Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, those of you too tight to buy tickets, those too distant to travel, those too drunk to care and everybody else can now see The Lunacy Board’s performance last week from the comfort of home.
It was a night of mixed emotions, stress, compromises and arguments, but above all a night of music in various guises…
It’s been a while since I last drove around Glasgow and numerous new one way streets (as well as unexpected roadworks en route) meant that I didn’t arrive as early at the Classic Grand as I had intended. A rant for another day, but it added unnecessary stress before the show was even underway. As it turned out Glass were still setting up, so we had a bit of time to unload and prepare to shift our gear on-stage. With four bands on stage over the course of the night time was tight for soundchecks, and as first-on we drew the shortest straw with a check that everything was making a sound without the luxury of any fine-tuning. Not to worry – the doors were open and people were arriving, so we took to the stage to kick off the evening.
The intention had been to play a new short song, Morning Rolls first, followed by an instrumental improvisation, then finishing off with The Unofficial National Anthem, but the time restrictions meant that we had to drop something, so Morning Rolls got the chop. The improvisation we started off with was based around a delayed loop on guitar which I varied between a gentle acoustic sound and a slow e-bow background pad. I knew we wouldn’t have the luxury of time to set up the ‘Sooper Looper’ system I used at the Theremin Symposium, so the loop came from a standard effects pedal, meaning the sound looped, but gradually degraded in clarity and faded away so that the piece changed texture as the looped sounds piled up. Having rehearsed this method a good few times over the last couple of weeks and come up with some interesting and varied music (different every time), we knew this could work even though the risk of it being a total train-wreck was high. On the night I don’t think it worked as well as it had in rehearsals, but these were really just wobbles on the corners rather than full-scale derailment. The fact that we had to keep it fairly short instead of building the piece up gradually meant that there were a few places where we changed directions earlier than we would otherwise have done, so I don’t think the piece flows as well as it might have, but neither does it stand still for long.
The Unofficial National Anthem mutated out of the dying echoes of the improvised track, and we kept it simple with no instrumentation apart from guitar, drums and voice. We had tried a number of variations on the song recently, including with a full drum kit, but the little set of digital drum pads just seemed to be the right sound for this song. I built a mount so that it could be attached to a mic stand which meant that Sean could stand at the front of the stage to sing instead of being hidden behind a wall of drums, and was also able to easily switch between drums and bass guitar where necessary. Since there are only two of us, this arrangement means we’re both up-front and visible, even if we need to play on a relatively small stage area.
As is usually the case, the venue didn’t really start to fill until nearer the time for the headliners to take to the stage, so we weren’t playing to a crowd by any means – probably a few more people than were at the Theremin gig, but it was more of a toe-dipping exercise for us. We wanted to see how we’d do on stage, how the songs would hold up to being stripped down from multi-layered arrangements into more direct and raw pieces of music, if we could pull off a totally unstructured improvisation live, and finally if anyone would even listen. As with my previous stage outing, we did get some positive comments. We know we’re only likely to appeal to a tiny section of the population, but if just one person enjoyed what we did at a gig, then our mission is worthwhile.
The Lunacy Board’s first proper live gig is set for the 25th of October. We’ll be playing at the Classic Grand in Glasgow. Headliners are US progressive band Glass and also playing will be local acts Oswald and The Twisted Melons.
Doors open at 7pm and tickets are £6.
I’m really looking forward to this – the ‘subcommittee’ set at Hands Off 2007 was great fun, but I’m hoping it will be even better to play the music as it was intended – in a well-rehearsed group with a solid prog-rock drum section and a house full of prog fans. We’ve stepped up the rehearsal rate significantly so that whatever we play will be as tight as possible.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been on stage, and never as a ‘solo’ act, so it was with some trepidation that I set off on the road to Bushey (near Watford) for the ‘Hands Off 2007′ Theremin Symposium. Various people have posted reports of the main event, which was a great success, but of most interest in these pages is the little set I did on the Sunday night for the ‘survivors’ of the whole weekend. This came after a packed weekend of workshops, demonstrations and a truly wonderful concert by a variety of thereminists from around the World, so it could easily have been a total wash-out with everybody drained. I happen to think it all went rather well.
I rehearsed a batch of new Lunacy Board songs, along with a couple of old Deserters numbers – just me playing guitar and singing, using an old Linux PC running the ‘Sooper Looper‘ software to set up sections of repeating chords to play solos (either guitar or theremin) over the top of. At some point prior to the event it occurred to me that it would make life a bit easier for me and a bit more interesting for the audience if I was to have some collaborators up on stage, so contacted a group of performers with the offer of the post of ‘Stunt Thereminist’ for The Lunacy Board Subcommittee. I received a couple of positive responses, so re-arranged my setlist to fit around their choices of song, and I was ready to go.
Nerves were absent as the performance drew near – probably just because the day had been so busy and I had barely time to think about the evening show. I got the stage more-or-less set up as soon as the main concert had finished, took half an hour to get refreshed, then returned to the stage to finish off. At which point I discovered that I had not brought a video cable for Sooper Looper. It can run quite happily without one, as I control it from a set of effects pedals, but should anything go amiss I would not be able to reset it or see what was wrong. Live and learn. The audience came into the room and chatted as I prepared for the first song.
To warm up my fingers and voice I kicked off with ‘Morning Rolls’ – a very short song with no instrumentals or frills. With that complete and with only a small fluffed chord change I invited Wilco Botermans to the stage. Previously in the weekend Wilco had demonstrated his theremin effects set-up which he controls using a specially wired glove to control parameters of a group of Moog ‘Mooger Foogers’, as well as the visually stunning ‘Croix Sonore’ – a unique instrument with similar properties to a theremin. For the purposes of his guest appearance he was using his TVox Tour theremin (the Russian-built instrument favoured by Lydia Kavina and Barbara Bucholz), and the Mooger Foogers, though without the glove controller.
We started off with ‘The Unofficial National Anthem’, followed with a very laid-back version of ‘Requiem For A Head In A Field In Butler’ – using Doug’s original bass part which we improvised along to, and finished off with ‘One Night In The Back Of A Fire Engine’ complete with audience participation (cheesy, but fun). Wilco played a mix of melodic accompaniment and weird special effects which worked well – ‘Requiem…’ seemed to really benefit from this approach as far as I can recall. The concert was recorded in full, but I’ve only had a chance to hear a few snippets back.
Wilco left the stage and I played another short song – ‘Jim Crow’, then Hypnotique came up onto the stage. We played ‘The Man In The Boat’ followed by Lee Newe’s ‘The Woman In Red’ – both fairly slow songs, to which Hypnotique added some legato cello-like theremin parts. Her solos on ‘The Woman In Red’ were particularly effective at bringing the sad nature of the song to the fore.
At some point during the previous song, the looper had stopped responding, so this stopped me doing the new multi-part song we’ve been working on, which needs several looped layers to work, so I called for another stunt thereminist and Terry Bowler came up to play on ‘The Winning Smile’ (a rare love song I wrote last year, which now also incorporates the music from ‘Goodbye Mr. V.’) and ‘The Ballad of Serenity’ (the only cover version I’ve tried, with lyrics which fit into the Lunacy Board remit). I finished off with one more guest thereminist, Captain Ants of ‘The Jaw-Line of Julianne Moore‘, playing the somewhat rockier ‘Fairytale Propaganda’.
It was good to finally get some of these songs out on stage, and great to be able to play them with a group of musicians from a range of backgrounds. I hope to get some video clips posted in the near-future from this.
This gig forms the grande finale of the theremin shindig I mentioned a while ago. I’ll be part of the ‘UK League of Thereminists’ playing a few structured improvised pieces as part of a ‘theremin orchestra’. There are a number of very good thereminists going to be attending, so well worth the money if you are in that neck of the woods this coming Sunday. Book soon, though, by clicking on the picture here.
More daunting for me will be the post-concert wind-down party, for which I’ll be providing some of the music…
This will be the first time that the Lunacy Board material has been played live, albeit in a somewhat more spartan form than usual, as it will just be me playing guitar and singing with a looper and theremin to make things more interesting. The original plan was to use the yobstick as well, but I might limit this to just one or two songs due to the way the looper works, as the rhythm can become a bit too repetitive.
I have also dusted down a couple of old Deserters’ numbers to include in the set, which will be fun, and for a few songs I will be joined by special guest stunt thereminists.
The whole event is being recorded and videotaped, so watch this space for more news early next week…
We had a bit of a crisis at our latest gig… The mixing desk made a rather loud bang and stopped working just before the start of the 2nd set. Everything was lit up, but not a whimper of sound came through. All was not lost and our back-up plan for just such an event came into action, but it was a pretty embarrassing, annoying and uncomfortable half-hour to get back into action. Now we can, with a small degree of certainty, put our finger on the culprit.
Beer and pubs and music go hand in hand – without pubs and beer there would be a substantially smaller consumption of live music in the world. However, pouring beer into the mixing desk essential for presenting that music to the audience is not a wise plan, and a couple of clues (not least of which was the liquid seen pouring out of the desk earlier today) suggest that is exactly what happened.
Such are the risks of sitting the desk in the midst of the audience, especially in a fairly cramped venue.
Amazingly enough, after a spell drying out (rehab?), the desk seems to be performing as well as it did before – no noticeable difference, so our wallets can breathe easy for a while longer.
I’ve been giving some more thought to the whole idea of a public performance on theremin, should I ever be in the position to do so. As I mentioned previously, I don’t think a guest spot with the band will work (unless they go somewhere with a big enough stage), which leaves me with 3 options. I could just play solo, with no accompaniment, I could have a pre-recorded accompaniment (or maybe guitar player), or I could use delay loops. I quite like the idea of the last option, having seen how well it can work in practice. I’d probably set up a backing loop on acoustic guitar, then play a theremin bassline over the top, followed by the melody.
So, that’s all very well, but what could I play?
Tempting though a freeform improvisation would be, I don’t know that it would go down very well with an audience who’ve paid to see a covers band, so that got me thinking. Our next public gig is December, and there are some festive tunes which should sound pretty good on the theremin. I tried some out today – a mixture of popular Christmas tunes like White Christmas, Rudolph, etc. along with some traditional carols – Silent Night is particularly effective on theremin.
Here’s the thing. I tried ‘Walking in the Air’ – the theme from ‘The Snowman’ – which is a song that really gets my hackles up. I don’t know why, but it always seems to conjure up in my mind the sugary, sickly, commercial worst of what the Christmas season has become. To paraphrase Roy Harper “I’ve not read the book (or seen the film), so I cannot recite”, but it just grates on me for reasons I cannot explain. It may be a lovely, touching story about one boy’s love for a talking ice-pop, but that music has put me off it for life. HOWEVER… What a perfect piece of music for theremin. It’s in the right register, it’s fairly ethereal, it’s fun to play, and it’s not Aled bloody Jones.
The band do a great version of Squiggle’s (or whatever he’s calling himself nowadays) ‘Kiss’. I have never liked Prince (as was), or any of his musical output – he always seemed like he was trying to be the best bits of Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson and Johnny Guitar Watson and ending up being the worst excesses of all of them. Maybe I’m being unfair, but he had his chance with me and blew it. Maybe I’d like him more if he wasn’t so hyped – I do tend to automatically put up barriers to hype, hence my similar dislike of REM, INXS, Simply Red; the list goes on. The point is that despite not liking the song ‘Kiss’ (including the self-mocking, good-humored Tom Jones version), the first time the band tried it out they completely rocked its socks off. In fact it is one of my favourite songs they do. Somehow or other it just fits, and similarly, somehow or other that awful Snowman tune just comes to life on the theremin.
Or maybe it’s just me?
I’ve had a fairly hectic few weeks between various gigs, changing jobs and increasing family taxi services.
Another two live sound gigs – one very cool show in a barn as part of a party/barbequeue/dance/shindig event, and another more local gig which was almost a sell-out. We’ve also almost sold out a gig in December, and may have a slot in a big charity bash in the new year, so keeping busy on that front. Proceeds from a previous gig went to purchase our own PA system which is loud, clear and a significant improvement on the previous system. I’ve done a couple of multitrack live recordings of the band, with the aim being to put together a demo for future promotion and possibly even a live CD for the punters to buy.
There have been a couple of suggestions that I might join them on-stage for a song, playing theremin, which would be fun. I don’t know how practical it would be however, since the venues we’ve played so far have been too crowded on stage for any sort of theremin playing (which needs a couple of metres space to avoid interference with the antennae). Another problem is monitoring what I’d be playing in the midst of a live-band – unlike any other instrument which can be played to some extent without hearing the outcome, the theremin HAS to be heard by the performer just to keep on pitch. I would need a dedicated monitor for this, preferably at ear-height, so the practicalities may well outweigh the desire to do a guest spot. I’ve tried to do more practice with a view to maybe doing a piece or two as warm-up for the band, having the stage to myself and possibly using a delay pedal or similar to accompany myself, but I don’t think my theremin playing is just quite ready for public performance yet.
I’ve also been to see Pamelia Kurstin playing live last week, which was inspirational. She is one of the few masters of the theremin, and plays it with a combination of delay pedals and effects to produce densely-layered, almost orchestral sounds. Opening for her were an avant-garde trio of cello, guitar and monosynth which didn’t really do much for me, and IME – a solo artist using guitar, location recordings, chimes and various gadgets to build up a very slowly evolving, atmospheric sound on the border between music and sound-sculpture. Not a type of music I normally listen to very often, but it did prompt me to dig out Czukay and Sylvian’s ‘Flux and Mutability’, which is probably the closest thing in my music collection.
Between listening to these ambient pieces and playing around with delay loops on the theremin, I’m feeling the creative juices flowing again, which is good, as we have a Lunacy Board session coming up this weekend. As well as the usual improvised jams we’ve had in the past, we also have a little project which may or may not bear fruit, but offers us both a specific focus and potential for an instant audience. More details about the success or otherwise of that to follow.
It seems like a couple of days ago that I last posted here, but looking at the date it turns out to be almost a month. So what on earth have I been doing?
To start with, the local band I’m doing sound engineer duties for had their first gig in the local pub – great turnout, with all tickets sold, and about 100 people in the audience. They went down really well – the vocalist really captured the crowd – he’s a true entertainer in ways that are lost to a lot of live acts these days. They ended out cutting some of the slower songs out, as so many people were up and dancing, which is a good sign. Several parties expressed an interest in future bookings, so all in all a great result.
The sound was generally pretty good, though I was a bit too close to the band to get a good handle on the balance without squeezing through the audience, plus a buzz developed in the second set, which now appears to have been due to a speaker dying. Proceeds from the first gig will therefore be going towards a new PA system…
Not much on the Lunacy Board front either, due to circumstances out of our control, though I have gone through the recordings we made at the last session and started to work on some of the best bits.
Finally, I’m doing a bit of work on a collaborative track which is still under wraps, but hopefully should turn out to be interesting. More news on this soon – within the next week or two.