So how do I start on this journey? They always say it begins with one step.
Step one is simultaneously simple and yet in-depth – its time to take stock of everything I already have to work with; and also confront any obstacles and limitations that will need to be addressed. Let’s start with the positives shall we?
In order to begin performing and building a following; I need (for want of a less vulgar term) a product to sell. In my case, that means enough material for a live set, and recordings. And naturally, that means songs! I am lucky enough to not actually be starting from scratch; one advantage of writing and performing originals solo and in bands for so long is that I’ve amassed a decent stockpile of songs to take forward that I’m reasonably pleased with, and they will make up a thirty to forty five minute set (more than enough for what little stage time most grassroots venues will give you). Arguably that is the hardest part already dealt with!
One of the first pictures of me performing solo
The following song titles (in no particular order) will be the bedrock of my act going forward. Some will be familiar to those of you who have followed me for years; others have, as of yet, never been played in a public forum. Remember their names – you’ll be hearing them a lot in the months to come:
Carousel, Packing My Bags, See Through Skin, Irreversible State Of Mind, Time To Leave, Green Eyes, The Devil’s Shoulder, Table For Two, A Ghost For Every Road, Blue, Unfinished Story, Where Are You Now?
These twelve songs are taken from across the entirety of the last fourteen years. The oldest, ‘See Through Skin’ was written in a shared student house in Exeter during a summer break before the students went back to uni. It was a quick process – the lyrics were finished within fifteen minutes. It has always stuck with me and is frequently lauded as my best song (somewhat annoyingly, I may have peaked at the very start of my songwriting attempts!).
‘Table For Two’ was formerly known as ‘On The Way’ and has been played live only a handful of times. Its a wistful ballad in 7/4 time I wrote in 2010. It has never felt entirely finished (I’m not great at writing bridges!) but I liked the riff, lyrics and melody enough to always revisit it in the years since.
‘Unfinished Story’ and ‘A Ghost For Every Road’ were also written in 2010 but evolved into full band tracks for my acoustic-fronted American-style rock band Red Dust Road. You can still hear the original band versions on Youtube from RDR’s first and only EP. The single ‘Blue’ followed in 2011 complete with my first and only experience of filming a music video (a great experience and one I hope to repeat very soon).
Red Dust Road’s music video for ‘Blue’
‘Carousel’, ‘Packing My Bags’, ‘Time To Leave’, ‘Irreversible State Of Mind’ and ‘Where Are You Now?’ were all written in 2015 during an unusually active burst of songwriting. They were all written with solo performance in mind but utilising a backing band for recordings.
As mentioned in my previous post ‘The Devil’s Shoulder’ and ‘Green Eyes’ have been written this year, and never played live. TDS still needs a bridge (see, told you!) and both need some serious practice to get up to live standard, but I believe in them.
So that’s the creative bit taken care of. But in order for any further steps to be taken, I must make something I can sell.
This part is almost finished too – at least enough to get started. Last year I recorded a four track EP at Rooflight Productions in Bristol with my friend and wedding bandmate Richard Parsons. It comprises of full band versions of ‘Carousel’, ‘Packing My Bags’, ‘See Through Skin’ and ‘Time To Leave’. Special shout outs must go to Sam Drower; a very old friend and former Red Dust Road bassist, and Duke Grooves; one of the finest drummers I’ve ever worked with (something I’d always wanted to do ever since he blew me away with his old funk metal band Prolab years ago). They added a fantastic groove to my songs, and the aforementioned Mr. Parsons brought his considerable keyboard, melodica and percussion skills to the table too.
A promotional solo shot taken in 2014
I love what we did, but my vocals were a disaster. I was really ill on the day of recording but had paid for studio time so did them anyway. They are flat, nasal and painful to listen to, so I never released the EP. However; I am going to be re-doing them with another producer friend of mine Laurence Howell, who did an amazing job on my Stone Temple Pilots audition tracks (that’s an important part of this story and will be detailed in the next blog post). We will also be making some new acoustic demos of my new songs.
A substantial catalogue of strong songs and a four track EP to get started – not bad at all. So what other assets do I have at the starting block? My gear is great – I have a beautiful Taylor 214e Deluxe Grand Auditorium guitar that is due to be fitted with a top notch L.R. Baggs undersaddle pickup, my own P.A. system and microphones. I have contacts at music venues in Bristol, radio stations in Leicester and friends who work in music promotion. My name is reasonably well known on the Bristol acoustic circuit. I know many, many obscenely talented musicians across the country (and abroad) who I can call on for help, advice and collaboration. My covers gigs pay well enough that I can comfortably bankroll this whole project, a far cry from the days where I’d have to scrimp a few quid together for a band practice. And last but certainly not least, I have a decade’s worth of live performance experience which is nothing to sniff at.
When written down its looking pretty promising, right? But in order to do this right and avoid potential pitfalls we need to look at the flipside and examine all my shortcomings, disadvantages and obstacles. But that’s for next time…