Wednesday, 17 September 2008

A Metallica Moment

Metallica are very much in the news again at present, thanks to a brand new album and tour. It got me thinking about the time I was invited backstage with the band at their 1992 Wembley show - and how the experience has definitely shortened my life by at least a few minutes...
The thing was, I was doing my journalist thing, interviewing Kirk Hammett and had agreed to turn up at the band's hotel in central London before the evening's gig. So I turned up and sat chatting with Kirk for around half an hour when a record company type poked her head around the door and said that there might be a problem with transport for the gig. Apparently there was a major rugby match on at Wembley Stadium that afternoon and the band were originally scheduled to turn up for the soundcheck around the time the match finished. Sensing traffic chaos, the record company had decided that the band should leave for the gig much earlier than planned, leaving me - and my interview - a little high and dry. 
Sensing my plight, they asked me if I would like to come along and finish my interview backstage at Wembley. I had a Fast Show moment and thought, 'Me? Turning up at Wembley with Metallica in a large black limo, with my reputation? What can they be thinking?' And agreed.
So off we went. In the end I didn't travel with the band, but still got treated to a chauffeur-driven limo... and I got to talk to Kirk for a further 30 minutes or so backstage. Job done.
Next question - would I like to stay and watch the gig? Hmmm... OK. Would I like to go into the infamous Mosh Pit? (Metallica fans will know this as possibly the most extreme courtesy a journalist can be offered by the band). Err... No, side of stage will be fine, thanks very much. My moshing days were well and truly over.
So I stood by the side of the stage, near the back and watched the band led onto the darkened platform one by one. Kirk struck up the intro riff to Enter Sandman and the crowd went wild. Great atmosphere... Hey, rock'n'roll!
But... Nobody warned me that on the first beat of the bar where the band all start playing the riff together after the intro, there would be a bloody great bang and flames would shoot 50 feet into the air - right next to where I was standing.
You imagine it - a bang loud enough to be heard over Metallica letting rip isn't going to be anything other than ear drum shattering and I was a few feet away. I think I jumped almost as high as the flames...
To give you some idea about what I experienced, there's a film on You Tube here that will give you the gist. The bang is about 1 min 50 sec in...
Despite the heart palpitations and serious shock, I have to say that it was possibly one of my better backstage experiences, all the same!

Monday, 15 September 2008

Cheltenham Unplugged

I went to the Acoustic Guitar Show in Cheltenham last Sunday. Now this is nothing exactly abnormal for me because, as you can probably imagine, I go to a lot of guitar shows; but this time I was a man on a mission. I'm in the market for a new acoustic guitar, you see…
Let's face it, the acoustic guitar market can be split into two distinct houses: factory made and hand made - although arguably there are subdivisions like companies whose main output is factory made but who have a hand made division or custom shop.
What's the difference? Factory made instruments tend to be cut out by a machine using some sort of computer guidance and then the various bits are assembled by a largely automated and consequently indifferent process. The woods involved are rarely top notch, either, even if they sound like they are in the brochure. If you're thinking that wood is wood, think again - there are many different grades of tonewood and it's often the norm for the cream of the crop to go to the hand builders. So it's a conveyor-belt nativity for a factory made acoustic, but seeing as this is how a lot of cars are made, it's not necessarily a bad thing overall. I've played some very satisfactory guitars that have been made in this fashion, for instance.
Hand making is altogether a different ball game, though. Here, an instrument is totally bespoke - the wood is of the highest grade and very carefully chosen, cut to size by hand, glued, braced and essentially crafted into existence with love, skill and care by a master luthier.
The difference in tone between these two manufacturing disciplines can be quite pronounced, too, hand made instruments often being louder and sweeter. Naturally, they have a price tag to match - you could bring home an acoustic in a box for under £100 if you shopped around a bit, but a custom build is going to set you back more like £2500 - and that would be the no frills option! Once you begin talking exotic or rare woods, the price starts going up even further.
At the show in Cheltenham I met up with some old friends and waved and smiled at a lot more, too. I spent a brief few seconds saying 'Hi' to Gordon Giltrap, passed the time of day with luthier Patrick Eggle (who I've known for years) but the lion's share of my day was spent talking body woods and tone with Roger Bucknall from Fylde guitars. Roger makes some excellent instruments and I've just ordered one - I'll give you the details when the build has begun, but it should be ready early in the new year, just in time for me to begin recording a new album. 
Of course, I tell everyone that getting a new guitar is pretty meaningless for me these days because, after all, they're just tools aren't they? But I have to say that I'm really excited about this one!

Monday, 1 September 2008

Hey Nonny - No!

Hmmm... It seems that I have been openly and publicly accused of being a folk musician. It's true. Some well-meaning member of the public, having bought a copy of my album Nocturnal, has decided to review it for the Amazon website and, in so doing, mentioned that it is 'a delightful instrumental UK folk album...'

This is something that would have probably wounded me deeply a few years ago because it would have conjured up visions of the heavily clichéd folkie - all fingers in ears, beards, baggy jumpers, real ale and 't'was early one morning'  and that's definitely not me, my dears. 

But have you heard any modern folk recently? I've been taking a listen and have had any illusions I may have had tested to the limit. It seems to me that the umbrella term 'world music' has now opened up to embrace the fringes of what we might call 'experimental folk' and has created a wonderfully expansive landscape for any adventurous musician looking for a place to call home. As examples of this I'll cite Eliza Carthy's new CD 'Dreams Of Breathing Under Water'  and the work Simon Emmerson is doing with his Imagined Village project, which marries up such diverse talents as Martin Carthy, Billy Bragg and Benjamin Zephaniah. Both represent an exciting, rich hybrid of diverse musical forms and are simply light years away from what you might imagine.

So I'd like to thank my accuser and say that it might just be an honour to be referred to as being a part of what appears to be a very fertile and lively musical form.