, Geography, History and Demography. The left-over arrogance formed of the shadow of the days of empire. The comparative close proximity of major cities and their venues. The 'Boys from Men' and 'wheat from chaff' separating virtues of the UK gig circuit along with an ancient comprehension of the Rock'n'Roll lingua franca leads to Great Britain presiding on the table of chief nations of popular music across the globe.

Surely it can’t just be the raw talent?

 

Written by: R. Vee - 2018


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Mo Zowayed - Session #10

Mo Zowayed - 2Seas Sessions #10

“Good Morning!”

For the well seasoned in-house crew a 2 Seas Session generally begins with a short trip to Bahrain International Airport in Muharraq to meet and greet the incoming Artist or Artists. Not this time though, this talented Bahraini could have easily walked to his session at 2 Seas Studio.

“Who’s Mo Zowayed?”

Mo Zowayeds’ press kit describes him as ‘an indie singer- songwriter… combining vocal hooks with guitar-driven melodies with a soulful and upbeat sound’. Although still in his twenties he has toured the UK, Europe and the USA and played extensively across the Middle East and that experience shows in his delivery. In 2017 those ‘vocal hooks and soulful upbeat sounds’ led to Mo and his band being hand-picked to open for The Jools Holland Rhythm and Blues Orchestra on their UK tour culminating in a sold-out show at The Royal Albert Hall in London.

As of January 2018, Mo has completed recording sessions for his second EP and with a world-renowned production team behind him, the future looks bright.

2 Seas Session #10

During session #10 the crew were enthusing about his innocent but refined guitar style and his clear, relaxed vocal with that curious androgynous quality described by his easy natural falsetto. “This guys great! And we get to try out some different vocal mic’s!” was the resounding opinion from the control room.

With an artist like Mo, it is all about the song, no expensive tricks, or technological wizardry, just a true voice, finger-picked guitar, a small rhythm section and the art of the song. Love and loss, pain and joy are common human themes that Mo’ beautifully crafts into his songs and we were all very happy to hear them laid down in the 2Seas Studio. With a full-set of songs in the can 2Seas Session #10 went very much to plan. The in-house crew began editing the audio and video almost immediately, because there is always time for a cup of tea at 2 Seas, maybe even some biscuits.

2Seas Sessions #10: Mo Zowayed Videos

 

 

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2Seas-Session-#9-Artist-The-Rising-Souls-1

The Rising Souls - Session #9

The Rising Souls - 2Seas Sessions #9

Acoustic roots band ‘The Rising Souls’. Rise indeed.

They have captivated audiences far and wide. Performing shows across their native Scotland including a lauded performance at the internationally renowned Edinburgh Festival as well as shows south of the Scottish border across Southern England and London.

More recently the band have travelled to Eastern Europe to bring their particular brand of Acoustic Blue-eyed-soul meets stomping blues to new audiences. Prague Loves The Rising Souls!

What is clear just from watching these guys on ‘net videos is that they sincerely love what they do, however seeing them do their thing live takes it all to another level. Passionate delivery and musical prowess with an On-stage confidence backed by keen rehearsal allows the band to improvise live around powerful Stompin’ blues and boogie rhythms and themes. Their enjoyment in their art is tangible and infectious.

Many miles from Scotland to the Desert…

It was the first time visiting the Middle East for David (Vocal), Reese (Drums and Vocal), Roy ‘Kelso’ (Bass Guitar and Vocal ) and Stevie (Guitar and Vocal) arriving after a 6 hour flight from the UK for a number of days to record an exclusive set for 2 Seas Sessions on the Island Kingdom of Bahrain.

This was an unusual session for the band, they were a man down as one of the regular band couldn’t make the session and so they elected to perform in a ‘broken down’ style, using much less in the way of backline, drums and equipment than in their usual setting. The 2seas in-house crew, all seasoned professionals, were struck not only with the beautifully sweet harmony vocals from the band and their general tightness but also their uncanny ability to ‘get it’ in one-take. Leaving much more time for tea!

This smart, young, good looking and talented gang of young men have a bright future ahead of them. It was an absolute pleasure to have them visit us at the 2Seas Studio.

It seems they enjoyed their visit. All concerned had a great time. Four, not only talented, but also hilarious fellas were an absolute pleasure to work with. The results of the 2SeasSession speak for themselves.

2Seas Sessions #9: The Rising Souls Videos

 

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DIY music: A fine musical tradition of doing it yourself

DIY music: A fine musical tradition of doing it yourself.

Three Chords and the truth:

The desire to make music is in some irrepressible. They will suffer poverty, humiliation, and outright rejection just to continue to play, to be able to express. These hardliners, often without funding or assistance of any sort will through tenacity and blind faith find a way to express what is in them. This is the do-it-yourself ethic that has seen the rise of many forms of music and many artists from the bedroom to the touring stage.

The music industry has always searched for the latest thing, for where the kids are at now. In its heyday, it employed teams of scouts to search for this elusive ‘golden goose’. Some homespun forms of music manage to escape the industry entirely and make their own route. Some are tempted and are eventually eaten alive. A few are able to walk away from the ‘majors’ and continue on, business as usual.

Amongst countless other ‘minor league’ genres, two notable and musically contrasting music led scenes, Punk and Rave have both flirted at one stage or another with the major music industry and have both come through reasonably unscathed. They both have a common foundation, that being three chords and the truth. Be it three chords on a loud guitar or three chords on a keyboard-synthesizer its still simple and honest music. In many different cultures all over the world the course of things political and cultural has been affected and in some cases irrevocably changed by nothing more powerful than 3 simple chords and some choice true words.

PUNK: Oi!

When punk hit the UK mainstream 1977 it shocked a nation both culturally and within the hallowed halls of the British establishment. “God save the Queen, the fascist regime” taunting the very foundations of Olde England in the Silver Jubilee year of Queen Elizabeth. The most famous Punk bands of the time, those who garnered front- page press more for their antics than their music are not really what we’re looking at here in terms of D.I.Y.

Malcolm Mclarens’ carefully tailored Sex Pistols may have grabbed the limelight but not without becoming a fully functioning part of the establishment they so vehemently and vocally opposed, signing to major record labels and courting the national press.

Meanwhile at street level, Punk begins with some mates getting together some guitars, drums and amplifiers, learning the very basics then playing a gig in front of some other mates. At every increment a D.I.Y process. Punk bands like Peter and the Test Tube Babies and Cockney Rejects, who had little in the way of commercial success back in the 70s and 80s, still tour still produce great music and are still doing it themselves.

Free Party Movement: Rave!

In the late 1980s, a new D.I.Y scene appeared across the UK. Thousands of ravers would gather in fields, abandoned buildings or warehouses and dance to what would later be referred to in British law as ‘music of repetitive beats’. People would wait anxiously in cars in motorway services for ‘that’ phone call with the tip-off for the address of the nights free-party. Often racing around the motorway network to arrive before the Police did. The scene can be characterized by hard electronic beats and samples D.J’d from Vinyl, played through a massive sound system to thousands of ravers, all-night long and all for free. The scene popularized several genres including Jungle, Hard-core and House. Unlike its cultural predecessor Punk, Rave brought upon itself the full weight of the law. In 1993 the Criminal justice act was passed into British law, which among other sweeping legislation concerning trespass and right to silence, essentially outlawed public gatherings of three or more people listening to ‘music of repetitive beats’.

Undeterred the scene made its way into the clubs, small venues and licensed festivals. Again, proponents of the Rave scene like Jungle pioneers Congo Natty and D.J Mickey Finn still make great music and still fill rooms and fields with dancing punters, albeit with a bought and paid for ticket this time.

D.I.Y today....

The Loop Machine explosion:

Loop machines have been commercially available since the early 1990s and have gotten better and cheaper over time. ‘Live looping’ utilizes a record/play facility, push-button operated whilst playing. In many ways, live-looping is the ultimate in D.I.Y music. No need for a band, and the inevitable equipment/ travel/ storage issues. No need for a big fee to feed many mouths. Just three chords, or in some cases, four beats and the truth.

2SeasSession artist Munto Valdo uses a loop machine to add rhythm tracks to his songs, building a rhythm step by step, laying melody and vocals over his live-looped organic beats. No bass player, no drummer, just honest beautifully laid rhythm and song all emanating from just one man.

Many artists like now use purely loop-based music for their live shows allowing them total D.I.Y freedom. A great example is self-advertised ‘one-man blues and funk party’ Son Of Dave who combines blues harmonica and beatboxed beats and bass to create a truly unique funky floor-filling sound.
Do-it-yourself now!

In this age of the internet, an independent artist can in theory, and often in practice, create music, artwork and a finished product and then sell it worldwide direct from one machine in their bedroom. Bypassing any traditional route to success through the music industry. Punk bands in the 70s would do the same by manufacturing their own records and selling direct to their own fans. It seems some things have changed and some have stayed the same.

 

Written by: R. Vee - 2018


View a selection of DIY artists to get a better idea of the subject:

Peter and the Test Tube Babies - live at The 100 Club:

Cockney Rejects Live at The 100 Club:

The Summer of Rave 1989 (Documentary):

Congo Natty - live set:

Mickey Finn - live set:

Munto Valdo live set:

Son of Dave - Shake your hips live:


Session Musicians #1: Crikey, that Hassan can pick a band

2 SeasSessions: Session Musicians: “Crikey, that Hassan can pick a band!”

In the studio:

Take a look at any pop-stars live performance video and you’ll see on stage other musicians. You won’t necessarily know their name or their face but they look cool and certainly not out-of-place in their situation. These people are known as session players faceless and nameless next to the stars, living the life, being there but at the same time, not the central object of desire, a lackie, a hired hand.

What does it mean to have played with and worked alongside all of these big names?

It means a successfully carved career, jumping from tour to tour or recording session to recording session. Travelling the world plying trade as a ‘gun for hire’ for pop-stars and rock-stars alike. It means living a life many people dream about.

Welcome to 2 Seas

Way back at 2 SeasSession #1 we had the pleasure not only of the dulcet soulful vocals of Bahraini singer Hassan bin Rashid but also his hand-picked band. A quick look down the list of famous names that these musicians have played with is like a roll call of rock’n’roll.

Here is a look at the careers of the members of the aforementioned Hassan Bin Rashid band:

Melvin DuffyTina Turner, Robbie Williams, Jools Holland, UB40, Elkie Brooks, Chris Difford, KT Tunstall, The Waterboys, Joe Cocker, Squeeze

Primarily known as pedal steel player Duffy has been a leading session player since the late 1990s with his signature playing being heard on records by artists as diverse as Chris Difford of Squeeze and pop star Robbie Williams on his multi-platinum ‘Sing when you’re winning’ album released in 2000. Whilst writing, recording and producing music he continues to be the Pedal Steel player of choice for many stars.


Danny CummingsJohn Martyn, Dire Straits, Johnny Hallyday, Tina Turner, George Michael, Les McKeown, Penguin Café Orchestra, Elton John, Pet Shop Boys, Simply Red, Daniel Bedingfield, Daniel Talk Talk, David Sylvian, Mark Knopfler, Depeche Mode, Bryan Adams.

John Martyn and Daniel Beddingfield are not often mentioned in the same sentence but in the electrifying career of Danny Cummings, it really is no step at all. Fulfilling his vocation as drummer/percussionist with a diverse array of acts is what Cummings does. Performing with globally successful pop acts like Tina Turner and Pet Shop Boys
As well as infinitely cooler, if less financially successful, acts like Penguin Café Orchestra and David Sylvian.


Jamie MosesQueen, Sir Tom Jones, Mike and the Mechanics, Bob Geldof, The Pretenders, Chaka Khan, Amy Winehouse, Gary Barlow and Tony Hadley.

When Brian May invites you to join Queen it’s a fair indication that you’re probably one of the top guitar players in the world. That quality of musicianship has been earned through years of playing at the very top of his game with a great variety of acts. From Elaine Page to Miss Dynamite and Lionel Richie to Roy Wood Moses’ guitar playing has seen him build a reputation as one of the worlds’ finest sidemen.


Hamish StewartAverage White Band (AWB), Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, David Sanborn, Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr

“Oh, Hi Paul, yes I’d love to come and join you on your world tour, swap between guitar and bass with you, of course!” is a conversation most musicians dream about having with Sir Paul McCartney. Hamish Stuart is a truly world-class musician and member of seminal Scottish funk/soul outfit Average White Band. His writing credits include songs for Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross. Oh, and it is Stuart that is responsible for all those mid-80s Chaka Khan funky bass-lines.

Just Listen....

When listening through 2SeasSession #1 the quality of musicianship is tangible. Pure Music flows from the fingers of this fine collection of session players. Always high class and also with an empathy to the song and the singer. What else could you expect from these talented, experienced world-class players.

Written by: R. Vee - 2018


Why not check out 2Seas Session #1 and a few other videos of these guys:

Melvin Duffy, Steel Guitar:

Danny Cummings: Drums with Mark Knopfler

Jamie Moses: Live guesting with The Sweet:

Hamish Stuart: Live set


Real Music - Real Music Venues

Real Music: Real Music Venues

"Yeah, tonight we're at the Enormo-dome"

To see a stadium rock show is a singularly impressive thing. The sheer scale of the production is dominating, massive speaker stacks hung from high scaffolds, stage lights strung in between steel-trussing like packs of the wicked witch's flying monkeys. Vast screens show scenes choreographed to the necessarily loud music.

For days and often weeks both before and after a show of this scale an army of local and touring crew are on-site to build the stage, erect the towers and prepare the field. Unloading tens of trucks of equipment, completing the build and then after only a few hours, tearing it all down again, back into the fleet of trucks and off to the next Enormo-Dome or Mega–Bowl. Millions of people worldwide spend their hard-earned money on expensive tickets to such spectacles year in and year out. So they must be great right?

Let's just look at that for a moment in the cold light of day. In exchange for an often obscene amount of ticket money. A long motorway drive to the overpriced car park of a soulless behemoth can be expected. To see the ‘star' appear either as a moving dot on a distant stage or as a larger-than-life occupant of a huge screen. A cheaper and more satisfying alternative is to go and see an act in a venue where the band are so close that you can smell them, altogether a much more real experience. Real music in a real venue.

Small Venues: The roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd

In the annals of Rock ‘n' Roll history there are written the sacred names of a few small venues, all ordained and made saintly. Some gone some remain with us. These places of ‘worship' are made so by tear-away kids, searching for something new, for a place and time to call their own. When they do so, things about them flourish.
Here are four of those sacrosanct places.

The 100 Club - 100 Oxford Street, London, England.
Capacity: 350

Perhaps the most iconic small music venue in London The 100 Club has for over 70 years been the hub of live music and popular culture across times and genres. Originally named The Feldman Swing Club it opens its doors to the public on 24th October 1942 entertaining 'over-paid, over-sexed and over-here' American G.I.s with the hottest Swing Jazz as they caroused with young English ladies. The name was changed to The 100 Club in 1964 and in its time it has been a surrogate home to London youth culture throughout a British Jazz Boom, the invention of Skiffle, the British Blues Explosion and of course Punk.

The list of famous names that have played the 100 Club goes on and on, in fact, it is probably easier just to say ‘everybody'. Preserved on the walls are hundreds of photographs spanning its rich and diverse story. If you get the chance to go to a gig there make sure to arrive early and study the complete history of modern music channelled through one glorious room.

CBGB OMFUG - CBGB's Manhattan, New York, USA.
Capacity: 350

Country Blue-Grass Blues Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers.

An odd title for a venue, yet somehow fitting for a club synonymous with Punk music and things avant-garde. More often known as CBGBs the club opened in 1973 and soon became the home of New York Punk. The Ramones, Patti Smith and Blondie all cut their teeth on the hazardous stage of CBGBs.

The clubs name and iconic logo is now commonly seen worn on always scruffy and always black T-shirts by punk kids too young to remember the day it finally closed its doors in 2006.

The demise of CBGBs is a clear example of the nature of gentrification. Here's how it works. Young artists, musicians and creatives looking for cheap accommodation and workspace, they find areas full of life and character but unfashionable and cheap to rent. They bring with them a certain ‘cool'. Coffee shops, bars and pop-up venues open to cater for the new inhabitants. That brings with it more ‘cool', the area becomes fashionable so the rents rise. The artists, musicians and creatives move on or are forced to search again for cheaper rents. The area becomes a sanitized memory of what it once was. Where CBGBs once stood is now a luxury apartment block surrounded by chain restaurants and stores.

The Cavern Club and Erics Club - Matthew Street, Liverpool, England

Matthew Street in the hard northern English City of Liverpool is home to two legendary music venues that occupy opposite basement lots a little way up the short city centre street. The two doors facing each other across a street that has seen The Beatles and The Ramones amongst other famous names ponder its cobbles.

The Cavern Club opened as a Jazz club in 1957 and later Blues was allowed on the bill and eventually with some convincing the venue began catering for a burgeoning young appetite for ‘Beat' music and Rock ‘n'Roll. By far the most famous ‘Beat-group' to take the stage at The Cavern is The Beatles although a plethora groups that played the Cavern went on to great international success. The club shut in 1973 and has since been re-built re-opened as part venue part homage.

Three years later In 1976 Erics Club opened its doors and in the subsequent years, it appears that ‘everybody' in the north of England played there. Punk, new wave and British dance music can all claim a seat at Eric's.

"See you at the Club!"

In this modern youtube age of instant gratification and endless google searching it is easy to forget what these small music venues meant to their inhabitants and frequenters. They were a place to gather, that's an actual place, not a virtual one. They were a place to discover and exchange ideas on music and fashion and on life. A place to be different and a place to be the same.

What happens to the small venue now is anybody's guess but history shows that the kids will find somewhere to do something and sometimes those kids, that somewhere and that something is a recipe for the magical.

 

Written by: R. Vee - 2018


Why not check out our Artist Interviews to get a closer understanding of what makes these marvellous musicians tick:


All The Gear - Part Two: The equipment that made Rock 'n' Roll

All the gear: The equipment that made Rock 'n' Roll

Part two of a review of the gear that made the sound of Rock’n’Roll

In the previous article, we covered electric guitar and bass amplification, electric guitars and the electric bass. Here we look at keyboards, drums and vocal microphones.

Hammond B3 and Leslie Cabinet

The Hammond organ in one shape or another has been around since the 1930s. Initially designed to replace the much more expensive pipe organ in Churches it became very popular with Jazz, Blues and Soul players as the draw-bars, which emulate the pipes of the pipe organ, gave excellent scope to express through the sound. There is an interesting story about the accompanying Leslie cabinet.

Mr. Donald Leslie worked as an engineer for Mr.Laurens Hammond. Mr. Leslie came up with the groundbreaking idea of a speaker cabinet in which the speakers revolved around a central drum (not un-akin to a washing machine) to provide a tremolo type effect. Mr.Hammond didn’t like it, so in 1941 Mr.Leslie set-up his own company and created his first Cabinet, it proved enormously popular. Today the two machines are virtually inseparable.

Side 3 of the Jimi Hendrix double album ‘Electric Ladyland’ begins with the track ‘Voodoo Chile’, not the more famous Voodoo Chile ( slight return ) with ‘that’ wha-wha guitar intro, but a slower bluesier version featuring Steve Winwood on the Hammond organ and Leslie Speaker. It is epic, the organ and guitar flirt around each other like Greek gods in a Da Vinci sculpture.

The deep warbling sound of a Hammond organ and its draw bars combined with the very physical chorusing effect of a spinning Leslie cabinet is just about the most popular of rock-keyboard sounds. Without that Hammond trill leading to the chorus’ of Procol Harum's ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ the record whilst a great song would quite probably sound flat like a tuneless pancake. The Hammond can be sweet, it can be angry, and everything in between. It certainly deserves its place amongst classic backline.

Fender Rhodes: The Electric Piano

Another Fender innovation. although this time not at the hands of Leo Fender, he had already sold the company to CBS some years before. Harold Rhodes came up with a simple method of amplifying the sound of his ‘Stage Piano’. Each string or ‘Twine’ has below it a magnetic pick-up just like an electric guitar. When the keys are struck, the twines vibrates and the pick-up translates this magnetic vibration when plugged into an amplifier into the delicious sound of the Rhodes. The Rhodes is synonymous with players like Stevie Wonder and gives that particular soulful sound. A similar instrument is the Wurlitzer piano, a smaller and more portable keyboard instrument that works on the same principal but has a more biting, edgy sound.

Five piece drum kit: ‘ Like an artillery barrage!’

There are many popular and even legendary drum kit manufacturers. Ludwig, Pearl, Premier and Yamaha have all earned their place on the classic Rock’n’Roll stage. Essentially though, despite minor variations in hardware and construction materials and methods they all adhere to a shared format, the five-piece kit. This refers to a kick drum, two rack toms, one floor tom and a snare drum. These are invariably joined by a pair of hi-hat cymbals on a stand with a clutched foot pedal, a crash cymbal and a ride cymbal. The drum-kit has evolved since it was first used in the 1920s and continues to do so, but the principals remain the same. A balanced, if loud, set of drums and cymbals that perfectly compliment each other a give a variety of sounds, soft and loud, sweet and harsh. There are few finer exponents of the five-piece kit than Led Zeppelins’ John Bonham, although like most drummers he upgraded and personalized his standard kit, the five drums remain the core.

Shure SM58: The voice of Rock’n’Roll

On our virtual stage, we now have Stevie Wonder on Rhodes piano, Stevie Winwood on Hammond with the obligatory Leslie Cabinet. Let's have Pino Palladino on his Fender precision bass cooking through that fat Ampeg SVT. John Bonham takes to the drum riser and cracks the snare as a warning shot. Jimmy Page picks up his Les Paul and rolls all the controls round to ‘11’. What about the singer? The only microphone of choice is a Shure SM58. Designed in 1966 the ’58 is undeniably the voice of Rock’n’Roll. Solid, reliable and virtually indestructible, everyone from the singer down the pub to global arena- rock superstars all feel very comfortable with the reassuring weight of a Shure SM58 in their hand. Whilst other microphones have far better frequency responses, technical sheet statistics and clearer sounds it’s the’58 that holds the key. It is more than any other piece of equipment listed in these articles genuinely the sound of Rock’n’Roll. The ’58 is supposed to be shouted in from less an inch away, it is supposed to be dropped angrily to the floor. It is supposed to distort a hi-octane vocal sound. In fact, the ’58 thrives under these circumstances. One famous ’58 stalwart is Roger Daltrey of The Who. The microphone perfectly suits his screaming spine-tingly rock vocal, and he has made the abuse of an SM58 very much part of the show.

“Standard backline, yeah?”

There are companies that specialize in renting backline to travelling acts or for festival stages. Such Matt Snowball or Music Bank. Its possible to rent all kinds of weird and wonderful musical equipment from them for a price. However more often than not the phrase ‘Standard backline, yeah?’ will be heard in a phone conversation when ordering what is required with the answer ‘Yeah, standard backline’. This means that the equipment listed above has become so much a part of Rock’n’Roll that it doesn’t even need to be itemised.

That order may look something like this

Festival Stage standard backline:
5-piece Drum kit, Hi-hat = stand and felts, crash, ride, hardware, + stool
2 Fender Twin
1 Marshall Stack
1 Ampeg SVT
Hammond B3 and Leslie + stool
Fender Rhodes with Bassman amp + stool

There it is, the recipe for Rock’n’Roll just add some musicians.

 

Written by: R. Vee - 2018


Instruments and musicians in this article:

Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton: Voodoo Chile

Procol Harum : A whiter shade of pale

Stevie Wonder ‘living in the City’ (Rhodes piano only)

John Bonham (Led Zeppelin): drum solo

Roger Daltrey: ‘spinning the microphone’

 


All The Gear - Part One: The equipment that made Rock 'n' Roll

All the gear: The equipment that made Rock 'n' Roll

A two-part review of the ‘gear' that is the sound of Rock 'n' Roll

Take a look at a photo of the Rolling Stones, the Ramones, The Bob Marley and the Wailers in performance or Oasis, Arctic Monkeys and the Foo Fighters or any big name act and on stage from the 1960s to the modern day and you'll see a remarkable similarity in the equipment that fills that stage.

Behind the suave strutting confidence, just out of the limelight, these instruments, amplifiers, speaker cabinets and all kinds of ‘tricks and whistles' are as much a part of Rock 'n' Roll as Doc Martens boots and ripped jeans and Jack Daniels. They are the sound of Rock 'n' Roll. Loaded in and out of trucks and venues by Lemmys' famed ‘Road Crew' these machines arrive on casters in industrial looking flight-cases and dominate the stage, appearing as mountains in a darkened landscape, noise is their business and business is good.

Most of this wonderful noise derives from just a handful of people. These people had little idea at the time of the global effect their innovations would have. Here's a look at a few of those people and their legacies.

Dick Denney: The Vox AC30

Dick Denney was a keen guitar player and electrical engineer. He began working for Jennings Musical Industries a company based in Dartford in the English county of Kent named in 1957. As an electric guitar player, Denney was acutely aware of what guitar players wanted from an amplifier and so designed and built the simply gorgeous Vox AC15. However by 1959 players wanted more volume, more ‘loud', more noise so Mr. Denney doubled up and created the iconic Vox AC30. The Beatles, Queen and U2 all have that signature AC30 sound, much copied, but never bettered.

Jim Marshall: The Marshall Stack

In the early 1960s, Jim Marshall owned a music shop in West London from which he taught drums, one notable pupil being Mitch Mitchell later of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. A number of his guitar playing customers, including the then very young Pete Townshend and Ritchie Blackmore, complained that they couldn't get loud enough with there ‘small' 30watt amplifiers and wanted more depth to the sound. Mr.Marshall saw this as an opportunity and provided them with the daunting 6 foot 2 inch, 100-watt rock-monster that is the ‘Marshall Stack'. From that point onwards Jim Marshall was known affectionately as ‘The father of loud'. If you ever have the chance to stand a couple of yards in front of a full Marshall stack and hear a power- chord rung through its screaming hot valves, do it. It is like nothing on earth, literally knee-trembling, the clothes quivering around your body.

Les Paul: The Gibson Les Paul

Les Paul was a US Jazz guitar player of repute, playing sessions and appearing on big hits of the day. He was also a guitar builder, recording innovator and inventor. In 1952 the Gibson guitar company first offered for sale the ‘Les Paul' an innovative solid body electric guitar. Initially, it wasn't greatly received by the guitar buying public but over time the high output and huge sustain caught the imagination of rock and blues guitar players. The Les Paul guitar IS the sound of Led Zeppelin, Santana and Gary Moore.

Leo Fender: Telecaster, Precision bass, Fender Twin etc.

Over any of the people listed unassuming Californian Leo Fender is responsible for greater innovation and has had a stronger influence over the sound of Rock ‘n' Roll. In 1950 the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company introduced the ‘Telecaster' the first mass-produced, component part Electric guitar. It was followed in1954 by the legendary ‘Stratocaster'. However, it is with the 1951 introduction of the ‘Precision Bass Guitar' or ‘P-bass' that Leo Fender really pushed the boundary. He not only made a reliable and accurate instrument but also completely changed the course of music. Now the bass could be heard clearly amongst drums, pianos and guitars without feedback. Within a few years, the Double bass had been more or less forgotten in Rock 'n' Roll music and replaced by its solid-body cousin.

The company simply termed ‘Fender' are also responsible for a couple of legendary amplifiers. The Fender Bassman, originally designed as the name suggests for bass guitar, had greater success as an amplifier for guitar players. Early rock 'n' roll heroes like Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly thrived on the sound these beasts throw out. According to myth the big, crispy and unrelentingly loud Bassman was used as a model for both Vox and Marshall amplifiers, but no-one can be quite sure.
Then there is the ever dependable workhorse that is the Fender Twin, with it's 60 or 100-watt output through glowing valves and twin 12-inch speakers it is a standard by which all other guitar amps are judged. He was a clever fellow that Leo Fender.

Ampeg SVT: Keeping the bass in its place

In 1969 Bill Hughes of the Ampeg company introduced the fabulously loud 300-watt Ampeg SVT bass guitar amplifier. Its ‘Super valve Technology' insured a big warm tone, superior to anything available at the time. On the U2 ‘Zoo' world tour in 1993 several Ampeg SVTs were employed under the stage to add more boom, during the Buenos Aires show near seismic levels of activity were registered on the Richter scale from 50 miles away. Now, that is the power of rock 'n' roll.

In the next instalment, we'll cover Drums and Keyboards and have a look at some legendary vocal microphones at the centre of every Rock 'n' Roll stage.

Written by: R. Vee - 2018


Instruments and Guitar players in this article:

Motorhead: ‘We are the Road Crew':

Dick Denney and the story of the AC30:

Jim Marshall in interview:

The Fender story:

A History of The Ampeg Bass Amp Company:

 


History Of The Guitar - 2SeasSessions

The Guitar: A potted history of the worlds' most accessible instrument

The Guitar: A potted history of the worlds' most accessible instrument

Guitar Stores. Where dreams begin.

In any given town of a fair size pretty much anywhere in the world you'll find a store either dedicated to or at least proudly displaying guitars. Acoustic, Electric, and Classical guitars. guitars with a pedigree, guitars without. Guitars with digital interfaces, guitars of five hundred-year-old technology. Six strings, a neck and a body in a vast array of manifestations.

In every one of those stores will be a star-y eyed kid dreaming of jamming out on all those guitars hanging in the window. So it has been and so it will always be.

The guitar through its portability, immediacy and sheer usability has more than any other instrument crossed borders, frontiers and times.

A little bit of history…

There are references to stringed instruments in ancient texts from across the world, some strummed and plucked some bowed, the Lute, Sitar and Harp amongst many others. But here we're interested solely in an instrument loosely defined as a guitar.

Artworks from the European Renaissance period (14th-17th century) show a definite figure-8 shaped plucked instrument with several courses of strings. Some or all of which are doubled like a mandolin or a modern day 12-string guitar. A ‘Guitarra Latina' is referenced in court literature of the time. There are still in existence in European museums and conservatories examples of guitars from the 14th and 15th centuries including two surviving examples built by the world renowned instrument builder Antonio Stradivari, perhaps more famous for ‘Stradivarius' Violins.

Over time the instrument evolved. Six strings became the norm usually in an E / A / D / G / B / E or ‘Spanish' tuning. The body shape becomes bigger and wider with a more pronounced bout to the figure-8 shape. The strings themselves change from gut to wound steel. By the 19th century, its usage has become less courtly and more ‘of the folk'.

In the melting pot of early US American history, the guitar takes on a vital role and evolves quickly into a loud, brash rhythmic instrument used in small groups or solo as an accompaniment to voice.

The need for the instrument to be heard among much louder brass and percussion instruments led to some truly unique innovation. Resophonic guitars originated by Slovak-American immigrants the Dopyera brothers were fitted with resonating cones that would mechanically amplify the raw acoustic sound. Maccaferri guitars, designed by Italian guitarist and instrument builder Mario Maccaferri and favoured by Jazz players like Django Reinhardt were fitted with internal sound-boxes to clarify and amplify the sound further.

All these technical advances in acoustic volume were, of course, made mute with the invention of electrical amplification. From the early 1930s pick ups were fitted to guitars enabling them to be plugged into an amplifier this facilitated the guitars' next evolution into the electric guitar.

It was Californian Leo Fender who in 1950 presented to the world the first mass-produced solid-body electric guitar named ‘Broadcaster'. Other makers had produced electric guitars before but none with the accessibility and playability. Its solid body more or less cancelled out the feedback problems associated with previous hollow body designs. Guitar players could now get louder and keep to control of the feedback. Just in time for Rock'n'Roll.

"A Guitar you say boy, what's that then?"

Read through an interview with any the famous British guitar players of the 1960s and 70s and sooner or later the inevitable question of early influences arises. Keith Richards, Brian May, 2 Seas artist Wizz Jones Eric Clapton, and George Harrison will all offer one, two or all three of the following names. Bert Weedon. Lonny Donnegan. Davey Graham.

In 1932 in East Ham, London 12-year-old Bert Weedon began learning classical guitar. He is quoted as saying that "I took my guitar with me on the bus and people would ask what it was, nobody had seen a guitar, let alone heard one". Weedon had a hit in 1959 with ‘Guitar Boogie Shuffle' and again in 1960 with 'Apache' but his influence as a guitar player is more to do with his 'Play-in-a-day' series of self-tutorial books. It seems an entire generation of guitar players including all those listed above learnt to play the 'Play-in-a-day' way.

"The King of Skiffle" Lonnie Donegan grew up in the same East Ham area of London as Bert Weedon. 11 years apart in age, they frequented the same streets. It is not known if they ever met pre-fame and fortune.

However, Lonnie did have a similar if less orthodox effect on the same generation of musicians.

At the time the only guitar players in the public eye were the aforementioned cabaret friendly Mr.Weedon and concert guitarists like Andres Segovia with seemingly unobtainable levels of skill. In 1956 Lonnie Donegan burst on to the young baby-boomer scene with a simple but powerful concoction of hard-strummed 3 chord acoustic guitar, washboard percussion and T-chest Bass with earthy songs borrowed from American folk players Leadbelly and Woodie Guthrie. Overnight anyone could be in a band and everyone who later became a British music star was. The day John Lennon and Paul McCartney met, John was playing in his Lonnie Donegan inspired Skiffle band ‘The Quarrymen'.

Born in 1940 in Leicestershire England Davey Graham began to play guitar at the age of 12. He went on to inspire a wealth of folk guitar players who went to greater things. John Renbourne of the seminal British folk band Pentangle is quoted as saying that "Davey just had this finger style that we all wanted, he started it". His most famous composition ‘Anji' has become something of a rite of passage for any fingerstyle acoustic guitar player with artists as diverse as Bert Jansch, Simon and Garfunkel and Chicken Shack covering the song.

'Its just a fad'

In this early 21st century the guitar can seem ever-present, it is ubiquitous with modern everyday culture. It appears in TV adverts to suggest an air of cool. Every kid in tight jeans and beaten Converse boots has a guitar slung over the shoulder. In early 1962 Decca Records executive Dick Rowe famously told Beatles manager Brian Epstein "Guitar groups are on their way our Mr.Epstein." Not yet they're not Mr.Rowe, not quite yet.

 

Written by: R. Vee - 2018


Instruments and Guitar players in this article:

Rolf Lislevand plays A.Stradivari Sabionari, 1679 guitar:

National NRP Steel Tricone - Delta Blues In Open G:

Selmer #607 - The Selmer Maccaferri guitar:

Django Reinhardt - Three-Fingered Lightning:

1951 Fender Broadcaster:

Wizz Jones - 2Seas Session #2 - Full Set:

Bert Weedon - Mr PLAY IN A DAY:

Andres Segovia - Prelude1 Villa-Lobos:

Lonnie Donegan - Rock Island Line (Live) 15/6/1961:

Davey Graham - she moved through the fair:

Bert Jansch - Angie:

Leadbelly - Pick a bale of cotton:

Woodie Guthrie - That'll be the death of me:

The Quarrymen - Puttin' on the Style:


The Music Industry: What happens now all the money has gone?

The Music Industry: What happens now all the money has gone?

Way, way back, before music could be recorded and stored and sold on a plastic disc, people would buy sheet music. An A4 pamphlet contained within the ‘charts' or music manuscript to the latest tune or dance to be interpreted through the virtuosity or lack there-of by whom-ever sat at the piano and that was it. No records, no downloads. Nada.

Way back then, the only real money in music was in the ticket price.
A musician or singer had to rely solely on performance fees for an income. The PRS (performers rights society) which collects and distributes royalties in the UK, wasn't established until 1914. However, there was a fully functioning music business with the full complement of managers and agents and bookers all of whom made a living and there were music stars.

There were even big music stars who made comparatively big money.
Then the game changed. Recorded music playing machines ‘Phonographs' became popular, and increasingly affordable, the public could now buy that song and hear it by that singer, and they did ravenously.

Case in point: Singer /Comedian George Formby Snr. (Father of British wartime Singer/Comedian and famed Ukelele-Banjo player of the same name.) As an established name, Formby was earning £35 a week in 1905 performing to huge crowds in Theatres across the UK. One could say at the top of his game. In 1907 He signed one of the first recording contracts. In the following 5 years, his wages exploded and he negotiated a new contract reportedly worth in excess of £300 annually. All of a sudden there was real money to be made.

"I'm in plastics!"

In the movie ‘Telstar', the biopic of the crazed genius of the studio Joe Meek, much is made of the real-life character Major Wilfred Banks.

"I'm in plastics!" The Major confidently announces standing proud in his industrious plastics factory as he imposes a manufacturing deal on the ill-fated pop producer.

Held in that unimpressive trio of words is the guts of the issue. At its heart, if it has one, the music industry is and always has been entirely and exclusively about shifting stock. Boxes and boxes of stock. Be it plastic toys, ballpoint pens or records, its stock and it needs shifting.

During the peak years of record buying, let's say 1959-1999 there were often occasions where records couldn't be printed quickly enough to meet demand. That demand translated to a lot of money. Money for artist development, money for lavish studios, money as they say for nothin'.

A casual Google of the words ‘Fairmont Hotel Queen Party' and we begin to get an idea of the amounts of cash available to ‘grease the wheels' or in modern parlance ‘network' in the music industry of the 1970s and 80s. All of that came from shiny black plastic discs.

As long as those shiny black plastic discs sold the people who financed the whole thing were happy. Stories of excess were ‘good for the image' and good for sales. Companies took risks on new artists, allowed them to develop.

Then the Game changed again

The compact disc didn't have a great effect on sales, merely changing the stock from black plastic to silver plastic disc. But digital downloads did. Over a short number of years downloads, whether pirate, legal or from pay-monthly sites utterly decimated physical sales across the board. The Fairmont party was over.

Case in point: Skip McDonald. Skips career saw him come from Hip-Hops legendary ‘Sugar Hill gang' house-band to signing to Real World records. At Real World, he was a respected musician, given time and funding to pursue his particular sound over three spectacular albums. Then came downloads, the accountants took over at Real World. Skip was unceremoniously dumped alongside other acts.

Even the worlds most famous artist began seeking backing outside of the decaying big record companies. Madonna signed a deal with Live Nation an international live production and event company. Michael Jackson travelled to the Middle East to Bahrain and hence came 2Seas Studio.

The big record companies have now retreated into an ever-narrowing ‘make what we know sells' mindset and won't even dip their toe in the water as far as new ventures are concerned. They are strictly interested in that narrow wave-band somewhere between Coldplay and Katy Perry. For a while, in 2017 as many 1 in 3 songs played on a London commercial radio station was an Ed Sheeran Track.

And the good news is?

This means of course that there are now thousands of independent artists out there un-touched by record companies, who in this modern internet age can reach a global audience bored of the bland narrow wave-band record company fare. An increasing amount of these artists are full-time professionals, working hard as independent musicians. In an entirely different world to Coldplay, Perry and Sheeran.

"Its art, it shouldn't be about the money anyway" said 2 Seas Session artist KING SIZE SLIM. "If I were in it for the money or even for the fame, I'd do better robbing a bank"

The truth is the money hasn't gone. It's just not in hands of the Music Industry, instead, it is in the hands of those thousands of independent artists across the globe.

In terms of the manufacture of physical C.D's and records. ‘Short runs' or those of less than 1000 copies now far out-way longer print runs in the 10s of thousands. Who orders short runs? Independent artists do. There is the good news.

Written by: R. Vee - 2018


Artists and music referenced in this article:

George Formby - "Standing on the corner of the street':


"Telstar" - Movie Trailer:


Skip 'Little Axe' McDonald - "Killing Floor":


Madonna - Live acoustic:


Micheal Jackson - 'Who Is It' Acapella:


King Size Slim -  Full Set @ 2SeasSessions: