Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It's like riding a bike...

Of course, you can still fall off.

I recently joined with my old mates in the Headlights at a rehearsal for our upcoming reunion show at the Largo Cultural Center on Saturday, Feb 9th, and although it was great to play with them again, it became apparent that I'm a little out of fighting shape.

There were a few chord changes going awry, and the occasional lyric that eluded me, which I suppose is understandable since it's been a couple of years since I sang the songs. More jarring though, was the physical side of it. After a couple of hours, my left hand began to cramp up on me and I had trouble gripping the fretboard. By the end of the evening the hand looked like something from Curse Of The Black Claw.

Then there's the vocal cords issue. I mean, I knew it'd be a bit of a strain -- singing hard and trying to make yourself heard over a plugged-in band is, after all, a far different thing that sitting by yourself in front of a microphone in the relative hush of your home studio -- but it was perhaps a little worse than I expected. Although I didn't quite sing myself hoarse, there was enough strain to ensure that when I awoke the next morning, my speaking voice sounded a little like a cross between Tom Waits and Barry White.

I'm hopeful that another rehearsal will help me toughen up a bit, so I can be in fine voice for the show. If not, at least there'll be an opportunity to do that "Downtown Train/Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe" medley that I've always wanted a crack at.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Monk's the word...

Well, we're approaching the middle of January -- everyone's Christmas decorations have been safely packed away in the attic for a couple of weeks now; resolutions lay scattered about in tatters, and the last few pine needles from the Christmas trees have been vacuumed away. It takes a while to get them all, doesn't it? Every couple of days or so, you'll see a couple of them taunting you from beneath the edge of an area rug, or nestling unnoticed against a seldom-used door jamb. The bastards. I wouldn't mind so much, but for the past four years, we've had an artificial tree.

Speaking of resolutions, I usually make them only half-heartedly, and so the inevitable breaking of them doesn't seem so monumental. Either that, or I make them too easy to keep. Last year, I vowed not to set fire to any important Government buildings, and it worked out quite well for me.

I also make sure that they never involve me limiting the amount of food I eat. I have no interest in such silliness. I want to eat like a king. A gluttonous king. I adore food, and refuse to deprive myself of one of the great joys of life, in order to be in step with the latest health diet du jour. If I start to look a little pudgy or lumpy in certain areas, I just see it as a sign that I need to move around a little more and at greater speeds. So, I increase the old running schedule; it's a simple enough equation, I think.

Nor do I have any desire to stop drinking. Don't get me wrong, I don't consume like I used to back in my gigging days with the band; that would be daft. Back then, I'd knock back any mass-produced swill that was even rumoured to have hops, barley and malt somehow involved in the brewing process. Now, of course, I limit myself to quality micro-brews and the occasional Belgian abbey ale brewed by Trappist monks (just keeping it Holy, you know).

No, my New Year's resolution wasn't even made before the new year began; it just sort of dawned on me during the past week, and it involves MORE enjoyment, rather than less. Simply put, I'd like to try to actually enjoy the music-making process, from now on. It might sound like a foregone conclusion to some, but so often for me, the creative process tends to be a bit of a painful exercise, fraught with uncertainty, insecurity and self-doubt. I get anxious and jittery; my palms sweat, and I lose focus as my mind races ahead and tries to envision how a song will sound when recorded, sometimes before I've even finished writing the bloody thing. There is often much gnashing of teeth and plaintive wailing during the small hours.

This needs to stop. For one thing, it frightens the neighbours, and it really throws a damper on the far more desirable feelings of joy and wonderment that can arise when you realise that you somehow just created something that rather resembles a song, out of a bunch of hastily scribbled phrases and a jumble of guitar chords.

A couple of days ago, I picked up the guitar and turned on the machine that I use to record with (a Korg D1600 for the anoraks among us), with the intention of capturing a couple of sketches of song ideas that I'd had buzzing around my brain for a while. With the red recording light flashing in wait, I began reacquainting myself with these assorted song snippets and prepared to capture them for future study. Somehow, I got sidetracked, forgot what I was doing, and out of nowhere, found myself playing something completely new. It was only a couple of chords, but they felt good, and before I knew it they were suggesting, nay, insisting upon a nifty little melody that infected me and wouldn't let go. Before I knew it, I found myself grinning all Cheshire Cat-like and reaching for the record button.

I've yet to expand upon that little germ; I have no idea whether it'll turn into a fully realised song any time soon, years down the road, or even at all. It hardly matters really. The fact is, that for a few minutes I was buzzing with excitement about it. It excited me; invigorated me and made me want to get to work. That's the sort of moment I want to learn to savour. To try not to worry about whether or not I'll be able to conjure up a suitable chorus or bridge section; whether it'll all pan out into a decent song, or even wondering if my vocal on it will end up sounding anything like Peter Noone, but to try and have the mindfulness to be able to enjoy grabbing hold of a little gift like that, wherever it may lead -- to enjoy the journey, as they say.

I mention Peter Noone, because I've been hearing comparisons to the eternally youthful Herman's Hermits' singer for a couple of years now. I don't really hear it myself, but I'm wondering if it's a hint of my northern accent poking through. I've heard several comparisons to Graham Nash too, and his northern tones are still occasionally audible, so it could be an accent thing. Either way, I take it as a compliment. He was a bit of a trendsetter in a way; I mean, he was singing in a Mancunian accent while Morrissey was still in diapers wasn't he? I know one thing-- If I look as good as he does when I'm his age, I'll be an 'appy camper.

So, as I contemplate enlightenment, and continue to work on my quest to try to live more in the moment, feel free to read the latest comparison to the luvly Mr Noone in the latest review of "Undercurrent", courtesy of babysue/LMNOP . If you need me, I'll just be enjoying the the fridge, where a fine Belgian brown ale awaits. Something tells me I'm into something good.