Album Review: Bateleurs, A Travelling Band

Bateleurs Album Cover

A Travelling Band is the second album from stalwarts of the Swindon music scene, Bateleurs. Formed around the songwriting talents of Daryl Ball and Sean Amor, this new album sees a more settled line-up for the band with drummer  Chris McCormack joined by Nick Wall on bass and the addition of Anna Wall on fiddle and backing vocals.

It’s clear that this is a band that have developed their sound from their début All in the Past, released in 2011. The overall sound is more coherent, and the songs, although still tinged with pop influence, are more clearly focused on Americana and folk. It’s a successful blend, as the songs are instantly accessible and will have you singing along in no time.

Strong harmonies and foot tapping rhythms drive the album along at a bouncy pace, starting with opener Temptation and moving through up-beat numbers such as Firecracker (Ryan Adams cover), while the catchy melodies and well thought out arrangements will keep your head nodding throughout. The track list is rounded off nicely with the slower paced tones of Timelines.

This is a really strong album – quality songwriting, well performed and well produced. Stand-out tracks are the aforementioned Temptation, Barriers, and Wayfarers Daughter.  Highly recommended.

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First Tattoos and Body Image:

I got my first tattoo done back in March. It’s something that I considered doing for a very long time before actually taking the plunge. I’ve admired tattoo art for years and years, but I’ve always been a bit put off getting my own for a few reasons: a. it’s permanent and I am a fickle beast, b. the pain/being slightly freaked out by needles, and c. justifying the cost.

So what changed my mind?

Well, it started with a Valentine’s day treat (or an Anti-Valentine’s treat I should say). My husband and I don’t usually ‘do’ Valentine’s; we’ve been together a long time and both of us hate the commercialism that has taken over  Feb the 14th. So, when I saw a Bands and Burlesque ‘anti-valentine’s’ night advertised at one of our local venues I thought it sounded like a great idea. And so we went.

It was a brilliant evening: the band were Cannibal and the Corpse (full-on high-energy psyco-billy), the burlesque acts were highly entertaining – and then came the raffle. I had bought some tickets more because it was for charity than for the sake of winning anything, so imagine my surprise when the very last ticket drawn was mine – and the prize… a voucher for two hours of tattoo time with a local artist.

I am not one to let such good fortune go to waste, but nor am I one to jump in willy-nilly – so I duly checked out the website/Facebook page of said tattoo artist and, following some advice from the good old interwebs, looked carefully at his past work to make sure it was of good quality, seemed to be to my taste stylistically, and that the tattoo parlour itself was legit. All seemed fine, so after popping in to discuss what I wanted, I booked the appointment.

Tattoo first sketch

Tattoo first sketch

Above is the sketch I gave to James, the tattoo artist – the green dragon represents Earth and the red dragon, Fire; together they represent balance or harmony. If you want, it’s also like the two opposing sides of my personality (sensible me and reckless me), which co-exist together as part of my whole. Or, it’s just two dragons – but dragons are awesome, so that’s ok.

When I returned to the tattoo parlour for the appointment, I was shown the design as it would be done on my skin – James had embellished it with clouds and lightning and it looked amazing. He transferred it on to my skin before starting with the outline. The tattooing did hurt, but it was never too painful to deal with – kind of like a cat scratch but over a longer period – and we took a few breaks when it started getting sore. One little tip though: if you’re getting a tat done make sure you eat properly first (in hindsight a small bowl of cereal was not enough breakfast – felt a bit weird afterwards!).

Aftercare wise, it was pretty simple – keep it clean, don’t soak it in water, keep it moisturised (James recommended Bepanthen),  and don’t scratch while it’s healing. It was sore for a couple of days, itchy/peeling for a week or two after that, but it healed up well and I’m so happy with it.

Showing off the final tattoo (pic by David Hobson)

Tadaa! Finished tattoo (pic by David Hobson)

Reactions have been mostly positive, though the most common ones are ‘wow, that’s quite a big piece for your first one’, or, when I explain that my husband doesn’t like tattoos, a slightly confused ‘but you got one anyway?’. Yes, I did. Hubby would never dream of dictating what I do with my own skin.

 

The thing I didn’t expect though, was the strange side-effect – my tattoo has changed how I feel about myself. When I catch sight of it looking down or in a mirror, I feel kind of proud. Proud to have endured the pain of getting it in the first place, yes, but mostly of how it represents who I am, where I am now, and how far I have come to get here. The last couple of years have made me re-consider a lot of things, make changes in my life and attitude towards it, so this is a visual marker of my progress.

As I said – the two dragons represent balance and harmony, and sometimes, just sometimes, I’m starting to feel like I’m finding it.

 

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Filed under It's My Life, Me, Myself. I, Randomness and Musings

This blog is moving…

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted here for a while – so I will start with my usual apology for slackness. Sorry about that.

Anyway, instead of boring you with excuses I’ll get to the point – I am moving this blog. Its new home will be within my other website (www.ells.biz), which currently concentrates on my music. I post about music here a lot anyway, so it seems to make sense to put everything all in one place. I’ll be moving all the old content over and thoroughly categorising it (and having a bit of a sort at the same time) so that if you’re only interested in the music stuff you’ll be able to find it easily, and if you’re only interested in the other bits and pieces that I (infrequently) post about life, the universe and everything, then they should be easily find-able (if that’s a word?) in their own section too.

So that’s the plan – now I just need to get on with it.

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Things to do before I’m 30 Re-visited

Last year I wrote a list of ten ‘Things to do Before I’m 30’ – and then spectacularly failed to do any of them before I hit the big three-zero.

Never mind, I thought – why give yourself an arbitrary deadline? Why not do these things in your own time? And so that’s what I’ve been doing, and now seemed like a good time to re-visit the list to see how I’m getting on. If you want to see my reasons for the things on the list, the original post is here.

  1. Record an album – Well, it’s in progress… But I am gradually creeping closer to being finished as I now have 11 tracks recorded and close to being ready for mixing. Then I just need to get the thing mastered and produced! So a bit of a way to go, but I’m getting there.
  2. Improve my instrumental skills – I’ve started taking piano lessons again, and I’ve been working on my guitar skills. This is one that won’t ever really stop though, so maybe putting a deadline on it was a mistake in the first place…
  3. Go on tour – I’m hoping to start booking dates soon, but it’ll depend on when I can get the album released.
  4. Start learning Spanish – Yeah, this one’s on the back-burner.
  5. Travel – I went to Tunisia, which was ok, and I’m off to Spain in September, hopefully (hmmm, maybe I should make more of an effort with the above point before I go!). I still aim to travel more though.
  6. Get a tattoo – Done! I never actually thought I’d go through with this one, but here we are. Did it hurt? Yes. But not too badly, actually, and I’m really pleased with the result.625651_10151268490431890_1263217523_n
  7. Try something different with my hair – I dyed my hair black for the last Malmesbury Carnival (so technically, I did get this done before my 30th!), but it faded out really quickly and I couldn’t be bothered to re-do it. I’m still quite bored with my hair so maybe I’ll have another crack at it one day. I’m just not very good at making the effort with stuff like that though.
  8. Create a cartoon character that is “edgy enough to be alternative, but still cute enough to be marketable” (like Skull Panda) – Yeah, another one on the back burner.
  9. Write a non-serious song –  and another.
  10. Try snowboarding – and another!

Well, there it is – my half-arsed attempt at doing a list of things.

I might give up on a couple (like the non-serious song… attempts at humour have been poor. I’m just not naturally funny!), but I’ve actually achieved more than I thought I had. Maybe you’ll read this and think it’s not a very successful list, that I’ve failed in meeting my own targets, but it doesn’t matter really. What matters is that I haven’t given up, that I’m trying, and slowly working towards finishing the items that are really important to me.

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Ch-ch-changes

Change is important, and be it good or bad we should try to embrace it. 

I started a new job a few months ago, working two days a week. Dropping down from working full time has made a great deal of difference to me – I am happier, and generally more positive about life.

Not that I don’t have down days, but I can see this job as a means to an ends and it doesn’t stop me from doing the thing that I love as much – unlike my old job, which seemed to constantly be in my thoughts and to consume my time, even when I wasn’t there.

Since leaving, I’ve started feeling a lot more in control of my own life. Although I am not yet making money from doing what I love (making music), I am working towards it. I am taking steps towards the mountain, as Neil Gaiman so elegantly put it in this speech.

The only problem is that now, on my ‘non-working’ days, the only person who’s standards I have to meet are my own – and that can be an issue. I can do stuff in my own time which, although it’s a fantastic thing to be able to do, does give me heaps of scope to procrastinate. Secondly, I am quite hard on myself when things don’t sound as I think they should. When you’ve only got your own instincts to go by, how do you know when something is ‘good enough’ or even finished?

In the long run though, I feel like I’m moving forwards again. I’m not feeling stuck or trapped like I was at the end of last year, and that’s given me welcome space to change my outlook, be much more creative and to focus where my priorities lie.

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In Defense of Autotune (Kind of)

Autotune – the very word conjures images of young pop-stars cavorting around mid dance routine, glitz, glamour and studio magic, and is about as far removed from the ‘authentic’ singer-songwriter image as you can get (by the way, if you’re interested you can see my earlier post for more on authenticity).

But more on that later… first off let’s look at what Autotune actually is, and how it works.

Autotune is designed to correct the pitch of a singer’s voice when a performance is off-key. It does this by ‘pulling’ the recorded note to the designated pitch set by the user. This is similar to a technique used in sampling and recording, which has been around for a while and is essentially playing back the sample at a different speed to change the frequency (or pitch) of the sound. Autotune is a bit (well, a lot) more sophisticated than this, but it does still have limitations. The further you need to pull the note to get it in tune, the more you lose the natural quality of the singing voice.

Auto-tune can be used to make an out of tune performance good, but there are limits to its effectiveness if you want the vocal to sound natural – especially if the original recording is way off-key.

So, this brings me to my main point – Autotune is just another tool. Studio tools such as effects (like reverb and delay) and compression (used to increase loudness and smooth out dynamic range) have been used for years to get a particular vocal sound; yet these are not demonised in the same way that Auto-tune is.

And as with most tools, Auto-tune can be (in my opinion, is) overused. I put this down to fashion – for many years, producers of pop music have been after ‘the sound’. In the 80s, it was fashionable for vocals to be drenched in reverb, in the 90s vocals are generally further forward in the mix and given quite a lot of ‘punch’ with compression. These days, we have become used to hearing tuned vocals because they are everywhere – it is the current fashionable sound.

Autotune can also be used creatively though – for example, there have been many recent YouTube video hits of spoken interviews turned into songs using Autotune. Perhaps it’s not exactly high-brow art, but it has caused people to re-think what the technology can and can’t be used for.

Personally, I don’t use Autotune on my vocals. This is a deliberate choice, and one that I’ve made for a couple of reasons: I want people to hear the natural quality of my voice – the real me, so to speak. I can usually hear the effect of Autotune, and to me it sounds ‘too perfect’ and a little forced. And, as someone who records at home, budget is a big constraint. Why spend extra cash on something that I don’t really like or need for the sake of fashion? I wouldn’t do that with clothes, so I certainly wouldn’t do that with something as important as my music.

At the end of the day, it’s mostly about the sound that you’re going for. If you want your vocals to sound polished, perfect and up-to-date, Autotune is a tool that can help you do that. But, if you want to record vocals that sound natural and ‘real’, I’d steer away from it. The choice is up to you.

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What Is ‘Real’ Music Anyway?

There’s a lot of discussion among music fans about what is ‘real music’ and what’s not. Usually, it’s more a question of ‘manufactured’ versus ‘proper musician’, which can lead to some frank and pretty derogatory discussions. It is, however, a difficult question answer when you really think about it, but for what it’s worth – here’s my twopence…

When we think about ‘real’ music, what we’re really talking about is how authentic the artist appears to be. Authenticity is about two things; how the artist portrays themselves, and the strength of their musical connection with the listener. When an artist makes a positive connection through their music, they create a relationship with the listener and this is the basis of fandom; the listener begins to buy in to the music and to the artist.

When an artist is fully involved with the production of their music, and are seen to have creative control over it, the connection between fan and artist seems more direct, and thus more powerful. The artist is able to communicate effectively through their songs and through their media image exactly what they wish to portray, whatever genre or style they are working within.

‘Manufactured’ music that appears to be controlled heavily by outside influences (such as producers, additional songwriters and industry professionals) can, arguably, be less effective at creating these same strong relationships with music fans. The  relationships are more transient and changeable, often with the fans quickly moving on to the next big thing.

But the question is, does this make the music any less ‘real’? It may not have been written by the artist who is performing it, it may have snazzy production and Auto-tuned* vocals, but this is nothing new. All music has to be created by someone, be that a producer or the artist themselves. Someone has put their time and energy into writing, playing and recording the songs that you’re listening to. You might not like it, but then that’s your perogative.

So when the latest hit by whomever is topping the charts comes on the radio for the millionth time it’s very easy to dismiss it as manufactured, even when you understand the work that goes into making it. But the truth is, what’s happening there is simply the listener not connecting with the music that they are hearing. Even a self-confessed music snob like me can find examples of pop productions that I enjoy.

In the end, I think, it boils down to two types of music – that which you as a listener can find a connection with, and that which you can’t. You could call this ‘good’ and ‘bad’ if you like (and yes, we all often do!), but really it’s about music you like and music you don’t. It’s all down to taste.

*More on Auto-tune in a future post me-thinks

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