Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Does Not Contain Plant Extract?

If the news that Les Dennis is teaming up with The Wombats for a Christmas single wasn't bad enough, it's seemingly true that Messrs Page, Paul-Jones and Bonham Junior are considering touring under the Zeppelin banner - but without Percy.
I've been lucky enough to see the mighty Zeppelin on two occasions and whilst it's definitely a good thing to get Jimmy Page back where he belongs - pounding out historic rock'n'roll on a Les Paul - surely it's not going to be the same without Plant at the helm? 
Auditions are allegedly underway to find a Plant substitute (I'm wondering how long it was before David Coverdale was on the phone!) but the world waits a-wondering if our Robert will have a last minute change of heart and lend his tonsils to the project after all. 
I, for one, want the song to remain the same...

Monday, 20 October 2008

My Life As A Porn Star

Apparently, if you ask practically any session musician, he will tell you that at one time or another he has contributed, either knowingly or unknowingly, to a porn movie soundtrack.
I'm not talking about all the heavy breathing and, 'Take me now, Mr Prendergast...' type of banter, but the drear music that (I'm told) accompanies such a cinematic event.
Now, I have to confess, that even my humble session activities have not escaped the film industry's shady back streets - but I didn't find out that my earnest guitar wranglings had been so used until years afterwards. All I knew was that the session concerned had seriously strange overtones…
At the time, I was working on and off for a studio somewhere in Britain (Essex, actually) and occasionally we were asked to provide a bit of music here and there for video or radio. It was generally nothing too spectacular - maybe 30 seconds of anonymous background music in a certain style, that's all. But this session was different; the guy who commissioned the music was extremely vague as to what the film was about, for a start. He told us that he made corporate films for various companies all over the world and this one in particular was for a hotel chain in Australia. Fair enough. They have hotels in Australia, I know, and so there was nothing too suspicious about that…
So he told us that he wanted 15 minutes (!) of music with a sort of 'Crocodile Dundee' type of vibe going on - lots of didgeridoo droning and Aboriginal drums, gradually building in tension. Tension? Must be a weird hotel chain. Oh, and then there's the fast section towards the end... Fast bit? Well, yes; apparently somewhere near the end of the 'corporate film about an Australian hotel chain' there was a car chase. Oh, really?
We asked if we could see a script - 15 minutes of shooting in the dark (sorry) without any sense of musical direction  was a bit of a tall order, after all. But we were told, no; no script. Well, could we see any footage, just to get an idea of how the music could tie in with the visuals? Again; no.
So drums, didgeridoo gradually building up to a car chase? OK. Now I sense that there is already some considerable giggling at the back because I've already told you what the music was really wanted for, but in those days, a job was a job and we just, erm, got stuck in.
We got together some samples of ethnic percussion, found a synthesiser setting which sounded a bit like a didgeridoo and set the whole thing up. I played what I can only describe as some entirely out of place guitar on the top using a blue Stratocaster (ironic, eh?) which ended up sounding a little like Dire Straits had got lost in the Australian Outback - and afterwards I drove home.
My compelling vision is the keyboard player (who was late for a prior engagement as the session had over-run) trying to get himself ready for a night out with a toothbrush lodged in his mouth whilst the music reached its inevitable climax (sorry again).
On the day, all we thought was; weird. It was a long time afterwards when it was revealed somehow that the businessman who had employed us that day had what we could call 'an arrangement' with some local ladies who fancied earning a bit of extra housekeeping.
And, before you ask, no; I haven't seen it…

Monday, 6 October 2008

BBC's 'Story Of The Guitar'

I was afraid that the BBC would take their usual highly superficial approach to this - but was pleasantly surprised when I saw they had dedicated three hours to the subject.
Last night's show was a bit long-winded on the history front, I thought. Yeah, it's fascinating that you can trace the history of the guitar back to stone carvings thousands of years old - albeit in a severely prototypical form - but does anyone really care? 
The central nub of Alan Yentob's programme is that the guitar is the most influential instrument in popular culture and that it has enjoyed a lot of controversy in the past as the electronic Messiah a whole generation of parents came to fear. There's a a lot of meat there, surely, without needing to go too far back?
Of course, I shouldn't moan because this kind of documentary only comes along once every 20 years or so and so we should probably be grateful for the attention our instrument is being given by the mainstream media. But I'm a bit tired of being thankful for the scraps thrown out to us whilst the BBC still continues to turn its back on popular music overall. I would gladly swap all three hours of this programme - fascinating though it might be - for more attention being paid to the actual players of the instrument.
Whatever happened to the 'In Concert' series? Or The Old Grey Whistle Test type of programme? Both provided valuable platforms for new artists and music, but now all we've got is dear old eclectic Jools - and if you don't like the format, my dears, that's just tough. What's more, 'Later...' is almost impossible to get on to unless you've got the machinery of major labels and PR behind you. It's definitely an industry where what you know doesn't amount to anything; it's 'who'.
Meanwhile, we have to endure virtually every Prom concert going, from good ol' bums-on-seats Beethoven to new commissions from contemporary composers who continually push the boundaries of what people can actually sit through without haemmorrhaging. 
So what about a bit of parity here, Beeb? Mainstream artists (who definitely don't need the exposure, but what the hey? You know who you are...) alongside new artists who have been judged on merit by some open minded producer who can resist the influence of the powerful and seductive opinions of a handful of hack journalists who are keen to push 'this year's new Dylan'.  
Opening things up like this would be good for music, surely?